Save the Date – Pulled-Pork Lunch

Sunday, Sept. 8th, 11-1p.m.

Come and try some great smoked pork, and brisket sandwiches. Lunch prices are freewill donations.  Proceeds go towards the Bethany Lutheran Daycare in McCallsburg.

Menu:

  • Baked Beans & Cole Slaw
  • Potato Salad
  • Drinks
  • Dessert

Take outs available.  For more information see the pastor or any of the church council members.  You can also call the church at 515-434-2082 for more information.

Vacation Bible School 2019 Photo Gallery

VBS July 14-18/Church Announcements

MARK YOUR CALENDARS

VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL WILL BE HELD
SUNDAY, JULY 14 – THURSDAY, JULY 18

Supper at 5:30 each night
VBS 6pm-8pm

PLEASE NOTE THESE IMPORTANT SCHEDULE CHANGES:

July 28 Worship will be at 9:00 AM instead of at 9:30 AM. We will be combining our worship service with a send-off breakfast as Pastor Kathy leaves for Estonia.

July 28 will also be a Communion Sunday instead of August 4

FISH & CHICKEN DINNER: Sunday, July 14, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm at the McCallsburg American Legion Hall. Free will donation.

OVERCOMING WORRY, a new booklet from the Our Daily Bread Ministry, offers help to those who routinely battle fear and worry. This little booklet offers a biblical and practical perspective on how we can put our worries to work for us, rather than allowing them to consume us. Available on the table in the narthex; please help yourself.

OUR DAILY BREAD DEVOTIONAL BOOKLETS for June – August are now available on the table in the narthex.

SUNDAY MORNING PRAYER MINISTRY in the Fellowship Room is  again available to all. We encourage everyone to bring their prayer needs to our prayer team.

CONFERENCE ROOM SIGN-UP: Our Conference Room is in high demand on Sunday mornings, so we’re asking you to sign up in the church office if you plan to use that room for a meeting or class to avoid conflicts. Reservations will be on a first come, first serve basis.

NEEDED: One or two volunteers are needed to oversee the church library. If God is calling you to do this, please talk to Pastor Kathy.

NEEDED: Several people to help plan funeral meals. If God is calling you to do this, please talk to Pastor Kathy.

THURSDAY MORNING WOMEN’S BIBLE STUDY begins a new study this week. All women in the congregation are welcome and encouraged to join us at 10:00 AM on Thursday mornings. Come and grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ and with one another.

SUNDAY NIGHT MEN would also welcome additional men to join them at 7:00 PM.

SUNDAY MORNING PRAYER MINISTERS will gather in the Fellowship Room for a time of prayer following our worship service this morning. If you are presently involved in our prayer ministry, or if you would like to be, join us. Anyone in need of prayer is encouraged to come and receive.

“LOOSE CHANGE TO LOOSEN CHAINS: Our 8th grade confirmands are collecting loose change to benefit victims of human trafficking. All proceeds go toward the work of the International Justice Mission. They have set a goal of $3000.00. So far they have collected $2,632.66.

WINGS OF REFUGE CAPITAL CAMPAIGN continues; donations may be made payable to Bethany. Our goal is $4,000.00. To date, we have collected $3,180.00.

How God Speaks To You

My granddaughter has taken to attaching notes to her possessions this summer—notes directed at her five-year-old brother to let him know that she doesn’t want him touching her stuff when she’s not there. A recent note attached to a pack of gum said “Do NOT touch. I mean it!.”

There’s a big problem here that she’s managed to overlook—her brother doesn’t know how to read.

She knows that—and if she thought about it, I’m sure she’d realize that there might be better ways to communicate with her brother. Meanwhile, she thinks that she is communicating with him—because she hasn’t thought about it all from his perspective.

My daughter shared this with me the other day and it immediately made me think about what often seems to happen when we’re trying to communicate with God.

The message isn’t getting through—and the problem, of course, is not God.

