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, May 30, 2011

The Hero

The author Vladimir Nabakov, best known for his novel “Lolita,” once stayed with family friends in the rural area of Alta, Utah. He was an avid butterfly collector and took advantage of the time the to increase the size of his butterfly and moth collection. This was his passion he was difficult to distract when engaged in this hobby.

One day he returned to the house and told the family he was staying with, that while he was down by the stream chasing a particular butterfly, he heard someone moaning terribly. Alarmed, the family asked him if he stopped t render assistance to whoever was in need at the stream. Nabakov replied, “No, I had to get the butterfly.” The next morning they found the corpse of an old prospector, in the area described by Nabakov.

As he was engaged in his own pursuits a man died. Hoew many times have you felt like Nabakov? Too busy with your own business to reach into someone else’s life? Consider this:

James 1:15
15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death
So if we think about this in this way, then those who are lost in sin are like the prospector, they are in the midst of the throes of death. It is up to us to not be like Nabakov, but to offer any help we can. We can’t give them salvation but we can lead them to the one who can. It’s up to them to accept or reject Jesus but it is our responsibility to give them the opportunity to make that choice. If not then we are no better than Nabakov who allowed a man to die because it would interfere with his hunt for butterflies. What are our priorities as Christians? Is it the salvation of other people? Or are butterflies the priority? 

Today I have entitled my post “The Hero.” It’s taken from the scriptures surrounding Jesus’ death. It’s a look at the men who crucified Him and the willingness of only one to offer aid to Jesus as he died.

Matthew 27:37-50
37 And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.38 Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.39 And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads40 and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”41 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said,42 “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.43 “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ”44 Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing. 45 Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”47 Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!”48 Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink.49 The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.”50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
The Men Who Crucified Him
Let’s look at what is happening in this moment. The soldiers have finished their work. It’s their job to get those who will be crucified from the garrison to Golgotha, nail them to the cross and then basically, wait for them to die. Crucifixion was a slow and gruesome death. The soldiers, after bringing them to the hill of death, were left to while away the time until those who were crucified died.

We know from the scriptures that some of them spent their time gambling for the seamless tunic that Jesus wore, but after that there was a long time spent just waiting. The soldiers were somewhat disconnected from Jesus’ crucifixion. To them, this was just a “Jewish thing.” They weren’t Jews; they didn’t understand the religious significance of what was happening. So they made no judgments about whether it was right or wrong. They were only following orders.

As theywere waiting jesus cries out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.” I’ve always wondered about this. He cries out and the people standing around assume he is calling for Elijah. The people didn’t understand what he was saying, but he was crying out in the language of the Jews. They should have understood in their own language. But perhaps, the men were not Jews but Roman soldiers. They didn’t understand the words because they didn’t speak that language. But they all recognize this cry as a cry of anguish; a cry of suffering.

When they heard the cry they were immediately broken up into two groups of people: Those that recognized the cry of suffering and wanted to help, and those who recognized it for what it was but chose not to do anything.

In the late 1960s, a young woman was brutally murdered in the streets of her apartment complex. This was a murder that took place over a period of time. It was not to quick shots from a gun. She was chased up and down the street, beaten and stabbed to death. She screamed and fought for her life for a full twenty minutes. But no one came to help her. There were hundreds of people within earshot of this murder. They heard the screams; they shut their windows; they tried not to look at her. No one called the police, thinking that surely someone else already had. People recognized her screams for what they were. No one came to offer help. While Jesus’ cries were only for that moment and that time, there are cries of suffering that we hear today.

What Jesus cried out, “Eli, eli lama sabachthani” is translated as, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Why have you turned your back on me? I wonder if you’ve ever felt the same way. I know that I did. As I wallowed in the sin and bondage that was my life before salvation, I wondered why God seemed to not know or care about me. We hear this cry from other people all the time as we rub shoulders with those still lost in sin. We hear it in our workplace; we hear it in our school, wherever we may be. People aren’t always wearing their misery on their sleeves, but we can see it in the emptiness of their lifestyles. We can see their loneliness and need and we recognize it because we have experienced it, ourselves. The question then, is what are we going to do about it. That’s where we see the division of thought; those that won’t offer help and those that will.

Why We Can't Answer the Call
Most of the men in our text were willing to ignore the cries of anguish. If we could project ourselves back in time to that moment, I’m sure if we asked them they would have reasons; logical, well thought out reasons why it was impossible to help, in the same way that we have reasons when we don’t help.

One reason might be that they thought the call was for Elijah. If the call is for Elijah, then it’s none of their business. But this is wrong thinking.

There is law that governs ocean-going vessels; it’s called Maritime Law. In Maritime Law it’s illegal to disregard a distress call. You cannot see or receive a radio call of a vessel in distress and not try to render assistance. If you do then you are held morally and legally responsible for any loss of life. It isn’t enough to say they weren’t calling me so it wasn’t my business. There is a requirement that aid be offered. This same thing is true in other circumstances as well. If a house is burning and you know people are inside, you can’t just walk away and say, “I’m not a fireman, so it’s not my business.” Drivers are required to help the injured if they pass a traffic accident, they can’t say, “I’m not a policeman.” We can’t ignore a crime victim bleeding in the street by saying, “I’m not a doctor.” It is no excuse for our behavior; we are to render assistance as we see the need. Recognition of need is a cry unto itself.

