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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why So Serious?

Why so serious?

Besides being one of my favorite lines ever in a movie, it’s a question non-believers frequently ask of Christians.  An outside perception of Christians is that all we talk about if suffering.  In Dan Kimball’s book They Like Jesus but Not the Church, he quotes a non-believer as saying, “Isn’t there more to living this life than to constantly be talking about death and suffering?  (Christians) seem to hate this life and can’t wait until the next one when all the bad people here will be in hell and gone.”

Fair or not, to many non-believers, Christianity doesn’t look like a lot of fun.  Many pastors, many believers focus on the suffering sections of the Bible more than anything else.  I’ve stated recently that if a topic is in the Bible numerous times, that’s God’s way of hitting us over the head with the importance of it.  Understanding suffering is important.  Very important.  It needs to be taught.  It needs to be discussed.  And while we know that it ultimately leads to grace and wonderful things, the journey there can be kind of a bummer.

You know what else the Bible talks a lot about?  Joy.  Happiness.  It’s okay to laugh, even in times of suffering.  In fact, it’s good to laugh in times of suffering.  It’s healthy.  Believe it or not, many Christians believe that humor has no place in Christianity.  Seriously (minor pun intended).  Many feel that the Bible did not show humor; therefore, it did not happen.  They say that since the Bible does not show Jesus laughing, then Jesus didn’t laugh.  He was not funny, and did not associate Himself with others who were funny.  Some go so far as to say that those who think that God laughs are speaking heresy or blasphemy.

Jesus did many other things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. – John 21:25

There’s a lot about Jesus’s life that isn’t included in the Bible.  Just because the Bible doesn’t show Jesus laughing doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  The Bible also doesn’t show Him going to the bathroom, but I think it’s safe to say that He did.

Ask any professional writer: Humor is one of the most difficult things to write.  What generally makes something funny?  Slapstick humor usually makes people laugh, but that’s visual humor.  I just don’t see a Three Stooges performance in the middle of Exodus.  I don’t see Jesus calling Peter a knucklehead and poking him in the eyes.  What does that leave us with?  Tone.  Tone is ridiculously hard to portray in writing.  And that’s if a professional is doing it.  The majority of the Bible’s writers were not professionals.  Besides, they had a singular job to do: Provide the future of the world with the most important information ever.  Their job was not to entertain.  However, that does not mean humor was non-existent.

Father James Martin, S.J. tries to explain why it is that we have a difficult time seeing or understanding Biblical humor: “We’re so far away from 1st Century Palestine that we don’t understand some of the jokes and some of the wit.  Humor is very culture-bound.  If you know someone from a different culture then your own, you may find that their jokes are a little different.  If you look back at movies from the 1930s, you might see that the humor has changed over time.  So imagine how difficult it is for us in 21st Century America to understand the humor of 1st Century Palestine.”

Mark Driscoll, in his Religion Saves series, takes it to the next level:
“It’s subtle irony. If you continue in the Old Testament, then you get to the book of Exodus, where Moses goes up on the mountain to talk to God and get the Ten Commandments.  While he’s gone, he leaves Aaron in charge.  Aaron: the first priest, his dear brother.  Aaron goes and takes all the plunder and gold and jewelry from Egypt.  They melt it down and they create a what?  A golden calf.
“They parade around it in worship, and Aaron tells them, ‘Worship this idol.  This is the god who delivered you from Egypt.’  Meanwhile, Moses is up on the mountain with God.  God tells him, ‘Look, you better go down there. People have lost their minds. It’s going really bad.’
“Moses comes down.  He goes to Aaron, and (get the subtlety in this) says, ‘Aaron, what happened?  There’s a huge, golden idol!’  Here are Aaron’s words from Exodus 32:24: ‘Uh, they gave it to me, and I threw it in the fire, and out came this calf.’
“This is like a dad walking in on his high school daughter with her boyfriend.  They got no clothes on, and they’re like, ‘We don’t know what happened.  We were talking, and all our clothes fell off.  I got no idea.  We’re victims.’”

Driscoll gives another example: “How about this one in Isaiah 44.  God mocks this guy who gets a piece of wood and decides this half is good for fire wood, and since I got an A in wood shop, I’ll carve this half into a god that I can worship.  God mocks this guy, like ‘Wow, what great skill.  I mean, only a real genius would know which half of the log was firewood, and which half was god.’  It’s just a total mockery.”

Irony is funny, and there’s plenty of irony in the Bible.  In fact, I’ve been referring to Matthew 7:3 nearly every week, which is total irony.  Jesus says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

We use hyperbole—exaggeration—frequently.  Written or verbal humor is most often some form of hyperbole (Your momma and blonde jokes, for example).  Jesus used hyperbole to make a lot of points...and it’s hard not to imagine people hearing messages like this without laughing at the absurdity of the mental pictures He was providing.

Take Matthew 19:23-24, for example: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  No one talked like this.  No one used imagery like this.  If you heard this message at the time it was given, you probably would have been holding your stomach from laughing so hard at the picture of a camel trying to walk through the eye of a needle.

Father James Martin, S.J. explains:  “Scripture scholars tell us that some of Jesus’s stories and parables would have been seen as not only clever, but laugh-out-loud funny.”  In short: While we may miss the hilarity of these verses, it would be naïve to dismiss them as humorless at the time.

Then there was Paul.  Paul was incredibly sarcastic.  I could do a massive series just on Paul’s sarcasm alone.

Read the Bible.  Actually read the stories of Jesus.  Jesus was an awesome dude.  People flocked to hear Him speak.  They would pile up by the thousands to hear His stories.  You think He would have gathered this kind of audience if He spoke like a robot?  Humor is a key component in good story-telling and as a great way to collect and keep an audience’s attention.

Scholars agree that part of Jesus’s ministry came in the form of “table fellowship.”  Basically—dinner parties.  He would call His disciples, followers, and even strangers to dinner.  Strangers frequently invited Jesus to dinner.  Sinners.  The kind of people society deemed evil men.  You think that’s going to happen if Jesus was a big, dull dud?  You think people would show up to eat with Him?  No…Jesus knew how to party.  I’m not talking Project X party…I’m talking laughing-and-having-fun party.

