Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Hearing from God, Speaking for God

The Introduction

Eight years ago this month I asked the readers of this blog what types of criteria they had for choosing a church. Rereading that short post and the comments put me back in the mindset of that time when we had just moved to the Research Triangle Park of NC. Here’s me in the comments of that post: “We are pretty much only looking at PCA churches. Not because we think those are the only good churches, but because we both really agree with their doctrinal foundations.” We ended up doing just that. We chose what turned out to be a great church with great doctrine and stayed there for about 3 years. However, when we decided to move back to our hometown and start the church search over again, I had similar criteria, but a much different order of importance. Back in Greenville we ended up going to a great church with great community. For the last four years we’ve been involved in what is essentially of church of a dozen people (connected to a larger church gathering).

As you can imagine, choosing a church based on organizational structure and size does not always create a community of like minded individuals. That’s led to some difficult, but beneficial conversations. We’ve baptized our two infants in a church that believes that sacrament is for those with a profession of faith. We’ve worked through church leadership and discipleship differences. Wrestling through those types of disagreements with a group of kindhearted friends has been wonderful. However, one issue that’s long been difficult to come to a place of mutual acceptance is the issue of God’s literal voice in our life. It’s deeply personal and obviously supernatural which makes the conversation complicated. I warn you, the rest of this post is painfully insider baseball. I’ll also assume that scripture is the authoritative source on the issue. Whether you believe that’s true or not, it’s certainly reasonable to say that for those who do submit to scripture as “God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), that it should also be useful for useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”. So if you’re not actively involved in a church, this will likely feel like long meaningless minutiae (and I’m not 100% that you’d be wrong).

The Point

Before the Fall of Mankind, God had regular interactions with Adam and Eve, but immediately after sin entered the world, God’s presence causes fear (Genesis 3:8-9). From then on, even into the New Testament with John the Baptist, there is a trend of God slowly but surely directing the world to the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God’s voice takes many forms, but they are overwhelmingly fantastical. Whether it’s a blinding light from heaven (Acts 9:1-7), voice from the storm (Job 38), burning bush that didn’t burn (Exodus 3), the sound of many waters (Ezekiel 43:2, Revelation 1:15), harps in the background (Revelation 14:2), dense cloud of thunder and lightning with an increasingly loud trumpet blast (Exodus 19), or even the visual that heaven is being torn open (Mark 1:9-11). There are also mysterious dreams of an unbeliever (Genesis 41:1-57) interpreted by Joseph and even overwhelming day dreams, or visions (Numbers 24:4). Even when angels arrive, they often have to tell people to not to be afraid. When Moses returned from Mount Sinai after receiving the Ten Commandments, his own face was so bright it scared everyone and he had to put a veil over it (Exodus 34:29-35). In fact, the people of Israel actually requested that God stop speaking directly to them because it felt like they are going to die (Deuteronomy 18:16).

There are also times where the hearer doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed, but in all those they are eventually certain it’s God (1 Samuel 3). The only example I could find of God speaking and not everyone understanding was when his voice was mistaken by some for loud thunder (John 12:23-29). Even in the well known example of God speaking in a “still small voice”, it was only after a strong wind blows apart rocks, an earthquake, and a fire (1 Kings 19:11-13). In fact, that verse seems to show that there are exceptions to the rule of fantastical presentations of God’s voice, but that it’s still a pretty good general rule. It seems there was some truth to Alanis Morissette as God in the obviously not canonical movie Dogma. God’s voice can be mind blowing.

I do believe that gift of the Holy Spirit does make all Christians today kind of like prophets (Acts 4:25), but even prophets didn’t have a direct line of God. Think of David, who is one of the central figures of the Old Testament, had the Spirit speak through him, and was a man after God’s own heart. Yet God sent another prophet, Nathan, to give him a message (2 Samuel 7). Even to the major prophets there doesn’t seem to be a regular back and forth conversation: Noah (5), Abraham (8), Isaac (2), Rebekah (1), Jacob (7). The reason you knows those names is that they were so noteworthy. That they heard from God. In fact in the Complete Red Letter Edition of the Bible has, “the direct spoken words of God are indicated in red on both the Old and New Testaments”. Like Jesus’ time on Earth, God’s interactions are numerable. God created everything, but God isn’t everything. He can be present in a specific place and time to have a large supernatural impact. How often that’s happened would be impossible to determine. It’s not obvious what is not seen or recorded in scripture (or since scripture), but there are definitely times of radio silence (1 Samuel 3). It’s also worth mentioning that although God definitely cares about the individual, his plans has always been for His people. When he gave a message to a follower, whether Old Testament or New, it was rarely if ever about personal issues that would only impact their lives.

