Friday, February 15, 2013

I Resolve to Listen to God's Voice: A Sermon

Please open your bibles to 2 Peter 1:12-21. Last week as part of our  “I Resolve to…” series we examined the first half of 2 Peter 1 and made new year’s resolutions to be spiritually strong. Today we’ll look at the second half of 2 Peter 1 as we resolve to listen to God’s Voice. Again, our reading today comes from 2 Peter 1:12-21, I encourage you to follow along in your bibles as we listen to God’s voice for us today.

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. 16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. 19 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

 This is God’s Voice, the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. As we examine our text, we begin with verses 12-15 and if you read closely in this paragraph you’ll notice some repetition and of course whenever an author, a speaker, a pastor, or your spouse repeats themselves – it’s important. What is it that Peter repeats in verses 12-15? Sometimes it’s helpful to highlight the repetitions you come across when you’re reading the bible. I encourage you to do that, highlight in your bible. You can always tell someone who has been deeply listening to God’ voice in Scripture by looking at their personal bible and seeing all the marks, the notes, and the highlights that are in there. If you don’t own a bible, feel free to highlight and mark in one from the pews and take it home with you. So what is it that is repeated in verses 12-15? Peter is emphasizing remembering. We are to Remember and be Reminded of God’s Voice in our lives. By the way do you remember the things that Pastor Michael preached on last week? The things that Peter mentioned in the first part of this chapter? The foundation is faith and to faith we are to add…goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. Isn’t it good to be reminded of such things? And remember the metaphor of the gardening – the watering, fertilizing, protecting, pruning and weeding of our spiritual lives. Isn’t it good to be reminded of such things? Do you have a good way to remember and be reminded of God’s voice? As we cultivate our spiritual lives, do we have some reminders set into place so we know it’s time to water, it’s time to prune, it’s time to listen to God’s voice? It may be as simple as setting an alarm on a phone or a task in a calendar once a day, set one right now for this afternoon or this evening, to give a reminder to pause for a moment. In my blog post for his week I’ve written a little about some of the amazing technologies we have on the internet, on our phones, that can be used as aids to help remind us to take moments to listen to God’s voice, to cultivate our spiritual lives, and I really encourage either at the blog or on our facebook page, or on your comment card to share some of the resources that have personally helped you in remembering and being reminded of God’s voice in our lives. Now, in our passage who is doing the reminding? Peter is! Peter didn’t have the spiritual accountability app on his iphone but he was willing to invest in the lives of others. He says “I will always remind you…I think it is right to refresh your memory…I will make every effort…” Probably greatest reminder we can have in our lives is a brother or sister in Christ committed to reminding us and holding us accountable for the goals we have in spiritual maturity. There’s a blank there on your page. Write the name of the person who is your accountability partner. The person who knows that they are responsible for reminding you to listen to God’s voice. If you don’t have a name to write, and the blank remains blank, then you have a blank in your life. We are called into the body of Christ, as brothers and sisters who share God’s Spirit, and as our Triune God exists in a fellowship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we also have a blank, a whole in our being, if we aren’t in a single relationship deep enough to remember and remind one another of God’s voice in our lives.

Now you may have noticed, that in this paragraph, Peter refers to his body as a tent, something that is temporary. A tent isn’t a structure that is meant for a permanent dwelling place and Peter recognizes that the time is coming to fold up his tent and enter into a more permanent, eternal dwelling with God. He says that he knows he’ll soon put it aside and talks about his departure. Peter is convinced because he has listened to God, he says Jesus has made this clear to him. Now Peter isn’t talking about his passing to garner sympathy, but rather to emphasize all the more the importance of what he is saying. Have you ever known someone who is convinced that they are passing soon? I have a relative who’s been convinced for the last 10 years they are they on the way out. As a result every so often this relative will give away things to others that they want them to have, that they consider important or meaningful. Peter is giving the most meaningful and important things he has in what he has said so far and what he says in the next verses about God’s voice in his life.