Another reason might be that they heard the cry but figured someone else would help. Surely someone else will do something. This is the thinking of those who left that young woman to be murdered in the street while they closed their windows to her screams. Christians do that as well: The others will cover outreach today. That brother will pray with that sinner, “He likes to do that.” Other people will be evangelists, they always do.

Have you ever hung back, when you know God is speaking to you to witness to someone, thinking, “I really don’t know what to say so if I stay back, someone else will step up and do it.”

Or probably the most compelling reason is that maybe they wanted to help but ti all seemed so hopeless. The man is being crucified, what good can a drink of water do? What can I really do, anyway? Will anything I do change the outcome? If I make an emotional investment in helping and things don’t change I may be disappointed or hurt. So rather than face disappointment we would rather suffer the paralysis of hopelessness.

We face that all the time, don’t we? The Gospel has been preached for two thousand years and look around you, most of the world remains unconverted. Even in your own community, most people aren’t Christians. I live in Taiwan and the vast majority of the people in my community are not Christian. There are so many people that aren’t converted, “What can I do on my own?”

In the book, “The Fall of the Fortresses” the author writes about the heroics of the pilots and crews of the B-17 “Flying Fortress” bombers during World War II. In one story a B-17 takes a hit from a 20mm shell that lodges in the fuel tank and remains unexploded. The pilot is able to safely land the plane with no losses. Had that shell exploded the bomber would have also exploded killing the entire crew. So the pilot asked the repair men if he could have that unexploded shell, as a souvenir of his incredible luck on that day. The repair man told him, there were 11 unexploded shells in the fuel tank that the bomb squad had to dislodge and defuse. Amazed the pilot then went to the bomb squad and asked for the shells. But the bomb squad leader told him the shells had been turned over to military intelligence, because every one of the shells was empty. There was no explosive in any of the shells. They weren’t completely empty, though, because inside one of the shells was a handwritten note. The note was in Czechoslovakian and it read, “This is all we can do for now.” The man who wrote this jt was no doubt a prisoner, forced to do slave labor after the Nazis overran that country. It must have seemed to futile to those prisoners, that this effort at risk of their lives, could change the course of the war. But for that one crew it made an incredible difference.

How many times have we met people and thought, “What can I say that is any different from what they’ve heard before?” Maybe nothing, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try. We don’t know how God is going to work in their circumstances. We only know that we’re called to reach out to the lost.

The One Who Responds

There is one man who responds. He hears the cry of anguish and he responds:

He doesn’t worry that he’s not the one called on:
He doesn’t wait to see if someone will respond first:
He doesn’t stop to analyze the outcome of the only effort he can make…He just responds.

He responds like we are to respond; with what he can do. He knows that giving Jesus sour wine he’s not going to save his life. He knows he can’t save Jesus from the Roman Empire. He can only offer what he can and hope that it helps. That’s what we can do. We can only offer what we can; an opportunity to respond to the Gospel. We can’t save them, we can’t forgive their sin; we can only bring them to a place where they can accept Jesus.

This nameless man, this Roman soldier is a role model for you and I. He did what he could do. We can only do what we can do, we can witness, testify, preach and pray. Sometimes it seems like so little but it’s what we can do.

So what happened to the soldiers at the crucifixion, what happened to the soldier who gave Jesus a drink? We don’t know, the Bible doesn’t mention them again. But I do know what the Bible does tell us:

Matthew 25:34-40
34 “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:35 ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;36 ‘I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?38 ‘When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?39 ‘Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’40 “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.
We are called to reach the lost and we will find a reward. It may not be before men. It may not be in this world, but the Bible does promise reward.

2 Timothy 4:8
8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
God desires that we will answer his call and in answering the call we will find a reward. We may not find that reward in this world but we will have a reward.

A number of years ago a missionary and his wife returned from Africa on the same ship as US President Theodore Roosevelt. They had given their lives to missionary service in Africa. They had given up their homeland, their friends and family and were on their way back to their homeland. President Roosevelt had been in Africa on a vacation. He had gone to go hunting. And as they returned there were hundreds of people at the docks to welcome the president back home. But the missionary and his wife had no one to meet them. They picked up their bags and walked to a cheap hotel near the docks.

As the msissionary watched the crowd cheering for the president he thought to himself, “My wife and I have given our lives to God’s service. We have made many sacrifices, this man has returned from a hunting trip, he has made no sacrifice and given no service. Why does he receive all for this and for us there is no one.”

When he arrives at his hoetel room he goes in to the room and prays. He laid it all out to God, he wept and repented of his bitterness and envy, and came out of the prayer with a changed countenance. He told his wife, “I complained to God. I told him my every thought. I told of my bitterness and envy at the great reward the president when he arrived at home, but for us there was nothing. God answered me with four simple words, “You’re not home, yet.”