Few people I have spoken to claim to hear the voice of God in the ways previously listed. Instead they have heard the voice of God stir inside them. Like the prophets, it’s an internal truth that they verbalize. This was in fact the primary means of communication God has used throughout the Bible all the way to and including his Son (Hebrews 1). If you count the Bible as God’s word then God has been pretty much using humans as his almost exclusive means of communication throughout history. For that reason, He doesn’t take the title of prophet lightly. If someone claims to speak for God and directs others those to disobey Him then they are obviously not a prophet from God and there is a death sentence (Deuteronomy 13). Another danger is one who predicts a future outcome, but that does not come true (Deuteronomy 18:15-22). God says they will be revealed to be true or false in time and if it turns out to be not from God he also puts out a warrant for their death. Even Jesus’ Apostles in the New Testament were specifically given the ability to do the supernatural and “confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it” (Mark 16:20).

The Conclusion

There was a time when I was concerned that a lot of people I knew were teetering on the edge of false prophecy. Claiming the voice of God where the evidence did not seem to support it. However, like is true in many prejudices, the more you get to know someone the better you understand the nuance of their perspective. I’ve come to much more benign conclusion. I actually don’t think many people claim this kind of experience with God. I think what they mean is that they feel led in a direction that doesn’t feel of their of their own mind. That’s great. I believe that. Say that. I experience that regularly. Just this morning I felt an external push to get up early to help my wife get the kids going. I’m confident the Spirit plays a role in this un-Harrison-like service, even if it’s just the lessons I’ve learned speaking to me from the past. And like David needing to hear from Samuel, it seems clear that sin can make this support from the Spirit more difficult. My concern is in placing an extra religious significance on personal decisions especially in placing these kinds of supernatural experiences above the day to day interaction with God’s word, His people, and His world. No one in the Bible ever says “I think God said this”. We live in the already Jesus, but not yet return of Jesus (Revelation 21:1). We won’t get the Garden of Eden back until the New Garden arrives. God has spoken to mankind and he has used mankind to speak for him. I’m also not discounting that he could speak today. After all, the kingdom is here (Matthew 3).

What I propose is to be more cautious with our vocabulary. I can think of few things more dangerous than claiming to speak for God. Simply say “I believe this or that”. Or say “I have the Holy Spirit and I believe this”. Let your yes be yes and your no be no, but don’t claim more than you have a right to (Matthew 5:37). The Holy Spirit does give you a taste of heaven, but it doesn’t give us the right to speak for heaven. I’m hesitant to even say the spirit is leading me, because that does happen, but it’s not for us to know exactly how and when (Ecclesiastes 11:5). And finally use scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17) or the by a group of Christians (Matthew 18:16) to back of claims.

I want to clear. I do not want anything here to close anyone off to the influence of God. I’m not sure I could even if I wanted to. My hope is the opposite. This study has helped me appreciate the times in my life where I did feel the leading of God (if only retroactively). The best decisions I’ve made thus far in my life (teaching career, marriage, improv, kids, etc) were made with the oversight and influence of the Almighty. God has never spoken to me directly, but I’m not opposed to the possibility that it will happen. However, I expect to be confident if I do hear it.

I should state the obvious. This post is not truth from the mouth of God. Speaking so decisively on this issue was very difficult for me as I want to be sure I am not overreaching. I’ve tried to use scripture as a source, but it’s always dangerous to go looking into the word of God to prove your own predetermined point. I’d point you to read 1 Kings 13. It’s a fairly unknown story about the dangers of misspeaking for God and how they can negatively impact even innocent bystanders. I hope to use all of this as a starting point for further conversation. I started this story with a reference to old church searches. Well, we are on the search again. To be clear, our moving on has nothing to do with this conversation. I’m certainly not convinced this difference in emphasis is one worth splitting over. In fact, the success of my house church proves that few things are. Our small house church has slowly changed geographically and we now live about a half an hour away from everyone. We are once again looking for a new church and I’m confident God will direct our steps (Proverbs 16:9).

