Why Standing Stones?

Why Standing Stones?

In ancient Israel, people stood stones on their end to commemorate a powerful move of God in their lives. It was a memorial to something God spoke or revealed or did. Often these standing stones became reference points in their lives. Today, we can find reference points in the written Word of God. Any scripture or sermon can speak something powerful into our lives, or reveal something of the nature of God. In this blog I offer, what can become a reference point for Christians, taken from God's ancient word and applied to today's world.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Waiting on God

How many reading this have prayed and waited for God to answer?  How many have read the promises of God and waited?  How many have been waiting a long time and still haven’t seen God move in their circumstances.

Do you know what I think takes the very most faith?  It’s not believing that God exists.  It’s not believing that Jesus rose from the dead.  I can grasp those things, but what takes the most faith is believing that God will move, and that God will deliver on His promise for you.

Isaiah 40:27-31 (NKJV)
40:27 Why do you say, O Jacob, And speak, O Israel: "My way is hidden from the Lord, And my just claim is passed over by my God"? 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, 31 But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.

God’s Promises

Isaiah is trying to encourage Israel here, because they seem to have lost faith in God’s promises.  They’ve begun to complain about God not answering prayers. 

“My way is hidden from the Lord.”  God doesn’t see my circumstances.

“My just claim is passed over by God.”  God isn’t responding to my cries.

They’re not looking forward with hope.  They’re complaining that God’s hearing but not responding.  They’re impatient – They want to see God move, now!  They’ve forgotten about the things that God has done; the things that they’ve experienced.    They’ve forgotten what God’s character is like.  They’ve forgotten the things they’ve heard from their fathers about how God has moved in the past. 

Have you not seen through your own experience, or heard from teachers and the scriptures, about the attributes of God?  God doesn’t grow weary – God isn’t tired.  He’s not too exhausted to meet the needs of His people.  Instead of complaining, you ought to be inspired by how God moves and the things He does.  This is what Isaiah is reminding them.  He’s telling them whom God is, and what He is capable of doing.

I think that this is the number one way that people lose faith.  They have things that they need – things that they want and so they pray, but they don’t see God move.  They begin to lose faith that God will move on their behalf, so they stop praying, stop hearing the word and stop believing.

Where are you today?  Are you inspired by God’s promises?  Are you seeing God move in your life?  That’s really a very interesting question, because you may answer that you don’t see God moving – That God isn’t doing anything with any purpose in your life – That God isn’t meeting your needs in life, but God is moving in your life.  God is helping you.  God is actively involved in your life, but you think He’s not, because you’re not seeing Him give you that one thing that you desperately want from Him.

He’s moving in every aspect of your life.  He’s providing; He’s working in you; He’s meeting every need that you have but that one thing that you want the most.

Part of the problem is that you see things differently than God.  You always think that what you want is the best thing for you.  You always think that you’re ready for that thing you’re asking.  You always think that what you want is good for you, but God knows what’s best.

God knows if it’s the best thing for you.
God knows if you’re really ready.
God knows if it’s good for you.

You THINK – but God KNOWS!

These are some of the reasons God doesn’t move, but I think that there’s even more to it than that. 

I was thinking about Abraham – At seventy-five years old, God made him a promise.  He took him to a place and showed him a land that one day would belong to his descendants.  The problem was that at seventy-five years of age Abraham was childless – He had no heirs; no descendants.  He must have thought it was odd that God would make this promise.  He was an old man.  His wife was barren.  There it was, though, the promise of descendants.

Genesis 15:2-4 (NKJV)
15:2 But Abram said, "Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3 Then Abram said, "Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!" 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir."

Abraham believes God but he needs clarity.  He needs God to clarify this:  “I go childless – Are you saying the child of my slave is my heir?”  God tells him that a child will come from his own body – another promise.  Then – NOTHING happens…for twenty-five years, there is no child!

God says I have a promise for you.  I’m going to do something in you and through you.  I’m going to give something over into your hand, but you’re going to have to wait for it!

Can you believe for the child?  Can you believe for the promise?  Even though you see no evidence of it?  That’s the Biblical definition of faith, isn’t it?  Hebrew 11:1 – The substance of things hoped for – It’s faith that makes those hoped for things real.  It’s what brings substance to dreams, hopes, and promises.  Even that definition implies that it’s going to take time:  Things hoped for – Things not seen.  You give up, though, when you’re not seeing it.  “God I’m desperate for your promise”; God says wait! 

God made a promise to Joseph – They’ll bow down to you.  Then Joseph had to wait.  He endured slavery.  He endured false accusation and prison.  Joseph spent thirteen years as a slave and prisoner before the promise came.  Joseph had to wait!

God made a promise to David – David was anointed king when he was fifteen years old.  “You’re anointed the King over Israel – a man after my own heart!”  David became king at age thirty.  David had to wait.

Moses felt a calling to be the deliverer of Israel when he was forty years old.  He rose up, right then, in his own strength to deliver Israel from Egypt and failed.  God called him again at eighty years of age – “You’re going to deliver Israel.”  Moses had to wait!

All of these men had God’s promises on their lives, but they all had to wait.  There’s a promise in your life, as well.  Can you wait for it?

The Affect of Waiting

Why would God make us wait to see His calling and promise?  I felt the calling to full-time ministry after only a few months of salvation.  I had been saved only six months when I knew I wanted to be like my pastor.  I waited nine more years to go.  It was a time of preparation; a time of testing.  The promise was there, but I had to wait.

Abraham endured a period of waiting; twenty-five years.  It was a time of testing, a time of proving faith.  God was looking for a man that would trust Him.  He endured more than just waiting, too.  He endured famines; he endured fear down in Egypt.  This was the biggest pitfall for him.

Waiting isn’t easy.  There’s a desperation for the promise, “God I’m crying out for this – It’s important to me, God!  Why aren’t you responding?”  Abraham waited for the child but none came:

Genesis 16:1-4a (NKJV)
16:1 Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. 2 So Sarai said to Abram, "See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her." And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. 3 Then Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. 4a So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived…"

God had promised that the child would come from his own body.  God had said that it would be him and Sarah that would produce a child – and yet Abraham loses faith in the process of time.  He’s had to wait, so he thinks that he has to help God to produce the child.  He takes the work of God upon himself.  Instead of waiting in faith, he reacts in the flesh and Ishmael is the child of that union.

Genesis 16:12 (NKJV)
16:12 He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, And every man's hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren."

