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.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas from the Standing Stones Sermon Blog

























Merry Christmas from the Banducci Family.  We hope you have a Wonderful Christmas and a Happy and Fruitful 2015.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The God of Interruptions

Interruptions happen in life, don’t they?  It seems like sometimes you can’t get anything done, because of interruptions.  When I’m the busiest that’s when I get the most interruptions and sometimes the interruptions take you in a completely different direction.  You’re doing one thing and suddenly you’re shifted into another thing, when you get interrupted.

When my younger sister was born, my mother’s doctor was giving his son a haircut.  My dad called him and told him my mom had gone into labor.  The doctor, knowing that my older sister and I had been born quickly, decided to stop the haircut and get ready to go to the hospital.

In getting ready, he started to shave, but then he thought he was taking too much time and was afraid he would be too late.  So, he stopped shaving and left.  So a half-shaved doctor, who hade a kid with half a haircut at home delivered my sister.

Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans – John Lennon

Interruptions!  Life is a series of interruptions.  Careers can interrupt lives.  Children can interrupt your life, and the will of God can interrupt your life.  Today, I’m going to post about interruptions: 

Mark 8:34-36 (NKJV)
8:34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. 36 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?

The God of Interruptions

When I got saved God interrupted my life.  My life was heading in one direction, it had been going that way for a long time, but God suddenly took my life in a completely different direction.  I’d been changed.  I wasn't who I’d been before.  I began to think and act differently, than had been the pattern for most of my life.

In Christian terms, I’d been converted.  That word converted means to be transformed or changed.  This happens in true repentance; it happens when you are committed to living God’s will for your life.

It’s what is meant by, “deny yourself and follow me,” in our text.  If you are a committed Christian there must be a moment, in your life that you can point to and say, “That’s when I changed.  This is the moment when I began to think and act differently.”

Ken, one of the men in our church told me that the moment of transformation took place for him when he took on ministry.  For me, it was when I realized that salvation was my last chance:  That if something didn't change I would be dead.  God interrupted my life.  He interrupted my plans.  He interrupted everything.  Ken had told his family, “I’m just going to learn English.  I’m not going to believe Christianity.”  God interrupted his plans.  God is the God of interruptions.

If you’re a Christian look at your life, are you different?  Has God interrupted YOUR lifestyle?  Has God interrupted YOUR plans?  Have YOU been converted?  If not, then you need to get back to the altar; You need to get back down there and pray again, because God works in our lives through interruption.

I was thinking about Abraham…God interrupted his life.  He was living in Haran.  No doubt Abraham had a plan for his life.  I have no doubt that he wasn't just sitting around doing nothing.  He was taking his life in a direction but God interrupted:

Genesis 12:1 (NKJV)
12:1 Now the Lord had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, From your family And from your father's house, To a land that I will show you.

God had a promise for his life.  God had a plan for his life, but for that plan to happen Abraham’s life had to be interrupted.  Your life is going to have to be interrupted for the plan of God to take place as well.

I was thinking about Moses.  He had gotten the idea that he was going to deliver Israel form Egypt.  He tried to make that happen.  He’d made some mistakes, so he withdrew to the desert.  He got married, he became a shepherd, and he was living out that life.  he wasn't planning to change.  He had no more plans to deliver Israel, but God interrupted:

Exodus 3:9-10 (NKJV)
3:9 Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt."

God had a purpose for Moses’ life that was bigger than what Moses had planned for his life.  God wanted to use him to deliver his people.  What about God’s purpose for your life?

There are men who are reading this right now, whom God wants to use:  Men that God wants to use to draw people to Him.  Maybe God has a city or a nation that He wants for you to preach in.  Are you open to God interrupting your life?  Are you like Moses?  God interrupts but only if you’re open to His will for your life.  God has given you a free will and he won’t violate that, you make a choice as to whether or not you’re going to follow him.  But remember this:

Mark 8:35 (NKJV)
8:35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.

This scripture isn't about dying in a physical sense.  It’s about giving your will to God’s use.  It’s about letting God interrupt you.  It’s about converting your will into His will.  It’s about saying, “Okay God, if you have a plan for my life then I’m ready to take it on!”  That’s losing your life and saving it at the same time.  Let God interrupt you.

Why are you Hanging on to your Will?

Have you ever thought about what it is you’re hanging onto?  Before I got saved I struggled.  I thought I’d given myself the best opportunity to make money.  The question was though, was it the best opportunity for a full and satisfying life?  I spent almost all my time working.  When I wasn't working I was isolated in my apartment.  I had a friend at work who was a Christian.  She witnessed about her life.  I knew she was happy and that I wasn't.  So, why did I hang onto that life so tightly?  Why was I so afraid to let it go?  One of the reasons I resisted letting it go was because of the expectations of other people.

In one way I was like Ken.  He was worried about his family’s expectations.  “I’m only going to learn English.  I won’t believe Christianity.”   That was part of my struggle, too.  I was expected to do well in business.  What would my dad think if I just quit what I was doing and did something else.  The problem was that I knew I couldn't continue to do what I was doing and be a Christian. 

Part of me wanted the money and the accolades that went with doing well in business.  In other words, I had my own will for my life and what frightened me about turning to the will of God was giving up the material things that I wanted. 

I was materialistic; I wanted stuff; I wanted money.  My will and God’s will were at cross purposes…but my life was wreck.  I hated myself.  I was a drunk.  I wanted to kill myself.  I was lonely, miserable and depressed.  Why was I trying desperately to hang onto that? 

There are people reading this right now, and you’re trying to hang onto a life that isn't fulfilling…why? For some, maybe you’re afraid of what others will think.  What will my sinner friends think if I change my life?  Will they think I’ve become some kind of a weirdo? 

What will my parents do if I begin to:

REALLY serve God?
Quit drinking?
Go to church more often?
Get involved in church events and activities?

For some maybe you think you’ll miss out.  “I have to put money ahead of everything else.”  Do you?  Does money really satisfy, because there are a lot of miserable rich people.  I’m not criticizing.  Those are the reasons I resisted God, too, but God interrupted my life and I’m glad He did.  God filled up the empty spots in my life. Looking at our congregation on Sunday morning, and seeing people who got saved as a result of my ministry is much more satisfying than having a cool car.

Being unwilling to turn over your will to God’s will is worldly thinking.  Life is temporary.  How long do you expect to live?  Ninety years?  One hundred years?  Turning your will over to God’s will is eternal thinking.  Ninety years is a blink of the eye in terms of eternity.  Ninety years is ninety years but eternity is FOREVER.  Look at verse thirty-six of our text:

Mark 8:36 (NKJV)
8:36 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?

I was well on my way to becoming a rich man.  That was all I thought about.  Wealth consumed me.  I remember that on my twenty-fifth birthday, I was upset and depressed because I hadn't done anything with my life, yet.  I didn't have a lot of money.  I was still poor.  I actually said, “A quarter of a century and I have nothing to show for it.”  That’s what trying to live up to the expectations of the world will get you.  My own will was killing me. 

By the time I was thirty-five, I was trying to kill myself.  Do you know why?  I didn't have the things I thought I should have.  What would suicide have gotten me?  Where would I have been if I died without Jesus?  I’d have possibly had money and power but what good would that do me in Hell?  I was in a cycle of self-destruction; God interrupted that.  God interrupts; He’s the God of interruptions.

Eternal Life is Worth it!

I want to go back to Abraham and Moses for a moment.  God interrupted Abraham.  God brought Abraham out of the plans Abraham had for his life.  God called him to the place He that showed him and that place was the place of destiny for him.

