When God Whispers

Sometimes God whispers. In I Kings 19, God chose a whisper to communicate with Elijah. Elijah was discouraged and depressed. In verse 12: “After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”  In verse 13, Elijah knew it was the Lord and went out to the opening of the cave he was in to await the message God gave to him.

God whispers when the need arises. Elijah had too much going on in his life. He was over-stimulated. He had just called down fire from heaven that licked up the water and dust off the ground. He had just seen the power of God bring rain to a land that had a seven-year drought. Now he was seeking to escape Jezebel who had a contract on his life.

We certainly don’t have the same kinds of events going on in our lives, but at times we all live over-stimulated lives. We live in a world that is over-stimulated.

Simply making choices at the grocery store can be challenging. You want a bag of potato chips. You walk down the potato chip aisle and you have to choose among plain chips, barbeque chips, sour cream chips, fried pickles with ranch chips, deep dish pizza chips, chile con queso chips, Cajun spice chips, or Chesapeake Bay crab spice chips.

You want a bottle of shampoo and again the choices are overwhelming. Walk down a different aisle this time and you can buy clarifying shampoo, neutralizing shampoo, chelating shampoo, keratin shampoo, color-protecting shampoo, volumizing shampoo, or dry shampoo.

Restaurant menus sometimes resemble a book in size; some are even spiral-bound. You put all those choices together with the stress of a job, friends, family, and elderly parents and you are definitely over-stimulated,

Like Elijah, we need a whisper from God. The prophet Zephaniah said to God’s people, “He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17.)”

We need to listen for God’s whisper. Here are ways we may do this: Slow down. Pay attention when your pace is too fast. Plan some quiet time in your life. Turn off the noise. Take a break from your phones, your television, and your email. Find time to retreat. Find solitude. Take a walk, sing, and observe nature. Even God rested on the seventh day.

In The Message translation of the Bible, David wrote, “Open your ears, God, to my prayer. Don’t pretend you don’t hear me knocking. Come close and whisper your answer. I really need you” (Psalm 55:1-2, MSG.) He also wrote, “He leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:2.)

Remember God loves you and wants to show you grace. His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23.)  He sometimes speaks in the earthquake, in the fire, in the wind, and the thunderstorm. But there are times when God speaks in a whisper.

Live life in such a way that, when needed, you can hear God whisper.

Work on Yourself

Goethe wrote, “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door and the whole world will be clean.”  This statement made me consider a thought that I don’t have often enough:  that one way to improve the world around me is self-improvement . Paul makes a similar point:  “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (I Corinthians 9:27). In other words, to influence others I must improve myself.

In communication theory, one of the ways researchers have found to improve the way we communicate is not to change the other person, but to change our response to that person. Maybe the problem with communication is not with others, but with ourselves.

Jim Rohn said, “To be successful in life work harder on yourself than you do on your job.”  When we seek to improve the quality of life we want to begin with ourselves. Work on self to be a better influence in the world.

The apostle Paul was a believer in self-improvement, as we can tell by the earlier statement from him. He also reminded Timothy of the potential we have for self-improvement: “ For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (II Timothy 1:7.) And Peter wrote this among other traits to develop, “…add to your faith virtue”  (II Peter 1:5.)

A familiar dialogue between Jesus and a rich man illustrates the need for self-improvement.  Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?  “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.  “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony,  honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself. “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:16-22). He still needed to work on himself.

As Paulo Coelho wrote, “When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.” Our Christian light will shine a little brighter with continual self-improvement.

Unique Faces

Clown eggsThe clown industry is interesting. No two clowns have the same working face. A beginner must send a sketch of his proposed face to the Secretary of the International Circus Clown Club, who paints the face on an eggshell and compares it with the hundreds of other faces in a collection housed at Croydon, England. If the new one duplicated a face already in use, the novice is advised to create a new face.

These thoughts made me ponder faces. No two are exactly alike. God made each of us special. Think of all the billions of people who have been born, and no two are exactly alike! Even identical twins have slight differences. I’m sure it must be frustrating for an aspiring clown to dream up a new face—one that is unique. But God does it all the time.

This is just one characteristic of humans that illustrates the greatness and glory of God. The fact that none of us is exactly like anyone else demonstrates that we could not have come into existence by chance. There has to be a supreme being. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping that creeps upon the earth’” (Genesis 1:26).

It all began with God! God made it possible for humans to have the dominant role on earth, and we need to be reminded of God’s supremacy and our dependence on Him. We can remember that as we see each person’s unique face.


