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Major Truths in Minor Prophets: The Voice behind You

June 17, 2007

Isaiah 30:15-21; II Timothy 3:13-17

Traditional telephone companies tell us that Father’s Day is a special day. On Mother’s Day, people make more long-distance calls than any other day of the year. On Father’s Day, they make more collect long-distance calls than any other day of the year.

The first person I spoke to at church this morning was a man who walked in with me from the parking lot before the 8:30 service. I told him, “Happy Father’s Day,” and he wished me the same. Then he looked at me and said, “Dr. Kirk, please pray for my boy. I love him so much, but I don’t love the decisions he makes.” I replied, “You have a broken heart, don’t you?” He answered, “I sure do.”

Father’s Day can be a bittersweet day. It is a day we honor our dads, but many relationships within families are not as they ought to be. Some fathers have broken the hearts of their children. Some children have broken the heart of their father.

The title of the message today is “The Voice behind You.” Did you notice this morning that you first heard Holly and the choir singing from behind you? An antiphonal choir was in the balcony with segments located on each side of the Sanctuary. As we listened to a beautiful Call to Worship, music surrounded us. The voice of God is similar to that.

Isaiah, who came from a priestly family, wanted the people of Israel to hear the voice of God. Isaiah was first priest and then prophet; but his prophetic role did not invalidate his role as a priest. A prophet speaks to people on behalf of God, whereas a priest speaks to God on behalf of people. Isaiah longed for a renewal of relationship between God and His people.

At this particular time in history, about 8 B.C., the people of Israel were hardheaded, stubborn, recalcitrant. Isaiah knew they needed discipline and quickly told them they were not taking the right direction, saying, “You can renew your relationship by returning, by repenting, by resting. You can renew your relationship with God through quietness, silence, and confidence. You can find strength, not through confidence in your own ability, but through trust in God’s ability. You would have none of that. You are so frightened that you want to ride away on horses. The enemies will terrify you, and you will run and be left like a lone flag on a hill. God does not desire that of you. God is a God of compassion, a God of mercy. He wants to bring you back into relationship with Him. He wants you to pay attention, even in your times of difficulty, even when you eat the bread of affliction, even when you drink the water of difficulty. God wants to speak to you. Whether you turn to the right or the left, you are going to hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

How do we discern the voice of God? How do we learn to listen to the voice of God? The way the New Testament talks about the relationship between God and Jesus often perplexes Christians. On one hand, we affirm that God and Jesus are one in the same. The Trinity is three persons, but one God. We think of this relationship as God fulfilling different roles. In the Gospel accounts and especially in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks of God as if He is a separate being. It is important to understand that in His humanity, Jesus had a relationship to God that becomes a model for our relationship with God.

For example, on one occasion Jesus came into the city of Jerusalem by the way known as the Sheep Gate. Jesus saw an invalid, a paralytic of thirty-eight years, near the pools called Bethsaida. He stopped, paid attention to him, and healed him by saying, “Arise. Take up your pallet and walk.” The man got up and walked. Later, Jewish religious leaders challenged Jesus, wondering why he would do such a thing. Jesus answered, “My Father gives me the work that I am to do. I do nothing except what my Father has told me to do. The Son can do nothing of himself, but the work that He gives to me is the work I do” (John 5:19-20). In other words, Jesus is saying, “Listen. I have learned everything I know from my Father. Everything I do is His work. I do it on His behalf. I do what I am supposed to do because He has told me what to do.”

Jesus’ response raises the question, When did God give Jesus these instructions about what he was supposed to do? When did God say to Jesus, “This is the protocol. This is the way I want you to do this”? Some wonder perhaps if God put Jesus through some sort of rigorous training program before he came to earth. Did He say, “This is how you are going to handle these miracles. These are the things I want you to teach”? The New Testament reveals to us that God gave Jesus the instructions on a day-by-day basis.

How did God do that? If you read the Gospels carefully, you will see that on a regular basis – every day, or sometimes two or three times a day – Jesus turned aside for a time of prayer, conversation, with his Father in heaven. Often, early in the morning, he went away to a quiet place. Sometimes on particularly demanding days, for example on the day he fed 5,000 people, we read that he was with God privately in prayer both early in the morning and late at night. Jesus was a man of prayer. We sing the song “Sweet Hour of Prayer” that goes, “Sweet hour of prayer, That calls us from a world of care…” For most of us, that sweet hour of prayer is probably about five minutes. Jesus devoted large amounts of time in prayer. During that time, he received instructions from his Heavenly Father. I would submit to you that if Jesus needed time in prayer, we do, too.