Children loved Jesus.  LOVED Him.  Kids are some of the best judges of character.  If Jesus wasn’t fun to be around, kids would have hated His company.  Mark Driscoll: “Jesus was fun.  That’s why kids ran to Him.  Children run to what’s fun.  Jesus was fun.  He didn’t sin, but He was fun.” (Luke 18:15-17)

Father James Martin, S.J. writes: “Jesus also embraces others with a sense of humor. In the beginning of the Gospel of John, for example, comes the remarkable story of Nathaniel, who has been told by His friends that the Messiah is from Nazareth.  Nathaniel responds, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’” (John 1:45-46)

What does Jesus do with Nathaniel?  Rebuke him?  Smite him?  No, Jesus adds Nathaniel to His group of apostles.  Think Jesus would do that if He didn’t appreciate a good joke?

Besides, Jesus was a guy.  He was a guy surrounded by a bunch of other guys.  When guys are together, they laugh at stupid things.  Like farts.  Farts are funny.  Farts are timeless.  I’m not trying to be offensive, and I am in no means claiming that this happened, but it makes me laugh to wonder if Jesus and His disciples sat around a fire after a long, stressful day, and unwound Blazing Saddles-style.

Joe’s pastor had a cool line a few weeks ago that basically said not everything that is good comes from God.  It’s true.  Not everything that is good is good for us.  Chocolate is good, but if it’s all we ate, we’d be very sick.  Laughter is both good AND good for us; therefore, I believe it’s safe to say that it comes from God.  If it comes from God, then I also believe it’s okay to assume that God indulges in a good laugh from time-to-time.  What does He laugh at, though?  What’s funny to the Creator of all things?

God laughs in Job 8:21 and 41:29, and in Psalm 37:13 and 59:8.  In these cases, He is laughing in derision as man “challenges” Him (kind of like a “You’re kidding, right?” laugh).  These are examples of God laughing, but I don’t believe it’s the only thing God laughs at.  He’s not cynical, laughing at us in times of trouble.  He is a loving God, and when love is present, so is joy.  When joy is present, so is laughter.  I believe He laughs when we do something to honor Him.  I believe He laughs when we do something awesome.  I believe He laughs at some of our foolish questions or thoughts or actions (kind of like a “You silly child” laugh).

Let’s make one thing clear: Sin is not funny to God.  Christianity may seem dull to the non-believer, but we must not accept sin in our lives to prove them wrong.  My favorite part about Driscoll’s line earlier was when he said that Jesus did not sin, but He was fun.  We can be fun without sinning.  We can laugh without sinning.  God can, and does, laugh at us, but not when we sin, because sin is detestable to Him.  However, I cannot help but imagine God shaking His head and chuckling as He watched me waste hours and days researching “What God laughs at” for this post.

Kids say and do a lot of goofy things.  As adults, we look at the things children say and do, and laugh.  We laugh at their innocence.  At their blissful ignorance.

-         Literally, as I was writing this, a kid came in and told a friend, “I thought I had frosting on my hand, so I licked it...turns out that it was paint.”
-         During my second year of teaching, I was in front of my fifth graders, and I told them that they would be doing a lot of writing.  “Whether you like it or not,” I told them, “by the end of the year, you’ll all be writers.”  A girl, with honest fear in her eyes, very quietly mumbled, “But I want to be a veterinarian.”
-         I have read the following statements, written by students about Revolutionary War heroes: “Henry Knox collapsed in 1759, which killed him.  Still, he went on to become the first ever United States Secretary of War.”…“Thomas Jefferson was the co-founder and leader of the Dominican Republic, and he created French fries!!”…“John Adams realized the importance of bringing together the North and South during the Revolutionary War.”

My kids tell me at the end of every year that when they look back at their writing from the beginning of the year, they’re embarrassed by how awful it is (their words, not mine).  I tell them, “Well, you’re a better writer now.  That’s going to happen.  You should do the same thing next year, and the following year, and so on.”

The truth is—we do it too.  As adults, we look back at our past and think about how naive, how innocent, how blissfully ignorant we were.  When we’re thirty, we look back at when we were twenty, and we’re embarrassed by the things we said, did, and believed.  When we’re forty, we look back at when we were thirty, and do the same thing.  Fifty.  Sixty.  In all walks of life, we acknowledge how little we knew in the past.

...Yet, when we were twenty, we thought that we knew all there was to know.  We thought we were so wise and understanding.  So mature.  Again at thirty.  Forty.  Fifty.  In all walks of life, we believe that we “know it all” in the present.  And in my head, that’s when God, the ultimate parent and adult, laughs at how naive, how innocent, how blissfully ignorant we are.

-         “The world is flat.”
-         The concept of “Freedom Fries.”
-         Praying for (being concerned with) things like: Where should I go out to eat tonight?  Are aliens real?  Is Heaven really up?  Is Hell really down?  Were the first days of creation normal, 24-hour days?  Is communion a form of cannibalism?  Where did YOU come from?  What do You look like (tall, short, skin color [Do You have skin?], hair color [Do You have hair?], any facial hair, muscular or lean, etc)?  Please let the Cubs win this year.
-         “I think Michael Bay would be a great choice to direct this movie!” (Okay...probably not, but I couldn’t help myself).

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. – Proverbs 17:22

Laughter and crying are polar opposites.  Laughter feels good.  If we’re sad, depressed, even angry, laughter is the quickest way towards feeling better.  Furthermore, biologically speaking, laughter is GOOD for you.  Here are a couple of sites that provide a lot more information than I have space for:  The Healing Power of Laughter and Laughter Therapy.

Dr. Frank Lipman:  “In my twenty years of medical experience, I’ve found that patients who have a sense of humor and laugh a lot tend to heal better and faster than those who don’t.”
Ten reasons why laughter is good for you, according to Dr. Lipman:
1)    Laughter helps boost your immune system by increasing T cell activity, those “killer cells” that help our bodies fight viruses and tumors.
2)    Laughter helps lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, decreases pain, and can also help stabilize blood sugar.
3)    Laughter stimulates chemical changes in the brain that help buffer our bodies against the cumulative effects of stress.
4)    Laughter burns a few extra calories: According to a university study, just 10-15 minutes worth of chuckles throughout the day can burn up to 40 calories.
5)    Laughter stimulates the release of endorphins, the mood-elevating brain chemicals behind the “runner’s high.”
6)    Laughter helps reduce inflammation throughout the body—good news for your heart, brain, and circulatory health.
7)    Laughter “massages” internal organs—which is why it’s sometimes referred to as “internal jogging”—with effects similar to exercise.
8)    Laughter provides a light workout for the heart, lungs, diaphragm, and even the abdominal muscles.
9)    Laughter releases tension in the muscles of the face, neck, shoulders, and abdomen—all common areas where we tend to hold lots of tension.
10)                       Laughter is physically and mentally therapeutic—an involuntary response that positively alters mood instantly.  What could be better?

