January 22, 2006

God is speaking…are you listening?

Part 3: God is speaking through life

 

Opening:

ILL: The Lord speaks in mysterious ways. On January 1, 1990, He spoke to Fontella Bass through a television commercial. Bass was at the lowest ebb in her life. Twenty-five years after her No. 1 R&B single “Rescue Me” had placed her in the permanent hit pantheon, she had no career to speak of and had strayed far from the church where she started singing gospel as a child. She was broke, tired and cold: the only heat in her house came from the gas stove in the kitchen.

“I said to God, ‘I need to see a sign to continue on.’ And all of a sudden on the TV I heard … ‘Rescue Me.’ ”

She was unaware that American Express had been using her song on a TV commercial. “It was as if the Lord had stepped right into my world!” she says. “I got my back royalties. I started to go to church every Sunday. And that’s what saved me.”

Now Bass is back singing. She has a couple new albums. “For so many years I tried doing it on my own, and it didn’t work,” she says. “Then I took it out of my hands and turned it over to him, and now everything’s happening.”

God used a television commercial to speak to Fontella Bass. God is speaking…are you listening? He speaks to us through the Bible. He speaks to us in prayer—we can have a conversational relationship with God. And He speaks to us through life—through the events, circumstances and experiences of our lives. “Speak Lord, for you servant is listening.”

 

Offering and announcements:

Back of tear-off:  Life Groups riddle and emphasis on new leaders (orientations today and Wednesday)

The Best Sex Talk Ever”: Parental preview is Friday at 7 PM. Jr. and sr. high students meet Saturday 9 AM – noon in the Multi-Purpose Room.

Essentials of Discipline” (parenting class) begins next Sunday, register today at Info/Resource Center.

SHAPE class begins today at 11 AM – register in class at Room 202.

On December 31st, we passed a significant milestone: it was the end of our three year building fund pledge period. In the fall of 2002, hundreds of individuals, couples or families made pledges to our building fund for a three year

period. That three year period ended on Dec. 31, 2005. In the last three years, you gave over $2 million to build this facility, our new church home; that was money given above and beyond your regular tithe or offering. So, THANK YOU to every one of you who gave so sacrificially and generously over the last three years. WAY TO GO! We’re here because of you! (Give a cheer!) I hope you feel a great deal of pride and satisfaction as you look around. “I helped make this happen! This is my church!”

I am not quite done with my pledge yet. I’m at 87%…still have 13% to go. It will take me a few more months, but I plan on being finished with my pledge by June. So, the building fund is still open for contributions. There are a number of things yet to be finished: the parking lots, some landscaping, the playground for the kids, monitors for the commons, and we need more seats…already. So if God moves you to contribute or keep contributing to the building fund, thanks! We need it!

 

Introduction:

God is speaking…are you listening? He speaks to us through the Bible. He speaks to us in prayer—we can have a conversational relationship with God. And He speaks to us through life—through the events, circumstances and experiences of our lives.

Here are three ways God uses circumstances, events, life experiences to speak to us.

 

1. God uses life experiences to get our attention.

The classic example of this is the story of Moses and the burning bush. Moses was a Hebrew who had been found as a baby and adopted by Pharoah’s daughter. He had been raised as a prince of Egypt in the court of Pharaoh, surrounded by education, wealth, and power, but he never forgot his Hebrew roots, and neither did Pharaoh. Moses believed that God had placed him in this position of power to help his people. This was his dream: to free his oppressed people. One day, Moses saw an Egyptian overseer beating a Hebrew slave, and in a fit of temper, Moses killed the Egyptian. When word got back to Pharaoh, he took this as a sign of treason, and tried to kill Moses, who had to run for his life. Moses fled to the desert where he eventually met and married a Midianite girl and spent the next 40 years in the quiet life of a desert shepherd.

Have you ever had a dream that died? Moses dreamed of freeing his people—a big dream. Instead, every day for 40 years, he watched sheep in the desert. This is kind of like watching cars rust for a living. Every day, just sitting there, watching sheep graze. I wonder if Moses ever thought about what might have been, if he ever wondered about his people still enslaved in Egypt; or had he just put the whole thing out of his mind. “Oh well, that’s done.”

How would God get through to a guy like Moses, just doing his job every day?