This is not the child of the promise; this is the child of the flesh.  They couldn’t see the possibility of God’s promise.  She was barren.  He was as good as dead.  They couldn’t see how God’s promise could happen. 

His impatience has corrupted the promise of God.  His lack of faith has caused this to go wrong.  Instead of producing a child through whom the world would be blessed, he has brought forth a man that would be against all men.

Can you wait for the possibility of God’s promise?  Are you in too much of a hurry?  Do you feel like you have to push the promise through?  Waiting is a time of testing.  God wants your trust.

I’ve seen so many people destroy what God is trying to do by taking God’s work and God’s promises into their own hands and corrupting the promise of God through the desires of the flesh.  Are you producing an Ishmael in your own life, because you’re looking at the promises of God through the filter of your own circumstances? 

“I don’t see any possibility for an almighty God to move, so I need to step in and help!”

In the end for the promise of God to flourish, Ishmael had to be cast out into the wilderness.  The flesh had to be thrown down so the promise could arise.

In our text it says:

“Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall.”

This is talking about those who cannot wait on God:  The ones who will try to bring it about in their own strength.  They will faint and grow weary – the boundless energy of youth will fail them because the work of God will overwhelm them!  The creation of the heavens is the work of God’s fingers.  What God does with His fingers is impossible for any man in all of his strength.  We don’t have the strength for God’s work.  We don’t have the power to make His promise come true.

Those Who Wait

If you’re trying to bring about God’s promises in your own strength, you will grow weary.  The young men will utterly fall.  These are the men who are appointed; they are called to a purpose, but they will be utterly destroyed in trying to do it on their own – But those who wait…

Isaiah 40:31 (NKJV)
40:31 But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.

Those that wait will have new strength – their strength will be renewed; made new.  They will mount up with wings like Eagles.  What does that mean?

As an Eagle ages, there is damage to his feathers.  Many of them have fallen out; the power of the wings has diminished.  The eagle flies to a high rock and pulls the remaining feathers out of his wings.  He needs to stop and rest; take the time to allow the feathers to grow in.  He’s unable to hunt. He has to endure that time of waiting.  He can do nothing as he waits for the feathers to grow in.  He is utterly vulnerable.

As the feathers grow in and fill in the spaces where they were missing, his power to fly is renewed, but first, he has to survive that time of waiting.

God’s promises will strengthen us, but we also have to endure and survive the time of waiting.  This is the time when we are vulnerable to the devil’s strategy.  Can you allow your wings to “mount up”?  Can you endure the time it takes to see the promise?  What if you only see the beginning of the promise like Abraham did? 

Hebrews 11:13 (NKJV)
11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

These all died in faith:  The scripture is talking about Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah.  Abraham didn’t see his descendants numbered like sand on the seashore.  He never saw them possess the Promised Land.  It took six hundred eighty-five years from the time of the promise until they stepped across the Jordan and into that promise.

Abraham didn’t live to see that, but he saw Isaac, the child of promise.  He saw Jacob, his grandson.  He saw the promise of God begin to take shape and grow. 

Waiting on God isn’t just waiting:  God’s testing; God’s teaching; God’s loving and He’s giving us the opportunity to see His faithfulness.  He’s building faith and trust into us.  So that we can mount up as on Eagle’s wings; So that we can walk with him and not grow weary; So that we can run and not faint.  Are you one of those who can wait on God?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

God's Plan through Prison

We all go through things in life.  We all face difficulties.  Things are not always easy:  There’s persecution, hardships, things happen that are undeserved.  So, where’s God’s purpose in our lives?  Shouldn’t it be easy?  After all, we believe God.  We have faith, so why do bad things happen to us?  We’re good people, right?

God does have a plan for our lives.  So, if God has a plan then why are bad things happening?  In this post, I want to examine that, from this portion of scripture:

Genesis 39:19-20 (NKJV)
39:19 So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, saying, "Your servant did to me after this manner," that his anger was aroused. 20 Then Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison.

God’s Plan for Joseph

We know the story of Joseph.  He spent time as a slave.  He spent time in prison.  After that he became the Prime minister of Egypt.  God had a plan for Joseph.  God spoke to him and showed him his destiny.

Genesis 37:5-7 (NKJV)
37:5 Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. 6 So he said to them, "Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: 7 There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf."

God is speaking to Joseph, here.  God is revealing something to him.  God is showing him there is a plan and a destiny for his life.  Eventually, it did happen.  He rose to a position of preeminence.  His brothers did bow to him.  It did come out according to God’s plan, but it wasn’t an easy road to destiny. 

Often there are what look like pitfalls on the road to God’s plan.  Sometimes it even looks as if the opposite of God’s plan is happening.  We can’t see how God’s plan could possibly work out.  Have you ever felt that?  You look at your circumstances and you can’t see any possibility.  We need to remember that it’s God’s plan; that God is in charge.

I’ll tell you a story.  In Riverside, we had a neighbor who was a good Christian.  In fact, she was a Christian counselor.  She helped people through their problems, using Biblical tools to bring counsel.  On the day that Barak Obama was elected president of the United States, she told me she couldn’t go to work.  She was too upset; she couldn’t see any possibility for America.  I had to ask her the question, “Is God still on the throne?”

We’re like that lady – We know that God has a plan.  We know that God is in charge of the universe, but in our limited vision, we can’t see how God’s plan could possibly happen.  So what happens?  We get depressed.  We even get angry at God, sometimes we even leave God.

Joseph had a clear vision of God’s plan for his life.  In fact, God showed him more than once.  He had two dreams:  God was going to elevate Joseph above the others in his family.  Joseph was destined to be a leader.

I wonder if God has spoken to you.  Has God begun to reveal his plan for your life?  Are you seeing God’s purposes for your life?  Can you look at your life right now, and see how God’s plan can happen for you, or are you bogged down by your circumstances.

I want you to know that Joseph went through a number of things before he saw God’s promise.  It must have looked impossible for him.  He may have thought that God’s plans might not happen.  In all that, though Joseph had faith – He believed God.

We’re all going to face adversity in life, even though we have God’s promise of destiny.  Look at what Job said to his wife:

Job 2:9-10 (NKJV)
2:9 Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!" 10 But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job and his wife had just lost all of their children, all of their flocks, all of their wealth and Job’s health.  Job knows that adversity also comes in God’s plan.

