One Way to Find God

906 Words – Approx. Reading Time 4 Minutes

Hide and Seek…it is one of the oldest games in history. Historians have evidence of children playing the game in the 2nd Century, but it is believed it was played earlier. Not only is it an old game, it is also a worldwide game.1 Children in Asia, Australia and Africa play this game as well as the kids in Russia, Brazil and Ohio. Everyone understands the concept of the game. One person closes his or her eyes and counts while everyone else hides. The purpose of the game is for the person who is “it” to find those hiding. The goal of those hiding—don’t be found.

If you read the Bible it might be easy to get the idea that God is playing a cosmic Hide-and-Seek game with us. Notice the word “seek” in these verses.

  • If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.1
  • The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.2
  • Evildoers do not understand what is right, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully.3
  • Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.4

Seeking the Lord is a common theme in Scripture. “Seek the Lord” or “seek him” are mentioned 33 times. Even Jesus got in on the whole “seeking” theme when he said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…”.5 It would be easy to think God created us and then said, “Come find me!” Thirty-three times we are told to seek God, but it is not until the 32nd time we discover God is not playing Hide-and-Seek.

The 32nd time happens in Acts when Paul was speaking in Athens. The people there had never heard of the relational God Paul talked about. To them God was a mystery, a Being they were constantly seeking. They had fully bought into the idea that to find God one must look for him like a child looks for her friends hiding behind a tree or under the bed, but Paul informed them, and us, that God is not playing Hide-and-Seek. Notice Paul’s words:

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.6

When a child is muffling her giggles hiding behind the curtain, she is playing the game at its best, but a hiding God seems cruel. Paul clarifies; God is not hiding so He can’t be found. He is hiding so we can find Him. The two most common ways people seek God Paul debunks.

1) People build structures for God and then go there to find Him. The Creator cannot be contained in a building, monument or sanctuary. We can’t build something to find God.

2) People make sacrifices to find God. The Creator is not disabled and in need of our services. He doesn’t need anything we have to offer. Therefore, we can’t find God by being pious, generous or volunteering.

Finally, Paul gets to the point. God created all the different ethnic groups that make up the nations. He determined when people would live, where they would live and what boundaries they would have to rub up against. All of this is still in play today.

We were created by God to live in this time and in the places we find ourselves. We too have boundaries. The key to seeking God is seeing the boundaries as God’s interruptions. They are His reminders that He is relevant and close.

18 3 26 Easter Egg HuntDo you remember Easter Egg Hunts? In my family the adults would hide colorful eggs all over the yard for the children to find. They thoughtfully and purposefully “hid” them so the kids could find them. Eggs would be hidden in easy and challenging places, but the goal was for the eggs to be found not lost forever. No one has fun when Easter Eggs can’t be found.

God, like an adult hiding and Easter Egg, has carefully hidden Himself in the boundaries of your life. Boundaries look like limitations, feel like frustrations and are untimely interruptions, but it is also where God hides Himself for you. Remember what Paul said, “He [God] marked out their [your] appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands [your life]. God did this so that they [you] would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

God is not hiding from you. He is hiding for you. He does not play Hide-and-Seek. 18 3 26 Easter Egg Hunt 3Instead, he has planned an elaborate Easter Egg Hunt. Whenever you bump into a boundary, you just rubbed up against God. He is hiding there for you. Seek Him there. Reach out for Him there. He is close and can be found.

Let me give you some examples…next time.

1-, 2 – 1 Chronicles 28:9, 3 – Psalm 14:2, 4 – Proverbs 28:5,  5 – Isaiah 55:6, 6 – Matthew 6:33, 7 – Acts 17:24-27

Is God Still Relevant?

914 Words – Approx. Reading Time 4 minutes

Maybe God is out of touch with what is going on in the world? It is a popular thought. People are being bombarded with one crisis after another. The tragedies unfold in all shapes and sizes from human inflicted pain to natural disasters. It is easy to wonder if God is paying attention. Sixty-three percent of Americans still believe in God, but a growing number of individuals are joining Stephen Hawkins’ conclusion: “There is no God.”1

For most people the role of God in their life is not as black and white as “I believe in God” and “There is no God.” Most think He exists, but they struggle with understanding His ability to relate to them. They believe He knows more, sees more and cares more than the average human. They think He wants to help, but the world has become too complex…too far-gone…too advanced. He is like an endeared politician, who at one time was a political juggernaut, but now appears to have lost a step.