There is suffering in this world, we cannot deny that.  As Christians, we will suffer and we should suffer.  I know the world hardens us, but faith is supposed to free us.  Being a Christian should also be fun...and it is fun.  Love is fun and we have the most powerful, most awesome love imaginable.  It’s just given to us.  That alone should make us giddy.

Besides—life can’t all be about suffering; otherwise, you would always see Christians moping around, screaming and wailing.  You don’t.  Instead, you see Christians beaming and upbeat.  Happy.  Joyful.  Light-hearted.  There’s a reason for that.

Still, a perception of us exists and we must do a better job of outwardly showing our joy.  According to Jesus, what is expected of us?  A childlike faith (Mark 10:15).  I saw this stat years ago and have never forgotten it: Children laugh about 400 times a day, while adults laugh about 17 times a day.  Let’s return to that innocence.  Let’s return to that joy.  We are children of the Lord, after all.  Maybe we can turn the tables on the rest of the world.  Smile, laugh, and enjoy life.  Children flock to fun, remember?  If the world sees us having fun...not sinning, but being fun...maybe we can get them to flock to us.  Run to the Lord.  Maybe then we can finally look at the rest of the world and ask, Why so serious?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Communication, Part 3: Listening to Each Other

In my persistent pursuit of perfect irony, I have a lot to say about how much we talk vs how much we listen.  It is a topic (listening, speaking, words, actions) that is covered at great lengths in the Bible, which should tell us how important it is.  I have split everything I have into a series of three posts.  We have already covered Talking and Listening to God.  This week is Part 3: Listening to Each Other.

Rev. Jenny Styers tells an awesome story:
"While I was completing my summer Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) work in seminary, I was introduced to a woman diagnosed with Stage Four cancer.  She had been in the hospital for well over two months when I met her.  I remember thinking this is such an awful illness for her to endure.

"Yet, this was the first patient our CPE training chaplain told us about during our orientation program.  After our initial training we were given weekly visitation assignments.

"Near the top of my assignment sheet was this woman's name and room number.  I would be the first chaplain intern to go on a pastoral care visit to her room.

"I felt like I needed many more years of training before I could walk into her hospital room.  Before I went into her room I asked the CPE chaplain, 'What can I possibly even say to her that might be of any comfort?'

"I will never forget her response:

"'Why do you think you need to say anything at all?  You will often find that it is not what you will say to a person that helps them heal.  It will be more of what you do that will give them strength to heal.  One of the most important things you can do for people while you are here is to listen to their needs.'

"So I went into this woman's room, and after introducing myself, I asked her how she was feeling, and then I just listened.

"It was on this day that God, through this woman, began to teach me more about how to be a good listener.  I thought I was a pretty good listener prior to this visitation, but this experience further deepened my ability to hear, not only with my ears, but also with my heart.  I visited regularly with this woman throughout the rest of the summer and our time together became very precious to me."

How many times have we uttered those words?  Steph and I lost track of how many times they were said to us back in January, so I can't fathom how often Joe or Christen's parents heard them.  I don't know what to say.

Why do you think you need to say anything at all?

The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen.  Just listen.  Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention - A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words. - Rachel Naomi Remen

Listening is a skill stressed everywhere.  In my research for this post, I found information about the importance of listening in a college student handbook, in the business world, in the religious world, in the relationship (romantic and plutonic) world, in a New York Times article about economics, in the political world, in the teaching world, in the medical world, in the world of law, the world of psychology, and articles on good parenting.  The list is staggering.  We know listening is important, yet we choose to ignore it.

Let's put one thing to rest right now: Hearing and listening are two different things.  When I was a kid, I became very good at hearing my parents.  If I was playing a video game, and Mom was talking, the video game was more important.  I became so tired of Mom yelling at me for not listening, that I developed this skill: I would repeat every single word she said.  See...I heard what she was saying well enough to repeat it.  However, I wasn't listening.  As soon as that "conversation" was finished, her words were lost to me.

The sad thing is that this "skill" continued into my marriage.  For years, I would be playing a game or watching TV or working on the computer or reading a book, only paying enough attention to Steph that I could repeat her words.  This action was selfish, stupid, unloving, and cost me a valuable component of a good marriage.

Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear.  If you are not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens.  Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do.  Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences.  Listening leads to learning. - University of Minnesota Duluth Student Handbook

I like that second sentence.  "Hearing simply happens."  If you have functioning ears, you can hear the world around you.  You can hear what people are saying.  The National Youth Council says hearing is such a passive quality, it occurs when you sleep.  That makes sense, seeing as alarm clocks, crying babies, smoke alarms, thunderstorms, and anything else that makes a sound can wake us up.  We hear those sounds.  But hearing is not listening.  Listening is something we consciously do.  Jesus said in Mark 4:9, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."  We have ears, so we will hear - it takes an open mind and heart to listen.

Listen with an open heart and an open mind to those who love you the most.  You may hear a grain of truth that will later become the foundation of your entire belief system. - Callie Khouri

Where would we be if we didn't listen to others?  When I decided that teaching was the career for me, my first instinct was to teach high school kids.  My advisor, someone I highly respected and trusted, felt that I would be more comfortable and better suited for the younger I went the elementary route...and realized right away that she was right.  I loved it there.  Then, when Central was trying to talk me into taking the eighth grade position, I had zero interest in teaching eighth graders.  I wasn't comfortable with the idea at all.  However, my old college advisor, my wife, my friends and family all believed that my personality would fit perfectly at the eighth grade level.  I listened to them and have never looked back.  Where would I be had I not listened to these people?  Honestly?  I could easily be out of education altogether at this point.  Look at your life.  Where would you be had you not listened?  Sadly, some of you need to answer this question: Where would you be if you had listened?

Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?  If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple. - 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.  I'm paraphrasing Francis Chan here:  In the Old Testament, we're told how to approach the temple of God (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7).  In the New Testament, we learn that our bodies are His temple.  We are His temple.  Treat others with honor and respect.  Treat others as though they are the temple of God.  And when we are in God's temple, we are to listen.

Last week's lesson was easier to buy in to: We should revere God and listen to Him.  This week is a classic case of lip service.  We know that we should listen to others.  We say that we should listen to others.  But do we?  Do we revere others and listen to them with the same intense focus we give to God?  God is love after all.  Paul Tillich says, "The first duty of love is to listen."  By not listening to others, you are putting yourself before them.  That goes against God.  That is not love.

If we know that listening to others is so important, why don't we do it?
  1. Because we disagree with them.  We generally don't listen to the people we disagree with.  How arrogant is that?  I'm right, you're wrong.  That's not respectful or loving at all.
  2. Noise.  I mentioned noise last week.  Noise distracts us.  We're all a little ADD when it comes to focusing on what someone else is saying.  Multi-tasking has been defined as a skill in our world, but dare I say it?  Multi-tasking is a distraction.  It's more noise.  How can I truly be listening to someone if I'm splitting my focus on two or three other things?
  3. We're busy thinking of what we're going to say next.  Want to be a better listener?  Learn to shut up.

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak - James 1:19
We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less. - Diogenes Laertius

Parents know.  Teachers know.  Learning cannot exist if one is talking.  The two do not exist simultaneously.  Believe it or not, our brains are built for listening.  The average speech rate is 100-150 words per minute, but the mind is able to absorb 250-500 words per minute.

When you aren't listening to someone, what are you telling that speaker?
  • What they are saying isn't important (or that you believe what you have to say is more important).
  • That you are superior to them in some way.
  • You don't respect them.
  • You don't care for them.
  • You have something more important to do or somewhere more important to be.
  • You don't appreciate them.

Listening builds loyalty.  A funny thing happens when you don't make a practice of listening to people.  They will find others who will.  Anytime employees, spouses, colleagues, children, or friends no longer believe they are being listened to, they seek out people who will give them what they want.  Sometimes the consequences can be disastrous: the end of a friendship, lack of authority at work, lessened parental influence, or the breakdown of a marriage. - John C. Maxwell and Jim Dorman

Please read that again.  That is a powerful, powerful paragraph.  Listening builds loyalty.  When you don't listen to others, they will find someone who will.  When you don't listen to people, a whole mess of stuff can happen: Misunderstandings, which can lead to fighting...You will miss vital information, which will affect you in the future...Others will stop listening to you...Others will flat-out stop talking to you.

Full disclosure.  I love writing these posts every week.  I know that I write them in a way that's teaching and/or challenging, but the truth is, I write them as God presents them to me.  He wants them written this way, and they're not necessarily meant for you, the reader.  They're meant for me.  I learn and grow from writing/reading these posts as well.

Case in point: God had already directed me towards this series when Steph and I experienced a large fight.  No divorce lawyers were called by any means, but it was a sizable argument.  A good portion of the fight stemmed from the fact that I did not feel as though I received much attention from her.  In my mind, she spent all of her time at work.  When she was at home, I did not feel like I had her ear.  When I would try to talk to her, she would check text messages, write on Facebook, or do schoolwork.  Over time, I just stopped talking.  For those that know me, you would have been shocked at how little I spoke at home.

When I started researching for this specific post, I read things like "Others will flat-out stop talking to you," and I thought, Steph needs to read this.  I've stopped talking to her because I realized that she wasn't listening.  We're having problems in our relationship, and it's all her fault.

I smile here.  How many times in the brief life of Cromulent Thoughts have I been in direct violation of Matthew 7:3?  Jesus says, "Why do you look at the speck of dust in your brother's eye and not pay attention to the plank in your own eye?"

What was written earlier?  I spent many years playing games, watching TV, reading, and just generally ignoring Steph.  Years.  Consequently, she learned to stop talking to me.  Get it?  I trained her to do that.  Eventually, when she learned that she didn't have my ear, she began sharing it with those at work.  Over time, I became jealous of her job.  It's the only time in the history of our relationship that I felt jealousy.  I was jealous of the time her job was getting.  My time.  If Steph was in the middle of doing something and any one of her student workers called, she dropped everything to answer the phone...yet if I tried to share my day with her, she couldn't even bother looking up from her iPad.  I became angry and eventually verbally lashed out at her.

I started this whole mess with years of poor listening habits and a general lack of attention...then threw a fit when it began to affect me.

Communication used to be our greatest strength as a couple.  I took that for granted, and look at the rap sheet of consequences as a result: I displayed a lack of love, respect, and honor towards my wife (Ephesians 5:25-30, 33; 1 Peter 3:7), I became selfish (Proverbs 28:2; James 4:1-3), I became jealous (Genesis 27:41; 1 Samuel 18:8), I pointed the finger of blame at her (Matthew 7:3; 1 Corinthians 13:5), I became angry (Psalm 37:8; Matthew 5:22; Romans 2:1; Ephesians 4:26-27), and verbally attacked her (Numbers 22:29; Proverbs 15:28; Matthew 12:34-36; Lukes 6:45; James 3:6).

These are just my biblical faults.  Here it is in simpler terms: I nearly wrecked my marriage.  Communication is the key to a happy marriage, and I almost destroyed that.  I did.  Me.  Imagine talking to a wall.  That one-sided conversation is going to get real old, real fast.  Now imagine talking to that wall for years until finally someone enters the room with you.  They're interested in your stories.  They listen intently, ask questions, and laugh with you.  Naturally, that person will be the one you talk to, and the wall will be ignored (as it should be).

I was that wall for many years.

Notice the timeline here.  My mistreatment of Steph occurred in the early years of our marriage.  In August, we will have been married for ten years.  It's not like I was doing this to Steph for the first eight or nine years.  I eventually grew up.  Matured.  Realized my mistakes.  I don't remember when I began doing this, but for some time now, when Steph starts talking, my full attention is on her.  I mute the TV.  I put down my book.  I pause the game.  I listen instead of merely hear.  The problem is that by the time I started doing those thing, the damage had been done.

Here's the good news: In that colossal fight, we listened to each other.  I learned that all of this started with me...years ago.  She learned what she had begun to do.  Sure, we have some work to do - that's what marriage is - but the point is that without learning these lessons, the marriage could have crumbled.  A lack of listening led to our problems, but listening saved the relationship.

