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, December 18, 2012

Our Lord and Rescuer: The Straight Skinny

I listen to a lot of preaching and I read a lot of sermons and books, and I find it surprising how much of it is on the deeper things of God:  Deep heavy theological thoughts, on obscure passages and ideas.  For the place where I’m ministering these things are too deep and complicated to get across with all the cultural and language barriers.  It’s not because people couldn't grasp it, but because I have a difficult time communicating it to them within their cultural context.  The problem is mine, not theirs.

But in reading these things I realize that the gospel was meant to be simple. It’s meant to be understood in all cultures and by all people.  The Gospel works everywhere it’s tried, but a failure to reach people is usually the fault of the communicator.  So in thinking about this today, I want to approach the Gospel with some simplicity.  The Gospel is intended to be straightforward; it’s good news. 

In the US we have a term for that, it’s called the “Straight Skinny.”  That term merely means the unembellished truth.  I’m going to tell a story that I think will illustrate the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  So here it is, the straight skinny…

In 1991 something took place that rarely happens.  Three storm fronts collided to create a situation that meteorologists referred to as the “The Perfect Storm.”  During this storm in 1991, a warm front, a cold front and a hurricane combined to create 100-foot waves, high winds and torrential rains. 

If you know anything about sailing this is a very bad time to be at sea.  However, in this storm a thirty-two foot sailing vessel, the Sartori by name, found itself in high seas.  The crew consisted of a very experienced captain and two somewhat inexperienced women.  The women became frightened as the vessel slammed its sail against the sea and then righted itself, and called the US Coast Guard, who came out in a helicopter to rescue the crew of the Sartori.

What makes this a powerful story isn't that the people needed rescue, but it was the action of the Coast Guard that’s important.  The Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter into the high winds of the hurricane.  They flew out to the Sartori, and then a lone man, called a rescue swimmer, jumped into the high winds and huge waves to evacuate the crew: A lone man swimming against the power of a hurricane and 100-foot seas. 

This man put his life at risk in order to rescue these people.  He was jumping into an extremely dangerous situation; not for himself; not for the glory or recognition, but selflessly for other people.  He was fully prepared to give his life to rescue them; he was the first into the water and the last one out.

John 15:13 (NKJV)
15:13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.
We have a friend that was willing to do exactly that:  To give His life for us.  That’s what I want to declare to you today our Lord and Rescuer.

1 Timothy 1:12-15 (NKJV)
1:12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

God Can Use Us, Even Though

In verse 12 of our text, Paul is speaking of the trust that God has placed in him.  I am often amazed by the grace of God.  God’s gracious, Paul is a blasphemer and a persecutor, and yet God is using him.  I want you to take a moment and think about this, because we are in the same boat as Paul.  We love Jesus and we’re trying to live out his will…now.  But it wasn't always that way, was it?  At one point we were as bad as Paul.  Look at this scripture.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NKJV)
6:9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
That pretty much sums most of us up.  We all are at least one, if not all, of those things.  We were opposed to the will of God.  We were at enmity with God.  We were opposed to living the will of God; in fact, we were opposed to anything other than what made us feel good.  Am I right or am I wrong?

Even though we were all that, now God has entrusted us with His purpose and will on earth.  We are God’s plan for salvation for the world.  It’s up to us to draw others.  It’s up to us to lead others to Jesus.   It’s a sacred trust between God and Christians.   Maybe you’re reading this and you’re not a Christian.  Maybe you’re just here, on this website, exploring what this is all about.  Maybe you've been attending church, but you still don’t see the value in Christianity.  The value in it is right here in what Paul is saying.  Even though we have been a rebel and a sinner, God has had mercy and given us a way out of the punishment of our sin.  The sin and the filthiness are all taken away.  It’s not just that we are forgiven; the Bible tells us that the sin is removed; washed away.  We’re cleansed, we’re sanctified, (holy; literally made as saints), and we’re justified; made innocent.  God did that for us, even though.  Even though we were rebels and enemies of God, because we did those things in ignorance.  We didn't know what we were doing. 

Isn't that what Jesus said, as he looked at those who brutalized and crucified Him.  In the midst of all that he looked down from the cross at the people who were murdering Him and called out, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”  Look at His words:

Luke 23:33-34a (NKJV)
23:33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do."…
He said, “They don’t know what they’re doing.”  They didn't know what they were doing.  Do you think if they knew they were crucifying God that they would have done it?  That’s just like us; we don’t see our sin from God’s perspective before we have Jesus in our life.  We don’t know we’re offending God.  It just doesn't occur to us.  If we knew God was real and that we were offending the Creator of the Universe, we wouldn't do it, would we?  Some of us maybe, but most of us wouldn't want to offend the creator.  After all, we’re ignorant; we’re not crazy. 

God used Jesus in the same way the US Coast Guard uses rescue swimmers.  Think about this, rescue swimmers jump out of the relative safety of a helicopter, into the storms and troubles that others are facing, risking death, in an attempt to rescue them.  That’s what Jesus did.  He became man:  He took on the troubles and storms of life that we are facing to rescue us.  We face certain death…the Bible says we are dead in our sin.  He jumped into the world from the safety of Heaven to rescue us from certain death.

In this same storm, another man, another rescue swimmer, in the midst of another rescue died.  He disappeared into the storm and was lost at sea.  The people were rescued but the rescue swimmer died.  He gave his life for those people.  This is exactly what Jesus did.  His death rescued us:  His spilled blood was the payment for our sin, our wrong behavior.  Because of his death we are rescued; saved and then we are entrusted to be a part of the rescue of other people.  “The grace of our Lord is exceedingly abundant.

God’s Mercy is Abundant

That’s what mercy is all about.  The whole thing is amazing to me.  In the beginning of time, Adam and Eve rebelled from God.  They did the one thing He told them not to do and because of that they lost the Garden.  They lost the place that God gave them that met every one of their needs, because they chose themselves over God’s will.  That’s basically what happened.  They chose to be like God rather than to obey God.  That’s the choice that they made and it cost them the Garden.  They were kicked out.  God separated Himself from them.

The tree of life was now off limits for them.  The thing that gave eternal life was now out of reach.  We can’t have eternal life and sin at the same time.  It’s one or the other.  So they were separated from God and they were to remain separated for centuries. 

So about now you might be thinking, where’s this mercy, you've been hearing about; this exceedingly abundant mercy.  The mercy is found in the beginning, immediately after they sinned.  This is an interesting moment:

God is laying curses on them.  Eve would have pain in childbirth.  She was crested to be the mother of all, that’s what Eve means, mother of all.  But now that blessing would be the curse.  God had given Adam food, shelter, and everything he needed.  He even gave Eve to him.  Now Adam is going to have to work for it.  What was freely given before would require sweat and struggle.  There will be thorns and thistles, pain and setbacks. 

