Posts Tagged ‘listening’

The Sound of His Voice

January 11, 2010

“The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When He has brought out all His own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow Him because they know His voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”  John 10:2-5.

I grew up with a fear of deception—make that borderline paranoia.  The denomination I was raised in protects its “truth” very carefully (and forcefully would be another understatement) to the point that I think some people in it worshiped the fundamental doctrines more than Christ or even God the Father.  I’m not criticizing the denomination itself because I also learned to know Jesus through some beautiful people in the local church and schools.

So many, both inside and outside the Christian faith, claim to long for knowledge of God, to know Him or Her and understand the purpose of their creation.  Our biggest obstacle to knowing God is which source material truly speaks His/Her mind.  Since I am a Christian and believe wholeheartedly in the message of the gospels, I will refer to the God I worship as the one for whom all are searching, though this may not be accurate in motivation as much as it is in theory.

How do we get to know the Judeo/Christian God accurately so that we can get a handle on what He wants?

By getting to know His voice.

That’s nice. 

So how do we get to know His voice?!?

By studying our source of His message.

The problem of understanding God, which then leads to knowing His voice, is that we have so many seeming contradictions in nature and the Word itself to overcome that we get confused.  Not to mention thousands of voices in this century and all through the ages writing, spewing and proclaiming opposed views of what it means to know Him.

At the council of Nice, back in the 4th century (I believe), they decided to go with known authors for the source material of what we call the “Bible” and reject any writings that were not supported by known authorities.  They chose first the gospels which we now read, the apostolic letters, then studied these to determine which of the OT writings were authoritative in eyes of the NT writers.  In other words, if the NT writers quoted from the OT source, they included the book in the canon.

I don’t know if they got it right or not, though I agree with the method of discernment.  What I do know is that what we call the “Bible” has a voice, a tone to its message and a sound if read out loud which comes from not only the message but the language as well.  Through the gospels, we get to know the Godhead by way of Jesus.  For example, later in the book of John Jesus tells Phillip,  “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”  Therefore we may conclude that Jesus represents the heart, intent and character of God the Father on earth.  This, too, gives us a grasp on the voice of God.

Our Shepherd’s voice can be heard throughout the history of Israel and the Christian church’s beginnings.  If we keep ourselves from becoming myopic (tunnel vision), we will hear the tonal consistency of the Scriptures and know the voice of God clearly.

I think being a musician makes me aware of tonal ambiguities more and the harmonic quality of how a thing sounds.  For instance, almost every entry I make on this blog is read aloud so I can hear how it flows rhythmically and in its tonality.   I also want each entry to have a coherent main point which is supported by the small rabbit trails I indulge in—like this one I’m writing.  Paul, when talking about tongues, speaks to the commonsense of playing an instrument clearly and with purpose so that those who hear won’t be bored or confused by its sound.

God’s voice in the Scriptures can sound confusing if one doesn’t take the time to know Him through the eyes of His Son, the only one who can truly interpret the Godhead’s purpose or intent.  Many times preachers or evangelists focus so much time on one aspect of God that people never understand the balance.  Like hell fire sermons, for instance, are preached to scare people away from the punishment to come.  We see the results of this in the fact that we know many a bitter non-believer.  On the other hand, merely focusing on God’s desire to save to the exclusion of His warning about final punishment leaves out a vital aspect to God’s message as well.

Without teaching the whole of the message, we don’t see God’s heart.  In fact, if I hadn’t courageously taken my reluctance in hand and read the book of Ezekiel, I would never have found the message of God’s heart about the lost.  When I read the words,  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD,  Repent and live!  in 18:32, then found the same message in other chapters, the way I heard God’s warnings about punishment and disaster changed.  The tone of His voice went from stern eagerness to fry us to a Father pleading with His foolish children to turn away from something dangerous.  The warnings of punishment are God’s last resort.

Looking at the history of Israel I see God’s patience and long-suffering work with them in their seesaw loyalty to Him.  It took almost a thousand years from the time they entered Canaan till they went into exile for them to be stripped completely of their homeland.  Even then God gave it back to them out of faithfulness to His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

If God doesn’t take pleasure in the death of anyone, then His children must not.  The tone of a preacher that speaks more of the judgment of God to the utter disregard of God’s longing to save is out of balance and therefore just as bad as a lie.  On the other hand, if a preacher only speaks of God’s love without His discipline, he or she has repeated the same mistake as those who focus on hell-fire.  Half-truth is a lie of sorts, even if it is all true within the half that is spoken.  To me, speaking half of God’s message without the balance is like drawing a person’s face without features.

No, hearing God’s voice takes careful study as well as His children properly dividing the Word of Truth in not only their teaching but the way they live.

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A Pushy Savior?

August 27, 2009

Jesus said to them,  “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”  John 6:53.

