Is God Silent or Are We Silent?

Does God speak today? Most people would say that he is silent.

Could it be that one reason God is silent is that we are silent? Do we really speak to him as if we want him to talk back?

What if we actually spoke our prayers to God–aloud–even when we’re alone? Some of you probably do that. There’s times when I’m alone in the house with God, me, and the dog. I’m talking to the dog, I’m talking to myself, I’m talking to God and I’m not sure I know the difference sometimes.

Thinking a prayer, not saying it out loud in community was likely not very common in the first few millennia of humanity when anything written that was read was read aloud. Prayers and Psalms were spoken aloud in community. This is how we got the Psalms. Augustine describes his friend, Ambrose when he read.

“When he read,” said Augustine, “his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud.”

Hannah (1 Samuel) was thought to be drunk when she prayed moving her lips but without speaking.

Some of us are mouthing words, giving lip service, but it’s not ourselves but some alter ego or mimicking . . .

Robert Benson tells a story about Beattie who prays and God seems to always hear and respond. Beattie prays for a man’s back to heal, and the next day the man reports he is pain free. Beattie prays the rain will stop after a long bought of floods. And the rain stops. Benson says that he tried praying like his friend Beattie but nothing seemed to happen.

What was wrong? Was he not sincere? Was sin standing in the way? What red tape had come between he and God? Did he need to make his requests to God through someone more spiritual like Beattie? Get a quorum before the Lord through Facebook prayer requests so more people praying, maybe God would listen?

Benson says one day he finally realized that perhaps God was not answering his prayers because he was trying to pray like Beattie and not like Robert Benson. He was a fraud before God.

I confess I’ve been a fraud. I’ve asked God to rubber stamp my plans instead of humbly and openly asking God for his wisdom and complete direction on a matter. Perhaps God is unwilling to speak to me because he knows I’ve already decided and all I want is his rubber stamp.

What if I came to God with no pretense? What if I asked God to show me what to say, what to do on a daily basis, with tough decisions, with career and family and church decisions? What if God is not speaking to me because whenever I talk back to God all I’m doing is mimicking someone else’s prayers, asking for rubber stamps, and sinfully and selfishly asking only for what I want without caring one dry fig about what he really wants!

Praying aloud is a metaphor for asking God for his rule and reign in our lives. The act of saying out loud, “God, what do you want me to do today?” is an act of giving over control and power. For some of us, in the face of asking God for direction everyday, we’d rather just tough it out on our own. In reality, that’s what most of us are doing.

What if our first words aloud are, “God, I confess I don’t really want you to be in charge of my life and speak back to me because I’m afraid you’ll tell me to do stuff I don’t want to do . . . still, I want to know . . . What do you want me to do?”

Randy Harris DVD in 3rd “Pressing”

Three years ago ACU Press, a film crew, Randy Harris, and I set out to make a film that would give Christian churches all over the world access to Randy Harris’s teaching that combines great scholarship, humor, but most of all his focus on living the gospel of Christ. The 2-DVD set is priced in such a way that anyone who ever has bought a movie can also buy this $25 DVD set.

Every small group, every class, even individuals and families can own it and use it, and it has more than 2 hours of content on the DVDs for $25. A lot of video series these days sell for 4-5 times that or space out the content into multiple DVDs you buy over time. We decided to make this accessible and affordable, and it’s working.

Living Jesus: How the Greatest Sermon Ever Will Change Your Life for Good and the companion book, Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount are selling well, and the DVD set is in the 3rd “pressing” and continuing to be shipping all over the nation and even places in the world. Order at

Walk With Me Across a Rickety Bridge

On a visit to help a village learn the method of water well drilling, we stayed with long-time friends James and Margaret Okumu, who live on a picturesque close to the border of Uganda and Kenya.

In the video below I’m following the group as we walk across a rickety bridge over the swamp. There are many of these bridges to navigate. The night before we walked over these bridges in the dark. James Okumu rides his motorcycle on these.

Because it is so difficult to pass here, it prevents commerce that could otherwise be done and allows for a lot of shady business between the borders. For many years this village area, called Budoola and Buwembe, heard politicians tell them they’d receive a new road over the swamp.