In 2008, during the prime of his political career, Martin Wisckol of the Orange County Register interviewed Senator John McCain. In an odd exchange of questions Senator McCain was asked, “When was the last time you pumped your own gas and how much did it cost?” The question obviously caught the senator off guard. Here was his response:

“Oh, I don’t remember. Now there’s Secret Service protection. But I’ve done it for many, many years. I don’t recall and frankly, I don’t see how it matters. I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of town hall meetings, many as short a time ago as yesterday. I communicate with the people and they communicate with me very effectively.”2

I am not picking on or disrespecting the senator. I consider him an American hero who has dedicated his life to civil service, but his answer clearly showed just how out of touch he was with the common American in 2008. At that time he was an above-average political leader (a six-term U.S. Senator and Representative from Arizona and man-pumping-gas-at-gas-stationpresidential candidate), an honored war hero and a political maverick. He had earned the reputation of challenging the status quo in American politics, yet he could not remember the last time he pumped his own gas. Instead, he rattled the Secret Service did that for him. How nice. Caught off guard by the question, he inadvertently revealed just how privileged his life was, and apparently had been for a long time. He flippantly excused the menial task of pumping and paying for gas as irrelevant to his ability to know and connect with the average American.

In spite of his popularity and achievements, he exposed just how far removed he was from the people he was trying to help. This is the convoluted view many people have about God. They respect Him and remember His great reputation, but doubt He really understands where they live?

In spite of our 4G, 4k, Alexa world, spiritually we have not advanced much past the 1st Century citizen of Athens, Greece. They too were confused about God. Peering into their social, political and philosophical world we discover their city contained a forest of idols; statues that represented the different gods accepted by their society. They, like us, valued being religiously inclusive. No one had the right to tell someone else their god didn’t exist or the morals their god represented were wrong. There were many truths—not one. Does that sound familiar? The only difference between them and us; we don’t make statues. Our idol is our right to believe whatever we want.

In their efforts to leave no one out, they even erected a statue to “The Unknown God.”3 They did not want to overlook a deity or offend its followers. They were open to new ideas and truth could not be absolute. This created another issue that closely relates to our current times. They were addicted to information.

recreated image
Digitally created image of the Areopagus.

They did not have Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. Fox News, CNN and NPR did not exist. Instead, they had the Areopagus. Imagine a gathering of intellectual elites who had the authority to form public opinion. That was the Areopagus. We are told people gathered there to spend “their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.”4 Sounds like surfing the Internet or watching national news. They were addicted to hearing something new and then adding their 2 cents. Even if the process was futile, they did not stop. They could not stop, because they were so unsatisfied and frustrated with what they already knew. Again, sounds like us.

It was in this environment that God sent an interruption. His name was Paul. We are told Paul walked among their statues and started talking to people about Jesus. He spiked their curiosity because they had never heard of this God. They wanted to hear more so they scheduled him to speak at the Areopagus. Some were sincere in their quest to understand Paul’s God. Others were just looking for a good debate. Either way, God interrupted their world.

The reason this episode recorded in Acts is so important is because God reveals His relevancy. He proves He knows what it is like to stand at the pump, but reveals the pump could be the interruption we need to find God. Through Paul, God reminded everyone He is intricately involved in every human’s life. We will dig into it in the next time.

1- Religious Landscape Study from The Pew Forum, 2014 and “Stephen Hawking makes it clear: There is no God” by Chris Matyszczyk. September 26, 2014.
2 – “John McCain Doesn’t Know the Price of Gas/Can’t Remember the Last Time He Bought Any” by Chris Kelly. The Blog, July 5, 2008.
3 – Acts 17:23
4 – Acts 17:21

The Interrupter

920 Words – Approximate Reading Time 4 minutes

I think God likes interrupting us. Interruptions are a part of life so it should not surprise us that God would use them to get our attention. Interruptions happen at a frantic pace. Because of this, we know what they are but we may have forgotten what they actually do. Interruptions stop us in the midst of feeling, thinking, saying or doing something. They break our normal routine and create a reaction either by force or coincidence.

