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.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Identifying with Christ: Putting Off the Old Man

On August 6, 2008 ten members of a notorious motorcycle gang were arrested in a pre-dawn raid. They were charged with attempted murder and weapons charges. These charges were brought after a fight with members of the “Hell’s Angels” motorcycle club in a bar in Newport Beach, California. The man called, “The Chief” stated on his Myspace page, “We’re not your normal motorcycle club, some people say we’re too good for the bad guys and too bad for the good guys.”

Deputy District Attorney, Erik Patterson said, “They are a violent street gang, because they carry on a pattern of criminal gang activity.”

This doesn’t seem particularly unusual, does it? It seems to happen with great regularity. But, this motorcycle club is a ministry for an international church. These men claim to be born again Christians. The problem is that while they may have prayed and received Jesus, they have never changed. They continue to look and act like outlaw motorcyclists.

This is a case of mistaken identity. We have a tendency to look and act like those with whom we identify. What changes us is when we begin to identify with Christ; when he becomes the role model for us.

Ephesians 4:17-24
17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind,18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart;19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.20 But you have not so learned Christ,21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus:22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

With Whom Do You Identify

In December of 2007 a young boy was found living in a wolf’s lair in Kaluga, Russia. He was what is called a “feral child.” That’s a child who has lived in the wild. He wasn’t raised by loving parents; he didn’t speak Russian; he didn’t understand how to act like a human being. He was raised by wolves and all of his responses were as a wolf would respond.

In other words, he identified with wolves. He lived and acted like a wolf, he responded to contact with people with grunts, growls and snarls. Because of that identification with wolves, he was for all practical purposes a wolf.

In our illustration about the motorcycle club we see men who identify with the lifestyle and culture of outlaw motorcyclist, so they act like outlaw motorcyclists, even though they proclaim to be Christians. The same is true of this feral child, he identifies with the “culture” of the wolf pack so he acts like a wolf. But the Bible tells us that there should be a change that takes place in us, as we become Christians. We should no longer remain in sin. We should no longer walk as the world walks.

Romans 6:1-2
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

We are called to change. We are called to be different. But how many of us like change? How many think it’s easy to change? Change never comes easy it’s always difficult.

In the United States for years there has been a push to switch to the metric system. America remains on the “English” system of measurement: Miles, not kilometers; Fahrenheit, not Celsius. Why? Because people find it too difficult to change and learn a new system.

Change within the church is just as difficult. People still identify with who they were prior to salvation. I’ve met many young men who came out of a background of gang membership, but they remain caught up in the fashion, the language and the music of the gangs. In other words they are still caught up with the identity they had before Jesus.

But look at what the scripture says, “you have not so learned Christ.” A Christian group that is arrested for attempted murder and other crimes has not learned to identify with Jesus. Identification is the key to transformation. Learning Christ is to identify with Christ. The scripture goes on to say:

Ephesians 4:21-22
21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus:22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,

If you have been taught by Him then put off the “old man.” In other words stop being who you were and become like Him.

But many people have justifications for remaining the same. I can more easily reach people like me, if I’m like them. The Pastor of this motorcycle club makes that argument. He said, “Bikers can relate to me. I don’t push myself on them. I build friendships and they come to Jesus.” But where does it stop: In the Barroom…In the knife fight…in the courtroom?

This is a good time for us to examine ourselves. With whom do you identify? We all had an identity before we got saved. What’s your identity now? Do you still identify yourself as before or do you identify yourself as a follower of Jesus now? The way you know the answer to that question is by how other people identify you. If someone was to describe you to someone else what would they say about you? He’s a hippy… he’s an intellectual…he’s a biker…he’s the wolf boy. Or would they say, “He’s a Christian?

With Whom Do Others Identify You?

Before I got saved I had a lot of problems. I acted in certain ways that were wrong. I actually recognized that what I was doing was wrong, and dangerous for me. That it was causing damage to me, but you know I couldn’t stop.

I couldn’t stop because I began to buy into the idea that “This is who I am.” I began to identify with my behavior. I figured I would always be that way. But things changed for me because I allowed myself to “learn Christ.” It was His power through my identification with Him that caused the changes in me.

Identification with others is something we all long for. It’s a apart of being accepted. But the problem with identification is that it can be a tool that Satan can use to keep you from the change that Jesus requires.

Ephesians 4:22-24
22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

So there is the change that’s required. It’s more than saying, “I’m a Christian now,” and attending church occasionally. The call is for change, we need to, “put on the new man.” Look at this:

Matthew 7:21-23
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.22 “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

“I never knew you, depart from me you who practice lawlessness.” Think about this for a moment, to whom is Jesus speaking?

Mark 16:17
17 “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues;

So, those who say things like, “have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, done many wonders in your name,” are Christians. So, why does Jesus say, “Depart from Me you who practice lawlessness?” He says that because there’s no change. They’re still sinners. God recognizes them by their fruit.

What fruit are you producing today? Your fruit is what shows in your life. Are you still at odds with everyone? Are you still angry and hurtful? Are you looking to forgive or are you looking for revenge? That’s the fruit that shows in your life.

