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Are You Listening to Me?

                “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”  Revelation 3:22.

                One word could describe you and me today very well:  Busy. We have multiple distractions, like cell phones, laptops, iPods, iPads, and 24/7 media. We are constantly talking. Even when we are listening we are continually chattering in our brain, formulating answers, or reacting to what is being said. We are all talking, but who’s listening? We may hear what is being said but we may not be really listening.  

                What is listening anyway?  Well, first, what is not listening?  Listening is not reacting, it is not talking, it is not thinking, it is not what someone tells you it is. I could describe it, but that is not listening— that is merely its description.  (I could describe water to you, but describing it won’t quench your thirst.)

                When a person is listening there are no reactions, no thinking, no talking or no judging. There is no me in listening.  Just you.  There is no “what I want to say.”  It’s just what you want to say.

                When you are not listening you are not learning, you are forfeiting opportunity, you are closing your mind, and you are preventing the communication of intelligence. When you are not listening, nothing new is being transmitted.  There are only your reactions to terms and suppositions.

                Preaching presupposes listening.  As a preacher, I want people to listen in church.  Often, I raise my voice so people can hear me.  We installed sound reinforcements systems so people can hear.  We have special devices for the hearing impaired so they can hear.  We record services on CD’s and archive our live-streamed services so that people can have a message played back for anyone else to hear, or to listen to it again. 

                Seven times John wrote “He that hath an ear, let him hear” to the churches in Revelation. Why the repetition?  Because nobody was listening!  This had nothing to do with the muffled voices and inaudible sounds.  It had nothing to do with no sound waves registering on the ear drums, or with bad auditory nerves.  It had everything to do with the intentionality of the hearers.

                The word listen appears only once in the King James Bible (Isaiah 49:1).  The Hebrew word for “listen” is shama.  The English Words in KJV translated from shama, however, are: hear 785, hearken 196, obey 81, publish 17, understand 9, obedient 8, diligently 8, shew 6, sound 3, declare 3, discern 2, noise 2, perceive 2, tell 2,  and reported 2.  But, what are we to shama, or listen, or hearken to?  Answer: The commands of God.  Whenever you hear a command, you need to listen.  Take Adam and Eve, for example.

                “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”  Genesis 2:16-17.
                Adam and Eve failed.  They heard the voice of God but didn’t follow His command.  Their punishment for not listening is recorded in Genesis 3:16-19, 22-24. The long-term penalty included pain in childbirth, a cursed ground, hard labor, thorns and thistles, and finally, returning to the dust from which they were created.  In the short-term, they were exiled from the garden and forbidden to come back.

                There is a steep price to be paid for ignoring the voice of God.  Pharaoh didn’t listen and was punished by the plagues and the loss of his firstborn.  Israel didn’t listen to Joshua and Caleb and spent thirty-eight more years in the wilderness.  Moses didn’t listen and he was kept from going into the Promised Land.       Ahab didn’t listen and he was slain in battle.  Manasseh didn’t listen and he lost his kingdom to Assyria.  Jehoiakim didn’t listen and he lost his kingdom to Babylon.


“Why Didn’t She Listen?” Death toll hits 246

                MANILA, Philippines—Veterinarian Nelson Tobillo blames no one for the sad fate that befell his 12-year-old daughter Paula Marie, or “Lalaine,” on that black, stormy Saturday.

                “If I could blame anybody, I’d probably blame her,” the 57-year-old Tobillo said on Tuesday with that curious blend of fondness and exasperation some fathers show when talking about their children.

                “Why didn’t she listen to me?” he said. “But then how could I blame her when she’s already gone?”

                Lalaine, a Grade 6 student at Marikina Catholic School, was among the 246 people who perished in the rampage of floods unleashed across Metro Manila and parts of Luzon by Tropical Storm “Ondoy” (international codename: Ketsana) at the weekend.

                Tobillo said the last conversation he had with his daughter was on the telephone at 10:30 p.m. Saturday.  Lalaine was in their bungalow-type house in Provident Villages in Marikina City, along with her nanny Jocelyn, while Tobillo was in Los Baños, Laguna, on a business trip.

                “The last thing she told me was the flood was already knee deep,” Tobillo said. “I told her, ‘Get out of the house now. Go to our neighbor. They have a second floor. You’ll be safe there. Call your sister Tess.’”

                “But she didn’t listen,” he said. (Philippine Daily Inquirer  09/30/2009)             


                But, the question is…why?  Why don’t people listen?  Jesus talked about it.  “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.  For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.  And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 11:12-15.
                Why can’t people hear?  Some are deaf or have a physical hearing impairment.  Some have foreign objects stuck in their ears to block the sound.  (You can buy headsets that have “noise cancellation” features.)  Some are distracted by other sounds so they can’t discern the important sounds.  But some deliberately interfere with their ability to hear because they deem the words unbelievable or the words are uncomfortable!  These are the people that Jesus was talking about!  It was the content that bothered them.

                “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:  For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”  Matthew 13:13-15.
                Waxed gross means stupefy, grown callused.  Dull of hearing means heavy, not discerning.  How would a person become stupefied and callused?  When they are up to their ears in gossip, garbage thinking, carnal pleasures.  When they talk about people, problems, frustrations, headaches all the time.  When they become obsessed with sports, politics, houses, cars, clothes, physical health.  Look at Demas.  “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.”  And remember,  “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Timothy 6:9-10.

                How do people grow dull of hearing?  When they stop their intake of the Word of God on a regular basis.  When they listen to voices that compete with the voice of God so they can’t discern.  When rebellion rises up in their hearts to contradict the voice of God.  When they lose their interest in the spiritual and eternal.  When their prayer life fades into non-existence.