In the remaining verses we can see that we listen to God’s voice through others, ourselves, through Jesus and through the Holy Spirit inspired Scriptures. First we listen to God’s Voice through others who have experienced God. In verse 16, Peter writes that it’s not through cleverly invented stories but that they and others were eyewitnesses who experienced God. People can write some incredible stories. I ran across an article that said the census figures in England and Wales reported that 176,632 people identified themselves as “Jedi Knights” making it the most popular faith in the ‘Other Religions’ category. For those of you unfamiliar a Jedi Knight is a reference to the popular Star Wars movie franchise and while I assume that many of the people who chose Jedi Knight as their religion thought it was funny, there are those who take this cleverly invented story by George Lucas as a religion, a guide to their life, a metaphor for true worship. says “The Jedi Church recognizes that there is one all powerful force that binds all things in the universe together, and accepts all races and species from all over the universe as potential members of the religion. Join the Jedi Church today!” In contrast, Peter writes that it is not on a cleverly invented story that we hear God’s voice, but through Peter’s first-hand experience of God as an eyewitness. In the very beginning of the New Testament Church, Peter and the apostles weren’t trying to sell a philosophy, or a new way to look at the world, they were sharing their personal experience of God. These weren’t clever stories meant to convince people to do whatever the apostles said or to paint a picture of perfect apostles. In fact when we read the New Testament the apostles aren’t painted in a very good light. Peter of course denies Jesus three times, at one point Jesus calls Peter the devil and says “Get me Satan”. In fact on the whole, the disciples are shown in the stories of the gospels to be flawed people, unclever people, who make mistakes, who don’t understand parables, and are lacking in faith. If you were cleverly inventing a story in order to give yourself power, I would advise you to paint yourself in a better light than Peter and the disciples are painted in the New Testament. The fact that these flaws are included in Scripture makes their eyewitness accounts all the more credible. Peter talks about his experience which is recounted in Matthew 17:1-5:

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters-- one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"

Peter had an experience of God. This, in his final days, is what he considers to be of paramount importance. He conveys to others the literal words of God “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Now God could, of course He’s God, speak these words in a miraculous way to everyone in the world right now. But he chooses not to. God chooses to use His people, to be in fellowship with them, to amazingly inhabit them through the Holy Divine Spirit and speaks through their stories and their experiences to each other. If you want to listen to God’s voice, ask others about their experiences with God and then listen. Ask your brothers and sisters in Christ, but also ask those who are spiritual seekers, who have had mountain top experiences that they can’t necessarily qualify or quantify. Really listen. God loves to surprise us, God loves to speak through people to people if we’re open and willing to listen to others.

Secondly we listen to God’s voice through ourselves in moments of clarity. One way to look at this story is that Peter had an experience and he is telling it to us. Another way, is to put ourselves into Peter’s position. Peter is a person, a God seeker, and he says that “We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven.” God speaks to us through others, but also when we make space in our lives to listen to God, He speaks to us. Peter himself hears a voice, God’s voice, from heaven on a mountain top with Jesus. Now there aren’t a lot of mountaintops, here in Florida, but if you get a chance to find a mountaintop those are really good places to talk and listen to God. Jesus himself goes to pray and the places that are mentioned in the bible are a mountain, the wilderness and a deserted place. We listen to God through others who have experienced God, but we can also put ourselves into Peter’s shoes, as flawed as we are because he too was flawed, if we make space in our lives to listen to God. In addition to the space, the separateness, the set apartness of the mountain, it’s also important to note that it matters who Peter is with and namely he is with Jesus. God has chosen to speak through and use Jesus as the way, the truth and the light. God speaks and says This is my Son, whom I love, with Him I am well pleased…” And then he says what? “Listen to Him!” When I first became a believer, I didn’t really understand why there was all this hubbub, this clamor about Jesus. Couldn’t we just connect and listen to God? As I read the Bible and believed the eye witness accounts, I began to understand how foundational Jesus is to listening to God’s voice. This is Peter’s real message here: Jesus is the Son of God. There is this unique connection between God and Jesus. If you have been trying to listen to God, if you want to hear Him speak to you personally in a moment of clarity, I really encourage you to invite Jesus into conversation and as God said “Listen to Him!” Pastor Benita, who is speaking at tomorrow night’s Oasis service pointed me to an article on CNN’s religion blog. The writer has “for the last 10 years… been doing anthropological and psychological research among …the sort of people who seek a personal relationship with God and who expect that God will talk back. For most of them, most of the time, God talks back in a quiet voice they hear inside their minds, or through images that come to mind during prayer. But many of them also reported sensory experiences of God. They say God touched their shoulder, or that he spoke up from the back seat and said, in a way they heard with their ears, that he loved them. Indeed, in 1999, Gallup reported that 23% of all Americans had heard a voice or seen a vision in response to prayer.” God can and does speak to us when we make space in our lives and come to Him through Jesus.

