Tag Archives: God speaks

The Danger of Neglect

 

When we began this series, we expressed the “need to heed” warnings in our lives.  This is especially true of spiritual warnings.  In the book of Hebrews, the author shares with a group of believers five (5) spiritual warnings he saw emerging within their community.  These warnings represented dangers that would ultimately end their faith walk, their witness, and their work.

These five spiritual warnings are still relevant in the 21st century.  Because of its relevance, we share the first of these warnings–the danger of neglect.

What is this thing called neglect?

Neglect is described as the state or fact of being uncared for.  Its origin is from two Latin verbs meaning ‘not’ + ‘choose’.  The Jewish Christians were considering to “not choose” Jesus.  They were at risk of “drifting away” (Heb. 2:1).

In the opening verses of chapter 2, the writer shares with the audience several points to consider before returning to Judaism.  Rejecting the gospel would have definite spiritual consequences.

Pay Attention!

The readers were urged “to heed” to what they have heard.  In the past God communicated through the angels.  God’s Son Jesus is now elevated far above the angels to reveal His message of truth and redemption.  If the Jewish Christians respected the angels before, they should be even more attentive to Jesus (Heb. 2:2).  The Message conveys this thought: “If the old message delivered by the angels was valid and nobody got away with anything, do you think we can risk neglecting this latest message, this magnificent salvation?”

Since Jesus Christ is much better than the angels and has received by inheritance a more excellent Name than they (the angels)–since He is both essentially and officially inconceivably superior to these heavenly messengers, His message has paramount claim on our attention, belief, and obedience.[1]

The writer of Hebrews wanted his reader to fully understand the consequence of their behavior.  By rejecting the gospel, they would be “storing up” for themselves the wrath of God: “How shall they escape?”  (Heb. 2:3)

Neglect in the 21st century

Today as I look around at our current world, I wonder if we too are at risk of drifting way.  During the current health pandemic and social upheaval, conversations about “our belief and obedience to Jesus” are, unfortunately, becoming rare.  This is especially true among the generations that will follow the Millennials.

It appears that we, as a nation specifically, are “not choosing” Jesus Christ.  And while the Jewish Christians were in danger of returning to Judaism, what options are people, including Christians, choosing?

What does neglect look like in the 21st century?  A well-known Bible scholar and author, highly regarded within both Christian and Jewish academia, gave the following predictions as to how the world would look if Christianity “drifted away.” We warn you the words shared are very graphic and disturbing.

Have nothing to do with such people. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth…these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. [2]

Better Choice

We can learn from the warnings in Hebrews and find new ground on which to stand fast in our faith. (Rom. 15:4) We can avoid the danger of neglect by being intentional in our thinking and our actions.

First and foremost, it is important that we value the gift that we have received as a result of God’s grace (Eph. 1:3-14).  We deserved to die for our sins which separated us from our Creator.  Jesus reconciled us back to God (2 Cor. 5:19).  Having tasted the goodness, the greatness, and the generosity of God through Jesus Christ, how could we ever want to return to our old way of living? (1 Pet. 2:2-3).

Secondarily, we must repent and return to Christ.  Especially if we have begun “to drift” to other options the world would offer.  The Apostle Paul shared with the church at Colosse a similar message concerning the sufficiency of Christ over other things this world may offer (Col. 2:6-10).  In Christ we have everything we need.

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.  For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. 

Lastly, we must listen as God speaks to us through His Son and in His Word.  Be protective of your time and intimacy with Jesus.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern those things that compete for your attention and your time (Matt. 6:33).  Through the practice of spiritual disciplines such as prayer, meditation, and journaling, we can better recognize Jesus’ voice over the noise of the world (John 10:27).

Pay close attention lest you too drift away.  Beware the danger of neglect.  Next week, we will focus on the second warning in Hebrews, the danger of unbelief.

[1]  Dr. Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews

[2]  2 Timothy 3:1-9

God is speaking

The epistle of Hebrews opens with a grandiose statement expressing how eternal God chose to communicate with man (Heb.1:1).  It sets the stage in teaching the Hebrews why following Jesus Christ was the best choice versus Judaism.  The old ways of communicating were over.  Jesus Christ was the new and better way to convey the mind and the will of God.

God spoke in the Old Testament

When did God speak?  God spoke at sundry times (interpreted as “several parts”).   God spoke as was fitting for that particular Old Testament dispensation or administration of His purpose.