The Unfolding of God’s Plan

God has spoken to Joseph and laid out the end result of His plan for Joseph’s life, but He didn’t tell Joseph what to expect.  Joseph shares the plan with his brothers.  His brothers are upset – They’re jealous because God has told Joseph that he would be above them.  So, look at what they did:

Genesis 37:25-28 (NKJV)
37:25 And they sat down to eat a meal. Then they lifted their eyes and looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry them down to Egypt. 26 So Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh." And his brothers listened. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

The brothers wanted to kill him.  They plotted against him.  They made a decision to sell him into slavery, but wait a minute, where is God’s plan in this?  This isn’t a blessing, is it?  He’s going to be a slave – This isn’t what God had told him his destiny was.  Is the plan of God derailed in his life? 

God has a plan for us, too, but sometimes it doesn’t seem as if it’s working out.  In fact, it seems as if the exact opposite is happening.  “God has a good plan for me, doesn’t he?  So where’s the blessing?  How come I’m being sold into slavery?  Is this really God’s plan for me?” 

God told Joseph everyone would bow down to him, but right now it doesn’t look as if the brothers are going to be doing that.  It seems like they have the upper hand.

The devil does that to us, too.  Sometimes it seems like the devil is winning.  Sometimes it seems as if the devil has the upper hand – and sometimes it seems like it gets even worse. 

Joseph is serving in Potiphar’s house.  Potiphar’s wife decides that she wants him.  Joseph is serving God, though.  He refuses her and the woman lies.  Potiphar has him put in jail thinking that he raped his wife – and Joseph languishes in prison.  Can you imagine what Joseph is thinking?  How distant the destiny of the dreams must seem to him.  He’s separated from family.  He’s in another country in prison.

Think about this.  How often are prisoners elevated in society?  They’re usually considered to be cast-offs from society.  They hardly ever have people bowing down to them.  They’re hardly ever thought of as leaders of society.

In all of this God’s plan is still working, though.  While he’s a slave the Bible says:

Genesis 39:2 (NKJV)
39:2 The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.
 Genesis 39:23 (NKJV)
39:23 The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph's authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.

I wonder if the Joseph felt like the Lord was with him, or did he feel more like Job’s wife.

There were some things that happened in prison that seem unrelated.  He meets a butler and a baker that are also in prison.  They’ve somehow made Pharaoh angry, so he’s sent them to prison.  While in prison, each of them had a dream.  Look at what Joseph says to them:

Genesis 40:7-8 (NKJV)
40:7 So he asked Pharaoh's officers who were with him in the custody of his lord's house, saying, "Why do you look so sad today?" 8 And they said to him, "We each have had a dream, and there is no interpreter of it." So Joseph said to them, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me, please."

We get a little insight into Joseph’s thinking here, “Do not interpretations belong to God?  Tell them to me.”  Joseph is still having faith.  Even in the middle of all of these things, he still believes God.  He’s still praying.  He’s still got a relationship with God.

A lot of times when things go wrong our relationship with God suffers for it.  We feel distant from God.  We back off in our prayer life.  We allow distance to come between us and God; am I right?  It’s almost like we allow ourselves to think that God betrayed us.

This often the way it is with people who profess not to believe in God.  Often, they’re just angry at God for something that’s happened in their lives.  It’s not so much a disbelief in god as it is a feeling of betrayal, followed by a hatred of God; bitterness.

I don’t get that from Joseph, though.  He correctly interprets their dreams and asks the butler to remember him to Pharaoh.  The butler for his part promptly forgets about Joseph and he spends two more years in prison…until Pharaoh has a dream.

Pharaoh is disturbed by the dream and finally, the butler remembers how Joseph correctly interpreted his dream.  He tells Pharaoh and Pharaoh has Joseph brought to him.  Joseph then correctly interprets Pharaoh’s dream.

Destiny is Realized

This is where Joseph begins to see the plan unfolding.  Pharaoh’s dream had to do with prosperity and drought.  There would be seven years of prosperity and then seven years of drought.  Joseph gave a plan to Pharaoh to use the seven prosperous years to provide for the seven drought years, so Pharaoh lifts Joseph up from prison and makes him Prime Minister over all of Egypt.  They destiny of God is playing out in his life.  Now look at this:

Genesis 50:18 (NKJV)
50:18 Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, "Behold, we are your servants."

His brothers have bowed down before him.  God’s entire plan has played out in his life.  What you should see here, though is that all of the things that took place in Joseph’s life had to take place, for God’s plan to work.

At Potiphar’s house Joseph learned how to manage the house.  He had to be a slave there or he wouldn’t have gone to prison.  In prison he interpreted the dreams – the thing that was needed by Pharaoh.  That had to happen for him to be recommended to Pharaoh to interpret Pharaoh’s dream.  God put all of those things into place.  Joseph tells us something that we need to know:

Genesis 50:20 (NKJV)
50:20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

All along it was the plan of God.  It was meant by the brothers for evil, but God had a plan for good. I know that some people are going through things.  I know that some people can’t understand why things are happening the way they are.  I know that some f you can’t see the promise of God in your circumstances, but there is a plan and what you’re going through now might be necessary to make God’s plan play out in your life.  Don’t lose hope – Don’t break faith.

You don’t always know what God is doing.  You can’t always see His strategy, but God knows what He’s doing.  He has a destiny and a plan for you.

Monday, April 10, 2017

It Matters How You Finish

There’s a book on Amazon.com called, The (Incomplete) Book of Failures:  The Official Handbook of the Not-So-Terribly-Good Club of Great Britain.  The book itself should be mentioned within, though, because when they printed it they left out the first two pages and had to add them in later.  Even the book itself was a failure!

Everyone has a failure at some point in their live.  We all fail; we fail at school; we fail at work; we fail in our walk with Jesus.  The problem with failure is that people often fail and then think, “That’s it – it’s over!” but that doesn’t necessarily have to be true.  Today, I want to post on coming back from failure.

Proverbs 24:16 (NKJV)
24:16 For a righteous man may fall seven times And rise again, But the wicked shall fall by calamity.

Failure Happens

A righteous man may fall seven times – So our failure doesn’t mean that we’ve been bad.  Failure isn’t a judgment by God.  It can happen to a righteous man, but the righteous man can rise from the failure.

Peter is a perfect example.  Peter was Jesus’ chosen leader, but Peter wasn’t perfect.  Not by any measure of perfection.  Peter was impulsive.  He did things without thinking.

