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.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Rabshakeh

How many realize that we live in a world that’s both spiritual and physical.  There are things that happen in an unseen world – a spiritual realm, that can be seen occasionally in the physical world.  We battle against principalities, against powers, against rulers of darkness and spiritual wickedness in high places.  We often think this is abstract; we understand intellectually that there is a devil but we don’t see him so he becomes abstract to us. 

I want you to know that the devil is real, and that he has a strategy to turn you and your family away from the God of the Bible whom he hates.  He has a method of attack that will cast doubt on God and your church. In this post, I want to expose that strategy for you.  I want to bring out what the devil’s strategy is because a devil exposed is a devil defeated.

Isaiah 36:1-3 (NKJV)
36:1 Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 2 Then the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. And he stood by the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller's Field. 3 And Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came out to him.

Messenger of Deception

For our purposes today we’ll say that the King of Assyria is representative of the devil.  In fact, his name, Sennacherib means the “Bramble of Destruction.”  He’s a destroyer.  The devil is a destroyer.  The Rabshakeh is like a prime minister of a governor.  He has authority over a region; an area.  He’s a representative of the king.  He’s doing the work of the King of Assyria. 

In the book of Daniel chapter ten, Daniel is speaking with an angel who has been sent to him.  The angel explains that was delayed by the “Prince of Persia.”  The Prince of Persia is not a person, he’s a spiritual being; a demonic force.  He rules over an area; a principality.  Another example is when Jesus casts the demon out of the Gadarene Demoniac they ask him not to send them out of the country.  Demons have rule over areas and regions. 

So in our text here, Sennacherib has come against Judah.  The warfare has begun, but it hasn’t begun with physical weapons…It has begun with words.  Words can be spiritual weapons.

Words can deceive.
Words can discourage
Words can demoralize.

This is why nations wage wars with propaganda.  The idea is that if the enemy is defeated in their own minds they will be easier to defeat on the battlefield.  This is the King of Assyria’s strategy, so he has sent the Rabshakeh:

Isaiah 36:4-6 (NKJV)
36:4 Then the Rabshakeh said to them, "Say now to Hezekiah, 'Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: "What confidence is this in which you trust? 5 I say you speak of having plans and power for war; but they are mere words. Now in whom do you trust, that you rebel against me? 6 Look! You are trusting in the staff of this broken reed, Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him.

The Rabshakeh begins by casting doubt.  “How can you have confidence to defeat the King of Assyria?  Who could you possible trust that could bring defeat?  You Allies?  They won’t support you; they’re looking to betray you.”  He’s casting suspicion and doubt on Judah’s ally, Pharaoh of Egypt. 

When suspicion is cast, you begin to doubt that ally.  You begin to wonder if the words might be true. 

That’s a strategy of the enemy that we face, as well.  The devil wants you to doubt your brothers and sisters in the church.  He likes it when you are suspicious of each other’s motives.  A house divided is a house defeated.  If he can turn us against each other, he can destroy the threat we pose for him.  It’s difficult to stand against an army as an individual.  We need each other.  We strengthen each other. 

Proverbs 27:17 (NKJV)
27:17 As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.

We help each other to live for Jesus and avoid sin.  The devil doesn’t want you to trust others in the church. 

The other thing he does is make it seem as if what he’s doing is from God.

Isaiah 36:10 (NKJV)
36:10 Have I now come up without the Lord against this land to destroy it? The Lord said to me, 'Go up against this land, and destroy it.' "

This is a deception.  It is something that he’s done before.  In the earliest days of human history, he came to Eve and misrepresented God.  First, he portrayed God as a liar; “You shall not surely die!”  He told her that God had only His own best interest in mind; “God knows you’ll be like Him!”  The Rabshakeh says, “God sent us here to destroy you.” 

This is a type of warfare against the church.  The Rabshakeh isn‘t speaking on his own, the words are the words of the King of Assyria.  People don’t set out to destroy their own church.  They don’t want to see the church die, but they’ve been propagandized.  When they slander the church it’s because they’ve bought into the words of the Rabshakeh.  They’ve believed the propaganda. 

