God: The Almighty, All-Powerful Whisperer?

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” ~ 1 Kings 19:11-13

Elijah

Since returning to the States, I have had the opportunity to see some really cool bands in concert.

As a musician, I really enjoy seeing musicians perform on stage in front of their fans.

But I worry about their ears. Without fail, I have left every concert with ringing in my ears (and permanently damaged cochlear cells), so I cannot imagine what the musicians must be doing to their ears each night.

Worried about my own hearing loss, I left a concert the other night and quickly consulted a reference textbook to learn more about hearing loss.

According to OSHA (The Occupational Safety and Health Administration), the human ear hears up to 100 decibels (dBA) of sound at a rock concert;

on any eight-hour day, to avoid hearing damage the noise level in the work place should not exceed 90 dBA.

And some headphones provide even more sound than this.

Needless to say, to think that we have enough noise in our lives to damage our hearing was pretty startling.

When you think of God, the first depiction that comes to mind is probably not “Gentle Whisperer.”

We like to think of God as an all-mighty, all-knowing God who created the universe in seven days and who is able to do all things.

But there is much to be said about the more docile component of His complex character:

In his book Seeing and Savoring Jesus, John Piper explains how Jesus is described as a lamb-like Lion, meek and gentle in humility (Matthew 11:28-29) as well as a lion-like Lamb, full of glory and demanding authority (Revelation 6:16).

During Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit was described as “descending like a dove” on Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17).

Elijah even experienced the gentle whisper of God the Father in the crack of a mountain in the book of 1 Kings.

OXYGEN VOLUME 13

While I was in Tanzania, I spent a lot of time in quiet.

The compound was not surrounded by any major roads. The nearby roads were not plagued with much traffic or travel activities.

In fact, most mornings I woke up to the sound of the children walking to the river to gather water or the shed to gather tools for the day.

As I went to bed most evenings, I could hear birds stirring outside of our window as they rustled together pieces of bark and twigs to build a nest before sunrise.

It was in these moments that I was able to pray in peace and really discern what Gods direction was for my life.

It occurred to me then that I had been living with too much noise in my life.

Maybe not enough to cause hearing loss, but certainly enough to distract me from the quiet whisper of God.

God does not always choose to reveal Himself to us in grandiose displays of splendor.

He rather chooses to meet us in a gentle whisper; as the prophet Zephaniah describes, “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts,” the same Holy Spirit that descended on Jesus like a dove (Zephaniah 4:6).

Be Still and Know

How much noise is in your life?

Are you so busy that you haven’t been able to hear the gentle whisper of God?

People hate silence, that is pretty well understood.

It is easy and comfortable to keep our lives busy so we hide the demons that are otherwise exposed.

We are not reticent of our fears (the unknown, rejection, getting caught, punishment, failure, etc.) when we are preoccupied with life’s happenings.

But think about the noise in our lives that might be hindering us from approaching God intimately in His quiet.

It gives you a whole new spin on “quiet time” doesn’t it?

We have to remember that God is willing and able to wheedle through the noise in our lives to search our hearts (Jeremiah 17:10).

As Matt Redman teaches us in The Unquenchable Worshipper: “[God] might watch the show, but He’s much more concerned with what’s going on backstage.”

The question, then, is: are we able to silence this noise to meet him?

***

“Quietude, which some men cannot abide because it reveals their inward poverty, is as a palace of cedar to the wise, for along its hallowed courts the King in his beauty deigns to walk.” ~ Charles H. Spurgeon

Making Much of Him

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
~ Psalm 37:4

I have a confession to admit: I am a very proud person.

My pride manifests itself as excessive self-reliance.

It is very often that my thought life sounds something like, “I can do all things…if I work hard enough” (see Philippians 4:13 for the correct prayer we ought to pray).

God used His children to correct this false narrative in my life, and in so doing, how to praise Him properly.

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The City of Hope staff let us lead a few songs of worship every Sunday.

On the last Saturday at the compound, I really struggled with the set list.

I felt convicted to choose songs we had not sang yet.

