Many of us were familiar with the film critic duo Siskel and Ebert. Gene Siskel died in 1999. Then, in 2006, Robert Ebert lost his lower jaw and his voice to complications from cancer. He has since relied on Post-it notes, his writing, and various automated voices. The kind you find on your laptop. He types in the words and then pushes a button that translates his written words into spoken words that come out of his speakers.
One voice was called Alex. A generic American accent with no emotion. Very robotic. He had used a British accent named Lawrence. But no off-the-shelf automated voice matched his distinctive voice, a voice that millions knew from his show, At the Movies, for so many years. The voice he most wanted was his own.
Enter CereProc. a Scottish company that customizes text-to-speech software for voiceless customers. robot.1 The company custom-builds voices by mining an individual’s own archived voice recordings and piecing together, syllable by syllable, Ebert’s voice. When it finishes its work, Ebert will sound like Ebert.
At least more so than Alex or Lawrence do.
Sometimes we don’t miss a voice until it goes silent. At the end of the Old Testament there is a period of 400 years often referred to as “the silent years.” Years without any prophets or leaders whose words or lives were recorded in Scripture. Years where there was no voice from God.But before the silence Ezra read the word of God to the people. His desire was that they rebuild the wall around Jerusalem for protection. And God’s greater desire was to rebuild the hearts of his people. The men, women and children gathered together. They heard the word. They understood the word. And then they did the word.
This past week Joy Behar of ABC's 'The View' suggested that hearing the voice of God is mental illness. She mocked the Vice President who has said he prays and that God leads him.
You can hear God’s voice in the same way these people did. Through his word & through prayer. It’s not Alex’s voice. It’s not Lawrence’s voice. It’s his voice. When you hear it there will be a response. The Israelites wept. Others have repented. Still others have heard good news and rejoiced. And you? If you hear it today, it can rebuild your life.
Ebert’s real voice may never be heard “live” again. But God’s is still speaking today. You only need to gather the men, women, and children, open his book, and listen.
Sometimes you may feel like life is a big gamble. Like the outcome of your life is resting on how the dice roll for you. If they roll right, you get “lucky.” If they roll badly, your life goes down the tubes.
There are times when the stars seem to align just right and you find yourself basking in a bundle of bless- ings. Then there are times when everything seems out of sync and you find yourself drudging through a junkyard of disaster. Some would call this a coincidence. Others would call if pure luck. But another group would say that someone is working behind the scenes working out your destiny. And they’d be right! But is more than just someone.
Esther would understand. She is minding her own business as her people are captive in Persia. Meanwhile Haman—who has been given great authority by the King of Persia—is developing a hatred for Jews. In particular, he hates Mordecai. It seems Mordecai will not bow down to Haman whenever he parades through the streets of Susa.
Haman decides to teach Mordecai a lesson. He gets King Xerxes to sign a decree that on a certain day all the Jews can be killed. And anyone killing a Hebrew would be allowed to keep the personal possessions of the deceased Hebrew.
To determine the exact day when the Hebrews will be exterminated, Haman rolls the dice. Adar the 13th becomes the target date.
In the meantime, the king is having some issues with the queen. She refuses the king’s summons so she is released of her queenly duties. Then, because he needs a new queen, he holds the first “Bachelor” contest to find a new wife. The short story is that Esther gets the rose and becomes his queen.
Yet Xerxes did not know Esther was a Hebrew. Nor that Esther was kin to Mordecai. The king adds another edict that will allow the Hebrews to defend themselves, which turned out good for the Hebrews and bad for any Persian that attacked a Hebrew on Adar the 13th.
And Haman? Well, in a strange twist of events he wound up impaled on a pole he himself had erected for Mordecai. Not sure he got “the point” of the story, but I hope you do. Oddly enough throughout the book of Esther you will never find the name of God mentioned. Not once.
There are days you may think he is not around either. But the story of Esther reminds us that he is, some- times behind the scenes, working things out for “good for those who love him” (Romans 8:28). And when you don’t feel he is around, that’s more your problem than his.
