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, April 17, 2012

A Partnership for Deliverance

Today’s post is something that’s a theme for me as a pastor.  I see my job as a shepherd.  The job of a shepherd is to get the sheep from one place to another.  The job for every pastor is to get his congregation from earth to heaven.  But there are some difficulties and they are that 1) there must be a change that takes place in you, in order for you to get from here to there and 2) that change has to be lasting and permanent.  You have to grow spiritually.  What is growth, it’s overcoming your flesh.  In other words there should be a greater distance between you and the sin you struggled with before.

I was sharing some of what I was going to write with someone and they said, “You have to show them how to change.”  This person was recommending that I deal with specific sin that I see in people’s lives.

I can easily do that, but to me, I think that you probably already know that some of the activities you’re involved are sin and that you know what they are.  You know when you’re sinning.  But if you don’t let me offer this:

If you’re smoking, stop it.  Smoking is sin.  If you’re getting drunk, stop it.  If you’re fornicating, fornicating is sin.  What is fornicating?  It’s sexual intercourse without being married to the person.  If you’re stealing, or you’re selfish, or you’re gambling or you’re cheating, all of these things are sin.  If you’re doing any of them or all of them you need to stop.

But I wonder if that’s helpful.  Because most Christians already understand those things are sin and I believe most Christians are sincere about their salvation.  So, I’m offering this post today as help for you; as one way to find deliverance.  Deliverance, in a purely practical sense, means that God helps you to quit the sin that plagues.  The sin that plagues you is the sin you can’t seem to kick.  I think this is the bigger problem, you know that what you’re doing is sin, but you’re not sure how to get past it.  There are some things that will help you to find deliverance and today I’m going to highlight those things for you.

Romans 8:5-11 (NKJV)
8:5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

You Have a Place in the Move of God

We like to think that when we’re dealing with God that God does things for us.  But in reality God does things through the decisions we make.  He doesn’t pull out a magic wand and just “poof”  our problems and addictions away.  He works through the decisions we make to empower us to change.  If God just changed us without our involvement we wouldn’t need the exhortation of the Bible.  We would just pray a prayer and our sinful nature would automatically just disappear.  If we are honest with ourselves we realize that none of us have stopped thinking about sin completely.

Why didn’t God take away your sinful nature?  Why is it there that are still sins that you can’t shake?  It’s because God doesn’t work like that.  If He did Adam and Eve would never have sinned in the Garden of Eden.  If He did then we wouldn’t ever struggle with sin after we got saved. We do struggle, though, some more than others.  How do I know that?  I know that because I know that I sometimes struggle, too.

So the question becomes, “How can I ever find deliverance?”  First, you will never be completely free from sin this side of Heaven.  The default position for us is to live in our flesh.  We’re carnal beings, carnal means, of meat or flesh.  In other words we have appetites that relate to making ourselves feel good.  We all want to feel good.   The Bible calls it the “pleasures of sin for a season.”  Why drink?  It feels good; it temporarily makes us forget our problems.  Why fornicate?  It feels good; we feel what feels like love.  That’s why we sin because it makes us feel good and we all want to feel good.

I’m sure if you examine whatever sin you are involved in you will see that in some way it makes you feel good and because of that it’s difficult to escape sin.  It goes against our nature.  There is good news, though, and that is that sin can be overcome.  We just have to take action to make it happen.

Romans 6:6 (NKJV)
6:6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.

So, there it is, we have to crucify the old man.  All that really means is that we put the will of God before our appetites or as our text puts it, be those, “who live according to the spirit.”  Be spiritually minded rather than carnally minded.  If the default position is to be carnally minded, then how do we overcome to be spiritually minded?  We have to make a decision to overcome the flesh and then take the actions necessary to make it happen.  Our desire to live in our flesh is relentless, it’s like a flood, it just comes no matter what.  The Bible tells us the enemy also comes in like a flood.

Isaiah 59:19 (NKJV)
59:19 So shall they fear The name of the Lord from the west, And His glory from the rising of the sun; When the enemy comes in like a flood, The Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.

He comes in like a flood; he’s relentless in his temptations.  God will lift a banner against him.  Do you know what a banner was used for?  A banner was a call to the battle.  It showed the place where the battle was taking place.  God raises the banner but we have to fight the battle.

