Listening Is Not Enough

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Of all the gifts we can give to another person or receive from someone, few are as valuable as listening. If we are to listen to someone else, we must step outside of ourselves, quiet our internal dialogue, lay aside our electronic devices that hold us under their spell, and be fully present to the person speaking.

Listening is not easy, and it requires sacrifice.

One of the very best books on listening is The Listening Life by Adam S. McHugh that I read several years ago. If you have not experienced this book, I encourage you to be sure it is on your list.

One of the starred sentences in my copy of the book states this:

 “ Good listening starts with the scandalous premise that this conversation is not about you.”

We might easily nod in agreement with this, but our actual conversations may reveal something else. What we recall of what the other person in a conversation shared can give a clue about how well we listened and whether we listened only to the words or if we heard below the surface of the words.

But listening, even at its best, is not enough.

If we knew Hebrew and looked at the word “listen” we would discover that the word means to hear and respond. Those things coupled together equals obedience. That truth deepens the meaning of listen.

That understanding helps identify what causes someone frustration when another person has listened to them without response or action of some sort. We doubt that listening has occurred at all.

Listening in the deeper sense of the word should change the scene from passive to active.

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As parents we often admonish our children to “listen” to us about something we want or need to share with them. A generation or two ago parents would have used the word “obey” in this context even though that word seems to have fallen out of fashion. It is nonetheless no less important than ever and the Hebrew word for “listen” makes that evident.

In our push to be self-actualized and independent we can bristle at the thought of needing to obey someone or something. That response reveals more of the DNA of Adam and Eve than we want to admit.

We look at obedience as limiting us, hindering us, and that incomplete definition suggests how deceived we may be.  

I am to obey the speed limit when I am driving. Yes, it limits me, but it also protects me and everyone else anywhere near the vehicle I am driving.

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Another aspect of listening with obedience is the importance of not dawdling to act. Not obeying a red light or a stop sign at the immediate point can be and often is deadly.

When our daughter became a new mom, she and her husband instituted the rule of “first time obedience” in their home. The rule considered the Hebrew definition of “listen.”  They did not expect to keep telling the children something they were to do repeatedly again without an appropriate response. That may sound tough but consider what response you would want if your child were running into the street. You would want them not only to listen and hear, but also to act and obey… the first time.

If we are honest with ourselves, we tend to not be very good with obedience. We often cheat about the speed limit, our diet, and a host of other things if we feel we can get away with it.

We don’t live in Deuteronomy. Jesus paid the price on the cross for our inability to obey perfectly the first time and always. He loved us that much. What we missed often was that His call for obedience was out of love for us, to keep us safe, to provide blessings, and to nurture us to love Him.


He didn’t want us to only feel love for Him in the emotional one-dimensional sense of the word love.

Love in Hebrew involved a decision and devotion and obedience.

In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy in the sixth chapter is a section known as “The Shema.”  It is the centerpiece of the early part of this book whose key words include “listen” and “love.”  You may recall what it says even if you did not know the word “Shema”:

“Listen, Oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might.”

During this Lenten season as I seek to reflect on the love sacrifice on the cross for my disobedience, I most desire to hear Him and grow in my relationship with Him. I want to listen carefully, but out of love for Him I want to act and respond to what I hear.

Listening is not enough.

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Dealing With a Dynamic Duo

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When you think of the description dynamic duo, who or what comes to mind? Your answer will likely come from the context of when you were born but will typically refer to two individuals who team up in incredible ways, have a unique relational chemistry, and leave a lasting impression in our memories. One that will connect with many will be that of Batman and Robin who were dubbed as “the dynamic duo” at the outset of the creation of this crime fighting pair. The age of television brought us many in other roles as well including Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz, Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza, Laverne and Shirley, and Felix Unger and Oscar Madison (“The Odd Couple”).

Those of you connected to the sports scene would think of others such as Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, Aaron Rogers and Davante Adams, or Tom Brady and Chris Godwin. The music world has dynamic duos as well such as Sonny and Cher, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Carpenters to name a very few.