Genesis 12:2-3 (NKJV)
12:2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

What would have happened to Abraham if he didn't follow God?  he would have remained in Haran, doing what ever he had been doing before God called him.  God would have led someone else out to that place.  Abraham wouldn't have been a great nation.  His name wouldn't have been made great.  He would have lived and died in obscurity.  Abraham would have lived out his life and completely missed his destiny.

What about you?  To what is God trying to call you.  If you believe that God has a plan for your life then why aren't you allowing Him to call you to it?  Do you know what’s interesting?  When you answer God’s calling with a good heart you achieve God’s purposes AND you find blessing for yourself.  Abraham died about three thousand five hundred years ago and we still talk about him.  We still speak about his life.  He’s in the lineage of Jesus.  All the families of the world have been blessed…through Abraham.  Your family can be blessed through your obedience.

God interrupted Moses.  What would have happened to Moses if he didn't answer God’s call?  He would have continued to be a shepherd, working for his father-in-law, out in the middle of nowhere.  When God called him, God gave him the desire of his heart.  Remember, Moses had tried to deliver the people of God, once before.  It was the reason that he was out in the middle of nowhere in the first place. Look at this:

Hebrews 11:24-26 (NKJV)
11:24 By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, 25 choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.

His desire was rooted in his faith.  It takes faith to let God interrupt.  Faith seems to be in short supply in our day and hour. 

People are hesitant to trust God:

In giving.
In looking for healing.
In answering God’s call.

Faith is the key to responding to God’s will, and responding to God’s will is the key to blessing.  Abraham got blessed because he answered God’s call.  Moses got blessed because he answered God’s call. These men were in the will of God.  It’s impossible to find real blessing outside of God’s will. 

Abraham was called a friend of God.

James 2:23 (NKJV)
2:23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God.

Do you want to be friends with God?  You need to have the faith it takes to answer God’s call.

God met with Moses at the tabernacle:

Exodus 33:11 (NKJV)
33:11 So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle.

God spoke to Moses as a man speaks to a friend.  Do you want to hear from God?  You need to have the faith to answer His call.


How do you gain faith?  The Bible says, “faith come by hearing…”  But it also says, “Test me now in this…”  Faith comes by testing to see if God is faithful.  If you want to know if God will bless you like Abraham and Moses, you need to let him interrupt you and find out.  God interrupts to bless – He’s the God of interruptions.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Vantage Points

Last year on Chinese New Year we had a car accident.  We were parked near an intersection and a truck cut the corner too tight and damaged the left rear quarter panel of our car.  When the police responded, the first thing he did was look to see if there was a camera on that intersection.  He talked to the other driver, he spoke to my wife, but then looked for the camera, because he wanted to see the accident from the camera’s vantage point.  The camera, because it was up on a pole had a wider view of the accident. It had a better vantage point to help the officer determine who was at fault.

That phrase VANTAGE POINT means a place or situation affording some advantage:  A comprehensive view or commanding perspective.  In other words, the camera’s angel and perspective of the accident gave the officer an advantage in determining who was at fault.

Today, I want to look at vantage points at work in our lives:

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 (NKJV)
30:19 I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; 20 that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them."

Making Choices

How often do you make choices in a lifetime?  I don’t mean choices like which shirt to put on, or what to eat for breakfast.  I’m talking about life choices; decisions that affect more than day to day living. Decisions like who to marry, what job to take, or buying a home:  Decisions that can affect the outcomes of your life, or your children’s lives.

I don’t know about you but I've made a number of choices that have turned out to be life decisions.  Allowing my pastor to speak into my life was one.  Opening myself up to pioneering a church in Riverside, California was another.  Coming to Taiwan as a missionary was still another.  But there were others, too.  Moving to Southern California, marrying Brenda, having children, all of those things were life decisions.

Before I got saved I had to make my decisions alone.  I had to try and understand all of the effects of the decisions I was making.  How would it affect my future?  Would it open the door to opportunity?  Would this decision change the outcome of other decisions I had already made?  If you’re wise you have to examine all of those things, when you make an important decision. 

One of the things that people often overlook is, will this decision enhance or detract from my relationship with God?  Will it cause the relationship to be closer or will it begin the process of separation from the will of God?

The big problem with making decisions is that we can’t see the future.  We can’t know how situations or dynamics will change as we move forward, because we don’t have the proper vantage point to see clearly the outcome of the decision.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can’t see the forest for the trees”?  It speaks of a limited perspective.  You can see what’s right before you but you can’t see the big picture.  You can see the parts and situations right in front of you, but you can’t see how those things make up your overall future.  We make a decision around one problem or obstacle and another one is immediately in our path that we have to make another decision to get around.  Because of our limited perspective we make a series of small decisions but have no idea if those will takes us in the direction we need to go to get out of the forest.

Our text is about making decisions; choosing blessing or choosing death.  When I say that we make decisions that enhance or detract from our relationship with God, I’m talking about choosing blessing or death.  There is the example of the prodigal son:

Luke 15:11-12 (NKJV)
15:11 Then He said: "A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.' So he divided to them his livelihood.
  
Here is a young man that’s made a decision.  It’s a life decision, but look at it:

He’s causing damage to family relationships.
He’s asking for his inheritance, which he’s not prepared to manage.
He’s leaving a loving father to travel far away.

I’m sure the outcome of that decision isn't what he intended.

Luke 15:13-16 (NKJV)
15:13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.

So what has he chosen?  He’s chosen death.  This is a parable, a story that Jesus has told to illustrate a point.  In this story the father represents God.  So, this young man has made a decision that moves him away from God.  It’s a decision that moves him out of God’s will for his life.  Think about his motivation for a moment.  I see this with young people all the time.  They’re eager to be on their own; to begin life on their own terms, away from the influences of their parents, but they need to be careful, because the decisions that they make can have unintended consequences. 

The same is true of us as adults.  Sometimes, we think we’re looking for the will of God, but actually are substituting our will for God’s will.  Decisions have to be made prayerfully and with an eye to unintended consequences. How will those decisions affect your children or your spouse later in their lives. 

Recently, we've seen people in our church make decisions that limit their access to the Word of God and the Will of God.  The problem is that limiting access to God is choosing death.  This is from our text, “choose life that you and your descendants may live.”

Deuteronomy 30:20a(NKJV)
30:20 that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days.

That you may love the Lord and obey His voice and cling to Him… What kind of decisions are you making?  Are you limiting the time you spend in the presence of God?  Are you doing what’s necessary to cling to Him?  Are you obedient to the commands and will of God?  It’s in those decisions that we find life or death.

Choosing Life in the Twenty-First Century

There is no decision that we can make that doesn't come with some balance or sacrifice – Simon Sinek

When we decided to bring our family to Taiwan, to preach the Gospel, there were a number of trade-offs that we understood would take place.  We’d be moving thousands of miles from our support system.  We’d be giving up our country and all the things that go with living in the United States.  We had to sell our car, our home and most of what we had.  We gave up friends and family to move here.  That was the trade-off to being in God’s will.  We made a decision to choose God’s will.

It wasn't about making more money.  It wasn't about an advantage that we could gain over other people.  It really wasn't about what WE wanted.  It was about God’s calling and God’s will for our lives.  Our destiny is tied to Taiwan.  There were trade-offs.  There are always trade-offs but living the will of God is a choice.

When Abraham left Haran to follow God to that place, he left everything behind:  He left family, he left friends, he left everything.  He chose the to follow the call of God.  He got blessed, but first there was sacrifice.  He made his decision on God’s calling.  The first thing you have to do is determine what it is that God’s calling you to.  It’s backwards to go and then try to determine whether or not it was God’s call. 