There will be treasure for us in heaven if we are obedient here on eart. We think of Billy Graham and the thousands f people he has won to Jesus and we think, “I could never be that fruitful.” But the Bible tells us that there is rejoicing in heaven over one soul that is saved. The impact thatwe make is every bit as great as the impact that Billy Graham makes, especially for that one soul that’s saved. One last illustration:

There is a young boy walking a long the beach. The night before there had been a great storm at sea and on the beach were thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore. As he walks along he is picking up starfish and hurriedly throwing them back into the sea the to keep them from drying up on the beach. The child meets up with a man who has been watching throw the starfish into the sea and ask\s him what he’s doing. The child replies I’m throwing these starfish back to save their lives. The man looks up and down the beach and says, “There are too many of them you can’t possibly make a difference, throwing them one by one into the sea.” The child looks down at the starfish in his hand and throws it back into the sea. I made a difference in that one’s life.

We’re not called to change the whole world ourselves. We are called to make a difference in the lives of individuals, one heart at a time. We are called to render assistance when we hear the cry of anguish, just like that nameless hero.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lessons from a Fig Tree

One of the things I preach about often is faith. Mostly I speak of it in terms of our need for faith in order to see God move in our lives. If you think about it, faith is probably the most important aspect of our Christian lives. We need faith for so many things,

We need faith to:
Pray for the sick
To have real Christian joy
To know that God cares about us
To worship God

It even takes faith to receive the gift of salvation. But one thing we often don’t think about is that it takes faith to live out your purpose in God.

I live in Taiwan and recently after Bible study class we had a discussion on the differences in Eastern/Western thought on fate and destiny. Fate and destiny, from the eastern point of view, are interchangeable. They have the same meaning. But our discussion centered on the question of whether they are, in fact, interchangeable.

According to Mirriam-Webster Dictionaries fate is defined as: The cause or will that is held to determine events

Destine is defined as: to direct or set apart for a specific purpose or place, then destiny can be defined as that specific purpose.

So fate can be considered to be the force that carries you to your destiny. It is something that can’t be changed. But destiny is the end point of fate and that can be changed by decisions that you make along the way.

My thought of it is like this: Fate is like a river that runs into a lake. In the lake there are two cities one is to the right of the river delta, we’ll call that one Beautiville. The other is to the left of the river outlet. We’ll call that one Uglyland. As you drift on the river the current carries you ever onward. You can’t change the course of the river or the direction in which the river flows.

The river Fate carries you toward the two cities, but you make a decision where you will turn at the end of the river and the destination at which you arrive, is governed by the decision you make. The River is fate and is unchangeable. The destiny is the city at which you arrive and that is governed by the choice you make along the way.

Let me ask a question, "Was your destiny changed at the moment you received salvation?" As you continued to live in sin you were carried inexorably to a destiny of eternal torment and separation from God. But as you repented and turned from sin, you were accepted by God and your final eternal destination was no longer hell but heaven: The Joy of your Lord. Destiny, for you, at the moment of repentance was changed.

But even more than that, I believe that we, as individuals, have more than one destiny. For example, I believe that because of the Muscular Dystrophy it is my destiny to be disabled. But because of the call of God on my life , it is also my destiny to preach in Taiwan. Finally, as a result of the gift of salvation it is my destiny to abide in heaven. One person three separate destinies…so far.

It requires no faith at all to be swept along by the current of fate: To allow outside events to shape our lives and determine our destinies. We can simply drift along and allow these events to govern our destiny. But it takes faith to recognize the call of God and work to make the effort to change the outcome of fate in our lives. With faith we can shape our destiny. Today I want to look at faith and destiny in light of the following scriptures:

Mark 11:13-14 (NKJV)
11:13 And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 In response Jesus said to it, "Let no one eat fruit from you ever again." And His disciples heard it.

Mark 11:20-23 (NKJV)
11:20 Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21 And Peter, remembering, said to Him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away." 22 So Jesus answered and said to them, "Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.
The Fig Tree

In our text, Jesus comes to a fig tree. He’s looking at the fig tree and sees that it’s empty. So he curses the fig tree and by the next day the fig tree has withered away and died. Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? Do you think He was angry at the fig tree? In order to answer that, we need to examine the purpose of the fig tree. The purpose of the fig tree is to produce figs. If a fig tree is not producing figs, what good is it?

Luke 3:7-9 (NKJV)
3:7 Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 9 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
Do you realize that God didn’t save you for your purposes? That’s what we think sometimes, isn’t it? God saved me so I could go to heaven. He saved me so that I could recover from my hurts and disappointments. He saved me to make me happy. I have to tell you that God didn’t save you for any of those things. Not that you won’t see those

God didn’t save you for any of those reasons. He saved you for His purposes. This isn’t about fig trees it’s about disciples. We are called to bear fruit. That is the purpose of disciples and Jesus will look at us and expect us to bear fruit; good fruit. Our text tells us what will happen if we choose fail to live up to His purpose for us. If we fail, or as I say in the introduction, if we choose to turn away from our destiny, then we are in danger of judgment.

