Honestly thinking (& rethinking) about God, the universe, and everything in between

Category: God (Page 1 of 4)

If God Speaks to You in the Forest and No One Else is Around to Hear it, Does He Make a Sound?

(Part Three of “Hearing God’s Voice”)

When do I get my burning bush?

Most of us have seen the fantastic moment portrayed on the big screen one way or another – the most classic one starring Charlton Heston in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

Out of the burning bush emanates the audible, reverberating masculine voice of God as He calls out to Moses for the first time and gives him purpose.

My personal favorite rendition is the animated Prince of Egypt, beautifully illustrated with swirling colors of light and underscored by a majestic soundtrack as God’s booming voice alternates between commanding force and gentle whispers. I shiver in awe every time I see it, especially toward the end as the music crescendos and God promises that with his staff “you shall do My wonders!”

DeMille’s epic piece steps up the spectacle near the end as Moses stands upon Mount Sinai while God, in clear-diction English from above, authoritatively pronounces each of the ten commandments and simultaneously sends fire from the sky to inscribe them onto the tablets.

These are amazing scenes, illuminating the power of God’s voice. 

Films with more modern takes like to portray God as a person that looks and sounds a lot like Morgan Freeman or George Burns communicating face to face with someone in an office space or bathroom.

While few would argue the latter are biblical portrayals of God, I suspect many connect with them because they make God’s voice and presence a little more personal and tangible.

I imagine most of us, after seeing any of the films above, look forward to the possibility of someday having our own tangible “burning bush” or “mountaintop” experience.

In Part One of this series, I shared how God speaks to each of us continuously and that listening to that voice can have a significant impact on the 35,000 decisions we make each day. In Part Two, I recounted my own “miracle” story of learning how we can truly know His voice.

But many reading this are likely asking the questions (ones I often ask myself):

 “If it’s so easy to hear God’s voice, then why do I still struggle?”

“I’ve never heard an audible voice booming from above or had Morgan Freeman magically appear in my living room. When do I get my burning bush moment?” Continue reading

The Amazing, Stupendous Miracle of the Yellow #2 Pencil

(Part Two of “Hearing God’s Voice”)

We’ve, of course, heard the stories of God speaking to people through miraculous visions, thunderous sounds from above, a talking donkey, the appearance of a mysterious hand writing on a wall, or a burning bush. 

Well, I’m here to tell you about a time God spoke to me through the amazing, stupendous means of…a yellow #2 pencil.

Yeah, that sounds a bit underwhelming in comparison, doesn’t it?

But the thing is, this little “miracle” story changed my life.

Now, even though it happened over a decade ago, I confess I’ve been hesitant to share it publicly because:

A) I’ve written frequently in the past (such as here and here) how we need to reexamine what we mean by “miracles.” Miracles are not supernatural because there is nothing more natural to the world than God and God’s activity. Miracles are simply something beyond our comprehension or ability.

B) I think miracle stories are often overused. Sure they can be exciting as they encourage faith and hope for an extraordinary life, but they often set people up for disappointment and potential damage to their faith when they don’t get their own “miracle.” While I do believe what we label as the “miraculous” has and still can occur, the truth is that an “ordinary life” is much more common throughout one’s years on this earth (and often underappreciated).

C) My little story seems small and silly on its face. Of course, I would love to share a miracle story about how I was flying over Africa when my plane crashed, but God sent an angel to miraculously protect me during the crash and from a den of hungry lions and a horde of killer monkeys, but that is not what happened here. Yet it did, as mentioned earlier, change my life and my perspective on hearing God’s voice.

“You know my voice, you know my voice, you know my voice.” 

I shared in Part One of this series how hearing God’s voice is as essential to life as water and that our failure to listen to that voice is at the root of all our problems. I also shared how I believe God speaks frequently and continuously to all of us, but we don’t listen because of fear or shame and because we don’t know how to recognize God’s voice.

Jesus once told a gathering of people, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27, CSB). The CEV version even translates the first part as, “My sheep know my voice.” This should be quite comforting to Jesus’ followers who are assured they know his voice. Yet I, like so many Christians, still had frequent doubts about this.

Scripture also tells us, “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, CSB). Note that it does not say “might be given” but “will be given”…and “generously.” Now that sounds like a God whose voice is quite clear. In fact James’ letter goes on to say that anyone who doubts this is “double-minded and unstable.” They are “like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6-7, CSB).

I had come to Christ years prior after hearing God’s voice and had since then made several life-altering choices based on that voice; but I can also say there were plenty of times where I didn’t listen or was too scared to follow through. Is this all in my head? What if I get it wrong? Does the God of the universe even bother to speak to little old me? What if it’s some other kind of “voice” that’s speaking?

