God’s voice?

How to hear the voice of God?  That’s the question stirring today.  Uncharacteristically.  These blogs are usually of a general (and random) nature, seldom addressing ‘religious’ topics.  But discerning the voice of God surely enters everyone’s thinking, even the non-religious.  If we’re honest, most of us are often listening out for guidance on big decisions, etc, from somewhere in the cosmos!  Some seek it from tea leaves or crystal balls, but the more discerning would seek the voice of ‘God’. 

Easier said than done.  And worthy of more words than this piece can offer.

But signposts are posted for the discerning and focussed traveller, and I offer the following three helpful quotes.

John Wesley (learn of him here) proposed: “When a person is ‘born of God’ … their whole soul becomes aware of God … The Spirit of God breathes life into the new-born soul … Their ears are now opened and the voice of God no longer calls in vain.  They hear and obey the heavenly calling.  They know [his] voice … All their spiritual senses are now awakened, they have a clear course of communication with the invisible world … they know more and more of things which before their hearts could not begin to understand.”

Frederick Buechner (see here) posited: “… the word that God speaks to us is an ‘incarnate’ word – a word spelled out not alphabetically, but enigmatically, in events, even in the books we read and the movies we see … [but] we are so used to hearing what we want to hear and remaining deaf to what it would be well for us to hear that it is hard to break the habit.  But if we keep our hearts and minds open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, … deeply and honestly, … we come to recognise that, however faintly we may hear him, he is indeed speaking to us, and … his word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling.”

And King David (in the music of Psalm 19) said: “The heavens declare the glory of God … day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.  Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world.”

‘Incarnate’ is an interesting concept.  It means (according to Merriam-Webster) “made manifest or comprehensible”; as if to say, we need to be looking for signposts or impressions less than obvious or not part of our normal noise, but listening sensitively and with God-ward focus to something unobvious, but somehow made manifest or comprehensible.

Easy.  (Not.)

But practise.  Look for those signposts, and discern what God’s voice would say to you in your current circumstances.  Write and tell me about it.

Ken F

Two Kinds of Faith

by Barry Pollard

(Based on Mark 5:21-43, Psalm 130, 2 Cor 8:7-15)

Mark’s gospel reading today gives us two stories in one. The first is the story of Jairus’s daughter, who is dying, the second is the story of the woman afflicted with non-stop bleeding. Each is a story about faith.

As I pondered them, and what they could mean in my life, I ended up with more questions than answers.

Jairus was a leader of the synagogue, presumably steeped in Jewish ways and faith, yet he appeals to Jesus, who was preaching to a crowd of disciples and the curious. This tells us a couple of things: knowledge of Jesus was spreading and having impact, people starting to believe that he had the power of healing, probably as they learned of his other acts of healing and miracles. And people with no close relationship with Jesus were seeking him out.
This was a feature in the second story of the woman. In various accounts she is referred to as a “zaba”, literally meaning “oozer”. She must have had knowledge of, and faith in, the one she sought. She had experienced “remedies” and treatments from many doctors over a long period of time and no healing had been effected, no relief given. Yet she had enough faith in what she had heard about this man Jesus that she sought him out, believing that even to touch his robe would be enough to be healed. Something to remember is, desperation can lead to deep faith.

The touch was enough but it drew a response from Jesus that gives us a clue about healing power, for the healer and the healed! For Jesus there was an awareness that healing power had gone out of him. He hadn’t initiated it. The woman had. I assume that there must have been a sudden drain in energy that he sensed; and for the woman, she had a physical awareness that her bleeding had stopped and her body was put right.

This type of sensing I can identify with, having dislocated a shoulder. After visiting the A&E department for it to be put back, I suffered through two weeks of physio trying to get it to do what it should. A follow-up visit to the hospital led to the job being done properly and the relief I felt was instant! It was back where it should have been and functioning pretty much as normal.

But Jesus called the woman out. He wanted to identify who had been healed. His disciples didn’t give much encouragement in the search, but he kept looking and eventually the woman came forward and fell at his feet, admitting that it was she who had touched him and been healed. Jesus’s response publicly identified what had brought about her healing – faith!

