Christianity 201

September 17, 2013

How God Spoke to Me

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God is trying to get our attention

John 3:31-36 (J. B. Phillips translation) 

31-36 “The one who comes from above is naturally above everybody. The one who arises from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks from the earth. The one who comes from Heaven is above all others and he bears witness to what he has seen and heard—yet no one is accepting his testimony. Yet if a man does accept it, he is acknowledging the fact that God is true. For the one whom God sent speaks the authentic words of God—and there can be no measuring of the Spirit given to him! The Father loves the Son and has put everything into his hand. The man who believes in the Son has eternal life. The man who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; he lives under the anger of God.”

The title for today’s reading is actually a bit of a teaser; I have no specific story to tell, but it’s interesting what happens to our perceptions on this topic when the situation becomes subjective and personal. Consider the difference between the two possible titles I had for today:

  • How God Speaks to Us
  • How God Spoke to Me

The former sounds generally instructive, but the latter sounds like a personal testimony which may or may not be beneficial to all.  Last year, I wrote about this on another blog:

I think there is a potential for degrees of fallibility when it comes to hearing from God. I offer this as something others can refine further:

(1) The reading of scripture. If it’s in context and the translation is reliable there should be little margin for error as to what God is speaking. For many people, the list stops here. There is no room for the other propose methodology whereby God’s will and God’s ways are communicated. Admittedly, everything else listed below should not conflict with scripture. All scripture is God-breathed (II Tim 3:16)

(2) “I think what God is saying to us is…” Form employed by a pastor in a sermon after a week (or more) of study on a particular passage or theme. Includes not only what the passage is saying in general, but what the pastor feels it addresses in the local church context. The pastor usually uses the form “I think…” or “I believe…” however; he (or she) is not claiming divine inspiration.

(3) “The saith the Lord…” Words of prophecy and knowledge (or interpretation of tongues) as spoken in Pentecostal or Charismatic meetings can sometimes get off the rails, but are generally received as reliable in a majority of cases. Not generally recorded or transcribed, though some elements may be remembered by that local church for years to come, such as a church I attended for two years in my late teens which had a prophecy ‘spoken over’ the congregation that they would influence the world, but would not be known for it. In many ways, this prophecy materialized.

(4) First person speech. The literary form used in God Calling by A. J. Russell or Jesus Calling by Sarah Young hasn’t been vetted by a pastor’s arduous study or a local congregation, but has been seen by editors and publishers. Still, nobody knows the identity of the “Two Listeners” of the book A. J. Russell compiled. (Are there interviews with Sarah Young someone can provide a link to?) This could just be a stylistic variant on (2) above, but it brings with it the presumption of inspiration, and is, in my opinion, at best very risky.

(5) Dreams and visions. Given usually to an individual and distinct from (2) and (3) above, and usually highly subjective, though God does speak through these and other similar means.

(6) The general revelation of nature. Psalm 19 — The heavens declare the Glory of God — describes this as “speech” as the creation proclaims God’s existence. Ranks with (1) above in terms of its purity, but listed last here as so few outside the faith “listen to” the message the heavens are speaking, and so few of us within the faith take the time to appreciate its constant reminder of God’s greatness. If this one is (1a) then certainly we’d also want to include as (1b) the inner witness or voice of the Holy Spirit; provided our hearts are properly tuned to the Spirit’s frequency; as this also becomes partially subjective, as Paul’s use of “I believe I have the mind of the Lord…” (italics added) in I Cor. 7: 39-40 I’m also not sure how the inner voice of the spirit (or even the revelation of nature) would fit with those most strongly committed to sola scriptura. Furthermore, the general revelation of nature often compels some people to attribute creation to other gods, other powers, and other sources. Also, we usually demand that any ‘inner voices’ people experience submit to the revelation of scripture; the two cannot conflict.

Questions:

  • To whom is the passage from John 3 at the top of this article referring?  Can it have broader application?
  • Have you ever found yourself in a church, a Bible study, or even a conversation where you weren’t sure if a message, a teaching, a directive, etc., was truly from God; i.e. if it could truly be trusted? 
  • What about circumstances? We all agree that many times God speaks through our individual situations so… how reliable, as in the cartoon above, are pain, suffering and trials as a potential means God is using to get our attention? Is pain God’s megahone?