He has put you right where you are, right now, so you can make a difference. You can say the words someone needs to hear. You can be the example someone needs to see. You can help someone find freedom from sin. So let others roll the dice and you let God take care of the rest.
We have a collection of unfinished projects. There are some books and exercise programs too. Things started but left unfinished. Do you finish everything you start? I imagine not. And to be honest, some things aren’t worth finishing.
But don’t think, even for a second, that you can put God in your collection of unfinished projects. For starters, he isn’t a “project.” Besides, he’s not going to sit on a shelf contentedly waiting for you to give him your attention once the kids are grown or the retirement is funded or other tasks are completed.
The Israelites learned that lesson the hard way. They returned from Babylonian captivity to rebuild the temple. They started strong but in time turned their attention to other endeavors. What was important to God became unimportant to them.
Sixteen years passed without any work being done on the temple. So God allowed drought anddownturns and difficulties to come upon them. And he said, “Give careful thought to your ways”(Haggai 1:5, 7).
God is either the main thing in your life or he is nothing. At the end of the day, each of us are responsible for our own schedule. There is really no such thing as partial obedience.
God begins as the priority and then we schedule time with him. We schedule the things that are important to him. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God . . .” (Matthew 6:33).The Jews eventually got back to God’s priorities and took part in one of the greatest works of heaven.
You can too. There are some things worth finishing.
Sometime after Adam and Eve committed their world-changing act of disobedience in Garden of Eden, I can imagine Adam walking with his young sons Cain and Abel. They happen to pass by the ruins of the Garden of Eden. One of the boys asked their father, “What’s that?”Adam replied, “Boys, that’s where your mother ate us out of house and home.”
A lot happens in Scripture following the time Adam and Eve took that bite of fruit that gave mankind perpetual indigestion. As a result, they attempted the first cover up. But since their leaf loincloths were not very practical, God sacrificed an animal to clothe them. The pair was banished from the Garden and began life anew as exiles away from their homeland.
It wasn’t the only time God’s people lived as exiles. They spent a few summers in Egypt. Then more wandering in the wilderness of Sinai. Later, the Babylonians captured the nation of Judah and deported its people to captivity.
While in exile these young men lived powerful, purposeful, prayer-filled lives. They were given Babylonian names of Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. (If you decide to give your child a Babylonian name, you might try “Intobedwego.”)
The first group deported included the young, elite men who would be trained as leaders. In that group were Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Shadrach, and Azariah. They were given the remained on a diet that helped them find more energy than other workers. They prayed to their God when they were told not to. They were bold to do what was right regardless of the obstacles placed in their path. And they made a difference.
It may be difficult to put yourself in their shoes, but according to 1 Peter 2:11-12 those who follow God today are exiles too. Peter writes: “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the Gentiles that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
You may have days when you just don’t seem to “fit” in this world and that’s a good thing. It’s simply because as a child of God you don’t. You were made to live with him. Until we are home in heaven, you and I are exiles. Until then, we have things to do. We can add some good to this life so that others can get a glimpse of God. We can make a difference.
According to Peter there will be a day God will “visit” us. That’s when the exile will end. And that’swhen you and I will “fit.”
Sally Edwards is a highly esteemed third grade teacher at Jacksboro Elementary in Texas. She was preparing her students for the TAKS test and compiled an exam to prepare them for it. There were twenty questions. Number eleven on the test was this question: “List in any order the four seasons.”
A whopping 67% of her 3rd grade students answered: “Dove season, deer season, duck season, and turkey season.” 1
I don’t know what season of life you are in, but I do know this. God has something for you to do. He did for Jeremiah. He told Jeremiah he had a work for him to do. His assignment? Stand in the rubble of Jerusalem and weep. He was also told the people would not listen to him.
That was it. And oddly enough, Jeremiah did it. As the people of Judah were leaving Jerusalem in single file as captives, Jeremiah stood weeping and reminding them that God would bring them back with these words: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).
