Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The View from Above

At the end of last week I went to Houston for a meeting. It was a relatively quick trip - arriving around 9:30 the night before and leaving around 3:30 the next day. Even in that short time, though, I was reminded why nobody should go to Houston in the summer - it was unbelievably hot and humid. My hotel was not on the underground tunnel system, so I had to walk outside for 5 blocks. By the time I got there, I think I needed to shower and change my clothes!

But that is not why I am writing.

It was a very clear day for the flight home and I sat next to the window. At some point I looked up from my work, looked out of the window and looked down on the world. I could see hills and water, some roads, divisions of the land and cities. Basically, I could see some of the bigger features. It made me think about those beautiful, classic pictures of Earth from space - the swirling clouds, the green and brown of the land and the blue of the oceans. From that level, you really only see the major features.

I guess that I am kind of intrigued by the different views from above. When I used to have room in my office for a coffee table, one of the things that it held was a book that I was given as a gift from a friend. The book was full of pictures from around the world - all of which were taken from a helicopter looking down. Sometimes it was obvious what you were seeing, and sometimes you had to really study the picture or even turn back and look it up. It was a complete change of perspective that de-emphasized the little things that we usually see and emphasized the bigger picture.

In any event, while I was sitting in the plane looking out the window, I started to try to imagine how God sees the Earth. How He sees all of those perspectives at the same time - the view from space down to the most intimate view of an individual. And He sees them all at the same time. Now, I recognize that God doesn't see things in the same way that we see them, and that He does not have the same physical and mental limitations that allow us to only see one view at a time. But that recognition doesn't make it less amazing, it makes it more amazing! God, the creator of the Heavens and the Earth and all living things, still stays actively involved in everything. He doesn't have to appoint managers; He doesn't limit His involvement to matters of a certain size; He doesn't require a lot of procedures for a meeting; He doesn't only give his attention to people of a certain level of importance. Instead, at the same time that He focuses on the global, He is willing and able (indeed, He wants) to focus individually on you and me and everyone else.

I find it simply incomprehensible. If you have ever played one of those games like Sim City, think about it on even that scale. Once you get a few buildings going and have some roads, businesses, etc., you have to start focusing on big issues. You could never focus on individuals, you have to start working in broad brush.

But not God. God still has all the time in the world for each of us. He has time to listen to our problems, to celebrate successes, to comfort, to guide and to scold. If God - the creator of the World - is willing to spend that kind of time with each of us, how can we ever deny Him? Instead, we should seek every opportunity to come into His presence, offer praises, share and seek advice. He is already reaching out to us - we just need to reach out to Him.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


When I first started getting more involved in my church, and, in particular, first started getting more involved in missions and spending time with the youth, a topic that came up time and time again was personal testimonies. I would hear a lot of people talk about needing to be able to share the story of how you came into a relationship with Jesus and what has happened in your life as a result of that relationship. If possible, to compare and contrast the before and the after.

To be honest, I'm not sure I ever really got it. I have shared at least the outline of my personal testimony here before. It is an intensely personal thing and while incredibly important to me, I wasn't really sure what difference it would make to someone else. I viewed the act of sharing the personal experience as more important than what was actually said - opening myself and letting someone see something raw and undistorted by the "spin" I may put on things so people hear what I want them to hear (or so I don't reveal my true self). That I got. The idea of making yourself so vulnerable to someone else can really change the relationship. But, as I said, I didn't think the actual details were all that significant.

Recently, however, I am beginning to change my position on this. I have been making my way through the book of Acts and reading about Paul repeatedly sharing his testimony. Now, in fairness, Paul has a pretty dramatic testimony since it involves his transformation from Saul (who went out to round up early Christians) to Paul (who was sent by the Lord to spread the Word) during his conversation with God on the road to Damascus. Acts 9:1-19. But what is important to me is not that his testimony is so much more dramatic than most, but that he shared that testimony at seemingly every opportunity. He shared it in multiple prisons, he shared it in multiple cities, he shared it with commoners and he shared it with kings. He used it as a way to reach people that, for whatever reason, were not being reached in other ways.

Thinking about it made me look back to the reports of Jesus healing the demon-possessed man in Gerasenes. As soon as Jesus stepped ashore, he is met by this man who had not worn clothes or lived in a house for a long time. He lived in the tombs and had repeatedly been driven into solitary places. When Jesus asked his name, he replied "Legion," because many demons had gone into him. Luke 8:30. After Jesus had cast out the demons, the people from the town and the countryside came to see what had happened. Seeing that the person was dressed and "in his right mind", they could have had all sorts of reactions. They could have celebrated or been in awe of Jesus' power. At the very least you would expect that they would be impressed and invite Jesus to stay with them and to speak with them.

