Why You Need to Know More Than God’s Voice

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“It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.” ~Sally Kempton

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“You’ll never get over your past.”

[/blockquote]I remember waking up one Thursday morning and feeling like the air around me was a thick, heavy, fog. It felt dark, despite the sunshine; I felt fatigued, despite a long night’s sleep. Before I could even rise completely out of the bed, it’s as if someone threw a cloak of unhappiness on me that shrouded me from head to toe. My thoughts were centered on only negativity.

“You’ll never get over your past.”

“You’ll never be good enough.”

“Your prayers haven’t changed a thing.”

“You talk of God’s promises, but look at how you’re still struggling, still hoping for restoration.”

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“You’ll never be good enough.”

[/blockquote]The accusation and condemnation couldn’t come fast enough. Admittedly, I listened to that voice for far too long, and as I listened, I sunk even further into a pit of despair. But then I remembered my Father’s voice. I recalled how He speaks to me, how He takes great delight in me, quiets me with His love, and rejoices over me with singing (Zephaniah 3:17). As I reflected on God’s voice, I instantly knew this was not Him! It is so important that we know God’s voice, but it’s also important that we don’t entertain the enemy’s voice for even a moment. I’ll repeat this: it’s not enough to know God’s voice, we also have to be unacquainted with the enemy’s voice. Adam and Eve knew God’s voice, but they entertained the enemy.

A friend once shared that God’s voice is sweet, but the enemy’s voice can also be sweet. Satan can also speak in soft tones; he tries to duplicate what God offers. As my pastor said, Satan tried to sell Adam and Eve something they already had — to be like God, but they were already like God — they were made in His image! 2 Corinthians 11:14 says Satan disguises himself as an angel of light — deception is in his very nature. In John 10:4-5, Jesus says His sheep follow Him because they know His voice, but He also says they don’t follow a stranger because they don’t know the strangers’ voice. It’s important to know God’s voice, yes, but it’s also important to not know the enemy’s voice, to not entertain his lies for even a moment.

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“Your prayers haven’t changed a thing.”

[/blockquote]I sat at the edge of my bed and began to worship God and rebuke every negative thought that reared its head. I opened my mouth and recited, “I will bless the lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear thereof and be glad.” As I opened my bible to Psalm 34 and continued along to verse 3: “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together,” I immediately recognized this verse as a call to corporate worship. I messaged a few friends who worshiped God with me, and by the time we obeyed, verse 4 was manifested in my life: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”

Become familiar with God’s voice, yes, but also learn to bounce the voices you hear off of the Word of God. Speak God’s Word over your life, and see if what you’re hearing lines up with what He’s saying so you can spend less time entertaining the enemy’s intel and more time drowning it out with God’s voice expressed in His Word. Heartcheck: Whose voice are you listening to? Does it speak according to His Word (Isaiah 8:20)?

“May His still, small voice become the loudest voice you hear.”


“The Same”

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The hope of the whole world rests on the shoulders of a homeless man.

The Baptist church in Redmond, OR greeted me with the warm glow of yellowing aged fluorescent fixtures casting a dull yellow light on a brown and gold carpet.  I walked past the tables that bore numerous CDs and peered into a dimly lit sanctuary.  Up front was a man in a dingy sweater and torn jeans.  He wore no shoes.  I was late, but I was just glad to have made it.  I was a boy of 14 – happy to be with some fellow youth at a real modern music concert.  The song spoke of prairies and the peace the man felt when he was in them.  He launched into a song swearing to not despise his brother for his weakness and not regarding him for his strength.  The voice was not full.  It was not punchy and bold.  It was broken.  It was an old tractor, grinding along and tearing up hardened soil, turning my sometimes cynical teenage attitude upside down and leaving the soft, dark parts of my soul exposed for planting.  The next song is one that buried itself deep, though it would not spring up immediately.  He sang of a man who “took off his shoes and scratched his feet” and who “did not take a wife.”  He spoke of how the “hope of the whole world rests on the shoulders of a homeless man.”  I had grown up with The Bible in Living Sound as my daily bread.  I knew all the stories of Jesus fish coin to silver shekels.  Somehow, though, I had never thought of the measured diction coming from my double tape deck as the words of a homeless man.  The Jesus in my Bible story books did not look in the least bit homeless.  He looked like he had just participated in a Bible times Pantene Pro V commercial.  What a stark contrast to the picture presented by this raspy voice singing with a bright guitar.  I would never forget that evening spent with Rich Mullins.  I would never get a chance to have another.

