4/18/21 “Selective Hearing” 1 Jn. 3:16-24, Gen. 4:2b-13
Love is more than affection and kind feelings. It is the heart of life revealed to us by God through Jesus Christ. From his life and teaching we learn: “This is a new commandment from the beginning: love God, love one another.” John declares that this is what has come to us. We have to choose whether we will perpetuate it or pervert it and live it out so clearly that others will catch it or allow the world to define God’s word and thus destroy its influence among us. The question before us is this: How is love lived out?
C.S. Lewis said, “On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him.”
It all begins with listening: Jesus said, “This message you have heard.” Lets not assume too quickly an ease of hearing, either in relation to one another, especially family life, or in relation to God. I think often ours is selective hearing, that is, we hear what we choose to hear and tune out that which we choose to ignore.
I’ve heard it said, “It is impossible for a worthwhile thought to enter your mind through an opened mouth.” Also, its been said, “a poor listener seldom hears a good sermon.” All pastors have the thoughts on occasion of wondering if anyone is really listening—that’s called faith!
Listening is not just passive hearing. It is an active participating experience in which you pay genuine attention to what the other person is saying. Patricia Goldman, the vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, tells a story about a stewardess who, frustrated by passenger inattentiveness during her what-to-do-in-an-emergency talk at the beginning of each flight, changed the wording and said, “When the mask drops down in front of you, place it over your navel and continue to breathe normally. Not a single passenger noticed.
Once President Franklin D. Roosevelt got tired of smiling that big smile and saying the usual things at all those White House receptions. So one evening he decided to find out whether anybody was paying attention to what he was saying. As each person came up to greet him, he flashed that big smile and said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” No one even noticed. People would automatically respond with comments like “How lovely! or Just continue with your great work!” Nobody listened to what he said except one foreign diplomat. When the president said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning,” the diplomat responded softly, “I’m sure she had it coming to her.”
To allow God’s hesed love to be lived out in us, we must cultivate the discipline of listening. Often in counseling situations, especially with couples, I ask the question: How is your quiet time?” Most of the time people don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. Living and loving, in relation to God and others, requires a listening ear. You see good listeners are not only popular everywhere, but after a while they actually know something.
Research indicates there are three primary elements that cause us to listen. Our attention is enhanced when the topic at hand is something of value, something unusual, or something that seems threatening. If any or all of those elements are present, we will most likely pay attention. Ironically, the gospel carries all three elements. Salvation is of utmost value. The fact that a holy God would initiate a loving relationship with sinful people is unusual. The consequences of rejecting Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is threatening. Because God so loved the world, he gave his Son for us to love and know, yet this is lost to an unbeliever.
Which organ do you think requires the most energy? The first two obvious guesses might be the heart or brain. Actually, the inner ear demands the most bodily energy. Attentive listening can be a draining experience, so God made sure the ears got all the necessary power to carry out this important task.
Listening and loving also suggests an ethic that is higher than cultural expectations. Jesus said, “Don’t be surprised if the world hates you.” Think of how we are called to live: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut.6:5). “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). Then Jesus comes along and says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:34-35). In the Lord’s sermon on the Mount, we are called to a demanding dimension of faith. We are to live as light and salt, to practice piety in secret, to love our enemies, and to pray for those who abuse us. If we love only those who love us, we have done nothing, for even the unbelievers do that. Ours is an extraordinary faith. God always allows us to make choices. Do we listen to his words and apply them, or are we selective and only choose the things that causes us the least resistance, yet allows us to appear to be believers in His words?
We are also called to avoid the error of human pride and jealousy. “Do not be like Cain…his actions were evil” and deadly. We are taken back to Genesis 4 where already two alters existed. These two brothers couldn’t even worship together. The end result of their disquieted relationship was tragic: “And Cain rose up and murdered Abel” (4:8). The word murdered (in Hebrew ratsach) means, “He cut his throat.” Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother, what have you done? Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.” You see blood is sacred to God for it is the seat of life. Sadly, there is around us still a great deal of cut-throat Christianity. The tragedy of the first murder lay in a fact which may be repeated in every ungoverned sin. The result outruns what the will intended. I mean how often do we hear the cry, “But I didn’t mean to do it!” It was a strange contradiction that the first murder came with an act of worship. It wasn’t until approaching God did Cain realize how much he hated his brother because he thought God loved Abel more.
And so, the world hates us because it cannot understand us. Love calls for faith not just talked about but lived out. Such love is fulfilled around us, in family life as parents and grandparents sacrificially giving themselves for their children and grandchildren, in friendships as we offer the best of ourselves for the good of others, and in prayer groups and service groups and other ministries like One Great Hour of Sharing, the Joy Offering, and feeding the hungry in our midst, as we become thousands of points of light in a dark world.
A newly elected politician was visiting Washington, D.C. to get acquainted. He was visiting in the home of one of the ranking senators who was trying to interpret the bizarre wonder of the capitol. As he stood looking out over the Potomac, and an old rotten log floated by in view on the river. The old-timer said, “This city is like that log out there.” “How’s that?” asked the fledging. The senator said, “Well, there are probably more than a hundred thousand grubs, ants, bugs and critters on that old log as it floats down the river. And I imagine everyone of them thinks he’s steering it.” It’s been said that pride is the only disease known to man that makes everyone sick except the one who has it.