He said these things after he had cursed Satan.  What He told Satan was that an offspring of Eve would come and destroy his power.  His power was the power to lead us into hell; to keep us in the bondage of rebellion:  A slave to sin.  That’s what we all are:

John 8:34 (NKJV)
8:34 Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.
We all do things that we know are wrong; even though we know we shouldn't do them we do them anyway.  We’re slaves to it.  It’s sin and we’re slaves to it.  This is what God’s mercy is all about; we didn't deserve what God did for us.  What would we do if someone did something wrong that hurt us?  We would want to get revenge.  That’s what we do when we’re angry…”It would serve them right if ______________ (fill in the blank with something horrible.)

Look at what God did.  He said, they did wrong and they hurt Me, so I will send someone to make it right.  Someone who will pay the price for what they have done. Someone to take their punishment for them, even though they hurt Me.  Someone who will go to His death so they won’t have to, just the same way that the rescue swimmer who died to rescue other people did.

In the storm, the people who were out in the in Sartori shouldn't have been there.  They’d heard about the storms converging.  They knew what was coming.  They were ignorant.  They ignored the warning, that’s ignorance.  Even though they knew all that, a rescue swimmer was sent to go in after them.  A man was sent to rescue them…even though.

That’s mercy, they didn't deserve it but a rescuer was sent for them anyway.  That’s mercy.  That’s also what God did for us.  We didn't deserve it but it was done for us, anyway…that’s God’s mercy.  What makes it exceedingly abundant mercy is the price that God paid to rescue us. 

Think about the family of the rescue swimmer who died trying to rescue those people who were out where they shouldn't have been.  Do you wonder how they felt?  “ We've lost a heroic, selfless man, because he wanted to rescue some idiots who had no business being out there in the first place.  Look what we traded for them.”  That’s what they were thinking, probably.  That’s what I would have been thinking.  Look at the price we paid for them.

Look at the price God paid for us.  Some of us though, we make that sacrifice of little value because we continue in sin. We remain ignorant of the price that was paid for us, or we neglect to help others to understand the price that was paid for them.

I was reading something on the Internet the other day that made me want to throw my computer on the floor:  Made me want to just toss it out the 10th floor window.  Some guy, some pastor said he hates when we say things to people about their sin and the ultimate result of sin…hell.  He said we shouldn't do that.  He said we should let people just find his or her own way to God.

That goes against everything I believe as a Christian.  There was a price that was paid for that sin; a heavy price.  As a Christian I shouldn't let that price be wasted by not bringing it to people’s attention.  Otherwise, how will people know they’re doing it? 

Jesus confronted the woman at the well.  She’d been married five times and now she was shacking up with another man.  Jesus said, “Bring your husband to me.”    She’s telling him how religious she is and he says, “Bring your husband to me.”  That’s confrontation.  Jesus didn't hold back and neither should we.  They don’t know what they’re doing.  They don’t realize that it’s sin and that they will have to pay a heavy price for it.  Somebody needs to tell them, so they can escape the price.  When we continue to sin or refuse to warn others we make that price that was paid worth nothing.

What if the people who were rescued through the death of the rescue swimmer, went into the next storm, and the next, and continued to need to be rescued.  It would mean that that man gave his life for nothing.  Those people would be frivolous with the lives of those who risk it all to rescue them.  When we continue in our si,n or allow others to do the same we are being frivolous with God’s mercy and Jesus’ sacrifice.

Jesus went to the cross to free us from slavery to sin. He did it to destroy Satan’s power over mankind.  He did it to rescue us

He Saves Sinners

Finally, here’s the good news.  That what the Gospel is, that’s what I said at the very beginning of this.  Gospel literally means the good news.  So here it is:

1 Timothy 1:15 (NKJV)
1:15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

Paul says that Jesus’ purpose was to come into the world to save sinners.  Then he says that he’s the worst of the worst:  The Chief of all sinners.  He’s saying that if Jesus can save him, He can save us, too.  You haven’t killed Christians just for being Christians, have you?  Paul did.  He stood by and consented to their death, that’s the same as throwing the stones.  God forgave him and he can forgive you.  In fact, there are many people whom we would consider to be horribly evil sinners:  Murderers and rapists.  People who have done horribly evil things and God forgave them.  

They've repented and they’re saved.  They've been given a second chance.  They are free from sin.  If they could be forgiven what would hinder you?

I talk to people sometimes and they tell me, “God can’t forgive me.”  But the Bible says that if we will confess our sin, God is faithful to forgive.  “But you don’t know what I've done, is the response.”  No I don’t, but I know what Paul has done.  I know what others have done and God forgave them.  God can forgive you as well.  That’s the good news today.  Jesus came to save sinners like you and I.  He came for us.  He’s our Lord and Rescuer.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

God Did That? I Forgot

Editor’s Note:  This is the second part of a two-part series on becoming dissatisfied with the blessings of God.  The part one is entitled, “Dissatisfied” and was presented last week.

In ancient time the Israelites would stand stones on their ends to commemorate a movement of God.  They did that so that when they walked by that stone they would remember that God moved in that place at one time.  It was a way of remembering what God had done.  Sometimes in the crush of life we forget what God has done for us in other times and can begin to doubt and stray away from the faith we once had. 

In this post I want to stand up some stones in your thinking and write about what can happen when we forget what God has done

Matthew 16:5-11 (NKJV)
16:5 Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. 6 Then Jesus said to them, "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees." 7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "It is because we have taken no bread." 8 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, "O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? 9 Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up? 10 Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? 11 How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?--but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees."

How Easily We Forget

I think this is an interesting moment in scripture, because the disciples have just seen Jesus do two powerful miracles.  In the first he fed four thousand families with five loaves and two fishes, and in the second he feed five thousand families with seven loaves and “a few small fishes.”  These were two of Jesus’ most important miracles. 

They had two purposes.  The first is that Jesus met a simple human need.  These people had been following him all day.  They’d been sitting and listening for many hours.  One miracle was done after they had been there the whole day; the other took place after they had been following Him for three days.  They’d exhausted their food supply, they were tired and hungry and Jesus didn't want to send them away without food.  Simply, he was concerned that they were hungry.  This is His care for us; He moves to meet our needs. The second purpose is that He wanted to glorify God. 
Let’s take a moment and look at these miracles separately:

Matthew 14:16-21 (NKJV)
14:16 But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." 17 And they said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish." 18 He said, "Bring them here to Me." 19 Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. 20 So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. 21 Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

So these people had been with Him all day and they were no doubt tired and hungry.  Jesus doesn't want to send them away like that but no one has the money to buy food for so many people.  Think about how much it would cost to feed five thousand families.  How much food would be necessary to feed all of them?  So Jesus feeds them miraculously.  He turns a few loaves and fish, practically nothing, into a huge amount of food.  Now look at the second miracle:

Matthew 15:32-38 (NKJV)
15:32 Now Jesus called His disciples to Himself and said, "I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way." 33 Then His disciples said to Him, "Where could we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?" 34 Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" And they said, "Seven, and a few little fish." 35 So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. 36 And He took the seven loaves and the fish and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitude. 37 So they all ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets full of the fragments that were left. 38 Now those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.