Whatever the context may be we tend to think of any dynamic duo as being powerful in that context. But what happens if we breakdown the meaning of the words? Duo is easy because it means two or a pair. Dynamic used as a noun means “a force that stimulates change or progress within a system or process” or when it is describing as an adjective it means “characterized by constant change, activity.”

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Powerful dynamic duos are not always positive characters as we see in J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic series, The Lord of the Rings. And if we are facing a dark dynamic duo meant for our harm, an enemy, it is key to recognize the goal and the weapons to stand during an onslaught. That is never truer than in the spiritual realm when the enemy of our souls would want to defeat us in any way possible to rob Christ of the victory He won at the cross and through his resurrection.

We want to be wise to the ways we may be tempted and assaulted but despite our efforts, most of us falter and stumble along the way. Ever since the Garden of Eden the cunning and devious devices of Lucifer and his minions have been honing their crafty ways. Just like in the Garden, they don’t show up with horns and a tail as drawings depict them and as the world swirls and darkens, we must recognize the devices we too easily fall prey to.

The pandemic has impacted us in more ways than the physical disease and illness haunting us for the past two years. It has also resulted in us being more isolated from one another and less sure of a great many things we hear and read. Our times of connection and fellowship have been limited and some have used this time to deepen their faith while others have struggled just to maintain their faith.

Two powerful tools (dynamic duo weapons) have been and are prominent that we must be on the alert to recognize and stand against. One is a favorite of Lucifer’s – doubt. He used it back in the Garden with Adam and Eve with great effectiveness and it is still one of his favorites. We are most likely to succumb to it when we are listening to a vast array of voices where many are not speaking truth or speaking in half-truth. These sorts of voices tend to raise doubt about what we believe and without a firm foundation of truth and knowledge of what God says we can get duped. They also erode hope or misplace where it is found.

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Church gatherings during the pandemic left many of us unable to assemble and we needed to try to glean our spiritual underpinnings from virtual sources. There is no doubt we can be grateful for this option and yet it has not been the same as the sense of the Holy Spirit moving in a live worship experience. For some of us it may have exposed how much we rely on someone else to tell us what the Bible says rather than our own reading and study of it. We want and need good shepherds to lead us and the fellowship of gathering together, but the responsibility to read and study is still ours as well and it is what helps us stand when we are separated from one another. Christ wants to help us stand and gives us resources to do so.

“But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”

James 1:6-8 (NLT)

Once we are caught up in doubt, Lucifer uses his second punch – division. No matter where you live, worship, or work, division has been increasing in alarming rates so that it can too often be impossible for most of us to have a conversation with someone whose views vary from our own even on small matters. Little wonder that one of the popular terms of the day is binary thinking. If you aren’t acquainted with the term, here is the definition:

“Denotes a system of thought that predominantly considers things in an “either, or”, “right, wrong”, “black, white” way, ignoring any subtleties or consideration of third or more alternatives.”

Urban Dictionary

There are indeed absolutes and morality that makes a clear point of what is right or wrong, but the enemy has twisted things so that we now have elevated personal preferences and opinions to the same level as moral values largely accepted. The results have divided families, friends, neighbors, churches, organizations, and nations. Sadly, we have been sucked into it far more than we should. Sometimes it has been a lack of solid footing on the foundation of absolute truth or not believing there is such a thing. But make no mistake, this tool of the enemy has a knockout punch that can result in irreparable damage.

“Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.”

Matthew 12:25 (NIV)

If we are to deal with this dynamic duo in the onslaught we face each day, we must awaken to the truth and the foundation and promises it holds for us and remember whose we are and let our words and actions look more like Christ’s.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Colossians 4:6 (NIV)
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Get Ready For The Maybe

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Gwen Bristow’s 1970 novel, Calico Palace, has immersed me in the early days of California and the gold rush era. The novel is not new to me. We have had it on our bookshelves since not long after it was first published, but I enjoy diversity in my reading. I nearly always have a novel going at the same time I am reading something a bit meatier.

I pulled this one off the shelf recalling we kept it because my husband and I had both read it and I thought I might want to read it again some day. I knew it would take me a few pages to get settled into the story that wends its way through nearly 600 pages.

During the timeline of the book, San Francisco was a tawdry little town filled with men looking for a future on the other side of “the States” without any awareness gold was about to be discovered. Before long men who were eager to get rich were filling up the town on their way to creeks and hills where they hoped to find gold.

