“My grandmother was the best listener of my childhood,” one adult student volunteered. “I knew she was listening because she asked me questions that pertained to what I shared with her.” “My fifth grade teacher was the best listener of … ...

 

Connections: Simple Church Success - 5 new articles

How's Your Hearing?

“My grandmother was the best listener of my childhood,” one adult student volunteered. “I knew she was listening because she asked me questions that pertained to what I shared with her.”

“My fifth grade teacher was the best listener of my youth,” another participant offered. “He would paraphrase what I said and then ask if he was getting it right. It’s a technique I still use with others to this day!”

“My high school friend, Cheryl, listened to my struggles without making fun of me or talking about me to others,” her appreciative friend told our class. She continued, “We are still friends and I can still trust her to keep my stuff confidential.”

These are typical responses to the question, “Who was your best listener during your youth”  I ask it when I’m teaching on the subject of active listening.

Psychiatrist and author, the late M. Scott Peck, M.D., states, “Listening well is an exercise of attention and by necessity hard work. It is because they do not realize this or because they are not willing to do the work that most people do not listen well.”

Jesus, was a great listener. He heard with more than just his ears.  The Bible says, “As Jesus went, he was surrounded by the crowds. A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding, and she could find no cure. Coming up behind Jesus, she touched the fringe of his robe. Immediately, the bleeding stopped.

“‘Who touched me?’ Jesus asked. Everyone denied it, and Peter said, ‘Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.’ But Jesus said, ‘Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.’

“When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed.  ‘Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.’” (Luke 8:42-48 NLT)

Thinking Jesus’ question, “Who touched me?” was unrealistic his disciple, Peter, challenged, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.” He didn’t understand how well Jesus listened.

Nevertheless, Jesus listened so well that he could feel power go out of himself when the lady in the crowd touched him.  He was fully tuned-in to his spirit and his surroundings, even to the touch of his garment. He didn’t miss a thing.

Would that we would seek to be listeners like Jesus. We could be so much more effective if we listened better when things were happening around us—whether good or bad.

Thankfully, this deeper type of listening became normal for Peter. He was able to discern the real need of the lame man asking for money—and heal him. (Acts 3:6)  He was able to discern the corruption of Simon the Magician who wanted to buy the Holy Spirit’s power with money—and say to him, “You are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin.” (Acts 8:23)

Peter got good at listening and so can we. Listening is “by necessity hard work” but with Jesus’ help we can hear the deeper things going on around us however so quietly they may be speaking.

Giv’m Heaven!—John Parker, Listener-in-training

Listen with John at Chowchilla Simple Church 10 AM Sundays at Carty Center, 609 W. Robertson Boulevard. Information: (209) 564-7201.

            
 
 

God Likes You. Oh, and loves you too. You may like “like” better, like I do.

GOD LIKES YOU

“God likes you,’ sounds different than, “God loves you.” Sometimes people say they love us but we know they don’t like us. So, hearing that God loves us may not feel very good and may not convey how much God actually likes us.

God does like us because he himself designed us. As the bumper sticker affirms, “God don’t make no junk!”

We discover how likable we are to God when we read King David’s praise. He writes to God, “Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb…You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day. Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful! God, I’ll never comprehend them!” (Psalm 139:13–17, The Message)

Still we wonder if we are likable to God or people. Like that famous ballad, “Don’t Know Much,” laments, “Look at this face, I know the years are showing. Look at this life, I still don’t know where it’s going. Look at these eyes, they never seen what matters. Look at these dreams, so beaten and so battered.”

The point is we may believe God loves us, yet remain uncertain that he actually likes us. I was struggling the other day and asked the Lord how in the world he could actually like me. I’ve lived with myself long enough to wonder if I’m likable, based on the things I’ve said, done, or failed to do.

I wrote to the Lord, “Thank you that you are here and like me. But truly, I can’t see why you do.”

The Lord kindly responded, “John, we (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were communicating as One) made you and designed you to be you, so we like you very much. You have always been creative, adventuresome, and relational and that’s exciting for us. You bring us to others through those traits. We liked you when you were little and, now, we like you, even more, if that’s possible, as you have opened up to our “like” and love.”