Let’s look at Gideon for a moment.  God has called Gideon to fight against the Midianites, but Gideon can’t believe it.  Gideon thinks, “I’m not a leader.  I come from the lowliest family in all of Israel.” He’s not sure if it’s really God that’s called Him. He wants to be sure, because there is a lot a stake.  So look what he does:

Judges 6:36-40 (NKJV)
6:36 So Gideon said to God, "If You will save Israel by my hand as You have said-- 37 look, I shall put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said." 38 And it was so. When he rose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece together, he wrung the dew out of the fleece, a bowlful of water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, "Do not be angry with me, but let me speak just once more: Let me test, I pray, just once more with the fleece; let it now be dry only on the fleece, but on all the ground let there be dew." 40 And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, but there was dew on all the ground.

Before he does anything else, he determines whether or not it’s God that’s called.  The thing is that God calls you according to HIS purpose.  God called Abraham to establish HIS promise.  God called Moses to deliver HIS people into the Promised Land.  God called Gideon to deliver HIS people from the oppression of the Midianites.  God always calls us to HIS purposes.

Do you want to know if it’s God that speaking to you?  If you do, then you have to determine what purpose God would have for that thing, you think is God’s calling.  God’s calling will be specific.  God doesn't call you to a place so you can get close to God.  He expects you to do that where you are.  God will have a specific purpose for your calling, something that will impact something God is doing.  When God called me to Taiwan I knew it was God because I understood His purpose in my coming here.

Granted there are benefits to me to be in Taiwan. It’s less expensive than living in the US.  I've met people whom I love, that I wouldn't have met if I stayed home.  I like living here, but that wasn't God’s purpose in my calling.  Those are the blessings of obedience.  The calling was for His purposes.

The Vantage Point

So why am I writing all of this?  Let’s go back to the forest for a moment.  We’re in the forest, among the trees.  Our vision is limited.  We can’t see past the obstacles to make a decision that will move us out of the forest.  We don’t have the proper vantage point for that, but God does.

Think of it like this, God is above; He sees the whole forest.  He sees where you are and where you need to be… He can guide you in the direction to go, to find your way out of the forest; to get past all the obstacles.  If you allow Him to He will order your steps.

Psalms 37:23 (NKJV)
37:23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in his way.

God directs our steps.  The steps of a good man are ordered. So God has a direction for you.  God has a plan for your life.  He’s calling you to something.  That’s what that means – the steps of a good man are ordered.  God can help you make a decision, but you have to be open to having your steps ordered.  Are you listening for God’s calling?  Are you really looking for God’s plan for your life?  Do you want God to order your steps?  If you’re not looking for God’s plan, it’s your plan you’re looking for.  If you’re not asking God to order your steps, then you’re asking God to make your plan work out.  “This is what I’m doing God, make it happen for me.”  Things turn out much better if we allow God to direct us. He’s up there looking at the direction you’re going.  “Turn right, there’s a big rock you won’t get past if you go left.  Stop, now go left because otherwise you’ll have that raging river to swim across.”  God can guide you around the obstacles in a way that will lead you out of the forest.

I was just reading a book on Mount Everest*.  This guy climbed the mountain and on the day he was supposed to summit, his Sherpa guide fell sick.  He was by himself.  He didn't have a Sherpa guide to help him.  So, he went alone.

He made it to the summit.  He took a few pictures.  He celebrated a few minutes up there, but on the way down something happened.  He went snow blind.  This is temporary blindness that comes from the reflection of the sun off the snow.  He was completely blind; he couldn't see at all and had to descend the mountain like that.  Here’s the thing, no one had ever survived that on Everest.  He thought he was going to die.  All he could think about was his family, his children and his wife, how much they would miss him, and how much they needed him.

Do you know what he did?  He fell down on his knees and prayed for God to guide him.  He prayed God would help him, show him where to put his feet, help him to find the fixed ropes. He turned himself over to God’s guidance.

He went through a lot that day.  A three-hour descent turned into a seven-hour one.  There were missteps and fumbles but he made it through.  He made it to Camp Four, were there were people that could help him.

We’re often like that guy.  We do things; we get ourselves into situations, because we make decisions on our own.  He knew he shouldn't have gone up alone, bit he didn't want to be distracted from HIS goal.  He was blinded by his pride.  He didn't know if there would be another opportunity to reach the summit on this trip or if he’d have to come back again.  He didn't weigh it all out; he didn't seek God, first.  He went out and then after got into trouble, he asked God to bail him out. 

He finally surrendered.  I can’t do this alone God.  I will never make it through this on my own.  God you have a better vantage point.  God you can see the direction better than I can.  God guide my steps – pick my direction.  I will be obedient to your plan and I will be blessed. 


As far as the future goes, we’re all snow blind, but if we surrender to His directions, God can see us through.

* Blind Descent: Surviving Alone and Blind on Mount Everest, Brian Dickinson, Tynedale Publishing, (c) 2014


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Can These Dry Bones Live?

There are highs and lows in life right?  Have you ever experienced a “mountaintop” experience?  The place where it feels as if God is moving powerfully just for you?  That place where all feels right in your life?  That’s a mountaintop experience, but there are also valleys in life.  There are valleys in your walk with God.  There are times when it feels as if you’re alone. It feels as if God has left you for dead.

You become discouraged.  You don’t have the victory.  The valley’s a cold place.  It’s the last place the sun reaches in the morning.  How often in life do we find ourselves in that kind of place?

Today, in our text God speaks to that:

Ezekiel 37:1-10 (NKJV)
37:1 The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. 2 Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. 3 And He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" So I answered, "O Lord God, You know." 4 Again He said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: "Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. 6 I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord." ' " 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them. 9 Also He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, 'Thus says the Lord God: "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." ' " 10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.
  
The Dry Bones

God sets Ezekiel into the valley.  The valley isn't the mountaintop.  It’s a low place.  It can be a difficult place.  There’s no vision in the valley; all you can see are the edges of the valley.

It’s not like the mountaintop.  You can see the power of God on the mountaintop.  You can see the larger vision on the mountaintop.  You can see the work of God.  It isn't hemmed in – vision isn't limited. 

The mountaintop is the place where you meet with God.  Moses met with God on the mountaintop.  Abraham saw God’s provision on the mountaintop.  The mountaintop is the place where you find yourself in the presence of God.  God revealed Himself to Elijah on the mountain top.

The valley is the lowest place.  It’s the place from where we have to climb.  When we’re in the valley we often struggle.  In our text, the valley is the place of the dry bones:  The place of death and failure; the place of discouragement. 

Psalms 42:5 (NKJV)
42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him For the help of His countenance.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?  Why are you discouraged?  The psalmist is discouraged.  His soul is no longer on the mountaintop, it has been cast down into the valley. 

Psalms 23:4a (NKJV)
23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…
This is the place Ezekiel has come to, the valley of Death:  the place of the dry bones.  God has brought him here to show him something.  “Can these dry bones live?”  Ezekiel says, “I don’t know – You know God.”  How much is he like us?  God is asking him, “Is the impossible, possible?”  Ezekiel doesn't know – He can’t see the possibility. 

It’s easy to believe in God’s power on the mountaintop.  When you’re on the mountaintop you can believe God for anything, but what about when you’re in the valley and you’re up against the facts.  Those bones are dead!  It isn't easy to believe they can live.  It’s hard to see the possibilities when everything that you can see is dead.  When you’re struggling it isn't easy to believe that God can do the impossible for you.  Can these bones live?  God says they can.