Last Sunday I shared with you some of the ways that God has been speaking to me throughout my lifetime. And some of you know exactly what I’m talking about—I know this because you’ve shared with me at various times how God speaks to you. Others of you, however, are still wondering, “Why doesn’t God speak to me like that”?  Some of you have been trying hard to hear from God and are disappointed by the fact that you’re not hearing Him.

I don’t want any of you to go away feeling left out. I don’t want to confuse you—and most of all, I don’t want you to go home feeling that you must be somehow less than fully acceptable to God—or even wondering if you really are a part of the family of God.

Because, as I told you last week, I believe that God speaks to every one of us. But right now Aubrey’s speaking to her brother and he’s not getting the message. And even if he realizes, as he surely does, when he sees her notes, that they were written by Aubrey, he doesn’t understand what they say. And I think this is a good illustration of what sometimes happens to us—God is communicating, but somehow we either don’t understand or we just don’t get the message.

There are a number of reasons why this might happen. One of those reasons is that, for some of us—even those of us who are absolutely certain that we are a child of God, even when we spend a great deal of time in the presence of the Lord—we have been unable to relate our experience of God’s presence in our lives to the idea of God speaking to us. You know that God is at work in your life, you know that He hears you when you talk to Him; what you’re missing is an understanding of how to have a conversational relationship with God.

At least part of the reason for this is probably that some church bodies have failed to teach that a conversational relationship with God is not only possible, but is something that we can and should expect to have. Sadly, the Lutheran Church, along with most other mainline churches, has traditionally been one of those church bodies.

What the Lutheran church has been best known for over the past 500 years is being that part of the church that really upholds and teaches the Bible—at teaching people that we can know and understand God through His written Word. And having a conversational relationship with God cannot replace our study of Scripture—nor is it intended to do so. In fact, probably one of the reasons some of us don’t hear God speaking to us is because we haven’t spent enough time getting to know Him through His written Word. And even when we develop a conversational relationship with God, the Bible is still the best way to test what we’re hearing is really God.

But what if God desires a relationship with His people that involves more than just knowledge of who He is? What if God actually created us to live in ongoing conversation with Him? What if God’s visits with Adam and Eve in the Garden, what if Enoch’s walk with God and the face-to-face conversations between Moses and the Lord were not exceptional moments in the history of mankind? What if instead they are examples of the normal human life God intends for us?

What if Moses was really speaking truth when he said that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3)?

I absolutely believe that this is true. And I believe that Scripture provides a great deal of support for the idea that we should expect God to speak to us on a regular basis.

So my purpose in giving this series of messages is to help you to connect in a more concrete way with Almighty God.

Who among us doesn’t want to do that?

Another reason why so many Christians struggle with this might be because we talk about it so rarely in the church. Perhaps that’s because we know how strange—and even preposterous—this sounds to people who are not Christian. Sometimes even to people who are Christian.

A few years ago, Science magazine reported on an experiment in which eight “fake” patients went undercover, checking themselves into psychiatric hospitals across the country. None of them had any history of mental illness, but they told medical staff that they regularly “heard voices.” Apart from this fabrication they behaved normally and reported honestly their own very normal past experiences and medical histories.

Nevertheless, seven of the eight were diagnosed as schizophrenic—the eighth was diagnosed with “manic-depressive psychosis.” All were hospitalized for up to two months, prescribed antipsychotic medications (which they did not swallow). Once admitted to the mental wards, they continued to speak and behave normally; they reported to medical staff that the voices had disappeared and they felt fine. Some of them even kept notes quite openly on their experiment—which were recorded in nursing notes as “writing behavior.”

The experiment, designed by a Stanford psychologist, found that the single symptom of “hearing voices” could have only one possible explanation in the world of psychiatry—you’re crazy.

Perhaps it is with good reason that we hesitate to speak about experiences of hearing God speak to us.

But when we open our Bibles, we discover that as we read through the Old Testament, God speaks. He speaks a lot to a lot of different people. Maybe we think that God speaks to them because they’re somehow different from us. After all, they’re in the Bible—they’re men and women that we look to as heroes of the faith.  

But what if those people we read about in Scripture aren’t superheroes? What if they’re ordinary men and women just like you and me? What if the interactions we read about between them and God are the same kind of interactions we should expect to experience?

When you read these Old Testament stories, do you try to imagine yourself in the story? Do you think about the different emotions they experienced as they carried out the tasks assigned to them by God? James, the brother of Jesus, writes in James 5:17 that “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”

Imagine why James might have been thinking about Elijah, that great prophet who performed amazing miracles—and who was also terrified by Jezebel, who ran for his life in fear. And who did not die, but was carried up into heaven in a chariot. Imagine how James’ understanding of God must have changed when he finally realized that his older brother Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus, whom he’d interacted with on a daily basis throughout his entire life. Imagine what it was like for him to realize that he’d been talking to God without even realizing it. That his brother Jesus rose from the dead and later ascended into heaven.

What if we looked at Moses and David, at Elijah and Peter and Paul, at Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus—looked at them and saw ordinary people just like you and me? What if we looked at them and realized that if God talked to them, there is no reason why God cannot or will not talk to us.

What if we were to come to recognize that our humanity by itself does not prevent us from knowing and interacting with God in the same ways that they did?

What if we read the Bible with the assumption that the experiences recorded there are basically the same type of experiences we could have had if we had been there? That the emotions experienced by all those ancient people were probably very much the same emotions you and I would have felt had we been there?

And what if this is the way God intends us to read His Word?

What if failure to read Scripture in this very personal way is the reason that so many people see this book as simply a book of rules? A book that is boring? A book of abstract facts about God? A book that doesn’t change their hearts or grow their understanding of who God is?

There are people like that in the Bible—they’re called Pharisees. And it’s when we read the Bible this way that we tend to eventually just stop reading it. Or if we do continue to read it, we view it kind of like taking medicine. It’s supposed to be good for us, so we somehow manage to choke down small doses occasionally.

What if we read the Bible paying close attention to the times when God spoke to His people? How did it happen? What was it like for them? What was it like for Moses to encounter a burning bush that just continued to burn without being consumed and then to hear God speak to him? How do you think Ananias felt when he heard God tell him to go find Saul of Tarsus, that man who was murdering Christians, and lay his hands on him?

What if part of hearing God involves asking Him for the faith and for the experiences that would allow us to believe that such things could actually happen to us?

Let’s walk through one of those stories.

In our Old Testament reading, King Saul is dead—dead, we’re told in I Chronicles 10:14 because “he did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.” So the first thing we learn is that if God’s going to kill somebody for failing to seek His guidance, it must actually be possible to receive that guidance.

The Ark of the Covenant had been stolen by the Philistines twenty years earlier even before Saul became king. But when the Philistines set the Ark up in their temple, they found that their god, Dagon, was continually being knocked to the ground before the Ark. Then the Philistines themselves began to be afflicted with tumors, so they decided the ark had to go. They put it on a new cart, as instructed by their pagan priests, and sent it back to Israel, along with a box of golden mice and golden tumors. The cart ended up at the house of a man named Abinadab, and that’s where the Ark remained until David, the newly crowned king, decided that it needed to come to Jerusalem, which was now the capitol city of Israel.

So David did what we usually do when we have what we think is a great idea. David “consulted with all his officials, including the generals and captains of his army. Then he addressed the entire assembly of Israel …[and said]: “’If you approve and if it is the will of the Lord our God, …”  

Basically what he’s saying is that “if we all agree, then surely it must be God’s will.” And verse 4 says, “The whole assembly agreed.” Now it’s clear that David’s intentions are good. 