The devil relentlessly drives us to live in the flesh.  He doesn’t force sin on us he only appeals to that appetite to feel good.  We call it temptation and it’s relentless.  Everywhere we look we see something that is appealing to that desire to feel good.  The only way to overcome sin in your life is to stop the flood of temptation.

Deliverance 101:  Damming the Flood

If this were a college course today we would call it "Deliverance 101:  Damming up the Flood."  Let me start with an illustration:

Say that you live near the beach.  Your House is right on the beach, and every night the tide comes in and destroys it.  You build it as strong as you know how, but every time the tide comes in; it comes in like a flood and destroys your house.  So you decide to build a brick wall to keep the ocean out. 

A wall will keep the water out.  A wall will protect your home from the flood.  So, how you build the wall will depend on how valuable your home is to you.  If you don’t care too much you will just do what’s easy and hope for the best.  If your home is valuable to you, you will do whatever it takes to protect it.  So, how valuable is your home?

Let’s go back to our illustration:  You start to lay the bricks and at first you are very careful to put the bricks in.  But the work is hard and the bricks are heavy, and it stops being fun to think about how well your house will be protected.  So you skip a brick here and there. 

This is how a person who doesn’t place a lot of value of their home will build the wall.  He’s done what’s easy.  He didn’t invest too much into the protection of his home.  There are people in church who think that way about their salvation.  They think, “I’m getting enough of the word of God at one service a week.” They think, “I don’t need to read my Bible.  I don’t really need to pray that much.  I can be late every service and miss out on worship.  I can just attend church once a week…mostly…and it’ll be all right; but do you know what you’re really doing.  You’re leaving bricks put of your wall and every time you leave out a brick it leaves a hole in the wall that the tide can come through.   If you leave out too many bricks when the tide comes in your wall won’t stop it from destroying your home again.  If the wall has too many holes it’s worthless as a protection against the flood. 

Those things I mentioned, church, Bible, praying, worship, those are opportunities to enter into the presence of God.  Every time we’re in the presence of God we strengthen our faith and our resolve to live for Him.  Every time we’re in the presence of God we add another brick in the wall.  If we build a good strong wall, we’ll keep out the flood.  Living in the Spirit is really just living for Jesus.

Secondly, we will never overcome sin through willpower.  We can’t say, “I’m not going to sin,” and keep sin from happening.  Say, for example your sin is drinking.  You can’t keep yourself from drinking just by saying, “I’m not going to drink.  I’m not going to drink.  I’m not going to drink.”  Ask any sobriety counselor.  They will tell you you’re always a recovering alcoholic not an ex-drunk.  Let me illustrate a truth for you.

Don’t think about a pink elephant.  Don’t think about its big floppy ears.  Don’t think about the little purple flowers printed across its back.  Don’t think of the big trunk with all its wrinkles.  Don’t think about it!  What were you thinking about?  You were thinking about a pink elephant.

If you’re using willpower to stop drinking and you say, “I’m not going to drink.”  What are you thinking about?  The answer is obviously drinking.  Now, think about a green giraffe.  Look at the long neck.  Look at how it reaches into the trees to eat leaves.  Look at how it wiggles its ears, the way it chews slowly.  What are you thinking about now?  You’re not thinking about a Pink Elephant.

If we concentrate on not sinning what we’re really concentrating on is the sin.  But if we turn our thoughts toward Jesus and we concentrate on Him we’re not thinking about the sin.  So, how do we focus our thoughts on Jesus?  At church we preach about Him.  In our Bibles we read about Him.  When we pray, we have direct access and conversation with Him.  The more we concentrate on Him the less we think about the sin and how good it feels.

Third, what we receive from our salvation is in direct proportion to what we put into it.  If we put forth a lot of effort we will have a large return. It’s like bank interest.  The bank used to actually give interest that amounted to something.  They don’t anymore, well; they still give interest it just doesn’t amount to much anymore. Your interest was given based on what you put in the bank.  If you wanted more interest you had to deposit more money.  The same is true of Christianity:  if you want more from God you have to put more into receiving from Him. 

We expect God to do for us.  Some of you look at God as someone who exists to meet your needs.  However, what you receive from God in terms of deliverance is in direct proportion to what you do to overcome.