Jesus is making a judgment here. He judges the fig tree and finds it without fruit and curses it, causing it to wither and die. It wasn’t fulfilling its purpose. This isn’t something that veers away from Jesus’ teaching. It’s not some different angry approach…really it’s Jesus being consistent. He said the same thing in Matthew 7. Jesus will always uphold his standards. He will judge us in the same way if we do not live up to our calling or what He would call our purpose. Look at this scripture in Matthew 7:

Matthew 7:21-23 (NKJV)
7:21 "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!'
What things did Jesus say these people told Him they had done:

Cast out demons
Done many wonders…In Your Name and what are these things…

Mark 16:17-18 (NKJV)
16:17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."
The things they said they were doing were the things that Jesus said were the signs that would follow those who believe. These people were the believers. They were the Christians, but Jesus judges them and tells them to depart from Him, why? Because they didn’t do the will of “My Father in heaven.” We can believe from this that we will be judged, as well, if we forsake the will of the Father. In other words, we will be judged if we do not fulfill our purpose: That purpose that God has for us.

It’s imperative that each of us examines our own life:

Is your life given over to the will of God for you?
Are you laboring to do what God has called you to do?
Are you producing fruit?

Those are questions you have to be asking yourself. Because I’m going to be blunt for a moment: Some of you that are reading this know that God has called you to a specific purpose. You already know to what He’s called you. But you hesitate to fulfill it, because God’s will for you interferes with your own will for your life. I want to warn you that there is a danger there. Jesus will judge you if you don’t produce fruit like He judged the fig tree.

We Will Wither and Die

Mark 11:20-21 (NKJV)
11:20 Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21 And Peter, remembering, said to Him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away."
I want to look at this for a moment from the fig tree’s perspective. What exactly did Jesus say to the fig tree? Look at verse 14:

Mark 11:14 (NKJV)
11:14 In response Jesus said to it, "Let no one eat fruit from you ever again." And His disciples heard it.
That’s Jesus’ judgment of the tree. Look at what he didn’t say. He didn’t say, “Die you foul, fruitless tree.” He didn’t say, “I curse you to wither away, fruitless wretch.” All He said was, “then let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” His curse that caused the fig tree to wither was telling it that if its purpose wasn’t fulfilled now, then it never will be able to fulfill that purpose in the future. I think it’s interesting that there is a timeline for our response to God’s call.

God is calling and He has a timeline for us to respond to His call. If we hesitate, or put off responding there will come a time when we will no longer be allowed to answer that call.

I have a friend who, ten years ago was asked to go out and pioneer a church. In fact, the year I was sent out this man was asked before I was. But he declined. He said I’m not ready financially, or whatever his reason was. But in the ten years since that time, he has never been asked to go again. In fact, his pastor asked me, “How can I invest in someone like that?”

That pastor wasn’t being mean he was making a judgment based on this scripture:

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.
Jesus said this to Peter in the context of his statement to Peter that he was mindful of the things of men, rather than the things of God.

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."
Do you know why He said that to Peter? He told Him that because Peter was telling Jesus He didn’t have to live out the will of God, which for Jesus was to die on the cross.

Secondly, look at the reaction of the tree to Jesus telling it, it will never fulfill its purpose. The tree withered and died. We will do the same thing. When Peter thought he had destroyed his destiny in denying Jesus three times at His trial before the Sanhedrin, what did he do? He gave up. He was a broken man.

After the crucifixion we see Peter and he’s saying, “I’m going fishing.” He’s given up. Later we see him behind locked doors, hiding for fear of the Jews. This is the same man who raised his sword and took off the ear of one of the soldiers that was there to arrest Jesus. Where was that courage and resolve? He had withered under the idea that he had failed and thereby disqualified himself from fulfilling his purpose and calling. He has given up; a withered and broken man.

But Jesus never cursed Peter. Peter, thinking he had destroyed his destiny, withered away on his own…just like the fig tree.

This is Really a Lesson on Faith

Mark 11:20-23 (NKJV)
11:20 Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21 And Peter, remembering, said to Him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away." 22 So Jesus answered and said to them, "Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.
I think it’s really interesting that Jesus turned this into a lesson on faith. When the apostles see what has happened to the tree they’re amazed, aren’t they? “The tree you have cursed is withered away.” It’s almost as if they’re saying, “How could this have happened?” Jesus says to them, “Have faith in God.” So he links it to faith. He’s telling them they can do anything if they have faith. He’s saying that in the context of them being able to do what He has done, if they have faith in God.

“See what I did, you can do that too, if you have faith.”

But I want you to look at this a little differently, too. And I want to go back for a moment to the brother who declined to go out and pioneer. Because what was the thing that kept him from the call of God, a lack of faith.

“I’m not ready yet, I don’t have the finances.”
  "I’m not ready yet, I don’t know enough.”

It takes faith to answer the call of God. I don’t know anybody who felt ready to respond to God’s call in the moment He called. Look at some of the men God called to be leaders. Look at their reactions in the moment God called them.

Abraham in Egypt: Tell them you’re my sister so they don’t kill me. I know what God promised but these people are going to kill me for you.

Abraham at 100 years old: A baby? I’m 100 years old and I’m going to father a child? You know what I’m going to name him? Laughter.