There is a demon over this area.  There is a “Prince of Taiwan.”  The King of Assyria is marching against us.  We’re under siege.  There is an attack on our church.  The devil wants to take you out individually and destroy the church.  We’re a threat to him as long as we trust in God and each other.  We’re a threat as long as we are obedient to God’s calling.  If we trust and obey God, the devil will try to lay a siege against us.  He’ll try to convince us that we’re going against God that we’re not in his will.

When Pastor Mitchell first tried to send out Harold Warner, to Kearney Arizona, Pastor Warner had an accident of the road as he returned to Prescott.  The accident left him with a broken back.  The Prescott church was divided; some people felt that it was a sign that Prescott shouldn’t be planting churches.  It was the voice of the Rabshakeh, “This isn’t God.  We’re not in the will of God.”  So this attack was one of deception.  People were propagandized to believe that the Prescott church was not in the will of God.  That’s his strategy.  It’s an attempt to cause distrust and division among us.  It’s an attempt to weaken us so that we can’t fight effectively. 

Messenger of Discouragement

Isaiah 37:1-3 (NKJV)
37:1 And so it was, when King Hezekiah heard it, that he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord. 2 Then he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz. 3 And they said to him, "Thus says Hezekiah: 'This day is a day of trouble and rebuke and blasphemy; for the children have come to birth, but there is no strength to bring them forth.

This attack has gone on for a while.  Hezekiah had seen the enemy set against him.  He’s heard the words of the Rabshakeh.  He’s seen the reactions of the people, and he’s become discouraged. 

I’ve been in this place so many times, since I’ve been in Taiwan.  I know the depth of the opposition.  The devil has caused people to abandon the church.  I’ve seen them leave and their destinies destroyed.  There have been the physical assaults – Pain and sickness that keep us from outreaching effectively.  There have been the mind battles that have been fought, that have influenced people away from laboring for the Gospel.

I’ve seen the fear that keeps people from relationships:  The fear that makes them unable to witness to family and friends:  That same fear that keeps them from trusting God for their children and their finances.  All of these attacks keep us from moving forward.  These attacks keep people from immersing themselves in God’s will, pressing in and receiving all of the blessing that God has for them.

It discourages – It demoralizes – It brings even more fear.  The battle can’t be won in discouragement. It can’t be faced in strength, when fear is in command.  I’ve learned something recently, and it has come out of a battle that I’ve personally fought with discouragement. 

I sit here in my wheelchair and I look out over a congregation that seems small.  We have about thirty-two people who are a regular part of our church, but the average attendance is between fourteen and twenty.  On any given Sunday there are eight to ten people who choose not to be in attendance.  I started to question myself, “What am I doing wrong?”  I get letters from people all over the world telling me what an inspiration I am, but my own congregation isn’t inspired.  It’s discouraging, but once again it’s the voice of the Rabshakeh.  It’s an assault from the pit of hell.  That’s the strategy; that I will be discouraged.  Discouragement makes it hard to be positive.  It makes it difficult to reach out to other people because we think it won’t work out.  It makes one cynical – “God doesn’t have the power.”  The thing is I can’t look out and see who’s missing; I have to look out and see who’s here and be thankful for them.  Don’t think it’s not important to me, whether or not they’re at church or not.  It is important; they need to be at church for their own sakes.

This is the way he works on some people.  You don’t attach any value to church attendance or spiritual things.  You don’t see how sermons can be valuable to you.  You don’t read your bible, you don’t pray, you don’t tithe.  You’re losing the battle.   You’re being kept from blessing.  It’s difficult for me to watch people allow themselves to be robbed, when I know that God has so much more for them.  But they’ve accepted the lie of the Rabshakeh.  In their minds, God has no power to meet needs.  That’s what leads to fear and discouragement; they’re letting he King of Assyria call the shots in their lives and he has no desire for them to prosper.  He’s coming to destroy.

He’s a thief, a murderer and a destroyer.  He’s come to TAKE – He wants us in hell.  Are you willing to let him have his way with your life – with your children’s lives? 

If we are divided in thought and deed – If we’re not of one accord, then we’re defeated.  The battle against the Rabshakeh was a fight for all of Judah, but it took place in individual hearts.