So what’s the problem? Nowhere does it say that David “inquired of the Lord.” Instead, he inquired of his officers. Not only did he not inquire of the Lord, he also failed to study God’s written Word. Because in Numbers 4, God gave specific instructions on how to move the Ark. It must always be done by the Levites—and even they are not allowed by God to actually touch the sacred things. Numbers 4:5-7 says that “When the camp moves, Aaron and his sons must enter the Tabernacle first to take down the inner curtain and cover the Ark of the Covenant with it. Then they must cover the inner curtain with fine goatskin leather and spread over that a single piece of blue cloth. Finally, they must put the carrying poles of the Ark in place.”

They carry the Ark with the poles on their shoulders.  David doesn’t pay any attention to any of that—maybe he’s not even aware of God’s instructions to Moses with regard to the Ark. Because he has a better plan—one he learned from the pagan Philistines (2 Samuel 6:3). They moved the Ark by placing it on a new cart, so he decides that’s what he’ll do, too. The problem is that God never said anything about using a cart, new or otherwise. David either didn’t know or didn’t care—he was going to do it his way. And so when the oxen stumbled, Uzzah reached out to prevent the Ark from sliding off the cart. His intentions were good, but like David, he was completely disregarding God’s instructions—and “he died there before God” (I Chronicles 13:10). Right there on the spot.

Imagine that you’re David. What must he have felt seeing Uzzah struck dead on the spot? How must this have affected his ideas about God?

“David was now afraid of God” (I Chronicles 13:12).

Do you think he realized that consulting other people is never a substitute for consulting the Lord God? Did he even understand why Uzzah died?

How often do we do this? How often do we assume that because what we want to do seems good to us, surely God agrees? God had carried David through many difficult times—and David knew it. Could it be that because of his certainty that God was with him, he’d begun to think that God would bless David in all situations?

Don’t we do this? If we’ve heard from God in favorable ways in the past, it can be easy to begin to believe that He’ll always be on our side—when, of course, He makes no such promise. When the preincarnate Jesus, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, appeared to Joshua prior to the battle of Jericho, and Joshua asked him, “Are you friend or foe?” “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army” (Joshua 5:13-14).

God doesn’t favor one person or one army over another. God favors whoever’s obedient to Him. Some of you might think that’s not fair—God doesn’t care. God is God and we are not—we don’t get to make the rules. And we never get to dictate to God what He must do.

“David was now afraid of God” (I Chronicles 13:12). David’s known God all his life. He’s served God all his life. He killed the giant Goliath when he was just a boy. We know that David loves God; we know that David tries hard to keep God’s commands. But until now, there’s no indication that David fears God—at least not the way he fears Him now.

Uzzah died and the Ark was left at the home of Obed-edom for three months. Basically, they left the Ark at the nearest place they could find from where Uzzah died. David and the people with him had seen God’s mighty hand and they couldn’t get away fast enough.

The next thing we know, in chapter 14, “the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over all Israel, and they went up to search for David.”

They’re on their way to Israel to kill David. This time, David talks to God, he asks Him what He should do. And the Lord answered. He didn’t just say, “Yes, David, go out and fight them.” He told David exactly what to do. He gave him detailed instructions—He laid out a battle plan. David listened and obeyed and was victorious.

When Uzzah died, “David was afraid of God” (13:12). Now, when David listens to God and follows His instructions, 14:17 says that “the Lord caused all the nations to fear David.”

So we see that God talks directly to His people, instructing them as to what they should do. And when they listen and follow His instructions, things go well. When Joshua went out to fight his first battle against Jericho, God told him exactly what to do and how to do it. Joshua listened and the Israelites were victorious.

But there’s more to the story. Because years earlier, when Saul became the first king of Israel, I Samuel 10 tells us that God sent the Spirit of the Lord upon Saul and turned him into another man, gave him a new heart.

And when Saul went out to fight the Philistines, the prophet Samuel gave him specific instructions from God. Saul, however, paid no attention—he had his own ideas and he did what seemed best to him. God was so angry that He rejected Saul. Samuel told Saul in I Samuel 15:23 “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.”