God had something for Jeremiah to do. And he has something for you to do too. In the New Testament book of Ephesians the apostle Paul writes to the church, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God created in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
In God’s employment contract for us today, he does not ask us to be successful by the world’s standards but rather to be faithful to him to do good things. God is not so much concerned about your ability as he is your availability.
Just like Jeremiah, God is calling you to play a role in his Grand Story. It may be that this is your time to change the direction of your family. Turning from a focus on you alone to a concerning yourself with the things of God. It may be that God is calling you to reach out to a neighbor. Perhaps he is laying on your heart a ministry where there is a need you can’t even see at the moment.
Whatever season of life you are in God is calling you to make a difference. And he is desiring to equip you to make that difference. Right now. Today. Are you available for his purposes?
_______________________________________________________________1 Story told by Randy Frazee in The Story sermon, Chapter 17.
In the early formation of our nation George Washington had the opportunity to become king of the burgeoning nation. But given the young nation’s experience with England and because he had a robust prayer life he knew there was only one King, so he declined the offer.
The people of the land apparently knew the same. “In a 1774 report to King George, the Governor of Boston noted: ”If you ask an American, who is his master? He will tell you he has none, nor any governor but Jesus Christ.”
The pre-war Colonial Committees of Correspondence soon made this the American motto: “No King but King Jesus.”
The story of God’s chosen people might have gone very differently had they chanted the same motto. Instead, they wanted a king. Over the period of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah there were thirty-eight kings. Only five of them were good. Of the others a refrain heard throughout the Old Testament goes like this: “They did evil in the eyes of the Lord.”
Prophets appeared exhorting the people to turn back to God. God spoke through one prophet—Isaiah—to tell the people of Judah that they would be captured and deported to Babylon but afterward he would bring them back home. The purpose? “Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed. Then the whole human race will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” (Isaiah 49:23).
In Isaiah 53 the prophet depicts the coming Messiah. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53: 2, 3).
God did not want the people to miss him. But they did. And still do.
Our nation would have gone a much different route had Washington agreed to be king. But he seemed to know what many others didn’t. When we displace God on the throne of our lives, the outcome will go horribly wrong. But when we put God on the throne in our lives, we put ourselves in the best possible position for godly success.
Maybe our American ancestors knew the best way to start a revolution. Adopt the motto “No King but King Jesus” in your life. See what changes that ignites in your life.
Verizon Wireless created one of the most memorable marketing campaigns ever in 2005. In their commercials a so-called “test man,” accompanied by a crowd of network engineers, travels the country asking the simple question, “Can you hear me now?” in an ongoing exercise to determine the reliability of the mobile phone carrier’s network.
The “catch phrase” caught on. The company’s market share went up and employee turnover went down. It seemed people could relate to the struggle to connect. Folks were tired of dropped calls and unreliable communication systems. And Verizon sent a message that they wanted desperately to connect with its subscribers and wanted its subscribers to be able to connect with each other.
At the risk of selling him short, God has done the same. Even when the Kingdom had split in two, he kept sending his message. He gave the people of the Divided Kingdom some 208 years to decide whether they would “accept” or “reject” his call. He sent his own “technicians” to get the message out. We call them “prophets.”
The job of the Verizon technician is unique. But not nearly as unique as the task given Hosea. Hosea, himself a prophet, appeared in a down time in the nation of Israel. The reality is that people often hear best when things are at their worst. So Hosea signed on with God. But God gave him a most unusual assignment. Hosea’s life would be his message. He was to marry a prostitute named Gomer and love her.
What an incredible request! (Just imagine a young man with a seminary degree in hand trying to explain that one to a pastor search committee.) The tough assignment was made even more difficult as Gomer left Hosea. She would conduct her ‘transactions’ with customers and all the time in her mind believing they were the ones supporting her.
In reality, though, it was Hosea who continued to care for her and provide for her necessities even during her times of unfaithfulness.
God tells Hosea to go and demonstrate his love for her, so he does. Now picture this scene, as ugly as it is: Hosea pays some Hebrew “pimp” for some time with his wife, Gomer. When she enters the room expecting her next customer, she comes face-to-face with her husband. It is then that Hosea tells her again he loves her and wants her to come back home.