James told me shortly after we were there walking on this bridge, that the government came and build new culverts and a road through this swamp.

Much is made about going to build buildings in developing nations, schools, orphanages. This is good, but consider if you are an engineer or builder what can be done to build roads where people can simply use them to transport goods to market more easily. Much can be done by engineers and roads to help make people’s lives better.

Engineers and designers of the world chime in here. I want to hear from you.

Making Chapatis

Some of you who have heard of what Kibo Group ( does, have heard us talk about eating chapatis, and more than just a good food, many Ugandans make and sell as a small business. There are so many small business opportunities for Ugandans, like getting a little sigiri (charcoal cooker) and making these fried tortillas that have some roots I think in India and that are called chapatis.   Chapatis are best eaten hot, they will make you fat if you don’t walk 5-10 miles a day like lots of Ugandans, but they are soooo good. Our college summer interns would put sugar on them and dip them in chai. Friend and teammate in Uganda, Deron Smith, has been quoted saying, “The only way to eat a hot chapati is hot.” Well said, Deron, and true!

First 15 years of writing


Typewriter (Photo credit: iandavid)

Here are some things I did in the first 15 years of writing, starting when I was 15:

  1. Kept a journal and wrote whenever possible, ideas, sermon notes, observations from Bible reading or prayers, funny stories.
  2. In 1990 I started a list of good stories.
  3. Got a degree in print journalism because I wanted to write.
  4. While doing that I wrote, working for the school newspaper, alumni office, public relations offices of my school.
  5. Edited the school newspaper my senior year of college.
  6. Wrote umpteen papers in grad school.
  7. Wrote letters, newsletters for various organizations, volunteered to write things for people, did resumes for people, wrote family stories and collaborated on a family book.
  8. Read good books and took note of what good writing is like, how I felt when I read it, the mechanics of making it happen.
  9. I met and stayed in touch with good people who write.
  10. I wrote when I didn’t feel like writing, but I wrote.

That briefly covers the first 15 years of my writing life, and I haven’t gotten to actually publishing a magazine article, book, or anything more public than a few hundred people. Next post I’ll tell you about the next 15 years.

Raining in Uganda

If you’ve ever been to Uganda, you’ve probably been caught in the rain there, somewhere. And if you don’t have anywhere to go–even if you do–it’s sometimes nice to just sit on the stoop and watch, specially if you’ve got a cup of hot chai and a chapati or “g-nuts” (peanuts) in your hand.  This was a deluge at Richard and Ida Bozonona’s house one day. Enjoy, put it on loop, and just listen to the rain and pray for our friends in Uganda for the next few minutes.

Free Audio Interview with Craig Groeschel and Kyle Idleman

Click on the play button above to hear my interview with Kyle Idleman and Craig Groeschel.

After I read Gods at War by Kyle Idleman (teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky), and Altar Ego by Craig Groeschel (senior pastor of Edmond, Oklahoma based and one of the creators of the YouVersion Bible app). Both books are from Zondervan, 2013. I asked to interview them at the same time on the phone. With the help of Kelsey Hulgan of The DeMoss Group I got them both on the phone and talked about 45 minutes.

I submitted the interview to Leadership Journal‘s Marshall Shelley and Drew Dyck, and it was published this week on their web site here.

The set up for the interview is this: You’ve both discussed in your books idolatry and identity in many forms . . . What happens when a pastor’s church becomes an idol?

Watch the beginning of an 8th grade cross country meet

Conference Track Meet was supposed to be today but don’t know with all the storms last night and into morning. Here is an 8th Grade Cross Country Meet where my son, Jacob, is in the middle of the pack. He is the most courageous and disciplined young man I know.

Supplicants and Benefactors

A page from Leviticus, in the Samaritan bible

A page from Leviticus, in the Samaritan bible (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you live your life as a supplicant, benefactor, or neither one?

This brings to mind the phrase, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” Quick question. Is that a quote from the Bible. Ten seconds to answer. Sure, you can look it up on your phone or computer . . . but you won’t find it in a concordance, unless it’s a concordance of Shakespeare phrases. It’s Hamlet.