How do we hear the voice of God? The book entitled Guidance and the Voice of God interests me. I have only read a review of it, so I cannot fully recommend the book. The authors, Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne, say that if we want to hear the voice of God, we must turn to Scripture. God in His sovereignty has said there much of what He wants us to hear, even in our own day and time. We must bracket our reading of Scripture with the life of prayer. That combination opens us to the voice of God, allowing us to hear what God has to say. Ancient Christians called it Lectio Divina, a word that means “divine reading.” It is devotional reading, sometimes called “praying the Scriptures.” A devotional reading of the scripture combined with prayer allows for a life of devotion that becomes a conversation with God around the Scriptures.

All kinds of props located in the hallways remind us that we are going to have Vacation Bible School in about a week. The children are getting excited, and a session for adults will meet every day at 10:00 A.M. here in the Sanctuary. Jim Joyner, an excellent teacher, and I will be co-teaching a class about how we came to have the Bible as we know it now, how the Bible has come to us through the centuries as the Word of God. In preparation for that class, I was reading a scripture passage that is so pivotal in understanding the Bible, one in which the Bible talks about itself. II Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” The apostle Paul wrote this wonderful passage to his young protégé, Timothy. I also read a translation of this passage in The Message, by Eugene Peterson. Follow along as I read II Timothy 3:13-17.

Stick with what you have learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers – why you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful…showing us the truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, and training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped for the tasks God has for us.

After reading that passage in preparation for Vacation Bible School, I thought about this sermon today. The section “showing us the truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, and training us to live God’s way” made me think about my father. He reared me that way, teaching me how I am supposed to live and act as a Christian adult. I started thinking about how children first learn to hear the voice of God. Psychologists tell us that children who develop a mature faith often learned how to be obedient to their parents’ instructions of their father and mother. They grew up with unconditional love and then as adults transferred this relationship with their earthly parents to a relationship with their Heavenly Father.

My father gave me permission to talk about him this morning, to talk about how he taught my siblings and me by, “showing us the truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, and training us to live God’s way.”

My grandfather used to say, “Always tell the truth even when it hurts, and a lot of times it will.” The truth is valuable. If people would just rely on the truth, that would create a lot of freedom. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). What is the truth about life? The answer is in practical things. How do you treat another person? How do you relate to others? Jesus really gave us the definitive teaching when he said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). Treat other people the way you want to be treated. Learning that truth can make a lot of difference in your life. Learning that truth can make you a better marriage partner because you treat your spouse the way you want to be treated. Learning that truth will make you a better parent because you think about how you would like to be treated if you were a child. Learning that truth will help you relate to people across many spectrums, across ethnic, faith, and racial boundaries. Learn to treat other people as if they are valuable, because they are valuable. Everybody is a child of God.

I learned to drive at an early age. I had a driver’s license when I was fourteen, which was common back in those days. I could drive a lumber truck or a tractor long before that, about the time I could reach the pedals. We had a big garden in our backyard to feed our large family. We had to grow a lot of food. One hot Saturday, I was in the yard, plowing on the tractor. Across the street, a girl in my grade at school was having a birthday party. She had invited a lot of people, but not me. I knew many of the kids there eating ice cream and cake. In the garden sitting on top of that tractor and plowing in the hot sun, I got mad. I have told you before that I used to have a bad temper.

When I finished plowing, I turned the tractor out in the road and gunned it. Those big tires on that tractor bounced across the road and right up into the yard where the party was. Kids screamed and scattered everywhere as I demolished shrubbery. I pulled the tractor back out of the yard and went to my house. When I told Daddy what I had done, he made me go with him back across the street to that shrubbery, which was a disaster. The girl’s father and all those kids I knew were standing in the yard, looking at my mess, aghast at my destruction. My father made me negotiate with her father about replacing the shrubbery and paying for the damage. That is a bitter pill to swallow when you are just a kid, but it is important training to learn to own up to mistakes and accept the consequences. Doing something foolish requires taking responsibility for the action. That will make you stop and think the next time you are tempted to do something foolish.