Beating the Rabshakeh and the King of Assyria

Isaiah 37:3-4 (NKJV)
37:3 And they said to him, "Thus says Hezekiah: 'This day is a day of trouble and rebuke and blasphemy; for the children have come to birth, but there is no strength to bring them forth. 4 It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to reproach the living God, and will rebuke the words which the Lord your God has heard. Therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.' "

“Therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant.”  How many know that prayer is an individual thing?  Each of us has to pray on our own.  It’s one thing to say amen to a prayer that’s prayed.  That’s a kind of agreement – So be it! – Let it be done!  That’s what amen means, but when you build a prayer in your own heart that’s when you become a fighter. 

Your prayer is your own onslaught against the enemy.  You’re saying, “I’m calling on God because I trust Him.  I’m calling out in strength – In power.  I’m standing against discouragement, because I know that God answers prayer.”
Pray for your church – That God will build it and strengthen it.

Pray for outreaches and new converts.

Pray for your pastor – That he will have the mind of God – That he will be able to continue the fight.

Pray for yourself that you will be able to withstand the taunts and lies and remain in your strength.

Pray for each other – Do you do that?  There’s too much at stake to just let people slip away.  We need to have relationships with each other.  There’s strength in numbers.  Make some time for fellowship.  Some of you just run off right after church.  You have no relationships in the church.  You spend all your time with non-believers and you wonder why you can’t seem to see any effect from your salvation.

I’m posting this as a warning.  The devil is real, he hates you and he hates God.  He wants you deceived, discouraged and defeatable.  Don’t play right into his hands.  Don’t let him destroy your salvation.  There’s a saying in Christian circles, “Get on your knees and fight like a man.” 

Finally, do you know what happened in this story?  Look at the end of it:

Isaiah 37:36-38 (NKJV)
37:36 Then the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses--all dead. 37 So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went away, returned home, and remained at Nineveh. 38 Now it came to pass, as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, that his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer struck him down with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat. Then Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.

God destroyed the armies of the King of Assyria.  Judah never left the city.  They never fought beyond prayer and God went out and destroyed Judah’s enemy.  God will be victorious in the battle we face, too.  There will come a day when the demons will no longer have any power.  They’ll be defeated.  Look what happens to Sennacherib, the King of Assyria.  At then end he was struck down and killed by his own sons. And guess what, the devil’s day awaits him, too.  I’ve read the end of the Bible – We win!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Pray in Faith

I have to tell you, I’m inspired by the Book of Acts.  I’ve been doing a pretty in-depth study of it lately, and it’s inspiring.  It’s a history book.  These are things that actually happened.  We can see those events that happened in that day and apply them to our lives.  Why shouldn’t we be able to experience God’s power in the same way that they did? 

Today I want to turn to Acts Chapter 12 and look at an event, a historical event to see what God did there, so we can apply it to our lives and circumstances:

Acts 12:5-16 (NKJV)
12:5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. 6 And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. 7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, "Arise quickly!" And his chains fell off his hands. 8 Then the angel said to him, "Gird yourself and tie on your sandals"; and so he did. And he said to him, "Put on your garment and follow me." 9 So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. 11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, "Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people." 12 So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. 13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter's voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. 15 But they said to her, "You are beside yourself!" Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, "It is his angel." 16 Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.

What do you do When There’s a Need?

Here’s the back story on what’s happening.  Herod – This is King Herod’s son Antipater, also known as Antipas, in trying to impress the Jews killed James, John’s brother. The sons of Zebedee. 

When Herod saw how happy that made the Jews, he reached out and arrested Peter.  This was done during the Festival of Unleavened Bread.  He did that because there were so many Jews present for the festival; he was looking for maximum benefit.  Hi intention was to execute Peter, and gain even more favor with the Jews.

So you can see there is great need here.  Peter was the leader of the early church in Jerusalem at the time.  The church was fearful; hiding themselves away to avoid the persecution.  Most of the church had scattered.  This is taking place after Paul went to Damascus with the intention of bringing people back to prison in Jerusalem.  So, this is an extremely difficult time for the church.  The people need a leader right now and their leader is in prison awaiting execution.

They were powerless to cause a change on their own.  They were too weak.  They were persecuted.  There was nothing they could do to get Peter released, well, there WAS one thing – They could pray...and they did.  The Bible says “constant prayer was offered for him.” 