When we talk about understanding, surely it takes place only when the mind listens completely - the mind being your heart, your nerves, your ears - when you give your whole attention to is. - Jiddu Krishnamurti
The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention. - Richard Moss

How to listen to others better:
  • Stop talking.  Stop thinking about what you're about to say.  Stop thinking of a response to what they're saying.  Recognize the difference between a break in what they're saying and when they're actually finished speaking.  Save your questions/comments until they are finished (unless it's a clarification question).
  • Open your heart, mind, and ears to them.
  • Close out the distractions.
  • Take notes on important points that you'd like to comment on, questions you have, etc.  This will feel weird at first, but it works.  The speaker will feel loved, respected, and honored.  Eventually, you won't need the notes because you will have become a better listener.
  • Put yourself in their shoes.  If you were them, how would you be feeling?  Putting yourself in someone else's shoes makes it easier to listen (not hear) to what they're saying.
  • Find something to respect or find some truth in what is being said, even if you disagree with the other person.  Realize that people aren't always going to think, feel, and reason like you do.  Instead of dismissing them as wrong, listen to find out why they do these things differently.  As Catherine Doucette says, "Every person in this life has something to teach me - and as soon as I accept that, I open myself to truly listening."

Francis Chan asks a great question.  It's a simple question, but the answer will blow you away.  The answer to his question can lead you back to everything that's written here, for better or worse.  About where your heart is.  Your mind.  Your love.  Your respect.  Your priorities.  If you answer this question honestly, you'll learn a lot about yourself because it applies to all three posts in this series:

In every conversation, when it's over, ask yourself: Did I listen more than I spoke?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Communication, Part 2: Listening to God

In my persistent pursuit of perfect irony, I have a lot to say about how much we talk vs how much we listen.  It is a topic (listening, speaking, words, actions) that is covered at great lengths in the Bible, which should tell us how important it is.  I have split everything I have into a series of three posts.  We have already covered Talking.  This week is Part 2: Listening to God.

Luke 10:38-40 - As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!"

Is there anything wrong with Martha wanting to serve?  Especially since she was serving Jesus?  No...but by running all over the place, she missed the chance to listen and learn from Jesus.  There is a time to serve, there is a time to talk, but there is also a time to sit still and listen to the Lord.

I have a formula when I talk to God.  It's the same formula I've had my whole life: Admit my sins and ask for forgiveness, give praise and thanks, ask for stuff (personal needs and/or the needs of others), and closing ("In Jesus's name, Amen").  Sound familiar?  Now, I'm not saying that my way is right or wrong.  I'm not saying that it's right or wrong to have a routine.  The way I see it, I'm talking to God, and that's at least a big step.  However, notice the one important aspect that's missing...I'm doing all the talking.

We can't listen to God if we're constantly talking.

Why do we talk to God?  Simply put: Because it's an awesome gift He has given us.  Celebrities have agents that you have to pass through just to get a couple minutes of their time.  If someone wants to talk to me at work, they must first call the office.  The office then calls me to see if I'm available to talk.  Only then is the caller passed on to me.  With God, however, we have a direct line.  No waiting.  It doesn't matter what He's doing, He will listen as soon as we begin talking.  The creator of the universe gives you His attention as soon as you ask for it.  Isn't that amazing?

We talk to God because it draws us closer to Him.  We talk to God to praise Him for His gifts.  To ask forgiveness for our sins.  To ask for help and/or advice.  We talk to God because He lets us.

But do we listen?

Prayer is not a way of making use of God; prayer is a way of offering ourselves to God in order that He should be able to make use of us.  It may be that one of our great faults in prayer is that we talk too much and listen too little.  When prayer is at its highest, we wait in silence for God's voice to us. - William Barclay

Read Ecclesiastes 5:1-7.  What are we being told here?  God is explaining to us that when we come to Him, we should come to listen.  We shouldn't be so hasty to speak.  Why?  Because God's in Heaven and we're on earth.  Meaning: Think about Who you're talking to.  God knows everything.  We know nothing.  I like how Francis Chan puts it: "What are you going to do, inform Him of something?  What do you really have to say to Him?"

You have the opportunity to communicate with the Creator...are you so arrogant to think that what you have to say is more important than what He could say?  I would imagine that once we are standing face-to-face with God, we would be absolutely speechless.  We would just stand before Him (or kneel before Him) in total awe.  Let's begin to take this approach when we pray.

Read Proverbs 1:23-28.  Here are my Bible's notes for that passage: "God is more than willing to pour out His heart and make known His thoughts to us.  To receive His advice, we must be willing to listen, refusing to let pride stand in our way.  Pride is thinking more highly of our own wisdom and desires than God's."

The most honoring thing you can do is just stand quietly in His presence. - Francis Chan

From Bob Wells:  "Listening to God is probably the most important thing that will ever happen to a person.  In fact your entire eternal future is based on you hearing God speaking to you and whether or not you listen to him.  And this is because your spiritual life doesn't begin until God speaks to you and you finally decide to listen.

"It is for this reason that you need to not only talk to God constantly about everything, but you must also listen for God to speak to you.  And the best way to listen for God to speak to you is to look to your heart and your mind for his answer.  Most people expect God to answer them in some devine way or somehow speak to them verbally, right out of the heavens, but that isn't the way God operates.  God speaks to a person's heart.  To their mind."

I really like 1 Kings 19:11-13: The Lord said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by."  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

See...God doesn't always come to us in miraculous ways or with some booming voice.  He can come to us in a mere whisper.  If your heart isn't open, or if you're too busy talking or waiting for something huge, you could miss Him.  Listening to God requires a heart committed to understanding His message.  Struggling to hear God?  Question your heart.  Are you truly open to what He has to say?  He will never ignore if you keep talking to Him, but feel that He never talks back, it's time to look deep within yourself, not question where He's at.

If your heart is open, and you set aside time in prayer to listen, how does God talk to us?  Opinions vary:
  1. Some believe that God speaks to us through the use of "signs."  I plan on discussing this at a later time.
  2. Some believe that God speaks to us in words.  Not spoken words that we can audibly hear, but something more like a typed sentence in Times New Roman, printed out clearly in our mind to read.
  3. Some believe that God uses other people to get through to us.
There is one undeniable way, however, that God does talk to us:  His Word.

