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.