An interruption can infuriate us or recalibrate our thinking. It all depends on how we interpret the interruption. A well-timed and well-received interruption can stop us from making a mistake, rescue us from faulty ideas, and spare us from embarrassment. It can even set us on a new course with a new perspective. But, if we are in a hurry…or cocky…or totally self-centered…an interruption can set us off. It can feel like an emotional traffic jam at the worst possible time.

The way we handle an interruption can be an indicator to the spiritual well-being of our heart, and our heart is the most important piece of equipment when it comes to recognizing God’s voice. If our heart is alive to God and practicing trust, a divine interruption can be a lifesaver. If our heart is cold toward God and skeptical of His intervention, then the same interruption becomes a nuisance. There are many examples of this in the Bible.

Early in his ministry before becoming a national celebrity, Jesus was a traveling teacher. The bible tells us he went from one town to another speaking in synagogues all through Galilee.1 On the Sabbath he would arrive at the local gathering. It was the custom to let a traveling teacher speak, but by our standards he was an interruption. No one had invited him. His presence stopped them in the midst of what they were going to say or do and they would allow him to speak.

These synagogue interruptions had mixed reviews. When he taught at Capernaum, the people were pleasantly shocked by his teaching.2 The group received the interruption as a blessing and were introduced to the One who came to save them. God got their attention and they gained a new perspective.

When Jesus spoke in Nazareth, his hometown, the mood got ugly quickly.3 Again, he showed up unannounced interrupting their Sabbath routine. We are told his teaching at first amazed the people, but the excitement quickly faded. He claimed to be their Messiah and that was just too much. After all, they had seen him running through their neighborhoods as a boy. They hauled Jesus out-of-town intent on killing him. His words offended them because of their pride. They simply were not receptive to God’s interruption.

Think about it: Jesus interrupted both synagogues, but we find two very different reactions. The people at Capernaum welcomed the interruption and experienced joy. The people at Nazareth were offended by the interruption and tried to kill Jesus.

Here’s another example: Shortly after Jesus’ resurrection and return to heaven, the disciples were overcome with the Holy Spirit. We are told they left the upper room they were huddled in and went to the streets of Jerusalem interrupting the religious celebration called Pentecost. Language groups from all over the world where in Jerusalem that day. Due to the power of God’s Spirit in them, the disciples were able to give a powerful explanation of the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ in each person’s native tongue. These Galilean men were speaking languages they had never learned. What an amazing interruption that must have been?

Yet, there was a mixed response. Three thousand people were amazed and believed in Christ. Others saw and heard the same interruption and claimed the disciples were drunk.4

Not all of God’s interruptions involve large crowds. Once, Paul and one of his missionary partners were put in chains and placed in a maximum-security cell. At midnight God sent an earthquake. Their chains fell off and every cell door to the prison was opened. The jailer woke to see the cell doors open and his first thought was to kill himself. Before he could impale himself with a sword, Paul interrupted him. This interruption spared the jailer’s life and influenced him and his family to become followers of Christ.5

I could share more (and I will), but here is the point: God uses situations and people in our world as an interruption to get our attention. Remember, an interruption is anything that stops us in the midst of feeling, thinking, saying or doing something. God can use a spat with your spouse as an interruption. He can use a disappointment, a failure and even a disaster in an attempt to get our attention. Not all interruptions are negative. He can use the comments of a friend, the kindness of a stranger or the birth of child to interrupt our world in hopes that we might recognize Him.

Is it possible for us to recognize His interruptions when they happen? I think it is, but it all begins with the condition of our hearts. If our hearts are unconvinced about God speaking, then recognizing His interruptions will be a challenge. If our hearts are struggling to trust God, then seeing an interruption as God’s intervention is almost impossible.

I bet God has been interrupting you. If you haven’t recognized it, it is because something is cattywampus in your heart. Let’s go there…next time.

(1) – Mark 1:39 (2) – Mark 1:21-22 (3) – Luke 4:16-30 (4) – Acts 2:1-41 (5) – Acts 16:22-34

Divine Interruptions

How does God get our attention? We live in a world flooded with information. How do we know when an event, a conversation, a news story or a Facebook thread is more than just an interesting fact or tidbit of information? How do we know when God is trying to get us to notice Him? I believe God uses interruptions to get our attention, but how do we know when something is a divine interruption or just normal noise?