This takes place not too much later.  These people have followed Him for three days and he’s afraid that if he lets them leave without feeding them they’ll faint on the road.  The same thing happens, he’s brought a small amount of food and uses it to feed four thousand families.

But this is the thing that I found most interesting.  It seems that the disciples completely forgot about the last miracle.  Jesus tells them He wants to feed the people and they worry, “Where could we get enough bread in the wilderness?”  They recently saw Jesus feed five thousand men PLUS women and children.  Did they forget?  Doesn't it seem like something like that would stick in your mind? 

I want to mock them on the one hand, because how do you forget that?  On the other hand though, I think this is pretty common.  In my eleven years as a pastor I've preached a lot of sermons, but what is interesting is that if I asked less than a week after the sermon was preached, there are many who don’t remember what it was about.  I think we all have a tendency to forget what God has done for us.  I know some of those sermons spoke to people, I could see their reactions, I saw them at the altar, and I know God ministered to them but they seemed to have forgotten what God did.  In the stress and strain of the week we forget. 

I've seen people powerfully healed and in a few weeks they have forgotten.  I've seen God move and give them jobs, or help with a financial crisis or some other problem in their life.  A few weeks later they’re walking around like nothing happened and when they face the next crisis they have forgotten how God moved the last time. The disciples here are just like us.  God moves powerfully but when they’re faced with the next crisis they forget what God has just done in the last crisis.  Do you wonder like I do about what causes that?

The Cause of Forgetfulness

Look at our text for a moment.  The disciples are concerned because they only have one small loaf.  They forgot to bring bread.  They’re concerned because they messed up,.  The Bible specifically mentions this as if it’s a mistake. 

Matthew 16:5 (NKJV)
16:5 Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread.

This is a mistake, they blew it and I think they’re concerned about with their own needs here.  “Where are we going to get bread?  What will Jesus say?  Oh we’re going to get in trouble, now.”  You would think after seeing Jesus do those powerful miracles they would say, “Oh, He’ll just make enough to feed us out of what we have.”  They might even joke, “I wonder if He’ll miraculously cook it, too?”  When they focus on their current problems they forget what God has done.  I think this is human nature.

Let’s go back to the Old Testament for a moment; specifically I want to focus on the deliverance of Israel.  For four hundred years Israel was in bondage and slavery to Egypt.  The people were groaning under the oppression.  God was moved to compassion and used Moses to speak to Pharaoh, but Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, so God did several powerful miracles through Moses to free Israel.  After the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh released Israel but then decides to take his army and pursue them.  He pursued them to the Red Sea and they were trapped between the mountains, the sea and the army.  Look what happensed:

Exodus 14:10-12 (NKJV)
14:10 And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11 Then they said to Moses, "Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, 'Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?' For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness."

They have forgotten what God has just done.  God had just done powerful things to release them from the bondage of Egypt.  But now they're facing a new trial, a new circumstance and what happens?  They become afraid and begin to complain.  In the face of this new challenge they forgot what God had done to deliver them.  So God parts the sea and delivers them across the sea on dry land.  Then he closes the sea over the Egyptians, killing them and destroying the danger to Israel.

God once again uses a powerful miracle to deliver them.  The women sing with timbrels or tambourines, “The Lord has triumphed gloriously!”  God has done wonders for Israel, but three days later they come to Marah.  Marah is a three-day walk from Egypt. 

Exodus 15:22-24 (NKJV)
15:22 So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. 24 And the people complained against Moses, saying, "What shall we drink?"

Three days later.  Three days after the most powerful move of God since the creation, the people are complaining again.  “Did you bring us here to die in the wilderness.”  They forgot what God had just done three days earlier.  It seems that whenever we face a new problem or trial or crisis in our lives we forget what God has already done.  We focus on the new discomfort; the new circumstances and we just forget that God has moved powerfully in our lives before.

What happens to our faith?  When we face troubles, where does our faith go?  Why is it so difficult for us to remember that God is a God of compassion and will move on our behalf?  Look at Jesus’ reasons for feeding the people:

Matthew 14:14 (NKJV)
14:14 And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.
 Matthew 15:32 (NKJV)
15:32 Now Jesus called His disciples to Himself and said, "I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way."

God WILL move to meet our needs.  He promises this throughout the Bible.  He will help us in times of trouble if we will boldly come to the throne of Grace.  We struggle and suffer needless and there is the promise and the demonstration of that promise of help throughout His Book.

Things That Will Help You Remember

I want to close with three things that will help you to remember what God has done for you.  The first is obvious…Keep Track. One of the people in my church was telling me the other day that she's keeping a prayer journal.  What a great idea.  You write down what you're praying about and then you check it off when God answers that prayer.  You can go back and see what things you have gone through and what God has done to deliver you from that.
Doing something like keeping a journal will show you how faithful God is and will help you to build your faith. Something like this might have helped the Israelites. 
  1. We cried out for deliverance as slaves and God met us and did powerful miracles to deliver us on this day.
  2. We were trapped and facing Pharaoh’s army, we prayed and God parted the Red Sea and then closed it on the Egyptians.
  3. We cried out to God for water at Marah and God made the water sweet.
When you keep a journal like this you have a record of God’s power in your life that you can look over and see what God has done for you. 

The second thing you can do is to witness and testify about God’s provision and deliverance.  When you tell someone what God has done in your life it reinforces it in your mind.  Verbally speaking something will help to build your faith.  Remember faith comes by hearing…I use my testimony a lot in both preaching and witnessing, because every time I speak it out loud it, it reminds me of what I've been delivered from and it shows to someone else the power of God.  My faith can be imparted to them at the same time it's reinforced in me.

Finally, read your Bible.  I always read the Bible with a pen in my hand so I can make notes in the margins or on a yellow legal pad.  I make up Excel spreadsheets on things, as well.  For example, I have a spreadsheets on miracles (New Testament), the Timeline of History (Genesis 5), a comparison of the feeding of the four and five thousand.  I have lots of those, because they help me to remember what I've read. When I remember what I've read about what God has done in past history, I know that I can count on God to do those things again.  Why?  Because God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. 

