Tuesday, December 29, 2009

He's still talking to us

In Genesis 1, the Bible talks about God speaking the universe into existence. God spoke and it happened (verses 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26). Then God spoke to the humans (verses 28 and 29) and gave instruction. He continues to speak in chapter 2, particularly verses 16 and 18. Now, it seems that the humans listened at first, and as long as they did, all was well. It was when they listened to the serpent, and believed him instead of God, that things went south.

And so it has gone, ever since. As I've written before, God talked to people like Noah, Abraham, and the prophet Moses, as well as kings and prophets after them. He has never really left us without knowing His will. But to make the speaking perfect, the Father sent the Son to be with us and show us the Father's heart. We can read in Hebrews 1:1-2, "Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son."

How did the Father speak to us through the Son? In the Incarcation (God made flesh), we see many ways, verbal and non-verbal. For instance, the Son was born as a baby, expressing solidarity with humans in our weakness and helplessness and poverty. He was baptized to identify with our need for cleansing and to make our baptism perfectly valid. As a human, Jesus had to learn the scriptures; and as God, he taught the will of the Father that stands under and behind all the written word. Jesus gave up his life as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, in order to clear the way for our adoption by the Father; and was resurrected to show the Father's desire for us to join him in eternal happiness and peace.

The infant in the manger speaks to us. The young man in the Temple speaks to us. So do the Teacher and the Lamb and the risen Son. He's still talking to us through scripture and the Spirit's voice. It's all the one and same God speaking -- not one mysterious short-tempered God in the Old Testament and a new, nice and sweet Jesus in the New. It's the same will of God, the same love of God for his children, and the same faithfulness of God to his promises, that have spoken to us from Creation to now -- revealed, finally and fully, in the incarnate Son.

The Christmas season, for Christians, is not a time of spending money we don't have, to buy stuff we feel obligated to buy, for people we don't like, so they can take it all and exchange it on Monday for stuff they'd rather have anyway. Christmas teaches us to recognize the voice of God in the Son of God made flesh for us and with us. It teaches us that, by entering his creation, God has united his creation -- including all of us -- with himself forever. And that, we can celebrate with great joy!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hearing from God, Part 3

God has been talking to humans since He walked and talked with our first parents in the garden of Eden. We've responded by turning away from Him, refusing to listen, and talking back, like a bunch of self-willed kids. Even Abraham, the father of the faithful, had trouble remembering what God had said and trusting Him to work it out -- like in the ill-planned birth of Ishmael as his heir, instead of waiting for the promised son Isaac.

The nation of Israel continued to have trouble hearing God's voice, even though He spoke to them through the judges and prophets of the period before the kings, and by prophets and priests during the time of the kings of Israel and Judah. Time and again He sent someone to call a king or the nation back to covenant-faithfulness. They spoke in words that were clear, or sometimes not clear (especially to us in the modern Western world who don't understand Eastern thinking). Sometimes the people listened and turned back to God; and sometimes they didn't even listen. Sometimes they killed the prophets God sent.

At the right time, God sent His Son into the world (Galatians 4:4) to save us, as Gabriel explained to Joseph: "And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). Finally, we had someone we could hear. Not a prophet who spoke for God, or a priest who offered sacrifices, or a judge who interpreted the law, not a king to make and enforce law, but the true Son of God, who came to be God-With-Us, Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). But in His own way, He was also prophet, priest, king and judge. And when He spoke, Jesus said the words of the Father Himself: " I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say" (John 12:49-50).

As the Son of the Father, Jesus spoke the words of the Father; not as some representative but as the Son who knew the Father personally. Finally, we had a chance to hear the words of God, in a way we could understand! As before, some people heard, and some rejected Him, to the point of killing Him. But now, finally, God was speaking for Himself, not through some intermediary, and Jesus came as God to show the heart of God to all humanity -- if we will hear.

Hebrews 12, verses 18-29, compare the imagery of Sinai as a contrast to Jesus' presence and teaching. And it says "
Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking." That tells us once more that, as God, Jesus was and is speaking to us the words of God.

God speaks. Do we hear? That is the question of the ages. In Jesus, we are given the words of God to us all. In Jesus, we hear the Father's heart, calling us to hear and follow just as the prophets of old did. Jesus continues, but more importantly brings personally to us, the message of salvation. Do we hear? Do we believe? Do we accept?

