Do Not Listen!

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When we listen to the chatter swirling about in the world, it often sounds like this:

  •             Be afraid.
  •             You haven’t got a chance.
  •             Give in or give up.

Hezekiah king of Judah, touted by the Old Testament as an excellent ruler who kept God’s commands, knew what to do with such chatter. Refuse to listen.

Sennacherib king of Assyria planned to destroy Hezekiah’s city, and he wanted all its inhabitants to know it. His messenger went to the city wall and called out, “Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria’… Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” (2 Kings 18:29, 30, 33-35).

Hezekiah commanded his people to remain silent, ignoring the messenger. He consulted with the prophet Isaiah, who brought these encouraging words, “This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me.  Listen! When he hears a certain report, I will make him want to return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword’” (2 Kings 19:6, 7).

Hezekiah responded by asserting his trust in the Lord, “Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God…Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God” (2 Kings 19: 16, 19).

God delivered Hezekiah’s people in a mighty way. The end of the chapter tells us, “That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king” (2 Kings 19: 35-37).

It doesn’t really matter how things look to our eyes. God is always in control. He always has the means to rescue us. When we hear discouraging chatter, we can learn from Hezekiah: Just don’t listen!

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Listen! Listen

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I grew up in a delightful family. My home was filled with lots of love. I remember spirited games of chess and canasta and paddleball (think racquetball on an outdoor court). We enjoyed good food, frequent guests, and plenty of laughter. Some of the laughter was over the same jokes enjoyed time after time.

When a new and uninitiated guest joined us, my dad would ask, “What’s that coming out of your nose?” After a moment of embarrassed confusion on the part of our visitor, he would continue, “Air! There’s air coming out of your nose!”

Then sometimes he’d say, “Listen! Listen!” After an awkward pause, he would add, “Somebody’s saying ‘Listen!’” We always laughed.

The other day, as I was thinking about my dad’s funny lines, the one about listening struck me in a new way. Taken more seriously, it comes out this way:

Listen! Listen! Because there’s always someone out there practically begging that you listen!

I’ve been doing a lot of listening lately. Some of my hurting friends need me most as a prayer partner and a listening ear. In fact, I often have to remind myself that they need my ear but not my mouth, my empathy but not my advice.

Pride can lead us away from the smaller tasks the Holy Spirit hands us. Becoming a compassionate listener isn’t very glamorous. In fact, it’s a ministry of the nearly invisible. It falls into the “He must increase; I must decrease” part of the Christian walk. But it is powerful. It is a silent language of love. Today I want to encourage you to allow a part of your busy life to be eaten up by the gift of an attentive ear, because if you listen, listen, you will almost certainly hear someone crying out, “Listen!”

How are you?

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We were in Delft buying, of course, Delftware, those blue and white ceramic pieces that say, “I went to The Netherlands!” It was late in the day, and the little shop was rather crowded, probably because their prices were so good. I waited in line at the counter, ready to pay for my Christmas ornaments, impressed by the excellent English of the clerk. (I had given up on learning any Dutch.)

When my turn came, I handed the young lady my selections, smiled, and said, “Hello, how are you?” Her response caught me off guard. With nary a hint of incrimination in her voice, she simply said, “May I ask you a question? Why do you Americans ask, ‘How are you?’ when you can’t possibly care how each person really is?”

I’m sure I hesitated a bit as I struggled to come up with a sensible answer to an excellent question. “It’s a greeting we use. We actually do try to care about the response.” (My answer was lame, but the best I could come up with at the time.) Here is my question today, though. Do we care about the answer? Or, in our hurried world, do we ask without thinking, and hope for a quick, “I’m fine. How are you?” so that we can go along our way without pause.

Pause. How often do we pause? How often do we probe a bit for the real answer to the “How are you?” question? And if we do receive an honest response, how often do we take time to listen, to follow up, to offer some sort of related service beyond a quick, “I’ll keep you in my prayers”?

I want to learn to pause, to mean it when I ask the question, to listen when I’m given an answer, to look into the eyes of friend and stranger alike and care. Please, join me. And if you are so inclined, tell me about your own “How are you?” encounters.