I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama right in the middle of what is known as the Bible Belt. In case you don’t know, the Bible Belt runs from Texas to Georgia and roughly from Florida to Virginia. This region of the United States was given this strange title in the 1920’s because Christian church attendance in these states was higher than the national average. The statistic is still true and as a result conservative evangelical Protestantism plays a strong role in the South in both culture and politics. Let me give an example. In 1987 the social activity of horse racing was completely acceptable in New York and California, but in Alabama it was frowned upon, and it was creating cultural clash in Birmingham.

I was seventeen years old and Birmingham had just opened its first and only horse track. Gambling was the hot topic in social and religious circles. Churches from all over the city began sending its members to the racetrack…not to gamble, but to evangelize. The poor souls at the racetrack—either employed there or just gambling—needed to be saved. The churches of Birmingham saw it as mission field. My church was no different. I signed up to go “witness” to people at the racetrack. For some reason I thought I was on high moral ground and I needed to do my part to scourge the city of this evil. I didn’t go with love. I went with contempt.

I prepared myself by studying a curriculum called CWT: Christian Witness Training (don’t waste your time Googling it…no one uses this or remembers it). The reason I remember CWT is because it encouraged me to start a conversation about God by asking this question: “If God were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?”

The material provided different responses someone might give to answer the question and armed me with Biblical comebacks. The purpose of this: To encourage someone to think about a relationship with Christ, and hopefully influence them to accept Jesus as their personal savior. I went to the racetrack ready to talk to someone about God, but little did I know God would interrupt me.

When I arrived at the track, I was given permission to go to the stables. I spoke with a jockey. It was the only conversation I had and I’ve never forgotten it.

He was a small man, at least six inches shorter than me, and really thin. He was rugged. His face looked experienced and tired, but he was friendly. I don’t know if he knew why I was there, but he stopped tending his horse and began to speak with me. I went through the pleasantries of introducing myself and getting his name (although I don’t remember it). Finally, I asked him the question I had come prepared to ask. Let me recall for you word for word what I remember.

Me: If God were to ask you “Why should I let you into my heaven?” what would you say?Jockey: If God were to speak to me, I’d shit in my pants.

Needless to say, CWT had not considered this a possible response to the question.

I was unprepared for his comment, but I noticed something. He looked sincere. I’ll never forget it. He wasn’t trying to shock me. He wasn’t trying to trip me up. He wasn’t mocking me. He was sincere. And because honesty was in his eyes something moved in me, I began to care about him. BOOM! God interrupted me.

I internally cried, “God, help!” I then departed from the CWT script and said the next thing that came to my mind. “Why would you do that if God spoke to you?” I then got an education on how some people view God.

I learned three things as I talked with him:

1) He felt his life was tiny and unimportant. In the grand scheme of the universe, why would God even want to speak to him? He did believe in God, but he believed God had more important things to do.

2) He felt his life was far from God…so different from God’s expectations…that even if God did speak to him would it be relevant? He believed God was out of touch with his life. What could God say to a jockey that would remotely help him?

3) He felt God personally speaking to him would not be pleasant. In fact, the thought terrified him. Hence, his bowel moving comments. He was not being crass or irreverent. He was being honest. If God were going to speak to him, it certainly must not be good and it would absolutely be terrible.

As we talked, God interrupted this man’s life. He was just tending his horse, like he had done hundreds of times before, but this time God sent a humbled, foolish 17-year-old to question his thoughts about God. Using the same moment and conversation, God interrupted both of us for different reasons.

I realize what I’m calling an interruption others might call fate or chance, but God does not work that way. He is intentional with his interruptions. He says, “I know the plans I have for you.”1 God is the Master Interrupter, but how do we know when He is interrupting us? That’s the next blog.

 1 – Jeremiah 29:11

Broken Receivers

We are all broken, therefore, it is hard to hear God’s voice sometimes. There are two kinds of broken. If we can determine which type of broken we are, we can better diagnose our situation.