Most of us aren’t botanists. We don’t know what a pear tree looks like or the difference between a pear tree and apple tree. But we can recognize a pear and we know what it looks like compared to an apple. So if we come upon the tree with fruit then we will recognize what kind of tree it is.

If someone comes up to me on the street, they may not know I’m a Christian. If some just walks up and sees me they may just think I’m an “old guy.” But if they saw the church, and the changes that have taken place in my life: In other words, if they saw the fruit in my life, they would be able to recognize it.

Where does the fruit come from? It comes as we learn Christ…as we identify with Him…as wee try to be like Him. This should be the goal of every follower of Jesus that we would be like Him. And you may ask what He was like when He was on the earth.

Acts 10:37-38
37 “that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached:38 “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.

He went about doing good. Are you doing good, or are you still causing problems for everyone else? Who are you identifying with?

The Pharisees told Jesus they were sons of Abraham. They identified themselves with Abraham. But Jesus told them if you identify with Abraham they you would do the works of Abraham. Then he tells them He identifies them with Satan because they act like Satan.

John 8:44
44 “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.

If Jesus were here to day with whom would He identify you? That would depend on how you live.

Put Off the Old Man

Each of us carries our old selves into our new lives. There was a radical group in America in the 1970’s that robbed a bank and killed a woman, then tried to blow up two LA Police Cars. One of the people in that group went underground. She moved to Minnesota, married a doctor, changed her life and hid from the Police for 25 years, until she was arrested. She was a completely different person but the problem was that she took her crimes with her. Eventually, someone recognized her and tipped off the FBI and she got arrested. She couldn’t escape who she was.

Wherever she went she took her old self with her. But we have an opportunity, as far as God is concerned, to be new people. We have an opportunity to lay aside the sin that was in our lives when we got saved and become new creatures. That’s why it’s called being born again.

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

If you identify with Christ; if you are “in Christ,” then you are a new creation. You become a new person. But the problem is that you can take the old person into the new life and make the new creation just like the old one.

I got saved as I began to recognize the problems I had in my life. I needed a second chance, and when I got it I decided hat I would do whatever it took to make a new life. I did what was necessary in order to change. Why would you cry out for a second chance at life and then make the new life just like the old life.

Sometimes we want to continue certain parts of the old life. So we dress the same, talk the same, and hang out with the same people. But the danger in that is that eventually we can wind up the same.

Some people have difficulty escaping the old life. They constantly flit back and forth between salvation and sin. When I got saved I knew I had to make some wrong things right. I had to confront the things I’d done to people and make it right with them. Some people see those things as too difficult and their past chases them and they can’t outrun it.

That’s why we need to make a commitment to be like Jesus. We need to commit to doing whatever is necessary to be like Him. Do you realize the more you hear of the word of God the stronger your faith becomes. The more you immerse yourself in the Bible the more you understand what it means to be like Christ. The more you associate yourselves with the people of God the more you will identify with what it means to be a Christian.. These things will help you to identify with Christ and put off the old man.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Three Portraits of Promise

The Bible is full of promises: The promise of everlasting life: The promise of the Kingdom of Heaven: The promise of Salvation, and many others. But there is one promise that holds great fascination for us as Christians. This is the one that we really want to believe: The promise of asking and receiving.

God has promised that what we ask for we will receive. So why does it sometimes seem that we ask and God doesn’t hear our prayer? There is no response, at all! Have you ever experienced that?

You pray something like, “God please save my friend. Bring him to You; to a place of salvation so that he can put away his sin and begin to serve you.” But year after year he continues to be an unrepentant sinner. Or, you pray for a financial breakthrough and yet you still continue to struggle financially. Or, you ask God to restore something that has been lost and it seems like that thing is gone forever.

Where is the promise? Where is the answer to prayer? “What’s up God, I have faith, I’m praying, I’m living for Jesus, but I’m not seeing the things I’m praying for.” We all feel like that sometimes and it leads to a type of spiritual confusion. Jesus gives us a view of how God looks at prayer and I want to share that with you today.

Matthew 7:7-8
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.8 “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

So there it is! That’s the promise: Ask and it will be given to you.

John 14:13-14
13 “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.14 “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.

Whatever you ask will be given to you; whatever you ask in My name I will do it. These are pretty powerful promises. Jesus says that if we ask anything in His name he will give it to us. But then, why doesn’t it always seem like that? We read this an we’re encouraged to ask, “God give me the desires of my heart.” But sometimes it seems like God isn’t even listening, much less answering that prayer and we think, “Maybe God is angry at me, that’s why he isn’t hearing me.” But it isn’t like that. Or we think God is unkind, He’s aloof, and He’s not interested in my needs. But that isn’t true. Jesus uses three parables to instruct us in the way God views our prayer and His desire toward us. Let’s look at those parables.

In the first parable, Jesus paints a picture for us of a God who seems uninterested in our needs.

The Parable of the Persistent Friend

Luke 11:5-8
5 And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves;6 ‘for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’;7 “and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’?8 “I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.