Faith is our responsibility.  People pray for more faith, and that’s good, but it’s up to you to build and maintain your faith.  What are you doing to build your faith?  Most of us can’t remember what we did yesterday, so it’s hard to remember what God did last year in a crisis while we were hurting or afraid.  We have to stake steps to remember.  It will help us to be optimistic rather than pessimistic and full of faith rather than empty of faith.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Editor’s Note:  This is the first part of a two-part series on becoming dissatisfied with the blessings of God.  Part two is entitled, “God Did That?  I forgot,” which will be presented next week.

The iPhone5 has been released.  Apple announced it on September 21st in the United States.  The phone retails at US $895.00.  There are a few subtle differences when compared to iPhone4S.  It’s a bit longer and thinner, has a new charging cord, and perhaps a different battery system.  But essentially it’s the same phone.  What is interesting to me is that people who bought the iPhone4S are getting rid of that phone to get the new iPhone5.  It’s basically the same phone at twice the cost.  They can’t be satisfied with what they have.  They have to have the newest and the latest, even though the technology isn't all that different.

This is a part of human nature, I think.  We are so easily dissatisfied.  We easily become tired of things that we, at one time, thought of as a blessing. Today I want to post on dissatisfaction from this section of scripture:

Numbers 21:4-9 (NKJV)
21:4 Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses: "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread." 6 So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. 7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. 8 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live." 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

We Are Never Satisfied

Why is it that we are never satisfied?  It seems like we always want what we don’t have.  We’re always looking for the newest and coolest thing, in fact, high tech and computer companies count on that.  That’s why they upgrade operating systems or release new hardware every eighteen months.  They know that people will always want the newest, supposedly best technology available.  Then to top it off, they make the new operating system unable to support the older software requiring that you go out and buy the software again. 

The problem is that newest isn't always the best.  There are more glitches, often you lose some functionality and it makes things more difficult.  But most people want to have the newest and the “best”.  The Israelites in our text are the same way.  They didn't want what they already had; they wanted something new and different. 

Here’s Israel, they’re in the desert.  God has done some of the most powerful miracles since creation to free them from the bondage of Egypt. He’s provided for their needs;  Their clothing didn't wear out, He fed them in the wilderness with Manna.  The Manna was delicious and nutritious.

Exodus 16:31 (NKJV)
16:31 And the house of Israel called its name Manna. And it was like white coriander seed, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.

They became dissatisfied they wanted something new.  That’s the way we are all, isn't it?  God’s providing for us, He’s blessing us; but we’re looking for something else from God.  We want something new.  People always want something new from God, don’t they?  God gives us a job or something and we talk about it, “Oh what a great blessing this is.”  “Oh God just blessed me big time.”  But a few years later we’re praying to God for a new job.  “God I hate this job, please give me another job!”  Think about all the times you were excited that God had moved on your behalf, but then a few months, or a few years later you’re dissatisfied.  That’s what we’re seeing in Israel in our text. 

God had moved powerfully for them.  They were groaning under the oppression of Egypt and crying out to God. God moved powerfully to deliver them.

Exodus 3:7-8 (NKJV)
3:7 And the Lord said: "I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. 8 So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites.

So God moves on their behalf.  He brings the plagues that cause Pharaoh to let His people go.  Then Pharaoh pursues them across the desert and God opens up the Red Sea for them and then slams it shut on the Pharaoh’s soldiers.

Exodus 15:1 (NKJV)
15:1 Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and spoke, saying: "I will sing to the Lord, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!

You can read the rest for yourself.  It’s all of chapter fifteen it’s a song about this great delivery of God about all that God is in the process of doing for them:  Less than six weeks later they’re complaining.  It took less than six weeks for them to become dissatisfied. 

Exodus 16:2-3 (NKJV)
16:2 Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 And the children of Israel said to them, "Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."

Four hundred years of bondage and after less than six weeks of freedom they’re ready to go back.  So after they’re complaining God gives them Manna.  God feeds them in the wilderness.  How gracious is God?  He continues to provide for their needs even in the midst of all their complaining.  So once again He shows His care and concern for Israel.  He delivers them; He works miracles for them; He delivers them from the bitter water at Marah; He feeds them in the wilderness, all of these things are powerful measures of God’s provision, but in our text we come across them in the desert and they’re complaining.  They're calling the miraculous provision of God, “This worthless bread.”

The sad thing is that we want to mock them for that, but the real truth of the matter is that we are EXACTLY the same way. “God we need your blessing!”  “God we need deliverance!”  and a few months later we’re looking for a reason to miss out on worshiping Him, because we've become dissatisfied.

What Happens When We Become Dissatisfied?

You can see the beginning of what happens when we become dissatisfied in our text. 

Numbers 21:5 (NKJV)
21:5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses: "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread."

We begin to speak out against God, and the leader God has appointed.  This often takes the form of Gossip.  We complain about the teachings.  We complain that we’re held to standards of behavior and attendance.  We start looking to fire up others so they’ll see it our way, then we come out and complain that God isn't doing enough for us.  Eventually, we just walk away from the church:  “I just wasn't getting fed there.”  “All they want is your money.”  “There’s no love at that church.”  “They’re a cult.”  That’s what people say, but usually the reason you’re not getting fed is because you don’t eat.  People complain about not receiving enough from God but they’re not showing up at church.  Well, that’s where God is.  Where do you Him to meet you… at the golf course?”

I've talked to men who have gone through “mid-life crises,” that’s when some men become dissatisfied.  One friend, in particular, complained that his wife wasn't beautiful anymore.  He complained that he didn't have a good retirement plan set up; that he wasn't making enough money.  So, his plan was that he’d quit and shut down his church.  He’s backing off, he’s dissatisfied… “This worthless bread!”

When we become dissatisfied, we back out of the will of God.  What changed?  What happened?  He was praising God for that wife at one time.  He was thankful for that job at one time.  He was excited about what God was doing in his church at one time.  So what changed?  Was it what God was doing?  No, God is still doing the same thing.  What changed was him, he became dissatisfied and now he’s ready to quit.  He’s saying things like, “My family deserves to be taken care of!”  “ I've given a lot, when do I get blessed?”  All of those blessings are now just worthless bread, just like with the Israelites.  This is a danger for all of us.  It’s easy to live in our flesh; it’s much harder to walk in the Spirit.  That’s the real problem.  It’s not a God problem; it’s a flesh problem.  What it really is is a crucifixion issue. 

Galatians 5:24 (NKJV)
5:24 And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Have you crucified your flesh?

Why did the Israelites become dissatisfied with Manna?  I think it’s because they were so familiar with it.  Familiarity breeds contempt. 

“This manna it’s always the same, I want some spice, some variety in my life.  I can’t eat the same old thing day in and day out. I’m sick of this…worthless bread.” 