My family follows college football (Roll Tide!). While living in Sacramento, we returned home from a Christmas vacation spent with family in Alabama. The Crimson Tide was playing in a New Year’s Day bowl game and we intentionally came home on New Year’s Eve Day so we could watch the game the next day. I vividly remember getting home, bringing in luggage and finally settling down in front of the TV. I pressed the power button and an Error page popped up on my screen. It said something like “Error ####: No signal.” At the time we were using a satellite dish provider.

Try to imagine the angst this moment created. We had just flown over 2000 miles on a holiday so we could be home TO WATCH THE GAME! On top of that, what were the chances a repairman would be available ON NEW YEAR’S EVE DAY? All I wanted to do for the next 48 hours was binge on college football and end it by watching my favorite team, but all I was receiving was an error message.

Hearing God’s voice can be like this. All we want is a little guidance…a little hope…some encouragement…some reassurance that we are not monumentally messing up our lives. At times it would be nice to hear from Him and know He is there.

Like coming home and grabbing the remote, we do what we know to do to receive a signal from far away. We might fold our hands, bow our head or close our eyes before we start talking. We might recall a prayer we learned as a child or got off a bumper sticker. Those who call themselves Christians might recite the Lord’s Prayer or open their Bible searching for words that will satisfy as God’s voice. They may even pull out the big guns and close their prayer by saying, “In Jesus’ name I pray.” But for many, both the novice and the expert, what they feel in that moment is what I saw on my TV screen: “Error ####: No signal.”

To my surprise, I did get a satellite repairman to my house that day. When he arrived, I hustled him into my living room so he could see the error message. As he began his diagnoses I learned something; satellite dishes have two kinds of broken.

The first kind of broken is an equipment issue. The satellite dish receives an encrypted signal from an orbiting satellite. The signal moves through a cable to the box near the TV called a receiver. The receiver decodes the signal and sends it through another cable that is connected to the back of the TV. The TV then displays the signal allowing us to see images and hear sounds that are being transmitted from space. If the satellite dish, the receiver, or any of the cables and their connection points has failed, then the TV receives an error message. Finding and replacing the failed equipment is the only way to repair this kind of broken.

The second kind of broken creates the same error message, but it has nothing to do with faulty equipment. It has to do with the environment. The error message could be the result of a misaligned satellite dish, bad weather or an object blocking the reception of the signal. The repairman explained there might be nothing wrong with my equipment. A tree limb could be blocking the field of reception. Kids throwing a Frisbee could have hit my satellite dish and misaligned it. The weather was fine that day, but if it had been storming I would have gotten the same error message.

When all we feel is an error message from God, it is usually either an equipment issue or an environment issue. The most important piece of equipment to hear God’s voice is the heart. It both receives and decodes God’s voice. I’m not talking about the muscle that pumps blood. I’m talking about your mind, soul, and spirit, your inner-self that is uniquely you. If our heart is broken, it is extremely difficult to hear God’s voice. The heart cannot be repaired. It can only be replaced. God speaking on this matter said it this way:

I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord.1

We will discover how to get a new heart in some other blogs, but when our heart is broken the only message we can receive is an error message…but THAT is God’s voice.

If your heart is working and you still can’t hear God’s voice, it is an environment problem. Multiple things can block your reception or misalign your heart (not forgiving someone, willful disobedience to God, disappointment, failure, temptation…just to name a few). Only one thing removes obstacles and realigns the heart: trust. When our trust fails, we will get an error message. Trust is a heart issue. The wisest man who ever lived said this of trusting the Lord:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.2

When we are committed to trusting the Lord then our heart is in the right place and we will hear from God (however, we can’t make God speak to us nor do we know when He will speak…more on that later).

The satellite repairman ran his tests and determined my receiver was broken. He replaced it with a new one and the error message went away.

If you are not hearing God’s voice, which type of broken are you?

1- Jeremiah 24:7 (NIV)     2 – Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)

Does God Still Speak?

Does God still speak to people? If so, how does He do it? And if He is speaking, how do we know it is His voice we are hearing? After all, we all hear multiple voices. Some voices are audible. Others are just in our heads. But…I’m getting ahead of myself. For the sake of argument, let’s just assume one of the voices we hear, whether audible or just in our head, is actually coming from God.