In the opening verse, the writer of Hebrews explains how God communicated to men in the Old Testament.  God used the prophets. These men were chosen and qualified by God.  No man took that honor to himself unless called by God.

How did God speak?  God spoke in divers manners. It was God’s choosing as to the way He would communicate His mind to His prophets. Sometimes God chose to speak through the entrance of his Spirit (Ezek. 2:2), in visions or dreams (Daniel 7:1-14)–even an audible voice.  God even chose to use legal characters under his own hand as when he wrote the Ten Commandments on the tablet of stone.

God Himself gave an account of His different ways to communicate with His prophets in Numbers 12:6-8:

Then He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream.  Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house.  I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD…”

And who did God speak to?   God spoke to the fathers (generator or male ancestors).  They were Old Testament saints who were living within God’s specific administration during their lifetime. God favored and honored them with more understanding and insight as to who He was.  These saints included the patriarchs–Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Others are listed in the “Faith Hall of Fame.” (Hebrews 11)

God speaks through Jesus

God has spoken in these last days to us by His Son (Heb. 1:2).  He has appointed Jesus heir of all things.  No more prophets or priests.  With Jesus’ arrival, God has chosen a better way to not only save man but also, a better way to communicate with man.

Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death, man is now “acceptable in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6) and “reconciled to God” (Col. 1:19-20).  In our new position in Christ, we regain access to the Father, just as we had in the Garden of Eden.  We can come “boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy” (Heb. 4:16) without the need of mediators like the prophets or priests.

Last days, in this text, could be interpreted as either the end to following Judaism by the Hebrews or the end of time as we know it.  While there are several views as to when the last days began, we know that Jesus is Alpha and Omega (Rev.1:8).

Barriers to hearing God speak

Barriers to hearing God speak can be either external or internal.

Externally we are confronted by the “noise” of the 21st century.  The challenges and stresses of everyday living battle for both our time and our attention.  With the advent of the coronavirus, our homes are the new marketplace for live streaming, social media platforms and video gaming.  Technology and innovation are our new distractions.

Internally, we have developed habits of behavior that often hinder our ability to hear God speak.  These include busyness, unbelief, and sin.  For some of us, COVID-19 has interrupted our ability to “assemble together” (Heb. 10:25).  This adds to our difficulty in hearing God clearly.

Ears to hear

Be assured, God continues to speak today!    “Are we listening?”  As we begin this study in Hebrews with its spiritual warnings for 21st century living, let us pray for ears to hear.  Why?

Because of the excellence and superiority of Jesus Christ.   Having received the gospel of salvation, we, like the Hebrews, “ought to give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard (Heb. 2:1).

Is God really in control? Man’s free will versus God’s sovereignty

Last week we discussed man’s responsibility in light of God’s sovereignty.  I put forth the thought that although God is all powerful, everywhere present, and knowing all things, we are expected to act prudently and biblically responsible (Titus 2:11-12).

We, as believers, are to use the resources available to us to accomplish the purpose and plan of God.  This includes our gifts and talents.  This mindset of acting responsibly begins with the conscious choices we make through our free will (Gal. 6:7-8).

While mindful of the theological discussions on the relationship between God’s sovereign plan of salvation and man’s free will, they will not be addressed in today’s teaching.  For those interested in pursuing this area further, I have included this reference to begin your personal study and for follow-up discussions with your pastor.

What is free will?

What is free will and how does it fit with God’s exercise of sovereignty?   Free will simply put is having the “freedom to choose”.  When God created man in His own image (Gen. 1:26-27), He empowered him with a gift that no other creature possessed. Man could operate under his own volition (the faculty or power of using one’s will).

Webster defines freedom as not under the control or in the power of another.  It denotes one’s personal sovereignty with the right of self-determination and self-expression.  Will in the Hebrew language is most often used to define the inner man.  It includes the soul—mind, will, and emotions (heart).

Adam and Eve chose to exercise their personal sovereignty and pursued their soul’s desire.  It is here that the core of sin began in the independent use of mind and will to choose what was good and what was evil (Gen. 3:5,22).

It is not surprising (and with intention) that God included these core elements of the soul in His great commandment (Deut. 6:4-5):  “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  Isn’t it remarkable that love for God had to be “commanded”?