I could not decide whether to pick highly energetic songs or more introspective songs (the sermon was going to be given by Jacob on God’s unconditional love for His children).

Instead of turning to God for direction, I thought I could “do it” all myself.

Of course, in real time I did not realize how wrong this was.

It wasn’t until the final Sunday that this sin was realized for me.

I settled for Set a Fire and How Great is Our God, since we had already taught the kids these songs earlier in the week.

I also decided to teach them a new song, Lord We Lift Your Name on High.

This was a personal favorite from my younger years as a new believer.

When Sunday morning came, I was nervous.

“What if they don’t like the song?”

“What if the key is too high or low?”

“I don’t even like singing in front of people.”

“What if another song fits better with the sermon?”

Moving forward in faith, I decided to not overthink the songs and just proceed with boldness & trust.

We began worship with a reading from Psalm 150 during prayer:

“Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!”
~ Psalm 150:1-6

As we prayed, I reflected on the final line: “let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”

We sang Set a Fire and How Great is Our God, both songs we had taught the kids earlier in the trip.

But to my surprise, when it came time to learn the new song, the kids already knew it. It was one of their favorites.

[I probably should have expected this – Lord I Lift Your Name on High is pretty well known.]

The kids sang with new zeal I had not seen in their worship.

It was the loudest they had sang yet – even the boys in the back of the room were singing!

And I concluded God was in control the whole time.

Quick snapshot of the girls dancing during Service
Quick snapshot of the girls dancing during Service

He reminded me to “trust in the LORD with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding; in all [my] ways acknowledge Him and He will make [my] paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

He made reality the truth that “let everything that has breath praise the Lord”, even if that praise consists only of a few off-pitch voices and a small Walmart bongo drum.

Moreover, I also realized that “the plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit. Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Proverbs 16:1-3).

Regardless of which songs were chosen, He had a purpose for worship that morning.

My responsibility was to seek first God’s glory, then the rest (namely, that the kids were prepared to sing all of the songs) would be merely additions.

This put a new joy in my heart that silenced my negative thoughts.

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I realized that I had been excessively relying on my own abilities as a musician instead of turning to God as the author and director of my faith.

It occurred to me in that moment that praise cannot be about practice so that we can learn – it was about presence, so that we could love.

So may our praise ever be that – not a matter of song selection or learning which chord progressions work best in a given praise setting.

Christ does not exist in order to make much of us. We exist in order to enjoy making much of Him.

Our lives were made for this purpose.

***

Set a fire down in my soul
That I can’t contain that I can’t control
I want more of You, God
I want more of You God!
[Set a Fire, Will Reagan & United Pursuit]

[Unfortunately, I was not able to record Lord I Lift Your Name on High so I could post it here.

I look forward to the day when I can hear the children singing that song again, whether in this life or the next.]

Back from Africa

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world”
~ James 1:27

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As of 30 hours ago, we are finally back in the States safe and sound!

I am still incredibly jet lagged and in the process of unpacking but wanted to post an update saying we all had a truly life-changing experience while overseas.

This post could not wait.

The LORD blessed us with minimal troubles while traveling and there were only minor bouts of illness throughout the 3 weeks we spent in Africa.

As we traveled from London to Kenya, we discussed our expectations for the trip and were unable to really define what was the “mission” component of our mission trip.

However, we knew that at the very least we needed to share Christ’s unconditional, everlasting, and satisfying, love for the children since the compound had already introduced them to the Gospel.

James 1:27 states this very candidly: “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

We took this Scripture to Africa and made it a point to be intentional with the kids by coming to their compound, learning their language (very well I might add!), playing their sports, dancing to their music and with their dance moves, and learning more about their lives.

In doing so, we would bring them the hope of the Gospel and the promise of Christ’s redemptive salvation mind body and soul, as well as demonstrate Christ’s love for them and embody what Christ-like fellowship looks like.

