Friday, August 22, 2014

I Hear Voices

Once we start "eating" the right words - the spoken words of God from sources that line up with the written words of God - we have to be able to apply them.  This requires constant devotion to humility.

Humility is admitting that we are incapable of doing it on our own.  Humility is not downplaying your accomplishments, but acknowledging that your talents are God-given and that some of your success is based on favor with people or teaching from people.

We've all heard the old adage that actions speak louder than words. This is basically true. But the more you watch and listen to people, the more you will understand why people act the way they do.  Behavior is a reflection of belief.  I like the phrase I first heard a couple of years ago: "When you know better, you do better" (This quote may be attributed to Oprah).  It follows then that when we consistently, habitually don't do the right thing, it is because we don't know how.

Behaviors are easy to change; beliefs are next to impossible.  So what do we do?

After we acclimate to the understanding that we cannot change the beliefs of our friends and family members, much less strangers, then:   
  • We have to spend enough time with ourselves to understand our flaws (the big ones and the small ones).  
  • We have to know God well enough to hear Him tell us how to fix them.  
I just re-learned this lesson.  People we love sometimes have struggles we could help them with.  But their behavior is most likely an effect of their belief and only God can change their beliefs. Let's turn that back on ourselves.  None of us are perfect; we all have flaws we have kept well hidden, consciously or unconsciously. No one can change those little idiosyncrasies and attitudes because they are deeply rooted in our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us.

If you've ever struggled with the idea of knowing God, let me give you two tips.

1. If you are at the beginning of your spiritual journey or you're still deciding if Christianity is for you, know this: prayer is not a monologue; it's a dialogue.  A dialogue requires two people talking and two people listening. When you pray (about all things great and small - your car not breaking down, your day running smoothly, your boyfriend forgetting his fears of commitment and taking you ring shopping, your mother's cancer), also listen to what God is saying back.  God is saying something back.

2. If you are past the beginning stages, you've been reading the Bible and going to church and you talk to God on a regular basis, but you're still not sure how to hear directly from God, know this: "God exists within you as you" (Elizabeth Gilbert) and the devil exists outside of you posing as you. There's a reason the visual representations of the Holy Spirit (your conscience) and the devil are small figures that look just like you whispering in your ear the right and wrong things to do.

One of the devil's most effective tricks is to speak negativity to you and deceive you into thinking the negative thoughts originated with you. The devil wants you to think your mind has an abundance of evil in it that you cannot escape.  But he is the liar, the deceiver, the accuser.  

God created you. When you were born, you had more God in you than you had of yourself and your parents.  In fact, the eternal part of you is simply a piece of God.  So when you align yourself with God's teachings, He removes the negativity that was invading your system and what is left is the God in you that was always there.  When you listen for God's voice during your prayer dialogue, listen for what sounds like your own thoughts or your own voice but lines up with God's words. 

This is why the yogis say, "I honor the Divinity that resides within me."


Monday, August 11, 2014

Spoken Word of God

Last week, I outlined ways to know if the words you're taking in are from God or not.  I focused on the written word - the Bible and other texts that proclaim the gospel of salvation through Divine Intervention. This week I will focus on the spoken word.

There are three main sources of the spoken word of God:
  • Pastors, preachers, prophets, teachers, conference speakers - all one group
  • Spiritual family, counselors, mentors, teachers, wise advisors - all one group
  • God Himself
To be very honest, many of us only ever listen to people in category two, spiritual family.  This is a very natural place to start, but a dangerous place to end.  My sweet, faithful, strong in the Word grandmother is sometimes just too close to me or too insistent on her personal styles to be the only one I listen to.  Your mentor is a human being. No matter how much she loves God, is filled with the Holy Spirit, she is still human with her biases and places of hurt and confusion.  To only listen and take advice from your spiritual family is to shut out the revelation God is giving to the rest of the world.

God is bigger than our imagination and wondrously multifaceted. God is not limited to the perspectives of people we know.

The next problem we have, especially in the United States, is our aversion to pastors and church people.  And I promise you, despite my current attachment to the church, I have struggled with this before as well. 2 Chronicles 20:20 says, "Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful." Also in Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth, he says, "God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased...and God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers..." (12:18 and 28).  He goes on to list several other spiritual gifts in hierarchical order.  Apostles can be defined as "those who are sent" (based on the translation of the Greek word) to speak God's word or to do God's work. I don't have them listed above simply because apostles tend to be doers - church planters, missionaries, healers - where the speakers are more referred to as prophets.

Some in church culture refer to prophets as anyone who speaks on behalf of God, or gives a message from God. This encompasses pastors, preachers, teachers (of the Word, not necessarily academics), and conference speakers (conferences centered around God's word and growing in faith). I like this scripture reference: "When there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. This is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord" (Numbers 12:8).  That's big. We see that prophets get visions and dreams that have meaning for our lives as followers of God. We also see that a person who is faithful to God might see God "face to face" and might hear things from God "clearly." Any human is fallible. Moses had his issues. But God continues revealing Himself to certain people "face to face." He continues speaking to certain people clearly and He does so even today (because He never changes - Hebrews 13:8).