The Bible calls exposing our rebellion, “reproof” or “rebuke.” Most of us have a rebellious streak, and someone needs to bring us back into line in a straightforward manner. My dad certainly knew how to expose my rebellion. I was a good kid most of the time, but I had a rebellious streak. A part of me wanted to do things my way and not the way I had been told to do it. One summer, we added a basement to our house. Construction workers came in and dug a deep hole right beside our house, leaving a mound of red dirt in the middle of it. It was probably the deepest hole I had ever seen. Several Union soldiers could have been buried in it. Workers placed a 2×12 going from the top of that hole down to the island so that they could push a wheelbarrow in and out of it. After they dug the hole, it rained about three days in a row, making that mound of red dirt an island in a moat. My dad told me on several occasions, “Kirk, don’t go in that hole,”

One Sunday morning, I got dressed before everyone else, walked outside, and looked at that 2×12 going down to the island. Like a mutinous pirate walking a gangplank, I started down that board, being very careful not to get muddy. When I reached the mound, I heard a noise behind me. My younger brothers had also decided to go in the hole. Instead of walking the plank, they just slid on the muddy bank into the water in their Sunday clothes.

Then I heard another voice behind me, “Kirk.” I did not even have to look to know who it was. I turned around and said, “Yes, sir?” “Meet me in the garage.” We did not go to church that Sunday, but my goodness! Did we have a word of prayer! He gave me a licking for deliberate disobedience.

Third, scripture is useful for correcting us. Peterson words it, “correcting our mistakes.” One man told me he had a difficult son. He said, “I raised him by wearing out the seat of his pants and wearing out the knees of my pants.” Discipline and prayer go hand-in-hand. My father certainly provided correction to his children.

You heard Leigha’s beautiful song about a father teaching a child, teaching a child how to walk. Mothers are more protective with their children, but a father’s responsibility is to help their children pursue those frontiers. Dads help their children venture out a bit, letting each child take a few faltering steps and run the risk of falling. They will fall, but he will help them get up and try again. Fathers teach children how to ride a bicycle. They hold it by the seat and run along beside them, telling the riders to keep pedaling. At some point, they let go and become the voice behind the children. As they start to tilt one way or the other, fathers call out, “Don’t stop! Keep pedaling!” What a hard lesson to learn! The only way to go forward on a bicycle is to keep up the momentum.

We all run the risk of falling, but it is the only way to learn. We teach a child to swim, to learn to trust the buoyancy of the water, to keep kicking, to keep paddling. Correction requires much patience and persistence. Correction is the task of a shepherd in the same way that someone must deal with our rebellion harshly. The instrument the shepherd used was a long staff with a crook at the top, allowing him to guide the sheep back into line. A caring father must also guide his children.

Last, scripture is useful for “training us to live God’s way,” training us for righteousness. My dad did this, not so much by talking about it but by serving as an example. Training in righteousness is not a one-time event; it is a lifestyle.

I remember coming downstairs on Sunday morning and seeing a row of tithe envelopes on the counter. He wanted every single one of his children to have an offering envelope’ and if we did not have the money, he would give us some to put in it. He wanted us to get in the habit of putting that envelope in the offering plate. He did that himself. I saw my father read the Bible. My earliest memory of a religious experience is hearing my dad telling me the story of Gideon after I had gotten in a scrape at school. He said, “I want to tell you a story about a man who won without fighting.”

We had a custom in our house when we came in from a date. We went straight back to Momma and Daddy’s bedroom, sat in the chair, and debriefed. Knowing I was going to have to report in kept me from making some foolish decisions. One night after I came home a little late, I went back to my parents’ room and saw both of them kneeling beside the bed and praying. Hearing my dad call my name in prayer that night was an unforgettable experience.

When I was ordained, my dad came down the aisle with the others who laid hands on my head. He placed his hands on me and said, “God bless you, my son. God bless you, my brother.” It was an important moment for me because Dad acknowledged and I realized that now we were brothers, brothers who had the same Father in heaven. I talked to a man this week who said, “I learned a lot from my dad, mostly by his mistakes.” I know that not everybody has a dad like my dad. I know that not everybody can have this kind of experience. Every single one of us has the same Father Jesus had. We have a Father in heaven who loves us and longs for us to be with Him. We are His children. He wants us to listen to Him, and He wants to hear from us. He wants us to come before Him in prayer, and He wants us to pay attention to His Word, to what He has already said to us. He wants that because He wants to show us the way. You will hear His voice, telling you to turn to the right or turn to the left. You will hear His voice in His Word, telling us, “This is the way. Walk in it.”

We come to that knowledge of God as Father through Jesus Christ. Have you accepted Jesus as your Savior? If you have never done that, can I invite you today to acknowledge him as the Lord of your life? Some here today have other decisions to make. You know that God has led you to this place. This is where He wants you to be a member. If that is a decision God has laid on your heart, we invite your response as we stand together and sing our hymn of commitment, “Jesus Is Tenderly Calling.”

© 2007 Kirk H. Neely

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