Remember that the story of the bleeding woman is told within the story of Jairus. Jairus has asked for Jesus’s help in the first instance and they were en route to his house when the woman intervened. The healing of the woman and his follow-up teaching had brought the procession of the crowd to a halt. Jesus was not to be hurried and took the time to explain what had happened for the benefit of not just the woman but the crowd watching on.
But as the healing of the woman was concluded the attention turns back to Jairus and the daughter in need.
As Jesus was sending the healed woman off, messengers from Jairus’s house arrived to announce the passing of the child. Jesus heard this news and turned to Jairus to encourage him. “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” Remember, like the woman, Jairus has sought out Jesus to heal his daughter.

The crowd was stopped, and Jesus proceeded to the house of Jairus in the company of disciples Peter, John and James. As you would expect, the scene on arrival at the house was one of weeping and deep sorrow at the passing of a loved child. Something else to remember is, desperation can lead to deep despair.
Not put off, Jesus announced to everyone gathered there that the girl was not dead, simply asleep. Disbelief was rampant and he was mocked openly. But, undeterred, Jesus proceeded into the house with Jairus, his wife and the three disciples to raise the daughter back to life. Holding her hand and saying, “Little girl, get up” was enough!

You can imagine the depth of amazement in the room, as a child that had been declared dead was suddenly up and walking around. Jesus, ever practical, tells those in attendance to refrain from telling others what they had experienced, and to get the child something to eat!

At this point I admit that I have more questions than insights about Jesus and what he was doing in these accounts. Perhaps you’ll ponder these along with me:

  • He was alerted to the presence and actions of the bleeding woman by sensing that power had left his body. If healing had that effect on him, how much more might he have felt bringing Jairus’s daughter back to life?
  • And, why did he order those who witnessed the resurrection of the girl to say nothing about it, yet he publicly identified and spoke with the suffering woman?

Has anyone heard of the television series on the life of Jesus and the disciples called The Chosen? It is a crowd-sourced television production depicting the life and impact of Jesus on those he called to follow him, the disciples. Watching it, I have come to see and understand another side of Jesus. He is wonderfully portrayed as a smiling, engaging man who exudes love, compassion and goodness to all others. If you have ever struggled to come to terms with who Jesus really is – man and God – this show might give you a better appreciation, as it has me. I would have loved to have been in his company! He was funny, intelligent, friendly, and purpose-driven, and, yes, he appears to have enjoyed feasts and the odd wine!
Anyway, the idea of healing power leaving his body was a theme used in one of the shows. In the episode Jesus was leading the disciples through the wilderness, and the crowds who have heard of his healing power turn up en masse to be healed. The show focuses on the disciples going about their work, preparing food, erecting shelters and so on, but all were concerned for the welfare of Jesus who is engaged throughout the day, without breaks, healing those who keep turning up before him. The day ends with the evening meal being served and Jesus staggering into the encampment and heading straight for his bed roll, saying he was too tired to eat and talk. He was drained. The power had been going out of him all day long! [You can view the various episodes here.]

This provided further insight into the life of Jesus for me – selfless and serving – and explaining the draining effect of healing others.

The leading characters in our two Gospel stories, Jairus and the bleeding woman, both demonstrated deep faith. And in each story Jesus acknowledges the depth of their faith – by miraculously raising a loved daughter to life for Jairus, and healing the body of the woman who had carried her affliction for more than a decade. Their faith was rewarded.

And for those who have ‘read ahead’ and researched the accounts in Mark’s Gospel, you might be thinking about the taboos Jesus was breaking down: it was forbidden for rabbis to touch the dead (in the case of Jairus’s daughter) and it was forbidden to have contact with a menstruating woman (in the case of the zaba). These were significant steps that Jesus was taking, to break down the strictures of the law, providing instead his grace alternative.

In today’s Psalm, the message I heard was that the despairing can have every hope in the Lord, because he is faithful. The psalmist acknowledges that God is upon high, and petitions for a hearing. He confesses that he is a sinner but knows that God forgives. He counts on the Lord, longs for the Lord, hopes in the Lord. He sees God as unfailing, redemptive love!
The psalmist definitely has faith in a faithful God!