I wonder how often we feel like the early Christians.  Do you ever feel that events are moving on their own and that you’re powerless to change them?  For example, you get diagnosed with a terminal disease:  You’re company is struggling financially and may lay you off:  You’ve had a car accident and you can afford the expenses.  All of these things look like impossible situations, just like what the church faced in our text. 

What’s your response to this kind of pressure?  I watch people; I know that the first response of a lot of people is to panic; a fear response.  “What shall I do to fix this?”  “How can I make this better?”  Fear, worry, depression – these are our first responses.  Look at what the early church did, they prayed.  The problem is thjat when we do pray, we pray a few times and then we back off.  “I guess this is God’s will,” or, “God must be angry at me to let this happen.”  What does it say about how the early church prayed?  “Constant prayer was offered to God for him.” 

James 5:16 (NKJV)
5:16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

This scripture says that effective is fervent prayer.  That word fervent in one sense means glowing hot, or with great intensity or feeling.  At our church, I’ve been opening and closing in prayer lately, because I’m trying to teach them to pray.  Sometimes, people are so calm when they pray.  “Oh, heavenly Father, we ask you today…”  This isn’t fervent prayer – Remember fervent prayer is effective prayer.  This isn’t fervent prayer so it’s not effective prayer.  The Bible says come BOLDLY before the throne of Grace, to find mercy and HELP in time of need.  (Hebrews 4:16)  

Bold prayer initiates a move of God.  Bold (fervent) prayer can cause a change in circumstances; A supernatural move of God.  In Acts, chapter 12, God caused an earthquake and sent an angel to release Peter from the prison. 

We need a supernatural move of God.  Supernatural means something outside of the natural:  Something greater than a natural turn of events; a literal showing of God’s power.  That’s what's necessary to change circumstances.  What seems impossible to us, God is able to do.

To the early church Peter’s release from jail seemed impossible.  He’s sleeping between two soldiers, he’s chained up, there are guards at the gate, no one’s getting out of that, but Peter was released – The impossible was done, by God through the power of prayer.  What do you do when there’s a need?  Pray!

God Responds to Prayer

Job, in the midst of his suffering, asks this question:

Job 21:15 (NKJV)
21:15 Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? And what profit do we have if we pray to Him?'

What do we profit if we pray to God?  God is moved by our prayers, sometimes it seems like He doesn’t hear us, but I believe that when we pray without a load of hidden sin in our lives that He always hears us.  Then we say if He hears us, why doesn’t he respond? 

First, we don’t know what God has to move in order to answer our prayer.  You pray for finances – Maybe God has to create a new job for you, or put someone in place that will give you a chance.  Sometimes, God isn’t the hold up…we are.  We may lack the confidence to apply and follow through.

Second, there can be demonic interference.  Daniel had a vision (Daniel 10).  He prayed and fasted for God to show him what the vision meant, but for three weeks there was no response.  He heard nothing from God.  He continued in prayer.  Finally, the angel came to him and what did the angel say?

Daniel 10:11-13 (NKJV)
10:11 And he said to me, "O Daniel, man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you." While he was speaking this word to me, I stood trembling. 12 Then he said to me, "Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.

The answer was delayed by the Prince of Persia.  This isn’t a person, this is a spiritual being, a demonic force that was resisting the answer of God.

Third, the answer may be to wait.  We always want God’s response when we want it.  “Hey God, I don’t want to wait.  If I wanted it later I would have waited to demand…uh… I mean ask.  God knows our needs much better than we do.  God knows best when the answer to our prayer will be the best response for us. “I want a husband or wife, right now God,” but God says, “You’re too selfish and immature.  It would be bad for you and him/her.  If you wait I’ll make every dream come true for you both.”  That’s how God thinks.  All good things come from God – Be patient.

Fourth, sometimes the answer is No!  Sometimes it’s even No Way!  If you’re asking for something outside of God’s will, God’s not going to give it to you.  “God, I know you have a calling on my life, but I want to do something else instead.  Please make it happen, God.”

Guess what, it isn’t going to happen unless you do it yourself, like Jonah did, but look how that turned out.  If you do that I hope you like seafood, because that’s what you could become…just like Jonah did.  There is a bright side, though.  Jonah got right with God, and the fish spit him up – right on the shores of God’s will.