I had a friend who was a heavy smoker.  He smoked more than one pack of cigarettes a day.  He always said, “God is going to deliver me one day,” but do you know what happened?  He died of Lung Cancer.  He expected God to “poof” away the sin, so he never took the step to get rid of his cigarettes.  He never stopped smoking.  He never threw them away and took the steps to build a wall against it.  Had he done those things God could have delivered him. 

If we want deliverance we have to take the steps to get it.  We have to make sure that we keep the holes out of our wall of protection.  We have to learn to focus our minds on Jesus and his plan for our lives, and we have to be willing to take the steps to receive deliverance.  Deliverance is a partnership with God

Deliverance is a Partnership with God

I hear people say, sometimes, “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.”  There’s no rule in the Bible that says, “You will attend church!!!” but did you know that Jesus attended church, regularly? 

Luke 4:16 (NKJV)
4:16 So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.

That verse right there tells us that Jesus regularly attended synagogue.  He went to church.  If you are a follower of Christ, that’s what Christian means, are you following Him to church?  Another illustration:

Diets have directions.  They tell you that you can and can’t eat certain foods:  That you have to eat certain amounts and quantities of certain things.  If you follow the instructions you will have success in your diet.  But what if you change the instructions and don’t follow the diet and basically do whatever you want?   Will you lose weight?  Maybe, but it will only be by accident, not because you followed the diet.

There are guidelines to help you find deliverance, but you have to follow them.  I’ve heard the Bible called “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.”  The Bible has instructions that will help you to live out your salvation successfully, In other words to make it to heaven, but you need to read the instructions. 

There are a lot of people these days that are struggling with doubt and confusion.  The problem is that you’re not following the directions.  For example, in our church, I never know if people are coming or not.  I’m usually worried in the moments before Church starts because the place is empty.  Someone who wants to protect their home, because they see it as valuable is going to be there to make sure they get all the bricks they need.

Worship service is a part of the service.  It helps to prepare you to receive the word of God, but some don’t give it any importance and that’s a mistake.  Worship will help you to focus on Jesus and take your mind off the sin. 

Sin is oppression.  It’s a hardship.  Serving God is a blessing.  I have to be honest, as a pastor, I’m concerned, because I see some people beginning to struggle and doubt.  I’m seeing them have less and less interest in their salvation.  I’m seeing them leave more and more bricks out of their walls and I know the outcome of that.

There is a guy who spent four years in my church.  Over the years he gradually started coming less and less.  First, it was a couple of weeks a month.  Then he would come one month on and one month off.  Then he missed five months in a row.  I tried to talk to him about it and he got offended and now he says he won’t come back.  You know that is?  That’s a guy whose wall couldn’t hold back the flood.  In every church there are others who are going in that same direction.  It won’t help for them to get mad at their pastor for telling them the truth.  It will help for them to seek the power of Jesus to change your life and deliver you from sin.  Deliverance comes through Jesus Christ.  It’s about resurrection power.  We’re dead in sin but raised to eternal life through Jesus.  It’s a partnership with God…You have your role to play.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Intercessory Prayer

Sometimes, it seems that things are out of our hands.  We have a kind of fatalistic attitude about things, don’t we?  Tell me if you’ve ever heard this, “Well it’s up to God, now.”  As if we can’t change anything.  As if the circumstances we live in are unaltered through any action of our own.  Often, when people come to me as their pastor, with some issue that requires a move of God, my advice is always to pray.

But sometimes, I wonder if people hear me on that or if they think, “Well he’s the pastor that’s what he’s supposed to say.”  I wonder sometimes how many do pray. Do you pray on your own or just when you’re at church?

Prayer can be effective.  Prayer works.  In our services we take prayer requests, so that people can pray for the needs of others.  I wonder though how many when they leave church remember and pray for the needs that were spoken in the prayer requests.  Do you intercede for those needs at other times?  We need to be intercessors for the needs of other people, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.   Your prayer can affect the lives of other people. 

There are a number of instances in the Bible where the prayer of one person, for another, was answered by God and the outcome was changed.  Today, I want to write about intercession.
James 5:16-18 (NKJV)
5:16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

Genesis 19:27-29 (NKJV)
19:27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 Then he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain; and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land which went up like the smoke of a furnace. 29 And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot had dwelt.

Determining the Direction of God

This story of Abraham is a familiar story for most of us.  The Angel of the Lord appears to Abraham and let’s Abraham know that they are on the way to destroy Sodom.  Abraham begins to question Him. 