Free will—not force

God does not force us to follow Him.  However, God’s plan will be accomplished either with us or without us.  God may even choose to use another means by which to accomplish His plan.  But His plan and purpose will be achieved (Is. 23:9).  Remember the icebergs?

While we are working in the external realm, God is exercising His authority, in both the external and eternal realm to bring into fruition His plan resulting in His glory and our good (Is. 14:27).  As the noted writer and theologian A.W. Tozer noted, “God’s plan will continue on God’s schedule.”

Choice not coercion

God’s placement of His image in man demonstrated His great love for His creature.  Mankind was the apex of His creation.  The result of this unique relationship was to have been God living in unbroken fellowship with man and man loving God.

However, “The God-who-Sees” must have known that with the gift of free will would also come the risk of a “divided heart” (1 Kings 18:21; 1 Sam. 7:3).  Adam and Eve chose “free will” over God.  The reality that began in the Garden is the same reality we must acknowledge in 2020—alignment with God’s sovereign will is really a matter of choice.

Our Free Will-Our Choice

After contrasting man’s free will with God’s sovereignty, my takeaway is to be more intentional and prudent in the choices I make.  My choice—large or small—is a reflection of how much I love and trust God.  It is my acknowledgement of God’s wisdom, love, and sovereignty.

Abdicating my will to God is not based on coercion or fear.  It is “freely given” to the one whose image I bear (1 Cor. 15:49) and who gave His life for me (John 3:16).

As in every area of our life, Jesus is our supreme example of perfect obedience to the will of God without the lessening of personal choice.  Although Jesus was fully aware of His purpose and the outcome of His life, He still prays in Gethsemane, “Father, if thou art willing remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)   Let all the redeemed of the Lord follow Jesus’ example.

Is God really in control? Man’s responsibility versus God’s sovereignty

God's sovereignty vs Man's responsibility

What is man’s responsibility in light of God’s supreme authority and power over everything?  Does God’s predetermined plan and purpose negate man’s responsibility to move forward with his own personal plans?  Where does God’s sovereignty end and man’s responsibility begin?

These are questions that have been debated for centuries among many great theologians and dedicated scholars.  Today we will begin to explore how to better operate (cooperate) within the sovereign rule of God.

Defining man’s Responsibility

How we define our responsibility in light of God‘s sovereignty is often shaped by one of two common views.  One view holds the belief that man has no role and therefore, no responsibility.  This belief contends that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable regardless of what man does.

This is seen as a somewhat fatalistic view with a submissive outlook.  Man is seen as a mere “puppet” in accomplishing God’s sovereign plan and purpose.  If this were true, why then would God created us with free will?  (Next week’s discussion)

Another view of responsibility

Another view is the belief that although God is sovereign, man does retain responsibility for his life.  Through use of our gifts and talents, by our response to trials and tribulation, through the choices we make, we are continually (perhaps unknowingly) participating with the Creator as He executes His plan and purpose.

This partnership can be illustrated by how icebergs move.

In the frigid waters around Greenland are countless icebergs, some little and some gigantic. If you’d observe them carefully, you’d notice that sometimes the small ice floes move in one direction while their massive counterparts flow in another. The explanation is simple. Surface winds drive the little ones, whereas the huge masses of ice are carried along by deep ocean currents. When we face trials and tragedies, it’s helpful to see our lives as being subject to two forces—surface winds and ocean currents. The winds represent everything changeable, unpredictable, and distressing. But operating simultaneously with these gusts and gales is another force that’s even more powerful. It is the sure movement of God’s wise and sovereign purposes and the deep flow of His unchanging love.[1]

Sovereignty and Pray

While we may feel incapable of fully understanding God’s plan, He has revealed what we need to know to move forward in our lives.  While the secret things belong to God, the revealed things belong to us—to guide our behaviors and actions (Deut. 29:29).  One of the areas God has revealed to us is our responsibility to pray.

Believers are biblically instructed to pray (Rom. 12:12).  We are even directed for whom we are to pray—our leaders, our enemies, and the unsaved.  We often close our prayer recognizing the sovereignty of God with the pronouncement, “Thy will be done” (Matt. 6:10).

Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God.  If God is not sovereign, we have no assurance that He is able to answer our prayers.  It is in our prayers that we proclaim the power and ability of God to accomplish that which we are praying (1 John 5:14-15).  Prayer is the expression of our trust in God’s sovereignty.  It is our responsibility to pray.