Looking for the Answer

There’s one final thought I want to show you from our text.  The church prayed, God moved and Peter is miraculously released.  God takes him safely through the streets to the place where the church is gathered together, praying for him.  He knocks on the door.  A child answers, recognizes Peter’s voice and runs to get the leaders, “Peter’s here!  Peter’s here!”, but NO ONE believes her.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that.

People come to me in pain.  I pray for them and God miraculously heals them.  I ask them, “How does it feel?”  Here’s the answer, “It doesn’t hurt…right now.”  God moved but they didn’t recognize God’s deliverance.   I think this is a pretty common experience for people.  God moves on their behalf and they don’t see it as an answer to prayer. 

The little girl tells everyone Peter’s here and what do they say?  “You’re a nut!  You’re out of your mind!  You’re crackers!”  They couldn’t see it.  They didn’t expect God to answer.  They prayed but they didn’t expect God to answer.  Oh, how many times have I seen that? 

People pray for the Holy Spirit but they don’t get filled – because they don’t expect to.  I wonder what they’re expecting.  What kind of experience are they looking for?

The only one in our text that really got what God was doing was a little girl.  She’s the only one who saw the miracle that God did for what it was; a supernatural answer to their prayers. 

God can move in any way He wants:

He can use another person;
He can use an angel or a bunch of angels;
He can just change circumstances

Matthew 17:20b (NKJV)
17:20 So Jesus said to them, "... if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you."

God moved the mountain,; He brought Peter out, but the adults didn’t think it could really happen, so they missed the move of God.  It takes faith like a child to expect God to move.
 Matthew 18:2-3 (NKJV)
18:2 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3 and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

Children trust God.  One of the women in our church found a parking place at the hospital after driving around a while.  She said, “Oh good, Grandma blessed us.” Her two-year old son immediately said, “No! Jesus blesses.”  That’s child-like faith.  He knows where blessing comes from.  It’s adults who forget and I want to warn you.  Your lack of faith will destroy your children’s.  You have to be careful, they take their lead from you.

When you pray, pray with an expectation of God moving.  When He does you’ll be able to recognize His answer.  Pray fervently; pray boldly; pray with expectation.  Praying with expectation is praying with faith.  God created the universe with a word – I think He can meet your needs – If YOU can believe He can.  When the answer comes don’t be surprised – Be thankful.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Grace Continues to Work in You

Grace!  We’ve all heard of Grace, right?  That word grace can be defined as undeserved mercy.  Here’s an example:

Someone steals from you.  The theft not only takes something of value from you, but maybe you have a sentimental attachment to that thing.  Maybe your deceased father gave it to you. So, it’s not just that you lost something, you lost something that has value for you, beyond the monetary value.  The person gets caught, returns the item to you and asks you for forgiveness.  There are two things you can do.  You can send them to jail or you can forgive and go on.

Forgiving and moving on is grace.  The thief doesn’t deserve it, but you grant it anyway.  That’s grace – That’s what Jesus did.  While we were sinners, He came and died for us, so that we wouldn’t have to suffer God’s wrath.  We didn’t deserve it…but He did it anyway.  God’s grace.

My question for today is this:  Did His grace stop there?  Is His grace life-changing?  His mercy was; I’m not the same since I got saved.  But can grace change you?  That’s what I want to look at today.

1 Peter 5:10 (NKJV)
5:10 But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.

The God of All Grace

So God is the God of all grace.  He has called us to eternal glory.  You know, God could have just written us off.  After Adam sinned He could’ve said, “That’s it, I’m done with these people,” and just written us of, but He didn’t.  In fact, He had a plan to bring us back to Him; back to eternal glory, which is Eternal Life with Him in Heaven.  The plan was Jesus Christ:  Who would come and pay the penalty that we should have to pay.  Look:

Romans 5:12 (NKJV)
5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—

Adam’s sin spread to all of us, because we have all sinned.  So, we have a penalty to pay – The penalty is death.  We will all die, but there is a gift:

Romans 5:15 (NKJV)
5:15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.

The grace of God and Jesus’ grace are gifts that come to all who receive them.  After all, a gift is only a gift if you receive it, right.