Lastly, we listen to God’s voice through God’s Son and God’s Spirit in History. In the final verses, Peter says not only do you have the voices of others, eyewitness, not only do I have my own personal moment of clarity, but we also have the Word of the prophets. Prophets, not primarily as people who tell the future, but people who God has spoken through in the past through the Holy Spirit. This is truly the source, the foundation, the primary way in which we hear God’s voice.

Peter writes that prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Scripture, or prophecy, is a mysterious place where the divine voice of God intersects the lives and very human voices of particular people. Scripture is entirely human, written by people, and it is entirely divine as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. The imagery of being carried along is like that of a sailboat which we can all relate to as we see them all time in these parts. The sailboat doesn’t move itself but is carried along by the wind, so also these prophets who wrote scripture are animated and carried along by the Spirit as they were inspired to write the words of God. Just as Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, so also Scripture is fully human and fully divine – both a wonderful mystery, both the Word of God. To be clear, I believe, as Peter does, that these words are inspired, but let me also be clear that you don’t have to believe it’s inspired to read it. If this is your first time in church, or your first time in a long time, and you feel out of place because you think we are all good people and you are not so good, you need to know you are surrounded by people who have out-sinned you ten to one. Don’t let all these pretty faces fool you. If you haven’t ever read the bible before, if you’re not sure you believe that God speaks through these words and these people, that’s ok. You can still read it. I do hope and pray that you will read this book because it contains truth and the voice of God is in it.

Now, practically speaking, how do we begin listening to God’s voice in this book? First, I want to discourage you from using the random flip the bible open method. Maybe you’ve heard this one before, a guy asks God “What do you want me to do?” and opens his bible at random and picks a verse which reads “And Judas went out and hung himself.” Hmmm, I think I’ll try again. He flips to a different portion of Scripture “Go, thou, and do likewise.” Now it’s perfectly possible that God could use the random flip the bible open method, with God all things are possible, but the Bible was written in complete chapters and complete books for a reason and we have an amazing wealth of resources to help us when we go to God’s voice in Scripture other than the random flip open the bible approach. Some of you may be familiar with these resources, I’ve mentioned some of the online resources in my blog, and again I hope those of you who are tech savvy will share what you’ve discovered with the rest of us, but our own library here at Trinity is an amazing resource. First, are commentaries. Commentaries are the comments of pastors, theologians, and scholars on scriptures. These books here are all the ones we have in our library on the book of Acts – that’s the next series we’re tackling. Some of them are more simple like “Plain talk on Acts” and some are more complicated like John Calvin’s Commentary which has been translated into English. Commentaries are a way we connect with the gifts and the abilities of the Church, the body of Christ, in the past and also gives us the opportunity to connect to a wider range of believers. We not only benefit from their insights, but we also avoid becoming too myopic in our own interpretations. This large book here is called a Concordance. It’s used primarily for keeping heavy doors open. No, seriously, you can look up a word in this book and it will show you every single place in scripture that this word occurred. This last one is a bible, but it’s a study bible so it’s got some comments below the scriptures to help fill in the historical contexts and give us a better understanding of what God is really saying in whatever verses we are looking at. As we gather here this morning we are all in different places in our walk, but I encourage you to take steps in your own life to be more mature in the Word, in your own personal study and use these resources both in libraries and online. Scripture calls us to become fully spiritually mature in Christ, not needing the Word pre-digested for us as a mother bird does for her children, not living on milk but on solid food.

The CNN article I mentioned earlier concludes with this and so do I: “When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. sat at his kitchen table, in the winter of 1956, terrified by the fear of what might happen to him and his family during the Montgomery bus boycott, he said he heard the voice of Jesus promising, “I will be with you.” Imagine for a moment how God might use us as His people if we listen through others, ourselves, through Scripture, and keep reminding one another of God’s voice in our lives.

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