The Bible does say much about the relationship between the haves and have nots, the rich and the poor, benefactors and supplicants. A good place to start thinking biblically about these relationships is in Leviticus. That’s one of the first books that lays out these relationships for the community of Israel.

“Odd Phenomenon” by Eugene Peterson on April 15

Eugene Peterson‘s words below were written in a book called Living the Message, 365 excerpts, one for each day of the year. Though the entry for April 15 was not written in response to the Boston Marathon bombings, the words are hauntingly fitting for this terrible day.

[Life lived badly, inanely] has produced an odd phenomenon: individuals who live trivial lives and then engage in evil acts in order to establish significance for themselves. Assassins and hijackers attempt the gigantic leap from obscurity to fame by killing a prominent person or endangering the lives of a plane full of passengers. Often they are successful. The mass media report their words and display their actions. Writers vie with one another in analyzing their motives and providing psychological profiles on them. No other culture has been as eager to reward nonsense or wickedness.

Suggested audio: Diane Rehm Show for April 16

A text that tells us ‘Certain Great Things’

New Testament Professor William Barclay (1907-1978)

The following is a mash up of something William Barclay wrote, quoting mostly verbatim from a certain commentary about a Bible text that “tells us certain great things.” Can you read the clues from Barclay and guess the Bible text? In the process, I think we all might unlearn some things we thought about this text or God, and lean into a new relationship with God through deeper understanding of this text.

Comment with the Bible book and verse you think Barclay is referring to.

  1. This has been called ‘everybody’s text’ . . . the text tells us certain great things . . .
  2. This text tells us that initiative in salvation starts with God . . . It was God who sent His Son, and he sent him because He loved the world He had created. At the back of everything is the love of God.
  3. Sometimes Christianity is presented in such a way that it sounds as if God had to be pacified, as if he had to be persuaded to forgive. Sometimes the picture is drawn of a stern, angry, unforgiving God and a gentle, loving, forgiving Jesus.
  4. Sometimes the Christian message is presented in such a way that is sounds as if Jesus did something which changed the attitude of God to men and women from condemnation to forgiveness.
  5. It tells us that the mainspring of God’s being is love. . . . It is easy to think of God as seeking human allegiance in order to satisfy his own desire for power [or glory] and for what we might call a completely subjective universe.
  6. The tremendous thing about this text is that is shows us God acting not for his own sake but for ours; not to satisfy his desire for power, not to bring a universe to heel, but to satisfy His love. . . .
  7. God is the Father who cannot be happy until his wandering children have come home. God does not smash people into submission; He yearns over them and woos them into love.
  8. It tells us of the width of the love of God. It was the world that God so loved. It was not a nation; it was not the good people; it was not only the people who loved Him; it was the world.

Comment with the Bible book and verse you think Barclay is referring to and a brief new way you see God in this text.

Land belongs to God

IMG_2092Good thing to remember on this Tax Day 2013. Everything belongs to God.

One way Scripture makes this clear early on is in Levitical law. Specifically below I’ll explain what Leviticus says about land ownership. The maxim gets more specific here: Land belongs to God.

Further, I want to begin with a specific principle of “Jubilee” within the life of Israel. The celebration called for families, individuals to return to their tribal land (Twelve tribes of Judah) and acknowledge that it was God who gave them the land, who gives all land and no man can possess it permanently—it is, instead, at all times on loan from God.

Case in point of God’s ownership and Israel’s use of the land is the content of the sale of land to one another. If an Israelite bought or sold crops, what he was really buying, says Leviticus 25:16, is not land. The land is God’s. He was buying a number of crops until the Jubilee. If you are buying land, you might think of it this way: You are investing in the right to receive a certain number of crops until Jubilee from a specific plot of land God has given your people.

An important point connected with the sale of the number of crops—land deals—is this exhortation: “Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 25:17). This exhortation develops the second principle that is built on the foundation of the first related to property. First, land is God’s. Second, don’t cheat one another or kick people when they are down. What does that look like in Israelite life? Four examples are given, the first in Leviticus 25:25-28:

If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold. If, however, a man has no one to redeem it for him but he himself prospers and acquires sufficient means to redeem it, he is to determine the value for the years since he sold it and refund the balance to the man to whom he sold it and refund the balance to the man to whom he sold it; he can then go back to his own property. But if he does not acquire the means to repay him, what he sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the Year of Jubilee. It will be returned in the Jubilee, and he can then go back to his property.