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The town (if you want to call it that) grew up around those arriving initially by ship after a perilous journey around the Horn of South America or by traveling across the Isthmus of Panama in frightful conditions. No one was interested in creating a town, but there was a need to get supplies and information to get started on their adventures.

The “buildings” were largely thrown together out of cloth, sticks, and whatever could be found. There was little question it was primitive and conditions didn’t improve as men filled up the place. There was no governing body so garbage was thrown wherever one would please and rats were in abundance. Fresh food was in short supply and heavy rain would turn the area into a sea of mud. Some grew tired of the search for gold.

But people kept coming and buildings got thrown together in days where men slept on the floor in places no bigger than a closet and took their leisure in gambling houses that sprouted up. The conditions were ripe for any number of disasters and one of the biggest was fire.

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Men gave little concern to ashes from cigars despite the flimsy construction of the buildings and other men looked at fire as a means of opportunity to get rich through looting if their own dreams of gold had faded.

Fires tore through the town repeatedly before a fire brigade developed and over and over again those trying to live or do business in the town lost everything.

One piece of advice offered by a main character in the story after multiple fires was this: “…the way to live is, get ready for the maybe. Then forget it.”

The statement left me puzzling and wondering how one gets ready for the maybe, the uncertain something that might happen, but I realized most all of us do that in one way or another.

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When we buy insurance to cover our homes or cars, we’re preparing for the maybe. Depending on our mindset, some of us do it in other purchases and how we live our lives.

The word “prepare” in Hebrew connotes things like readiness, foundation, and equipment, to get ready beforehand. Though we may try to prepare for some eventualities, how well do we prepare for the “maybe” and what we need spiritually? 

How often do we prepare for the unknown of what each day may bring so we will stand in the midst of difficulty?  Do we consider preparation for the “maybe” of the Lord’s return or do we only manage to look to the moment?

Paul writes a powerful admonition about being prepared to the church at Ephesus that we would do well to take for ourselves.

“Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”

Ephesians 6:13-18 (MSG)

That’s good stuff, but the key is to pause at the first two words. The admonition assumes we recognize that we must be doing this before a threat comes or we need the tools Paul writes about. We prepare when the weather is perfect, we are healthy, and there is no hint of any kind of threat to our safety.

There’s the rub. When all is well with us, it can be easy to forget we need to prepare for the maybe. But prepare and get ready we must and it cannot wait till we are in the midst of a hard challenge, a disaster, a dashed hope, or the sound of a trumpet.

Jesus reminds us of that clearly in Matthew 25 in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. You may recall the story of five who were prepared with fresh oil in their lamps and five who had allowed their oil to run out and not taken any more to be ready. The peril of the foolish virgins is clear:

“In the middle of the night someone yelled out, ‘He’s here! The bridegroom’s here! Go out and greet him!’

 “The ten virgins got up and got their lamps ready. The silly virgins said to the smart ones, ‘Our lamps are going out; lend us some of your oil.’

Matthew 25: 6-8 (MSG)

One thing is sure: uncertainty is the norm. We will face it many times in our lives. We cannot know or fully prepare for the unknown, but we can prepare for what will sustain us when it happens.

In the novel, Kendra reminds us from her own early experience with a wise grandmother:

“When I would run in, all upset about something that might happen next week, she used to say to me, ‘Little girl, the way to live is get ready for the maybe. Then forget it.”

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What Do You Most Remember?

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Every day from the day of our birth until the day of our death we are making memories. Some of these happen simply as a result of our brains recording what each day holds for us. Other times we are more intentional about wanting to make a memory around something that might be a memorial marker for us whether that be a birthday, holiday, special place, or special achievement.

Most of us don’t think much about this collection of things tucked into our memories as children but each decade we have a bigger scrapbook to review and that might be what causes us to also become more intentional about them. Older adults have a wealth of memories of every type and variety, a veritable gold mine. Sometimes as they age, they may get a bit mixed up and yet these stories give testament to the life they have lived.