Moses at the burning bush: I can’t do it God; I’m slow of speech. Send someone else, send anyone else…I know send my brother Aaron.

Jeremiah at fifteen: Me, I’m fifteen, I’m just a baby…what can I possibly have to say?

I want you to know, God is calling you, now. Some of you are reading this and you know that God is calling you to a purpose, right now. The question is, what are you going to answer? What you respond is between you and God. But the way you answer that call is a statement of your faith. Just like these men’s answers were statements of their faith.

With faith you can live out your destiny. With faith you can move what ever mountain is an obstacle between you and your destiny.

Mount Finance
Mount I don’t know enough
Mount Ability
Mount Personality

Whatever mountain it is can be moved if you have faith. It takes faith to live out your destiny and God’s will. Peter lost faith after the crucifixion, that’s why he withered. But Jesus challenged him on the Sea of Galilee, “Peter, feed my Sheep.” I’m writing this to challenge you. Peter rose to the challenge, what will you do?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Look at Ministry

I have been looking at what the responsibility of our ministry in Taiwan really is. In doing that I have examined the role of the congregation of the church in ministering to others. The following is a Bible Study on the purpose and value of ministry. It is written from the perspective of a missionary endeavor.

The Missionary’s Purpose

If we look at Paul’s missionary journeys, we can see the goal and purpose of those journeys is to establish a church. Paul went into Ephesus and established a church; He went into Thessalonica and established a church etcetera. Every place he went he established a church and set a pastor over the church. Then he went to the next place and established another church.

This is he method of our fellowship. We go into a place, draw a group, establish a church, disciple men and then set a local man in the place of pastor, or send those men to other cities to duplicate what has been done in their city. The goal is always the establishment of a self-sustaining local church.

There are many missionary organizations that send people to a place to provide service to that community. These are not missionaries in the sense of Paul’s service. I’m not saying there is not a place for this, but I’m saying the goal of these organizations ought to be to feed the local church.

Recently at 木匠的家咖啡店 (Carpenter’s House Coffee Shop), where I volunteer on Fridays to teach English Bible Study, there was group from Australia who came and provided a number of musical presentations of the Gospel. They gave testimonies, preached a short Gospel sermon and then spent time talking and witnessing one-on-one to the people present at the event. This is only a part of the missionary’s responsibility. It is important that anyone who responds to the call of the Gospel, (There was no altar call at this event, so people were not given the opportunity to repent), be directed into a church where they can be discipled as a follower of Christ. A place where they can see the call of God on their lives facilitated.

The call on Christians is not just to preach the Gospel but to make disciples.

Matthew 28:18-20 (NKJV)
28:18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.

As a missionary and a pastor it is my intention to raise up disciples. That is really the purpose of this letter and the purpose of Sunday’s sermon. A disciple is a learner, one who learns. But it is more than that; a disciple is one who desires to be like his teacher. I’ll give you an example; next to the Riverside church was a martial arts school. There was a group of young men there who were learning Kung Fu. One day I had a conversation with one of the young men and I was asking him a number of questions. To each question he began his answer with the words, “My teacher says…” As I talked with him I began to see how much he was influenced by his teacher so I asked, “You want to be just like your teacher, don’t you?” His response was, “Absolutely.” This young man is a disciple. He is learning the information he’s being taught, but more than that there is something that is being imparted into his life. He wants to be like his teacher. This is what being discipled means. There should be an impartation that takes place between us. Look at Paul’s call to his disciples:

1 Corinthians 11:1 (NKJV)
11:1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.

1 Corinthians 4:15-16 (NKJV)
4:15 For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you, imitate me.

The Purpose of Ministry

Acts 6:1-7 (NKJV)
6:1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word." 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. 7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

Here is ministry as it takes place in the early church. The Greeks had a complaint that the Jews weren’t taking as good care of the Greek widows as they were the jewish widows. So they complained to the leaders. The leaders said, “We can’t do what God has given us to do and wait on tables. Therefore, pick out seven men and have them take on this responsibility.” This is the creation of lay ministry. It is the serving of people in a practical sense. We have a number of ministry opportunities that exist to provide service to the congregation.

Translation, worship service, setting up the church before service, follow-up, the church council and any other aspect of being a part of the functioning of the church. It is important that you understand that there are other purposes to ministry beyond the service that is provided. One other purpose is to provide a platform for men to be able to grow into preachers and pastors. Another is to bring growth to the church.

Ministry teaches us a great number of things.

How to work with other people
How to serve others
How to think in terms of going beyond the minimum expectation

Ministry is not a favor that you’re doing for the church. It’s not a favor you’re doing for me; it is a privilege to share in the work of building the church that Jesus founded. It is our opportunity to be a part of what Jesus is doing in Taoyuan City. It is a step in the discipleship of the people who follow Christ. We are learning to be more like him.

Have you ever thought about why Jesus washed the apostle’s feet? It was to demonstrate to them that He was here to serve…to be a servant. He was also teaching them that this was their place as well.