Sovereignty and Prudence

We as believers are also responsible to act with prudence. I never fully appreciated this word until I understood its use in the context of God’s sovereignty.  Though not frequently highlighted in the biblical text, its application is noteworthy in both the Old and New Testament record.

In the framework of God’s sovereignty, prudence is the “use of all legitimate, biblical means at our disposal to avoid harm to ourselves and others AND to bring about what we believe to be the right course of events.”[2]

In the King James translation, prudence is used on three occasions.  Prudence—good sense and insight—is attributed to Solomon for his ability to accomplish the building of the temple in Jerusalem.  (2 Chron. 2:12).  In Proverbs 8:12, wisdom is said to dwell together with prudence—both important for knowledge and discretion.  The Apostle Paul includes prudence—knowledge and holy love of the will of God—as one of the spiritual blessings received by believers as a result of being in Christ (Eph. 1:8).   It is our responsibility to practice prudence.

Do Our Part

Although we recognize the reality that we operate within God’s sovereign purpose and plan, it does not negate our responsibility to “do our part”.  It is with the knowledge of God’s sovereignty that we are to take action with the specific means provided to us to address the situations in our life.   This includes both prayer and prudence.

    • Peter and John though directed by Jesus to “preach to all nations” when threatened by the Jewish Sanhedrin prayed that God would “enable then to speak with boldness” (Acts 4:24, 28-29).
    • Nehemiah saw God sovereignly position Israel to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem, yet he posted guards day and night (Neh. 4:7-9) and insured his workers were armed as they worked (Neh. 4:16-20).
The Bottom-line

As believers, we cannot use the sovereignty of God as an excuse not to actively engage in the challenges and opportunities God presents in our lives. God’s sovereignty by no means negates our responsibility to use every means at our disposal to promote the right outcomes.  Those outcomes should be based on what God reveals to us through His Spirt and His Word.  These are proven principles by which we can align with and serve the purpose of God. 

Lastly, when we feel as though we are drifting without purpose and direction, remember the “icebergs”.  They operate simultaneously with gusts and gales AND with another force that’s even more powerful.  We too operate simultaneously—by God’s sovereign purpose AND by our moral responsibility as He works in the ordinary circumstances of our lives (Rom. 8:28).

[1]   Contributor unknown

[2]  Jerry Bridges, Is God Really in Control:  Trusting God in a World of Hurt

Is God really in control? Why now?

God is sovereign

Why now?  Why are we studying the sovereignty of God?  Because we have questions!  What is the future of this nation?  Who is best equipped to lead us in this “new normal” world we find ourselves?  How are we to move forward through this health pandemic and social unrest?  Does anyone have a plan?

Because we have these questions, it is timely to share a truth that will encourage us during this period of uncertainty and turmoil.  It doesn’t seem like anyone has the answers nor is anyone able to guarantee success.

While all this may be true of humanity and our current institutions, the Creator of heaven and earth (Ps. 19:1-6) knows the answers for all our questions.  Who then is in a better position to provide us with the answers we need?  God is sovereign and He has always had a plan for mankind.  What we are experiencing right now is part of that plan.

Knowing God is the “why now”

It is important to continually reinforce our knowledge of who God is.  Knowing God is foundational in securing our trust and our confidence (Ps. 27:1-3).  This is especially true during difficult times when fear and doubt challenge our faith.  When that happens, we can stand firmly on what we know about God and those things which He has revealed to us.

Those things God reveals to us can answer persistent questions concerning not only our life but the lives of those around us, including our nation.   How we respond to things revealed become the entry point for God to provide His power, His provision, and His presence.

The Call for Understanding God’s Sovereignty

In his book, The Sovereignty of God, A.W. Tozer, pastor, author, and spiritual mentor, cries out for renewed understanding of God’s sovereignty.

Present day conditions call loudly for a new examination and new presentation of God’s omnipotence, God’s sufficiency, God’s sovereignty. From every pulpit in the land it needs to be thundered forth that God still lives, that God still observes, that God still reigns. Faith is now in the crucible; it is being tested by fire, and there is no fixed and sufficient resting-place for the heart and mind but in the throne of God. What is needed now, as never before, is a full, positive, constructive setting forth of the Godhead of God. 