Years later, I sit in my classroom reading a book with my students that has shown me more spiritual truths than perhaps any other I have ever read.  I know what line is coming.  It is my favorite line – one I have tried to make one of the great guiding passages of my life.  It washes over us and I paused, savoring the moment.  “Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets.”  Students give teachers strange looks when teachers pause with a look of spiritual ecstasy on their faces.  It’s there for a reason. My mind flashed back to a man in tattered clothes talking about a homeless man in a little church in central Oregon.  “The same.”  The similarity between the honest character of Atticus Finch, Rich Mullins, and Jesus centers on this simple phrase.  “The same.”

When I read the gospels, I see a Man with a single-minded focus on praising the genuine.  Every time He interacted with people, He was real.  “Birds have nests, and foxes have holes, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”  I can’t think of a better way to sum up the term “real” than this.  Rich Mullins put it elegantly when he stated:

Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken-hearted.

“…If I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my Savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken-hearted.”

There seems to be little that Jesus could give less of a flying flip about than the wrong appearances causing distractions.  A sinful woman caresses His feet with tears and perfume.  It doesn’t look right.  It looks like He is perfectly used to partaking in evil.  He doesn’t care.  It is genuine.  He blesses it.

He hangs out with sinners.  He comes eating and drinking.  He gets a reputation for it.  He does not care.  He interacts with people who are genuine.  Woman at the well: genuine.  Roman Centurion: Jesus wanted to go to the man’s house – Jesus heals his servant: genuine.  Woman who gives her mites: genuine.  Lepers: genuine.  Canaanite pagan woman: genuine.  He raves about these people.  It’s like he cannot get enough.  “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”

Rich Mullins struck a deep chord in me because he was real.  Ever since I was young I felt it was, for me, a practice in self-righteousness to dress up for church.  Here, in Rich Mullins, I heard it laid out simply why I felt this way.  It is hard to reach out to the broken when one is trying to keep one’s Sabbath clothes nice.  It is hard to be real with my students when I’m pretending I don’t make mistakes.  I tell people that dressing up for church can damage one’s self and one’s relationship with the least of these and I often get a look that says “Blasphemy!”  What’s more, I watch as children sing songs about dressing up and putting nice clothes on for Jesus.  I wonder how we got here.  It’s not Exodus.  The people were only to wash their clothes to come to Sinai.  It’s not in the Old Testament.  David worships naked.  We have lots of sack cloth and ashes.  Camel hair seems to be a thing…  The nice clothes thing is not in the gospels.  The man who dresses up to come to the feast is told to discard his attempts at covering himself.  The early church seemed to have a dress and judgment problem.  James 2:1-9 describes the situation of rich people being granted places of honor in corporate worship and poor people not.  Today, it is rare in many churches to see poorly dressed people on the platform in honored positions.  Why might that have importance?  Because if a poor person comes to a church and sees no one with whom he or she can identify on the platform, the message he or she gets is pretty clear.  “You get fully integrated when you look presentable.”  If poor people cannot imagine themselves at that place of being that put together, they will likely not feel there is any future in such a church for them.

That’s what the grace is for.

Here, however, is the other side of it.  Jesus met with Nicodemus where he was at.  He met in dialogue with the rich young ruler.  He ate with affluent pharisees.  Jesus meets us where we are at.  There is nothing more genuine than where we are at.  Jesus wants us to come as we are.  One of the biggest reason I am humbled by the label “Christian” is that Jesus Christ loved the genuine.  He thirsted for it.  I have that same thirst.  I look at my inner being and I see layers of façade and mask.  I see someone who is afraid to show my vulnerabilities.  Someone who chooses to go along with the crowd far too easily.  I am no monk.  I do not identify with the poor well at all.  My only hope is that I see God working on me a little bit at a time.  Perhaps, someday far in the future, Jesus may truly say of me, “Steve is the same in his heart as he is on the public streets.”  This is not that day, but it is a little closer to it than yesterday was.  That’s what the grace is for.

The Arrogance of Christians

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It has often been said to me, “Christians are SO arrogant! They think they have it all figured out, and everyone needs to be like them to be happy.” Why has this often been said to me? Well, if you don’t know me, I’m like a discussion machine. When people come around me, I ask all sorts of deep and personal things and often engage in either philosophical conversation or debate. Thus, you can begin to imagine how often I have asked people what their opinion of Christianity is; and how often I have been given the spectrum of reasonable and unreasonable opinions.