Dissatisfaction happens when we've been around a while.  I've watched Christians in restaurants.  They’re the worst customers:  Really, they’re so demanding.  They always have to change things, “Can I get vegetables instead of potatoes…oh, and can you make French fries instead of baked?  Oh yeah, and instead of soup and salad can I just have a bigger salad?  Oh the desert has berries, can you make mine peach instead?”  You just ordered a completely different meal.  Christians always expect the best service.  I’ll bet waiters hate it when the church shows up for a fellowship after service.  All that and then no tip.

It’s because they've become so used to being blessed.  They just expect it.  But the same things happen at church.  They get used to the blessing of God and they just expect God to move them all the time.  They expect to have it all, all the time.  “I should feel good after every service.”  “God should be blessing me non-stop all the time.”  When it gets a little tough, and maybe, stays a little tough for a while, we become dissatisfied with God.

Do you know what my friend’s real issue is?  He’s bi-vocational.  He works another job along with pastoring.  His church can’t afford to support him.  That’s the whole issue.  He’s become dissatisfied.  He thinks it shouldn't have to be so hard.

Job 2:10 (NKJV)
2:10 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.

That’s Job after his family, his wealth and his health all disappeared in the same day.  His wife came to him and told him to curse God and die.  That was his response.  I wonder what happened to his wife.  For one thing she had just gone through the same thing Job did.  The difference was that she became dissatisfied and Job didn't.  She wanted only blessing and Job is telling here that blessing comes with adversity . 

Finally, it can be a case of the novelty wearing off.  When you get a new car you wash it and wax it and take care of it.  You notice every little speck of dust that falls on that bad boy.  After a while something happens and your cars always dirty.  There’re dents in it.  It doesn't get washed as often and you start thinking you  need a new car.  The old one is still working and running well, but something’s changed.  You've become dissatisfied.  You’re not excited about it anymore.  If we’re not careful the same thing can happen to our relationship with God.  “Oh another church service…More Manna.  Ho hum.”

Staying Satisfied

So the question is, “Are you still satisfied with Jesus?”  The easy way to tell if you’re satisfied is to see if your life is pointed toward Jesus, or are you staring to look in other directions.  It doesn't have to be that way.

You know we start to become dissatisfied with our car when we stop taking care of it.  It’s not the other way around.  I know this.  When my car gets dirty I don’t want to drive it and I begin to not care about if it’s clean inside either.  Pretty soon I don’t like the car.  I’ll give you an example.  I had a black sports car at one time.  It was bad to the bone.  But one time I got it waxed and the guy missed the top.  Pretty soon the paint started fading and it started looking shabby.  And I started hating that car.

Then I did something…I got it painted.  Then I got it detailed inside.  It was like a brand new car and I began to like it again…and I began to take care of it again.  There are going to be times when you become dissatisfied with your relationship with God.  I want you to know that when you do, it’s not God’s fault.  It’s not your pastor’s fault; it’s your fault.  You've allowed your relationship with God to become dirty and messed up and you've become dissatisfied. So, the way around it is to repent.  You need to repent of your complacency and unbelief.  (That’s what it is, complacency and unbelief.) Star fresh with God.  Look at verse seven of our text:

Numbers 21:7 (NKJV)
21:7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people.

They repented.  “We have spoken against the Lord.”  They've repented.  We speak against the Lord through our dissatisfaction and because of that we need to repent.  I close with this:

Numbers 21:8-9 (NKJV)
21:8 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live." 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

The bronze serpent is a type of Jesus.  That means it is symbolic of Jesus. The serpent is lifted up, the people look at it and they’re healed.  There is a lot of complex theology that proves this.  It has to do with healing and atonement, you can study it out for yourselves.  The solution to the curse that comes with dissatisfaction, though, is to look at the crucified Jesus.  Stop for a moment and think about what Jesus did for you.  Think about the blessings you have received in your Christian life.  Has God stopped blessing you or have you become dissatisfied?  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Living Too Close to the World

We all meet people who seem to have one foot in the church and one foot in the world.  The unfortunate part, is that you can’t be like that and have the expectation of making it into the kingdom.  We can’t live for Jesus and our own flesh at the same time, not if we want to see transformation in our lives; and not if we want to remain in the will of God and make it to Heaven.  You cannot serve two masters.

Matthew 6:24 (NKJV)
6:24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

The word mammon translates as a desire for wealth, but it can also mean anything that serves the flesh.  You can’t serve God and any other thing.  We are called to separation from the world.

I want you to know that it’s dangerous to live too close to the world.  In this post, I want to explore this from an incident that happened in Jacob’s life, using this portion of scripture as a jumping off point.

Genesis 34:1-6 (NKJV)
34:1 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. 2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her. 3 His soul was strongly attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young woman and spoke kindly to the young woman. 4 So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, "Get me this young woman as a wife." 5 And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter. Now his sons were with his livestock in the field; so Jacob held his peace until they came. 6 Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him.

It’s Disobedience that Leads Us into this Situation

Here we find Jacob living near Shechem, which is the land of Canaan.  He is living among the pagans; he’s away from the people of God.  In our times, we would consider him to be living in, what Christians call the world.  In other words, he’s not serving God he’s serving himself.  In order to find out how he wound up in that place we need to look back into Jacob’s history.

This takes place after he has worked to pay the bride’s price for both of his wives.  He has earned the flocks that he has, but he has departed from the home of Laban.  The real problem is that he received direction from God but he has not gone to the place God told him.

Genesis 31:13 (NKJV)
31:13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family.' "

God has told him to go back to the home of his father, Isaac.  God told him to go home and that was Jacob’s intention to go home. 

Genesis 31:17-18 (NKJV)
31:17 Then Jacob rose and set his sons and his wives on camels. 18 And he carried away all his livestock and all his possessions which he had gained, his acquired livestock which he had gained in Padan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.

He packed up all that he had received in Padan Aram and he left to go back to his father.  We all know the story:  He left Padan Aram in the dead of night.  He left while Laban was off shearing the sheep.  Laban got wind of it and followed him, overtaking him and confronting him; looking for idols that Rachel has stolen.  They end up making a covenant and everyone departs happy.  At this point Jacob is still in the will of God.

Genesis 32:1-2 (NKJV)
32:1 So Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 When Jacob saw them, he said, "This is God's camp." And he called the name of that place Mahanaim.
So he is still in the will of God, he’s departed for Canaan with the intention of returning to Isaac’s house.  God reminds him of the covenant that he made with Jacob, because he is seeing the angels of God once again.  This s reference to the vision he had of the ladder and the angels ascending and descending. 