I was certainly one being tossed by the wind.

Yet, even amongst my most anxious doubts, God kept bringing me back to those verses about the sheep knowing Christ’s voice and the promise to give wisdom – several times assuring me in the most gentle but corrective way, “Come on, Steve. You KNOW my voice.”

Thus, I developed a mantra for myself whenever the doubts became too strong, repeatedly uttering those very words over myself:

“You know my voice, you know my voice, you know my voice.” 

Or if I was extra struggling and just trying to convince myself:

“I know your voice, I know your voice, I know your voice.”

All of this is not to say there are no false voices out there (and I will cover that in a future post), but simply to say that those who have entered into an authentic relationship with God through Christ really do know the voice of our creator – we just don’t always trust it. As a former pastor of mine used to say, “You know in your knower.”

So now, onto the pencil. Continue reading

Can You Pass the Multiple Choice Test?

(Part One of “Hearing God’s Voice”)

35,000.

That’s what neuroscientific researchers claim is the average number of choices a person makes per day.

Talk about multiple choices!

I’m not the first one to write about this figure. Do a quick Google search and you will quickly see a vast array of articles on the topic related to mental health, decision fatigue, leadership strategies, dieting, creativity, or any number of areas you can think of.

Of course, many of those articles exist in order to provide helpful strategies for overcoming and success in each of these areas, and I’m sure a number of them are helpful.

Few people that I know actually experience true peace.

I’m also certain that anyone who takes a look around at the world we live in will quickly conclude that a large number of people continue to make poor decisions every single day. Likely, if you honestly examine yourself, you will also conclude that there are many decisions you make daily that you constantly question – either regretting past decisions, fearing the consequences of current choices, or anxious about future ones.

Few people that I know actually experience true peace. In fact, I would say I don’t know anyone who doesn’t experience regret, fear, or anxiety on at least some small level every day. While regret can sometimes be good in terms of helping us to make better future decisions, and fear can be warning signals to avoid danger, many times they can also overwhelmingly control us and actually cause us to make future poor decisions – thus, creating a vicious cycle of poor choices, shame and fear, poor choices to cover the shame and fear, more shame and fear, etc.

That 35,000 number, of course, is not just about the big decisions. It has to do with minute choices you make second by second, such as your choice to even click on this article or whether to continue reading past this sentence. A significant percentage are often on a much more subconscious level.

I point this out because I believe these 35,000 choices have a much greater impact on everything than we tend to realize and are ultimately at the root of every single problem we experience today. 

With so many multiple choices to make each day, is there a way to pass this test? Continue reading

The Pursuit of Trump: How Your Choice Could be a Faithless Act

Our “hero” surveyed the landscape.

The enemy had the upper hand. His own troops quaked with fear. Many had deserted their posts.

The consequences were dire. Our hero’s once great nation was at war, and they were losing ground. The people’s future depended on the very choices he alone made today. 

Should they lose this battle, his nation faced extinction by a Pagan enemy whose culture was bent on destroying his people’s very identity as a chosen nation of the one true God.

The time for waiting patiently had passed. Something needed to be done NOW!

What appeared on the outside to be a faithful act turned out ultimately to be…faithless.

Thus, with no other choice, Saul did the one thing he could do offer burnt offerings to God.

But what was meant as an attempt to gain God’s favor in the midst of desperation was soon met with the greatest of rebukes by Saul’s spiritual advisor.

“What have you done?!” exclaimed the prophet Samual. “You have done a foolish thing. You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you!”

The consequences of King Saul’s one single choice on that one single day were quite severe his kingdom would not endure (1 Sam 13).

What appeared on the outside to be a faithful act of Saul turned out ultimately to be…faithless.

Before continuing, let me be upfront by saying I am no less guilty of committing faithless acts. Scientists estimate that the average human makes about 35,000 choices per day, and I am quite certain that a large percentage of my 35,000 choices are committed out of faithlessness rather than faithfulness.

I am also quite certain I have been faithless at times when entering the voting booth or throwing my weight behind a political opinion. What I may have thought in the past were acts of faith, upon further reflection, turned out actually to be faithless.

But how does one determine what is “faithful” and what is “faithless?”

The Bible is full of stories of humankind committing both faithful and faithless acts, along with the consequences that follow. An examination of all of these stories reveals the following themes that are repeated throughout: Continue reading

WWWJD: What Would “Woke” Jesus Do

I have never been a fan of the WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do”) phrase. It sets up the idea of Jesus as merely an exemplary human from the past that we are supposed to copycat, as opposed to someone we  can be in dynamic relationship with in following today.