Perhaps God was testing David in the same way that he’d tested Saul. David passed the test—only after his failure to inquire of the Lord caused the death of Uzzah.  

And when David went back again to try to move the Ark to Jerusalem, he followed the instructions of the Lord exactly. I Chronicles 16:1 says “And they brought in the ark of God and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it.”

If God cares this much about our obedience, at least sometimes to His exact instructions, He must surely expect that we will seek and be able to hear those instructions.

It appears from this, and many other stories, that God wants to be in relationship with His people in a way that’s more like a friendship or family than it is like just one person—God—taking care of our needs. At the same time, God insists that we remember that He is holy. Holy far beyond anything we can understand. We see this in the way that He interacts with people from Adam to Abraham, Isaiah, Nehemiah, his brother James. 

We have thousands of years of evidence that God invades human personality and history on a one-to-one basis.  And not just in the Bible: we see Augustine, regarded by many as second only to the apostle Paul in his influence on the church. Augustine lived in the fourth century A.D. and spent the early years of his life engaged in wild living. His mother, a devout Christian, was praying for him, and one day, he said that as he sat in his garden, he “heard from a neighboring house the voice of a child saying, “take up and read.” “Take up and read.” Over and over again. He couldn’t identify the child’s voice and he couldn’t think of any children’s game that used those words; finally he decided that it was a command from God. So he opened a Bible and began to read—and immediately he was transformed, becoming one of the greatest and most influential of all Christians.

And then there’s Martin Luther, John Wesley, D. L. Moody, Mother Teresa, and Billy Graham, all of whom heard the voice of God—to name just a few.

Some of you might be thinking, “But they’re all giants of the faith. I’m just an ordinary person. I’m not important enough for God to talk to me.”

What if, instead of thinking that way, you turned to what the Bible says about you. What if you began to consider that if you’re important enough for God to give His Son’s life and then to choose to inhabit your body as a living temple, that surely you are important enough to Him to guide you and speak to you?

It’s not God’s speaking to us that makes us important. His speaking to us simply provides us with greater opportunity to be and to do good as His servants. In fact, if we think that God’s speaking to us makes us important, He’ll probably soon stop speaking. King Saul is a case in point.

So as we seek to hear God, we must do so also seeking the grace of humility. We must refrain from pretending that we’re what we know we are not, from presuming that we are in any way better than anyone else as a result of hearing from God, and from using God’s name to try to push our personal agendas.

Paul warned us that knowledge puffs up but love builds up. This is so even when we are hearing God. The voice of God we seek to hear in the Way of Christ is only one part of a life of humility, power, faith and hopeful love, whose final overall character is life with God as we are embraced by the everlasting arms.

Hearing God

And now, come Holy Spirit, to open our ears to hear whatever it might be that you would have us hear and carry with us as go from this place today.

Life, in many ways, is about living with the consequences of decisions we make. Decisions about who to marry, whether to continue in marriage when times get tough, decisions about our health, our finances, our job, about how to raise our children. About how to deal with the unexpected things life hands us.

The choices we make can have long lasting consequences. Because when we come to those forks in the road that require us to make a decision, choosing one way is, at the same time, rejecting the other way.

This isn’t true just in our personal lives. It’s also true in the church. We’ve made some decisions in this church over the past few years that have brought change, that have required us to do some things differently, even perhaps to change some of the ways we think about things.

So how do we make those decisions? Do we consult family members or close friends? Or do we take it to the Lord in prayer?

All of you probably know that’s what we should be doing. But … some of you are probably thinking right now, “I talk to God but He never talks back. How am I supposed to know what He wants me to do?” Some of you might even be thinking, “Isn’t it kind of presumptuous to think that God cares about the details of my life? Didn’t He give me a brain so I could figure things out on my own?”

To which I would respond: Have you ever considered that it might be more presumptuous and more dangerous to try to make major decisions without hearing God?