Matthew 20:28 (NKJV)
20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

If we want to be like Christ then we also must be servants. But there is something else here that is important: The purpose of ministry is to grow the church. Look at what happens in verse 7 of our text:

Acts 6:7 (NKJV)
6:7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

One of the goals is to multiply the disciples: In other words, to add more people to the church. This is what we are aiming for through ministry. That is a call that’s on every one of us. A group that preaches but doesn’t build the local church isn’t making disciples. We don’t draw men to ourselves we draw them to Jesus.

What is the essence of ministry? Look at the following scripture:

Hebrews 10:23-25 (NKJV)
10:23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

This scripture holds the essence of ministry. Let us stir up good works. That’s what ministry is…good works. But it is also tied to church attendance. “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” Look at what we have people doing in our church:

Translation – making the word of God available to Chinese speakers
Worship Music – preparing hearts to hear from God
Service preparation – making it comfortable for people to come to church.

All of these things facilitate drawing people to Jesus. That’s the real purpose and goal of ministry.

The Standards of Ministry

Acts 6:3-5 (NKJV)
6:3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word." 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch,

The leaders gave instruction for choosing people to minister. The people who were chosen were to be men of good reputation. This means that they were to be examples. People that people could look up to: People that the people could learn how to be a Christian from. These are the ones who did the right thing…they attended church.

In those days they didn’t have the Bible to read like we do, the only way they could hear the word of God was by attending church. That’s also how faith is built.

Romans 10:17 (NKJV)
10:17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

People ask me to send them sermon outlines. They want to be able to study ahead to prepare themselves to listen and understand in English. But other than those translating, I don’t like to do that. Because, I think what happens is that people get the sermon outlines then think they don’t have to attend church because they already have the information. But this is not about information I’m not really trying to teach you anything during the sermons, I’m trying to impart something into you. That comes from hearing; faith comes from hearing.

Romans 1:17 (NKJV)
1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."

This scripture speaks of impartation, the transfer of faith from me to you. That’s how disciples are made, and making disciples is the goal of ministry. That transfer, or impartation only takes place in person. You can’t have faith imparted into you by reading sermon outlines, it only comes by being in church and hearing the words. Anyone that is involved in ministry needs that impartation so that you are equipped to impart it into someone else’s life. if you want to see people have the faith to believe in Jesus, you have to be equipped to transfer that faith though your faith. Church attendance is necessary for that. All ministers in the church should attend both services on Sunday. They are two different sermons, by design, to impart faith into your lives.

Those in ministry need to be an example to others in the church. Attending church faithfully is part of being an example. The problem is that people are watching how you live to understand how they should live as a Christian. When you have ministry you have credibility as a Christian. You’re a leader and people who want to live as good Christians will want to watch how you live, in order to know how to live.

Let me make one other point on this. What you do those who are watching you will do the same +1. What do I mean by that? Look at this illustration of that:

There is an interesting phenomenon that takes place among generations. We do what our parents do but take it one step further. Example: The drug of choice for my parent’s generation was alcohol. There were not many who were into other things. The drug of choice for my generation was Alcohol and Marijuana. We took it one step further the drug of choice for this generation is Methamphetamines (stimulants), Marijuana and Alcohol.

The same thing is true of people that come into the church. They watch what you do and take it one step further.

At our church ministry includes: Church Council, Worship group, translating, setting the church (Ushering), Follow-up, or any other aspect of being a part of the functioning of the church.

If you are a part of any of these ministries or want to be a part then you may want to follow the guidelines.

Attend Church faithfully – Be at both services on Sunday; Bible Study if possible
Live as an example – No drinking, cussing, smoking or other sin. No TV
Pray – pray daily, come to prayer on Saturday at 9:00 (Read your Bible)
Attend events and Revivals – Support your church
Tithe faithfully – financially support the church
Dress reverently at church services – Ties for the guys, dresses/skirts/dress slacks for the women (Think about Who you represent – Jesus)

These are the standards of ministry that we will be upholding. I hope that you will respect them. These are not requirements but good suggestions for those that only desire to attend church and are not involved in ministry.

Ministry Will Grow the Church

Your faithful involvement will draw others to Jesus. Let me give you an example of how it works: Someone comes into the church the church is clean and comfortable (cleaning crew & ushers), the worship group ushers in the spirit of God, (worship group), The sermon is preached and the altar call given, people respond to the altar call and we pray with them (everyone’s responsibility), the follow up people call them and invite them again, they make friends with them (follow-up) and those people come back as they feel like they have become a part of something.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Overcoming Weariness

One of the major problems that people suffer these days is depression and weariness. This becomes a real problem when it overflows into the church. I think depressed Christians are one of the saddest things there are, after all, Christianity is supposed to fill us with Joy. Why do some people have joy in the church while others struggle with weariness, depression and oppression?

I want to examine that question from the Word of God. The Bible often gives us insight into our feelings and emotions. People are sitting in pews all over the world today and they’re wondering why they aren’t experiencing the promises of God. They’re wondering why they’re experiencing depression and weariness. They’re looking at the changes that have taken place in their lives and they’re thinking to themselves, “Is this all there is?”

“Is this is what’s meant by the Joy of Salvation, because I’m not feeling particularly joyful.”