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Takeaways from "Crazy Busy"

These days I finish books about as often as I blog (not very much). One reason for the lack of both is busyness. This Spring Break I took some time and read "Crazy Buzy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem" by Kevin DeYong. Here are my takeaways:

Efficiency and punctuality are a part of functioning and showing respect in America, but they are not absolute virtues globally (and certainly not historically).

If you doubt the level of complexity and opportunity in America just visit the cereal aisle.

One way to combat the burden of busyness is to ensure your lifestyle has a "margin". That is, you plan to make room for the eventuality of the unplannable. To not do so is arrogance from a finite person.

A fallacy: "Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness. Obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy." -Tim Kreider of the NYT

A primary cause of busyness is pride. Ask yourself: "Am I trying to do good or to make myself look good?" I'm personally guilty of sacrificing the unconditional love of my family for the praise of those I'm less intimate with.

Jesus never ended a sermon with "do more or disobey". The original sin was not a lack of effort for God, it was an attempt to become Him.

This is not a permission to be apathetic. We should hurt for those who hurt. However, our circle of influence will always be smaller than our circle of concern.

Jesus spent 30 years in relative calm before a whirlwind 3 years of public ministry. So don't fear, Jesus (more than most pre-modern people) felt the weight you likely feel of busyness. He was constantly around the disciples, preached to thousands (without a microphone), was swamped by the sick, and sometimes even had to escape by boat. Yet, he certainly had to leave cities with more sick and hungry (literal and spiritual) to continue his larger Mission.

Busyness isn't a planning problem, it's a personal one. You must create a simple list of priorities or "unseized" time will flow towards our weakness and squeaky wheels. At the same time, we have to respect others' priorities and appreciate when we hear "no".

One of the most common American forms of busyness is Kindergarchy: Rule by children. "Children have more options and more opportunities, but parents have more worry and hassle. We have put unheard-of amounts of energy, time, and focus into our children. And yet, we assume their failures will almost certainly be our fault for not doing enough."

In his book, Selfish Reasons to Have Kids", economist Bryan Caplan (remember him?) cites numerous twin and adoption studies that conclude almost every desirable trait parents wish to pass down (health, happiness, intelligence, likeability) are more nature than nurture.

"One of the most resilient and cherished myths of parenting is that parenting creates the child" -Leslie Leyland Fields

However, Bryan Caplan does show 3 traits that can be impacted by parenting: religion, politics, and appreciation of how they were parented. So, perhaps we should just try and instill those and not stress about the others so we can "have a better life and a bigger family".

Technology helps us do more of what we want. So, it can (and often does) feed into our desire for busyness. Easy half-solution: put your phone out reach and/or create full on technology Sabbath day(s).

We actually work less and rest more than we did (farming was hard), but the two are significantly less separated. We work while we play (and visa versa) much more. I may have tried to post this near 5pm so you wouldn't read it at work.

"You can borrow time (from the future), but you can't steal it. There is no such thing as a free coffee boost.

A not very sexy, but correct, concluding point: "If you have creativity, ambition, and love, you will be busy." But how busy?

HT to my brother in law Stephen for the book!

Monday, February 22, 2016

"America doesn't have a gun problem, it has several of them"

I really appreciate the nuance this video takes on the facts about guns in the US. It's not about gang violence. It's not about mass shootings. It's not about suicides. It's all of them.

This is an issue that I've really changed my views on in the last year or so. Recreational and hand guns especially (which obvious don't fit the "regulated Militia" mindset of the 2nd Amendment) are a part of our culture and that is a problem.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Against the Pursuit of Guru

I could summarize my adult life as the pursuit of guru status on a variety of topics (blogging, economics, education, improv, business, fatherhood, etc). Instead I feel like that I've become a jack of all trades, GURU of none. Maybe that's not so bad. Here's a clip from a podcast interview with well known improv guru, Armando Diaz on the topic of guru-ness (~54:30):
I just don't like the idea of gurus anyway. I think every amazing person, teacher, or artist is totally fallible and to me when you hear about those things some people get let down. And then suddenly now I don't believe anything that person says.
Reminded me of so many celebrity controversies. They often fail in very public ways, but that doesn't inherently discredit any positives they stood for.
We're all super weak people and I think if you specialize in something, there's something terribly wrong with you. This is the one thing you embrace so much to the exclusion of developing as a full human being. So when I hear that someone is a guru I know that this is going to be a real damaged person and that's okay with me.
It's kind of like drug addicts. Whether as a cause or result, even when sober there is a lot of catch up to do in life. Anything that consumes your life is a loss in what you don't do. There is no such thing as a free lunch. And Armando said, that's okay. Guru isn't bad, it just has a cost.