Romans 5:18-19 (NKJV)
5:18 Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous.

That gift of righteousness makes us right with God and:

Romans 5:21 (NKJV)
5:21 so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Adam’s sin resulted in the sin of mankind.  Sin became a part of our nature and we all deserved death.  But Jesus came and paid that price for us, even though we didn’t deserve it; undeserved mercy.  It makes us innocent, that’s what justified means.  This is a picture of the grace of God.

There is one other thing I want you to consider here.  God created the Garden of Eden and put Adam there.  He met every need that man would have in the Garden; a place to live, food, meaning and purpose (through the job given to him), companionship and his spiritual need.  God walked with Adam in the cool of the Garden.  They had a personal relationship.  God cared about Adam’s needs – He took care of him.  He walked with him – Spoke to him.  God is a personal God; an emotional God.  He loves us.

1 John 3:1a (NKJV)
3:1 Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!

He created us to have fellowship with Him, so we are also able to have that kind of relationship with Him.  We are the children of God.  God is a personal God, not a mysterious hidden deity.  He cares about our needs.  He cares about our suffering, in the same way a father cares about his children. 

In our text, He warns us that we will suffer for a while, but that He is in control and can use that suffering to do a work in us – To perfect us, establish us, strengthen us and settle us.  So, the grace of the cross didn’t end there.  Grace is ongoing.  God still works in us.  We are made better through suffering.  We’re not just suffering for suffering’s sake.  There is a purpose in our suffering. 

This is why I feel sorry for atheists.  For them all of life is futile.  You’re born into a hostile world.  You suffer all kinds of troubles and pain.  Then you die, never knowing the comfort of God’s grace.  There’s no meaning and purpose to life.  There’s nothing to look forward to.  There no hope of anything better.  What a bummer to think that life here, with all of its suffering, is the best life there is.  No wonder that so many people that don’t know God commit suicide.  There’s no real purpose to life outside of God’s grace.  It’s just one struggle after another.

God’s Grace Extends Throughout our Lives

His grace continues, even after we get saved.  It’s not just limited to what Jesus did for us.  Look at the second part of our text:
 1 Peter 5:10b (NKJV)
5:10 …after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.

I want to elaborate on what I said earlier, He uses our suffering to do a work in us.  

He perfects us – That word perfect means to thoroughly complete us.  This life is a training program; a preparation.  He’s making us ready for eternal life.  He’s working out all of the bad things in us; the selfishness – attitudes; the bitterness – bigotry, anger, and impatience, all the things that make us imperfect humans. 

God knows that we all have some of those things in us.  He uses our suffering to work those things out of us, to perfect us.  That’s how He makes us ready for Heaven.  In modern times, we use that word perfect to mean without flaws.  That’s what God is doing in completing us, taking out the imperfections and flaws.

He establishes us – That word establish means to set fast; to make permanent.  Another way to say it would be, to make it solid.  Sometimes, people have so much trouble serving God:  They’re in, they’re out.  One day, they’re sacrificing for the will of God, another day they can’t even come to church once a week.  They’re not solid, they’re not set fast.  When things go well they praise God; when things go badly they can’t even pray.  Our text tells though, that we suffer a while and God does a work in us.   That suffering can make us solid in the things of God, because when we get to a place where we can do nothing to solve or alleviate the suffering on our own, we have to turn it over to God.  It’s impossible for us.

They say there are no atheists in foxholes.  When the bombs are falling there’s nothing you can do to change the situation…except pray.  Life is like that.  We all encounter situations that we can’t change except by answered prayer.  That’s how we learn that we can trust God.  We realize that without Him life is pretty bleak, so we become less wishy-washy with our faith.  He establishes us in that faith.

He strengthens us – He strengthens our spiritual knowledge and power.  When things get really ugly in the world what do we do?  When we find out we have an incurable disease, or lose a loved one, or our job disappears?  When life gets really bad, what do we do?  Most of us pray.  Most of us want to draw nearer to God. 

Do you know that most people get saved in times of struggle and turmoil in their lives?  People want to come before God with their problems and plead for help. “Oh help me, God, help me!”  We begin to interact with God.  We improve our relationship with God.  We start to read our Bibles to find answers. 