Today, I want to show you from the word of God, how we can overcome depression and weariness in our lives.

Galatians 6:2-10
2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.5 For each one shall bear his own load. 6 Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches.7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

The Weariness of Bondage and Oppression

If you have been a Christian for any amount of time then you have come to the understanding that the Christian life is supposed to be a blessing, after all, there is the promise of joy:

1 Peter 1:7-8
7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,

Peter is telling us, here, that with genuine faith comes inexpressible joy. But you might be saying to yourself, “Where is that promise in my life? I’m not feeling joyful; in fact, I’m feeling just the opposite. If that’s a promise then I should be experiencing it, but I’m not.”

If we look carefully at the promises of God we will see that they’re all conditional. If we meet with certain conditions then God will reciprocate with the fulfillment of His promises. We see an example of this in 2 Chronicles Chapter seven.

2 Chronicles 7:14
14 “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

IF we will humble ourselves, pray and seek His face AND turn away from our sin, THEN he will forgive our sin and heal our land. This is a conditional promise, there is a condition that must be met before the promise is fulfilled.

This is something we do with our children all the time, isn’t it? We tell them IF you will do your chores, without complaining, without me having to remind you, with or me having to get loud to get you to do it. THEN you will receive some reward, usually an allowance or something. Then it is up to them to do what’s necessary to receive the reward. This is what God does with us. There are no unconditional promises in the Bible. All of the promises of God come with something we must do before they are fulfilled.

IF we will sow, THEN we will reap. Any farmer understands this. If you plant seed then you will reap a harvest. If you don’t plant seed then you won’t reap a harvest. The condition of reaping the harvest is planting the seed.

Blessing comes from right giving:

Malachi 3:10
10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.

IF we don’t tithe then we won’t know if God will pour out the blessing. Tithing is the condition to receiving the blessing.

If we believe in Jesus we will receive everlasting life:

John 3:16
16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Whoever believes in Him will receive everlasting life. Whoever doesn’t believe in Him will perish. Believing in Him is the condition; everlasting life is the promise. If you want to receive the promises of God then it is critical that you live out the conditions to receiving the promises. If we refuse to live according to the will of God how can we expect to receive the blessing?

We all want the promise of Heaven, am I right? None of us wants to go to Hell. Well, there’s a condition to receiving that promise:

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.

So the condition to receiving the promise of heaven is that we must do the will of the father.

The problem for many Christians today is that they’re tired and their worn out because they are still living in the same sin that they were involved in before they got saved. How many know that depression and weariness is brought on by guilt and shame. You know you’re not living right and so you’re depressed. Weariness comes from not doing the will of God.

Weariness comes from not living the will of God for our lives. Jesus is a filter in our lives, at least, He should be. The things that don’t belong in our lives should be strained out through that filter.

“I’m living for Jesus, so I shouldn’t be drunk.”
“I’m living for Jesus so I shouldn’t be fornicating.”
“I’m living for Jesus so I shouldn’t be lying, stealing, committing adultery, gossiping…”

Whatever thing I’m doing that is destroying my relationship with Jesus, I shouldn’t be doing. Have you ever heard this? I’m sick and tired of my lifestyle. I’m tired of partying. I’m tired of waking up sick every morning. I’m tired of feeling empty, unfulfilled, stressed out, used, broken. We’ve all heard that. As a matter of fact, some of us have actually said that.

But have you ever heard this? I’m tired of being blessed. I’m tired of being free of guilt and shame. I’m tired of receiving the promises of God. I’m tired of being joyful. You’ve probably never heard anyone say that.

It’s sin that wears us out and bums us out. It’s sin that destroys relationships and causes pain and hurt. If we will step out of sin then we step out of weariness. Sin is a bondage. It’s oppression in our lives.

John 8:34
34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.

Slavery is oppression; it’s a burden that we carry. Have you ever gone backpacking? What would be a simple casual walk becomes a difficult and exhausting trek with the added burden of a seventy-pound backpack. The oppression of slavery will cause us to groan under the weight.

Exodus 2:23-24
23 Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage.24 So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

They’re groaning under the weight of oppression and we, when in sin, also groan under the weight of that oppression. Sin causes weariness. People are sitting in churches weary and depressed because these things are working in their lives.

Overcoming Weariness

The question is, how can we overcome weariness? How can we throw off the shackles of depression? The first way is through conditioning.

A friend of mine races hand-powered bikes. The type of races he is involved in is the endurance race. These are not high-speed sprints, they’re races over time to test your physical strength and endurance. And so in order to be competitive he must work out regularly to make himself strong enough not to be overcome with weariness before the race is over.

Paul tells us we are engaged in an endurance race as well:

Hebrews 12:1
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

The one who endures until the end will be saved. In order to endure we must prepare ourselves by making ourselves strong enough to go the distance. An athlete calls this conditioning: We must condition ourselves for the race that’s before us.