The reading from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth builds on the idea of faith. The message I heard is, if you have faith (and Paul acknowledges that the church of Corinth was a faithful community), you need to demonstrate it in practical terms. Imagine a church where the faithful sat around and did nothing. Would that have appeal, would it draw others in? Is it sharing the Good News? It is not exactly how God envisaged us ‘living out our faith’.
The Corinthians were grappling with the issue of supporting other churches, particularly those in need. Paul’s letter was to encourage them to continue to be generous in their giving, according to what they had. His point was that while they were in a position to help, they should, because there may be a time in the future when they might need the help of others. Paul uses the Jesus-comparative in verse 9 to emphasise his point: “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.”
By heeding Paul’s advice, the church of Corinth would further the theme of faith and generosity.

This brings up my next set of questions: What about us?

  • As in the case of the psalmist, do we see God as faithful? Does he ever change? Do we believe he is the same today as he was yesterday and will be tomorrow?
  • Are we faithful? Is our faith as unshakeable as that of God? Do we seek him out only when we face crisis? Or do we turn our backs on Him in our time of desperation?
  • Do we live out our faith? Do we take thought to action? Do we act in equitable ways?

For each of us the answers will be different. And will be according to situation, according to experience, and according to belief. As we mull these things over we may face a reality check or two. I know I did, and do.

A worry I have is that we may see faith simply as a transactional thing – I desire this outcome, so to bring it about I’ll believe more, live out my faith more, and so on. If we take the face-value message of ‘faith equals a great reward’, we are likely to fall way short.

If faith isn’t transactional, what is it? Faith is moral and spiritual, and it is relational. In fact, the very heart of faith is about relationship to God through Jesus Christ and, through that, relationship to others.
Jesus was always pointing us to faith in him. If our faith is anywhere else, we have missed his point.

Our challenge this week, and I hope you’ll take it up, is to spend time examining our faith in relational terms. Set aside time and make it a ‘waiting on the Lord’ time. Be honest in your assessments and commend them to God. Expect to hear his response!

Hear from you next week?
Let us pray: Healing God, you are indeed life and wholeness. Transform our brokenness by the power of your life-giving love, and deepen our faith.
We ask this through your faithful Son, Jesus, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

In your dreams …

Aren’t dreams baffling things?  And intriguing.  What are they, and why?  How are they tied into our personalities; our fears and insecurities?
Answers to these and other questions, there are not, and no one seems sure about the science, chemistry or psychology behind them.

There are theories.  [Wikipedia, that expert of all things and usually the first hit of any web search, posits, “A dream is a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that usually occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep.  The content and function of dreams are not fully understood, and ….”  But that’s what I already said, right?]  One theory proposes that dreams are a defence mechanism by specific areas of brain from being ‘appropriated for other purposes’ while it is deprived of waking inputs.  That is, the brain keeps driving itself to function normally, in case some other function hijacks it while it’s asleep!
Other prominent theories suggest that dreams assist in memory formation, problem solving, brain cleansing, or are simply a random, meaningless activity.

Much can be said, but the aspect that most messes with my thinking is the way I wake up and, usually, can’t remember what I was dreaming about.  It’s the darnedest thing.  I’ve been dreaming about something really important or intense or engaging, yet … what the hell was it!
In his novel Voss, Patrick White writes,

Henning Mankell commences his novel Faceless Killers with,

I appreciate these literary descriptions – they’re more accessible to me than dreams themselves.  They help describe what I can’t describe.

So, one morning I woke up from dreaming and madly wrote down what I could remember, before it evaporated in my mental pursuit of it:
On an industrial forecourt … someone was water blasting, up high … I was looking up.  Someone made a rude comment, and I noticed there was a young mother with children.  Chris Cairns was there.  We were sitting at a bright red table, and I was telling him I did most of my … [I can’t read this word – my handwriting at this hour was nearly as inaccessible as the dream].  He said he does all his own work, and he started lifting the table.  I began to slide backwards, and grabbed the table.  I noticed there were bright red Christmas lights, trimming round the table edge, and I clung on.  Pages from a science text book appeared, and I squinted to see what they were saying because I thought I saw my name written in the text …  [At which point I woke up.]

All right, ok.  I can remember dreams after all.  Just as well too.  It all makes so much sense to me now.  Dream on.

