Have you ever tried listening to a newscast and found it difficult to understand what the reporter was saying due to static? Of course you have. It may have been electronic static in your television or radio. Or, it may have been the static caused by wind blowing into the reporter's microphone. Maybe the reporter was standing near a very noisy crowd. Static makes it hard to hear and understand what is being said.
Spiritual static interferes with hearing the voice of God and is an enemy of discernment. For this reason, it is wise to discover ways to tune out the static and wait in silence for God to speak. St. James offers wise counsel in his epistle, "You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak" (James 1:19). Stephen Covey offers similar advice in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, when he says, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." It's good advice whether you are trying to understand the divine Voice or the viewpoint of another person.
I recall the story of a dog that wandered out onto a baseball field during a major league game. The players, coaches, umpires, and people in the stands were all shouting to the dog, "Get off the field!" The dog didn't know which way to turn and kept running around on the field. At one point, the sportscaster who was describing the incident said, "He's confused because he can't detect the one voice he needs to hear; that of his master." The dog couldn't discern what to do because of the static of so many unfamiliar and angry voices.
When we are discerning what God would have us do, eliminating the static is one of the first things we need to do. Other voices and distractions make it very difficult to hear and recognize the "still small voice of God."
Certainly, we need to listen to what others have to say about the subject, as long as they are speaking the truth. But the time comes when we have to place the matter before the One whose opinion matters most. We fail in our spiritual discernment when we confuse the static for the divine Voice. We cannot hear God's response with our physical ears, but what we do hear with our phyiscal ears can block what we need to hear with our heart.
The Venite, Psalm 95:1-7, is the Invitatory Psalm we often use in Morning Prayer. Verse seven is a daily reminder of the need to eliminate the static so we can hear the voice of God: "Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!" That is my prayer for you during this day of discernment.
Horatius Bonar wrote this familiar hymn about hearing the voice of Jesus - I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say. Here it is sung by the Choir of Manchester Cathedral, using the tune Kingsfold.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, "Come unto me and rest; lay down, thou weary one, lay down thy head upon my breast." I came to Jesus as I was, so weary, worn, and sad; I found in him a resting place, and he has made me glad.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, "Behold, I freely give the living water; thirsty one, stoop down and drink, and live." I came to Jesus, and I drank of that life-giving stream; my thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in him.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, "I am this dark world's light; look unto me, thy morn shall rise, and all thy day be bright." I looked to Jesus, and I found in him my Star, my Sun; and in that light of life I'll walk till traveling days are done.
It took months for photographer Randy Halverson to photograph the stars above the White River in central South Dakota, Arches National Park in Utah, Canyon of the Ancients area of Colorado, and Madison, Wisconsin. He combined his images in a time-lapse video with music by Bear McCreary, composer of soundtracks to "Battlestar Galactica" and "The Walking Dead."
Along with a star-filled sky, Halverson captured the tail of a meteor and the northern lights. In this four minute video, Halverson takes us through "Temporal Distortion." There is also a 23-minute version.
God took a long time and immeasurable care to create a universe that sustains human life. We are the stewards of it. What a privilege. But I'm not the first to notice!
Psalm 8 (NRSV)
O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Give thanks to God today for your amazing place in this amazing universe. Do something today to exercise your role as a steward of it.
When Jesus began his public ministry, the first thing he did was to form a community. Those disciples, walking with Jesus for two or three years, were formed and shaped to continue his mission after his death and resurrection. The calling of the disciples marks the beginning of that community of followers of Jesus we refer to as “The Church.” The Church was formed by Jesus Christ and continues to be empowered today as the delivery system for his message. The Church doesn’t have a message; the Message has a Church!
The experience of those first disciples set the pattern for those who would come after them. They did not volunteer for the mission. They were called. There is an important difference. The Church is made up of disciples, not volunteers.
Take Nathaniel, for example. (Jn. 1:43-51) He was approached by Philip, who had already met Jesus and answered his call. Philip said to Nathaniel, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathaniel’s response is priceless. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip was not at all discouraged by Nathaniel’s skepticism. “Come and see,” he said.
Nathaniel went and Nathaniel saw. His encounter with Jesus was profound. Jesus knew his name and seemed to understand him in a way that surprised Nathaniel. Nathaniel blurted out, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Whatever epiphany occurred in that initial encounter convinced Nathaniel that Jesus was for real and his own inner response compelled him to go with Jesus.
