Talking to and Hearing from God

My 3-year-old granddaughter Bella – who is unusually verbal for her age – was recently asked by someone what she likes to do. Her answer was, “I like to talk to God. You can talk to him anywhere. He can hear you but he doesn’t talk back very loud.”

After a chuckle at the humor of such a little one saying something like this, I’m guessing that a lot of people quietly agree with the entire statement. Yes, it is true that God may be talked to at any place and any time. And I don’t think many folks really doubt that God hears them. It is the final part of it that is difficult – how does God talk back? And yes, it often does not seem to be very loud or clearly definitive.

How do we hear from God? Where do we find his guidance and his will? Of course we need to be praying and seeking his direction.

Certainly God uses our circumstances and life events to speak to us. There are times where even extraordinary events upon the pathways of life may open or close doors and thus provide guidance to us.

As well, there is what we often call “the witness of Spirit” – that inner sense of either peace or discomfort surrounding decisions and opportunities that grant some measure of leading.

But the primary method of God’s guidance is through Christ and his Word – the Scriptures. It says in Hebrews chapter1 that “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”  That would indeed be a way cool thing to hear from God through prophets and miraculous voices. But God’s truth has been revealed in the person of Christ, and of course all that we know of Christ is contained in the perfect written record of the Scriptures.

So to know God’s direction – to hear his voice a bit louder – one has to know the Bible. And that is the focus that we have at TSF – in our sermons and classes and small groups of all sorts. If you are not a part of these opportunities, now is the best time of year to jump in.

Plans for Reading the Bible in the New Year

Every year, Christians make plans to read through the Bible. It is a worthy goal, but like so many worthy things, the disciplined execution of such is the problem!

Let me direct your attention to an incredible new tool to assist and facilitate your Bible reading resolution for the New Year. It is on the following web site:

There are literally hundreds of reading plans from which you may choose, and then load to whatever device you have … in whatever way you’d like to receive it.

Let me give you just two examples of reading plans:

Example 1 – The Essential 100 » 100 days

The Essential 100 Challenge (E100) helps you get an overview of the Bible… without getting bogged down. The Plan guides you through 50 Old Testament passages and 50 New Testament passages — The Essential 100 — so you can see the big picture of God’s Word, and form a daily Bible reading habit in the process. E100 is an achievable way to have a “through the Bible” experience; it’s the Bible reading plan people love to complete.

Example 2 – Historical » 1 Year

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to read the Old Testament in ancient Israel? Or, the New Testament as the books were written? In this plan, the order of the Old Testament readings is very similar to Israel’s Hebrew Bible, progressing from Law to Prophets to Writings. The New Testament ordering is based upon research regarding the order in which the books were authored. Although this research is not conclusive, it may offer helpful insights to your Bible reading.

There are many other incredible features on this web page … so check it out. Actually, Eric is using some of the technological elements in his Wednesday night discipleship work with the teens.

When Are You (Not?) Helping?

Our church staff meeting today featured an hour or more discussion on the issue of benevolence and helping people in need… and beyond that, what role to play with various agencies in town. There is not a clear answer, and I have struggled with this over my 30 years as a pastor.

The difficulty involves knowing when someone has a true and genuine need, and if by helping with the immediate need, are you facilitating a destructive pattern of life and continuing a culture of dependency?

A most difficult call is when someone connects with the church (either by a phone call or drop in visit) seeking financial assistance for what is often a convoluted story. There is no doubt that many of these situations involve people working over a list of churches with the same story – going even from town to town doing such as a way of life.

When I first came to Hagerstown, I was hit by a guy who some months before hit me with the same wild story at my previous church in New Jersey! When I confronted him on this, I got quite a vile change of tone and response. One of the other staff guys today talked about being at a McDonald’s this summer and hearing the guy in the next both calling one church after another with a story about needing a place to stay. When he got a “winner” he put them on hold (with the pretext of going to the bathroom) in order to call the hotel they were willing to put him it – to see if there was wireless internet for his computer!

Our general policy, with only occasional exception, is that we will only help people who either attend TSF or are connected to people in TSF. It is difficult to evaluate situations, but we REALLY do wish to help people who have a genuine need – and we are able to do so in many situations with people we know.

Another category of this discussion involves partnership with various agencies in the community that work to assist the poor and needy. Most of these do not have a spiritual component – which is not necessarily a disqualifying factor for us. We gladly work with Holly Place – for example. Evangelical churches in recent decades have not tended to put significant resources toward such endeavors – believing them to be outside the spiritual mission of the church. Additionally, for many, knowledge remains that in previous generations, social work activity ended poorly for many denominations with the Gospel being redefined as that social work, rather than the cross work of redemption for sin.

We have much room to grow missionally (the word we use to describe involvement outside the walls of the church and the church family). We want to do more and intend to lead in such directions. Yet we want to do this in a way that is helpful – to the agencies, to those receiving the aid, and to those serving in such endeavors.

I welcome any discussion on this – and definitive answers also!