I heard and recognized God’s voice for the first time when I was twelve. It was humbling, scary and exciting all at the same time. It was also addictive. Because of his voice, I became a follower of Jesus and I began a journey that has been both frustrating and delightful. Because of his voice, I became a pastor and entered into Biblical studies. I earned a Masters of Divinity with an emphasis in Pastoral Studies. I then earned a Doctorate of Ministry with an emphasis in Spiritual Disciplines. I have been a pastor for over 25 years. For all of my adult life I have been dedicated to hearing God’s voice, trying to obey it and attempting to share with others what I’ve heard from Him. I know a little bit about this topic, but at the same time I feel as though I really know nothing. That’s what makes this journey frustrating sometimes.

Due to my training and years of experience, I can give a solid theological answer to the question: “Does God speak?” I can also provide a Biblically grounded answer to the question: “How does God speak?” In fact, let me just go ahead and answer those two questions right now. But I warn you, even though they are correct and fully accurate, they will leave you unsatisfied, especially if you are currently struggling with hearing God’s voice.

Does God speak? Yes. See, I told you the answer would leave you feeling empty. Right now I could share with you a dozen Bible verses that all point to God’s ability to speak to people. One of my favorites is Isaiah 30:21.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Isn’t that a cool verse? But this is not the experience of many people. More than a few people who believe in God have told me they just can’t hear his voice. They pray earnestly. They go to church. They strive to be moral, good, kind people; but God seems silent. If the people who love God get frustrated with this phenomenon, imagine what the skeptical person who doubts God speaks must be thinking?

How does God speak? The answer to this question is a little more complicated, but my years of training and experience have prepared me for the task. Here we go. God primarily speaks to people through four different venues or some combination of them:

  • He speaks through the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
  • He speaks through the reading and/or teaching of His word—the Holy Bible. (2 Timothy 3:16)
  • He speaks through His presence on earth known as the Holy Spirit. (John 14:26 and 16:12-15)
  • He speaks through His creation. (Psalms 19:1-4)

Wow! Don’t you feel better? Now you know how God speaks. I’m guessing angel’s voices are ringing in your ears since the great secrets of hearing God’s voice have been revealed to you. But again, I’ve sat with hundreds of people who already knew this information. I’ve listened to them share their struggles with hearing God’s voice even though they know how He speaks. The knowledge of how God speaks does not guarantee we will actually hear Him when He speaks. Again, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Imagine how disillusioned or disheartened the person is who doesn’t read the Bible or listen to people who teach what it says. What about the person who has a hard time swallowing the idea of a Holy Spirit on earth or the individual who might believe Jesus was a real person, but can’t accept he was raised from the dead? Think of that individual who is awed by nature, but can’t yet accept there is a Creator. Is God trying to speak to them? And if so, how? They have internally disqualified all or some of the venues He uses.

Does God only speak to us if we are willing to meet Him on His terms? Or, is God speaking all the time and we just aren’t recognizing it as Him? Does God only speak to people who think favorably of Him? Or, is God speaking to everyone, even those who don’t think He exists?

For the next several weeks I’m going to be blogging about God speaking to us. I hope you will join me. The blogs are for those who want to hear God’s voice and for those who are skeptical of God speaking at all. Please follow my blog and let’s hear God’s voice together. And, if you think it is worth someone’s time, share my blog with someone and encourage him or her to follow along.


Have you ever seen a fainting goat? Here is a video.

Where did these little guys come from? History tells us there was a traveling farmer named John Tinsley who brought 4 goats with him to central Tennessee from Nova Scotia in the mid 1880’s. He called them “stiff” goats.

The goats popularity sky rocketed and new names began to emerge: Tennessee Fainting, Tennessee Meat, Texas Wooden Leg, Stiff Goat, Nervous Goat and Scare Goat. Goat farmers loved these animals for two reasons. First, due to their small stature they were less likely to climb fences or escape from pastures. Second, they tasted good (not that I know that first hand).