Ken F

“Who are my mother and my brothers?”

by Pat Lee

(Based on Mark 3:20-35, Gen 3:18-15)

Dr. Mickey Anders (Pastor of South Elkhorn Christian Church, Lexington, Kentucky) proposes: “Have you ever accused someone of being out of their mind?  Probably.  We are not unaccustomed to making such a statement about people we know today.  A friend of yours takes a bungee jump off a high tower, and you ask, ‘Has he gone out of his mind?’  On a lark, another friend takes a sky diving lesson and jumps out of a perfectly good airplane, and you ask, ‘Has she gone out of her mind?’  A person of modest income decides to purchase a house obviously beyond his means, and you ask, ‘Has he gone out of his mind?’  There are lots of situations in which we might ask that question of someone we know, but we are shocked when someone asks that question of Jesus. In verse 21, we learn that people are saying, ‘He is insane.'”

I think we’ve all done this (except for that last part). I know I have, and have also been on the receiving end of someone asking me, “Are you mad?” or “Are you out of your mind?”
Well I don’t think I am, but some may think so.

Actually, this scripture makes me feel quite sad. Jesus’ family didn’t recognize who he was and thought he was was out of his mind.
Families should be  safe places where we can express our views without fear of being asked, “Are you mad?” but sadly, that often is not the case.
We should be able to disagree with our parents, brothers and sisters on a topic knowing that we may, at the end of the discussion, say, “Let us agree to disagree on this subject.”  We should know that although there is disagreement, we are still loved, and love those, we have disagreed with. But in many families, some of the discussions they have become heated and often, sadly, violent or with words spoken that are divisive and hurtful and difficult to reverse and heal.

The reading from Genesis relates the first time a disagreement took place. Adam accused Eve and Eve accused the serpent.
If we go a little further in Genesis we find Cain killing Abel because he was angry with him over sacrifices made to God. So, unfortunately, it has been happening right from the beginning of time.

When we look back to chapter one of Mark, we see that Jesus has driven out an evil spirit, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and many others, cleansed a leper, and caused a paralytic to walk. It is interesting to note that the evil spirit he drove out knew exactly who Jesus was, because it called out to him and demanded, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are … !” (v1:24)
This seems to me to beg the question, If the evil spirits recognize who Jesus is, why don’t his family and the teachers of the law? They all seem to think that Jesus is out of his mind. As one commentator says, “He has spoken in the synagogue with an outstanding authority, but a kind of secrecy enshrouds him which only the demonic seems to recognize; yet secret power breathes from him that will not be contained, as witnessed by numerous events of healing that mark his route.”

So instead of recognizing who and what Jesus is, his family come to restrain him, because they think he is out of his mind. They are closely followed by the teachers of the law who claim that he is possessed by ‘Beelzebul’, by whose power he is driving out demons.
I find this rather outrageous, because, as I have already said, the demons knew who Jesus was. So, Jesus  spoke to them in virtual riddles and asks them, “How can Satan drive out Satan?” It is not possible because anything “that is divided against itself, cannot stand”.

Michael J Marsh in his commentary says, “This division and inner conflict is a reality of today’s world and our lives. A marriage divided is a divorce. A nation divided results in vitriolic politics and, in the extreme, civil war. An economy divided yields poverty and injustice. A community divided becomes individualism and tribalism, prejudice and violence. Humanity divided is all these things on a global level. Faith divided is sin.”
And we do see all these things in today’s world.

Marsh goes on to say, “It’s hard to look at the division and inner conflict within our own lives. The beginning of wholeness, however, is acknowledging our brokenness. Where is our own house divided? How and to what extent have we created conflict and division within our relationships. In what ways do we live fragmented lives, parcelling out pieces here and there? What is it that shatters your life? Anger and resentment, greed, insecurity, perfectionism, sorrow and loss, fear, guilt, or loneliness?”

At the end of the reading we come to where Jesus was told that his mother and brothers and sisters had arrived, and his response is surprising. (“Who are my mother and my brothers?”) It sounds like a rejection of his family. Was Jesus rejecting them? No, I don’t think so. What he was doing was looking around at the gathered crowd and telling them that those present, and elsewhere, who had responded to the call from God in the person of him, Jesus Christ, were ‘his family’.

Unlike the people in the crowd, who had Jesus right there in front of them, we do not; but we have all been called to follow him. None of us has seen him, but we know him and believe in what he did for us on a cross, over two thousand years ago. We have faith in him and his teachings, so we can be assured that we, too, are part of his family.
Living by faith mean means that whatever happens here on earth, whatever we go through in our daily lives, we have confidence that we are part of Jesus’s family, and that should give us hope. 2 Cor 17-18 can suitably wrap this today: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  

Amen