Scripture Reading 1 Samuel 3:1-10. word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.

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1 January 16, 2011 Scripture Reading 1 Samuel 3: The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. 2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, Here I am. 5 And he ran to Eli and said, Here I am; you called me. But Eli said, I did not call; go back and lie down. So he went and lay down. 6 Again the LORD called, Samuel! And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, Here I am; you called me. My son, Eli said, I did not call; go back and lie down. 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8 A third time the LORD called, Samuel! And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, Here I am; you called me. Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening. So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, Samuel! Samuel! Then Samuel said, Speak, for your servant is listening. Page 1 of 14

2 Acts 9:1-19a 1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? 5 Who are you, Lord? Saul asked. I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting, he replied. 6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do. 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. 10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, Ananias! Yes, Lord, he answered. 11 The Lord told him, Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight. Page 2 of 14

3 13 Lord, Ananias answered, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name. 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. 17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Message The Whisper-Led Life Question: What leads your life? a. Are you driven by other people s expectations? b. Are you led by a pressing need to acquire the best this world has to offer? c. Do you merely run on auto-pilot, coasting from one life-event to the next? d. Your boss? e. Your to-do list? f. Your clock? Page 3 of 14

4 For Saul of Tarsus, what led his life was a legalistic obedience to God s law, and to the laws created by religious leaders in their zeal to precisely define and judge righteous living. And as we just read, such an orientation leads Saul to breath out murderous threats against the Lord s disciples. After all, these Jews had found in Jesus a freedom apart from the law; a righteousness found through faith in Jesus blood, and not in a hopeless human quest to perfectly keep God s laws. Christians threatened the the power base of the law. So, in his zeal, Saul was heading to Damascus, to arrest Christ-followers and bring them back to Jerusalem; for he was still led by the law. But something happened along the way, didn t it? And from that moment on the descriptive, the road to Damascus would take on a whole new meaning; it would no longer describe a route one may take but an encounter one must process. What leads you, and if it is not God s voice, what would happen if suddenly you heard God s voice and it told you to change your direction? While many people rationalize that such encounters do not occur anymore, in fact it is quite the opposite. While it may be harder for people to hear God s speaking to them above the busyness and noisiness of 21 st century life, for those who listen and are willing to process what they hear, God continues to offer guidance; inviting us to be a part of His great acts of redemption and reconciliation. Page 4 of 14

5 This week we are beginning a four-part series of messages called The Power of a Whisper. At the core of this series is a book by Bill Hybels, founder and Pastor of Willow Creek Church in Barrington, IL. In his book, Bill shares his own personally experiences with hearing God s whispers, and how he has learned to distinguish God s voice from the swirl of voices trying to lead our lives today. Our Adult Sunday School class (9:15-10 AM) began looking at this morning s theme already. You are all invited to come early next week and join them as they will again view a weekly video and engaging in some discussion. In today s video, Bill Hybels begins with a remarkable admission: As I look back on my journey thus far I realize that God s low-volume whispers have saved me from a life of boredom and self-destruction. His well-timed words have redirected my path, rescued me from temptation and ree nergized me during some of the deepest moments of despair in my life. Bill Hybels, The Power of a Whisper, Session 1 Video, The Whisper-Led Life This is an amazing admission to hear if you, like me, grew up in suburban Chicago, and witnessed the birth and the exponential success of Willow Creek Church and Willow Creek Ministries. When I lived in Nebraska, we often joked that Tom Osborn, the coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team, was about as close to God as any person could be placed. In Chicago, Bill Hybels had such stature, and today that stature is acknowledged worldwide. Like Abraham, Bill Hybels heard God s voice to trust Him and follow Him to a new promised land ; to establish a different Page 5 of 14

6 kind of church that broke tradition in order to reach new generations with the gospel story. - He started up a church in a movie theater was a crazy idea. - He attracted a younger generation with guitars and drums rather than an organ; an idea that was way too modern for some. (A selfproclaimed prophet told him that his children would be punished by God, if he kept pursuing this :new kind of church. Later I ll tell you why Bill didn t heed that warning..) But as different as his ministry was, one could not miss seeing God s blessings upon it. Soon local pastors were asking his advice. Today hundreds-of-thousands of Christian leaders around the world receive the fruits of his insights and ministry. Matt and I attended a Willow Creek Leadership Summit this past summer in one of over 300 sites linked by satellite, and have already signed up for this coming August.(I hope others will join us..). This morning I tell you all these things about Bill Hybels not to lift him up next to God. But to cause you to see just how amazing Bill s opening words are: As I look back on my journey thus far I realize that God s low-volume whispers have saved me from a life of boredom and self-destruction. His well-timed words have redirected my path, rescued me from temptation and reenergized me during some of the deepest moments of despair in my life. Bill Hybels, The Power of a Whisper, Session 1 Video, The Whisper-Led Life Page 6 of 14