In Defense of Silence


Silence has to be a part of our relationship with our Savior. In Habakkuk 3:19 we read, “Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Trappist Thomas Merton wrote, “A man who loves God necessarily loves silence.”  Jesus had his favorite places to go alone; the garden of Gethsemane was one. He needed to get away from the crowds and followers. He needed the time alone in silence with the Father. Job said, “Stand still and consider the wondrous works of God.“

Silence is difficult for many of us. We kill the silence with words. We need to spend time in silence. It is hard to feel the closeness of Jesus without silence. The greatest tribute we can pay to anyone “…is a moment of silence.”  We need many of those moments with God.

Build into each day periods of silence. This might be in the family room or office before the family rises in the morning. Perhaps give yourself extra time before a plane departure and slip into the chapel available in most major airports. Public libraries can be a place to embrace silence. Some cathedrals and church sanctuaries are open for prayer and meditation.

Let God speak to you as you sit in silence. I find that ideas, names of people, and issues sometimes enter my mind in times of silence. I often sit in our solarium in the early morning darkness or out on our deck in warm weather. People and ideas just seem to “float” into my consciousness; I try to respond by contacting that person or giving attention to an issue that I have forgotten about. Without the silence, I cannot bring these thoughts to the forefront of my mind.

Develop leisure time activities that involve silence. Walking the streets of our city before rush hour traffic and before children are walking to school is such a time for me. Place a bird feeder near a window in your kitchen and observe the birds as they come for food. Just clearing your mind for the activities of the day can give you peace and comfort.

You need silence for prayer time. Perhaps a reason David was described as a man after God’s own heart—in spite of his sins—is because as a shepherd he had much silent time to commune with God. Even Jesus, the perfect human, still needed quiet time to pray to the father.

Herman Melville wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended to by silence.” That includes our time with the Master each day.

According to Plutarch, writing in 4 B.C., Herod Archelaus, a well-known politician and tetrarch of Judea, sat down in the chair of his local barbershop. “How would you like your hair trimmed?” asked the chattering barber. Archelaus responded, “In silence.”

The Samaritan Spirit

Good SamaritanOne of the most familiar and oft-referenced stories in the Bible is the narrative surrounding the Good Samaritan. The story may seem to be out of date when we think of our modes of travel today in contrast to the way people traveled 2000 years ago.

The principles of altruism, however, are the same today as in the time of the Samaritan, the hero of this story. Jesus emphasized three actions that I believe are timeless in living the Christian life. Here is what we should do when we find a person in need.

TIME. The Samaritan gave the injured man his time. I’m sure he was as busy as the priest and the Levite who chose not to stop and give assistance. But he realized the needs of the helpless and hurt man took precedence over whatever else he was traveling to do. Sometimes the best we can do is give our time. Simple acts like playing a game with a child or stopping to check on an elderly person who no longer lives an independent life may be the best action to take.

SKILLS. The second act of the Samaritan was to use what first aid skills he had. He was not a physician or a professional first responder. But he did what he could with the skills that he had. According to Luke 10:34, the Samaritan  “… went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.”Perhaps our skills are only to hold the person’s hand or maybe provide food and make the person comfortable. But we are instructed to do what we can.

PROVISION. The last action the Samaritan took was to provide money to care for the man. The story continues in verse 35:  “The next day he took out two denariiand gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” He paid for his room and board and whatever expenses he might incur. In today’s dollars, one writer guessed two denarii would equal about $150. The third action might not be possible for some, but we might provide a meal or encourage the person to spend the night in our home. For some, money might be the best action he or she can take. Perhaps you are one who always has extra money on his or her person for emergency situations such as this one in our story; perhaps what you provide is comfort in a different way.

The Good Samaritan story tells us who our neighbor is and what actions we should take to help. Our neighbor is anyone in need and we can help him or her with our time, our skills, and our money.

What Do You Leave Behind?

Johnny Appleseed    John Chapman planted so many apple seeds that he became known as  Johnny Appleseed. For 50 years he traveled the Midwest planting seeds; Johnny Appleseed festivals are in several states each year. A statue in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati shows him lifting a seedling in the air. He took with him apple seeds wherever he traveled. He was one of the country’s first nurserymen.

Wherever he went, he left behind apple trees. His legacy is the apple. When people think of apples, they think of him. As Christians, what do we take with us wherever we go and what do we leave behind?