Exodus 3:1-5 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

Moses sees a bush on fire—nothing strange about that—but it’s not burning up. Have you ever seen sagebrush burn? How does it burn? Fast! Poof! And it’s over. But this bush kept burning. And that got Moses’ attention. So he went over to see—many translations say he “turned aside to see.” Turned aside from what? What he was doing—leading the sheep, doing his job. He stopped what he was doing, and paused to consider this burning bush that had caught his attention. And while he was stopped, when God saw that Moses turned aside, God spoke to him.

Sometimes, when God wants to speak to us, He uses some life experience to get our attention, to make us “turn aside” from our busy lives.

ILL: Read page 1 of The Cross and the Switchblade.

Dave Wilkerson went to New York City and helped those boys, and thousands of other young men and women who were trapped in gangs, drugs and violence. He started Teen Challenge, which now operates 426 centers in 77 countries. It all started with a magazine article. That was Dave Wilkerson’s burning bush. When he turned aside to see, when he looked more closely, God spoke to him.

I could tell you lots of stories like this, and many of you have one—a time when God used some circumstance or experience or event to get your attention, and then speak to you.

God will use experiences in our lives to get our attention. The question is, will we turn aside? Will we stop long enough so that God can engage us and speak to us? So here is the lesson for hearing God in these kinds of life experiences.

 

  • Turn aside!

When you see a bush burning, turn aside! When something happens that stirs you, that grabs your attention, that moves you, turn aside. Don’t give it a quick glance and keep going. Don’t skim over it. Turn aside! Stop, and take some time to look closer.

I wonder how many times God tries to get our attention and we’re going so fast, we don’t turn aside. We don’t stop to look closer. “Oh, look, a burning bush. Wow. Now what was I doing?”

In Matthew 13, Jesus told stories—we call them parables—stories that were taken from everyday life. Stories about a farmer sowing seed in his field, or a woman making bread, or a man selling pearls, or a fisherman casting his nets and catching fish—all of them everyday life. But each story had a lesson for those who would turn aside, who would take time to think about what they were seeing or hearing.

When Jesus was asked why He used stories like these, He explained that the stories revealed the truth about God to those who would turn aside, who would look and listen. And they hid the truth from those who wouldn’t. “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand,” He said.

Doesn’t that describe us sometimes? We rush through life, passing burning bushes right and left, and never turn aside. We see, but we don’t see. We hear, but we don’t hear or understand.

Turn aside! Stop, and take some time to look closer. Then be prepared, because now that God has your attention, He may speak to you.

 

2. God uses life experiences to direct us.

In the Bible, God directed people in a variety of ways. Often, He simply spoke to them directly, like we talked about last weekend. Sometimes, God used a vision or a dream, or He spoke through an angel or another person. And sometimes God used circumstances to direct people. I’ve listed a few examples for your study; we’ll look at the first one.

Genesis 24 is the delightful story of Abraham sending his servant back to his homeland to find a bride for his son, Isaac. How would you like that job? That’s a lot of pressure, picking out the right girl! What if he picked the wrong one—a real dog? So when the servant got there, he stood by the village well and prayed, “God lead the right girl to me. The girls are all coming to the well now. I’m going to ask them for a drink of water. Let the right girl answer, ‘Sure, and I’ll water your camels too!’”

Before he finished praying, here comes Rebekah; she’s single and she’s stinking gorgeous! He asks her for a drink and she says, “Sure, and I’ll water your camels too.” The servant watches her do this, and he then takes out a cute little gold ring for her nose, and two hefty gold bracelets and gives them to her, and then asks who she is. It turns out she’s family! She’s Abraham’s great-niece, Isaac’s cousin. Now the servant bows down and worships God! He sees God’s leading, God’s providence all over this situation.

Rebekah takes him home, introduces him to the family, and he tells his story. When they hear it, their response is, “This is from the Lord. Here is Rebekah, take her and go, as the Lord directed.” It was obvious to them from the circumstances that God was leading. “This is from the Lord.”

Have you ever had a “this is from the Lord” experience? Here’s a recent one for me.