The practical application is this: When someone says, "The Lord spoke to me and said..."
  1. Look for that trend in scripture.  You probably won't find the exact words, but you can find the concept. Remember to balance the Old Testament with the new. If a self-proclaimed prophet says, "God wants us to stone all adulterers," yes you will find that precedent in the Old Testament, but you will find a very different precedent set by Jesus in the New Testament. Chances are very great that person didn't hear from God. 
  2. See if what they claim God told them proves true. "You will know them by their fruit," or by what they do (Matthew 7:16). The catch is always timing.  God exists outside of time and historically gives people glimpses into the very distant future. Very rarely does God give a message with a timestamp on it.  The nice thing about this is it's easy to test out.  "Prophet" So-and-So says this will happen before the end of the year. You don't have to wait very long to see if they were true or false.  
  3. Do NOT try to decide whether they are really speaking God's word based on their mistakes or past failures.  Moses killed a guy and then disobeyed God and was left out of the Promised Land. That didn't stop God from using him to write the Torah. Paul used to murder Christians, that didn't stop God from using him to write all those letters to the churches. God is in the business of saving people and using them for His glory. Salvation is a process and God uses people while He's still saving them. Sometimes people make huge mistakes after God has spoken through them. This does not invalidate the message.

When taking in God's spoken word, we must temper our faith in God's hierarchy with wisdom of God's written word. "Study to show yourself approved" (2 Timothy 2:15). Listen with a discerning ear and react in love and submission.

I will write more on submission and hearing from God Himself* next week.

*I struggled to put Himself rather than Herself or Him/Herself. God does not have gender. That's a different argument for a different day. But know, that I believe firmly and whole-heartedly that God fully encompasses both genders. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Say What? Word?

In my last post, I used the premise of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love to give some guidelines for having a fulfilled life: pray, "eat," and live. As promised, in this post I am going to discuss my theory of "eating" a bit more.

I already mentioned "[hu]man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).

What are God's words? The easy answer is: the Bible. The educated answer is: God's words are those which proclaim the Gospel, the good news, of salvation through Divine intervention.

Let me clarify: The only reason I did not leave my declaration at "the Bible - period" is because I believe, like Tommy Tenney (author of the famous Christian text The God Chasers), that God has not stopped speaking to His people since he gave John the Revelation and since Paul wrote his inspired epistles to the early churches. "God is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8), so it doesn’t make sense that He would stop giving us prophets, relevant and timely instruction, and revelation.

I think there are dozens of books out there written by people who listen just as closely to God as Matthew and Amos and Moses listened to God. And I think their words are just as relevant to living a godly life as those in the canonized Bible. These authors’ books typically include biblical cross-references along their original revelations.

I will not name specific other books of scripture in this post, but I will say this: Christianity hinges on the revelation (not the intellectual knowledge) that Jesus, the Christ, who was both God and man allowed himself to be killed in order to "pay for" human sinfulness (Phil. 2:5-8). All religions I have studied acknowledge that humans are inclined toward wrong doing more than right doing. Most theism (or “belief in God”) acknowledges that God is "holier," better, stronger than humans. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus's death paid (past tense) the price for my sin. It happened immediately in the instant of his death, and now only has to be accepted.

I am going to disagree with some theologians here, though, and say: I don't think Jesus came to earth, lived, was tortured, died, and rose again (that's the difference; martyrs are a dime a dozen) primarily to save us from hell. Why not? Because I don't believe that the people who attempted to be faithful to God before Jesus's earth tour went to hell. I believe Jesus's death and resurrection were ordained by God to give us a chance at a better life on earth, an opportunity for the life God wanted when He created humans in the first place. Now THAT’S GOOD NEWS!

Christianity is about being saved from the effects of sin in our lives on earth more so than the after-life result of rejecting God's sovereignty. We are saved and able to engage in the process of becoming more whole, and therefore becoming holier and happier.

So, how do we measure if it is God’s word or not? In my prayerful, researched opinion, God's word is this:

  • It DOES constantly require you to do better. 
  • It DOES constantly remind you that you cannot do better without God. 
  • It DOES come from a place of love. 
  • It DOES NOT allow you to remain complacent. 
  • It DOES NOT convince you that your next level is all about gritting your teeth and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps (none of that “they sleep, we grind” mentality). 
  • It DOES NOT come from a place of judgment. 

Despite many Christians’ aversion to everything that hints at another religion, in Liz Gilbert's book her first act on her spiritual journey was to cry out to a God she wasn't sure she believed in and ask for help. Even she prayed first. And when God spoke; she listened and obeyed.


 For some information on other ways God speaks, check out Soul Medicine next week.