Over and over, however, I heard people say, “He doesn’t talk to me.” “I don’t know how to hear Him.”

So why can some people hear God, while others can’t? That’s what we’re going to begin to explore together this morning. How can we hear God?

God has been speaking to me all my life. Usually He speaks to me by speaking words inside my head. Usually in a still, small voice.  I think the first time I actually heard God speak was when I was eight years old and sitting at my desk in my third grade classroom at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Savage, Minnesota. We were in the middle of religion class learning about eternal salvation; and my teacher said that there was only one way to get into heaven—and that way was to be a part of the Roman Catholic Church. And as soon as she she said that, I heard, inside my head, the words, “That’s not right. Don’t believe that.”

I was eight years old. I went to church six days a week: Monday through Friday and Sunday. Always. But I had no idea how to get to heaven – I’m not at all sure I’d ever even thought about it before. I could not possibly, in my own understanding, have known that the Catholic Church wasn’t the gate to eternal salvation. God was speaking to me, but I didn’t know that—I didn’t know how to recognize His voice. I didn’t even know there was any possibility that God might speak to me. We had religion class every day in Catholic school; we used textbooks and workbooks, but we never ever opened the Bible.

Nevertheless, as an adult, I’ve always considered that my departure from the Roman Catholic Church began at that moment in my third grade classroom.

There were other times, in other classrooms, that, inside my head, I would hear the words, “That’s not right.” Sometimes I even thought that voice in my head was saying that God had a plan to use me to help people know what was right.

The fact is, however, that I didn’t really pay much attention to those thoughts. I was surrounded by adults who taught me that eternal salvation was based on going to church, doing good works and being a good person. And, of course, going to confession regularly and then performing the penance assigned by the priest that would ensure my forgiveness. My parents taught me to pray about everything, and to do so with the expectation that God would answer my prayers—prayers to recover lost objects, prayers to resolve difficulties in our lives, prayers for God to be with us in difficult situations. I was strongly encouraged to talk to God about everything—and I did. And while I was totally convinced even as a very young child that God listened when I prayed, and even that He might respond by doing something—showing me where the lost item was, perhaps even changing circumstances—I had not the slightest idea that He might actually speak to me.

Still, despite the fact that I was totally unaware of it, God was at work in my life, opening some doors while closing others. When I was a senior in high school, I was facing one of those important life-changing decisions: what would come next for me? I knew I would go to college, but now I had to decide where. My mother and I visited a number of colleges and I decided that I wanted to attend a small college in Wisconsin. Still, I applied to three or four different schools, mainly to appease my parents and my older brothers. One of them, of course, was the University of Minnesota because that was our family college. It’s where both my mother and my aunt went; and even when we were very young, any time we would drive past the University, my mother would say, “This is where you’ll go to college someday.” My oldest brother had completed his first year at the University before entering the army and being shipped off to Vietnam. Now he was back home and was heading back to the U of M. He thought it would be great if I was there, too.

I wasn’t convinced. Because my family was not wealthy and my siblings and I were all close in age, I knew that my college education would probably need to be funded primarily by me. I had very good grades and I had very high scores on both my ACT and SAT tests, so I expected to receive some scholarship offers. And I did—but it was the University of Minnesota that offered me almost a full scholarship—so, despite the fact that it wasn’t my first choice, it’s where I went.

It turned out to be a good decision. My last year in college, all five of us were there together, my oldest brother now working on a Master’s Degree, my youngest sister an incoming freshman.

And on my very first day at college, I met identical twin brothers from Lamberton, Minnesota—a town not much bigger than McCallsburg that I had never even heard of. Denny and Doug Sandmann. And two years later, when I was engaged to marry Denny Sandmann, who was a Lutheran, we knew that we had to figure out whether we would be Lutheran or Catholic or something else.  Every Sunday, we’d go to different churches around the Twin Cities, until finally, we settled on a church we both liked that happened to be Lutheran.