I think it's a lot more comforting and peaceful, from the human point of view, to listen to the voice of Jesus in the pages of the Bible than it will be to hear His voice thunder from the heavens at His second appearance. One way or the other, though, we will all hear Him. I pray you will hear Him, clearly, today.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hearing God, Part 2

Last time we looked at humanity's on-again, off-again way of hearing from God, starting with Adam and Eve and going through Abraham. The times when people actively tried to listen, things went a lot better with them, and vice versa. Now we come to Moses, in the book of Exodus.

God had been keeping track of the descendents of Abraham and their problems for the last 400 years. In Exodus 2, he arranges for a new leader to be born and trained to accomplish the next step in the plan. Moses is a sheepherder, and God starts talking to him out of a burning bush. Moses has enough sense to listen; although his version of listening includes a lot of arguing and complaining (see 3:11, 4:1, 10, 13). Moses continues to listen to God and to complain to Him for another 40 years. But God seems to enjoy the give-and-take; He compares His conversations with Moses to that of friends in Ex. 33:11.

God brings the Israelites out of Egypt, where they saw His miracles in the plagues against the Egyptian gods and His parting the Red Sea for them. They still hadn't heard His voice, though, as Moses had. So He calls them to Mount Sinai and there He speaks. But they can't listen; in a kind of irony, after Moses was afraid they wouldn't listen to him at all (4:1), they want to hear him instead of God: "don't let God speak to us, or we will die!" (20:19).

Moses was like the later prophets: he told the people, over and over, to hear God and not turn away, even though he knew they were going to (Deut. 4:1-14, 31:27, etc). Moses had seen from his own life and from watching others that we aren't very good at listening, but that God is talking and we should pay attention.

Now, here's a point: God had continued to find various ones who would listen, and He kept up the dialog. Why? Because He wants relationship with us. He wants the dialog, even when we get argumentative and difficult. And He sent His Son to talk to us, tell us more about Him and to call us back to that dialog and to walking together. We'll see some more of that next time. In the meantime, keep your ears open. He will definitely have something to say.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hearing God, part 1

Humans started out hearing God's voice, kind of like a baby hears its parents' voices, just as a part of living. Adam and Eve seem to have listened to God (Gen. 1:28-30) as he told them why they were in the garden and what they should do about it, and to stay away from that one pesky tree of 'knowledge of good and evil' (chapter 2). But in chapter 3, after they'd already taken the one thing they weren't supposed to take, the tone of the conversation is strained -- it reminds me of some discussions I've had with my children. "What did you do?" "I didn't do it, it was her fault!" and evasion instead of honesty. Adam even tried to blame the whole thing on God ("“It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”). I can imagine God sighing at this point, and shaking his head.

From then on, things get tense. God tries to discuss things with Cain, who isn't in much of a listening mood (chapter 4) and from that time, there don't seem to be many who are in a conversation with the Creator. God speaks with Noah (Genesis 6) and Noah does everything God tells him to (verse 22). But Noah is the only one who seems to pay attention at that point. Not even his three sons and their wives, who get saved from the flood also, seem to have any ongoing contact with the Lord.

After the great flood, everything continues much as it had before. The gift of speech, which includes the need to hear, is used by the humans to plan and build a tower. They are listening to each other, but nobody is listening to God. So he confuses their speech (11:7-8) and now they can't hear each other!

Along comes a fellow named Abram. This man seems serious about hearing God; when the Lord tells him to pick up and move to a different land, he does (12:1-4). And throughout the rest of his life, through all sorts of adventures, God talks to this man and this man listens. Sometimes the conversations are more difficult, like in chapter 15 where Abram complains that God's promises aren't coming true because he doesn't have a son. But Abram/Abraham learns to trust God and even more, to be honest with him -- as Adam and Eve didn't do. And he keeps hearing when God speaks.

There's a lot more to the story, and I want to go into that the next few weeks. But every time we read in the Bible about God, it seems like he is trying to reach out to us, to help us, to teach us. Will people learn to hear him? Will we learn to trust him? That's the continuing question -- not only for humanity as a whole, but for each one of us.

What are you doing to hear from God today? He speaks through his word, the Bible, and to our minds and emotions as we pray, and through circumstances and other people. I need to hear from him about all kinds of things and I bet you do too. How about spending some time talking with him, and asking him to talk to you? And then actively listening? It will change you. It changed me, and a lot of people I know.