But that was not their reaction at all. The Bible tells us that they were afraid. Luke 8:35. Rather than asking Jesus to stay, "all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear." Luke 8:37 (NIV) Jesus left, as they requested, but he did not give up on trying to reach the people there. Although the man he had healed begged Jesus to go with him, Jesus sent him home, instructing him to "tell how much God has done for you." Luke 8:39 (NIV) And, he did just that - he "told all over town how much Jesus had done for him." Luke 8:39 (NIV) Jesus sent him to share his testimony to reach the people in that region that were too afraid to listen to Jesus himself.

I know that there are many other places in the Bible where the Good News is spread by the sharing of personal testimonies. These are just two examples that came to mind today. But they really have me rethinking this whole idea of the importance of being prepared to share your testimony. Although I suspect that there are few of us that can tell stories of having our demons cast into pigs to fall off of a cliff, or of being blinded for three days after having a conversation with God in the middle of the road, I think that all Christians have something to share. Even people that are just starting down this road and just getting their feet wet or just starting to get to know Christ have something that led them to that point. Being prepared to share that with others when the opportunity or need arises is important. I'm not comfortable at all with forcing the conversation or with sitting down with friends and neighbors and saying "let me tell you about why I am a Christian." But, I have been in a lot of unexpected situations where someone asks me about my beliefs or asks me about why I do certain things I do. At those times, I am always happy to be ready to share my testimony - be it the short version or the long version. And, I have found that sometimes this leads to the next step - with them asking additional questions and me being able to share more and more. In those situations, maybe I am reaching them in a way that going to a sermon, or picking up the Bible, wouldn't.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Noise Cancelling Headphones

I have this really nifty set of noise cancelling headphones that I wear with my IPOD when I exercise or when I am on an airplane. They are the big, over the ear kind. While that makes them a little more of a pain to lug around, I really do not like the little ones that fit inside the ear. In any event, if you have never used headphones like this, they are pretty neat. I don't pretend to be able to explain how they really work, but my understanding from looking at them is that they have an external microphone/sensor that picks up outside noise. Then, assuming that you really want to hear what is coming through the headphones, rather than the outside noise, they electronically kill or mask that sound. It is not 100%, but they do a pretty amazing job of blocking out all of that extra noise and making it easier to hear your music and hear it more clearly.

In church this weekend, Pastor Bob made some reference to blocking out all the noise of the world and my headphones came immediately to mind. Well, my headphones and a song that I heard on the radio last week called "Voice of Truth" by Casting Crowns. I've heard the song a bunch of times before, but for some reason last week I really listened to it and thought about it.

To really give you a good sense of the song would require me to reprint all of the lyrics here and I don't want to take up that much time or space. The short version (and I recommend that you Google "Voice of Truth lyrics" and read all of the lyrics or better yet, listen to the song) is that the song talks about wanting to have the kind of faith that it takes to step out of the boat onto the waves or to stand in front of a giant with only a sling and a stone. But the waves and the giant call out and laugh, reminding us of the times that we have tried and failed and saying "you'll never win."

"But the Voice of Truth tells me a different story
the Voice of Truth says "do not be afraid!"
and the Voice of Truth says "this is for My glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of Truth"

I love that last phrase - "Out of all the voices calling out to me, I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of Truth." The Voice that tells me not to be afraid. The Voice that tells me it is for His glory and I therefore cannot fail. Sometimes I can find it maddeningly hard to do that. I get caught up in all the other voices, all the distractions. I hear the giant telling me that I will fail and reminding me of past failures. I can't block out all the noise of the world.

I need my noise cancelling headphones to help me. I've looked, but I have not yet found a set of actual headphones to do this. I have found that my wife, my good friends and my church can do a pretty good job of it at times. But, the best set of noise cancelling headphones that I have found for these purposes so far is my Bible and time spent in quiet prayer. I've shared here before that I often need God to hit me over the head with a message, and sometimes I struggle to figure out if I am really hearing the Voice of Truth or if I am hearing the world, or what I want to hear. But even in those times, I have discovered that my only hope of finding the answer to those questions is taking time to stop and really open myself in prayer to listen.