One of my favorite memories is that of being gathered at my parents’ table as a family and as the meal was ending asking my dad a question that would invariably get him involved with telling a story from his childhood or youth. Those times around the table near the end of his life are a treasure trove, things I would never have known or learned since he was a humble quiet man who didn’t take much time talking about himself.

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Those stories became a significant part of his legacy and I often think that I wished we would have asked more questions earlier than we did. There were many stories we likely did not hear. For the 52 years I enjoyed having him as my dad, there are other things I remember about him beyond the stories, but they all condense into what I most revered – his character, his integrity, his faith.

I sometimes wonder now what legacy of memories others might have of me as I am older.

As I have been looking at David’s life in 1 and 2 Samuel over the past few weeks, I wonder what you see as his legacy in all the stories we looked at. Perhaps you think of his courage with Goliath, his gift as a poet and singer, his failure as a parent, or his fall into sin with Bathsheba. All those were markers on his timeline, but was there a theme in them that is the primary thing to take away from his life?

“The single most characteristic thing about David is God. David believed in God, thought about God, imagined God, addressed God, prayed to God. The largest part of David’s existence wasn’t David but God.”

Eugene Peterson

What a legacy to have said about a person! And it comes about an earthy man whose life (not unlike our own) was one of honorable character at some points and other times when it was not good. Few characters in the Bible have as much written about the whole of their lives as David so we get a good bit of the timeline to consider. What during all that condenses into this observation by Eugene Peterson? How can that be a model for living more intentionally?

There could be several things you or others might list, but some of those Eugene Peterson notes in Leap Over a Wall are clues to understanding.

“David noticed what was everywhere around him; and the more he noticed, the more he noticed God. David was a theologian – a God noticer, a God namer – of the best kind, noticing and naming God in the immediacy of revelation and experience.

And virtually everything David noticed and named about God, he prayed. Nothing in or about God was left on the shelf to be considered at a later time or to be brought up for discussion when there was leisure for it. God was personal and present and required a response…”

Eugene Peterson
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And therein is a key for us to make note of. The times and pace we live in can easily result in us failing to notice a great many things. We barely breathe from one thing we are doing to the next and much of the time our focus is on one device or another to show us about the world or information or tools we need. We take hundreds upon hundreds of pictures with our phones, but do we miss what we are looking at because we are so busy looking through the lens that we aren’t present in the moment? It’s in the moment we discover God revealing Himself to us in a myriad of ways, but that requires we must be present in the moment, in the experience.

“God doesn’t reveal reality so that we can stand around and look at it as spectators but so we can enter it and become at home in it.”

Eugene Peterson

Perhaps David is reminding us of that in the following Psalm:

“You make known to me the path of life;

    you will fill me with joy in your presence,

    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Psalm 16:11 (NIV)

John reminds us of that in John 10:10:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

John 10:10 (NIV)

What are we allowing to rob us of the life the Lord offers and desires for us?

“We won’t get an accurate sense of how the Christian life works if we fail to assess the conditions, or avoid facing the conditions. Conditions: weather, soil, money, racial feelings and class rivalries, tribal traditions and social customs…”

Eugene Peterson

David lived fully being present to God during the conditions of his day which was the Iron Age and yet as we read his story, we don’t notice the conditions but rather we notice what David notices in the midst of those conditions and that is God.

Maybe that is what is most important for us to consider. During the dark and turbulent times in which we live, the conditions should not be the focus above what we notice about God in the midst of those conditions. Therein will be the key to hope as we discover He is right there in the conditions. He wants us to notice Him there and remember Him.

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2 Wrongs Don’t Make A …

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We live during a time when much of the communication that happens in the lives of individuals, businesses, countries, and every other relational connection is often binary in nature insisting that one is right and the other wrong. In the midst of the shouting, it can sometimes be missed that what is being shouted is a preference or a view instead of a moral principle or value. If we want to say both are wrong, might we also say the old axiom – “two wrongs don’t make a right”?

Some of you might not have heard of that adage but for others of you it may bring a smile as you recall the first time you heard it expressed and what you understood it to mean.