Ezekiel is in the valley, he’s looking over the bones:  They’re dead; they’re lifeless.  There’s no movement.  There’s no momentum.  Nothing’s happening.  They’re scattered all over the valley.  They can’t be put back together again.

Ezekiel isn't seeing the power of God at this moment.  He’s seeing only death and failure.  He’s seeing only discouragement, and God asks him, “Can these bones live?”  Can these dry bones live?  God says they can!  God tells him, “Prophesy!”

Prophesy

Prophecy isn't just telling the future.  Prophecy is speaking the Word of God.  God would give the words to the prophets, and they would speak them to the people:  Straight from God’s mouth to the ears of the people.  “Thus says the Lord God to these bones…” God speaks into the problems and disappointments in people’s lives.

Can these bones live?  God says they can!  It’s something He will do.  It’s something that comes through the Word of God.  God will give them life.  God will raise them up.  That’s sounds like preacher talk, but it isn't.  God has the power to raise you up out of the valley of your circumstances.  God can make the dead bones in your life live. 

The failures:  The times when you wanted to live the will of God for your life, but failed.  The disappointment, the betrayals, the hurts:  The times when you thought God wasn't there for you.  When you had needs that seemed to go unmet.  You can stand in the middle of THAT valley in despair; stationary, immobile, paralyzed and you won’t see anything happen.  You can’t get to the mountaintop, if you don’t move forward.  God says “Prophesy!”  Speak the words of God.  God doesn't speak failure; God speaks life. 

John 6:66-68 (NKJV)
6:66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. 67 Then Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also want to go away?" 68 But Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Jesus has just come off the mountain.  He’s been on the mountain with His disciples (John 6:3).  While He’s there he feeds five thousand men and their families; a powerful miracle.  They can see the power of God:  They believe Him.  On the mountain you can believe.  Then, He leaves the mountain, crosses the sea.  He’s in a low place now.  He’s in the valley, and the people come to Him again.

He begins to preach.  He speaks to them about the Bread of Life, but they have come for the material bread, and they can’t believe.  “This is a hard saying, who can believe it?”  So, they leave.  He’s in the valley.  It’s a valley of dry bones.  It looks like failure; everybody has left.  So he turns to the disciples, and says what?  Are you leaving, too?  Are you giving up, too?  You can see their response in verse 68:

John 6:68 (NKJV)
6:68 But Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (emphasis mine)

“Where would we go, You have the words of Eternal Life.”  God speaks LIFE – Dry bones LIVE in the Word of God.  Prophesy!  Speak life into your circumstances.  Speak life into your failures.  Speak life into your despair and disappointments.  Don’t dwell on what isn't happening.  Speak what CAN happen.  Don’t get stuck on the dry bones.  Speak what God has promised.  God said to the dry bones, live, and they came together.  It was something God did, but Ezekiel had a role to play.  Ezekiel had to speak the words.  Ezekiel had to prophesy.

God did it.  The Word of God touched them.  They moved and rattled and came together.  The Word of God touched them.  The Word of God moved them.  The words spoken by Ezekiel brought them together, but it was the Spirit of God that gave them life.  It was something that God did.

Ezekiel spoke the words that activated a move of God.  Ezekiel spoke the words that activated the Spirit of God and the Spirit gave them life.  God did it; God moved.  It isn't any power in Ezekiel.  Ezekiel didn't do a miracle.  He was only obedient to speak the Word of God and the Spirit of God made them live.

It’s really hard sometimes, isn't it?  We don’t see anything happening.  We’re struggling with the same problems day after day.  We’re stuck; we’re not getting anywhere and we begin to speak out of our bitterness.

“It’s not going to work out.”
“God brought us out here to die.”

We begin to speak words of failure and disappointment.  We begin to speak defeat.  We’re not speaking life into our circumstances.  We’re speaking death.  We’re prophesying failure.  We’re speaking of the dry bones.  God calls us to command life. 

“With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Those dead bones can live.  Prophesy!  Speak life!

An Exceedingly Great Army

Finally, our text tells us that when the bones came alive they were an exceedingly great army.  An army represents a nation’s power.  An army is made up of individuals who become one powerful unit.  An army is the sum total of the strength of individuals.

The dry bones of failure, disappointment, and struggle; while they are still dry bones there’s no power there.  While we’re seeing those things as dry bones they have no power.  They represent only death, but after a move of God they lend their strength to an army.  What you’re struggling with now, what you see as weakness now, can be turned into strength.  As we overcome, as we struggle through things, after we have gone through them we are made stronger.  We become more powerful. Failure can make you stronger if you press through it.  Disappointment can be turned into hope.  Despair can be turned into resolve.

Once those bones came alive they were able to move.  They were no longer stationary; no longer scattered.  They became a powerful army.  Now they have the power to move.  Now they can ascend the mountain.  Now they can rise out of the low place.  Now there's strength and power available.  Can these bones live?  God says they can! 

If you want to see victory, you have to do something.  You can’t sit around and wait for God to move.  You can’t sit around despairing over all the problems.  You have to do something.  It’s up to you to activate a move of God in your life.  It’s up to you to stop dwelling on despair and defeat.  If you prophesy that nothing will happen…then nothing WILL happen. But if you speak the power of God into that despair, then a miraculous change can take place.

Ezekiel was in that valley pondering the future of Israel.  The bones represent the nation of Israel.

Ezekiel 37:11 (NKJV)
37:11 Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, 'Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!'

Is that you?  Is that what you say?  Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we’re cut off or separated from God?  Are you feeling like you've been left for dead?  Are you feeling like you’re hopeless to overcome the problems and struggles in your life?  Are you wondering where God is?  Has He forsaken you?  Are you feeling like dry bones?


If you do then you’re like Ezekiel.  He doesn't know if they can live again.  He’s not sure if God can do something.  He sees only the bones he doesn't see the possibilities.  He doesn't know if the dry bones can live, but God knows.  God hasn't left them for dead.  He raised them – dry bones CAN live.  The Spirit of God can bring them to life.  Contend for the Spirit of God.  Prophesy – Speak Life!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Struggling with Target Fixation

When police officers come to an accident scene they’re looking for a number of ways the accident could have happened.  They want to find a cause for the accident.  They look to see if it was mechanical failure.  Was somebody speeding or driving unsafely?

But there’s another thing that they look for as the cause of the accident and that’s target fixation.  Target Fixation is when you’re looking at an object and subconsciously steer in that direction.  You drive toward the thing you’re focused on.

This video is a perfect illustration of Target Fixation.  There are a number of scooters making a turn.  The scooter in front of the scooter that’s filming loses control and crashes.  Notice how the filming scooter doesn’t even try to make the corner but steers directly into the crashing scooter.  That’s target fixation.



We’re all heading in one direction or another and once you realize that you’re going in a certain direction, you can begin to understand that there’s a force that’s guiding you in the direction you’re heading.  What is it that’s setting your direction?  What’s guiding the direction you’re heading in life?  Is it education?  Is it your parents wishes?  Is it the events and circumstances of life?  Or is it God?  Is God the guiding force of your life or are you just adding God to the direction you’re already taking?

What I mean by that is , id God guiding your steps?  Is he the principle focus of your life?  Or is God just another thing that you’ve added to what you already do?  Where you set your eyes is where you’ll end up?  Are you purposefully being guided in a direction or are you just a victim of target fixation?

Today I want to post a message on finding the direction for your life, the guiding force that will lead you into the promises of God.