Hearing that cheers me up! I remember myself as that little four year old boy they were referring to. I realize that, in spite of my human track record, where everything hasn’t gone as I planned or hoped, I am still that boy in my heart of hearts. I am still creative, adventuresome, and relational at my core like when I first started out in this world as that little boy. God knows exactly what he is doing. Those negative thoughts against myself come, not from God, but from the darkness that seeks to darken our hearts against God.

The Gospel assures us, “There is not one single bit of condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,” and, “God sent not his son to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved.” (Romans 8:1; John 3:17) Thankfully, dark judgment melts away in the light, love, and like of God through Christ Jesus.

Giv’m Heaven!—John

John Parker, is a pastor and teacher at Chowchilla Simple Church 10 AM Sundays at Carty Center, 609 W. Robertson Boulevard. Information: (209) 564-7201.

            
 
 

Did your folks have favorites? Did they admit it?

Did your mother have a favorite child? Perhaps your father did. Was it you, or another sibling? How did that affect you and the family?

Favorites create challenges. That’s probably why most parents deny having any. Siblings sometimes tease each other saying, “I’m Mom’s favorite.” Laughter follows, and so does the secret question: is it true? Nevertheless, in spite of the accompanying baggage, most of us want to be someone’s favorite.

Nations want that too. They grant each other “Most Favored Nation” (MFN) status which positively affects trade between them. The United States granted Great Britain MFN status clear back in 1794. Nowadays, the World Trade Organization requires its members to grant each other MFN status.

The Bible testifies that a great day is coming when a new most favored nation status will be given by the Lord God himself.  Isaiah (circa 750 BC) prophesies about it, declaring:  “On that Day, there will be a highway all the way from Egypt to Assyria: Assyrians will have free range in Egypt and Egyptians in Assyria. No longer rivals, they’ll worship together, Egyptians and Assyrians! On that Day, Israel will take its place alongside Egypt and Assyria, sharing the blessing from the center. God-of-the-Angel-Armies, who blessed Israel, will generously bless them all: “Blessed be Egypt, my people!… Blessed be Assyria, work of my hands!… Blessed be Israel, my heritage!”” (Isaiah 19:23–25, The Message Bible)

Israel is at the center as God’s “heritage.” Assyria, is called by God, “the work of my hands.” Egypt, God calls “my people.” What a day “that Day” will be! Peace in the Middle East is on its way.

Israel, God’s covenant nation in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) shows up as the favored nation in the Christian Bible (New Testament) as well. It records that Jesus came unto his own people, the Jews (John 1:11). His precise genealogical records ((Matthew 1, Luke 3) prove him to be the legitimate heir to the throne of King David and, thus, the “King of the Jews,” just as Pilate posted on the cross.

Paul, God’s apostle to the nations, makes it clear that Jesus’ own people, the Jews, are first and foremost in God’s plan of salvation. Paul writes to the Christians in Rome, “I can’t wait to get to you in Rome, preaching this wonderful good news of God. It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else!” (Romans 1:15–16, The Message)

This shows that God is still at work among the nations and that the center nation of all his work is the Jewish nation. It could be that Israel’s existence as a nation is the first fruit of a modern day miracle and sign of God’s continuing, active involvement in world history. The rise of Israel among the nations may not be a chance accident, but, rather, an act of God.

Of course, Jews are humans, just like the rest of us. The Good New is that God has not forsaken them, or us, and because of them we all get to be included in the Gospel through Jesus the Son of David, Son of Man, and Son of God.

John Parker, is a pastor and teacher at Chowchilla Simple Church 10 AM Sundays at Carty Center, 609 W. Robertson Boulevard. Information: (209) 564-7201.

            
 
 

Does God Help Those Who Help Themselves?

GOD’S WORK

They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?” Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28–29)

But we have our own ways of getting his work done that lets us feel better our own ability, power, and plans. The following excerpts from his article, “The Propaganda of Willfulness,” by the late Gerald May, shed light on how we skirt the command to trust God completely and, instead, help him out a bit.

May writes, My least favorite saying is “God helps those who help themselves,”…my mother used it on me when she thought I was being lazy. I can’t get away from it; it is likely the best-known adage in the English-speaking world. A poll reports that 82% of Americans believe it comes from the Bible.