 It is in the context of God’s sovereignty that we can manage our fears and minimize our anxieties.  The uncertainties and insecurities we experience today can now be transferred to God who is the only one who can do something about them (2 Cor. 12:9).

Moving from head to heart

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the sovereignty of God (and you know I love nuts and bolts), it is important to remind ourselves that what we learn about God is not to be reduced to “mere academics”.

We must apply this truth (as with all truth) not only to our minds but also to our hearts.  If we do the former without the latter, we might know that God is sweet but we will never taste His sweetness (Ps. 34:8).

Defining the Sovereignty of God

Sovereignty is the full right and power of a governing body over itself, without any interference from outside sources or bodies.[1] In political theory, sovereignty is a functional term designating supreme legitimate authority over some political entity. It is the ultimate overseer, or authority, in the decision-making process of the state and in the maintenance of order.[2] 

The sovereignty of God refers to His position of supreme authority and power.  He rules over and owns everything because He made everything.  Much like man’s sovereignty, God has legitimate authority over His universe.  As the sovereign One, God has a predetermined plan and purpose for everything that happens in that universe.  Not only does He have a plan (Ep. 1:11) but God oversees and makes decisions which fulfill His divine plan.  God upholds all things and all things owe their existence to Him (Heb. 1:3).[3]

The Right to Supreme Authority

God’s sovereignty is a natural consequence of His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence.  God is described in the Bible as all-powerful and all-knowing (Psalm 147:5), outside of time (Exodus 3:14; Psalm 90:2), and responsible for the creation of everything (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1). These divine traits set the minimum boundary for God’s sovereign control in the universe, which is to say that nothing in the universe occurs without God’s permission.

God has the power and knowledge to prevent anything He chooses to prevent, so anything that does happen must, at the very least, be allowed by God. When we speak of the sovereignty of God, we mean He rules the universe.  The debate begins when and where His control is direct and when it is indirect.  This will be explored at a later time.

God’s Plan Unfolding in His Sovereignty

With everything that is occurring in our nation and our cities, it’s easy to wonder if God really cares about us.  There are those who have a cartoonish view of God’s sovereignty.

God’s relationship with His creation is pictured as “a man viewing an ant in a fish bowl”.  He is seen as distant, detached, and disconnected.  That may be how we feel as we view the world around us today.  But as I stated at the beginning of this teaching, God has a plan.

The Triune God orchestrated their plan before the creation of the world.  That redemptive plan (Rom. 5:2) has been unfolding through the history of mankind and continues even today in the 21st century.

As chronicled from Genesis to Revelation, God has an eternal plan that restores man’s fellowship with God by the creation of an escape from death’s curse (Romans 5:2) and the rediscovery of the spiritual life.  It is God’s plan to bring mankind to Himself (Eph. 1:7-11) and ultimately to a new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1).

It is by His divine power and gracious will that we live, and move, and have our meaning (Acts 17:28).  Knowing God is sovereign is enough to give us a good hope (2 Thess. 2:16).  It is enough to assure us of our future well-being (Jer. 29:11).

[1] Wikipedia

[2] Britannica.com

[3] Insight for Living Canada

 

 

The Voice of the Good Shepherd

“When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” John 10:4 (NIV)

It is God’s desire to speak to His children.  As we’ve discussed, God speaks in a number of ways.  In the past, He spoke through the prophets.  In our lives, God speaks through circumstances, including closed doors and even in His silence.

Hebrew 1:2 states that:  “God has spoken to us in these last days through His Son Jesus Christ”.  Jesus’ incarnation became the anointed vehicle by which God would reveal not only His plan of salvation but also Who He was.  In His teachings, Jesus would disclose to believers that God not only listens to their cry but also speaks to them through both their expressed and unspoken needs. We complete this series, When God Speaks, by focusing on the believer’s need to listen for God voice as Jesus teaches about the “Good Shepherd”.

In John 10, Jesus launches a scathing charge against the religious leaders of that day.  Instead of caring for the people, like a true shepherd, they would perpetrate theft and abuse against the most vulnerable of the community. They are described in this illustration as thieves, robbers (John 10:1) and hirelings (John 10:1; 12, 13).  Jesus uses this familiar occupation to illustrate to His disciples, and us, an important fact about followers of Christ—they know His voice.