Jesus is walking on the water – Peter gets out of the boat. On the mount of Transfiguration – Peter blurts out that he wants to build tabernacles for Moses and Elijah.  Jesus says He’s going to suffer – Peter rebukes Him.  In the Garden of Gethsemane – Peter cuts of Malthus’ ear.  Jesus sees them on the Sea of Galilee – Peter jumps out of the boat and swims to shore.

That’s just who Peter is – He’s all enthusiasm, but no foresight.  He means well, he just doesn’t always think about the consequences. God can use people like that. 

It speaks of boldness.  He’s not afraid.  It speaks of zeal.  He’ wants to do something for God.  It speaks of action.  He’s not one to sit around and think, think, think.  He does! He’s the original NIKE® man, “Just Do It!”

This is a good thing in some ways.  It makes things happen.  He’s a leader.  He’s not sitting around waiting to be led.  A church can use a guy like that, but when you’re a man of action, there’s always the potential for failure.

Taiwan is an interesting place.  People live under enormous pressure to succeed.  Bosses have unrealistic expectations, sometimes.  There’s no room for failure.  I’m not saying that failure is good. I’m just saying that if you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried to do anything difficult. 

People are going to fail.  Edison didn’t invent the light bulb on the first try.  Lincoln lost a lot more elections than he won.  I know men who’ve tried to pioneer a church, and are back in their home churches because they couldn’t make it work. 

In businesses they have methods for doing things.  Do you know why?  It’s because there were failures along the way that taught them that this is the way to make it all work.  If you want to be successful, there’s going to be failures along the way.

I’ve learned things, because I’ve made mistakes.  I’ve changed because I learned that some things I’ve done and said weren’t helpful in church building.  It’s been a sixteen year process to get where I am today – and I’m still not perfect.  I still make mistakes.  I want to clarify something, though.  If the failure is because you’re lazy, or you’re not putting a hundred percent into it, it’s not a mistake.  It’s not a learning moment.  It’s a decision – You’re looking for failure!  Leadership is hard – you have to be willing to work at it.

Peter wasn’t lazy.  He was always willing to do things.  He was a successful businessman.  He ran a business.  Peter has to learn how to be a disciple.  He’s learning how by making mistakes.

Matthew 16:21-22 (NKJV)
16:21 From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. 22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!"

This is a perfect example – Jesus is telling them about all the things that have to happen to Him, in order for him to fulfill the will of God for him and for us.  Peter say, “Oh no, that’s not happening!”  He’s actually rebuking Jesus.  This is a failure; this is a mistake.  These things have to happen.  This is God’s will that Jesus be crucified.  Look at what happens:

Matthew 16:23 (NKJV)
16:23 But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."

Ouch – Jesus called Him Satan!  “You’re not mindful of the things of God.  You’re thinking about the things of men.”

You can see where Peter is coming from – He loves Jesus.  He doesn’t want Him to have to suffer and die.  He’s talking without thinking again, and Jesus has to tell him, “It’s not about you, Peter.”

Matthew 16:24-25 (NKJV)
16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

If you want to be my follower you have to deny yourself.  It’s not about what Peter wants – It’s about what God is trying to do for everyone.  Peter’s being selfish, “I don’t want that to happen!”  Jesus said that Satan using you, Peter.  It’s sin – Sin is failure.

Peter’s Biggest Failure

I want to show you the biggest failure in Peter’s life.  This is where things really come apart for Peter.  It takes place on the night of the Last Supper.  Jesus has already sent Judas out to arrange His betrayal.  He’s washed their feet to teach them about leadership, and they are on their way to Jesus’ arrest at Gethsemane.  Of course, the disciples don’t know that, yet.  They think they’re just going to watch Jesus pray.

Matthew 26:31-32 (NKJV)
26:31 Then Jesus said to them, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: 'I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' 32 But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee."

Jesus begins to warn them that there will be failure for them.  “All of you will be made to ‘stumble’ because of me.”  That word stumble comes from the same word that we get our word scandal from – it means to ensnare – to trip up – to cause to sin – There will be failure, because of what happens to Jesus this night.  Look at what Peter says:

Matthew 26:33 (NKJV)
26:33 Peter answered and said to Him, "Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble."

“Oh no; no, no, no; Not me, that’s not happening!  They may stumble but not me!  I’m not stumbling.”

Matthew 26:34-35 (NKJV)
26:34 Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." 35 Peter said to Him, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" And so said all the disciples.

We all know what happened, though, don’t we?  Take a look:

Matthew 26:69-74 (NKJV)
26:69 Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, "You also were with Jesus of Galilee." 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you are saying." 71 And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth." 72 But again he denied with an oath, "I do not know the Man!" 73 And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, "Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you." 74 Then he began to curse and swear, saying, "I do not know the Man!" Immediately a rooster crowed.

What happened to “I will follow you even unto death!”?  The Book of Luke says that Jesus looked at Peter and Peter heard the rooster and saw Jesus look at him.

Matthew 26:75 (NKJV)
26:75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." So he went out and wept bitterly.

This is a great failure on Peter’s part.  Where was all the boldness?  Where was all the bravado?  He’d used his sword in the garden, but the boldness went out of him.  His failure was in his fear!  He’d bragged that he would follow Jesus even to death, but at the moment of crisis – He lost his nerve and saw through himself.  He saw the weakness and failure and he wept bitterly.

This could have been the end for him.  This could have been the failure that destroyed him.  We’ve all been knocked down by failure.  We don’t read about Peter at the crucifixion.  When Jesus rises from the dead and they tell him:

Luke 24:11 (NKJV)
24:11 And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.

He didn’t believe it – even though Jesus clearly spoke that it would happen.  He’s broken and discouraged – He’s failed – and it could be all over.  For many of us it would be.

It Matters How You Finish

It’s not failure in life that matters – I’ve told you failure happens.  It happens to everyone who tries to do difficult things.  Living for Jesus isn’t always easy.  People fail at living for Jesus, but failure doesn’t have to define us.  It doesn’t mean that it’s over.  It doesn’t matter how you do in life – It matters how you finish.  Peter finished well.

We all know the story Jesus appeared to them on the sea.  Peter finally recognizes Him and jumps into the water and swims to Jesus.  Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep.”  Three times – because Peter denied him three times.  He restores Peter to usefulness.  Failure wasn’t his end. 

