5/26/10

Billions of Voices

No, I'm not going crazy.  But I did feel like I heard a billion voices yesterday. It's always interesting to be around people that are so different from you. We are in Maine. Walking through the airports, we navigated around thousands of people. I heard bits and pieces of their conversations, but I could never really catch more than a sentence or two.  Karen's finishing up nursing school. A man was missing his sweetheart. One lady was telling someone about her nephew's christening.

After a while, it became a game to me. I was trying to listen to everyone that I could at the same time and see if I could make out what each person was saying individually. I heard familiar words, but I could not keep all of their sentences straight. And then I thought about God and how I feel like he only listens to me. But in reality, he listens to all that come to him. I could not effectively listen to the people around me, but God... He invites billions of voices to pray to him.  And he hears everyone.

5/22/10

To Rachel

Dear Rachel,

I can only attempt to describe how much I love you. Because my love for you cannot be explained through words. As hard as I try, I can't seem to transfer to you my understanding of how much I love you. I don't believe that any man can fully explain to his wife how much he loves her. Men are limited in our expressive abilities. But I think this is by design.

If a man could fully articulate how much he loves his wife, why would he need to try anymore? I believe God limits my ability to clarify and convey my love to you because he knows how much I want to.  And he knows that if he didn't, I might stop trying. Instead, he gives husbands small pieces of wisdom at a time, if they're searching for it. Small ways to show their wives how much they care. I can honestly say that my relationship with Christ has been strengthened because of the realization of my responsibility for you. On May 22, 2009, God gave me a beautiful wife to love and to be loved by. But he also gave me a woman to take care of and to lead spiritually. And in that realization, I knew that I could not do that without Christ. 

We have been through a lot this past year. You have put up with my late nights of studying, my selfishness and my inability to fully master the art of listening. We have fought and laughed about the most idiotic things. But through it all, God continues to teach us about each other. Thanks for an amazing first year of marriage.


With all my love,

Evan

5/18/10

The Importance of Repetition.

Every morning, I wake up and brush my teeth.  The act of brushing my teeth is almost subconscious.  I do it because that's just what you do when you wake up.  But why do I really do it?  It's a pretty boring task.  It's even more boring to write about.  I do it because I know that if I don't, my teeth will eventually rot and fall out.  And somehow, that keeps me motivated to get up every morning, stick a small brush in my mouth and rub it around until I'm finished singing three verses of the Happy Birthday song in my head. 

We are made for repetition.  For some reason, God designed this world so that most things in life that have value must be worked for.  So we work.  Because it's worth it.  Whatever "it" is.  It could be the television you are saving $10 a week for.  Or the half-marathon you are running a few miles a day to prepare for.  No one questions those repetitions.  We repeat ourselves to be ready for the day or the test or the race.  And if "it" is worth it to us, the monotony of repetition does not wear us down because we know what our goal is.

What if our goal was a close, real relationship with God?  Not one that Christians get made fun of for talking about.  I'm talking about speaking to God through daily prayer. And listening to God through daily scripture reading.  These are the simple steps to a relationship with God, but man are they monotonous.  Some days, reading the bible sounds less fun than brushing my teeth.  And I forget to pray because it's not natural to talk to someone in your mind or to the air. But that's only when I forget what my goal is - to befriend God.  When I remember that goal, I realize that repetition is the only way to build the relationship I want with God.  Because it connects me to a personal God, not just one that I request favors from.

5/14/10

How to talk to a homeless person.

Yes, I'm going to talk about homeless people.  You know, the ones that ask you for money when you just want to go in and buy a coke.  We've all experienced it.  If we're honest (and I'm about to be), a conversation with a homeless person is not the most pleasant experience.

For most of us, the level of communication never goes farther than, "Hey man, can you spare some change?" Then we either lie and say we don't have any or we give them a few coins.  But it's not to help them.  We give to help them get away from us.

On my way to school I pass two gas stations.  Between the two stations, there are roughly 2 to 3 homeless people standing around asking for money on any given day.  And if I have time, I'll watch to see how other people react to their requests for money.  Some completely ignore them.  Some give a few cents.  Some act like they are talking on the phone (I am ashamed to admit I have used this trick too many times).  Why do we fear talking to homeless people?  Sure, a lot of them don't have much work ethic or they spend what money they do make on alcohol.  But lots of people do that, homeless or not.  The only real difference between a homeless person and us is that they sleep on concrete and we sleep on a mattress.

Christians struggle with this one.  I certainly do.  Especially because I encounter homeless people five days out of the week.  A few months back, I had a good discussion with a friend, Jace,  about homeless people.  I've never met someone so passionate for the homeless.  But he was passionate in a practical way.  He had experience.  Through a succession of e-mails, he told me of his homeless friends and how he loved on them.  His advice was simple - just talk to them.  They're human too.

Just talk to them? That's scary.  They're not like me.  They may smell.  I'm in a hurry.  I had more questions.  Talk to them about what?  What if they ask for money?  He proceeded to tell me that homeless people just want you to talk to them.  They don't want to be a project.