Genesis 28:12 (NKJV)
28:12 Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

This is the place where Jacob vowed, “If God will be with me and keep me he will be my God.”  So God is reminding him of that promise by showing him the angels of God.  So what happened?

Did Jacob go immediately back to Isaac’s house?  No he didn’t.  He went to meet with Esau and he wrestled with God.  I wonder if that wrestling, was Jacob wrestling with the will of God for his life, because he meets Esau and all is forgiven, so he departs and look where he goes.

Genesis 33:17 (NKJV)
33:17 And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, built himself a house, and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.
He didn’t go back to Isaac.  He went instead to Succoth and built a house.  This is a statement of permanence.  He didn’t pitch a tent; he wasn’t just passing through, he built a house. What happened to going home?  This is an act of disobedience.  He has departed from the will of God.

God calls us to his plan for our lives and many times we just don’t respond, because it doesn’t suit us or because we think we know better what is right for us.  That’s a dangerous step, because we invariably end up drifting away from God and stepping closer to the world.  That’s exactly what happens to Jacob.

Genesis 33:18-19 (NKJV)
33:18 Then Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram; and he pitched his tent before the city. 19 And he bought the parcel of land, where he had pitched his tent, from the children of Hamor, Shechem's father, for one hundred pieces of money.

Now he’s hunkered down in Shechem, and he builds an altar and calls that altar Elelohe – Israel, which means the Mighty God of Israel.

Have you ever met one of those people who speak of the mighty God?  They speak of God in terms of his power and his grace yet they can’t live for him.  They call him the mighty God but they don’t acknowledge his power over themselves.

It’s like those who say religious things and do religious things but they live in sin thinking that God’s power and wrath can’t extend to them.  They continue in their sin and they call it serving God.

So instead of obeying God and returning to his people; to his family, he has settled in this city called Shechem in the land of Canaan..  This the land named after Noah’s grandson, Canaan, who was cursed in Genesis 9 because his father saw the nakedness of Noah and was disrespectful.  Some Commentators even say he was mocking.  They also say that the people of Canaan were given to dissipation and licentiousness.  Dissipation means that they drink alcohol to excess, and licentiousness is lewdness and fornication.  They’re drunks and fornicators.  They aren’t the same as the people of God.  They live differently; they live like the world lives.

Jacob has chosen to live close to the world.  He has returned to those who aren’t living for God and what would we call that today?  What do we call a Christian who has departed from the will of God and has returned to the world of sin?  We call them backsliders.  We’re supposed to be separated; set apart.  We’re citizens of a different place.

As an American living on foreign soil, I’ve recently discovered how much Americans stick out like a sore thumb.  People always guess that we’re Americans.  They always know because there’s something different about Americans.  It’s the same for us as Christians, if we’re living for Jesus, then they will always know us.  It’s when we become like them that the problems start.  That’s exactly what happens in our text.  Once they got too close to the world the problems started.

The Steps to Winding Up Outside the Will of God

Genesis 34:1 (NKJV)
34:1 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land.

The first thing that happens is that we become curious.  We want to see how the sinners live.  We want to experience what they experience.

In Pennsylvania they have a group of people called the Amish.  These are devout Christians but they live in the same way that people lived prior to the invention of electricity.  They travel in horse drawn wagons, they have no phone; they have no lights.  But as Amish children come of age, increasingly, they are taking off for a time tom experience what twenty-first century teens are experiencing in the world.  They don’t necessarily want to leave the will of God, that’s not they’re intent but they’re curious.

That’s what’s happening with Dinah.  She’s going out to see the local women.  Isn’t that how we got caught up in sin.  The first time you smoked, why’d you do it?  What about alcohol?  What about drugs?  It was curiosity.  Then, she’s defiled by the king’s son:

Genesis 34:2 (NKJV)
34:2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her.

Genesis 34:5 (NKJV)
34:5 And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter. Now his sons were with his livestock in the field; so Jacob held his peace until they came.

He took her and lay with her.  He violated her.  He defiled her.  That word defiled means that he took her holiness from her.  He violated her sanctity, he made her like a filthy thing.  This is an act of violence.

What happens when we step into sin?  When we venture out of the will of God.  We lose our holiness.  Holiness means we are set aside for God’s use.  When we sin we are no longer separate.  We can no longer be used by God…we’re defiled.

When we do things like fornication or any kind of sin we’re no longer holy.  We’re defiled and filthy before God.  Finally, when we bind ourselves to sin there is a soul tie that takes place. 

Genesis 34:3 (NKJV)
34:3 His soul was strongly attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young woman and spoke kindly to the young woman.

There is an attraction to the world.  The desire to be a part of the world becomes stronger and stronger and we are tied to it all.  The problem is that world sees it differently than we do.  Shechem sees what takes place in a different way than Jacob and his sons, just as we have a different way of seeing things than sinners. Let me give an example.

The world will tell you that you have to live with someone before marriage in order to know that you’re compatible.  Really, they want to try the merchandise before they decide to buy it.  Christians see this as an abomination.  A God-serving Christian will see this as fornication, which is sin.  The first time I kissed my wife was at the altar at the end of our wedding, almost eighteen years ago.  Guess what?  We’re compatible, but if we weren’t we probably would have adjusted.

Shechem fell in love with her through this experience.  Jacob called it defilement.  Simeon and Levi were enraged enough to murder all the men of that place. 

Hamor goes out to negotiate the bride price and Simeon and Levi plot how to destroy them.  All of this could have been avoided if only Jacob had listened to God, and responded obediently.  If only he had gone home to Isaac and Rebeckah.  What would have happened if he’d done that?  We’ll never know.  All we do know is that that was the plan of God.

Avoiding the Danger

What brought on all this trouble for Jacob?  Where was it that Jacob began to drift into worldliness and friendship with the world?  It was the moment he decided not to go to Isaac’s house as God had told him. 

God often sends us signals but we filter God’s call through our own desires and because of that we miss what God is doing in us.  That always leads to trouble.  Jacob would have avoided all of it if he had been obedient to what God had spoken to him to do.  We need to listen for the voice of God in our lives.

How do you pray?  Do you lay out for God what your needs and desires are?  Do you tell God you have to move here or do this thing or that thing?  Do you ever stop and listen for the voice of God speaking to you, or do you hear your own thoughts and tell yourself you’re hearing from God?

That’s the most dangerous thing you can do, because how many know that our minds play tricks on us.  Don’t believe me?  Then take a look at an optical illusion, sometime. 

We need to be sure that the voice we’re hearing is the voice of God.  That it’s his voice we’re listening for. 