Followers of Christ know His voice.  He “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3).  To call His sheep by name infers a personal relationship with the Good Shepherd.  As He approaches, the sheep “hear His voice” and prepare to respond to His lead.  We must be prepared to hear Jesus’ voice as we move through the busyness of our daily lives.  These activities, though necessary, often deprive us of important time to receive God’s guidance and instruction for the “sheep of His pasture” (Ps. 100:3).

Followers of Christ know His voice.  They know His voice through experiencing His love.  He first loved us (1 John 4:19) and gave himself as a ransom for all men (1Tim. 2:6). The hireling doesn’t care about the sheep—he flees when trouble (the wolf) draws near.  God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners, He died for us (Rom. 5:8).

Followers of Christ know His voice.  They do not know a stranger’s voice (John 10:4, 5) and therefore, will not follow them. The voice of the stranger represents the world and its trappings.  The stranger attempts to lure followers of Christ away from the safety and the will of the Good Shepherd.  However, even if the sheep goes astray, they can be  assured that He will come to find them (Luke 15:4-6).

The Good Shepherd still calls out today. It is up to each of His “sheep” to listen for His voice.   This can be accomplished by reading His Word and spending time in prayer and meditation.  The 23rd Psalm is the most familiar and most popular of the Psalms; this is because of the reassurance and comfort individuals receive while reading it.  Jesus’ presence as the Good Shepherd promises provision, rest and restoration, and protection (Ps. 23:4).  Take a spiritual break and read the 23rd Psalm.  Listen for His voice—He’s calling your name.

SELAH:  Read the 23rd Psalm and visualize yourself as an actual sheep in God’s flock.  Write down the things God says to you as a result of doing this exercise.

Closed Doors

“The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them,

for the LORD has told you, ‘You are not to go back that way again.’ ” Deut. 17:16 (NIV)

My favorite aunt gave me a small wood plaque to hang on the wall in my office. On it are written these words, “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” The inference is that God in His wisdom and providence will always provide a “way” for us.  God’s way sometimes involves closed doors.  This week we continue our series, “When God Speaks.”  God speaks volumes when He closes doors.  Ever ask yourself, “What is God saying?”

Closed doors often lead to new opportunities in our lives. Closed doors force us to try new options, meet new people, and exercise spiritual gifts and talents that may never have been used. Joseph faced many closed doors in his life. The first door closed when his brothers sold him into slavery; the second door slam in his face when Potiphar’s had him falsely imprisoned. The final door, he thought, shut tight when the cup bearer forgot him for two years. Though the closed doors were first “used for evil, God used them for good.” (Gen. 50:20)

Closed doors result in the strengthening of two important spiritual muscles–“trusting by faith” and “learning to wait.” In Hebrews 11 we see the “Faith Hall of Fame”, made up of those individuals who trusted God even when the doors appeared closed. (Hebrews 11:4-31) Though the closed doors were first viewed as obstacles, they trusted in God’s promises and waited … even unto death. The results were both rewards and “great faith.”

Closed doors position us to accomplish God’s purpose and plan for kingdom building. The Holy Spirit forbade Paul to preach the word in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). God had a different plan for Paul that would first take the gospel to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10).  Though this door was first viewed as a detour from proclaiming the gospel, God expanded Paul’s ministry beyond anything he could have imaged; his Epistles would become part of Holy Scripture, read and preached in countries around the world.

In the game show, “Let’s Make a Deal,” contestants choose from “prize doors” that offer either a rich reward or an ugly, disgusting “zonk”. Knowing this, contestants must choose to open the right door and leave others closed. Our omniscient God doesn’t operate like this game show. Whenever God speaks through a closed door, we can be assured it will lead to our good and His glory.

SELAH:  What door has God recently closed in your life?  What was He saying to you in that action?

God Speaks Through Circumstances

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Romans 8:28-29 (NRS)

 

In our culture, it is not unusual for people to greet one another with the inquiry, “How are you?”  In response, a multitude of replies are available but my favorite is, “I doing fairly well under the circumstances.”  This is my opportunity to respond, “Why are you under your circumstances and what are you doing to get back on top?”  Circumstances are conditions or facts that affect a situation.  These can be either positive or negative.  They define a state in which an individual, group, or even a nation may find itself.  This week we will explore how God speaks to us through circumstances.