By reading our Bibles we learn more about God:  Who He is and how he works in our lives.  Our knowledge of God increases.  By praying we are able to tap into the power of God.  We become stronger in those things.  Our relationship with God is strengthened.

Finally, He settles us.  He settles us in the sense of settling the frontier.  He builds something in us.  We become more grounded.  We’re not so easily moved.  We’re not so anxious  and worried over circumstances.  We trust God for his grace.  We know that He will come through.

People that are worldly live in fear a lot.
“What of this good thing doesn’t happen.”
“What of this bad thing does happen?”
“What will I do?”  

People get ulcers.  People have anxiety attacks, nervous breakdowns; go to psychiatrists, or just plain freak out.  Some of you may be able to see yourself in that.

We can trust in God to see us through.  That’s the faith part of the Christian lifestyle.  God’s grace is ongoing throughout our salvation. It doesn’t stop.  God is with us all the way through.

That’s How God’s Grace Helps us

We are so lucky to have found Jesus, but we have to be careful, because we sometimes take grace for granted.  We think that because His grace always works in us that we won’t suffer the judgment of sin.  We think thatwe can do whatever we want, but look:
 Romans 6:1-2 (NKJV)
6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

We need to walk away from sin and allow God’s grace to work in us to do those things that we have just spent all this time talking about

Let Him PERFECT you!
Let Him ESTABLISH you.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Are You Converted?

All of us have come from one thing or another.  As a child I was raised as a Catholic.  I went to a Catholic school.  I attended the Catholic Church.  I was taught Catholic values. 

Maybe you were a Buddhist or a Taoist; maybe you practiced Yi Guang Dao, or maybe you were a Muslim, or even an Atheist.  You didn’t believe in God at all, but now you do:  You’ve become a Christian.  You’re no longer involved in what you were doing before.  We would say you were converted, but I have to tell you that just changing religions is not conversion.  For a conversion to take place your life must be transformed.  You don’t think the way you did before.  You don’t speak the way you did before.  You don’t act the way you did before.  That’s conversion.

Acts 9:1-7 (NKJV)
9:1 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" 5 And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads." 6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." 7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one.

Saul Was Who He Was

So, here we have Saul; he’s a persecutor of the church.  Remember, in Acts chapter 8 he stood by while Stephen was stoned.  He held the coats of those who stoned Stephen.  He was a Pharisee of the Pharisees; a teacher of teachers and led a great persecution against the early church.  His attacks caused Christians to leave Jerusalem and scatter throughout the world, but he wasn’t satisfied with just that.  He asked the High Priest to give him authority to travel to Damascus to persecute them there. 

He was breathing threats and murder against the disciples.  Can you picture this?  He had a great hatred toward them.  He was consumed with zeal to destroy Christianity itself…But along the road to Damascus, Jesus confronts Saul and asks him, “Why are you persecuting me?” 

There is a struggle that’s taking place within Saul.  It’s like he’s fighting within himself about things.  When Jesus confronts him He tells Saul, “It’s not easy to kick against the goads.”  This is a word picture – A goad is something that is used to move an animal.  It urges or stimulates and action.  Saul is urged into what he’s doing by a force that’s inside him.  He’s driven to persecute, but Jesus seems to be saying that Saul has been struggling against it…kicking against the goads.

I believe that when we’re sinners, there’s turmoil in all of us.  We’re all seeking God, but since we continue in sin, we feel bad, so rather than change we attack those who’ve already changed.  We’re driven by our sinful nature. 

Suddenly, Saul finds himself face-to-face with the risen Jesus.  This isn’t a vision but a face-to-face encounter.  Look how Saul describes it later:

1 Corinthians 9:1 (NKJV)
9:1 Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?

“Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?”  Jesus met him there at the Damascus road and changed him forever.  Saul the persecutor became Paul the Apostle.  He no longer zealously persecuted Christians.  Now, he zealously preached the Gospel.  There was a remarkable change in him, as a result of his meeting Jesus – This is conversion.

Conversion comes from an encounter with Jesus.  There are people who come to church, but they continue to live the same way that they lived as sinners.  They continue in sin, there’s no change.  There’s no evidence that they’ve been saved.  That word “convert” means to change form; to go from one thing to another.  If there’s no change there’s no conversion.  There must be a change in thought AND action.  Saul’s name change to Paul symbolizes that change.