It’s the lived-out message that Hosea later gives in words. And it’s the same message God sends today. He loves us—even in our extreme unfaithfulness. And he wants us to come back home, even though we have abandoned him. But much like a call on your cell phone, you can hit the “accept” button or the “reject” button.
You have the power to send God to voicemail and make him wait. Or you can answer his call today. The people of Israel had 208 years to pick up and they never did. The network is clear.
The message is reliable. Can you hear him now?
The decisions you make and the actions you take affect those around you.
Rehoboam learned that lesson the hard way. Rehoboam followed his father Solomon to the throne of Israel. Solomon had exacted harsh labor on the people. A delegation, led by Jeroboam, went to the new king and asked him to take away the harshness.
In private, Rehoboam asked his elder council what he should do. They advised that he become a servant to the people, lighten their load, and the people would always be faithful servants to the king.
His circle of younger friends gave him just the opposite advice. They told him to work the people harder. He liked that idea, told the delegation his plans, and wound up with a divided kingdom.
At one time or another all of us are impacted by someone else’s decisions or actions. When we sufferthe negative consequences of another’s wrongheaded decision, God can redeem the situation. Although Rehoboam wound up ruling only two tribes—Judah and Benjamin (as opposed to Jeroboam’s rule over ten tribes)—it was through Judah that Jesus came to us. God can work, and often does what seems to us as his best work, in situations that seem the most difficult.
We should always consider how our decisions and actions affect those around us. In “systems thinking” it is said that “you are the highest leverage point in any system you are in.” More simply stated, you can make a difference. You are more “powerful” than you think you are––no matter your station in life.
Clint Eastwood’s film Invictus tells the story of Nelson Mandela’s use of the South African rugby team to help heal a nation divided by apartheid. In one scene of the movie he explains to a team member, “Reconciliation starts here. Forgiveness starts here.” He knew his actions would have a ripple effect on those around him. Eventually the blessing of that “ripple” washed across the nation.
Rehoboam made a bad decision, but it was really his father Solomon’s actions that divided the kingdom. He forsook the one true God and chased after other “gods,” he neglected to serve the people and instead forced them to work harder, and he was focused on himself, as reflected in his accumulation of wives, gold, and horses in direct disobedience to God’s counsel. His son Rehoboam was merely living out consequence of those decisions and actions.
Learn from Solomon’s mistake. Love God first. Love others second. And serve those that do not yet know God. You will be surprised to see how far your ripple will travel.
Here’s something that might bring back memories for some of us. Think back to Christmases of our childhood: what was the symbol of all our Christmas wishes? How about the Sears Wish Book? Do you remember it from when you were young? We would hopefully page through the giant catalogue, circle our choices in pen, and pray that Santa would deliver our requests on Christmas morning.
The first Sears Wish Book was printed in 1933. Over time it has diminished in size and was even discontinued at one point. It was revived in 2007, but the current books are nothing in size compared to the books some of us can remember from our youth. Children today don’t really need one.
They have the Internet and their high tech toys to cruise the information highway to identify their holiday “wants.” But “back in the day” the Sears Wish Book helped us answer the seasonal question: “If you could have anything for Christmas, what would you ask for?”
You may not need the Sears Wish Book today, but you have some wishes too, don’t you? Next Christmas how would you answer the question, “If you could have one thing in the world, what would it be?”
Solomon had to answer that one. He asked for wisdom. And God gave it to him. But by the end of his life he had accumulated more and more: more gold, more horses, more wives. He had it all and wanted more. In the midst of all these gifts he lost sight of the Giver. He turned away from God and lost it all.
Another King gave us another path to follow. He had it all and gave it all . . . for us. In the Christmas season, or any season for that matter, you can guard yourself from the tyranny of too much stuff by giving.
Simply give so that others can simply live. That’s what the King born as a baby in the manger did.And my wish? That you visit the manger and find him.