So I did.  Jace mentioned the idea of keeping a few cans of chili in the back of my car just for a homeless occasion.  I didn't have to store those cans for long.  Anthony was his name.  I met him at a Shell just down the street from school.  He asked me for money.  I asked him if he was hungry.  And out came the chili.  We sat on the sidewalk with our chili and talked, like new friends.  He is 28 years old and was jumped in the park the night before.  He told me of his family and how long he had been homeless (10 years).  His dad finds him from time to time and gives him money.  He has a driver's license, but only for identification.  He showed me where he slept the night before.  All the while I was holding back tears.

I had a friend that encouraged me to show God's love in a way that I haven't done before.  I didn't do anything special the day I met Anthony.  I just talked to someone that God loves just as much as me.  But it helped me understand God's love a little bit more.  

As a friend, let me ask you - how is God tugging at you to show His love in a way you haven't tried before?

5/12/10

@following_god

Do you tweet? If so, you know the importance of followers.  Followers are the currency of twitter.  The more you have, the richer you are (at least it feels that way).

But what are your followers really thinking when you send out those 140 characters of wisdom?  The truth is, most people aren't refreshing their twitter account every five minutes in hopes that you have tweeted.  I'm not exactly certain why twitter even chose to call them followers in the first place.  If anything, we are subscribers to the thoughts people send out on twitter.  To me, following someone requires more action-oriented behavior.  I think of physically following someone.

Twitter's definition of "follow" has become very similar to how some of us Christians follow Jesus.  We sign up for a Christianity account, find @Jesus and start following him.  But if we applied twitter's definition of "follower" to our relationship with God, we are to just sit around and wait for Him to tweet.  We would get God's tweets from inspirational billboards, sermons, songs on the radio, etc.  But that's hardly following God.  To follow someone, you have to stay close enough to them to see where they are going.  If we sit around and wait for God's tweets, it will be hard to follow him much farther.  And when we finally look up, it will be tough to see which direction he went.

5/7/10

7 behaviors that will strengthen your relationship with God.

Who can you speak your unfiltered thoughts to?

Whether we admit it or not, each one of us needs someone to connect to.  When we find a person that will accept us, even after hearing our deepest thoughts, we work very hard to maintain and strengthen that relationship.  Whether it is a spouse or a friend, a need is met.  A need to be close to someone and to be understood.

I used to believe that this type of intimate relationship was only possible between humans, and certainly not with an unseen God.  But there is no sense in that reasoning.  Why would the creator of emotions and thoughts and needs not be capable of connecting to the people he made?

Over the past year or so, I have found 7 behaviors that have strengthened my relationship with God.  We've got to get past the Christian-talk and the cynicism.  A friendship like the ones we have in our lives on Earth is possible with God too.  I don't assume to know how close you are with God.  But I do know that these behaviors have helped me experience a personal God. 

1) Read the Bible.  
Ever wish God would talk to you like he did Moses or Paul?  He does every time you open the bible.  When we read God's word, we are on the receiving end of a conversation with God.  He is literally talking to us in written form. 

This is where God mentors us.  "All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16).  Just as we learn the character of a parent or friend through relationships, we learn God's character when we read the Bible.  Read one chapter a day, keeping within one book at a time.  This works for me, but it is not the only way.  I go into a little more detail in an earlier post - Desiring God's Word.  It doesn't matter how much you read; the strengthening comes from daily scripture reading.  

2) Talk to God.
To become better friends with God, we've got to talk to him.  Otherwise, we are not getting to know him.  That is the point of these behaviors - to understand and be understood.  Don't just pray when you're happy or sad or angry.  Talk to him like a regular human being.  Tell him about your day.  I know this may sound strange, but remember, you are developing the relationship.  

The Bible tells us to "not be anxious about anything, but in EVERYTHING, by prayer... present your requests to God." (Philippians 4:6).  Talk to God daily.

3) Memorize Scripture. 
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he responded to each attack with scripture.  Our relationship with God is constantly under attack.  This is especially true when we start trying to develop the relationship.  Reciting memorized scriptures at moments of temptation of any kind will significantly wound the enemy and strengthen your relationship with Christ.  In that moment, you are telling God that you trust Him.  Think of how good it feels when someone tells you that they trust you.  

4) Take Timeouts from Life. 
This behavior is similar to prayer, but does not have to include prayer.  It is a time for you to be alone and to relax, even if for a few minutes.  Try to schedule timeouts during the busiest part of your day.  Your focus should be on one verse: "Be still and know that I am God..." (Psalm 46:10).  Use this time to re-energize and remember that God is in control.  

5) Find an Accountability Partner. 
The concept of an accountability partner is something I have tried to avoid for most of my life as a Christian.  It can be difficult to trust someone enough to share your deepest feelings with.  But as I studied scripture, one verse in particular knocked those inhibitions down very quickly: "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." (James 5:16).  God has called us to be relational and to confess to one another.  It's not about condemnation or judgment.  If you find or have an accountability partner that doesn't make you feel better about yourself after talking with him or her, find a new one.  To me, accountability means encouragement.

