Tom C's Final Sermon for Preaching Class. Sorry about the formatting; it didn't copy over well. Use your imagination for the slides.
(Initial slide – blank)
Speak to Me, God
“Speak to me, God.” (slide – Speak to Me) Have you ever wanted, asked, or even demanded that God speak to you in some manner? I’m sure we all have at one time or another. “Speak to me, God.”
Andy Agnostic was a smart kid. He was one of those apples that fell close to the tree; both his parents were college professors. But his was not a Christian household. His parents rejected the whole God business. They never said that religion was for losers. But they did make clear to Andy the religion was a crutch for the weak. Only the weak need God. (slide – blank)
Now Andy did have some Christian friends growing up. Sometimes he heard talk about heaven and hell. The “hell” business bothered Andy, so he asked his father about it. Dad assured him that as long as he was basically good, he had nothing to worry about. “What is good?” Andy wondered. Since Andy was a Boy Scout at the time, Dad said that the Scout Law was a good start: a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. Andy could skip the reverent part, it wasn’t necessary.
As Andy grew up, he wondered about the possibility that there actually was a God. Somehow the world and the universe appeared so mind-boggling that it was hard to imagine that it all just happened by chance. Maybe there was a God. Andy wanted to believe, but he just could not. He couldn’t take that big step. Andy told himself that he would believe if God would speak to him and tell him to believe. Andy wanted to believe, so he waited for God to speak. Andy imagined God as a Zeus like figure (slide – Zeus) with a voice like thunder, hurling lightning bolts. Andy waited for God to speak to him. Andy has been waiting for 10 years now. (slide – blank)
Bethany Backslider grew up in a Christian home. Bethany attended church for as long as she could remember. After all, that is what Sunday mornings are for. Bethany considered church to be a sacred duty and Bethany has always been a dutiful girl. But Bethany never gave very much thought to what church was all about. Something about God and Jesus. She was pretty sure she had given her heart to Jesus at some time or other, but she wasn’t exactly sure when.
But now Bethany is in college. Oh what a different world college is! Skepticism abounds. Bethany grew up respecting her elders and even trying to emulate them. But now? Bethany’s new circle of friends open her eyes. Just look at the world! What a mess! What can we possibly learn from a bunch of “dead white guys?” What can we possibly learn from God? They are the ones that messed everything up in the first place. But we, the new generation, we are going to fix things. We are going to clean up the mess left by previous generations.
Bethany goes with the flow. She starts to have doubts about everything she thought she knew. She stops going to church. She goes along to get along. But deep down inside, Bethany feels she is going down the wrong path. She is following in the footsteps of previous generations who have gone down the same tired old path. Bethany wants God to speak to her, to set her back on the right path. So Bethany waits for God to speak to her. (slide – Betty White) She imagines God as a wise old lady speaking words of comfort and wisdom to her. Betty White seems to fit the bill. Yes, Betty would both very wise and very comforting. Betty would direct her to a new, clear path. (slide – road sign) Betty would direct her to the right path.
Bethany is a college senior now. She is still waiting for God to speak to her. (slide – blank)
Are You Listening?
Bethany Backslider and Andy Agnostic are starting to look an awful lot alike. They both want God to speak to them - sort of. They both are waiting for God to speak to them. But they both expect God to speak to them in a certain way. And they both expect God to tell them certain things.
So why isn’t God speaking to Andy and Bethany? Could it be that they are not listening? (slide – Miracle Max) Even if you haven’t seen The Princess Bride, it is pretty clear that Miracle Max does not want to hear what he is being told. Miracle Max is hearing but running away. Miracle Max hears but refuses to listen. Now Andy and Bethany may not be refusing to listen, like Miracle Max. They simply aren’t listening at all. They expect God to speak to them in a certain way. (slide – blank) Rather than seeking God’s voice, Andy and Bethany are just waiting … and waiting.
I have one more story. Let us go back nearly two thousand years to the city of Rome. Hezekiah Hebrew was an apprentice jeweler. A few months ago, his friend Cohen took Hezekiah to a couple of meetings of the new “Christian” sect. It was fascinating and Hezekiah was almost persuaded that this Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. Now Cohen used to work in the same shop as Hezekiah. But bold, brash Cohen took the plunge and became a Christian. Which explains the fact that he used to work in the same shop as Hezekiah. The owner of the shop found out that Cohen had become one of those Christians. The owner, good Jew that he was, sent Cohen packing. Hezekiah wasn’t sure he wanted to meet the same fate. Not that it seemed to bother Cohen. Full of enthusiasm, he invited Hezekiah to a couple more Christian meetings. But Hezekiah put him off each time. “Maybe later,” he would say. Hezekiah was not too keen on working as a laborer on the docks as Cohen now was. It was exciting to think that the Messiah had actually come. But Hezekiah was reluctant to leave his comfort zone: he was comfortable in his Jewish faith and traditions. If only God would speak to him and let him know the truth. Had the Messiah actually come?