We can read about things Peter did in the Book of Acts.  He stood on Pentecost and led the early church into revival.  He healed the man at the Gate Beautiful.  His shadow healed the lame and sick on the streets.  He preached to Cornelius and saw his family saved and foiled with the Holy Spirit.  He set the church on a trajectory to reach the world.  You can’t look at the early church and remember only Peter’s failure.

I want to tell you one more thing:  Peter’s failure was his denial of Jesus at His trial.  He’d said he would follow Jesus even to death and yet, out of fear, he denied Jesus and wept bitterly.  In the end, though, Peter was crucified for preaching the Gospel in Rome.  He was crucified upside down, because he made a stand for Jesus.  He did end up following Jesus even to death!  It doesn’t matter what you do in life – It matters how you finish.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Satanic Strategies

When we go through troubles we think God is mad at us.  “God’s punishing me,” or “Why is God doing this to me.”  But only good things come from God, so when we have bad things happen to us, we assume it’s the devil, and it is…in a way.  I want to look at some things in a different light.  I want to look at struggle and turmoil through Job’s experience, and apply it to our lives.

Job 1:6-12 (NKJV)
1:6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 And the Lord said to Satan, "From where do you come?" So Satan answered the Lord and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it." 8 Then the Lord said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?" 9 So Satan answered the Lord and said, "Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!" 12 And the Lord said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person." So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

God Allows Satan’s Attack

God called a meeting of the sons of God – wait what?  I thought God had only one Son.  Jesus the Son of God:  Jesus is the only begotten Son of God:  Begotten, means born.  The phrase “sons of God” in this usage refers to direct creation.  They have no mom.  Adam is a son of God.  Satan is a son of God, that’s why he’s at that meeting

The second thing we need to know about Satan is that he’s running to and fro on the earth.  He’s here; he’s there.  He isn’t omnipresent.  He can’t be in more than one place.  He’s not like God.  He’s not everywhere.  He’s running to and fro on the earth.  He’s here on earth.

Do you ever feel like you’re under spiritual attack, but then things get better for a while and then the attacks return?  It’s because he’s gone away and then comes back.  When he tempted Jesus in the desert in Luke 4 Jesus resisted.  Look at what it says:

Luke 4:13 (NKJV)
4:13 Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.

He does have helpers, though, so there are always attacks.

We have this idea that if we’re saved, love God, and live righteously then we won’t be attacked by the devil, because we’re under God’s protection, but look at our text.  Here’s Job, blameless and upright, he’s doing all the right things.  God even brags about him, but the devil says, “Yeah, because you give him everything, and you’ve built a hedge around him, (you protect him), so of course he loves you…but take it all away and he’ll curse you in this.”  So, the devil wants to attack Job, because he IS righteous.  The devil doesn’t go after you if you’re a Christian in name only.  If you’re not living the will of God, he doesn’t have to go after you.  He already owns you.  He doesn’t have to lead you into some gross sin.  He just needs to turn you away from God.  This is what he’s trying to do with Job.  “He’s blameless and upright?  I can make him curse you.” 

So here’s the hard part to understand – God says “Oh yeah, try it!  Do whatever you want, just don’t kill him.”  God allows us to be attacked.  Satan has to have permission to go after us.  This isn’t God testing us, it’s the devil:

Luke 22:31-32 (NKJV)
22:31 And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you; that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."

Satan asks to test Peter, and Jesus permits it.  He even knows that Peter will fail:  “And when you have returned to me…”  In other words, “After you stop backsliding…” 

There is a level of protection there.  God does protect us, but when we allow Satan to turn us away from God we lose that protection, because we no longer belong to God.  If you don’t belong to God, to whom do you belong?  John 8:44 says, “You are of your father the devil…”  Even the Pharisees started out trying to do the right thing.  Their laws were created with the idea that those laws would keep them on the right side of God.  They wanted to be blameless and upright, but the devil slipped in and corrupted.  This is why it’s so important that our trust be in God and not in ourselves.  They tried to be righteous on their own and left a door open for the devil to corrupt them.  They trusted their laws and not God.  God wants us to trust Him.  Trusting God is what we call faith.

If you read the entire book of Job, faith is what keeps him.  Throughout the book, it says, “Job did not sin with his lips.”  He didn’t accuse God.  He didn’t blame God.  He recognized that blessing comes with testing.  He’s right; blessing comes in on the back of adversity.  If you don’t know suffering you can’t know blessing.

So, why does God allow the devil to attack?  He does that so you can see your need to trust God.  He does it so that you can experience blessing.  He does it all for His own glory.  Here He is, He’s bragging to Satan, “You can’t turn Job – He’s locked in – He’s going to worship me, no matter what!”

The devil is an opportunist.  He’s looking for ways to destroy.  He’s opposed to God.  He’s opposed to what God is doing in your life, and he’s looking for a way to take you out.  His goal is to separate you from God.

The Devil Has a Plan for You

The other thing that we can see in our text is that the devil’s a planner.  He has a plan for your life.  He devises a plan to take you away from God and puts it into play at an opportune time.  Remember, that in Luke four, he left Jesus until an opportune time.  He was looking for a time when Jesus would be vulnerable.  The devil looks for vulnerability.  He watches for us to open a door to sin. 

Genesis 4:7 (NKJV)
4:7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it."

There is an aggression there – Its desire is for you.  He’s watching for signs of potential temptation and sin.  He listens to the words you speak, looking for weaknesses in faith. 

Job 2:10b (NKJV)
2:10b  In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

I’ve posted on the power of words a number of times.  The words we speak can provide the devil with an opportunity to attack us.  Complaining is a vulnerability.  Gossip and slander are vulnerabilities.  Speaking in unbelief is a vulnerability.  The devil is looking for those things that he can use against you.  His plan is to leave you discouraged and filled with unbelief.  Here’s an example:

Luke 22:33-34 (NKJV)
22:33 But he said to Him, "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death." 34 Then He said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me."

Peter’s bragging that he will go to death with Jesus.  Throughout the New Testament we see Peter – He’s impulsive with words – He’s outspoken – He’s brash.  He speaks what his heart wants, but he doesn’t always have the resolve to see it through.  The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.  He’s vulnerable and the devil uses it:

Luke 22:55-60 (NKJV)
22:55 Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56 And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, "This man was also with Him." 57 But he denied Him, saying, "Woman, I do not know Him." 58 And after a little while another saw him and said, "You also are of them." But Peter said, "Man, I am not!" 59 Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, "Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean." 60 But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are saying!" Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.