In this parable, God is portrayed as the friend. He is the one we come to with our need, “Friend, give me three loaves.” But we’re confused by His reaction. There is urgency to our need; we see that because we are asking at midnight. It must be an emergency. Have you ever gone to neighbor at midnight and asked to borrow a cup of sugar? No, you would only go and wake up the neighbor at that time if there was an urgent need. So this man comes to his friend in urgent need. The friend seeing that need tells him, “I can’t do it now.”

What is this parable saying? Is it saying that God is unconcerned about our needs? Is it saying that God doesn’t want to be bothered with our petty little problems? We read this parable and we see God as a God that says, “Don’t bug Me.” This is what confuses us, how can God on the one hand say, “Ask and you shall receive,” and on the other hand say, “Don’t bug Me!” The answer is found in the very next verse.

Luke 11:8
8 “I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.

That word persistence means to request with urgency. So this parable is saying that the friend didn’t respond to the simple request, but did respond to the urgency of the need. What it is saying is that the man continued to knock; he became troublesome. “You don’t understand this is urgent. I must have something for this traveler.” Because of that urgency the friend got up and gave him all that he needed.

God is like that. He isn’t a spiritual gumball machine; where you put in a quarter and turn the prayer crank and God spits out a gumball blessing. But God will repond to the urgency of the need. Everyday I pray for people to come into the church. I pray that God will bring those who need salvation, those who will respond to the call of God, those with a desire to hear and live out the word and will of God; and the church has grown, God brings people almost every service. The church is growing.

1 Corinthians 3:6-7
6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.

God brings the increase…God answers prayer.

The Parable of the Unjust Judge

Luke 18:1-5
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart,2 saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man.3 “Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’4 “And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man,5 ‘yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’ ”

In this parable we see the Judge, and this widow comes to him and asks him to avenge her of her adversary. Some enemy is tormenting her. That woman is a picture of us. An adversary torments us; someone who seeks to destroy us; to destroy what God is doing in us. That adversary’s name is Satan. Satan literally means adversary or enemy.

So this woman brings her complaint to the judge and he refuses her.

“Will you avenge me of my enemy, today?” “No!” “Fine.”
“Will you avenge me of my enemy, today?” “No!” “Fine.”
“Will you avenge me of my enemy, today?” “No!” “Fine.”

Finally he says, “I will avenge this woman, just to get her off my back.”

What is interesting about this parable is that Jesus assumes that we’re praying. Because God’s people are a praying people, Jesus assumes that we pray. His intent with this parable is not that we pray, but that we remain steadfast in our prayer; that we contend in prayer for relief.

Luke 18:6-8
6 Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said.7 “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?8 “I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”

This is an unjust judge and even he responds to this widow. How will God, who is a righteous judge, respond when we cry out and contend for relief. God doesn’t want us to be tormented. Look what Jesus says to Peter, when Satan comes against him.

Luke 22:31-32
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.”

Jesus prayed for him that his faith not fail. Now look at the last verse of the text and look at the interesting question it asks, “When the Son of Man returns will He really find faith on the earth?” Faith is the key: Faith in the sense that we can trust God; but also faith in the sense of being faithful. He is looking for us to steadfast, reliable, loyal…

Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

…that we continue even in the evidence that isn’t seen. Will He find faith in you?

These are the keys to seeing prayer answered: Praying with a sense of urgency; in urgent, persistent need and praying in faith; remaining until you see the promise answered; faithful, steadfast contending in prayer. That’s when you’ll see God pour out his blessing.

The Parable of the Good Father

Finally, the third thing I want to show you is that God desires to bless us. He wants to meet our needs, “Ask and you shall receive: Whatever you ask, in my name, I will do it.” This is what leads us into confusion. That God has said I want to bless you but we don’t immediately see a response to the prayer. But God does want to bless.

Luke 11:9-13
9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.10 “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.11 “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?12 “Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?13 “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

There is a picture of God here. It is in the picture of the father who wants to give good things to his children when they ask. What this is saying is that human fathers are sinful, just like everyone else. They can have evil lurking inside. Let’s face facts we are all sinners. We have all fallen short of the Glory of God. But even in that state we want to meet the needs of our children. We still want to give good things to our children. How much more, God, who is righteous?

God has adopted us.

Romans 8:15
15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”

God, who has made us co-heirs with his son, how much does He desire to meet our needs?

That word “abba” expresses warm affection, a sense of intimacy. It is like the word “Daddy.” That’s the relationship that’s portrayed, a sense of confidence in the love of the father. That confidence is there because we know that he is there for us. My children never have to question whether or not I love them. They can see it in the things I do for them; going to work, sheltering them, providing for their needs. God does all this and much, mush more. He even sent his only begotten son to suffer and die for us, to redeem us from our sin and win us back to a relationship with Him.

God is our Heavenly Father, that name alone denotes the relationship. Sometimes our earthly fathers will let us down, even walk away from us, but our Heavenly Father desires to pour blessing into our lives.

Sometimes, though, we don’t see the blessing until we look back, from the place of blessing. Even though, it may not be what we had in mind when we prayed, maybe it didn’t fit the picture of what we wanted; we can look back and see that God had the best thing in mind for us. The blessing is there. God is a God who desires to bless like a father who loves his children. God is like that.