7 What leads your life? - Is God leading you like He is leading Bill Hybels; like He led Abraham, Noah, Moses, David. - Are you listening for our Heavenly Father s voice as Jesus did? What would your life be like if He did? What would our church be like if each one of us listened for and obeyed God s whispers/promptings? What can we learn from Acts 1:1-19; Saul s/paul s life? 1. Ears sometimes get opened in the most dramatic ways Very much like Abraham, it was by God s grace and His initiative that both Abraham and Saul heard God s voice. In Saul s case it seems like it was anything other than a whisper. But it did call upon Saul to change that which was leading him, and that gave birth to the Apostle Paul. And many times throughout his ministry, recorded in Acts and his epistles, we see the Apostle Paul hearing God s whispers and changing his plans in order to keep step with God. I believe that our God is a God of shock-and-awe only when absolutely necessary. God prefers to whisper to those who by faith come for His guidance. Most of you know my story of calling into ministry. A part of that calling was a whisper heard while reading God s Word during a season of prayer where I opened myself up to such a calling. God is communicating. Are we hearing Him? Page 7 of 14

8 A second lesson from this Road to Damascus story is that 2. Our obedience often opens the door for others to obey God too After confessing my need for God to confirm His quiet whispering to me, God whispered louder through a woman named Rita Benz, who confronted me with a word she had received from God for me. Fortunately for me, Rita had been listening and responding to God s whispers in her life for years, and this was the second time God had given her what scripture calls a word of knowledge to give to someone else. Rita could have dropped the ball. She had looked for me after worship that Sunday morning, but I had already gone home. But that evening when she saw that I had returned with my friends for a concert, she delivered God s message; You are supposed to be a Pastor. When the risen and ascended Jesus spoke to the Saul on the road to Damascus, God also whispered to a Christian named Ananias, and after dealing with real issues of fear and risk, Ananias obedience brought both physical and spiritual sight to this one who once sought to kill Christians, but would now offer His life so that the world would know Jesus Christ. And so I think it is very safe to say that 3. We never know what good can come from heeding a whisper from God. Yet we can see in the Apostle Paul s life, just as we can see in Bill Hybels life today that God can do great and remarkable things in the lives of those who listen and obey God s whispers to them. Page 8 of 14

9 If you were in the adult Sunday School class this morning, you ve already received what I am about to repeat; the five steps Bill Hybels has learned to take whenever he thinks he might have heard God whispering to him. I share them now because they are too good not to share with everybody and, because they address a question we all should ask if we too sense God whispering to us. That question is; How can we know a whisper is from God? After all, are we not surrounded by, indeed bombarded by voices all telling us what we should be doing? How can we know a whisper is from God? Bill Hybels suggests that you first 1. Ask, God, is this prompting/whisper truly from you? Is it consistent with what you know of God s character? I sincerely hope that if someone here today thought they heard God telling them to kill someone, or to hurt someone in order to advance themselves in some way, that they would know such whispers do not come from God. Would God actually say what you thought He said? (This was the question Bill Hybels asked himself when confronted by that prophet who claimed that God said he would punish Bill s children if he kept planting Willow Creek. Bill knew right away that this was not God speaking. That was not consistent with God s nature.) Page 9 of 14

10 Would God actually say what you thought He said? If not you are probably hearing from someone else! Pause. Pray. Seek God s voice. If yes go on to the second question. 2. Ask, Is it scriptural? For me, this second question takes a whole lot of subjectivity out of the mix. Ask, Is it scriptural? Here we are recognizing that there is a consistency between God and His Written Word; the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Here we recognize that among these 66 books authored by 40+ diverse writers, there is a common Spirit; God s Spirit. And that just as Jesus spoke that which was of His Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit speaks only what Jesus had taught us (John 14:23-26) so too we find God s consistent Word in the pages of scripture. So, if God is whispering to you, you will hear that same message resonating from the Bible. This why it is so imperative that we live as people of the Word; people reading, studying and understanding life from a scriptural perspective. The bottom line is that the more you know scripture, the easier it will be for you to hear and confirm God s whispers/promptings for your life. If you are not reading the Bible you are short-changing yourself and the potential you can have to hear God s whispers and be led by His voice. If scripture does not confirm what you heard whispered, it is probably not from God. Again, wait & pray don t proceed until scripture confirms God s whispers. Page 10 of 14