Matthew 6:29-33 (NKJV)
6:29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Goals

How many of us have goals in life?  All of us have certain things we want out of life, isn’t that right?  Success marriage, children, all of us have goals.  These are things that we all want; that we’re striving for.  How are you going to get all those things? What is it that guides the direction you’re taking? 

There are those who go through a kind of target fixation.  They see where they want to be and do whatever it takes to get there.  They use people.  They lie, cheat, and steal.  Ambition can be a good thing when it motivates you to do what you do in excellence and integrity, but it’s a two-edged sword because it can also motivate you to do things that aren’t right.  What are you counting on to take you in the direction that you want to go?

Is it education that’s guiding you?  Do you believe that education is the force that can take you to the place you want to be in life?  “If I went to a better University I could go farther.”  “If I get a higher degree, I can get a better job.”  “If I continuously take classes, I will make more money.”  So you wrap your whole life into getting an education.  Your whole life is invested in education.

Is it your job that’s taking you there?  “If I work harder and more hours than anyone else, I’ll get the promotions and bonuses.”  “If I put my job before everything else in my life then I’ll be indispensable to my boss.”   “If I uproot my family and move, chasing a salary, and I’ll make more and more everywhere I go.”

Is it the events and circumstances in life that are determining where you end up?  “I’m so overwhelmed by the circumstances in life, that I don’t know what to do to go beyond this point.”  Because I’m always reacting to the events in my life I’m just barely keeping my head above water, there’s no way I can move forward.”

So the question here is this:  Can you trust God enough to allow Him to be the guiding force in your life?  That’s basically what our text is saying to us.  If you seek FIRST the kingdom of God, then all these other things will be added to you.  I see most people, not just in the church, but most people seeking the prizes and using their wits and education and jobs to be the thing that provide for them.  The scripture says to seek God’s kingdom and he will get you to that place you want to go. 

If you’re pursuing or following God then all those other things will come to you.  Allow your pursuit of God to shape the direction you take in life.  I’m ot saying an education isn’t important, or that you shouldn’t work hard, only that those things should’net be the thing that gives your life direction.  Let God be the guiding force in the direction of your life.

Following God

If God is the thing that’s guiding your life then what you’re doing Is following God’s lead – following God.  Let’s look at an example in the Bible:

Genesis 12:1-4 (NKJV)
12:1 Now the Lord had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, From your family And from your father's house, To a land that I will show you. 2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." 4 So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Here’s Abraham (Abram), God has called him out of his country to a place that God will show him.  God tells him, “I have a plan for you, that will include, even your descendants.  I will make you a great nation, I’ll give a great land for an inheritance.  Those who bless you, I will bless, those who curse you, I’ll deal with.”  All Abraham had to do was follow God.  He had to say, “I can stay here and make it on my own or I can follow God and see what He has planned for me.”  It’s no different than what you and I have to do. 

There’s a calling on your life – God is calling you.  “Seek first the Kingdom of God,” that’s a calling.  Abraham trusted God so he laid aside what he was already doing and followed God to that place.  Abraham wasn’t sitting around waiting for God to call.  He was just as occupied with his life as you are with yours, but when God called he followed Him.  He dropped what he was already doing and followed God.  God’s call became the focus of his life.

It’s interesting because Abraham wasn’t raised serving God.  He grew up in a pagan nation.  He didn’t know the God of the Bible, but when God called he allowed that promise of God to be the guiding force of the direction of his life. 

He received all the blessings of life:  Success, children, home all of it, and his descendants received the inheritance and became a great nation, too.  All of that happened because Abraham pursued God.  He sought first the Kingdom of God.

There was a point when Abraham didn’t follow God.  He went out on his own.  He stopped following after God.  I don’t mean that he started worshipping idols, but he was no longer following God’s direction.

Genesis 12:10-15 (NKJV)
12:10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, "Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. 12 Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, 'This is his wife'; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you." 14 So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful. 15 The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh's house.

There was a famine; life became difficult.  So Abraham left the place God had taken him and he went to Egypt.  He wasn’t following God; he was allowing the circumstances and events of life to guide his direction. 

This is important for us to see.  How many of us are allowing God to lead?  How many of us are allowing God to guide us and direct us?  Whe nwe get saved we don’t all focus our lives on God’s calling.  We don’t all pursue God like Abraham did.  Often we become Christians and God becomes something we add to the things we already do.  That’s when God becomes a PART of our direction.

We’re already pursuing education.  We continue to get more and more.  We’re already pursuing our jobs.  We’ve made our families second to the job.  Now, we’re going to fit God in to the schedule of things that we’re already doing.  It’s not seeking the Kingdom of God that’s the focus of your life; you’re already fixated on a target.  Our text tells us though, that it’s the wrong target.  The target should be the Kingdom of God.

When Abraham followed God, God took him in the direction that led to all those other things.  When he wasn’t following God he almost lost those same things.  What is the primary guiding force to the direction of your life?  is it God or is it a target fixation?  If you’re focused on the will of God, He will take you where he wants you to go AND He’ll add blessings to yor life.  If you’re focused on the target, you may end up hitting the target but crashing and losing something more important.  I have no doubt that Abraham could have become materially wealthy down in Egypt, but at what cost:  His wife and the promises of God?  He would have hit the target but crashed and lost it all. 

Seeking the Kingdom of God

God is calling you.  he’s calling you out of your old ways and your old life.  he’s calling you into His purposes.  He’s calling you to a place that He will show you.  He’s calling you into a new direction for your life.  He’s promising that if you will seek first the Kingdom of God that you will receive blessings as well. 

Hebrews 11:8 (NKJV)
11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.

Abraham followed God even though he had no idea where God was taking him.  He had God as the guiding force for the direction of his life.  God has a plan for your life.  He has a direction for your life AND God wants to bless you.  Look again at the promise to Abraham:

Genesis 12:1-4 (NKJV)
12:1 Now the Lord had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, From your family And from your father's house, To a land that I will show you. 2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." 4 So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Follow ME.  I will make you a great nation.  I will bless you and make your name great.  I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.  Why are we afraid that following God will cost us, and there won’t be any blessing?  We follow our bosses and it costs us, doesn’t it?  Work can take a toll on your health and your family and your boss never promises you anything beyond your salary – But you’re willing to follow him.

God says follow me and you’ll be blessed, can we trust that?  Is God more trustworthy than your boss?  If I believe the Bible and the stories of God’s provision, and blessing, and faithfulness, then I believe God for the promise.  If I can believe God then I need to live like I believe God.

So what does it mean to seek first the Kingdom of God?  It means to put God first, to go in the direction that leads to the Kingdom of God.

Don’t come to church to curry favor with God.  Don’t come because you think you have to.  Don’t come for favors; come to worship God.  Come thinking that God is going to speak to you.  Come thinking that God is trying to communicate His plan for your life and you don’t want to miss it.  If yo think that way I guarantee that you’ll hear from God.  If you’re open to His call, then he’ll call you to His promise.  If you’re not open to His call then you’ll never hear from Him. 

There’s one last thing I want to talk about:  The joy of your salvation.  Some people seem discouraged, even bummed out.  That’s no way for a Christian to feel.  Christianity should be about joy – We GET to go to Heaven.  Our God loves us.  In the traditional Taiwanese religion, do the gods love you?  I don’t think so.  Our God has a plan for our lives, but I think people come to church and they think this is it.  Every Sunday we take a couple of hours out and listen to a sermon.  We don’t come and pray that God will speak to us.  We don’t take it in and apply it to our lives.  We don’t let God touch us with His word.  We sit for a couple of hours and then go home unmoved.