John 1:1:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (bold print is my addition)

Read your Bible.  God is there.  He's talking to you there.  Before you enter His Word, pray for clarity.  Pray for understanding.  Pray for an open heart and mind so that you can hear Him.  From Bob Wells:  "When our Lord sees that you are taking the time to read his word every single day then what he is going to do is begin to peel away the layers of cloudiness that are covering your eyes and that hide the truth.  Once he sees that you are serious about reading his word, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit will begin to open your eyes and mind, and allow you to begin to understand the Word of God and the incredible meaning that it has on every aspect of your life.  It won't be long before you realize that the Bible isn't difficult at all to read and understand, and to your amazement you will begin to also realize that you and Jesus have been drawn closer together.  Suddenly you will know that indeed he is communicating with you."

For obvious reasons, Satan does not want this kind of communication to happen.  When we pray, when we communicate (speak and listen) with God, we grow closer to Him...a fact that displeases the devil.  Due to that, he constantly tries to jam the signal between us and our Lord.  How?  Noise.

Silence is the first language of God; all else is poor translation. - Thomas Merton

We want to hear from God.  We want to hear God.  The problem is, we live in a world of noise.  Satan has polluted our world with noise.  You could even go so far as to say we're addicted to noise.  Think about it: How often do you have the TV on while you're working?  You're not actually watching, but "it's background noise."  What's the first thing you do when you start your car?  Turn on the radio.  We loathe silence in conversations.  What do we call it?  Awkward silence.  Why?  Can't two people just enjoy being near each other without speaking?  A proven police interrogation technique is simply silence.  They know that if they just stay quiet, the person in the room will keep talking just to cover up the silence.  The phones...our neighbors...traffic...our children...our pets...the weather...birds and/or insects just outside the window...the heater/air conditioner...the motor of the ceiling fan can all be distractions.

Let's add another layer: internal noise.  We can't shut our minds off either.  Did I remember to lock the front door?  Do I have my lesson plans ready to go for tomorrow?  What am I going to do about that co-worker that keeps giving me problems?  I hope it doesn't rain this weekend so I can mow.

Before we can obtain pure communication with God, we must train ourselves to block out the noise.  It won't be easy, but if you fully open your heart to the Lord, He will help muffle out everything else.

Now for the most important step in this process: How you respond when you do hear from God.

Luke 6:46-49: (Jesus is talking) "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?  I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice.  He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock.  When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.  But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.  The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete."
Hebrews 2:1-3: We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?  This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.
James 1:22-25: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in the mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does.

Catch the message?  Coming to the Lord is one thing.  Listening to what He has to say is one thing.  Actually doing what has been instructed is something else entirely.  I love Luke 6:46Why do you call me, "Lord, Lord," and do not do what I say?  If God is truly your Lord, then you will not only listen to Him, but follow Him with action.  The parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:28-32 is a good example of this.  God knows your heart.  Just going through the motions isn't going to fool Him.  In fact, as shown here, it's dangerous to pretend to obey God when our hearts are far from Him because God knows our true intentions.  Our actions must match our words.

Exodus 14:15 is another example:  Then the Lord said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me?  Tell the Israelites to move on."  God was tired of Moses was time for them to move.  Sometimes we know what to do, but we pray for more guidance as an excuse to postpone doing it.  If we know what we should do, then it is time to get moving.

Okay.  I'm setting aside time in my prayer to listen to God.  I am blocking out all distracting noise.  I want to do what God instructs me to do, but how do I know if what I'm "hearing" comes from God, me, or Satan?  Bob Wells answers that question fairly.  He says that you must go through these seven steps:
  1. Is it consistent with the Word of God?  Does it fit with the principles taught in the Bible or violate what's written there?
  2. Is it a wise decision?  Is it the type of solution Jesus would agree with Himself?
  3. Are you confident in asking God to enable you to achieve this solution?
  4. Do you feel that it is a God-given solution?  Deep in your heart, does this feel like the will of God?
  5. Does this solution fit a child of God?  From all you know about God, does this solution or answer fit a person that truly believes, trusts, and loves God?
  6. Does this solution fit God's overall plan for your life?
  7. Does this solution honor God?  Does it bring glory and praise to Him?
"If you are unsure on some of these questions, then you need to have patience and wait for a clear answer from God (2 Thessalonians 1:4, 3:5...1 Timothy 6:11...2 Corinthians 6:4...Luke 21:19)."

I end this with a challenge from Francis Chan.  This came from the same sermon I quoted a couple weeks ago about talking.  He was stressing how much we talked and how better off we would be if we limited what we said and opened our hearts and our ears more.  Chan referred to Revelations 4:8, where we read that the angels in Heaven repeat the same sixteen words over and over again: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.

Chan's challenge is simple enough in its principle, but incredibly difficult upon further thought:  "If you could come before God and only speak sixteen words, what would you say?"

So that is my challenge to you.  If you could only speak sixteen words to God...not at one time...for all time...what would you say?  Give it some serious thought.  Don't rush into the first sixteen words you can string together.  These are the only words you can say to our Lord and Savior.  Make them count.  If you want to keep these words between you and God - awesome.  If you would like to share them here or on my Facebook page, I would be honored to read them.  I will share Chan's sixteen words as well as my own (here) on Friday.

Next week, Part 3: Listening to Each Other

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Call to Arms

Last week, I began a series on listening.  This week was supposed to be Part 2: Listening to God.  However, when I started this blog, I promised God and myself to let Him dictate my topics.  Sunday night, this topic/idea came to me and I realized that it could not wait until my series on listening was finished.  How hypocritical would it be if God wanted me to write on this topic, yet I ignored Him in order to write a post titled Listening to God?

It appears as though my brother also received the same message from God because yesterday, he wrote a post titled Game On.  I would encourage you to read it if you haven’t already.  It’s obviously well-written, but I’m also going to use it as a lead-in to this post in order to cut on some of the back story.  In short—Satan has come at my family hard this year.

I’m going to split this post into two sections: First, I will piggyback on Joe’s writing of spiritual warfare.  Then I will focus on why Satan has chosen this method to attack my family.