And, mostly because Lutheran Campus Ministries was located just across the street from the dorm where I had spent my first two years in college and just a block from the fraternity house where Denny lived, we started to meet with a Lutheran pastor. A pastor who not only didn’t believe that salvation was only by way of the Roman Catholic Church, but who opened the Bible and showed me what God had to say about salvation. Who showed me Jesus’ words in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Who showed me the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

I discovered that the Bible doesn’t even mention the Roman Catholic Church or the Lutheran Church or any other denomination—only the church that recognizes Jesus as the head, Jesus as the only way.

I began to know God in a more personal way—a way, I discovered, that was only possible through knowing His Word. I discovered that all the textbooks in the world couldn’t do for me what God’s written Word could do.  Because this book—and this book alone—is God’s voice speaking directly to us.

And the closer I got to the Lord, the easier it began to be for me to differentiate His voice from my voice. I began to recognize that some of the things I had always believed were just my own thoughts were actually God talking to me—even when I was only eight years old.

Brotheres and sisters in Christ, God talks to all His people—all of them. Not some, not even many—all. How I wish someone had told me that when I was eight years old. But apparently that wasn’t part of God’s plan for me.

Some of you are a long way from eight years old and you still don’t think God talks to you. But  He does.

In John 16:12-15, Jesus is speaking to His disciples just before He’s arrested. He says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

“When the Spirit of truth comes, … he will guide you into all truth. … He will speak and … will declare to you…” Not, “He might speak”; not “He’ll speak to some of you”; Not even, “He’ll speak to most of you.”

He’ll speak to all of us. What Jesus is telling His disciples here is that in order to hear, we have to have the Holy Spirit. This is why, immediately after the Spirit fell on Jesus’ followers on the day of Pentecost, suddenly they understood all kinds of things that had previously just confused them.

They’d been with Jesus for three years—and they’d been paying attention. They listened, they watched—but, even after Jesus rose from the dead, even right up until the moment He ascended back into heaven, they still didn’t understand most of what they’d seen and heard.

Now, however, they’re filled with the Holy Spirit—who immediately began to “guide them into all truth.” Suddenly the pieces began to fall into place, to make sense. They understood all those things Jesus had been saying to them. 

The role of the Holy Spirit in our lives is primarily like that of a reporter. He doesn’t have to come up with lots of great things to tell us. Jesus said that “He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak” (16:13).

The Holy Spirit knows God’s Word perfectly—every single Word of it from the first Word in the Book of Genesis to the last Word in the Book of Revelation. And He’s prepared to reveal it to us whenever and wherever it’s needed. And He’s with us—always With us to “guide us into all truth.” With us to speak whatever the Father tells Him to speak.

Just a short time earlier in John’s gospel, as part of the same conversation, “Jesus said, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’” (John 14:23).

Again, Jesus didn’t say that if we love Him and keep His word, “maybe” He and the Father will come and make their home with us.

Throughout the entire Bible, we see God speaking to His people. Sometimes we even see God speaking to people who are not His people. Beginning with Adam and Eve in the garden, continuing through Noah and Abraham and Moses and the prophets, we see God speaking to His people throughout the Old Testament. When the Israelite people finally settled in the Promised Land, God first used judges and later, beginning with Samuel, prophets to be His messengers.

While God was clearly present throughout the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit wasn’t available to the people the way He is to us today. Sometimes God sent the Spirit to certain people to empower them to do certain things. And the prophets were kind of like forerunners of the way the Holy Spirit works today. They spoke to God’s people what God told them to speak.

They spoke—but God told Ezekiel in this morning’s reading that some of the people would refuse to hear. That still happens.  

In the New Testament, Jesus promises that everyone who believes in Him will receive the Holy Spirit—everyone. And that’s exactly what happened on Pentecost. The Spirit fell on every single person in that room in Jerusalem—all 120 or so people, most of whose names we’ll never know—at least in this life.

Later that day, another 3000 people received the Holy Spirit, as they came to believe in Jesus. Not a single person who believed was rejected. And so it has been for 2000 years.

