Thursday, April 29, 2010

Making Decisions According to God's Will

As the old story goes, a pastor stood before his congregation one Sunday and announced he was leaving them for another church. "But," he said, "This isn't because I don't love you. I'm doing this in obedience to God's will. The same Lord who called me to this church is now telling me to leave." In response, the congregation stood and spontaneously sang "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."

Har har.

Jokes aside, there is great skepticism--even among the devout--whenever someone says, "The Lord told me to..." A politician announces that God has chosen him for a particular elected position. Does this mean that anyone who DOESN'T vote for him is sinning? A preacher tells his church that his vision for an expensive program or building is absolutely the will of God...and once the church puts itself deep into debt, he promptly hears "the Lord's call" to a larger, wealthier church. To be sure, "the will of God" is a phrase that is tossed around all too liberally in evangelical circles, used to justify any manner of self-centered behavior.

But don't let the abuses of a few distract us from the truth: God knows the decisions we face, has the wisdom to help us make the right choice, and loves us enough to guide us down the true path. So what should we do in order to make good decisions? When most people think of "Hearing God's Voice and Knowing His Will," this is what they're talking about: Finding God's guidance in their important decisions. But you will notice that I have saved this message for the middle of the series. There's method to my madness: More than good decisions, we need a good relationship with our Heavenly Father. The good news is that our Father wants to help us make good decisions, and this Sunday, we'll talk about how to hear Him. The REALLY good news is that no matter how many bad decisions we have made, He continues to be our Father.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Learning to Recognize God's Voice

Certain Bible stories made a vivid impression on me when I was a small child. First were the ones that involved action, even violence (little boys are a savage species, after all). Second were stories that involved kids like me. One of those was the story of God calling young Samuel. This little guy was raised in the tabernacle of God by Eli the priest, after his mother Hannah had dedicated him to the Lord at infancy. One night as Samuel slept, he heard a voice calling his name. He ran to Eli, saying, "Here I am." But Eli told the boy to go back to bed (with more than a trace of irritation in his voice, as I imagine it). This happened three times. On the third time, old Eli realized this was God speaking to little Samuel. He commanded the boy, Go and lie down. If He speaks, say, "Speak, Lord, thy servant is listening." Samuel obeyed his master, and heard God speak to him for the first time.

That story captivated me when I was a little boy. What if God spoke to me one day? Would I know it was Him? Or would I be like Bill Cosby's version of Noah, wondering if this strange voice was just a practical joke, some antediluvian version of Candid Camera?

This is still a valid question for each of us. Do we know how to recognize God's voice? Christians often say things like, "I just the Lord is leading me to make this decision." But how do we know that "leading" is God, and not just our own desires? How do we know if a particularly vivid dream is actually a vision from God? What do we do when a preacher says something about God that we don't agree with, or a Christian claims they have "a word from the Lord" specifically for us? How do know whether that's God's truth or a life from the depths of Hell?

It's my conviction that recognizing God's voice is a skill that must be learned, not a talent that one either has or doesn't have. Jesus promised us that His sheep would know His voice...this Sunday, we'll talk about how to develop that skill, how to know when God is speaking, and how to understand what He's saying.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How God Speaks

Have you ever heard of the mosquito tone? It's a piercing, high-pitched noise that can only be heard by people younger than 25. No, I'm not making this up. Here's a link to a site that talks about the mosquito tone in more detail, and includes a demonstration that will allow you to try hearing it.

A Welsh security company employee invented a device that emits the mosquito tone, and marketed it to shopkeepers who wanted to discouraged teenagers from loitering outside their stores. But the teenagers got their revenge; they began downloading the mosquito tone as a cell phone ringtone. That way, they can hear their phone ring while they're in class without getting caught. There are some complicated physiological reasons why kids can hear the mosquito tone and adults can't (we'll discuss this in more detail Sunday, but it has something to do with ear hair. I'm serious). The point I want to make in all of this is that God's voice is not like the mosquito tone. It's not something only special people can hear. The Lord has made Himself available to anyone who wants to hear Him.

As we continue in our series, "Hearing God's Voice and Knowing His Will," it's important for us to know how God speaks. This Sunday, we'll look at some of the ways He spoke to people in the Bible, and what that means for us today. I hope I see (and hear) you there.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

God's Will For Your Life

Charles Steinmetz was a genius in the field of electrical engineering. He was born in Germany, a dwarf and a hunchback, and early in life showed amazing proficiency in math and science. As a young man he emigrated to the United States, where he helped develop some of the early technology that shaped the 20th century. For example, he built the generators that powered the first Ford assembly line in Dearborn, Michigan. There’s an old story, probably just a legend, that says one day the assembly line shut down without warning. None of the mechanics could figure out the problem. So Henry Ford called Charlie Steinmetz. The old genius came over, tinkered around for a while, threw a switch, and suddenly everything sprang back to life. A few days later, Ford received a bill for $10,000. Henry Ford was one of the richest men in the world, but he was no fool. He wrote Steinmetz a note: “Charlie, don’t you think $10,000 is a lot of money for just tinkering with a few wires and switches?” He received an itemized bill in reply. It read: “For tinkering with wires and switches: $10. For knowing where to tinker: $9,900.”

This week, we begin a new sermon series called "Hearing God's Voice and Knowing His Will." We'll discuss how to recognize the voice of God, how to make decisions according to His will, and how to know His plan for your life. But here at the beginning, we'll take a look at Matthew 6:25-33. I do believe God has a plan for each life, that He has a will for many of our decisions, but He doesn't want to be Charlie Steinmetz, just showing up to fix our problems and then leaving us alone. His will for each of us is much bigger and more world-changing than what we dream of. Let's talk about it this Sunday.