In addition, the Biblical accounts of Jesus show him as a first century middle eastern man reacting to a very specific set of situations in a very specific culture that we cannot easily translate to our modern western world. While certainly the integrity of his character would remain the same, beyond that it becomes a guessing game of how exactly Jesus would react to every modern situation. The result is that we often manipulate him to be the kind of Jesus we want him to be and to justify our preconceived notions.

There is in the West, after all, on one far end of the spectrum a “social Jesus,” that stands as proof that the central point of Christianity is that we are to do good works by demolishing all power structures and setting up a future utopia with a completely equitable society. On the other far end is “American National Jesus” whose teachings led to the foundations of building the greatest nation the earth has ever seen. Followers of American National Jesus, of course, feel that we have departed from those beginning principles and that our central priority right now is to fight against all those “woke” social Jesus people in order to live out the freedoms that Christ truly intended.

In all my years of both studying and getting to know Jesus, of course, I have found that he is not always as predictable as we would like him to be, and that he is not so easily boxed in. In truth, that is one of the things that so much attracts me to him.

And that is why when my wife suggested the title “WWWJD: What Would ‘Woke’ Jesus Do” for a recent article I wrote for Baptist News Global, the idea of it really intrigued me. Baptist News didn’t end up going with that title, but I wanted to include the article here for my Honestly Thinking readers because, while Jesus can’t be boxed, I think there are certain things about Jesus’s character that remain true for all situations and that should challenge both ends of the spectrum in terms of the gospel we share and how we truly love our neighbor.

Please read the article here.

In a Facebook post I also followed up the article with the following words: Continue reading

Why the Resurrection Was Not a “Miracle”

Now before you label me a “heretic” or accuse me of preaching something “antithetical to the gospel,” let me be clear up front: I believe in the historical resurrection of Jesus the Christ, meaning I believe that he literally died on a cross and on the third day (according to the Jewish calendar) literally rose from the dead into a newly resurrected body.

Yes, this is a matter of faith versus hard evidence, but I have come to that conclusion based on a combination of historical research and personal experience with the living, risen Savior.

For all my cynicism, deconstruction, and questioning of conventional religious narratives, that is a message I am willing to commit my life to.

I also believe that all the events surrounding Jesus’s life that we customarily label as “miracles” (e.g., the virgin birth, water into wine, feeding the 5000, healings, etc.) really did happen.

I must also confess up front that my title is a bit of a misnomer. What I’m really challenging in this article is the modern Western notion of “miracle.” I suppose a more accurate title might be Why the Resurrection Was Not a Modern Western Notion of a “Miracle,” but that, quite frankly, is just not as sexy – or as good of clickbait. ????

When people in the modern West use the term “miracle” what they typically mean is something happened that shouldn’t have happened according to the laws of nature. In Christianity it usually is portrayed as God, seated in the heavenly realms, temporarily inserting himself into our natural realm in order to break those laws of nature.

We often use “miracle” synonymously with “supernatural,” meaning outside natural law.

But as I have argued many times before, in using the term “supernatural” (a term not even found in the Bible) we have created a false line separating the spiritual world from the natural.

Why is it false? Because nothing is more natural to the universe than God, and the spiritual world is every bit as much a part of the laws of nature as the observable, “scientific” world itself. Continue reading

They!

We hear it continually.

It pervades the social atmosphere.

Seeping in like an odorless gas, it invades every crevice.

Its toxicity eats away at our collective conscience.

And Its destructive symptoms cause us to spew more bile substance – its contagiousness spreading like a plague from one victim to the next.

None of us are asymptomatic, because if you listen closely, you’ll see it on social media, in headlines and articles, on news sites, on college campuses, in office hallways, in churches, mosques and synagogues, at dinner table conversations, during protest marches, and in just plain everyday speech.

An insidious use of a word – with a mortality rate that threatens to destroy us all.

I’m talking about the use of the word “they.”

It’s not the word itself but the way it’s often used.

It’s what’s at the heart.

A single actor makes an outrageous statement, and immediately it becomes about everyone who works in the entertainment business.

“Those Hollywood Elitists, THEY are trying to destroy America with their radicalized agenda!”

A church leader fails.

“Those Christian hypocrites, THEY are all just charlatans, getting rich off deluding ignorant followers!” Continue reading

The Day I Became an Atheist and Believed in God

This is Part 3 in the series titled “Split-Brain and the REAL Reason People are Leaving the Church”

I remember the morning quite vividly – though I’ve never really relayed it so as not to frighten the wife and kids…nor my extended family, my church, or the ministry where I work.

There I lay in bed alone, Bible yet unopened across my lap, as I attempted to do my morning “Quiet Time” ritual of conversing with God and learning from his “Word.”

