Listen and Respond

Have you ever been sitting in the church’s auditorium on a Sunday morning, before the worship service begins, when a visitor walks in? Depending on the size of your congregation, there’s usually a commotion that starts from the back of the auditorium that makes its way to the front, and before the new person or group finds a seat, the entire auditorium knows of their presence. In most scenarios, upon that visitor’s arrival, there is an overflowing amount smiles and handshakes that the visitor will experience as they make their way from the entrance to an empty pew, probably closer to the back of the auditorium. A kind and welcoming atmosphere is what the congregation hopes for the visitor to see, in an effort to make it likely that he or she will visit the church again.

Hospitality and niceness are great things for a person to see as they walk into our midst on either a Sunday or Wednesday, and those things are great for Christians to seek as they try to express an interest in the individual who walked in the door. It’s important to keep in mind also that it takes a genuine person with a genuine approach to establish a relationship or experience to inspire someone, who may be new to the church, to keep coming back. This isn’t to say that being hospitable and kind are not genuine attributes of some greeters. Getting lost in the best-foot-forward mentality could be received as a façade rather than the authentic nature that makes up that greeter, though.

In Scripture, it can be observed that relationships with newcomers were founded on people being real with other people, and building on what set apart their church from the others. For example in Acts 2, when Peter and the rest of the apostles were asked what the men should do in regards to the message they had just heard, the response was one that was truthful and real. “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’”.

Although the topic of this dialogue probably isn’t going to be represented in a first-time discussion between a member and a newcomer in a church today, the point from this example can be observed in how the conversation was handled. In this example, the member (Peter) listened the newcomer’s question and treated him with an answer that correlated with the question asked. It shouldn’t be a surprise to notice that key ingredients to making the conversation between the member and the visitor something beneficial is listening and responding! By making it obvious to the visitor that what he or she said is being acknowledged with an appropriate response, the visitor will be brought into the conversation rather than pushed away by a response that just flowed off the tongue by habit.

It’s easy for anyone to be caught in having a surface-level conversation with someone, especially if they don’t know the person they’re speaking with. Certain phrases that have etched themselves into our go-to memory bank are easy to whip out, but may not have much depth. When it comes to our visitors, however, should their experience be traced with conversations like that? It is my challenge that we get out of what is comfortable, when it comes to talking with visitors, and go for the deeper parts of communicating with people who are new to church. By listening and by responding, we may find our way into a new relationship with another soul who is eager to discover what God’s will for them is.

Advertisements

Be Still and Listen

These are the opening words of Psalm 19:

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.”

While the night sky or the beautiful clouds on a nice day do not literally speak audible words into our ears, they can nonetheless tell us about the glory of God.

In fact, the sky is not the only part of creation that has something to tell us about God and His greatness, and His glory is not the only thing that we can learn.

Romans 1:19-20 states: “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Not only the sky, but all of the wonderful things that fall under the designation of “what has been made” are here for us to learn of God. And we learn not only of his glory, but of “that which is known,” a category which is summer up by the description “His eternal power and divine nature.”

Part of that divine nature which being communicated to us daily is God’s wisdom.

Proverbs 1:20-23 says:
“Wisdom shouts in the street,
She lifts her voice in the square;
At the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
At the entrance of the gates in the city she utters her sayings:
‘How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded?
And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing
And fools hate knowledge?
Turn to my reproof,
Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you;
I will make my words known to you.’”

What if we looked at each day as an opportunity for God to say something to us through “what has been made” as He reveals to us the truth about his glory, power, and wisdom? What if we looked at every day as a new opportunity to learn more of Him, and in the process learn to love Him more?

Psalm 46:10 says: “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Other translations render the first part of this verse: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Evidently the original recipients of the words of Psalm 46 were striving so much and being so busy that they were unable to hear God’s messages to them about Himself, His majesty, His power, and His love.

Will you take time this week to be still, and listen to creation, and listen to the things that have been made, and listen to wisdom as she cries out all around us, so that you can draw nearer to the God who wants you to come to know Him?

Are you in a Spiritual “Echo Chamber?”

Last week, when we dissected the account of the Prophet Jonah, we noticed in the first few verses that “Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” If you are familiar with the story then you know that his plan to physically run away from God did not turn out so well.

Jonah had to learn what David spoke of in Psalm 139:7-10: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me.”

And while we may not physically run away from God, are we not behaving in a similar manner when we silence our God-given consciences, or deliberately put His words out of our heads in order to avoid the feeling of judgment? Do we not bury our heads in the sand when we just disregard His commands?

“Yes, I know I should be sharing the gospel with people wherever I go, but… lets talk about something else.” “Yes, I know the Bible says those actions are sinful, but surely God wants me to be happy.” “Well, I should probably get baptized but… I’ll do it later.”

Just as Jonah’s running away did not actually remove Him from God’s presence, ignoring or forgetting God’s words does not get us off the hook either.

In the book of Micah it is recorded that the people behaved in this way. After being chastised for their wickedness and warned of impending doom it is said: “‘Don’t say such things,’ the people respond. ‘Don’t prophesy like that. Such disasters will never come our way! (Micah 2:6-7, NLT)’” It was as if the people believed that if they did not hear God’s truth, then it did not exist.

Instead, they wanted to listen to people that would tell them what they wanted: “Suppose a prophet full of lies would say to you, ‘I’ll preach to you the joys of wine and alcohol!’ That’s just the kind of prophet you would like! (Micah 2:11, NLT)”

Even the world recognizes the danger of surrounding ourselves by people who only tell us what we like to here. Recently there has been a lot of talk about the dangers of social media becoming an “echo chamber” in which we become surrounded by likeminded individuals who will not challenge us to grow in our understandings.

Paul told Timothy that the same thing could happen to Christians if they were not careful: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

The truth is that there will always be someone somewhere willing to tell us what we want to hear just so we can feel good about ourselves and not be troubled with God’s truth. In this way, we can convince ourselves of whatever it is that we would like to believe, as though our obliviousness to reality actually altered the truth.

Beginning in Proverbs 1:20 we find a lengthy passage about wisdom crying out in the public square, asking if anyone is actually going to listen to her. The choice is yours. There are plenty of fools waiting to tell you exactly what you want. Or there is wisdom, crying out from the pages of the Bible for whoever is willing to listen.