Peter told Jesus that night that he would follow Jesus to death, but within hours he’s accused and he falls apart.  The devil saw his opportunity.  He saw Peter’s vulnerability and he took Peter out.  Peter went out weeping bitterly.  In a matter of days Peter was so discouraged and broken that he said, “I’m going fishing.”  He went back to his old life.  He’s backslidden.  He’s not trusting God; he’s lost.

That’s exactly what the devil planned for him.  “Simon, Simon the devil has asked to sift you like wheat.”  He knew where Peter was vulnerable.  He knows where your vulnerabilities are, too.  He’s listened to you.  He’s watched you.  He has a plan for you, and it’s the opposite of God’s plan for you.  God has destiny for you – The devil has discouragement.  He wants you so discouraged that you can’t serve God, either.  He wants you filled with unbelief, too.  He wants you to turn back to your old sin-filled life because then he wins.  That was his plan for Job.  That was his plan for Peter and that’s his plan for you.

The Devil’s a Strategist

In order to defeat an enemy you need three things:

1.        You need to understand your enemy’s vulnerabilities.
2.        You need to have a plan to defeat the enemy.
3.        You need a strategy to implement the plan.

The devil is a strategist.  Once he has determined your vulnerabilities and figured out what needs to be done to defeat you, he begins to build the steps to move you into that plan.  It’s like a game of chess.  One has to be able to think a number of moves ahead of your opponent.  The devil needs a strategy to move you out of God’s will.  He’ll come up with a series of steps to destroy you.

In Luke four, the devil had a three-part strategy to take Jesus out.  His plan was to keep Jesus from fulfilling His destiny on earth.  He wanted to keep Him from being the salvation of mankind.  So, he ran the first step in his plan:

Luke 4:1-4 (NKJV)
4:1 Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry. 3 And the devil said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread."

He’s trying to get Jesus to be more human than He is God.  He’s trying to appeal to His flesh.  Hunger is the vulnerability.  “Give in to the flesh.  You don’t have to be hungry.  The stones will become bread for you.”  The flesh will take you out if you let it.  That didn’t work so the devil moved on:

Luke 4:5-7 (NKJV)
4:5 Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 And the devil said to Him, "All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7 Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours."

He’s trying to appeal to His carnal appetites – Lust.  Power and wealth are the vulnerabilities.  “You can be like a king here without having to suffer.”  Ruling the Kingdom of God is His destiny.  The devil says, “I’ll just hand it all over.”  It’s a shortcut to that destiny.  Trying to shortcut God’s will, will take you out.  That didn’t work, either, so the devil moved to the final step in the plan.

Luke 4:9-11 (NKJV)
4:9 Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. 10 For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you,' 11 "and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.' "

He wants Jesus to demonstrate that He’s the Son of God.  Pride is the vulnerability that the devil wants to exploit, here.  In this case, it’s the pride of presumption.  “You’re the Son of God; you know that He will catch you.  You can manipulate God.  If they see God catch you they’ll accept you.  That’s a better plan than God’s.”  That’s presumption and pride:  Those things will take you out.

Satan is doing the same thing in your life.  He’s listening and looking for your vulnerabilities.  He’s developing a plan to destroy you, and he’s working out the strategy to get you there.  You need to get a handle on your heart.  You need to examine your words and your actions to find out where you’re vulnerable.  If you close the door on sin, protect your mind and heart, you can protect yourself from demonic attack.  People serve God successfully for fifty or sixty years.  They endure until the end.

Job did it.  He resisted the plan of Satan.  He guarded his heart and his lips.  Paul did it.  He said, “His grace is sufficient for me.”  I close with this:

James 4:7 (NKJV)
4:7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

He will flee from you…until a more opportune time.  Just don’t give him one.  He’ll attack you throughout your whole life, but you don’t have to let him win.

Monday, March 6, 2017

What Happens When We Lose Vision?

Recently, I was inspired to preach on vision.  I just finished reading a book on the beginnings of our fellowship.  [An Open Door, Ron Simpkins © 1985, Potter’s Press]  This book is filled with Pastor Mitchell’s vision for the fellowship and the Gospel.  What makes it most interesting is that pastor Mitchell never sat down and came up with a “Mission Statement.”  He never sat down and said, “This is my vision!”  Over time God revealed His plan and Pastor Mitchell did what God called him to do.

As we look back over the forty-seven years since our fellowship began, it’s difficult to deny that we have been in the midst of great revival.  We have planted churches all over the world.

It’s important to understand that as individual Christians, we must have a revelation of God’s will for our own lives that we can respond to if we want to reach our destiny.  Today I want to look at what happens when we lose that revelation:

Proverbs 29:18 (NKJV)
29:18 Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; But happy is he who keeps the law.
 1 Samuel 3:2-3 (NKJV)
3:2 And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see, 3 and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down,

Without Revelation People Cast Off Restraint

The Bible tells us that where there is no revelation that people cast off restraints.  We begin to operate outside moral limits.  We are governed by lusts and desires rather than what God has revealed to us about His will for our lives.  When we're acting on satisfying our own lusts, then anything goes.  We will do whatever we need to do to satisfy our basest desires, and sin takes over.

Revelation is vision.  It is something that’s revealed by God:  Something that at one time was hidden can now be seen.  God reveals His plan and purpose for our lives, but there’s a part that we play in God’s revealing.  We must pray and seek revelation from God.  “God show me what plan and will you have for my life.”  Once that’s revealed then it is up to us to act in a way that brings that revelation to life.   We call that living out God’s will for our lives.  We are moved by God’s will and not self will.  In other words, we need to be looking for God’s will. We need to have vision.

In our text we see Eli.  Eli is the leader of Israel.  He’s judge over Israel.  It’s his responsibility to lead Israel into the will of God for that nation.  He’s the one who has revelation, but look at this phrase: “when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see.”  He’s losing his vision; he’s going blind.  This speaks of his physical sight, but what happens in the natural can be a reflection of what’s happening in the spiritual realm.  He has lost his vision in a spiritual way as well.

1 Samuel 2:27 (NKJV)
2:27 Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, "Thus says the Lord: 'Did I not clearly reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh's house?

Eli is Aaron’s grandson.  Aaron was chosen by God to be the one who ministers in the tabernacle. Only a descendant of Aaron can do that.  God clearly revealed Himself to Aaron, and his ability to see God’s revelation was passed down to Eli.  Eli, at one time had vision.  He’s going blind in a physical and spiritual sense, and that loss of vision played itself out in his son’s lives.