The second thing is that we can’t flirt with the world.  We can’t settle for the world’s standards and call it living for Jesus.  We need to remain within His standards.  That is that the commandments are commands and not guidelines or suggestions.  These are standards that he has put in place to help us remain in His will.  Sin is always sin; right is right and wrong is wrong.  There is no relativity to sin.  When we live too close to the world, the world will get on us and taint us.  The world WILL change us and draw us away from the will of God.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Prophecy and Judgment

Editor’s Note:  I have been on sort of hiatus for the last several months.  I have continued to pastor and write sermons but haven’t really had time to transcribe sermons into posts.  I have tried to fill the void by bringing excellent sermons from some other pastors.  I will occasionally do this throughout the year.  So if you submitted a post and I haven’t posted it.  I will get to it.  Some of them I have to build from notes and of course this will take some time.  Thanks for your patience and I hope you enjoyed the guest posts. – Chris

I have just finished reading the book, The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn.  This is a powerful book that compares judgment in Israel with the 9/11 events in America.  The book uses the prophecy of Isaiah in Isaiah: Chapters 9 and 10.  But I began to think of this prophecy and relating it individuals.  The question that formed in reading this was this:  If God judges a nation for turning away from God, does He also judge individuals for their apostasy?  That’s the question I want to explore in this post:  Prophecy and Judgment.

In twenty years as a Christian I’ve seen many people walk away from the will of God.  They’ve turned their backs on God and walked away from His provision and protection.  I’ve also seen in many instances a judgment fall on their lives.

Let’s look for a moment at the Prodigal Son.  He’s left his father’s house and taken his inheritance with him.  The Bible tells us that he begins to live riotously, (that’s what prodigal means), squanders his inheritance, and ends up with nothing.  He is reduced to eating what the pigs eat.  If you ask any pig farmer they’ll tell you that pigs eat garbage. 

So look at what has happened in this young man’s life.  He was raised in a wealthy family.  He had the best of everything.  But after he has left, he’s lost it all; his wealth, in his mind, he’s lost his family, and he has been reduced to living in squalor, eating garbage.  Is that judgment?  I would say that it is!

I have known men who have experienced much of what the prodigal has experienced.  They have turned away from God only to lose those things that were most important to them.  They’ve lost their families to divorce; they’ve lost their jobs and their finances and in some cases even their health has been ruined.  Does that sound like judgment?  I would say that it does.

Judgment always follows departure from God.  Its not that God is angry and wants to get back it us.  He’s not like some jilted romantic.  God has a purpose for judgment.  This post is about that judgment and God’s purpose.

Isaiah 9:8-13 (NKJV)
9:8 The Lord sent a word against Jacob, And it has fallen on Israel. 9 All the people will know-- Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria-- Who say in pride and arrogance of heart: 10 "The bricks have fallen down, But we will rebuild with hewn stones; The sycamores are cut down, But we will replace them with cedars." 11 Therefore the Lord shall set up The adversaries of Rezin against him, And spur his enemies on, 12 The Syrians before and the Philistines behind; And they shall devour Israel with an open mouth. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still. 13 For the people do not turn to Him who strikes them, nor do they seek the Lord of hosts.

The Prophecy Against Israel

This is a prophetic word given by Isaiah to Israel.  As a prophecy it speaks of coming judgment.

At this time in Israel’s history, Israel is divided into Israel in the north and Judah in the south.  The capitol of Israel is Samaria.  The Assyrians have attacked it and they’ve caused much damage.  “The bricks have fallen and the Sycamores are uprooted.”  But Israel has vowed to rise again, “We will rebuild.”  The have vowed to comeback stronger and better, “We will rebuild with hewn stone.” They will replace the clay bricks with quarried stone.  Stone is much stronger than the clay.  They will replace the Sycamores with Cedars.  Sycamore is a common tree with soft, spongy wood.  Cedar is more suitable to building because of its grain and fragrance. So they vow that THEY will rebuild and be stronger.

But God tells them in verse 9 that they’re speaking with pride and arrogance, because they have removed God from their thinking.  They’re thinking that this is only a security problem.  They’re not thinking of it as a warning or a judgment.  They’re only thinking that they need to protect themselves better:  That they can become safer if they rebuild with better materials.  Hewn stone is stronger than clay, “Let’s build with that.”  Cedars are better than Sycamores, “Let’s plant those.” 

They’re thinking that they will make themselves stronger.  They’re thinking that they can do what they’ve always depended on God to do before. 

It’s really defiance, they’re telling the Assyrians, “You can’t destroy us, WE will rebuild.”  WE will do it.  In some ways it’s the same kind of thinking that the people who build the Tower of Babel had.  We will do what only God has done.  “WE can build a tower to the heavens.”

Israel’s thinking is:  We can do this; we can fortify and protect.  We don’t need God for that WE can do it ourselves. We can do what God has always done.  God has always said that He will protect His people.  That He will provide for Hid people.  But Israel has forgotten that.  In fact, they’ve already turned away to idols.  They’ve already turned away from the God who delivered them.  It’s this attitude that has brought about this warning.  Look at what it says: 

Because you have arrogantly said, “We will rebuild,” leaving God completely out of the equation, God is warning them, through Isaiah that the enemies of Rezin, (Israel’s ally), will rise up against him and them.  God has sent this as a warning to them that another judgment will come upon them.

The action of the Assyrians in knocking down the walls and uprooting the Sycamores was already a judgment.  This prophecy is a warning of more to come.  If the Assyrian attack didn’t open their eyes there is a more terrible judgment to come.  God gave that to Isaiah to speak to them.  First there is the action and then there are the words.  Following that Israel must make a decision, to turn back or to be judged.

Here’s a question, do you think God does that in individual lives as well?  Do you think we can leave God’s will and God’s protection and go out on our own and forget about God, or do you think God deals with us as individuals in the same way he dealt with Israel?

This is a prophecy.  This is a warning to Israel, “It’s going to get really ugly if you don’t turn back to me.”  It would be really frightening to me to walk away from God, because I’ve seen the devastating affect of walking away from God. I’ve seen men lose their families.  I’ve seen them begin to live riotously.  I’ve seen them living on the streets and eating from garbage cans, because this has taken place in their lives.  The really frightening part is that often they think they can’t turn back to God because they have given themselves over to exactly this kind of pride.

I don’t know why people are homeless here in Taiwan, but in Colton and Riverside, because of my position in the church I knew a lot of homeless men.  I saw their arrogance in their hatred of authority.  I saw their pride in their refusal to be accountable to a boss. “No one is going to tell me what to do!”  I saw their defiance in their unwillingness to be a part of the society at large, it was as if they screamed, “You won’t reach me, you can’t touch me I don’t need you.”  That’s exactly what Israel was saying when they declared, “WE will rebuild.”

This prophecy is telling Israel that their enemies will devour them; they will destroy them.  We also face an enemy that wants to destroy us.  The Bible tells us that our enemy, “is like a roaring lion seeking whom he will devour.”