There are many biblical examples that illustrate how God used circumstances to speak to His people.  Circumstances dictated that Moses would be set adrift in the Nile.  It was there that he would be found by the king’s daughter and adopted into the royal household by the ruling Pharaoh (Ex. 2:1-10). God later spoke to Moses after his 40-year circumstance and re-directed him to deliver Israel from bondage.   In the book of Acts, we find God speaking to the early church by using the political and social circumstances around them.  Jesus had clearly articulated the scope of the church’s ministry:  “and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  While it was within their “comfort zone” to stay in Jerusalem, God spoke through the circumstance of persecution to move the gospel to a larger audience.   Throughout the Bible we find God speaking to people through special favor, through personal loss, or through miraculous deliverance.  God spoke to them through their circumstances.

God still speaks today through circumstances.  He will use conditions and situations from our everyday life to place us in a position to hear His voice.  Does God create circumstances to make us do His will?  No, God has created us as freewill agents and desires that we choose to live within His divine plan. But God will allow circumstances to flow into our life to accomplish His glory and our good (Rom. 8:24).  In addition, to conform us to the image of Christ, God will permit circumstances in our lives that will mature us and grow our faith (1 Pet. 1:5-7).  What may appear at first to be a “stumbling block” may, in actuality, turn out to be a “stepping stone”.  God speaks through closed doors as well as opened doors; through delayed prayers as well as answered ones.

As believers proceed in this Christian walk, we must remember that the intent of our life is to glorify God and to accomplish His purpose on earth (2 Cor. 5:15). That’s why it is important to be intentional in prayer and reading God’s Word especially during difficult and challenging times, regardless of the circumstance (Phil. 4:6-13).

Also read:  Divine Inquiry

As we develop our personal relationship with God, we will understand that He loves us and can be trusted with every aspect of our life. Then circumstances will not overcome us nor will we live “under them” (1 John 4:4).

SELAH:  Think about a time when you were “under your circumstances”.  What was God saying to you?

The Word of the Lord Came

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways.” Heb. 1:1 (NIV)

It’s not unusual for companies to employ individuals to interface with the public to share information about their company and its activities.  Countries appoint ambassadors to communicate their foreign policies and opinions with regard to world events.  In this nation, it is the presidential press secretary who frequently convenes press conferences with the media to communicate key messages from the White House.  Such positions, though not unusual, pale in comparison with a special groups of individuals called by God to speak His Word.  As we continue our teaching series, “When God Speaks”, we focus that unique group, the Old Testament prophets.

The Nation.  The people of Israel had become a nation.  They had been redeemed from slavery in Egypt and given the Law to guide their activities as God’s chosen people (Deut. 7:7-9).  God fully expected them to be committed to a life of obedience to those laws and to honor the “call” He had made on their life.  Unfortunately Israel constantly fell down in their calling.  God’s Law no longer proved effective in shaping Israel and the society in which they lived.

Also Read:  “Why Did God Choose Israel as His Chosen People?”

The Need.    The people’s slackness had grown into forgetfulness (Deut. 8:11-14).  Sometimes the fault was a result of the wrong priorities.  Other times, the people had allowed themselves to be pulled into the culture and worldview of their times, resulting in idolatry and sinful practices.  Even the nation’s religion was corrupted into “non-moral ritualism”—“having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5).

The Notice.  The prophets were men raised up by God to put Israel on notice—they were to return to God or suffer the consequences.  In examination of both the Major and Minor Prophets, God’s message remained consistent and sure:  The Lord is Ruler of all history and He calls all to repentance. The prophets’ pronouncements always included a blend of judgement and hope, reflecting God’s heart and His desire that all would come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).  If Israel repented and returned, God would extend mercy and receive them to Himself once again.

The prophets did not share in their writings much about how they received their instructions from God.  We simply read:  “Thus says the Lord” or “the Word of the Lord came” (Jer.47:1; Ezek. 17:1; Zech. 8:1).  Came translates the Hebrew verb “to be” meaning “the word of the Lord became a living, present reality.”    In examining the historical books of the Old Testament and other writings from ancient historians, i.e., Josephus, Philo, it is clear that, when God spoke, things happened.