The truth is these goats do not actually faint. They have Myotonia Congenita, a condition in which the muscle cells experience a prolonged contraction when the goat is startled. In other words, when they get excited, stressed, or scared their muscles stiffen and freeze. They fall over completely awake. This unfortunate phenomenon can take place when they are playing in the field; eating their favorite grain, when thunder claps or a barn door slams shut. It can even happen when they are mating (so many things I could say right now…but I won’t).

All the articles I’ve read say there is no evidence of this condition actually causing them pain. I guess that makes me feel better when I watch videos and laugh at their uncontrollable fainting. Even though their condition makes us smile, what happens to them is a good example of what happens to many believers when they are spiritually startled.

Paul talks about this spiritual condition in the book of Philippians. The people at the church of Philippi were facing persecution from their neighbors and arguments from within their own gathering. Knowing these challenges were rubbing up against their faith in Christ Paul wrote…

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then,…I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.

Paul speaks of standing firm and striving together without being frightened. This is the only time in the New Testament this word is used. It is the image of a horse that is frozen stiff on the battlefield due to the noises and images of war. When a military horse was too frightened to act in battle, it was liability to the rider and an opportunity for the opponent. We may smile at fainting goats, but a soldier on a frozen horse in the midst of battle was no laughing matter.

The Philippians were in a spiritual war. They had enemies trying to harm them…silence them…shut them down. They had conflicts within their group that threatened friendships and stability. It was a startling time. It was a stressful situation. Life was difficult. It was frightening, but they could not freeze up. They could not faint.

Followers of Christ in today’s world find themselves in awkward situations. Here in the States we will probably not face physical harm for our beliefs, but emotional harm and contentious relationships are very possible. For many the uneasy, tense emotions that come from doing the right thing or saying the right thing is all that is needed for them to “freeze.” Some “faint” at just the thought of talking about their faith in Christ because they fear being misunderstood or judgmental or politically incorrect or out of touch with modern thinking.

Fainting followers of Christ are not cute like the Fainting Goat. No, unfortunately they are a liability to themselves and other believers; and they give an opportunity for the enemy to advance. I know that is harsh, but it is exactly the image Paul was painting in the letter to the Philippians. In the face of hardship, strained relationships, and uncomfortable conversations, we are to stand firm and strive together without being frightened.

The courage to not be frightened comes from the other two things Paul penned: stand firm and strive together. To understand how these three things work together let me share a legend from World War II.

In April of 1940, German tanks rumbled across the borders of peaceful European countries. One country they rolled into was Denmark. As part of their systematic method of intimidation and oppression, the Germans would require every Jew to wear a yellow Star of David. Any Jew who failed to comply would be put to death. The Star of David, a proud symbol of Jewish faith and culture, was being used to mark Jews as deplorable members of society—to rob them of their possessions, their dignity and even their lives.

The Danish government and its people were in no position to do battle against the powerful German army. But their leader, King Christian the Tenth, made a bold move to protect Danish Jews—a move that put his own life at risk. The Danish king called for all Danish citizens to wear the Star of David. He called for every Danish household to stand firm in their conviction that all human life was important and to strive together to protect their Jewish neighbors.

What would you have done? Would you have pinned a Star of David on your child and sent them to school? Would you pin one to your own chest as you walked out the door to go to work? Would you be the only family to do this? What would others be doing? If you did it, would you and your family suffer with the Jews?

The legend goes that what the Germans saw after King Christian made his plea was nothing short of a miracle. Stars of David were everywhere on every person. Jews were weeping tears of joy in the streets as they saw their neighbors willing to suffer with them and not be frightened.

The story is a legend. It never happened.

The legend grew from remarks that King Christian made to German officials, on the radio to his countrymen and in his personal journal. In all three places he stated that if the Germans called on Danish Jews to wear the star, he would wear it and ask all Danes to join him. Because of his opposition to the Nazi regime and their tactics, and because of his willingness to stand and suffer with the Jews, the Nazi’s full plan of persecution against the Jews was never carried out in Denmark. Danish Jews were never asked to wear the Star of David.

Stand firm, strive together and do not be frightened. These are the keys to pushing back against the evils that can frighten us. They are the actions required to non-violently resist injustice, cruelty, hatred and ignorance. God uses these actions in us and through us to show love to people who have lost their moral compass or have hearts hardened by the disappointments and tragedies of life.

Don’t be frightened.

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