This is what my friend is doing through exercise. He is conditioning himself so that he will have the endurance to complete the race. But the race that we’re in isn’t a bicycle race or a running race. It isn’t a physical test of our endurance at all. We are engaged in a spiritual race, so we must condition ourselves spiritually to to complete the race. Physical race: Physical conditioning…Spiritual race: Spiritual conditioning. It would be much easier if we could just lift some weights; run some laps; do a few pushups to get ready for the race. But, what we need is spiritual conditioning. We need to condition our heart to overcome the weariness that comes upon us. I believe there are three things that will condition to endure over the long run.

The first thing is prayer, particularly prayer before church. Prayer is what prepares us to hear from God, and hearing from God will energize you. have you ever walked away from service thinking, "God really spoke to me today, that was something I needed to hear?"

Prayer opens our hearts; it unburdens us from the day’s events. You can lay all the problems of life on God, “Here God, this is what happened this is how awful it was…” Then you can call on Him to speak to you. “God speak to me, give me direction…Help me God.” What was that promise? If we will pray and seek his face, then forgiveness will come and with forgiveness comes the unburdening of ourselves from sin. That weight of oppression will come off.

The second thing is to attend church with an air of expectation. Know that God will move. That’s an expression of faith. If you have an expectation of a powerful interaction with God, you’ll be excited about coming to church. It won’t be boring, who knows what God will do? If you are expecting God to do something powerful, or that he will speak something into your life, if you just know something is going to happen you will be excited. Excitement energizes.

The third thing is to be involved in the things of God. One thing that I have noticed is true in my life, is that when I lay around and do nothing I often wind up more tired than I was when I decided to take it easy. When I’m busily doing things, and have a feeling of accomplishing something I’m buoyed up, I’m excited and energized. When I take it upon myself to get up and go witness to strangers, or preach the Gospel in public or just get involved I feel better. I might be physically tired, but that bone weariness that comes from depression isn’t there.

So if we pray and open ourselves up to hearing from God: If we will attend church with an expectation of an encounter with an all-powerful God: If we will be involved with what God is doing, we will be conditioned and will be able to overcome depression and weariness. This is what will give us the strength to endure until the race is finished. We will be able to run the race with en durance.

Road to Redemption

So if we want to receive the promises of God we need to understand the conditions and what it will take to be able to receive them. Then we need to condition ourselves to make ourselves strong enough to endure the conditions of the promise. Finally, we need to create an atmosphere where God can move in our lives.

The problem is that sometimes we create conditions in our lives that hinder the movement of God. Sometimes, we are involved in sin; we’re unable to break free. It should be obvious that if we are still involved in sin that God can’t move there. Other times the problem is that we come to church with an atmosphere that must be overcome, before we can create an atmosphere where God can move.

We may get in argument with our spouse or someone in the church and we come in and bring that air of hostility with us. “I’m not talking to anyone, they’re all against me.” Or “I’m not talking with my husband, so I’ll just ignore him and tell the girls what a rotten husband he is.”

God has to overcome our attitude in order to do something in our lives. We haven’t created an atmosphere were God can move. Instead, we have hindered His movement. It is up to us to create an atmosphere where God can move to do something in us or through us. Our text shows us three factors in the creation of that atmosphere.

The first is “bearing the burdens of others.” Making ourselves available to bear the burden of another person. One of the major symptoms of depression is weariness. You want to sleep all the time. Sleep is an escape from hurt and sorrow. We don’t feel those things when we’re sleeping. But psychologists will tell us that the best way to overcome depression is to do something for someone else. If we are willing to bear the burdens of someone else in the church we will lose the weariness that we feel. That doesn’t mean that we should take all their problems and make them our problems. It’s not saying that we need to solve all of their problems ourselves. But we can help them with what they’re struggling by praying for them and with them. Or maybe by just being available to listen to their hurts or encourage them. Do you realize that a church is like a family, intentionally, so that we will care about each other and help each other.

The second thing is to “share all good things with him who teaches.” Do you realize that you can encourage your pastor by sharing with him the things that God is doing in your life? Your pastor really wants to see God moving in your life. People have a tendency to go to their pastor only with the problems and headaches. Maybe it’s not the pastor but the person who helped you or prayed with you. Maybe they had a scripture that they gave you to read. You can say, “Wow, that scripture really helped me…or that thing you said really helped me get through a tough time.” You can really encourage and bless that person by just telling them they helped.

The third is, “do good to all of the household of faith.” Do you know that it’s okay to bless other people in your church? Really, it’s okay; you can do something nice for someone else in the church.

I always marvel at my pastor’s wife and her energy level. She’s constantly doing things and never seems tired. If you asked her she would say, “God helps us.” That’s true, but one of the reasons, I believe she’s never tired is because she’s like this. She is always doing something for someone else. I remember when some young people got married a number of years ago. She organized a group to go and paint the house they were going to move into. This is not unusual. She’s always like that.

Do not grow weary in well doing for what you sow that you will reap. The promises are there for us. God has given us promises that he will deliver. God is faithful. But all too often we become weary and depressed, we become too weary to endure. But we can condition ourselves to endure and we can help each other to make it through.

When we help bear someone else’s burden we make our own load lighter. When we share in all good things to him who teaches, we encourage ourselves in the bargain. When we expend the energy to bless someone else, we are given more energy. We don’t have to lose heart. We can finish the race and endure until the end.