We don’t get involved in what the church is doing, that’s where the fun and camaraderie come from.  We’re preparing to do a drama.  The things the church does are an opportunity for you to have some expression; to actually SERVE God and bring His word to life.  Wghat’s more fun to PLAY baseball or WATCH baseball?  It’s more fun to serve God than to listen to sermons about serving God.  Living out God’s plan for your life will chase away the discouragement.  It’ll make serving God fun! 


This is what SEEKING FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD is really all about.  It’s about making God your focus and direction and He will make sure your needs are met.  If your going to fixate on a target, make the Kingdom of God the target.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Fundamentals of our Faith: Overcoming

Editor’s Note:  This is from a series I have been preaching entitled the “Fundamentals of our Faith.” 




There it is!  That’s your life isn't it?  All of these obstacles in front of you, and you have to jump over them to get anything accomplished.  Do you want to raise your children to be productive adults?  You have to jump over hurdles.  Do you want a better job?  You have to jump over hurdles.  Do you want to do something for God?  You have to jump over hurdles.  Life is like an Olympic Event.

Have you ever wondered why nothing is easy?  It’s like one thing after another.  You’re trying to get somewhere in life and it’s one obstacle after another.  It’s one thing after another.  We all have to face obstacles in life.  We all have to face roadblocks in what we want to do. 

Sometimes, it’s the devil.  He hates you and doesn't want you to succeed at your dreams, especially if it involves God’s will for your life.  Other times it’s you and your flesh.  You just want to give up and quit, or you just can’t find the energy to persevere. At still other times it might be God doing a work in you. checking your faith, or teaching you to overcome.

Today, I want to post on being someone who can overcome the obstacles of life.

Romans 8:35-37 (NKJV)
8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

When it’s Worthwhile it’s Hard

God’s promises are not always easy to receive.  Very often these things look like struggle, turmoil and adversity taking place in your life.   God promised the people of Israel a “Land flowing with Milk and Honey,” but they were going to have to fight for it.  They were going to have to move out the current inhabitants of the land.  The PROMISE was there…but it was going to be difficult to receive.

Nothing in the world is worth having or doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…I have never, in my life, envied someone with an easy life.  I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well. – Theodore Roosevelt

Let me break this down for you into Christian language. Let me tell you what he’s saying in Christian speak:  Blessing comes through struggle.  It’s a principle of life – The harder it is the more worthwhile it is.

For example, raising kids is hard.  It’s really hard, and the bigger they get the harder it is.  My dad told me when my daughters were babies, “When you have little kids you have little problems, when you have bigger kids, you have bigger problems.”  He’s exactly right.  When your kids get older you don’t have problems like whose toy it is, or a scraped knee, or a wet bed.  You have problems like: Are they going to get pregnant?  Are they going to get killed while driving?  How am I going to pay for college?  Are they dating/marrying the right guy?

It’s not easy.  It’s expensive, you have to discipline, and sometimes you have to remember. “I’m supposed to be the mature one here,” when it would be easier to just kill them.  Is it easy? No, it isn't.  Is it worth it?  Yes, it is.

My daughters are a HUGE blessing, now.  They weren't always.  My mother and sisters always tell me what great kids they are, and they are.  It wasn't easy to get them there, though.  It wasn't easy for me, and it wasn't easy for them, but we all persevered.  I have two grown, beautiful daughters whom I believe will make it in life.

The difficulty and struggle was worth it.  Receiving the promises of God is also worth it, if you can overcome all the obstacles.

There are three places that obstacles come from.  The first is that lying devil.  How many know that the devil’s a liar.  He wants to keep you from God’s plan for your life.  The second is your own flesh.  Your fears, your feelings of inadequacy, laziness, or whatever keeps you from doing what you need to do to see God’s plan work out in your life. The third is God, Himself, checking your faith; whether or not you can believe God for His promises.  I can illustrate this from the Bible.

Taking the Promised Land was no Piece of Cake

There is a story in Numbers Chapter 13:  Israel has left Egypt.  They've finally made it to the Promised Land.  They've arrived at the promise of God to Abraham.  Moses has sent out spies into the the land to check it out and they have come back with their report:

Numbers 13:32-33 (NKJV)
13:32 And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, "The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. 33 There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight."

That Lying Devil

So, here’s the devil lying to them.  “There’s too many obstacles…it’s too hard.  You’re weak and puny, like little baby grasshoppers.  What can you do against GIANTS?”

How many times have you heard that voice in your head say, “You can’t do it.”  Or, “You’re not good enough.  You’re not smart enough.  You didn't go to a good enough high school or college”?  Maybe someone even actually spoke those things to you.  That’s the devil trying to work in your mind.  He’s trying to sow unbelief or doubt into your heart.  You can trust God for His promises, but the devil says, “No!”  He’s doing the same thing he did to Eve.  In the Garden of Eden he said, “Did God really say…?”  He cast doubt about the Word of God into Eve's mind.

In our text, when they saw the giants, the devil said, “Look at them, You’re puny little grasshoppers.  These guys will eat you for breakfast.”

Verse 32:  “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours it’s inhabitants.”
Verse 33:  “We were like grasshoppers in our OWN sight and so we were in their sight.”

The spies were just telling the people what the devil told them.  The devil said there are obstacles and you’ll never overcome them or conquer them.  God may have promised it, but there are GIANTS!

Believing the Lie

Let’s continue with the Bible’s narrative:

Numbers 14:1-4 (NKJV)
14:1 So all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, "If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?" 4 So they said to one another, "Let us select a leader and return to Egypt."

None of them is willing to fight for the promise.  God doesn't say it’s going to be easy.  Nowhere in the Bible does he say that.  We have to be willing to fight for His promises, but we get discouraged.  We become defeatist.  Have you ever said this, “Nothing ever works out like I planned.  Why does it always have to be so hard”?  The devil lies to us, but we don’t have to believe him.  In our text the people of Israel believe the lie. 

The devil lies to you and sometimes you listen to him.  You say to yourself, “This is too hard.  Nothing ever works out for me.  I might as well quit!”  Quitting is the easy way every time, but what’s the reward of quitting:  Wasted time, wasted money, shame, guilt, letting yourself down, letting others down?  Those are the rewards of quitting.  Making it through the obstacles will be harder, often much harder, but what are the rewards of succeeding?  Aren't those rewards much easier to live with? 

Israel stands to receive a great inheritance.  God has a covenant with them, to bring them to this place.  It’s called the Promised Land, because it’s promised.  God promised it, but the devil tells them, “You can’t do it,” and the people all say to themselves: “You know he’s right.  We’re not strong enough to defeat giants.  Those cities are fortified; we can’t break in.  Let’s beat up Moses, and find a new leader to take us back to Egypt”  Which one would be a better ending:  Owning a land flowing with milk and honey?  Or going back to a land of slavery and oppression?  Here’s the reward for Israel quitting on the promises:

Numbers 14:34 (NKJV)
14:34 According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection.

Forty years of wandering in the desert until the whole generation died.  All of the adults died in the desert, never seeing the promise of God play out in their lives.  Let’s go back to the Promised land:

Numbers 14:36-38 (NKJV)
14:36 Now the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation complain against him by bringing a bad report of the land, 37 those very men who brought the evil report about the land, died by the plague before the Lord. 38 But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive, of the men who went to spy out the land.