ILL: James Gerber and Ashley Folden got married on July 15th. At their wedding, Laina and I visited briefly with Ashley’s parents, Blake and Jane, and we decided to get together sometime for coffee. A month later, on August 16th, we finally had that coffee. We got to hear some of Blake and Jane’s story and what God was doing in their lives.

A month later, shortly after we moved into this building, Rick came into my office, closed the door, and sat down with serious look. “Uh oh,” I thought. Rick told me that our church administrator, Jim Brewington had just told him that he was moving to Florida. This created a huge hole in our staff at a very critical time.

I said, “I may know just the person for that job.”

“Really?” Rick said, surprised.

“Yeah. I just had coffee with him last month.” And sure enough, a couple weeks later, after extensive interviewing and research, we hired Blake as our new church administrator. It may never have come together if it weren’t for that coffee meeting. I believe that God knew what was coming, and He used the wedding in July and that coffee meeting in August to lead us to our new administrator before we even knew we needed him in September.

I look at that experience as a “this is from the Lord” experience. God used circumstances to direct us to the right person.

There are other examples from the Bible listed there; you can read and study those on your own or in your Life Group.

One word of caution. I rarely rely on circumstances alone for direction. Obviously, circumstances can be interpreted different ways, and it’s possible to misinterpret them.

ILL: For example, open doors. What do we mean by an open door (an expression that’s found several times in the Bible)? We mean an opportunity.

If you see an open door, what should you do? Many people assume that if a door is open, God wants them to go through it. And maybe you should. There are a couple places in the Bible which talk about God opening a door—if you know God opened door, by all means go through. Take advantage of the opportunity.

But not every open door, every opportunity is necessarily from God. The truth is that we don’t go through every door that’s open; we can’t! There are usually more open doors at any given time than I can go through.

When our church was young and small, I received a call from my supervisor asking me to consider taking an open church. The church was many times larger than Life Center and was on the I-5 corridor on the more populated westside of our state. It was a great opportunity, and most people would have considered it a promotion: bigger church, bigger population base, bigger salary. It was an open door. But when I prayed, I didn’t hear God saying that it was for me. I stayed here.

Some people would have assumed that since the door was open, I should have gone. But I am rarely guided by circumstance alone. I also listen for that still small voice we talked about last weekend. And I value the wisdom of others, which we’ll talk about next weekend. So when it comes to direction, circumstances are just one of the things I consider, and never by themselves. They can be misinterpreted. End of caution.

But when you have a “This is from the Lord” experience, what do you do? You do what Rebekah’s family did: you obey.

 

  • Obey!

When you know God is leading, by all means, follow!

 

3. God uses life experiences to teach us.

Matthew 16:5-12; Deuteronomy 32:7, 1 Samuel 12:24, Psalm 8:3, 77:12, 143:5, Proverbs 6:6, Isaiah 41:20, Jeremiah 5:1, Matthew 6:25-33, 7:9-11, 17:25, 18:12, 21:28, Luke 10:36, 12:24-27, 1 Corinthians 10:18, Galatians 3:6, Hebrews 13:7, 2 Timothy 2:4-7

This may be the most common and most important way that God speaks to us through life: He uses life experiences to teach us. All of the verses listed on your outline are either examples of Jesus using life experiences to teach His followers, or commands that we should consider and reflect upon our circumstances and learn from them.

Matthew 16:5-12 When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. 6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

7 They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”

8 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? 9 Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

In Matthew 14, Jesus fed 5000 with five loaves of bread, and had leftovers! In Matthew 15, He fed 4000 with seven loaves of bread, and had leftovers! Twice the disciples saw Him multiply bread to feed huge crowds. Now think about that, and if you had been there, what lessons might you draw from that experience? Take responses.

  • Jesus can do anything.

  • Jesus can do lots with little.

  • There are no shortages with Jesus.

What had the disciples learned from these miraculous experiences? NOTHING! That’s what it seems like in the boat when they’re concerned that they didn’t bring any bread. “Don’t you get it?” Jesus said. “I’m not talking about bread! Bread is not a problem for me! I can make bread out of nothing; you should have learned that by now.” Jesus clearly expected them to have learned something from their experiences.

Do you know what the word “disciple” means? Learner. To be a disciple of Jesus means you are a learner. All of life is a school and Jesus is our teacher.