Spiritual Warfare:
In John 17, Jesus is praying, and basically what He’s doing is asking God to keep us safe as we enter into this battleground against Satan.  See…Jesus knew.  He knew that those who followed Him were going to be the subjects of the devil’s attacks.  A lot has already been written about this notion of Christian suffering, so I’ll just encourage you to look at past posts.  Still, we would be naïve if we believed that with God on our side, Satan will just leave us alone.  The Bible says otherwise:

Genesis 12:10; 35:10
The entire book of Job
Matthew 5:11-12; 24:13; 26:35
Virtually the entire New Testament

Now, I have become exhausted of how cliché we have made “war.”  Two reality stars hate each other, and the TV commercial says, “This.  Is.  War.”  No, it isn’t.  Sports are ridiculous with this.  We have: Throwing a bomb…Throwing a missile…Hitting a rocket…Hitting/Firing/Throwing a bullet…The line of scrimmage in football is known as in the trenches…The lane in basketball is known as the war zone.  They’re relentless, and this trivialization of war really irritates me.

However, make no mistake about it, there is a spiritual war going on, and it’s a matter of life and death, so you better take it seriously.

Joe made mention of being so focused on the smaller battles that he forgot the big picture: The War.  He’s right, in a war, you will lose specific battles.  However, one battle you cannot afford to lose is the battle for your soul.  Once you have lost that battle, the war is over, and the enemy has won.

How do we fight this battle?  How do we win the war?  I watched an online sermon last night from Joshua Walker regarding spiritual warfare.  The majority of his sermon came from Ephesians 6:10-20.  Here is the abridged version (with his actual words in quotes):
How We Fight:
Truth:  We have to know God’s word and be true to His word.
Righteousness:  We have to live like Jesus.
Foundation:  You need to have solid footing to stand strong. You need to have a solid understanding of the gospel.
Faith:  “Faith is what allows us to look into the next world, and it’s what makes everything here make sense, and all of the lies of the evil one are exposed.”  Satan’s lies put us in this massive, dark space where it’s impossible to find the exit…but faith turns on the light, and we realize that we’re actually in a tiny room with multiple exits, and we’re like, Oh…that’s no big deal.
Salvation:  Salvation should give us the confidence to fight in battle because we know that we are saved in Christ.
Spoken Word of God:  “Speak forth the Word of God and the world will be transformed…people will be transformed…and it will be easier to stand against the evil one.”  When Jesus was being tempted by Satan, how did He respond to each temptation?  By speaking the Word of God.
Prayer:  Prayer is something we must do at all times, not just during the battle.

Don’t be foolish and arrogant, Satan is stronger than you.  It is impossible to defeat him on your own.  That’s why Jesus was praying in John 17…so God could give us the right weapons…and we have the right weapons:

1)    God.  Satan may be stronger than you or I individually, but no being in existence is stronger than God.
Deuteronomy 33:27 – “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.  He will drive out your enemy before you, saying, ‘Destroy him!’”
Joshua 1:5 – No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life.  As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Psalm 3:3 – But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.
Psalm 7:10 – My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart.
Psalm 18:2 – The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; the Lord is my rock, in whom I take refuge.  He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Psalm 18:32-34 – It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.  He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights.  He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
2 Thessalonians 3:1-3 – Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.  And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith.  But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.
2)    Each other.  Only Chuck Norris, Rambo, and Jack Bauer have won entire wars single-handedly, and last I checked, we are not them.  During his sermon, Walker said, “We are called to take a stand…but we can’t stand alone.  We have to depend on each other.  We have to go into battle with each other…When you’re in the trenches together is when you put your differences behind you.”
3)    A guaranteed victory.  If you had the ability to look into the future, how much easier would that make your life?  All fear and worry would be gone.  God has given us a look into the future.  We know how this is all going to end.  A favorite quote for years in my family came from Christian comedian Mike Warnke, who once said, “I’ve read the end (of the Bible).  I know how this turns out…WE WIN!!”  And from Walker: “The enemy is real, but don’t give him too much credit, for he is a defeated foe.”

Sounds easy, right?  With God on our side, we have a guaranteed victory!!  Problem solved.  No more Satan.  Except…we’re smarter than that.  The devil is too stubborn to just surrender…so he comes at us with his greatest weapon: Fear.

The Bully:
Satan is a bully.  Plain and simple.  He’s the big kid on the playground pushing the smaller kids down and demanding their lunch money.  Bullies get away with their bullying through fear.  They’re unnaturally aggressive.  They’re intimidating.  No one wants to tell on them or stand up to them for fear of repercussions.  What’s interesting about bullies is that it’s rare for them to actually fight.

Growing up, I was bullied a lot.  I was tall for my age and about as thick as a pencil.  I was smart.  I ran my mouth a lot.  Any one of those will get you picked on, and I had the trifecta going.  However, I almost never backed down from the bullies.  I knew that if a fight happened, I would get my butt kicked, but I refused to let them push me around.  And you know what?  I have never been in a fight.  I have never been punched.  Not once.  There have been some scuffles…some shoving…I had a baseball whipped at my head once…but no real fight.

Yet in the battle for my soul, I have repeatedly backed away from Satan.

I’ve actually wanted to write this post since January, but I kept chickening out.  My wife and I will celebrate our ten-year anniversary in August.  In those ten years, we have been able to go on one—ONE—vacation.  We didn’t even get a honeymoon.  For the last two years, we have been saving so that this July we can take a trip to Hawaii.  For two years, we have been holding our breath…almost waiting for something to come up that will keep us from going.  Even now that our airline and hotel costs have been paid for…still, we keep looking over our shoulders.  I haven’t written about Satan being a bully—I haven’t even allowed myself to include it on my list of future topics—for one reason: Fear.  I have been so afraid that the second I called him out, he would strike back in such a way that our Hawaii trip would vanish.

I am such a coward.  This is how bullies win.  They find your weaknesses and exploit them until you are paralyzed by helplessness.  This behavior should make us angry, but instead it has the bully’s desired effect—it makes us afraid.  Afraid of what they’ll do next.  Afraid of what they’ll say next.  Afraid of whom or what they may go after next.

It’s time to stop being afraid.