But there’s more—Jesus didn’t just say we would receive the Spirit. He said that His Holy Spirit will speak directly to us. To all of us who believe in Him.

So if God is speaking to all of us, why don’t we all hear Him? There are a lot of different reasons: one is simply that in order to hear anyone, we have to be listening. My husband likes to listen to books on tape. And sometimes I talk to him and get absolutely no response. Then I notice that he has headphones plugged into his ears—he can’t hear me. Some of us are so continually plugged in to headphones or music or TV or the internet or video games that we don’t hear God when He speaks. Because He rarely shouts. Almost never will He force you to listen to Him.

Every single day, there are messages coming through the airwaves, messages that we don’t hear because we’re not listening. Right now there are probably dozens of sermons being preached on radio and television stations—messages that we could be listening to right now, even right here. But unless we tune in, we can’t hear them. If I want to watch the local news and I turn on KCCI, I won’t hear what they say on WHO, even though they’re talking and sending news out over the airwaves just as surely as KCCI is.

So we have to be tuned in to the right channel—and many of us haven’t learned how to tune in to God’s channel. We’ve never learned to recognize His voice. We haven’t learned to differentiate God from our own thoughts. The eight year old me didn’t recognize God’s voice. Neither did the teenage me; it was only as an adult that I began to be aware of His voice sometimes.

There’s another reason why many of us don’t hear God—it’s a reason that, quite honestly, would never have occurred to me if I had not read an article on the subject recently. Apparently there are a lot of people who don’t hear God because they don’t want to hear God. They are, either knowingly or unknowingly, blocking Him out—like Denny with his earphones is blocking out other voices.

Sometimes we’re just not paying attention. 24 years ago, I owned a small business that I had loved for most of the time I owned it. But I’d begun to have just kind of a general feeling of discontent. I’d been wondering if it was time for a change. And then one day while I was sitting in my office, I heard that voice in my head. It said, “This is not my plan for you.” And suddenly  realized that I’d heard that same voice saying those same words a number of times over the past few months—but I hadn’t been paying attention. By that time in my life, I’d heard God speak to me many times—so it wasn’t that I was incapable of recognizing His voice. It was just that I was distracted by other things. I wasn’t paying attention.

By that time in my life, my relationship with the Lord had reached a place where it didn’t even occur to me to try to argue with Him, or even just say no. There was no point—I knew I’d never win. So I listened and began the process of going out of business. And making my own plans for the future, which turned out to be completely different from God’s plan for my future. In large part because His plan for me was one that would never have occurred to me.

I had moved into a phase in my life where it was easy to recognize His voice—mainly because it was always directing me to do something I didn’t want to do. Although it took me a while to figure it out, the basic message was, “I don’t just was a piece of your life—I want all of it.”

And I remembered the message that I’d heard more than once during my childhood and teenage years: “I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a future and a hope.” Heard those words long before I ever knew that they were written in the Bible—Jeremiah 29:11.

Jeremiah 29:12 continues: “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.”

What the Lord is saying here is that there is a direct connection between our willingness to set aside our own plans, to submit our lives to His plans, and the way that He hears our prayers.  It’s really the same message that Jesus was giving when He said to His disciples in John 16:23, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name.”

Jesus is saying that when we allow His Spirit within us to lead us in whatever direction God would have us go, we become connected to Him in the same way that our arm is connected to our body—we are one. And when that happens, the only things we’ll ask God for are the things that we need to carry out His purposes.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God is speaking to you.  My great hope and prayer for each one of you is that you learn to hear God. Nothing is more important for us as a congregation than that we learn to recognize God’s voice, learn to listen to Him.

When you go home today, spend some time listening. Do it again tomorrow and the next day and continue. Ask Him to speak. If you’re not used to reading God’s Word, to listening to Him, begin.

There’s much more to say on this subject. We’ll continue next Sunday.

Let us pray.