Some of the projects we completed while at the compound:

  • painting 110 fence posts
  • placing these fence posts around the banana field
  • designing and building a 3-part desk for the clinic doctor
  • designing and building 48 bed cubbies, with shelves so the kids each had their own space
  • administering 2 IM injections at the clinic
  • making cement for the fence posts and new dining hall
  • leading 3 worship services and giving a sermon for one
  • realigning the wiring for the clothes line for the compound cook (my future wife)
  • leading numerous devotionals with the staff & other visitors…

….among other smaller projects.

We played countless games of soccer (“football”) with the kids and participated in a few dance parties.

It was amazing to see how athletic and skilled the kids were during these matches. Often, they would come after a morning and afternoon of hard work building cement or placing fence posts and the kids somehow still had energy!

They were also very gifted dancers. They would alternate small boys or girls-only dance groups that performed in front of the whole group without fear.

I’ll post a video or two of these later.

While working in the compound, we had the opportunity to speak with the workers who were employed by the City of Hope and minister to them.

All of them were fascinated by our interest in learning Swahili and took the initiative to teach us when appropriate.

One of the workers, named Joseph, would ask us for pieces of paper so he could take them home to his wife.

She would write down words in both English and Swahili so we could learn new words each day by category (i.e. anatomical terms, seasons, months of the year, etc.).

He was probably the main reason we were so successful in learning Swahili.

I will post again later & upload pictures, videos, information and more when my body is used to this time zone again.

A heart-felt thank you to everyone who was able to support me or who prayed for us during our trip.

The LORD heard those prayers and blessed us with His abundance.

I look forward to sharing how He has worked in my life, the lives of my team, and most importantly in the lives of the kids and City of Hope!

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~ Justin

It was then I carried you

Jambo!

  Thank you for taking the time to read this blog! It was with great hesitation that I started – I have hardly any talent or experience with blogging – but I recognized that many of my friends and family members wanted to keep up with my adventures while in Tanzania and Europe. I also saw blogging as an opportunity to share how God is and has been working in my life; He has been putting this trip on my heart since I was a wee-squirt in primary school. The fact that I will be working with the Kuria tribe in northern Tanzania in just under a month is a testament to the fact that God truly does follow through with His word and is totally faithful and trustworthy.

  The title of this blog comes from the poem “Footprints.” I still do not know who the author of this poem is because every site on the web states either anonymous or some random poet no one has ever heard of wrote it. Regardless, here are the words:

Footprints
Author Unknown

I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets
of footprints in the sand,
one belonging to me
and one to my Lord.

When the last scene of my life shot before me
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
There was only one set of footprints.
I realized that this was at the lowest
and saddest times of my life.
This always bothered me
and I questioned the Lord
about my dilemma.

“Lord, you told me when I decided to follow You,
You would walk and talk with me all the way.
But I’m aware that during the most troublesome
times of my life there is only one set of footprints.
I just don’t understand why, when I needed You most,
You leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child,
I love you and will never leave you
never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints
it was then that I carried you.”

  Powerful words from our LORD and Savior! I identify with this poem because like many of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I have been met with very difficult trials and sufferings in life and have asked God “why.” “It was then that I carried you” is a reminder for me that even when it doesn’t necessarily feel like God is with us, He is working His will through our lives and we can count on Him to be faithful to all of His promises, even when this isn’t easy to do.

  John 10:10 comes from the passage in John where Jesus is explaining how Jesus is the Great Shepherd. The verse states: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This has been the verse Jacob Moyer & I chose when we formed the medical ministry The Lazarus Project at our church Northstar Church in Blacksburg, VA. It reminds us that God is the provider of our health and wants us to rely on Him as sheep would rely on their shepherd for provision.

I feel so blessed to be embarking on this trip with Jacob Moyer and Sam Tabacchi, both of whom are members of Lazarus Project and Northstar church. We have been praying for this trip since the beginning of the year and have every confidence that the LORD is going to move through us, the other members of Teamwork City of Hope (TCOH) and in the lives of the Tanzanian people next month.

Please feel free to provide comments after each post. I am open to feedback and am looking for ways to better this blog. Can’t wait to hear from you all!

~ Justin
Proverbs 3:5-6