On a gorgeous summer morning Pastor Brad welcomed us with an especially joyful, "I'm delighted you're here today." The leaders (including Brooke) and youth were back from their trip to Tennessee where they met with more than 5200 other Covenant young people for the CHIC convention. There was a good energy in the sanctuary as we gathered today. Perhaps, too, the fact that we were having a baptism also had Brad jazzed.
Chuck opened the service with a word of encouragement from Paul's letter to Timothy and then the quintet (quartet plus Levi) led us into a time of worship with some great Gospel songs.
The baptism of Brent Charles Peterson was, as usual, a very special time. The proud parent Brent and Arina, accompanied by son Jordan and daughter Cheyenne, presented their infant son to the Lord. Brad relishes these moments which he then shares with us all.
During the offering which followed our Quintet sang On the Jericho Road, to our great delight.
The youth who went to CHIC, along with Eric and Brooke, shared some of their experience with us, in slides and stories. The theme this year was Undone, with a whole range of applications. Some good quotes were relayed to us, include this one from speaker Shane Clayburn, "If you have two coats and your brother has none, you are stealing." Another insight from one of the speakers was how "Justice is God's love in public." Eric Borndal thanked the congregation for its support which made this life changing trip possible.
Today's Scripture reading was from Ephesians 2:11-22, followed by a time of prayer...
Brad began with a humorous anecdote about how he (typical of many men) resists asking for directions when seemingly lost while driving. It was, of course, a setup for today's theme, getting guidance from God.
The Holy Spirit really does guide and lead and direct us. Throughout Scripture we see examples beginning with the way God led Israel in the Wilderness to numerous New Testament examples beginning with the commencement of Jesus' ministry to numerous examples from the Book of Acts.
It's interesting that everyone knows people can talk to God. But in our modern world when we say God can speak to us, it's called schizophrenia.
Brad then had us turn to the instructive passage in I Samuel 3:1-10 where the young Samuel first hears God's call.
1 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 temple 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 The LORD called Samuel a third time, 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."
Without amplifying the context, Brad pointed specifically to a key principle in this passage: listening to God is a learned behavior.
"What if we all," Brad said, "made this our prayer... 'Speak, Lord, your servant hears."
Next Brad had us look at a rich passage in the book of Numbers, the story of Balaam and his donkey. In Numbers 22:21-31 the prophet Balaam has a problem getting his donkey to go where he wants, but in reality the donkey is not being stubborn for no reason. He sees the Angel of the Lord standing ready to slay his master if he proceeds down this foolish path. Ultimately, God speaks to Balaam through his donkey. But would it not be strange for the donkey to start bragging when he got back to the stable as if he were something wonderful instead of just a... donkey?
Guidance from God is not intended to puff us up, to make us self-important and big-headed. God communicates with us because He desires to have a relationship with us.
Dallas Willard wrote a book called Hearing God in which he tells the story of a little boy whose mother had died. He could not be consoled and did not sleep well at night. He would come into the room where his father slept and ask to sleep with him. Willard said the boy could not relax and be at rest until he was not only with his father, but knew that his father's face was toward him. In the dark he would ask if his father's face was turned toward him and then he could fall asleep.
Willard then writes about how lonely life can be. Some people seem to get by in life with a silent God, but it's not much of a life and certainly not the life God intends for us.
So, how do we recognize the voice of God? How do we keep from confusing it with our own impulses and self-talk? First, through experience. How do we recognize any voice? The tone is consistent, the content likewise is so. Jesus, in John's Gospel (Jn 10:4) said of the Good Shepherd that "His sheep know His voice."
In another passage, Luke writes of the two men who encountered the Lord on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). As Jesus clarified passages from the Scripture, their hearts burned within them. This, too, is a way in which we recognize His voice, by the effect it has on our hearts.
Brad closed by reminding us that we can't find God by always being in a hurry. We need to slow down. And we need to listen, and pray, "Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening."