Sunday, September 06, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

The preacher of my church left last week with his family to visit his wife's family in Arkansas.

Since he was gone the church asked me to fill in for him today to deliver the sermon.

Here is essentially the sermon that I gave. It is titled "Can You Hear Me Now?"

Did you know that there are approximately 4.1billion people using mobile phones today?
There are 6.7 billion people actively using the Internet.
There are approximately 245 million people registered on MySpace, 340 million registered on Facebook and 14 million registered on Twitter.
How many of YOU have a cell phone? Does it have voice mail? Text messaging? E-mail and Internet access?
How many of you have more than one television in your houses, each with its own DVD player or VCR?
How many of you have TiVo or DVR on those televisions?
How many of you have more than one computer in your house?
Do you keep your radios on constantly? While in the car? At home? At work?
How many of you have more than one email account?
How many of you are signed up on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter? All three?

Technology can be a very wonderful thing. It shows up how far we have come in connecting with each other. But it can also be something that we get entirely too dependent upon and spend so much time with our technology that we don't concentrate on the things that are really important.
These things are what I will refer to in this post as "noise" in our lives.
There are so many things, not just technology, that can become noise in our life that we often fail to communicate with God and even fail to recognize when He is speaking to us.

Remember the story of Samuel? This is the story from 1 Samuel 3:2-10. When he was young, God spoke to him in the middle of night, waking him from his sleep. He ran from his room into the room of his mentor and teacher, Eli, thinking it was Eli calling for him. Eli told him that he was not calling and to go back to sleep. This happened again. The third time it happened, however, Eli realized that who Samuel was hearing so he told them to go back to bed and that if it happened again, how to respond to the Lord.
Why did it take Samuel and Eli three times to realize it was God talking to Samuel?
In Samuel's case, he was young and did not have the experience or training on how to recognize God's voice.
Eli, on the other hand, should have been able to realize who it was talking to Samuel. The problem was that at this time in his life, Eli had grown distant from God. At this point in time God was not doing a whole lot of talking to Eli nor Eli to Him.

God still talks to us today but often there is so much noise in our life that we too have grown apart and fail to recognize His voice. Some of us choose to ignore God's voice.

This is very dangerous. In Biblical times, Israel learned time and time again the hard way about the consequences of ignoring God. The story of Jonah is a good portrayal of how it is dangerous to ignore the words of God.

How do we generally talk to God? We talk to him through prayer. Prayer is engaging in conversation with God.

How do you normally have a conversation with any other person? Do you walk up to them and just stand there and look at them? If you do, there generally isn't any conversation going on unless the person you are talking to is a chatterbox.
We have conversations with people by engaging their attention and opening ourselves up. This is the way it is with God.
We have conversations with people by speaking and waiting for a response from the other person. Again, this is the same way it is with God.
How can we tell is God is trying to engage in a conversation with us or how he is responding to our engaging Him in conversation?
God is not going to ignore us. Sometimes, he doesn't respond very quickly and sometimes when He does respond we don't always like the answer but He will answer us one way or another. In His own time.

How can we tell?

He speaks to us through his Word.
The Bible is the best way in which God speaks to us directly. The Bible is literally the words of God. These words have been passed down from generation to generation and gone through thousands of years of persecution and various translations in order to get those words to us so that we can read and attempt to understand God's conversation with us.
Paul said in 1 Timothy 3:16 that "Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another - showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us." The Bible is our owner's manual so to speak. It is God's directions for our lives.

He speaks to us through conversations with others. God often speaks to us through conversations that we have with our friends, our co-workers, our families, or our church leaders. God will often lay things on the hearts and minds of others in order to get a message across to us. God will often speak to us through things we read, things we listen to, things we watch. This is an example of how often this advanced technology can be a good thing. Technology can be a way in which God might speak to us. He speaks to us through life experiences.

God can speak to us through positive experiences in our lives as well as negative experiences. In fact, most of the time, we often feel closer to God and learn to tune into Him better when we have hit a rough patch in our lives.

He speaks to us through impressions and thoughts. God can speak to us, as He has many times before, through dreams and visions. The Bible confirms this. He spoke to Joseph, for example, through dreams and Daniel through visions.
He also can speak to us through our thoughts. Have you ever been out for a walk or out driving somewhere and suddenly some random thought comes to you? This is a way of God laying something on your heart by just placing some random thought in your mind.

Whatever the case, God wants to talk to us and if He wants to say something to you, He is going to find a way. A way that will work best for our particular circumstance or our personality.

But remember that not everything that we think we hear comes from God. How do we know it is God talking and not something else?
Sometimes it could just be our own thoughts.
Sometimes we can become so convinced about something that our own minds, or through conversations with others, we read so deeply into things that we interpret it in a way that we want ourselves to hear and think about them. But these things are not necessarily from God.

So how do we determine if the message we are hearing is from God or not? How can we test it?

First, does what we are hearing agree with the Word of God?
As I said before, the Bible is how God speaks directly to us. If whatever you are hearing contradicts God's message through His Word, you can know for sure that it is not from God.

Second, does what we are hearing lead us to become more Christ-like?
God desires us to be more like Christ. To be more Christ-like we become more loving toward others, more generous, more humble. By testing what we hear, we can discern that if what we are hearing leads us away from Christ and makes us less emulating of His character, we can know it is not from God.

Last, can you feel God's peace in what you are hearing?
God's voice will always give you a sense of inner peace. It will not make you worry. It is always encouraging.

So how do you listen to God?

First, you have to put away all of the "noise" in your life. Shut off your cell phone. Turn off the computer.
Get away for a while and just spend some time talking and listening for God.
Listen for God and expect that you are going to get an answer, whether you like it or not.
You should also have patience and wait for an answer from God. God works on His timetable, not ours.
But definitely do not ignore Him. We can not shut ourselves off to what He has to say. We can not put God on vibrate and ignore the call.

How often do you spend worrying about checking your voice mail, or returning a phone call, or answering a text message, or answering an e-mail as compared to how often we spend talking with God and listening for Him?

How often do we find ourselves having to pencil in some time for God?
Is the voice of God really less interesting than all of the noise surrounding our lives?
Is it possible that there is a connection between the amount of all this noise in our lives and our inability to connect with God?
Could it be the reason that we often feel so distant from Him?

Another story in the Old Testament tells about Elijah and how he listened for God.
He was up on a mountain where God told Him to go and wait for his voice. First, there was a mighty wind, but God's voice was not in the wind. Second, there was a great earthquake, but God's voice was not in the earthquake either. Next, there was a fire. And again, God's voice was not in the fire. But then, there was a faint whisper. And that is where Elijah found God's voice.

Often like Elijah we only look for God's voice in the winds and earthquakes and fire in our lives. We only search God out when there is turmoil in our life. When all along, God just wants us to shut down all of the noise for a while and search him out in the silence.

We are not going to find God on MySpace. Don't expect that you are ever going to get an e-mail or a text message from God. You can't become a Facebook fan of God and think you are going to get any meaningful insight into your life. And you definitely can't Tweet God.

All of this technology we have today, even though it can be a wonderful thing, is not going to help us talk to God any faster or any better.
We can get more and more hi-tech but God Himself is and always will be low-tech.

Can you hear Him now? If you can't, why not? He is waiting to hear from you, are you ready to listen and talk to him?

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