The second example given in Leviticus 25:35 exhorts Israel to treat the poor as one who is an alien among them who is in need, and they were not to extract any interest on this care for them:

If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.

A third example is given relates to the poor who have absolutely nothing of value, except themselves and out of desperation sell themselves as a slave. Immediately the idea is contradicted as implausible with each other. It is dismissed as a disgrace to hold a neighbor or fellow Israelite as a slave but rather could be viewed and treated as a hired worker. Leviticus 25:39-43 describes what this looks like:

If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you; he is to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then he and his children are to be released, and he will go back to his own clan and to the property of his forefathers. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.

Anything about slavery is difficult for us to discuss, because we abhor it altogether in the twenty-first century. Israel, however, was urged to treat slaves with justice and goodness (reference) and slaves would typically be from neighboring nations (25:44).

Finally, a fourth example is given of reversal of fortunes, if an Israelite loses everything and sells himself or family members to an alien living among them who has become rich. Essentially, the alien must also abide by the Year of Jubilee and allow the Israelite and family members to be free in that year. The Israelite retains the right to be redeemed by his countryman after he has sold himself (v. 47). He may also redeem himself if he prospers, and the price is the number of years from the time he sold himself until the next Jubilee. At the end of this section the second major concern of this chapter—proper treatment of one another—is repeated: “you must see to it that his owner does not rule over him ruthlessly (25:53).

Concluding the chapter is a third major concern for Israel related to property. Remember, the first is that all land is God’s. The second is that they do not cheat one another and not treat one another ruthlessly in property dealings.

The third and concluding concern is that Israel remember always that they are God’s servants in the land. No alien is to permanently possess them. They are God’s possession and servants. The year of Jubilee, then, is to enforce this concern of God’s to preserve his for-all-time people. The exodus is invoked again as the overriding grace that compels them, not as forced unwilling servants but as grateful, humble servants who know how God saved them from slavery itself in Egypt. “They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (25:55).

Emmanuel Katongole

Location map of Burkina Faso Equirectangular p...

Location map of Burkina Faso Equirectangular projection. Strechted by 102%. Geographic limits of the map: * N: 15.5° N * S: 9° N * W: 6° W * E: 3° E Made with Natural Earth. Free vector and raster map data @ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m reading a book by African ethicist Emmanuel Katongole in which he says this about Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary leader of the country he named Burkina Faso, “land of incorruptible.”

In the five years of Sankara’s leadership, through agricultural reforms and mobilization of the population, his country achieved food self-sufficiency, which shows that Sankara’s ‘madness’ was quite sane indeed. Inventing the future requires the audacity to live in the present with energy and visions drawn from the future.

To get a better sense for what this is saying, watch the below video. Food itself becomes a symbol of imperialism in Africa that Sankara and people like him have tried to overcome.

Katongole’s overall point is not specifically about Sankara but about the role of the church as a proclaimer of God’s story that gives imagination and vision and courage to change the terrible heinous narratives that have been lived out in places like Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Upper Volta (later named Burkina Faso). Katongole speaks of the need for lament, memory, story, community of memory, anticipation of a new creation as elements of what the church can do to make a difference in the climate of a country where poverty and oppression exists.

The Chosen

Cover of "The Chosen"

Cover of The Chosen

Chaim Potok’s The Chosen is one of my favorite books. The story is about two teenagers growing up in WWII era New York City. The story is about two boys and their fathers who are from two different Jewish sects. The boys were taught to fear and demonize the other, until they meet on a softball field and one hurts the other in a way that brings them together and changes their lives forever.

For God so Loved the World

English: Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_Nicodemus_comin...

