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.

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!