Earlier I said that Jesus told stories from everyday life, parables. He also constantly used examples from everyday life to teach, to illustrate spiritual truth. When teaching on worry, Jesus said:

Luke 12:24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!

Luke 12:27 “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.

Look around you,” Jesus said. God is using the birds and flowers to teach you not to worry. Consider the birds. Consider the flowers. When was the last time you sat and looked at a bird or a flower and thought, “What can this bird, this flower teach me about God?” All of life is a school and Jesus is our teacher.

When teaching about prayer, Jesus said:

Matthew 7:9-11 Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Do you want to know how God feels about your prayers? Look at a father caring for his child. Look and learn. I have learned the most about God and myself since I’ve had children; the experience of being a parent is one big learning!

ILL: I remember checking on my kids when they were little and were sleeping—moms and dads, have you done this? I stood there watching them sleep, and felt overwhelmed with love for them. They’re so beautiful when they’re asleep…and so quiet! And one time while I’m doing this, it struck me that God watches me when I sleep, and feels that same love for me that I feel for my kids. “You love me like this, Lord?” (He watches over me?)

On a different note, one time when Andy, our oldest was 13, he was wrestling with his little sister Amy in the family room. I could see where this was going—he was going to hurt his sister—so I told him to stop—several times. He didn’t stop, and before long, Amy was wailing. “You’re hurting me. Ow, ow, ow! Stop!” I came unglued. “Get up to your room,” I screamed. And then I left Laina to comfort Amy, and charged up to Andy’s room where I got in his face and began ranting like a lunatic. “What is the matter with you? How many times do I have to tell you to stop before you finally stop? You hurt your sister; how would you like me to hurt you? Blah, blah, blah, blah.” Andy stood there quietly, toe to toe with me, tears welling up in his eyes. Finally, he interrupted me and in a soft voice said, “You’ve got a bad temper, Dad,” and then sat down on his bed and cried. I stood there stunned…because I knew he was right. I sat down beside him on the bed, and finally put my arm around him and asked him to forgive me. I wondered how my 13 year old son could be more mature than me?

That was a turning point for me. I haven’t been perfect, but I’ve done better after that experience. God used that experience with my kids to teach me about my temper.

All of life is a school and Jesus is our teacher.

All of life is a school, but there is one part of life that God seems to use more than any other to teach us. What is it? The hard part. Suffering. Pain. Trouble. Someone said that God whispers to us in our triumphs and shouts to us in our pain. God seems to use our sufferings to speak the loudest and teach us the deepest lessons.

You may be going through something awful right now. Don’t waste your sorrows. I promise that God will use them to teach you things that you would never learn any other way.

ILL: A League Of Their Own is a movie about the female major-league baseball teams of the 1940’s. In one of the most powerful scenes in the movie, the star catcher of the Rockford Peaches, played by Geena Davis, threatens to quit. She’s tired; she’s worn out; she’s worried about her husband who has gone to war; and in a low moment, she is ready to “throw in the towel.” This star catcher, by far the best player in the league, complains that the game is just “too hard.” The manager of the Rockford Peaches, played by Tom Hanks, tries to talk her out of quitting.

When she says, “It’s too hard, ” he replies, “Well, baseball’s supposed to be hard. If it weren’t hard, everybody would do it.” And then he says: “Hard is what makes it great!”

The same thing could be said about you: “Hard is what makes you great!” God whispers in our triumphs, but shouts to us in our pain.

So what should we do? How can we hear God teaching us through life experiences?

 

  • Reflect!

Most of us lead unexamined lives. Consequently, we repeat the same mistakes day after day. We don’t learn much from our experiences, good or bad, because we rarely stop to think about them. We race through life without ever reflecting on our experiences, and we miss out on what God may want to teach us.

Here’s a simple idea: what if you took 10 minutes a day to reflect and journal? Ten minutes to simply think about the past 24 hours and jot down any lessons you’ve learned in a journal. (Mention LC journals for $4.) When we journal, it forces us to slow down and reflect on our lives and learn from our experiences. Those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

So, once again, I want to challenge you to make time every day to meet with God: PBJ time. Prayer, Bible, journal. I know that for some of you, the very thought of sitting quietly, reflecting on your life, and writing down what you learn, sounds like torture! You probably need it most of all! Hard is what makes it great!