Those who have experienced a similar encounter with Jesus know that we did not initiate that relationship. We did not volunteer to love him and serve him. We found ourselves in a place where the invitation was so generous and personal and the presence so powerful that we could not resist. We knew in an instant that we would follow him anywhere and learn from him how to live life to the fullest. He would be the one to open heaven!
On occasion, we’ve had an opportunity to introduce others to him or to invite them to “Come and see.” More often than not, those invitations have been met with a certain amount of skepticism or resistance. But those who have accepted the invitation and met the Savior in Word and Sacrament, in an authentic community of his followers, in the signs and wonders his Church has been able to perform in his Name, often find themselves in the same place as Nathaniel.
In this season of Epiphany, as we read of those early encounters with Jesus, we have opportunities to reacquaint ourselves with the Lover of our Souls. As he calls us by name and invites us again to follow him, we are strangely compelled to go with him beyond the limits we have imposed upon ourselves. We find ourselves wanting to intro-duce others to him. They will come with us because they see in us an unmistakably authentic devotion. Does it make sense? Not always. As Blaise Paschal said, “The heart has reasons which reason cannot know.” But we all know what it is to love someone and believe in someone so intensely that we will do whatever is necessary to sustain and enrich that relationship.
I'm reflecting on the custom of gift-giving, which is grounded in God's greatest gift to us. We spend a lot of time selecting just the right gifts for our loved ones. And what shall I give to God? Advent provides me with the opportunity to consider that question.
Today, I'm thinking the gift of my trust is something God would value.
John the Baptizer had the task of pointing others to a greatness into which he himself did not enter. That required a great deal of trust on his part. In a Bible study course on the gospels, when we came to Matthew 11:2-11, the passage where John sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah, the question arose, “Was John having second thoughts? Did he have doubts that Jesus was the long-awaited anointed one?”
I don’t think John was having second thoughts about Jesus. I think John realized his particular task was just about complete. His fate was sealed. The last thing he needed to do was to send his own disciples to Jesus so that they could join in following him. It was not John but John’s disciples, therefore, who needed convincing that day. So they said to Jesus: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And, Jesus reply was meant for them that they might believe – as eyewitnesses to his Messianic work: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And, blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
Someone tells of how from the windows of his house every evening he used to watch the lamplighter go along the streets lighting the lamps. But the lamplighter was blind. He was bringing others light that he would never see. Like the lamplighter, John had to trust that his work had a purpose beyond what he could see with his own eyes.
Trust! That’s something I want to give God this year. But it is a costly gift.
It is so easy to fall into doubt and fear. It is so tempting to back away and agree, “You’re right, it’ll never work, let’s take the safe way, the familiar way, the heavily traveled road.”
When I turn my life over to God, I give God leadership. Doing that means I will advance even though I do not know where God will lead me. It means I have to reshape my thinking to make my thoughts large enough for God to fit in! I have to let the size of my trust set the size of my aims and objectives in life so that my expectations match God’s abilities.
One of the things my Father and I always did together at this time of year was to string lights on the roof of our house. At first, my help was confined to checking the bulbs. Then, later, I could stand on a ladder and hang the ones under the eves. Finally, I was allowed to get up on the roof. But that required assistance. I needed a boost getting up and help getting down. The booster and the helper was my dad. If I wanted to help put up the lights, I’d have to trust him not to drop me. Because of that experience, I knew Dad could be trusted not to drop me.
The everlasting arms of God are even more trustworthy. They undergird all of us. They boost us up and they keep us from falling. Blessed are we when we trust God above all others.
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I served as Interim Rector at Calvary Episcopal Church in Ashland, Kentucky starting on Shrove Tuesday of 2012.
Here's the link to Calvary's online photo galleries: http://calvaryashland.org/about-us/photo-galleries.html
Images from my ministry as Rector-in-the-Interim at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Lexington, Kentucky. Also, here is a link to a slide show with other photos from my Interim in Lexington:
Noted Galveston leader R. Waverly Smith commissioned architect George Stowe to design and build this house in 1896. The house survived The Great Storm of 1900, the 1915 Hurricane, Hurricane Carla, and, more recently, Hurricane Ike. We have lived here and loved this place for ten years. If houses can love people, she has certainly loved us! Enjoy this album of some photos we've taken to share with people like you.
In the early morning hours of September 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike struck Galveston Island. The storm surge from the back side of the island inundated a large portion of the island. Twenty-four inches of salt water covered our lawn and gardens. This album contains photographs depicting the resiliency of the trees, shrubs, and other plants in our garden eight months after the storm.