Eli has two sons, Hophni and Phineas.  Look at these men:

1 Samuel 2:22 (NKJV)
2:22 Now Eli was very old; and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.

They’ve violated their relationships with the people to whom God has sent them to minister.  They’ve used their authority in an unholy way.  They also took the meat of the offering before it was offered.  That isn’t how God had set it up.  Eli because, of his own loss of revelation and vision, didn’t hold them accountable.  These men have cast off restraint.  It’s up to us to seek a personal revelation from God.  Hophni and Phineas never had revelation.  They never had vision, and so there were no moral limits on their lives.  They did whatever appealed to their carnal flesh.  Because Eli had lost his own vision and revelation, it was never imparted into his sons.

This is one danger of backsliding.  It’s also the danger of putting worldly things, rather than spiritual things, first.  When we do that, we are imparting into our children that the calling of God is less important than the things of the world.

Hebrews 11:24-27 (NKJV)
11:24 By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, 25 choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. 27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.

I’d say that Moses had vision that was revealed to him by God.  “Esteeming the reproach of Christ,” this is centuries before Jesus on earth.  “He endured as seeing Him who is invisible”.  There was a revelation of God’s call on his life and that revelation caused him to put aside the sin.

Has God revealed His calling and will for your life?  Do you understand God’s vision for your life?  Have you sought a revelation of God’s will, so that you can live it out?

Losing the Vision

1 Samuel 2:29-30 (NKJV)
2:29 Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?' 30 Therefore the Lord God of Israel says: 'I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.' But now the Lord says: 'Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.

The man of God has come to rebuke Eli, and warns Eli that he has drifted away from God’s call.  His sons have cast off all restraint; nothing any longer restrains them from their sin.  They even fornicate in the House of God.  So, God judges them and judges Eli for his unwillingness to restrain them.  Eli calls them out, but he doesn’t hold them accountable.  God tells Eli, “You honor your sons more than me.”  There’s judgment on God’s part and the promise is removed. 

All of God’s promises are conditional – IF you do this THEN I will do that.  You violate the if and God takes away the promise.  God has removed Eli’s family’s destiny. 

God has a destiny for your life that coincides with your calling.  If you live out your calling, then God will deliver on your destiny, but if you violate that calling your destiny is changed.  God will take that promise and give it to another man.  In this case, God chooses Samuel to replace Eli’s sons, as the one who will inherit the promise.  Instead of Hophni and Phineas becoming the next judges over Israel, Samuel becomes the next judge.

We also see this in Saul’s life, the first king of Israel.  God has told Saul that his family will rule over Israel forever, but after his disobedience and presumption God tears the kingdom from him and gives it to David; a man after God’s own heart.

1 Samuel 15:26-28 (NKJV)
15:26 But Samuel said to Saul, "I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel." 27 And as Samuel turned around to go away, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. 28 So Samuel said to him, "The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.

There’s a calling on our lives.  God has called us to something and He’s looking for obedience.  He’s looking for us to respond to, and execute His will, not trying to make our will God’s will.  That’s where Saul failed.  He lost God’s vision and replaced it with his own vision.  Because of that, he lost the kingdom and the promise for his son Jonathan.

Eli lost the vision and allowed his sons’ visions to rule him.  Because of that, his destiny was taken and theirs as well.  In both cases, God gave that same destiny to someone else; someone who would carry out God’s vision.

We need to be careful that we do what’s necessary to carry out God’s calling and vision in our lives if we want to see our destiny.  Vision lost is destiny lost.  We need to strengthen, and look to build on, God’s calling and destiny on our lives.

Maintaining Vision

In our physical lives a loss of vision is natural.  I don’t see as well as I did when I was young.  I went from 20/20 vision to bifocals.  In our spiritual lives, we are also in danger of losing vision. 

Pastor Mitchell has built his vision for our fellowship, based on God’s revelation for over forty-seven years.  It has grown over time.    In the beginning, the vision was for the church in Prescott.  It grew to include hippies and wanderers in town.  It grew to include discipleship; preparing men for the harvest fields.  It grew to releasing men to pioneer churches in Arizona, then into other states, and finally internationally. 

That vision has enlarged and strengthened over the years.  It went from that one church in Prescott, Arizona, to more than two thousand, two hundred churches in more than half the countries of the world.

The way he has maintained and even enlarged that vision is by contending for what God wants to do.  He prays!  He watches for open doors!  He listens to the men he has released into ministry.  He presses for more of God’s plan, and responds with a willingness to obedience.  That’s how he maintains and enlarges the vision. 

What about you?  Are you looking for God’s calling on your life?  Are you open to whatever God calls you to, even if it doesn’t fit in with your own plans? 

I never had plans to come to Taiwan.  I had never even thought about Taiwan, until God opened my eyes to his calling.  It was a revelation of His plan for my life.  I wanted God to lead me.  Even now I want to reach God’s destiny for me.  I’m still open to God’s calling.  There’s only one way to His destiny and that lies in our response to His calling.

When we allow ourselves to give in to our flesh; when we allow ourselves to put our own will first, we’re really casting off God’s will for our lives, and we are in danger of casting off restraint and bringing ourselves to a place of judgment.  In Eli’s case God judged his sons for their father’s loss of vision and their subsequent loss of restraint.

I’ve seen this in my my own as well.  Parents who had no vision of God’s calling on them, their children struggle with a loss of restraint:  Pregnant and unmarried, involved in drugs and homosexuality, and fornication.  All of these things are symptoms of a casting off of restraint and a loss of vision.  There will be judgment and a loss of destiny, unless those children begin to seek God’s revelation for themselves.  You can come back from this, if you repent and begin to look for a revelation of God’s will for your life and respond to that calling in obedience.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Deep Cover Christians

In 2010, the FBI burst into a home in Boston.  They arrested Donald Heathfield and Tracy Foley.  He was an international business consultant, and she was a real estate agent…except they weren’t.  They were actually deep cover Russian spies, who had been living and operating in America for ten years.  None of their neighbors even knew they were Russian.  Even their children had no idea that their parents were Russian spies.  The government would never have found out at all, if one of the members of the Russian spy team hadn’t defected and told the story.

In the church there are people who operate “under the radar.”  That means that they’re Christians but friends, co-workers and sometimes even family members don’t know.  Today, I want to post on “Deep Cover Christians,” starting with this scripture:

John 3:1-7 (NKJV)
3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." 3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'

Secret Agents for Jesus

In the illustration that I used, we saw a family that seemed to be like other Americans, but were really Russian spies.  They were not what they appeared to be.  They told no one their secret.  They kept it to themselves. 