“If there are fifty righteous men will you destroy the city?”
“If there are forty righteous will you destroy it?”
“What about thirty, or twenty, or ten,” and so on.

And God tells him that He won’t destroy the city if ten righteous men are found there.  There are a couple of things Abraham is doing, here.  The first thing he’s trying to do is to understand God’s intentions.  What is God trying to do?  He’s trying to determine what God’s plan is with respect to the people of Sodom.  He knows that God is going to overthrow the city, but he’s trying to understand what it means and what God is intending to by that action. 

I think this is the first step whenever we pray about a problem in life.  God what are you trying to do with this action, or this trial, or this tribulation.  What is your intention with it?  It’s important to know God’s plan to understand what you are praying for. 

Think about it like this:  What if God is trying to teach us something, or trying to help us learn a truth about life, or show us something about the way we’re living and the consequences of that lifestyle.  In other words, what if God is trying to help us.  Then we don’t want to pray, “Oh God, make it stop” because then all we’re doing is short-circuiting what God is trying to do.  If you’re praying like that and not understanding God’s purpose, you might even be making it worse, at the very least, you’re not hearing what God is trying to speak into your life.   It’s important to try and figure out God’s intentions.

In our text Abraham has heard what God is going to do but he’s trying to understand what God’s intention is.

“Are you going to destroy everyone?  What about those who are faithful, are you going to destroy them, too? Is there any room for change here God?  Are you trying to educate them or are you judging them?”

When you ask me to pray, I don’t always pray for what they think they asked me to pray.  Somebody asked me to pray for her recently for wisdom to make good decisions.  But I didn’t see that person’s problem as a lack of wisdom.  I know that person is pretty smart.  They were smart enough to realize that God could help them.  That’s wisdom, right?  So they don’t need more wisdom, what they need is confidence and a feeling of security, so that’s what I pray for them.

I don’t pray for God to make someone more faithful.  I pray that God will help them to make a decision to be more faithful. I don’t pray, “Oh God make this man more faithful.”  I pray, “Oh God, help this man to make the decision to be a faithful man.”

That’s interceding based on knowledge of God’s intentions.  In the first example the person might not be struggling, because they’re not smart enough.  They might be struggling because God is trying to get them to trust their decisions and do something and do something rather than hesitating or being afraid to ask for advice and help.  I’m looking for God’s intentions and trying to help with that by interceding for God’s real purpose for their lives. 

I have a friend that’s always praying that God will take him from the earth.  He claims that he wants to die because he’s tired of struggling, but I refuse to pray that.  I will rpay that God will open his understanding to God’s purpose for him:  That he will see God’s purpose in his struggles and change in the way that God is trying to change him; that’s something worth praying.   When we intercede for someone we want to pray for what is really in his or her best interest not just for what they want.

Sometimes people will pray for something and the thing they’re praying for is in opposition to God’s will. I want you to know that God isn’t going to go against His own will just to give it to us, we’re just going to keep struggling and hurting until we begin to pray for God’s will and not our own. 


So, what is intercession; what does it mean to intercede? 

Petitions, entreaties and thanksgivings made on behalf of another. Intercession also involves the act of standing between the object of prayer and spiritual forces. In the case of God, the positioning is taken in order to submit requests; in the case of the devil, it is to deflect his attacks.” –George Otis, Jr.  Twilight Labyrinth, 1995, Revell

In other words it means to come to God with a request for someone else.  When I pray for people’s needs I am coming to God on their behalf.  In addition, it means to get between the person and the spiritual fore that are acting on them.  Confusing? 

In our text Abraham has placed himself between God and the righteous men of Sodom.  He’s saying, “Wait God are you going to kill these that don’t deserve judgment along with the those that do?”  He’s standing between them.  He’s looking for God to answer that question.  He’s the thing between God and those righteous men; that’s intercession.  “You’re righteous and you can’t kill the blameless for the sins of others.  It isn’t right.”

In the book of Esther, we see another intercession of this type.  Haman, the king’s right hand man, has decided that because he hates Mordecai that he’s going to have all the Jews in the kingdom killed. The queen, Esther, is a Jew and her uncle, Mordecai, comes to her and says, “Go to the king and stop him.”  This is difficult for Esther, because going to the king without being called is a death sentence.  The king, on a whim, can have you killed just for showing up uninvited.  So Esther hesitates and then makes a decision to go to the king.  Look at her thinking:

Esther 4:16 (NKJV)
4:16 "Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!"
She intercedes for the Jews.  She cries out to God for help and courage and then she goes and places herself between the king and the Jews saying, “If I perish, I perish.” This is intercession the Jews will be killed if she does nothing. 