Paul Had a Testimony

Paul was completely changed in his meeting with Jesus.  He was one way before he met Jesus but was a completely different person afterward.  You can see that this moment of conversion takes place while he is still in Jesus’ presence.  He calls Him Lord, “Who are you Lord?”  The he acknowledges Jesus as Lord over his life, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”  What are you calling me to?  What is the need you have for me? 

Jesus told him to go into the city and he would be told what to do.  He obeyed and went into Damascus and was filled with the Holy Spirit and the Bible says he began immediately to preach in the synagogues.

Acts 9:20-22 (NKJV)
9:20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. 21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, "Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?" 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

This is the testimony – He was a persecutor and insolent man.  He had gone to Damascus to bring them bound to Jerusalem, but now he’s preaching Jesus; even proving that Jesus is the Christ.

What happened to you when you became a Christian?  Did your thinking change?  Do you think about sin differently?  Have you laid aside your sin?  Do you continue in it?  Is there evidence in your life that you’ve been converted?  The sad thing is that there are people in churches all over the world that have never experienced a conversion.  They remain stuck in their sin.  They continue in bondage.  There’s no evidence that they’ve really met Jesus.  They have no testimony of God’s grace on their lives.  It’s God’s grace that changes us.  Look at this:

1 Corinthians 15:8-10 (NKJV)
15:8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

This is Paul writing to the Corinthians.  He’s commenting about his testimony.  He’s writing about the power of the Gospel. 
What we do after we’ve been converted is the result of God’s grace working in our lives.  What Paul is saying here is:  I’ve stopped sinning because of God’s grace giving me the strength to make a decision to live for Him.  I preach the Gospel because of God’s grace, having caused a change in my life; I can’t help but declare the mercy that was extended to me.

As we’re converted and God’s grace works in us it’s natural for us to want to share it.  I want to see God work in other people’s lives like He worked in mine.  I want to share the power of God to change circumstances and lives like he’s done for me.

1 Timothy 1:12-14 (NKJV)
1:12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.

Paul immediately preached Jesus.  He didn’t wait until he understood everything about Jesus.  He declared what God did in him through grace.  There are people who’ve prayed the Sinner’s Prayer, but they’ve never been fully converted.  They’re still bound by the sin they were bound with and I really can’t understand it.  Getting saved is being BORN AGAIN:  It’s a new life; a second chance.  Why would you want to bring the old life into the new one?

Maybe it’s because I was so desperate for a change that I couldn’t remain the same way I was.  I’m so thankful for what Jesus has done in me!  That’s how grace works in you.  Paul changed because of the miracle that God did in him.  He couldn’t remain silent.  I can’t remain silent, either, and that’s also evidence of my conversion.

Paul Began to Live Out the Calling on his Life

In the middle of his conversion Paul asked Jesus, “What do you want me to do, Lord?”  He’s looking for God’s calling on his life.  He’s ready to die to his own will and take up Jesus’ will for his life.  That is absolute evidence of his conversion.  Look at what Jesus says:

Matthew 16:24-25 (NKJV)
16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

This is the mark of a converted Christian.  That word Christian means “Follower of Christ.”  We have no problem following Jesus when He’s going to the place WE want to go, a truly converted Christian, is one who’s willingly following Jesus to a place where he DOESN’T want to go.

Take a look at your own life.  Think about your Christian walk.  Are you calling Jesus Lord?  Have you acknowledged Jesus as authority over your life? 

Do you have a testimony?  Is there a change that has taken place in you as a result of God’s grace?

Are you preaching Jesus?  Do you tell others about what Jesus did in you and can do in them?

Are you denying your will?  Are you following Jesus to the place He wants you to go?

If you can’t answer yes to those questions, then you’ve never really met Jesus, but don’t despair.  He’s waiting for you on your own Damascus road.  You can meet him today and be converted in a moment of time.  Paul’s conversion only took a few moments.  Some people think they have to watch Him for years, follow some ritual, or change before they meet Him.  All it really takes is an openness to His calling on your life – And He is calling.  If you haven’t done so already, then answer the call, today and let His grace work in you.