Faith Activates God

So, the people of Israel wandered the desert for forty years, because they didn't believe the promises of God.  The whole generation never saw the promise of God except Joshua and Caleb.  They made it into the Promised Land, but why them?  Why did they see God’s promises?    Why weren't they like all the others? 

Numbers 14:6-8 (NKJV)
14:6 But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; 7 and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: "The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. 8 If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, 'a land which flows with milk and honey.'

The entire congregation of Israel, all the people gave up.  They all wanted to quit.  They believed the devil and all of his lies and doubted God.  All of them except Joshua and Caleb.  They wanted to go and take the land.  “God promised it, so let’s go get it.”

The people of Israel made their decision based on their own strengths, but they left out something important:  THE GOD FACTOR.  God can do what we can’t.  God is more powerful than us, AND he’s more powerful than the devil.

It may look impossible to you.  You may think, “I can never do this!  I can never make this happen.  I can never have God’s promises, because I’m not strong enough to do it ”  You may be right.  You probably can’t do it on your own.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that what God has for you is too hard for you to do on your own.  You can’t do it...but God can.  I guarantee it’s not impossible for God. 

Luke 18:27 (NKJV)
18:27 But He said, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God."

So knowing that the question is:  Can you believe God for His promises?  That’s what God is looking for.  He wants to show Himself strong.  He wants to win your faith and trust.  If God wants to show himself strong why would rely on YOUR strength?

If Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to show you how strong he was, he wouldn't tell you to lift up the weights.  He would lift them.

Joshua and Caleb understand that God is a God who cannot lie.  They know His promises are real – They’re promises.  So, they believe God for what he’s promised and because of that they are the only ones to see those promises play out in their lives. God fought with them to take the land.  Their faith activated a move of God and they succeeded and received the promise.

What about you?  Do you want to see God’s promises for your life?  It’s our faith that activates a movement of God.  We need to believe Him; we need to speak like Joshua and Caleb, and live like we believe what we've spoken.  Most of all we need to have faith that the promise IS a promise. 

We are more than Conquerors

Our text promises us that we are more than conquerors:  That we can overcome the lies, and the flesh to see for ourselves the promises of God.  All it takes is faith and a willingness to fight for it.

What is it that God has promised you?  Provision? That’s a promise.  Your family saved?  Salvation is a promise.  A Plan for your life?  It’s a promise.

What is your role in receiving the promises?

  1. You're going have to believe God for the promises, and
  2. You’re going to have to fight for it.
God has a promise for your church as well.  People get discouraged:  They’ve seen people leave the church.  It seems like no one responds to the outreaches.  It seems as if the church is falling apart.  So, is God mad at us?  Is the devil too strong for us?

Here’s what’s happening, first, the devil is lying.  He says, "People can’t get saved in Taoyuan City.  It’s too hard for them.  They won’t believe Jesus.  They won’t go against their parents.  The traditional religion is a giant, we’re too small and weak to make a difference."

Second, people believe the lies.  Some of the people who've left have left because of that.  They believed the lies.  Some others are discouraged, “Why bother with outreach, it doesn't work here.”  Others even say, “I wanted to do something for God, but I don’t see it happening (in my time-frame).  So, they give up?  That’s happening in the church and it’s happening in people’s lives.

We need to be like Joshua and Caleb, “Hey God promised this… Let’s go and take it.” 

Let’s face it, the devil’s big and bad...and ugly...and mean...and nasty.  He’s a liar and the father of lies.  He WANTS you deceived and discouraged.  He wants to see you give up on the promises of God for your life and for the church.  But look at this promise:

1 John 4:4 (NKJV)
4:4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

Are you ready to give up?  Well don’t!  Maybe it’s hard right now, but anything worth doing is hard.  It’s life – It’s hard!  That’s the way life is, but if you want to see the promise of God you have to be willing to fight for it.  You have to be willing to have faith.  I’m willing – We can take the Land.  We can also see God’s triumph in YOUR life.  Let’s go get the promise.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones will break my bones but words can never harm me!  Our mothers taught us this to help us to overlook the put downs and downright meanness of other kids.  It was an attempt to help us to keep from being damaged by bullies who use words to hurt.

The problem with it is that it’s a lie.  Words spoken can do great damage.  Words break no bones, but they do break hearts.  I've seen children’s lives messed up by carelessly spoken words.  I've seen marriages ruined by hateful words. 

The plain fact is that we DO care about what others think of us, especially the people we love.  Sometimes, those words are designed to injure, sometimes they’re just spoken in anger, and sometimes they’re just spoken carelessly without regard for the effect it has on the hearer.  Today I want to post on words, from this portion of scripture.

Romans 14:17-19 (NKJV)
14:17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 Therefore let us pursue the things, which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.
Word Power

Words are powerful tools:

  1. They can be used to describe complex theories
  2. They can be used to evoke an motional response
  3. They can be used to express love
  4. They can be used to bring understanding
  5. They can be used to create:

The Bible tells us that God used words to speak the universe into existence.  Nine times in the first and second chapters of Genesis the Bible says, “Then God said…!”  He didn't create the universe with His hands.  He didn't use any tool except words.  Words can be used to create.

Words definitely have power.  You can ask any novelist, politician or lawyer, who use words in their profession.  Novelists create a scene and a story through the use of words.  Politicians use words to influence people to a course of action.  Lawyers use words to persuade and allow innocent men to go free.

These people can testify to the power of words.  Words can create but words can also damage.  According to Psychology Today:

“…prior to the recent study by Martin Teicher and colleagues at Harvard Medical School, taunting and other verbal abuse experienced by middle school children by their peers was not thought to leave a structural imprint on the developing brain.  But it does, according to their new study published on-line in advance of print in the American Journal of Psychiatry.” *
So we can see that words can also be destructive.

There is power in the words you speak.  There’s the power to edify, or build up, and there’s the power to destroy.  How we use the words we speak to another person determines the direction our relationships take.  Our text tells us that the “Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  Do the words you’re using reflect that?  Are you using words that “make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.”?  Are you building up or tearing down?

We use words so quickly, don’t we?  Listen to a casual conversation, sometime.  Our minds work so quickly that we have words to respond in fractions of a second.  We don’t even have to think about it.  Words just come flowing out of our mouths. 

Sometimes, though, I think this is a problem, because we speak through our emotions.  We speak through our anger.  We speak through our frustration… and we do it instantly, without thinking.  Maybe we should take time and think about what we’re going to say.

I don’t think people try to damage their children by speaking words of discouragement to them.  It’s just that frustration and irritation come out of our mouths without thinking.  We do the same thing in other relationships.  We jam our wives or husbands with no thought as to the effect those words will have on them.

“You’re lazy.”  “You’re so stupid.”  We label each other and those labels can have destructive consequences.  Sometimes, the problem is that we speak words that aren't positive or faith affirming.

At our house we’re trying to speak positively.  It’s amazing how many times something comes out of people’s mouths that are negative.  I’m not saying that we sit around and say hateful things to each other, but we don’t always speak faith-affirming words.  For example, someone might say, “We’re not going to have enough money to pay the church rent this month.”  The response might be something like, “God will help us.  Don’t be so negative.”

Sometimes we use sarcasm as a weapon, or we speak negatively to show how much we think we know.  Isn't that an amazing thought?  Someone comes to us excited about a possibility, or opportunity and we say, “What do you know about doing that?” Or “that isn’t going to happen, you’re too naïve.” Or, “You don’t understand how it works here, people won’t do that.”