The first time it is credited with use in the United States was in a letter written in 1783 by one of the Founding Fathers of the United States who signed the Declaration of Independence. He was a civic leader in Philadelphia where he worked as a physician, politician, social reformer, humanitarian, and educator. The letter is quoted as written: “Two wrongs don’t make one right: Two wrongs won’t right a wrong.”

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Certainly, it would seem in looking at the life of David in 1 and 2 Samuel it would seem that he did not get the message of that adage that came much later than his lifetime. If he had, he might have thought differently about having Uriah killed to cover up his sin of sleeping with his wife, Bathsheba. He hoped the result would be hiding the sin he committed in the first place by committing a second, but Nathan made it clear to him this was not the case when he came to tell him a story that caused David to recognize the truth of his sin not only against Bathsheba and Uriah but also against God.

But this would not be the only time David struggled with difficulty confronting sin. The complexity of multiple wives and their offspring gave David challenges as a parent on more than one occasion and expose another area of his failing. The child conceived between Bathsheba and David originally dies because of the sin but later another child, Absalom, is conceived with a different wife who becomes David’s favorite son. How often we see the issues in the biblical stories that involve a “favorite.” It makes one reconsider a desire to be preferred in that way perhaps.

We read of David’s great sorrow about the murder of Absalom in 2 Samuel 18. His anguish is palpable, but despite the desire of Absalom to usurp the throne do we recall the incident that got this vengeance in his heart started?

“David’s lament over Absalom had its immediate source in the rape of Absalom’s beautiful sister, Tamar, eleven years earlier. Amnon, who was a half-brother to Absalom and Tamar, was infatuated with Tamar; and after a period of pining and planning, he raped her. When Absalom learned of the rape, he was outraged and determined to avenge his sister’s honor. But he didn’t lose his temper: he plotted coolly and carefully. When the plot was in place, he brutally murdered Amnon (2 Sam. 13:1-29).”

Eugene Peterson

Reading through the passage cited shows you how David played into the scheme of Amnon to get Tamar to come to him under the pretense of being ill and wanting her to prepare him food. Sadly, when David learns of what happens to Tamar, he does nothing and the rage in Absalom simmers hotter. When Absalom murders Amnon, he overlooks this crime by his favorite son as he runs away to exile. Nevertheless, all the wrongs stacking up are multiplied when Absalom is allowed to return to his father’s kingdom, but David won’t see him despite giving him a judicial pardon. The love of his father is withheld and sets in motion the anguish he will experience when Absalom is murdered.

If we are brutally honest, we can possibly recognize a desire of revenge in our own hearts. It may not result in murder upon murder as in this tragic story of the great king of Israel, but it can show up when we do not rejoice in another’s success that we believed should be ours or when one friend appears to prefer another friend over us.

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David forgot the grace and forgiveness he had previously received in the way he handled this series of events with his children, and he missed his responsibility in more than one way.

“Sin fed on sin. The rape of Tamar fed into the murder of Amnon, which fed into the hardheartedness of David. Absalom responded to Amnon’s sin by sinning. Then David responded to Absalom’s sin by sinning. Absalom got rid of Amnon by killing him. Then David got rid of Absalom by shunning him. David lost his son Amnon because of the sin of Absalom. David lost his son Absalom by his own sin.”

Eugene Peterson

David recognizes the depth of the consequences of all these multiplying sins when Absalom seizes the kingdom from him, and he is forced to flee once again into the wilderness. It is there, in the wilderness during suffering that he once more sees more clearly and when the battle to retake his kingdom begins, he commands that Absalom should be dealt with gently. But he is brutally stabbed to death by one of David’s generals who knew of the kings’ command and disobeyed it anyway. David had gotten in touch with his love for Absalom in the command to be gentle, but it was too late for the two of them to reconnect as the father and son we see in the New Testament story of “the Prodigal Son.”

These tragic scenes in David’s story remind us of how sins so easily can multiply in any of our lives and the value of keeping short accounts with one another, confronting an issue at the outset, and then seeking repentance, forgiveness, and love. All these years later we too often fail also. And when we do, it demonstrates how much we have yet to learn about the commands to love one another and that it is one of the things we will be judged on.

The words attributed to the letter by Benjamin Rush certainly ring true – “Two wrongs don’t make one right: Two wrongs won’t right a wrong.”