11 Now, if what you have heard/sensed is both something of God s nature and confirmed in the scriptures, Bill Hybels suggests that you then.. 3. Ask, Is it wise? God s Word encourages wisdom. In fact, the Book of Proverbs is all about being wise in how you live. If the whisper/prompting you have heard calls you to violate the very wisdom by which God expects us to live, then you have good reason to question whether your whisper was from God. Would you quit your job if you believed that God told you that you were going to win the lottery? Would you rush into a Las Vegas chapel to marry someone you met two days ago, for whom you felt a deep love? The whisper you heard/sensed; is it wise? If not.. don t act on it. If it is wise, then move on and 4. Ask, Is it in tune with my own character? In this fourth test of whether what you heard was God s whisper, I really appreciate Bill s Hybels insight. For by asking this question he is pointing us to the reality proclaimed in Psalm 139:13-16, that not only does God intimately know everything about us, but that He knit us together. God has given us our talents and abilities. While we may not always know all of them, God s whispers will ask us to do things we can do. When I made application to seminary, I was asked if my home congregation saw gifts within me for pastoral ministry. This is supposed to be asked of every M.Div, applicant at North Park. I good friend of mine had Page 11 of 14

12 applied for seminary while I was still in college. Somehow this question eluded his application. After two years of difficult study my friend sought an internship in a church, but after many interviews he was never called. Discourage and disillusioned, he went back to his former profession in maintenance and repair where he excelled and offered practical help to the North Park community. He was a blessing, though not a pastor. My friend did not have a pastoral bone in his body. I have no question that He loved Jesus and the church, but I don t believe that God called him into ministry. My friend spend time and money pursuing what perhaps was a desire or a dream. Ask Is God s whisper in tune with my own character? Finally, 5. Ask, What do the people I most trust think about it? Proverbs 11:14 For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers. One of the great blessings is Christ s body, the Church, is that in this setting we have opportunity to establish trusting relationship with other people of faith. While we should not expect to know or trust everyone on the same level, we can gather around us people we trust to speak God s truth in love to us. If your whisper/prompting has made it through the previous four questions, ask those who you trust the most, Is this a whisper from God for me life. Page 12 of 14

13 When I first spoke with my parents about the calling I received to go into ministry, I received a surprise blessing. For while I expected them to ask a lot of questions about my Master s Degree in Nutrition, and my current job with Adolescent Health, all they said was It s about time. People who know you well, and who know the scriptures and live with a bibl ical viewpoint, can help you affirm God s whispers/promptings in your life. When Bill Hybels was a boy he attended a Christian school in Michigan. One year he had a teacher named Miss Van Solen. It was in her class that Billy remembers hearing the Old Testament story we heard earlier, about Eli teaching Samuel to recognize the whisper of God in his life. Billy was captivated by this story, enough so that he paused before running out to recess to ask Miss Van Solen if God really speaks to little boys these days. Miss Van Solen not only confirmed that truth, but she said to Billy the next day, You keep listening for God to speak, Billy, and I believe he will use your life in a very special way. Bill Hybels, The Power of a Whisper, Zondervan, Chapter 1 Miss Van Solen knew Billy Hybels, and saw something in him that we see today. And we see that because he believed in a God who whispers, and who can do great and remarkable things through those who hear and obey. Page 13 of 14

14 At the end of this morning s Sunday School video, Bill Hybels suggests that we: Imagine what our world would be like if there were 2 billion Christians living with one ear open to heaven, receiving whispers and promptings from God, and then diligently carrying them out; whatever God asked of them. Bill Hybels, The Power of a Whisper, Session 1 Video, The Whisper-Led Life Can you imagine - the love that would be shared, - the healing that would occur, - the peace that would bridge hostilities, - the hope that would empower the oppressed, and - the glory of God that would be revealed? While that is an image I want to keep always before me, let me suggest that we first imagine what our communities would be like if we, as one church family, with one ear open to heaven, receiving whispers and promptings from God, diligently carrying them out; whatever God asked of us. I cannot control what 2 billion Christians will do, but I can control what I will do and I can encourage you in doing what you will do; after all we Covenant / walk together for that very purpose, don t we? Therefore, can we not only imagine what our communities would be like but can we not also begin, right now, to listen better and to discern God s whispers, and then to do what only He asks of us. Only then will we see the great and remarkable things God will do right here! God is whispering to you. Are you listening? Can you hear what He is saying? Are you willing to do whatever He asks of you? AMEN THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, NIV Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2010 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Page 14 of 14

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