6) Go to Church. 
The people, not the building.  Weekly attendance at church has been a vital source of strength for my relationship with God.  It is refreshing to be around other believers.  But it is also biblical.  Even Jesus went to church every week. (Luke 4:16).  Hebrews tells of the importance of community: "Let us not give up meeting together..." A local church provides that opportunity to meet together and encourage one another.  

7)  Repeat behaviors 1 through 4 daily.  
You wouldn't stop talking to your boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife just after finding out each other's names and favorite colors.  Why do we do that with God?  He wants to know our favorite everything.  He wants us to tell him our thoughts and feelings.  Yes, He already knows them, but keeping it to ourselves doesn't develop the relationship.

The relationship you want with God is possible, but it won't happen without intentional behavior.  "Come near to God and he will come near to you..." (James 4:8).

What are more ways that you have found to add to this list? 

5/5/10

Are you a stand-up worshiper?

Why are these people standing? I would hope that each of them stood from their seats to express themselves in worship by holding their hands high and closing their eyes. But what really goes on in the minds of people that stand up to worship?

Where does the urge to stand begin? I have noticed that most often the tug begins during a powerful chorus line. And anyone who is not standing while others are on their feet is left with a choice to make. Do I stand because I am feeling it the same way they are or do I stand because everyone else is standing?

I know this is true because I have experienced it in church. In fact, I experience it every Sunday during the "worship" part of the service. We can talk about what the definition of worship is later. For now, let's focus on the standing. I stand because everyone else is standing - just being honest. Sometimes I see a few people in the front standing and I will stand early because I know it's just one of those songs that's going to get people on their feet. I am so relieved when the song leader asks us to "stand as we sing," because it takes the pressure off of me to make that dreadful decision.

I think the devil whispers to me in church. He says, "Okay, this is what I want you to do. Instead of listening to the words of the song and how they should remind you of God's glory, worry about what people will think of you if you don't stand while others are. And if you don't stand one Sunday, you should feel guilty, or just weird."

I'm not knocking stand-up worshipers. If you feel it, stand! Notice I'm not posting about criers. I can tear up pretty easily during a sermon. You tell me a story of someone with cancer who is making a difference for Christ through attitude and mentoring and any other thing you would think a person with cancer wouldn't be up to doing, I'll cry. That doesn't mean everyone else should be crying.

I don't have much of a conclusion on these stand-up worshipers. I guess I have more of a question. Does it make me a bad person if I don't feel the urge to stand while singing? Does it make me even worse when I stand only because others are standing?

5/3/10

More like falling in love.

I think any Christian would say they want a close relationship with God. I have heard this so many times in church and from other Christians. It's hard to explain what you mean when you say it though. To non-believers, it sounds ridiculous. If a non-Christian asked a Christian how he or she can even have a relationship with an unseen God, a lot of us Christians would be stuck for an answer. I'm still trying to figure out what I would say. But it is important that we have an answer. It's important to God - "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (1 Peter 3:15).

I haven't prepared that answer as eloquently as I would like. I do know, however, that the relationship that we want with Christ is not something that can be developed over night. Like a human father, God is quick to protect us. But it takes time to develop a close relationship with him. And with each sin that separates us from Him, it becomes harder for us to feel any sort of intimacy with God. The problem with sin is that it hinders our ability to understand God. We literally lose insight into His word because we are not as close to Him when we sin. It would be the same as listening to a professor's lecture from outside the classroom. We may hear bits and pieces of the lecture, but we would have a full understanding of the material only if we were inside the room, watching and listening and learning. 

I have actually never thought about this until just a few days ago. I was listening to KLOVE and a song came on called, "More like falling in love," by Jason Gray. He explains it so well: 

It ought to be

More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance
Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It's like I'm falling, oh
It's like I'm falling in love



The more I search for intimacy with God, the more I realize how true those lyrics are. It takes time to develop a relationship with another human. You have to be vulnerable with that person. You have to share your deepest feelings and beliefs. You have to expose your weaknesses to them, and if they accept you, the relationship grows stronger. This is what God wants from us. I hesitate to say what God wants or thinks, but this has been my experience. The more I confess and talk to God (sometimes out loud), the more insight He gives me. He exposes more ways that he is taking care of me. Ways I had not been aware of before. And the relationship grows. We learn what He would do in our daily situations by absorbing his character.

How can a "close relationship" with God be explained to a non-believer? The only way I can think to explain it is through human feelings. Through God, I feel peace in not-so-peaceful situations. I feel stronger emotions for strangers than I ever did without Christ. I have more patience with others. All of these feelings are not strengths of mine. I'm a naturally worrisome, impatient, selfish person. How else could those natural tendencies be suppressed, but through the one who created me and my ability to think and feel.

I write on this because it has given me peace to know that when I don't feel God's presence as much as I would like, it's not because he is not there. It is because a close relationship with Him takes time, and effort. Paul compares it to a life-long race. (1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Tim. 4:7).

I'm interested in other thoughts on this.