So how does God speaking through the Old Testament prophets relate to us living in the 21st century? My first observation is that for both believers and unbelievers, the view of our current world strongly resembles that expressed in “The Need.”   For believers, God still expects those He has chosen (Ep. 1:4-5) to follow His Word.  It is God’s moral instruction for living; for by it we are both warned and blessed (Ps. 19:11).  Old Testament prophecy provides for believer’s “blessed assurance” that God is still sovereign ruler of all history, including the 21st century.   For the unbeliever, the words of the prophets offer an opportunity for restoration with the God who sees and knows all—in time and in eternity.  For the unbeliever, it’s time to “come and see” Jesus (John 4:29) and accept His offer of salvation.  When God spoke through the prophets, His Word did not return “void” but accomplished all that it was sent to do (Is. 55:11). Even today it is still critical to listen as God speaks through His prophets.

SELAH:  The Old Testament prophets spoke of the salvation we have received.  Read 1 Peter 1:10-12.

God Speaks–Are You Listening?

For He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.  Psalm 95:7-8 (NIV)

God speaks.  For many people this is hard to understand and even more difficult for others to believe.  I’m often asked, “How do I know if God spoke to me?”   In response to that question, we will begin a new study series entitled, “When God Speaks.”  As believers, “the people of God’s pasture”, we believe that God does speak to us.  The more appropriate question is, “are we listening?”

Our belief in God’s speaking is sometimes tied to “false narratives” (wrong tapes playing in our head) about Who God is.  Some see God as an indifferent creator looking down on us ready to punish us for doing wrong.  Others see God as a benevolent grandfather patiently waiting to indulge our every need.  Unfortunately both views are incorrect.   Who is God and why does God want to speak to us?

First, God wants to be in relationship (not religion) with us (Isa. 49:15-16).  When we spend time with Him, we begin to understand the love He has for us.  During those intimate moments together, we discover His ways (how He operates in the world) and His paths (how He operates in our individual lives).  (Ps. 25:4-5)

Secondly, God desires that we live free from the bondage of sin (Heb. 2:14-15).  Satan and the world want to keep us in darkness through lies.  These lies result in guilt, shame, and fear.   God, however, wants us to know the truth—His truth concerning our identity (heirs of God and children of light) and our destiny (eternity with Him).  It is this truth that sets us free (John 8:32).

Lastly, God longs for us to walk in the purpose He has ordained for our lives (Jer. 29:11).   We are God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10) created for “good works” which include service to others.   True joy in the Christian life is found in discovering the plans that God has for our lives.  All things are possible with God (Mar. 10:27).

Although God desires to speak to believers, we have, unfortunately, developed “habits of behavior” that often hinder our ability to hear Him clearly.  As we move through life, we have, metaphorically, “gotten on the wrong BUS”—a bus that frequently takes us away from God and toward the things of the world.    

Busyness robs us of both energy and our ability to hear.  Busyness most often is the result of wrong priorities.  As a rule, we place importance on the things we value.  Hearing from God deserves first priority. It’s hard to hear God when you’re multitasking; He gets caught between our thoughts and His voice becomes “muted”.

Unbelief houses all the lies we hold about ourselves and about God.  We believe that God speaks to others but not us.  We attribute this excuse to “being humble” but in reality we don’t believe that God is (His existence) or God can (His power) or God will (His promises)—so why talk to Him?  There is always a “lie” in unbelief.

Self (sin, too) keep us from hearing from God.  This happens when “self” (versus God) rules our life—self-righteousness, self-esteem, self-sufficiency, self-promotion.  When self is on the “throne of our heart”, God finds no place for Him to sit (except on the outside).  Sin separates us from a holy God.  When sin dominates our life, God won’t talk or listen (Gen. 17:1).  This condition, however, can be corrected (1 John 1:9).

Bob Sorge offers these thoughts concerning hearing God’s in his book, Secret of the Secret Places.

Hearing the voice of God is largely a matter of the will.  We must choose to hear Him.  We must make the choice of setting aside time to listen quietly.  This hearing is a today thing that we do.  Hearing His (God’s) voice is conditional—built upon the condition of quieting out hearts to listen.”

Want to hear God speak?  Begin “today” spending time at least 15 minutes per day reading God’s Word and listening for His voice.  Journal what God tells you!  Make the choice to get off the BUS!

SELAH:    What are the things that interfere with your hearing God speak?

IS GOD SPEAKING IN THE MIDST OF ALL THE SOCIAL UNREST?  YES! READ “DISCOVERING GOD IN THE PSALMS: THE SILENCE OF GOD”