 

Practice Hospitality

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A few weeks ago I was invited to dine at a famously scenic restaurant in Austin. I was ushered into a beautiful room overlooking the lake. My vantage point, one of the top stories of a multi-tiered establishment, also gave me a view of several crowded tables below me. One gave me pause. It was party of ten, apparently a family plus a couple of friends. They were enjoying appetizers and beverages as sunset approached…and eight of them were bent over their smart phones for many long minutes. I admonished them in my mind, then caught myself in a similar crime just days later.

  • When was the last time you looked at your smart phone?
  • When was the last time you looked someone in the eye?
  • And do you ever call someone, hoping to get their voicemail so you can just leave a message?

We have allowed ourselves to become broadly connected, yet at the same time oddly isolated. Is this shyness? An enslavement to efficiency? Just a bad habit?

Romans 12:13b is exquisitely direct. “Practice hospitality.” There was a time when I thought hospitality meant simply opening one’s home and serving cookies. (More about that in a later blog.) A bit of research has extended my understanding. Here are a few more detailed definitions.

  • The generous reception and entertainment of guests.
  • A relationship between a guest and host, in which the host received the guest with goodwill.
  • Showing respect for one’s guests, treating them as equals.

Reception, relationship, and respect all speak to our definite and deliberate focus on another person. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said, Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” The gathering of believers is a sacred thing. What do we miss when we are distracted? And if we are gathered with those who do not know the Lord, what does our distraction say to them about their worth?

Furthermore, children may be heavily impacted by the number of words spoken to them in their early years. How much has that volume been reduced by the constant pull of a smart phone screen?

Focus. Attention. Concentration. These can be difficult to maintain in our swirling culture. But they are gifts we can give to those around us. They are gifts I think our Lord would have us mete out with generosity. They are a part of hospitality. Will you join me in a renewed effort to be fully present at the table–or at the office, or in the kitchen or…? Let me know how it goes. And if you discover tips that help you pay attention, I hope you’ll share them here.

Talk Less. Smile More.

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About a month ago, my brother told me about Hamilton. The book, yes, but also the Broadway show. Some of you are wondering how I could have gone so long without knowing about the runaway hit. Others are wondering why I would even take time to mention the guy on our ten dollar bill.

Hamilton was our first secretary of the treasury from 1789 to 1795. He was also the chief author of The Federalist Papers, but was perhaps most famous for losing his life in a duel with Aaron Burr. Now he’s also famous for being the subject of what may become the most popular show New York has ever seen, nominated for a record-breaking 16 Tony awards.

This line from the play is making its way to tee shirts and posters,

“Talk less, smile more.”

In the play I think it means “Shut up, and keep your opinions to yourself.” In real life, I think it could mean this: Learn to listen. Encourage others. Be kind. Be friendly.

Barry Corey, president of BIOLA University, has written a book about kindness. I’m almost finished reading it and will certainly have more to say about it soon.  I love this line about listening, about simply paying full attention to the person in front of you. “Presence is more eye contact than it is saying something profound. Presence happens when you give your spouse the gift of conversation when you would rather exercise the gift of lawn mowing.”  (Corey, Barry H. Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue.    100.)

I tend toward the gift of lawn mowing. OK, actually in my case it’s the gift of clean the house, or cook, or run errands, or do laundry or write another blog. But I want to learn to talk less, and do a bit less, and smile more, and listen more. I want to get better at considering the person in front of me to be more important than the list in my pocket. I want even my face, the smile on my face, to convey full engagement to those around me, to say, “Listening to what you have to say is more important to me than asking you to hear what I have to say.” That’s a simple (maybe not easy, but simple) way to love those around us.

Talk less, smile more. Wait a week, then email Steve and ask him how I’m doing with that! (And let me know how you are doing with that as well.)

Two More Hymns

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As the final installment of this hymn sing, I’ll share two hymns, only one of which was familiar to me until recently. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, written by Isaac Watts in 1707, is the first known hymn to be written in the first person, describing an individual’s spiritual experience. According to cyberhymnal.org, “Charles Wesley reportedly said he would give up all his other hymns to have written this one.”

You can listen to Christ Tomlin’s version here.

When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, Save in the death of Christ my God! All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.

Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all. 

For All the Saints was written by Anglican Bishop William Walsham. It speaks of faith, of trusting God even in troubled times, and of our hope of heaven. ‘Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what every post in this blog is about, and so this is a fitting way to close this tiny taste of hymn singing.”

Listen here.

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,

Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,

Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;

Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;

Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,

Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,

And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

And there you have it. Won’t you respond by posting a list of your favorite hymns?