In college basketball, you can often tell who trained the coach because of the kind of offense or defense the team uses. The apostle Paul left behind churches he helped establish. In Troas, he left behind Eutychus, alive, who had been assumed dead after falling out of a window while listening to Paul preach (Acts 20:10). Dorcas left behind the clothing she had made for others (Acts 9:36-38). Jesus left behind a small band of followers who changed the world by sharing the good news which he had taught them to deliver.

Batsell B Baxter  My style of preaching goes back to Batsell Barrett Baxter, a main speaker for “Herald of Truth” radio program and my Bible professor at Lipscomb University. All of us have been recipients of skills, techniques, and information left behind by our mentors, parents, and teachers.

You can tell where a tornado has touched ground by the damage to homes, cars, and trees. Recently we visited the Smokies and everywhere we went in the Gatlinburg, Tennessee, area you could observe the burned out fields, forests, and homes left behind by the forest fires that destroyed hundreds of acres of land. So you can leave behind bad, such as a fire, as well as the good, such as the seeds Johnny Appleseed left.

The impact of what we leave behind wherever we go may not be as obvious as apple trees, but in the words of John Allston, “The only thing you take with you when you’re gone is what you leave behind.”

True Grit


1955 GRIT

In the fifties, GRIT was a weekly newspaper that my mother bought faithfully. As a child, I was always impressed with its importance because my mother would sit down and immediately start reading. It was sold for a dime and  contained some news, women’s fashions, a comics section, human-interest stories, and recipes.

The word “grit” has stuck with me over the years. It is not a word often used to describe someone and is not a word found in the Bible. “True Grit” was also the title of a popular movie for which John Wayne won an Oscar for Best Actor. Even his name in the movie, “Rooster Cogburn,” connotes grit.

However, I believe some scriptures fall under the umbrella of grit. The word means holding steadfast to a goal even when there are bumps in the road. Progress is often slow, but it may matter more than knowledge, skill, or luck.

Paul had grit, as the reader can tell in I Corinthians 9:27:  “No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

True grit is a trait we Christians seek because the phrase combines biblical terms such as “press onward” and  “…fought the good fight.” Here are some ways to develop true grit:

Understand that God is in charge, no matter what. Great leaders in the Bible were great because they showed grit by their actions. Abraham lived in tents, Moses wandered in the wilderness with the rest of Israel, and Deborah was a judge and prophetess who led the Israelites during a difficult time. All of these showed grit.

Look for the positive in life experiences. Jesus responded to the woman caught in adultery by saying, “Go and sin no more.” He did not dwell on the sin she had committed, but rather how she could live the rest of her life.

Find role models who demonstrate the traits of grit. Look for people who inspire you to be a better person and to persevere by the way they live.

John Glenn was a true American hero. He was the first American to orbit the earth and was a distinguished pilot during World War II, as well as serving as U.S. Senator for 24 years. Certainly he demonstrated grit. It is probably no accident that he watched the movie “True Grit” ten times.

Perhaps President Reagan described grit best when he spoke of the seven who perished in the Challenger disaster: “They had that special grace, that special spirit that says, ‘Give me a challenge and I’ll meet it with joy.’”

A Larry Bird Connection

I recently read a novel set in the French Lick and West Baden area of southern Indiana. It brought back personal memories of high school basketball and playing in several of the small towns in that part of the state. Specifically, one of the gymnasiums I remember best was Springs Valley, which in the early sixties was new and ahead of its time in the quality of flooring, lighting. and overall design. We basketball boys were in awe when we went out on the floor.

But what impressed me most is what happened in that same gymnasium about a dozen years later. Larry Bird played his high school basketball at Springs Valley. Larry Bird and I played on the same basketball court!  Can you believe that!

He and I have something in common. We are connected.

Okay—so the connection is a little bit far-fetched or extreme, but the connection is there. I began thinking about how we often identify a place, a person, or an event with a connection we have.

Connection is a key word in our Christian walk. We want to be connected to Jesus Christ in every way possible. This was the way the early church grew. The early disciples were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26). Paul and Barnabas taught and preached Jesus for a year there, with much growth. Why?  Because they not only taught about Jesus, but they sought to be like Jesus in every way possible. The people could tell they were connected to Jesus.

Paul sought to do this in all of his mission work. To the church at Corinth he wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). In other words do all you can to connect with Jesus in every possible way. Earlier he wrote, “Be imitators of me” (I Corinthians 4:16.) He was not being arrogant at all, but rather he was so connected with Jesus that all of his actions and words sought to show Jesus living in him. This was his mission as he spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

That is a great example for us. When we consider all the connections we have in this life, whether big or small, let us keep uppermost in our thoughts and actions to connect with Jesus and the way He lived. Seek to imitate Jesus Christ.