The next time Cohen refused to be refused. Rumor had it that a messenger from the East had arrived earlier in the day with a letter to be read. And it would be read at the regular meeting place for Cohen’s group of Christians. Word about the letter had spread and Cohen insisted that they must go at once or they wouldn’t be able to find a spot where they could hear. Hezekiah couldn’t resist Cohen’s enthusiasm.
Cohen’s excitement had not been misplaced. As they approached the meeting place a crowd was already gathering. Cohen and Hezekiah managed to squeeze in – the room was not very large – and found themselves standing to the side against the wall. The room was buzzing with excitement. Even Hezekiah found himself caught up in the excitement. Finally, the group’s leader arrived, an elderly, soft spoken man. He was accompanied by a young man who could only be the messenger from the East. After standing on a low table, the elderly leader took a scroll of parchment from the messenger. Unrolling the first part of the parchment, he began to read with surprising vigor. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”
Well, that got Hezekiah’s attention. As the speaker continued, Hezekiah began to feel it; God was speaking to him. Hezekiah continued to listen with rapt attention. By the time the reading was finished, Hezekiah had set aside all his doubts and reservations. Hezekiah had become a Christian.
Hezekiah Hebrew was listening to a reading of what we call the Letter to the Hebrews. (slide – hear, heed) Have you ever heard it said that when God speaks to us, we need to hear and we need to heed? Hezekiah certainly heard and he heeded. But there was another critical step that Hezekiah had to take or else his hearing would have gone for naught. (slide – Harken added to hear, heed) I will call this the harken step. The harken step is one that says “Listen up! God is speaking to you!” Harken, hear and heed. We need to harken to God’s voice. That is, we need to recognize God’s voice for what it is, God speaking to us. We need to hear what God has to say. And we need to heed what he says to us – to take it to heart and incorporate it into our lives. Harken, hear and heed. Today we focus on the first of these. We need to harken. We need to recognize when God is speaking to us so we will listen; so we will hear and heed what he has to say.
Let us go back to Hebrews 1:1-2. These are the verses that persuade Hezekiah to harken to what was said; these verses told Hezekiah to “Listen up!” Hebrews 1:1-2: (slide – Hebrews 1:1-2)
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
So how do we know when God is speaking to us? How do we know when to “harken” and to “listen up?” Clearly he has spoken to us by the prophets and by his Son. That is, he has spoken to us - and speaks to us – through Scripture: the Old and the New Testaments.
We can be confident that God speaks to us through Scripture. But does God not speak to us in “many ways?” Certainly God speaks through Scripture. He can also speak to us during prayer, through worship, music, sermons, through His creation, through events in our lives and the lives of others, through the words and actions of friends and family members. I’m sure you can add other possibilities to this list. The fact is, God can speak to us in any way he wants. But how do we know that it is really God speaking to us? How do we know when to “harken?” How do we know when to pay attention? When to “Listen up?” Do we sometimes miss God speaking to us? Do we sometimes think God is speaking to us when he is not? (slide - blank)
Suppose a Zeus-like figure appeared to Andy Agnostic in a dream. And then Andy woke up to a violent thunderstorm. And suppose that Zeus-like figure had told Andy to believe – in Zeus. Would Andy believe that God spoke to him? He might. He expected God to speak to him like this. But it was not God speaking to him.
Suppose a kindly, older college professor who bore a slight resemblance to Betty White took Bethany Backslider under her wing. And that lady told Bethany that she was going down the wrong path; that there was a better path. And suppose that better path was the path of new age mysticism? Would Bethany believe that God was speaking to her through the professor? She might. She expected God to speak to her like this. But it was not God speaking to her.
So how do we know when it is God speaking? (slide - 1 John 4:1) 1 John 4:1 gives us a warning and tells us what we should do. 1 John 4:1: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 Paul tells us the same thing. 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21: Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
So we need to test. How do we test? We test against Scripture. (slide – Galatians 1:8) In Galatians 1:8, Paul makes clear that we test against Scripture and Scripture alone. Galatians 1:8:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
Those are strong words. But we must be clear. Anything contrary to Scripture cannot be from God. Let me repeat: anything contrary to Scripture cannot be from God. What we have here is one of those good news / bad news deals. The good news is that we can test whether God speaking to us: it must be consistent with what Scripture tells us. The bad news is that if we do not know Scripture then how can we test against Scripture? Andy Agnostic had no knowledge of Scripture. How could he possibly test against it? Bethany Backslider had some knowledge of Scripture, but she had never really taken it to heart. Neither Andy nor Bethany were in a good position to test what might have been God speaking to them.