Starting this week, the Alchemy Comedy Theater will be adding a 5th and 6th weekly show on Thursday nights. That and our total performer list reaching about 70 in the Spring (I feel my life has already stretched Dunbar's Number) will require the theater to run even more without my personal direction in all matters. Which is good.

As I discussed in a podcast I did recently, I grew up in an ensemble. I teach ensemble. I want my business (and maybe someday my classroom) to use those same principles.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Fame as a Mental Illness

My long involvement with the improv comedy world has given me a glimpse into the culture of those who desire to be famous. Outside of the production of local shows, it's not something that has really appealed to me. Here's a convincing pop science explanation from the Cracked Podcast:

Monday, June 22, 2015

Why There's Less Conservatives in Comedy (and More in Radio)

First, why talk radio appeals to conservatives:
liberals and conservatives seemed to have different aesthetic tastes. Conservatives seemed to prefer stories with clear-cut endings. Liberals, on the other hand, had more tolerance for a story like public radio’s Serial, which ends with some uncertainty and ambiguity. 
As Young noticed, this is a kind of ambiguity that liberals tend to find more satisfying and culturally familiar than conservatives do. In fact, a study out of Ohio State University found that a surprising number of conservatives who were shown Colbert clips were oblivious to the fact that he was joking. In contrast, conservative talk radio humor tends to rely less on irony than straightforward indignation and hyperbole.
Conservatives often like to shoot straight and explain how things are. Which helps explain why liberals are drawn to comedy and satire:
the genre has always been aimed at taking down the powerful, from the Revolutionary War through Vietnam and 9/11. “Conservatism supports institutions and satire aims to knock these institutions down a peg,”
Conservatives want to "conserve", often skeptical of change. This makes them more loyal to traditional institutions. These, by there nature of being the "establishment", are open to attacks to keep their power in check. The whole article is insightful and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Difference Between Humans and Animals, Part XXIX

The Earth Day "are you smarter than a chimpanzee" memory game edition:

The explanation:
This tells Japanese scholar Tetsuro Matsuzawa "that he has an actual picture memory, an eidetic memory. ... He takes a picture with his mind and holds it." Even if he turns away from the screen to do something else, the information stays in Ayumu's head. "You and I," says Matsuzawa, "we cannot do this. ... It is something special for the chimpanzee mind. It is not a matter of training for them. It is their way of seeing the world."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Emcee of TEDxGreenville

For someone who has a TED Talks tag on his blog, this is exciting news!
At last night’s TEDxGreenville salon, a preview party for TEDxGreenville 2014: Unzipped, Harrison Brookie was introduced as the emcee for this year’s April 11th all-day conference. 
Harrison may be familiar to many as the ring leader of an improv group that’s become quite popular in the last couple of years. Actually, rather than a ring leader, he’s more like a comedy super-hero. By day, Harrison Brookie is a social studies teacher at Southside International Baccalaureate High School. By night, he is the Executive Producer and Artistic Director of Alchemy Comedy Theater. In between all of that fun, he and his wife Traci have a daughter and, depending on when you read this, a new baby boy. 
 Harrison grew up in Greenville and returned home in 2011, after journeying to other locales to master his education and comedic skills, to found the Alchemy Comedy Theater, which produces weekly comedy shows. Those of us who’ve caught him and his cohorts in action on a Friday night at Coffee Underground might agree that, indeed, he’s a master of his art. Come cheer him on as this year’s emcee for TEDxGreenville 2014: Unzipped, Friday, April 11, at The Kroc Center in downtown Greenville. Come early. Registration begins at 8:00 am for what promises to be our most engaging TEDx event ever!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

NPR and Improv Meet where Relationships and Comedy Meet

Here is a great discussion from my old stomping grounds in North Carolina. Makes me miss WUNC a good bit. Makes me miss DSI Comedy a great bit.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Slimprov: Two Half Men Make a Full Stage

One of my more fun sets in a while on tape. Two men. 1 scene. 24 minutes.