John’s early community knew something about this. We should take note that John didn’t dismiss a rampant heresy within the group as means of soothing controversy. Instead, he asked that they “test the spirits.” Simply put, the test was this: does the opposition profess Jesus Christ as God’s revelation to the world? If so, they could be family. If not, they were never a part of the community, and they “went out from us.” We have to exercise caution here, keeping in mind the words of our Lord: “Be careful about removing the splinter from the eye of another when there is log in your own.”
We are to follow Christ’s example. “Jesus laid down his life for us.” We know what not to do, so what should we do? We are to do what Jesus did. We are “lay down our lives…and to love not only in word and tongue but in deed and in truth.” There is much at stake here. Eternity is in the balance, so we had best get it right.
With Jesus we know there is love and forgiveness. His very identity as God’s unique Son, our personal Savior, which places him as the centerpiece of our faith. He is our model and example of living faith whom we seek to follow. But even more, he is the eternal Lord of heaven and earth before whom we bow, adore, obey and listen. Genesis 4 says that Cain went out east of Eden to a lonely place, a place apart from God and apart from others. It was a loveless and lifeless place. Its where some people choose to live today. If God seems far away to you, then who moved?
The trouble some people have in entering a doorway to the kingdom of God is like the experience of the boy who got his hand stuck in an expensive vase. His upset parents applied soap suds and cooking oil without success. When they seemed ready to break the vase as the only way to release the hand, the frightened boy cried out, “Would it help if I let go of the penny I’m holding?” So it is with us. We cause others anguish and risk the truly valuable because we will not let go of the insignificant things we possess today.
If that’s where you are, the move back to reconciliation is not far. It begins with repentance and moves to restoration. And Jesus Christ is the One who leads us there. “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” If God listens to everything without selection because he loves us, how then are we to hear each other?
A new commander was sent to a fort on the frontier. He found himself involved in a conference with an Indian Chief. Working through translators, he asked the chief a number of questions and was surprised when he got no reply. After the meeting he asked the translator why that was. He told him “that’s what we call Indian time.” He has enough respect for your questions to go away and think about them before answering.” This is not a case of selective hearing but of finding value in what is said, thinking and processing what we hear so that we can go out into the world and tell others of the knowledge of Jesus Christ and God’s remarkable love. Maybe we should all practice a little more Indian time and take time to truly listen to God’s voice.
Before refrigeration was invented, icehouses were used to preserve food. These icehouses had thick walls and no windows, and a tightly fitted door. Large blocks of ice were obtained during the winter and covered with sawdust to prevent melting. This allowed the ice to last well into the summer. One day a man lost his valuable watch while working in the icehouse. He and his fellow workers searched diligently for the valued time piece without success. A small boy heard about the problem and slipped into the icehouse. He soon emerged from the cold with the man’s watch. They asked the boy how he found it. He said, “I closed the door, laid down in the sawdust, and kept very still. Soon I heard the watch ticking.” From the cool darkness of the icehouse comes the timeless reminder of Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”
If you haven’t heard anything at all, then hear this. Our loving God has a name. You see the misery on the earth is nameless, the evil among men is nameless for the powers of darkness love to be without a name. Nameless, anonymous letters, letters without signatures are usually vulgar. But God is no writer of anonymous letters; God puts his name on everything that He does, affects and says; God is love and will always love you. Let me explain: We call it mercy—it is God’s forgiving love. We call it providence—it is God’s caring love. We call it kindness—it is God’s understanding love. We call it Christ’s passion and death—it is God’s proven love. We call it happiness—it is God’s encouraging love. We call it the will of God—it is God’s unerring love. We call it heaven—it is God’s rewarding love. We call it eternity—it is God’s unending love. Love is everything. The next time you see a rainbow, know that it is God telling you how much he loves you.
Tertullian wrote, “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness, that brands us in the eyes of the opponents. Look! They say. How they love one another! Look how they are prepared to die for one another.”
Merciful God, you set your solitary will in families, not that one should serve another, nor one should behold another’s misery and have no pity, but that each to the other should be as the right hand is to the left, and fields of flowers to the wind. We pray for those places where differences have hardened into divisions, and divisions in wars. Redeem our families and the whole family of humankind. Save us from neglect and from resignation to those entrenched in wrongs and evil aspirations that are theft by another name. Braid and strengthen the strands of life in places quiet with loss; there enlarge your presence. Support those who are sick and weak, and those who are lonely and afraid. For you came not only to be with us, but to show us where you are. As we go from this place, gather the scattered forces of our souls, calling us to the focused purposefulness of your kingdom. Arm us with Christ-like graces of mercy, and radiant cool humility. Bless our gifts to you for that which you know the best use, then may our love for one another be seen as we strive to follow Christ’s example. We offer our hearts through Christ Jesus who taught us to pray, Our Father
April 25 “No Other Name Among Mortals” Job 19:23-27, Acts 4:5-12
May 2, 2021 “No Limits” Exodus 2:11-22, Acts 8:26-40
May 9, 2021 Mother’s Day
May 16, 2021 “The Ministry of Negation” Jer. 31:31-34, Acts 16:6-7
May 23, 2021 “The Promise of Pentecost Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:1-13
May 30, 2021 “Not for Sissies” Jn. 3:1-17, 1 Corinthians 13:12