So we need to know Scripture to recognize when God is speaking to us. Scripture is God speaking to us. (slide – 2 Peter 1:20-21, +) In 2 Peter 1:20-21, Peter makes clear that Scripture is from God, not from man. 2 Peter 1:20-21:
knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Paul, writing to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16 makes clear both the source - God - and the importance of Scripture – all Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
And Scripture is timeless and unchanging. (slide – Isaiah 40:8, +)
Isaiah 40:8: The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
Psalm 19:7: The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
Yes, God can speak to us in many ways. But how can we know for sure that God is speaking to us? Andy Agnostic and Bethany Backslider waited for God to speak to them. But both of them expected God to speak to them in a certain way. Even if they thought God was speaking to them, how would they know? (slide – blank)
Are you like Andy Agnostic? Are you waiting for God to speak and persuade you to believe? Are you like Bethany Backslider? Are you waiting for God to speak to you so you can cast all your doubts away? Many of us have a bit of Andy and Bethany in us.
Before I became a Christian, I was an Andy Agnostic. I felt there had to be a God, but I waited for years for God to prove his existence to me. He never did. Fortunately, I was led to God and Jesus Christ by means other than a formal mathematical proof. And after becoming a Christian, I have had my occasional Bethany Backslider moments, moments when I had my doubts, when I wondered if the Bible could really be true. Just as Andy and Bethany needed God to speak to them, I needed God to speak to me.
A well-known individual had these words to say about the Bible: (slide – Newton’s quote) "I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by men who were inspired. I study the Bible daily." Do you know who said this? The man I personally consider to be the greatest scientific and mathematical genius ever (slide – add Newton’s name and image): Sir Isaac Newton. Andy Agnostic, smart people can believe in God. And do you realize that Newton wrote over a million words of notes and commentary on the Bible? But I digress.
Do you want God to speak to you? Do you need God to speak to you? Are you waiting for God to speak to you? Don’t wait. God can and will speak to you any time you want. Just pick up your Bible and read!
Do you sometimes read the Bible as if it were a textbook or an academic paper? Do you sometimes read the Bible out of a sense of duty, without giving much attention to what you are reading? Don’t read the Bible as a textbook. Don’t read the Bible simply from a sense of duty. Read the Bible for what it is: God speaking to you, God speaking to me, God speaking to us. He speaks to each of us personally. (slide – Big Idea)
And that is today’s Big Idea. The Bible is God speaking to us, personally. Let God speak to you. When you need God, don’t wait! Pick up your Bible and let him speak. Do you need God to speak to you on a particular subject? Are you uncertain where to turn in the Bible for that subject? Whether it is comfort, faith, hope, love, fear or any other subject, if you are unsure where to turn in Scripture, remember that Google is your friend.
Today I want to offer up a challenge. For the Andy Agnostics out there, consider the “by faith” chapter of Hebrews, chapter 11. (slide – Hebrews 11:1) Here is how it begins; Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. I want you, Andy Agnostic, to read Hebrews 11 and as you read let God speak to you, personally. To believe in God, faith – not a proof – is required. For the Bethany Backsliders out there, consider …. Why not consider the same thing? Read Hebrews 11. Let God speak to you, personally, for it is by faith that we can quell those doubts that sometimes arise. If any of you are neither Andy’s nor Bethany’s, why not read Hebrews 11 as well? Read it as God speaking to you, personally. All of us can use encouragement and strengthening of our faith.
It is my prayer that we all let God speak to us, to speak to us personally, through his Word to us, the Holy Bible.
Please join me in prayer.
Dear God, we confess that we often ask you to speak to us, but we do not always listen. We thank you for sending us your Word and your Son Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Help us to listen to you, help us to hear you, help us to heed you, by turning to your Word. May the Holy Spirit guide us and direct us and inspire us to seek you, to listen to you. May you guide and direct us through this life on earth and to prepare us for the life to come. We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
(slide – Speak to me, Bible)
Have you made any kind of decision today? Are you an Andy Agnostic who has decided to get off the fence and put your faith in Jesus Christ? Are you a Bethany Backslider who has decided to recommit to Jesus? Perhaps you have decided to join our fellowship here at First Baptist. Do you have any praise, prayer or other need at this time? Whatever your decision or need, I invite you to come forward and share it. God Bless You All.