I want you to know that as Christians we face that for people.  People who are unsaved, who are living in their sin are perishing, just as surely as the Jews would have died, if not for Esther.  If we look around our city, how many people are Christians?  How many are living the will of God.  What will happen to those who die, without Jesus?

You know the answer to that question.  So what do we do?  Do we do nothing?  Do we pray to God and hope that God answers?  That’s a start, we need God to move supernaturally, and intervene with them.  We also need to take action, though, because we may be the devices of God’s intervention.  Look a this advice that Mordecai gave Esther:

Esther 4:14 (NKJV)
4:14 For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

He tells her if she does nothing that God will still bring deliverance for the Jews but she will perish.  That’s a pretty stern warning…if we do nothing we will be judged.  God says this in another lace in the Bible, as well. 

Ezekiel 3:18 (NKJV)
3:18 When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.

God is warning Ezekiel, If I give you a warning and you do nothing, then it’s on your head.  You will be held responsible.  I don’t know about you, but to me that’s a pretty heavy responsibility.  Intercession isn’t always easy.  It isn’t always prayer.  It’s putting yourself between people and judgment. Not everyone is eager to hear about their sin.  Not everyone is looking for you to warn them of their impending judgment.  Sometimes people will get angry when you tell them about God; sometimes they get offended.  But it is a measure of your love and concern for them that you are willing to intercede and step between them and hell.

We’re often the last roadblock between them and hell.  Sometimes we have to look at it like Esther, “If I perish, I perish.”  I have to tell you that some people have rejected my friendship because of this.  Some people have cast me out of their presence because of this.  It’s a risk we take. 

Let me ask you a question if you drive past someone’s house late at night and it’s on fire, and you that they are in there sleeping.  This is someone you know and care about, a close friend or a family member.  What will you do?  Will you start pounding on their door trying to wake them up?  Will you try to warn them about the fire?  What kind of a person would just let them die?  We know people who are in a house ablaze.  Are you willing to intercede?

When the World Trade Center was attacked, firemen rushed into the building to rescue people.  343 firemen gave their lives for strangers that day.  Those firemen rescued many people that day, because of their intercession.

God’s Response

In Abraham’s intercession for Sodom look at God’s response:

Abraham is asking God, “What about fifty righteous?”  “What about forty?”  Each time God says, “If there are fifty righteous, I won’t do it.”  “If there are forty righteous…all the way down to ten.”

When they get to Sodom they find only righteous Lot.  So what did God do?  He took Lot out and saved him, and then He destroyed the city. 

God had a purpose for the destruction of Sodom and He didn’t swerve from that purpose but the text says that God remembered Abraham.  He remembered Abraham’s intercession for the righteous and He pulled out the righteous one. 
 2 Peter 2:6-7 (NKJV)
2:6 and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; 7 and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked

God may not change his purpose in a person’s life but He will remember our intercession on their behalf and act accordingly. 

I think a lot of what we perceive as God not answering our prayer is thatwe don’t understand God’s purpose. 

James 4:3 (NKJV)
4:3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

We’re praying, we’re interceding but we’re asking for the wrong things.  God is a God who answers prayer.  “Ask and you shall receive,” that’s a promise.  God answered Abraham’s prayer on behalf of the righteous of Sodom.  God answered Esther’s prayer on behalf of the Jews.  God will answer your prayers on behalf of others if you pray and intercede for them. 

Have you ever heard the saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”?  One of the meanings behind that is that many times we have a good intention, we don’t want to see our families and friends spend an eternity in hell.  But we just don’t take the step to intervene for them.  We don’t risk their anger to warn them.  We don’t get on our knees and pray for intervention in their lives.  We have a good intention but they just march forward into hell because we don’t act.  That’s what it means.

We can intercede on behalf of family and friends who remain unsaved.  Our actions will result in God bringing people to a place of decision.  If we act they may make a decision to respond to the call of God.  They may choose not to, we can’t control whether or not they will, but our prayers and God’s response may be the catalyst to their salvation.