When we pastored in Riverside, California, I wanted to try and reach into the Chinese community there.  There are a lot of people from China there.  I wanted to get to know some of them, to reach into that community.  So, I tried to talk to some other pastors.  I was looking for an effective strategy to reach them with the Gospel.  They all said the same thing, “That community is too close knit.  They won’t let you in.  You’ll never get anywhere with them.”   It was discouraging; I almost gave up before I started.

On a whim, I put our information on an electronic bulletin board asking for a language exchange or Chinese tutor, so we could learn to speak Mandarin.  Within 24 hours I had six or seven offers for teaching or language exchange.  This was in August, by Thanksgiving we had thirty Chinese couples over to our house to experience American culture.  We were accepted, in fact, we still have close relationships with some of those people.

So we had people who had no idea what they were talking about being negative, only because it made them appear to have knowledge and understanding.  They spoke discouragingly, when they could have been encouraging.  Is this how we should use our words?  Is this how we should use the power that we speak?

As Christians the idea is to be Godly.  We want to be Godly men and women.  We want to be like Jesus. Jesus used His words to create.  He spoke words of edification.  What words are you speaking today?  Are you building up or tearing down?

Edification

Ephesians 4:29 (NKJV)
4:29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.

I want to take some time to digest this scripture.  Specifically, I want to focus on two words. 

The first word I want to focus on is edify or edification.  According to Strong’s Lexicon of Greek and Hebrew, the Greek word translated as edify literally means to be a house builder.  This word house is used a lot in the Old Testament to signify one’s family.  The House of Abraham refers to his family; the people who lived in his household.  It’s the same with the House of Jacob, or the House of David.  So, in a sense it means to build your family members; the people who love in your house, like your wife, your husband or your children.  I think it also can mean something else, as well.

A few days ago I sent a text to one of the women in our church.  I was thanking her for some help she had given us.  Her response was, “Don’t mention it, we’re family, right?”

We are family.  That’s why we use words like, brother or sister in Christ.  The Bible tells us we should be “house builders” but often we’re not we’re just the opposite.  It’s really easy to tear each other down through gossip, slander or discouragement.  Take a moment and think about the last thing you said to: Your spouse, your children, your church friends, and your pastor and his wife.  Think about the attitude you used and see if you were building the house or tearing it down.  Now, think about the last thing you said about those same people.  Were you building up those people in the eyes of others or are you tearing them down.   Were you complaining about them, embarrassing them or speaking badly of them? 

The Bible tells us in the story of Balak and Balaam that the words of cursing don’t need to be spoken directly to the people you’re cursing.  Balaam only tried to curse Israel before Balak.  Look at the moment in scripture. 

Balak has hired Balaam to curse Israel.  Apparently, Balaam is famous for cursing.  God has a different idea and puts words of blessing into Balaam’s mouth.  He begins to tell Balak what God has said.  This is a personal conversation.  He’s not saying this in front of the people of Israel.  He’s only speaking to Balak, and instead of cursing Israel he speaks blessing.  Look at Balak’s reaction:

Numbers 23:11 (NKJV)
23:11 Then Balak said to Balaam, "What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and look, you have blessed them bountifully!"

He’s beside himself.  In fact, he wants Balaam to go with him to where he can see the people of Israel and try to curse them again.  Balaam isn't blessing Israel within earshot, but the words still have the power to bless.

In the same way, words that are spoken against someone, whether they are spoken in their presence or not, have the same power to curse.  I become concerned, sometimes, when I hear someone talking about things they said to their husband or wife.  Things like, “I wish I wasn't married to you.” Or “We should get a divorce…I hate you.”  I fear for the future of their marriage, because the words you use will shape your actions.”

I had a friend who always talked about how much he hated his wife.  He always told her he was going to divorce her, “As soon as our son is old enough I’m leaving you.”  He told other people, “I hate my wife.”  He made jokes about it; he humiliated her, thinking she didn’t understand English, so she wouldn’t know what he was saying.  For her part she was angry and hostile to him, but maybe it was because he always said those things to her and about her.  He spoke words of cursing to her face and to others about her.  Remember, she doesn't have to hear the words to be cursed. 

Recently, he left her.  He did just what he had been speaking.  He abandoned her.  I wonder what would have happened if he had spoken the opposite way:  If he spoke blessing instead of cursing.  What could have been the outcome if he used the power of his words to build his house?

This ties into the other word I want to examine and that word is corrupt.  According to the Strong’s Lexicon, the word translated as corrupt means rotten or worthless.  Do the words you’re speaking to or about someone have power to edify, or are they destructive, corrupt, rotten, worthless words.

Matthew 12:36 (NKJV)
12:36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.

That word idle means inactive, or useless.  Words that don’t have a positive purpose for the ones they are spoken about are useless words.  We will be accountable for them.  Evil words cut more deeply than a sword.

My friend destroyed his marriage, because of the corruption that flowed from his mouth:  Because he didn't edify or build his house.  He did that through idle words.

Some of you may have already spoken like that to your spouse.  Some of you may have already torn down your children.  Some of you may have already spoken curses on your church family’s lives.  We need to understand that our words have power.

Mending Fences

Psalms 34:12-13 (NKJV)
34:12 Who is the man who desires life, And loves many days, that he may see good? 13 Keep your tongue from evil, And your lips from speaking deceit.

Hopefully, damage hasn’t already been done to the point where there’s no chance for redemption and reconciliation.  The reason I say that is because we’re all guilty of speaking things that shouldn’t be spoken.  We’re all guilty of idle words and corruption.

James 3:7-9 (NKJV)
3:7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.

James includes himself in this:  “No man can tame the tongue, with it we bless our God and with it we curse men.”  I believe we are all guilty of this.  So, what can we do to mend fences that we have torn down? 

The first thing we can do is repent before God.  When we sin against each other we sin before God.  When David sinned with Bathsheba and had her husband killed, the prophet Nathan confronted him.  In response to that confrontation, he told Nathan, “I have sinned against God.”  His sin against Uriah the Hittite was a sin against God.  When we sin against each other the sin is against God, so we need to repent before God. 

The second thing is to look for forgiveness from that person.  Do you know what power is found in two simple words, “I’m sorry.”?  Most people have the capacity to forgive.  I can’t tell you how many times as a pastor I've heard someone say, “I just want an apology.”  “If they’d just say, ‘I’m sorry.’”

The final thing is to stop saying things that are hurtful.  You can’t just say, “I’m sorry,” and continue with the same old behavior.  It makes the words meaningless.  It’s a necessary part of repentance, anyway.  There is no repentance without change.

Finally, we can help each other when people speak badly about others.  I have a friend that has been loyal for many years.  We've been friends for a long time.  Someone told this friend something about me that was bad.  They took an event and skewed it to make it look like I was saying terrible things about this friend, when I hadn't been.  So I came to this person to explain and she told me. “I wasn't worried about it, because I don’t listen to gossip anyway.” 

We don’t have to listen to people spewing gossip.  We can quickly stop it by saying, “I don’t listen to gossip.”  If people speak things to you that are cursing, you don’t have to listen to those words either.  Find someone who will edify you and let them encourage you.

I’m not saying you should go to them and say things like, “My husband is such a beast…do you know what he said to me?”  Don’t do that because the next words out of your mouth will be gossip.  You can ask them to pray for you about your relationship with your husband.  You can ask them to speak words of encouragement to you.  You can let them care for you.

None of us should allow anyone to tear down our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We should be here for each other.  The world wants to destroy us… The house of God should be there to strengthen us.



*  Psychology Today, 10/10 2010; Sticks and Stones Hurtful Words Damage the Brain;
www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-new-brain/20101010/sticks-and-stones-hurtful-words-damage-the-brain