In our text we see Nicodemus; he’s coming to Jesus at night.  Why did he come at night?  Did he come after work?  Was he afraid Jesus would be too busy during the day?  He came at night because he didn’t want to be seen.  He was coming in secret.  He was afraid to be seen with Jesus.  He’s a deep cover Christian. 

Do you know that there are deep cover Christians in every church, today?  There are people who are afraid to let others know that they believe in Jesus.  Nicodemus believed that Jesus was sent by God.  He believed that Jesus was the Messiah that Israel waited for, but he had to keep it a secret.  He was part of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Israel.  The Sanhedrin wanted Jesus dead and his followers to go away.  If they knew that Nicodemus was meeting with Jesus he would be in danger.  He would suffer persecution for his belief.

In certain places and certain historic times there has been persecution.  In Roman times, Christians met in secret tunnels, called catacombs to avoid being arrested and killed.  They had secret symbols to notify people of meetings.  There was real danger in being a Christian on those days.

There are places in the world right now where it’s dangerous to be a Christian.  In the Middle East, Christians are sometimes beheaded.  In China, Christians are often arrested.  In Indonesia, Christian churches are burned:  Pastors and workers are beaten or killed.  Right now, Christians are the most persecuted people in the world. 
In Taiwan, though, there is very little danger of persecution.

A number of years ago a man tried to have me deported:  He was a backslider, angry about something.  So, he called the Foreign Affairs Police, the tax board, the labor board, the local narcotics cops, and others to investigate me.  I received a call from the Foreign Affairs Police to set up an interview.  My first question was, “Have I done something wrong?”  The answer was, “Sir, religion in Taiwan is free.”

So, keeping our Christianity secret is not life or death.  That being said, some people have reasons for not being open about being a Christian.  They’re afraid that their families won’t accept it.  They don’t want to look different to their co-workers.  They carry fear that their classmates will think they’re weird.  So, they hide it, family can never know.  They don’t mention Jesus at work.  They certainly never witness to co-workers.  They act like everyone else at school.  They’re not different from the world.  There’s a shame about Jesus.  Are you ashamed of the Gospel?

Romans 1:16 (NKJV)
1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

I think that part of the problem is a fear of rejection.  People are afraid that their friends and family won’t accept them.  The Message Bibles says, “It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim…”  Are you proud to proclaim, “I’m saved – I’m a Christian!”?  Some people in the church are proud to proclaim that.   Why are they not afraid to say it?  Why are they not ashamed to admit it? 

You Must Be Born Again

Nicodemus comes to Jesus and confesses that he believes:

"Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."

“I know God sent you.  I know you’re the Christ.  I believe.”  What does Jesus say to that?  “You must be born again!”  There is something that takes place as we are born again.  You become a new person!

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

Old things have passed away!  You’re not the same person.  Old fears pass away.  Old prejudices pass away.  Old ways of thinking pass away.  Old behaviors pass away.  All things become new:  A new boldness, a new way of thinking, new behaviors. 

Nicodemus comes to Jesus, but there’s an underlying fear.  He tells Jesus that he believes in Him, but he doesn’t want anyone to know.  Jesus identifies that Nicodemus is not born again.  He’s professed that he believes, but Jesus can see his need to be born again, because of his fear of being discovered as a believer.  If you’re born again you cannot keep it hidden, because that becomes the primary thing that defines you.  Your life is built around Jesus and salvation.  Everybody that knows me knows I’m a Christian.  There’s no confusion about where I stand.

The change that took place in me was apparent.  I was struggling with aspects of my life.  I was depressed and miserable.  I hated myself and I hated living.  Then I got saved.  I was born again and it was immediately apparent that I was different to everyone that knew me.

The old things have passed away and all things were made new.  I couldn’t help myself but to tell people what had happened to me.  It’s like a bottle of soda pop.  When you shake it up, it creates a pressure to escape the container.  It can become so great that if the pressure isn’t released, it will burst the container.  I was shaken up by what had happened in my life.  I had to tell people about Jesus.  It was just bubbling out.  The pressure to tell people about Jesus was greater than the fear of what might happen, and there was a price to pay.  My boss reacted.  My parents reacted.  What could they do?  There was no denying that something powerful was happening for the better in my life.  There was no fear.  I simply refused to go back to that kind of suffering, and I was unashamed to credit Jesus for that change.

So, why is there fear?  Why does this fear represent a person who isn’t born again?  The fear that keeps people from proclaiming the Gospel is based on unbelief.  Fear and faith cannot coexist.  They’re directly opposed.  Let me give an example – People are afraid that if they tithe there won’t be enough to provide for their needs or their family’s needs.  God has promised to provide. 

Matthew 6:26 (NKJV)
6:26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

If we allow fear to overrule faith, that’s not new thinking.  That’s the old way of thinking, old things haven’t passed away.

Overcoming Fear

I want to look at one last thing with regard to being a secret agent for Jesus.

John 19:38-39 (NKJV)
19:38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. 39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.

These two men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were both secret agents for Christ.  Joseph was a disciple in secret “for fear of the Jews.”  Nicodemus came by night because of fear, but now they’ve done a very public thing for Jesus.  Joseph defied the Sanhedrin and went to Pilate asking for the body, in order to bury it.  He even gave his own unused tomb.  Nicodemus purchased and delivered the things need to bury Him.  People saw what they had done.  These things were done in the open.  The fear is gone.  They’re no longer allowing it to rule their lives.  They’re thinking in an entirely different way.  New thinking!  The old things have passed away.  They’re born again.

What about you?  Is your life rule by fear or faith?  Do you have faith in some things in the Bible and not others?  Partial faith is no faith.  You must be born again.  Are you ashamed to speak the truth of the Gospel, because you’re afraid of what family will say?  Do you worry that you won’t be accepted because you’re a Christian?    That’s the old way of thinking – You must be born again.  Are you a secret agent for Jesus?  I have to tell you Jesus has an army.  Jesus has disciples, but he doesn’t have secret agents.

Mark 16:15 (NKJV)
16:15 And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

If you want to overcome fear and be full of faith you need to swallow the fear and tell someone.  We overcome fear by confronting fear, isn’t that right?  Get rid of fearful thinking and embrace faithful thinking.