Genesis 15:1 – After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.”
          (From the notes in my Bible): “God gave Abram two reasons for courage: 1) He promised to defend Abram, and 2) He promised to be Abram’s ‘very great reward.’  When you fear what lies ahead, remember that God will stay with you through difficult times and that he has promised you great blessings.”
Deuteronomy 3:21-22 – At that time I commanded Joshua: “You have seen with your own eyes all that the Lord your God has done to these two kings.  The Lord will do the same to all the kingdoms over there where you are going.  Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.”
Psalm 27:1 – The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?
Luke 4:36 – All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching?  With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!”
          (Notes): “Evil permeates our world, and it is no wonder that people are often fearful.  But Jesus’s power is far greater than Satan’s.  The first step toward conquering fear of evil is to recognize Jesus’s authority and power.  He has overcome all evil, including Satan himself.”
John 14:27 – (Jesus talking) “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
          (Notes): “Sin, fear, uncertainty, doubt, and numerous other forces are at war within us.  The peace of God moves into our hearts and lives to restrain these hostile forces and offer comfort in place of conflict.  Jesus says he will give us that peace if we are willing to accept it from him.”

(Satan) has no real power over you other then what you give him. – Joshua Walker
The Lord challenges us to suffer persecutions and to confess him.  He wants those who belong to him to be brave and fearless.  He himself shows how weakness of the flesh is overcome by courage of the Spirit.  This is the testimony of the apostles and in particular of the representative, administering Spirit.  A Christian is fearless. – Tertullian (Christian author from around 180 AD)

When we fear Satan, we doubt God.  We show our true heart, our true faith in moments of persecution (Genesis 21:7, Nehemiah 2:2-3, Mark 4:38-40, Hebrews 3:6).  By cowering to fear of the devil, we are questioning God’s power and love.  Who is more powerful: Satan or God?  What is more powerful: Satan’s attacks or God’s love and protection?  It’s easy to say the words, but what do you actually believe?  How you respond when times are tough accurately displays your true belief.

There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.1 John 4:18
If we yield ourselves to fear, we will think too highly of Satan and his servants and think too lowly of God and His powerful authority. – Mark Driscoll
We are children of the most powerful being in existence, and it just looks weird when we’re scared. – Francis Chan

Furthermore, in my American Heritage Dictionary, the third definition for fear is, “reverence or awe.”  Reverence: “Profound respect.”  And to take it to the next step, Humble: “Deferentially respectful.”  In short, when we cower in fear to the devil, we are humbling ourselves before him.  We are giving him our respect.

I will humble myself before God.  I will humble myself before others.  But I’ll be damned (literally) if I humble myself before Satan.

What were our favorite Sunday School stories?  David and Goliath.  Joshua and the walls of Jericho.  Moses leading the people out of Egypt and parting the Red Sea.  Daniel in the lion’s den.  All stories of strength.  All stories of God’s strength working through us.

(As children), we loved seeing the strength of the Lord working in others.  Yet the older we get, as the world knocks us down repeatedly, we lose that courage. – Francis Chan

It’s time to get that courage back.  It’s time to put a little fear into Satan for a change.  It’s time to take a stand.  How do you stop a bully?  You stand up to him.  You and everyone else.  Together.  United.  Most bullies have no intention of fighting, but even the ones that do will run away when they’re outnumbered.  Strength in numbers.  Strength in God.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.Isaiah 40:29-31

Satan is blitzkrieging my family right now.  Why?  Is it because he wants me to defect, so he’s trying to break me?  Perhaps, but I doubt it.  Because he’s trying to break Joe?  My parents?  My grandparents?  No, no, and no.  I’m certain that we are being targeted because the devil wants everyone else.  Ringle Nation is currently networking to insane numbers.

Joe has hundreds of people reading his Facebook and blog posts every day.  Impressionable people.  I don’t have nearly his audience, but I do have teenagers.  Very impressionable people.  These impressionable people are seeing the Ringle faith and what’s happening around us.  Satan is trying to scare them off: “See what happens when you love God?  Bad stuff.”

Satan is bullying us in every way he can think of: injury, illness, even death.  It would be so easy to give in and crawl away.  But it’s bigger than me.  It’s bigger than us.  Others are watching, and we must illuminate God’s light through this darkness so that our impressionable friends and family can see.

Luke 5:18-20
          (Bible notes): “For better or worse, our faith affects others.  We cannot make another person a Christian, but we can do much through our words, actions, and love to give him or her a chance to respond.”
Acts 5:40-42
          (Notes): “We should live as Christ has asked us to, sharing our faith no matter what the cost.”
The point of this warfare isn’t for us to have more comfortable lives.  The purpose of this warfare is for us to display Jesus Christ.  The purpose isn’t for us to be rescued out of our circumstances; the purpose is for us to display Jesus in the midst of our circumstances. – Joshua Walker

To my impressionable readers:
          Have you ever stood up to a bully?  Have you ever stood up for a friend who was being bullied?  There are few things in life that bring more satisfaction, more joy, than that.  Except this: Defending Jesus.  When we stand up against Satan, we are defending our Lord.  Can you imagine anything greater?  Joshua Walker says, “When we fight for God’s glory, when we fight for Him to be revealed, we ultimately are fighting for our greatest joy…When God is most glorified, we find the most satisfaction and joy.”
          My friends, you will be hunted.  You will be persecuted.  You will feel pain.  But as long as we all stay together and keep God in our hearts, we will not lose.  It’s been guaranteed to us.  Promised to us.  We may lose a battle here or there, but God will protect us from losing the war.  We will protect each other.  We must stand strong.
Make sure to pray for each other in this fight.  Don’t just pray for my family right now because we’re being attacked right now…pray for us all, so that when we are ALL attacked, we will be ready, we will be prepared, and we will stand.

To Satan:
          Don’t you get it yet?  You’ve messed with the wrong family (blood and spiritual).  You’ve come at us from nearly every angle, and we keep returning it stronger and harder.  We should probably thank you because every time you attack us, you give us the opportunity to praise God even louder.
          Your barrage is failing because with every strike you hit us with, we increase in number.  It was said a couple months ago that we’re on the road, and we’re picking up anyone that wants a ride.  We have a straight-up caravan happening now.  You may slow us down with violent storms and flat tires…our progress may be impeded briefly…but we’re moving forward nonetheless.
          You may be arrogant, but you’re not stupid…you know how this ends as well.  You know that you lose.  We know it, too, and we’re no longer afraid.  In fact, it’s time for you to be afraid, because we’re coming.  We’re coming hard and strong and with the love and power of God on our side.  We’re calling you out for what you are—a bully and a coward—and it’s time for you to run away.

In Christ Jesus’s name,