Full of doubts and questions and unable to hear much in return, I remember the thought flashing across my mind: “Oh crap, what if none of this is REAL?”

And in that moment, I allowed myself to believe it.

And it was good.

Now let me back up a bit to before that “fateful” day. Continue reading

Split-Brain and the REAL Reason People are Leaving the Church, Part 2

In July of 2019, Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye and the person largely credited with advancing the “purity culture” movement, shocked the evangelical Christian world when he announced on Instagram, “I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”

Just a few weeks later, Marty Sampson, worship leader and songwriter for Hillsong, sent a second shockwave as he likewise proclaimed, “Time for some real talk… I’m genuinely losing my faith… and it doesn’t bother me… like, what bothers me now is nothing… I am so happy now, so at peace with the world… it’s crazy.”

Then in May of 2020, Jon Steingard, lead singer of the popular Christian band Hawk Nelson, posted “After growing up in a Christian home, being a pastor’s kid, playing and singing in a Christian band, and having the word ‘Christian’ in front of most of the things in my life – I am now finding that I no longer believe in God.”

Hidden behind this wave of well-known individuals is a growing number of men and women who have quietly slipped away from the church, many simply finding new ways to practice their faith and others leaving behind faith entirely. A significant number of them had spent most of their lives in the church, some of them serving as leaders and pastors, before realizing that they could no longer reconcile their actions with what they truly believed.

In revealing words, Marty Sampson went on to say, “I want genuine truth. Not the ‘I just believe it’ kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real.”

Real. A word often cited by those struggling with faith.

In Part 1 of this series I noted what I consider to be the underlying thread behind people leaving their faith communities: people have a need to believe in something that is real and they’re simply not finding it in the church.

Also in Part 1, I explained some of the neuroscience, combined with harmful theology, that I believe has contributed to this, particularly in Western society. I highly encourage you to read it before proceeding, as it will make a lot more sense of what I have to say in the upcoming sections. For those who have already read it, here is a shortened summary: Continue reading

Split-Brain and the REAL Reason People are Leaving the Church, Part 1

I had already been working on an article exploring reasons people in the Western world are leaving the Christian church in significant numbers when I learned about the fascinating case of “split-brain” surgeries – something that totally blew my mind (no pun intended).

In the 1960s Roger Sperry, Joseph Bogen and colleagues performed an experimental surgery, officially known as corpus callosotomy, on multiple patients who suffered from epileptic seizures. The procedure involved severing the corpus callosum which connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

Though the procedure is no longer performed today it turned out to be highly successful and, for the most part, patients were able to go on to live normal, healthy lives. But it wasn’t long, however, before split-brain patients noticed some peculiar and fascinating side effects.

One patient reported reaching into the closet with the right hand to pick out an outfit, only to have the left hand pick something different and refuse to put it back. A man found himself going to embrace his wife with one arm while his other arm simultaneously pushed her away.

On a more dangerous level, a female patient relayed that when she was driving her left hand would snatch the steering wheel from the right. She also reported her left hand: unfolding sheets her other hand had folded, closing doors the other had opened, and snatching money back that her right hand offered to a cashier.

In short, because each side of the body is controlled by the two different halves of the brain (the left side by the right hemisphere, the right side by the left hemisphere) these side effects seemed to indicate that the two hemispheres of the brain have two completely separate, and sometimes competing, wills.

So what does this have to do with people leaving the church?

One half of the person’s brain had faith and the other half was an atheist.

Here’s where things get even more interesting. Split-brain patients naturally became the subjects of further brain experiments. Able to selectively control input to each hemisphere, neuroscientists used the opportunity to direct various questions (via input to the left versus right eye or ear, for example) in order to determine how each half separately handles various functions or attitudes.

In one experiment, V.S. Ramachandran reportedly asked a patient, “Do you believe in God?” The response from one hemisphere was “Yes” and the other hemisphere was “No.”

In other words, one half of the person’s brain had faith and the other half was an atheist.

What does this mean? Is our faith biologically controlled and entirely dependent upon whether we are “left brained” or “right brained?” 

My answer is that it’s a bit more complicated than that. But what I hope to demonstrate throughout the rest of this article is what I have come to believe is the root cause of the mass exodus from the church in Western society – we are all operating out of a “split-brain” mode, largely dominated by left-brained only thinking.

Such thinking has infiltrated the Christian church itself for years, creating an unsustainable belief system largely removed from the type of lived-out faith that Christ intended. The consequences are that the jig is up, the dominoes are now starting to fall and people no longer see the God who has been presented as something that is real. Continue reading

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