I’ve read this chapter nearly thirty times and every time it shouts out to me that Jesus was almost goading these Jews with His  words.  The language He uses is so graphic and seemingly against the Law that those listening cannot help themselves, they have to stand up to this madman.  From the very beginning of the Law, as early as Genesis (Noah’s story), humans have been forbidden to drink blood—even of animals—for the life is in the blood.  At the same time eating human flesh was also considered an abomination in the Law.  Yet here was Jesus proclaiming a new kind of salvation through what appeared to be cannibalism.

I’m sure it wasn’t lost on the Jews that it would be impossible for everyone in Israel, let alone the whole world, to get even a small bite of Jesus’ flesh or even a sip of His blood.  Partly they were confused by the metaphor standing in front of them and partly they were looking for a reason to disagree with Him.  The use of metaphor wasn’t uncommon in their era, they weren’t unfamiliar with nuance, so what was their problem?

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves,  “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”

An argument takes sides of the issue and debates them, which means some were seeing the metaphorical aspects of Jesus’ words while others were being literal, all were struggling to grasp the idea.  The world didn’t have the doctrine of transubstantiation just yet, though many religions did have teachings somewhat similar, so the idea of bread turning into the actual body or wine into the actual blood of Jesus hadn’t gained a footing as yet.  To the Jews Jesus was simply a fascinating figure, one who challenged the status quo of the day with new slants on current explanations of Scripture and God.  To them He was nothing more than a good rabbi and one whom God was using to do miracles—nothing more than Elisha, Moses or others had been.  A good teacher and prophet but not the Son of God.

There is purpose in what Jesus is doing here, first on a debate level, then on a theological level, lastly He’s using this situation to weed out the false followers from the true (I get this from a verse further on in the passage).  The twelve must have been just as confused as the common people and teachers of the law, but they had just witnessed Jesus walk on water that morning and it was still quite fresh in their minds, so they would be giving Him the benefit of the doubt.

Up to this point in the discussion Jesus doesn’t take the pressure off even a little bit but pounds the point home about their unbelief and faithless heritage.  Oddly enough, John only let’s us into who the crowd was almost toward the end of the discussion by giving the location as a synagogue.  Whenever the Bible mentions a specific place, there’s a point being made by the writer as to its importance in the story line.  This being the case, a synagogue would have been a prime location for such a discussion for the learned rabbis and devout Jews would have been gathered there, as well as the common people.  This sheds some light on who “the Jews” are in John’s writing. 

I could reiterate Jesus’ words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, but I don’t think it’s necessary really.  We get the point now that His death and resurrection are past so we can look back to symbol of life through the Son as a fulfilled truth.  Hindsight is always 20/20, as the saying goes, the blur of truth in the moment, however, is never quite as clear.  Before we criticize the Jews for their hard headed refusal to accept what Jesus said, we must look at our own stubborn nature with the Bible as well.

The trouble with human nature isn’t that we are sinful, it’s that we are blindly too prideful to admit we can’t see spiritual truth.  Take the words of Jesus above as an example of what we barely understand even today.  He’s not talking about transubstantiation here nor some mystical rite which will save us, rather it’s more pointing to our need to invite Him into our very being.  Jesus is speaking of our hearts not our physical bodies.  If He is the essence of life in everything that lives, moves or has being, then rejecting Him as such is sheer death, as is accepting Him is life in the fullest sense.

Jesus warned us many will say,  “Lord, Lord,” without really meaning it.  Do you and I grasp what it means to call Jesus “Lord?”  Not too long ago anyone called “Lord” was owner of all we had, commander and chief of the district they ruled and the law of the land, which means their decrees were final.  Even the people were considered property to these “lords,” so that they ruled the very existence of their servants.

When we say Jesus is Lord, our modern filter gets in the way of what it means for Him to rule over us too often, for we think of Him as some benevolent, innocuous god-ling out to give presents to all the good girls and boys.  Nothing could be further from the truth of His command or what NT meant when it called Him “Lord.”  Paul dispels any misunderstandings when he declared himself to be a slave to Christ.  A slave had no say in his or her own life even so far as to whom they would marry or what would happen to their children.  They were completely under the command of their master and as such submitted to their will at all times.

Jesus’ teachings from a Biblical POV are not to be taken as suggestions for they describe the very nature of not only Himself but those who would follow after Him.  To those who believe and have faith in the Christ His teachings are the life’s blood of their existence for they connect us with Him.  He isn’t just another good teacher with great proverbs or interesting things to say but a turning point in the way we think about life itself.

This is what the Bible means when it calls Jesus “Lord” and Master.

So, what do you mean when you say it?

The Benefit of Silence

October 27, 2008

I will be following the experiences of a friend learning the blessing of silence.  It’s one of the many things I am not good at.  I know I need it because the Spirit of God has been drawing me toward a more prayerful, listening life.

I will get there, I pray, but it takes surrender, which is another thing I’m not good at…