English: Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_Nicodemus_coming_to_Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For God so loved the world.You’ve never really understood the context of that passage and neither have I. The text gets fuzzy as to whether Jesus or John is really saying it and the quote marks are a fabrication of translators–they don’t exist in Greek that John was written in–but there is a conversation going on previous to John 3:16 that happens either in the late hours of the night or early hours of the morning that has kept me up at night, made me wonder about the shoes, the appointments, the business, the works-righteousness, the attempt to do one more thing, the servianity.A man named Nicodemus came to Jesus one night. He was a Pharisee. Pharisees believe the more you do for God the better he’ll like you. Many of you, like me, are Pharisees with some Jesus-Splenda added to the tea. Christ died, God gives his grace, he blew his Spirit upon us, changes everything and we sip our lattes and check our texts and read our mail and watch our shows and join our ministries and still believe like Nicodemus and the Pharisees that if we could just do one more thing in a day, be one more notch productive, sigh a little more when someone asks how things are going, serve God in one more ministry, then we’ll make him happy.Now some of you are perplexed, because you don’t try to do too much. It’s become fashionable in some circles to say no with flare and for some of you, that’s an excuse to be lazy. You say yes to your job, your clubs, your everything but when it comes to serving in our body, you haven’t said yes in years. Some of you are lazy. I’m lazy about a lot of things. But you pair two things together and you get this weird awful combination.

A lazy legalist. What does a lazy legalist do? What does a works-righteousness driven person who is really basically lazy do? A whole lot of nothing.

One writer calls this skimming. You do a whole lot. You believe there is more and more to be done, to be experienced, but by the end of the day, you don’t know what you’ve really done.

So this legalist who is also a bit hard-headed comes to Jesus one night, knowing Jesus must be from God because he’s performed these miracles. Jesus replies, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Nicodemus gives an oblique and perhaps stubborn reply. “How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born?”

Jesus repeats, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus asks, “How can this be?”

Jesus is perplexed at Nicodemus’s density, his legalistic mind, his lazy stubborn lack of will to let go of all that he controls, all that he is doing for God, all his clout as Israel’s teacher and humbly accept this simple truth into his life. So Jesus goes for a frontal attack on the very faith he was brought up in, Judaism, and on Nicodemus.

“You are Israel’s teacher and you do not understand these things? (He didn’t pay attention to the prophets saying the Spirit would blow in and be a sign for the coming of the Messiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel and Joel said so.) I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.”

Then Jesus says, in effect, “I’ve tried to illustrate this for you, give you a word picture, an analogy from life, an earthy example, but you are dense. And you call yourself Israel’s teacher. How can you understand if I really start in on theology?”

Here’s what he says in verse 12: “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

It seems the conversation goes on, there are quotes translators have continued in John 3:16, so I never knew this, never knew this was Jesus speaking. If you have a red-letter Bible, all this is in red, but I never really paid attention to this fact. John writes that Jesus said this about himself, to Nicodemus, the lazy legalist who thought one more thing for God would make him lovely to God, make him lovable, get him into heaven. Just one more thing, so that I have to stay awake at night to get it all done.

And Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.

Whatever we’ve done we’ve done “through God.” Plain and simple. No legalism. No works-righteousness. We don’t know what Nicodemus’s final response was except silence. John doesn’t tell us. I think I know this. He had no more sarcastic or cynical or stubborn remarks to make. Perhaps Nicodemus was in tears and on his knees.

Why do I think this? Because he defended Jesus in the ruling council later in John. Then he helped his friend Joseph of Arimathea to clean and embalm Jesus’s body.

Nicodemus had become a disciple. He gave up his sarcastic, stubborn lazy legalism somewhere along the way not just because of the miracles anymore but because one night he came face to face with the Lord of the universe and when that happens the only thing you can resist is that one part of God that would not compel you without your choice. You still have to make a choice, but the choice is so clear that all works-righteousness and all the things you’ve ever done melt away in the light of Jesus face.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of glory and grace.

And that’s how it is with people born of the Spirit. We’re a mix of flesh and blood and Spirit, eternity stranded in time, to quote Michael Card, people born from above like Christ and filled with a singular hope and focused desire to know nothing in this world so interesting and intriguing and filling as the love of God that comes into the world through the Son of Life who gives us life and blows into our world and we see the results in our lives.

Like Nicodemus we’re intrigued with the miracles, love the activity of life, obsessed with bad habits, but those activities will not give us life. Only what is done through God will give us life.

And Nicodemus learns and we learn with him that the Spirit blows where it will, and if we’re paying attention, we’ll see the kingdom in that, no matter where it blows, that’s where we go.