Don’t Forget to Wave

rupert-brookeThe poet Rupert Brooke set out to travel by boat from England to America. All the people on deck had someone there to see them off—except him. Brooke felt very alone. Watching the hugging and kissing and good-byes, he wished he had someone to miss him.

The poet saw a youngster nearby and asked him his name. “William,” he replied.

“William,” he asked, “would you like to earn a few shillings?”

“Sure I would!  What do I have to do?”

“Just wave to me as I leave, “ the lonely man said.

Rupert Brooke wrote later, “Some people smiled and some cried, some waved white handkerchiefs and some waved straw hats. And I? I had William, who waved at me with his red bandana for six shillings and kept me from feeling completely alone.”

Loneliness is a pervasive problem in our culture. One in five Americans suffer from persistent loneliness according to The Huffington Post. From the very beginning, loneliness was a problem. Adam was alone and God gave him someone to spend his life with (Genesis 2:8, 18). I learned from a film on listening that for one tribe in Africa, capitol punishment is to withhold human contact from that person.

A ministry we can all be a part of is to help people cope with loneliness. Pay attention to the people who live alone. Make it a point to call or ask him or her to have coffee with you. Or invite yourself over and bring a pastry. If you know someone in a convalescent home, pay him or her a visit. I heard of one individual who made it a point to occasionally visit a nursing home and ask at the main desk which residents never had visitors. Then he would get the names and room numbers and stop by for a short visit.

I try to smile and speak to people I meet on the street. Sometimes I will nod and wave at another car approaching a four-way stop. I strike up conversations with servers in restaurants, checkers at the grocery store, cab drivers, and cashiers at service stations. You never know when all a person needs is a kind word, a smile, or a wave.

Even Jesus felt loneliness. Alone in the garden, Jesus wanted his three closest friends to go with him in his darkest hours before his crucifixion (Luke 22:39-46).

You may not feel comfortable initiating a conversation with a stranger, or know what to say when you visit someone you don’t know very well. But in some form or another, you can always wave.

Lunch with a Stranger

A few weeks ago on a warm July day, a friend and I ate lunch in the outside section of an ethnic restaurant.  As we ate, a man stopped and asked us for money.  My friend responded, “I can’t give you money but we’ll buy you lunch.  Have a seat and eat with us.”  He seemed hesitant to do so , but he took a seat; we called the server to give him a menu and he ordered the special of the day at my friend’s suggestion.

He was not sure what to say or do, but my friend very pleasantly asked about his family and I asked where he was from.  In the course of conversation he told us he had spent the past year in a nursing home and had just been released a few weeks earlier.

We asked him why he had spent such a long time and his answer was, “I have cancer, but the medication keeps it under control.”

We chatted a little more, his food came,  and he started to eat.  Then he said, “You guys are really nice to do this for me.  I have not told you the truth about my condition.  I have Aids and that’s the reason I have been in a nursing home.  It is easier to say I have cancer because people see me differently if I tell them I have Aids.  But you guys are nice and respectful and I wanted to be truthful with you.”

We talked a little longer, he thanked us again for lunch, and we went on our way.

I think it is difficult to know how to respond to those who have no place to live or not enough money to buy food.  People wanting money are camped out at busy intersections with their “homeless” signs as well as on the busy streets of our cities.  Sometimes we ignore them or give them a couple of dollars; sometimes, if we have prepared ahead of time, we give them a bag of personal items from the backseat of our car.

Sharing a meal with a person in dire straits may not only feed the body, but personal conversation feeds the spirit.  After a few minutes, our new friend felt comfortable sharing a part of his personal life that he would not ordinarily share.  He needed food, but he also needed someone to take a moment and show that they cared.

If Jesus were here today and walking our busy streets, I see him eating lunch not in the Banker’s Club but with a beggar in the closest Wendy’s.  I see him stopping and encouraging the one standing on the street corner with his cardboard sign.  Jesus tended to seek out those in need and minister to them as he went from village to village.

He often spoke of helping those in unfortunate circumstances, such as in Luke 6:30-31, part of which we often refer to as The Golden Rule.  The story of the Good Samaritan proclaims that a neighbor is anyone in need (Luke 10:25-37.)

Probably too many times I do not follow through with sharing a meal or taking the time for conversation with a person like the one in this story. I have to admit, however, that I feel the best about myself after I have had lunch with a stranger who has become my neighbor.

Addressing issues of spiritual significance