The Purpose of Judgment

So, is God just an angry God?  Is God just a judgmental God, “You better tow the line boy, or I’m gonna tear you up!”?  Is that who God is?

Why would God turn his people over to their enemies?  He does that because He wants them back.  God isn’t doing this to be bitter and vengeful.  God isn’t motivated by hatred or revenge; in short, God isn’t like you and I.  God is doing this to bring them back to Him.

“What about the flood?  “ you may ask.  Why’d God destroy everybody in the flood?  He didn’t send a prophet to them to tell them about the coming judgment.  He did send a warning, He sent Noah, to preach righteousness.

2 Peter 2:5 (NKJV)
2:5 and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly;

He was trying to call those who were facing judgment to Him.  What do you think would have happened if someone heard Noah and repented?  He would have been allowed on the ark.  Remember in the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrrah, the city would have been spared for the sake of ten righteous men.

In the New Testament Paul speaks of the purpose of judgment:

1 Corinthians 5:3-5 (NKJV)
5:3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

The judgment was for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit might be saved.  Judgment was a call back to Him.  God is using the action of the Assyrians to call His people back to Him.  Look at what He tells them through Isaiah:

Isaiah 10:24-25 (NKJV)
10:24 Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts: "O My people, who dwell in Zion, do not be afraid of the Assyrian. He shall strike you with a rod and lift up his staff against you, in the manner of Egypt. 25 For yet a very little while and the indignation will cease, as will My anger in their destruction."

He’s telling Israel, they’re going to damage you, they’re going to hurt you, but it’s only for a little while, until you turn back to Me.”  This is God’s primary purpose in judgment.  There is punishment for their rejection of God.  He’s warned them of that throughout history, “I’m a jealous God.”  He’s said it over and over through the law, through the prophets, through Moses and David, through Sodom and Gomorrah.  The sin and idolatry must be punished, but the primary purpose of judgment is to bring about repentance.

Sin and idolatry must be punished.  God’s anger is kindled.

Isaiah 9:16-17 (NKJV)
9:16 For the leaders of this people cause them to err, And those who are led by them are destroyed. 17 Therefore the Lord will have no joy in their young men, Nor have mercy on their fatherless and widows; For everyone is a hypocrite and an evildoer, And every mouth speaks folly. For all this His anger is not turned away, But His hand is stretched out still.

God punishes the leaders for their leading of the people to turn away from God.  But He also holds them who are led astray personally accountable for their own idolatry.  “Those who are led by them are destroyed."  Judgment is personal.  You are responsible for your own response to God.  God isn’t going to give you a pass, you will be judged for turning away and his judgment will punish.  The plan is that the judgment will turn you back to Him. 

When do we cry out to God?  When all is going well?  Is that when we feel a need for God or do we cry put when we have come to the end of ourselves?  When we are humbled and miserable is when we cry out for God:  That’s the place where judgment will bring us.

When did the prodigal son, come to himself?  He came to himself when he had lost everything and was miserably competing with pigs for garbage to eat.  That’s when he decided to return:  After the judgment had driven him to his knees.  That’s the purpose of judgment.

Isaiah 10:21-22 (NKJV)
10:21 The remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, To the Mighty God. 22 For though your people, O Israel, be as the sand of the sea, A remnant of them will return; The destruction decreed shall overflow with righteousness.

When they come home, the judgment will stop.  The Assyrians had come in and piled up destruction.  God was waiting for them to turn back, He even sent Isaiah to warn them that a worse calamity was coming.  He was calling them back to repentance.  He was looking for them to turn around.

The Bible tells us that the father of the prodigal son saw him afar off.  He saw him far down the road and ran to him and kissed him.  Have you ever thought about why he saw him so far off?  It’s because he was standing at the fence and looking for him.  He waiting and hoping for his return.  It’s the same with God.  We go through judgment so we will come to ourselves and return to a waiting God.

God’s Response to Those Who Come Back

When the prodigal returned the Bible tells us his father slaughtered the fatted calf and the whole household rejoiced.  The prodigal himself was forgiven and restored.

Look at what happens in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Isaiah 10:26-27 (NKJV)
10:26 And the Lord of hosts will stir up a scourge for him like the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb; as His rod was on the sea, so will He lift it up in the manner of Egypt. 27 It shall come to pass in that day That his burden will be taken away from your shoulder, And his yoke from your neck, And the yoke will be destroyed because of the anointing oil.

God uses those who desire to destroy us to execute judgment.  When the judgment is finished, though, then the evil is punished.  Their judgment and oppression will cease and they will be judged for their evil.

Immediately following this prophecy of judgment, Isaiah begins another prophecy.  It begins like this:

Isaiah 11:1 (NKJV)
11:1 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.

This is a prophecy of blessing and renewal.  This is God’s promise of a redeemer.  He is a descendant of Jesse through David.  He is called a “Son of David,” in response to this prophecy.  The word Christ literally means “the Anointed One.”  He is there to lift the bnurden of sin, the yoke of oppression and to judge the evil one. 

This prophecy is a warning to Israel that judgment will come on them for turning away from God.  It tells us also of personal judgment if we turn away from God.  We must guard our hearts because it is easy t turn away from God in the busyness and turmoil of life and embrace other things making them a god.  Idolatry requires judgment because God doesn’t give up on us but looks for ways to call us back to Him.  God is a good and gracious God.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Guest Post: Garett King, Libreville, Gabon, W. Africa

Sermon Title:  This Kind

This sermon was presented to the Conference Body at the Tucson International Bible Conference at the Door Christian Fellowship in Tucson Arizona.  The conference is a gathering of pastors and disciples from all over the world who share the vision and ministry of Christian Fellowship Ministries.

Pastor King has been a missionary in Libreville, Gabon in western Africa for a number of years.  A young talented preacher, Pastor King brings a powerful revelation of the Word of God.  If you are interested in learning more about Pastor King, you can follow his Blog, Life in These Parts, at www.gtking.blogspot.com

Sermon Text:  Mark 9:14-29

Mark 9:14-29 (NKJV)
9:14 And when He came to the disciples, He saw a great multitude around them, and scribes disputing with them. 15 Immediately, when they saw Him, all the people were greatly amazed, and running to Him, greeted Him. 16 And He asked the scribes, "What are you discussing with them?" 17 Then one of the crowd answered and said, "Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. 18 And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not." 19 He answered him and said, "O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me." 20 Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth. 21 So He asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. 22 And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." 23 Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes." 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" 25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, "Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!" 26 Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, "He is dead." 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, "Why could we not cast it out?" 29 So He said to them, "This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting."

(c) Garett King 2012: used with permission
Photo Credit:  www.thedoorcfc.com