But the Bible says nothing of the sort. If anything, the Bible maintains that God especially helps those who cannot help themselves.

The same philosophy has been infecting spiritual communities for at least four centuries. You may have heard it: “Pray as though everything depended on God and act as though everything depended on you.”

This version troubles me even more than the simpler form. It appears to encourage prayer and intimacy with God, but before you know it, it tells you to act as though God weren’t in the picture at all. Yet people continue to quote it without question, as if Jesus himself had said it.

They reject Jesus’s exhortations to trust God completely. They maintain that you can’t expect God to just bless you with gifts; you have to make things happen instead.

They would have you believe that Jesus was just exaggerating when he spoke about the lilies of the field, and that he was simply mistaken when he said Mary, not Martha, had chosen the one thing necessary.

Why are such twisted distortions so uncritically accepted? I think such sayings are popular because they rationalize our mistrust of God and our subsequent desire to master our own destinies.

These sayings justify our desire to have our spiritual cake and eat it, too. We want to consider ourselves faith-filled, but we are terrified of actually letting go and letting God.

We pray about decisions, but we feel we must also have logical justification for everything we do. We seek God’s guidance, but we are also compelled to look like we’re using our heads. We want to give our hearts to God, but never so completely that we might appear foolish.

But the Gospel is foolish. It’s downright ridiculous. The Good News is just too good to be true, and it demands nothing less than everything.

If we are honest, we don’t need fraudulent aphorisms to rationalize that the Gospel is too much for us. Instead, let us just admit that we cannot accomplish our own faith. We cannot help ourselves, not where it counts the most. We need God’s grace even to trust God’s grace.

And much as our willful-ness might want to deny it, God is far too intimate and loving for us to utter a single silly word about how to pray or who God does or doesn’t help. (Thank you, Gerald! Complete article at www.shalem.org.)

Giv’m Heaven!—John

            
 
 

Need a prayer? This is: The One!

My friend, the late Tom Flanagan of Chowchilla, called it the “Perfect Prayer.” Jesus himself taught it saying, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’” (Matthew 6:9–13)

We call it the “” or the “Our Father.” It addresses several realms of hope, help, and healing, as follows.

  1. Our Father who art in heaven. Jesus gives us his own father to be Our Father. Then the Holy Spirit teaches us to call him, “Abba! Father” with childlike boldness and intimacy. (Romans 8:15) “Heaven” is plural, “the Heavenlies,” in the original Greek. “Our Father” is not just way up in the third heaven on his throne; but in the second heaven, outer space; and in our heavens where the birds fly.
  2. Hallowed be your name. We are not praying for our name to be hallowed. We are becoming increasingly less concerned with our name. We embrace Jesus’ saying: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:11) We want the name of the Lord to be exalted no matter what anyone thinks of us.
  3. Your kingdom come. Rather than seeking our own kingdom, with its power and possessions, we wave the white flag, lower our private castle draw bridge, and let the Lord’s kingdom come in.
  4. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus himself prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will but your be done.” He surrendered his own will and went forward as a victor rather than as a victim. We can too.
  5. Give us this day our daily bread. This is a great prayer for workaholics and anxiety addicts. Not emphasizing itself to self-sufficient accumulation, storage, and savings plans, it call us into a daily asking, watching and waiting for Our Father’s providential provision. It calls us to look and listen for the works he as planned in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
  6. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Our Father’s daily giving frees us up for constant forgiving. He calls us into freedom from judging and holding bitter grudges against Our Father himself, or others, or against ourselves. We get better at “making direct amends wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” (AA Step 9)
  7. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The Bible says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) We need Our Father for these victories. “Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.’” (2 Chronicles 20:15)

Giv‘m, Our Father in the Heavens!”—John

John Parker encourages those who are eager to participate in spiritual-family-style small groups. He helps to facilitate Connections Simple Church of Chowchilla 10 AM Sundays at Carty Center, 609 W. Robertson Blvd.  Contact John at (209) 564-7201.

Don’t miss a chapter of John’s new book-in-the-making.

Subscribe at MaryMarthaBook.com  It’s about recovering from workaholicism and  anxiety! Based on Luke 10:38-42.

            
 
 
 
   
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