                Coming to church and hearing preaching and teaching keeps people spiritually sharp.  It’s the only way to squelch competing voices to the Word of God.  Contradicting the Word of God in one’s heart signifies rebellion.  Paying too much attention to the present, carnal world signifies a broken relationship with God.  Loss of a prayer life means a person is no longer in communication with God.

                Listening is why we come to church!  We don’t come to look; we come to listen!  We don’t show up to show off!  We come because “Jesus only has the words to eternal life!”  We are a combat unit listening to every critical word of our instructions.  We are a rescue team entering into a hazardous environment.  We can’t afford to be callused or undiscerning.  Every time we come to church, something is said that means life or death, heaven or hell!  “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 13:9-10.  “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 13:43.   “And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Mark 4:9.   Over and over and over, Jesus kept asking, “Are you listening?”

                How do you make people listen? Try as you might, you really can’t. Hearing occurs whenever the ear perceives sound waves; listening is an act of the will. It cannot be forced.  People must choose to listen; you can’t make them do it.

                Communication experts tell us that the first aspect to consider in “getting people to listen” is having a purposeful message. Millions of messages vie for people’s attention, and with all the new ways to communicate (such as texting, instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and even “old-fashioned” email), if a message doesn’t serve a purpose, it gets screened out.

                I know how to get some people to listen.  I just drop a few names or throw out some terms that evokes a response, like, LaBron James, Lindsay Lohan, Tiger Woods, Cleveland Cavaliers, Cincinnati Bengals, Concinnati Reds, Barack Obama, Ohio State Buckeyes, unemployment, Obamacare, wildfires—in short, whatever you are attuned to in your individual life, whatever means the most to you, that’s what you will listen to.

                The church can’t listen if the pastor isn’t talking.  And so, the job of the pastor is to talk.  But pastors cannot afford to talk about things that don’t matter.  They have to talk about things that have eternal significance.

                People will draw their last breath on the strength of what they are taught in church.  People will go to heaven or hell from the pews of the church.  People will stand before God in judgment on the basis of what they hear from the pulpit.  (Pastor, do you think you are in a pressure position?)

                Pastors have to decide on whether to make people laugh or cry.  They have to decide whether to slap people on the back or hit them over the head.  They have to decide whether to comfort people or scare them.  They have to decide whether to point people to the past where they stand established in the plan of God…or to show them future prophecies so they can get in on the plan of God.

                Is it grace today, or judgment?  Is it a faith message or a works message?  Is it trials and afflictions or healing and salvation?  Should the pastor shear the sheep or throw out the lifeline to the sinner?  Were people listening when the pastor preached about heaven, or hell, or time or eternity?  Were they listening when the pastor preached about choices?  What about when the pastor asked them about measuring up to the Word of God? Or, were they listening when the pastor preached about Demas, or seeking riches, or flirting with the world, or being yoked together with unbelievers?  Are they really listening, or are they just “doing time” in the sanctuary?

                Were they listening when the pastor taught about the principles of holiness and separation?  Were they listening when the pastor taught about the treasures of the tabernacle?  Were they listening when the pastor taught about prayer, Bible-reading, and integrity?  Were they listening?

                The greatest tragedy is not that people would go to hell from a barstool, but from a church pew!  The greatest tragedy is not that kids in the world—who have never been taught the Bible—would make a mess of their lives.  It is that kids who have memorized Scripture and heard the teaching of the Bible as far back as they can remember would make a mess of their lives!

                It is not amazing that the people of the world would get caught up in sports, pleasure, materialism, hobbies, social functions, cars, clothes and education.  They have nothing else to do with their lives and they have never been taught about spiritual values.  It is far more amazing, and damning, that people who know about Acts 2:38, about prayer, about miracles, about holiness, about heaven, about hell, about the church…and yet get caught up in the exact same things as the people of the world!  People in the world don’t listen because they haven’t heard.  Those in the church don’t listen—not because they haven’t heard, but because they are callused and dull of hearing.

                Let me ask…if messages aren’t going to be heard, why preach them?   Sermons aren’t a form of entertainment.  Sermons aren’t for us to critique for substance, style, delivery and skill.  Pastors don’t preach for a letter grade.  If they are, they should just take their D minus or F and go home.  No.  Preachers preach because the world is in a critical situation:  Jesus is coming and we have to be ready!

                Let me tell you how important it is to listen.  Jesus warned us about listening through Sodom and Capernaum.  You have heard of Sodom.  It was a wicked, perverse, vile city.  We all know what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah.  And we know why it happened.

                But, have you ever heard of Capernaum?  Capernaum was where the centurion’s servant was healed.  It was where Peter’s mother-in-law was healed.  Demons were cast out in Capernaum.  Every sick person brought to Jesus in Capernaum was healed.  The Bible even says that Isaiah fifty-three was fulfilled in Capernaum! But Jesus compared Sodom who never heard the gospel to Capernaum which had all these mighty and miraculous things done in it.  Why?  Because even with all these evidences of the power of God, Capernaum would not repent.  The city would not listen!

                “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.”  Matthew 11:23-24.
                Those who listen to God have the assurance that He will listen to them!

                 “In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.” Psalms 18:6.
                On the other hand, if people do not hearken unto the voice of God, He will not hear them in the time of crisis.  “Therefore thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.” Jeremiah 11:11.  The only way to know if people are truly listening is if they allow these words to penetrate that hard shell of indifference and callousness. 

                “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” Acts 20:26-35. What will it be?  Will they be glad they listened…or, will they wish they had?

                “He that hath an ear, let him hear.”  After the rapture, those left behind will never hear these words again. It will be too late to listen.  Now, it is not too late.  Are you listening?

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