Some of my favorite that you are probably familiar with:

“Christianity is just something you follow because you were raised as a Christian… if you grew up in India, you would be Hindu.” -sounds true

“Christians are such hypocrites. They say that they are followers of Christ, but they don’t act anything like Him.” -sounds true too

“Christians are arrogant always trying to convince themselves that they are right by convincing others to join them. Evangelism is just self-assurance.” -sounds pretty true

“Christians make the best employees. For the most part, I know that if I hire a Christian, then they are going to be honest and pretty hard working.” -sounds true

“There have been some pretty cool Christians, like Mother Teresa, and some not so cool ones like George Bush…” -fair assessment (however, if you check out how W has spent his time since he left office I think you would have a hard time faulting the man’s post-presidency life. He has been bringing hope to people in Africa and NOT for publicity. Check this article out among many others.

All the above opinions I find interesting. I don’t fault anyone’s opinion. You have the right to believe what you want in many countries around the world… this one included. The one I find the most interesting is those who think that Christians are arrogant. The reason I find this one interesting is because if arrogance as defined by Google is: having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities… Then Christians are very arrogant, and have good reason to be.

Please don’t misunderstand me! Arrogance isn’t a good approach to life or evangelism. In fact, Christ calls us to be humble servants. Just look at Mark 10:42-45 or Philippians 2:3-8. But while an attitude of arrogance is exactly what we don’t need when we present the gospel, the gospel itself is an arrogant message about its own self-importance saturated in humility.

Allow me to explain:

We claim our Lord Jesus was God above any other god on earth (not even willing to capitalize your god’s claim to godliness). We say that He humbled Himself to become a servant to humanity by becoming one of us. Then we say that He kept God’s law (The Law we claim He wrote Himself) Perfectly! You and I sin all the time, and we are trying to say that some dude never undressed a woman with His eyes even once…yep… arrogant. Then He did a bunch of supernatural things like healing leprosy, giving sight to blind people, healing entire towns and villages, and even….wait for it… yes, even… raise someone back to life. That is quite a claim. Finally, we tell people that He somehow -ethereally… no literally- took all human sin on Himself and died on a Roman cross…then we look people in the eyes when we deliver this line… for YOU! Wow, I wonder how people feel about that one. Then it gets better. We tell them that He is the ONLY way of salvation, and unless people accept Him as their personal Savior then they will go to HELL!

Oh mercy, it is just dripping with arrogance (and I didn’t even share all of it with you, like how you -everyone- have a God shaped hole and Jesus is the only one that can fill it). Christ’s message was even arrogant during His own time. He claimed to be God and people were trying to kill Him for it (then they succeeded).

The crazy thing is… I believe it to be true. Yep, I just reread everything I wrote and I believe it to be true (if I’m a “good Christian” then I “know” it to be true…amirite?)

But seriously, I really honestly truly totally unabashedly believe this to be true!

When I say I have peace and joy in Christ and you can too… I really believe that to be true.

My difficulty comes between knowing this and telling other people about it. Somehow I see the humility and grace of Christ as amazing and deep. I see Christ as meek yet firm. I literally see Him as God: someone who only spoke the truth about Himself in love. I see His claims not as arrogant but as loving; trying to save a sinful race from murdering each other. Sometimes the truth seems arrogant, but I wonder if it is simply a crossroads where one can take the view that the truth is arrogant but another can see the truth as compassionate. It was truly the compassion of God to come down and die for a bunch of nobodies… but that view necessitates that you believe Jesus to be God. And, a compassionate God on top of that.

Many people don’t believe God is compassionate because some Christians really truly are arrogant about their faith and their belief. They say things like “I know”, “I am certain”, “well, Jesus is the answer to all your problems”. And to be honest with you I resonate with both sides on this one, it is arrogant, but again, I believe so deeply that to say I know there is a God isn’t arrogance, it is who I am. And it probably says more about me than it says about you (both the good and the ugly). When I say I have peace and joy in Christ and you can too… I really believe that to be true. It’s just the perfect storm putting Christians in contact at all with skeptics, because the Christians have been commissioned to tell the world about Christ and what He did and can do for them. They are constantly thinking about how they can evangelize people to “get them in the kingdom.”

All these things roll through my mind in a flash when I hear someone say that Christians are arrogant. I often don’t know how to respond to those people. I end up defending the fact that some aren’t… but I am beginning to wonder if I should just own the attitude: “Look, I’ve got the truth and I’m right. If you want to hear it then I’ll tell you so you can have it too, otherwise, if you are happy being wrong, then go ahead and be wrong.” But something about that doesn’t seem very Christlike or loving. I am at a loss trying to reconcile these two opposing views of the same data. Even when Christ is packaged as loving, He is unpackaged as arrogant. I struggle to paint an accurate picture of who God really is when met with such staunch resistance. Maybe my best bet is just living like Christ and continuing to love my neighbor even though they might call me arrogant… at least I have the peace of Christ, which is far past my understanding… what do you think?