August 25, 2013

A Fresh Word from God?

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27

Today many are seeking a fresh word from God, but will God speak something to their hearts that he has not already said before? Brad Whitt looked at this question recently in a blog post titled, Devotional Thought – If It’s True It Isn’t New. (Click to read at source.)

“But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:2

I once heard my pastor Adrian Rogers say, “If it’s true it isn’t new.” Had the apostle Paul heard him he would have given a loud and hearty, “Amen!”  I say this because I believe this is the essence of Paul’s point in this statement to the church at Corinth. I understand Paul to teach that there shouldn’t be anything purely original in a revelation. When he writes about “commending ourselves to every man’s conscience,” I believe he’s talking about commending truth to the “consciousness” of man.  Paul’s point is that divine truth, like any other truth, must first speak to man’s experience. It must appeal to something that the hearer already knows to be true. In other words it is “a faithful saying worthy of all acceptation.”

To be sure, this is not the normal way of thinking. Most people believe divine revelation must be something that is completely and totally new. They believe that if God wants to speak or reveal something to man that He will say something that man has never heard before. This is certainly the way most people view “getting a fresh word from God.” They hear a sermon and God speaks to them and they something like, “That was a fresh word from God. I had never seen that before.” What do they mean? Do they mean that it was a completely new and novel thought? I don’t think so. I believe what they mean to say is that they recognized something that wasn’t expected. It was a fresh thought that was suddenly discovered once the Holy Spirit pulled the veil aside. It didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere. It had been there all along, covered by the veil. Finding it, in the most literal of sense, was truly a discovery. It was the removal of something that had covered and concealed it from view. When it was seen, it was immediately recognized as something that had belonged to them all along, something that they never should have been without. It’s not something strange, but oddly familiar. The freshness of the revelation comes from the fact that while it wasn’t consciously known, it had been there all along.

Paul says that this is true with regards to the revelation of God’s truth. Yes, it is divine in its nature, but it presents itself to the consciousness of man and appeals to his personal experience. In fact, this is the simplest meaning of the word “revelation.” It speaks of pulling aside the veil to see something that had always been there. It’s not talking about creating something absolutely new, but rather of uncovering something old. It has been wrapped up, covered, concealed, lying just withing reach all throughout our lives without our knowing that it was there.

What God’s revelation – His light – reveals to me is actually myself. He has hung a mirror in my room that all during the night I thought was simply a dark, blank spot on the wall. However, when the sun began to rise and I saw by His light the reflection of my heart in His mirror it was then that I really realized that I was a man.

Don’t ever forget that God has distinct voices for different souls – He speaks to the  conscience of every man. And even though His light “lights every man that comes into the world” it doesn’t have the same beam for every soul. God shines into separate rooms, each one furnished differently from the next, of man’s heart. Do I have the right to require that my brother’s room be furnished the same way as mine? Elijah’s table was spread in the desert and what he needed was a human voice so God sent him a friend. Peter’s food came to him in dreams – let down on a sheet from heaven. What he needed was to be woken by reality, so God sent him into a stormy sea. John expected to immediately be seated at Jesus’ right hand. What he needed was to learn how to patiently wait, so God sent him on a long journey that ended on the rocky outcroppings of Patmos. Paul had the burden of too much light and was prone to be unappreciative of a brother’s difficulty. What he needed was the experience of human weakness, so God sent him a thorn in the flesh. Matthew had too many thorns. Everywhere he went he faced hardship, contempt, hatred and scorn. He didn’t need God to give another thorn, but a flower. So, he received a revelation of the Lord’s presence in a feast.

I’m, for one, am thankful to God that not only does He knock on every heart’s door, but that He always varies His knocking. He called quietly to Martha. He met Mary in a social setting. He cried with a loud voice to Lazarus. Today He supplies my life, not where it is the strongest, but where it is the weakest. He knows me better than I know myself and He loves me enough that He reaches into my conscience through my consciousness of need.