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 30, 2017

The Blessing of Unity

We live in Taiwan, so recently my wife and I stayed up late to watch the inauguration of the forty-fifth president of the United States of America.  The United States is the most divided it has been since the Civil War.  It has been growing more polarized for the last eight years. 

President Trump has vowed to “Make America Great Again,” but in order to do that he will have to unify America again.  President Lincoln, who stepped into the White House during that first time of great division, quoted the Bible, “A house divided against itself cannot stand…”  He went on to say:

“I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided.  It will become all one thing or all the other” – Abraham Lincoln

I believe that that the greatness of a nation is rooted in the unity of its people.  I believe that this is also true of the local church.  We make the greatest impact, when we are of one accord.  That’s what I want to post about today:

Acts 2:1-4 (NKJV)
2:1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Do You Want Something to Happen?

I usually use this scripture to preach about the Holy Spirit, but I want to look at it in a different light this week.  In fact, I want to focus on one phrase, “with one accord in one place…”  It isn’t just that they were filled with the Holy Spirit, but my purpose is to show you that movement in the church comes from unity of thought and unity of action.  Things happen when we’re together:  Not just in one place but in a spiritual and mental sense, as well.

The disciples about one hundred twenty of them are together in one place.  They’ve gathered; they’re there together.  Everyone is in their place.  Well, at least no one who is completely in agreement with what they’re doing is missing.  It may not be every disciple that was made at that time, but it was those that were of one accord.

These are the ones who’ve caught “the vision” of the early church; the vision of the apostles; the vision of Christ.  They believe in the same thing, but in addition to that, there is camaraderie between them.  They’re not fragmented – They don’t have personal agendas, separate from each other.  They aren’t in cliques – They are of one accord spiritually, mentally, and physically.  They’re united.

It’s when they’re like this that there’s movement in the church.  This is when things begin to take off in the early church.  They’re not all doing different things; they’re together, working toward the same goal, and caring about each other.  It’s when they are in this condition that the Holy Spirit drops into that congregation and revival breaks out.  They’re empowered as a body, not as individuals.

Do you want to see something happen in your church?  Be of one accord.  When we are in one accord that’s when things happen.

Acts 2:46-47 (NKJV)
2:46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

Look at what “one accord” means:

“Breaking bread from house to house” – They spend time together outside of the temple – As a group.  It’s not fragmented: “I’m going with this one person, only!”  “I don’t want to do what the others are doing, so I’m going off by myself.”  Some of them were willing to put aside what they wanted in order to stay with the group. 

“Ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” – They were happy just to be together – They had fun together.  It wasn’t complicated.

“What’s your relationship with that person?”
“It’s complicated…” 

They weren’t looking at each other with mixed emotions. 

“I like this person today, yesterday, not so much.”
“I don’t like what they said, so I’m mad at them.”

It was simple; they accepted each other’s offenses. 

You know, there’s going to be offenses.  People can be irritating.  People will say things you don’t want to hear, but which may be good for you to hear.  People may say something to the pastor so that he can help you but you see it as getting you into trouble.  That’s inwardly-focused thinking:  It’s all about me.  Instead of outwardly focused thinking: It’s all about others.  Some of you are guilty of that – That isn’t holiness. 

The problem with not being of one accord is that the Holy Spirit cannot drop into an unholy place.  When they were of one accord, the Holy Spirit fell.  When they were together, enjoying each other, caring for each other, that’s when the early church exploded into revival.

We need the Holy Spirit.  Look at what Pastor Harold Warner has said when writing on Twitter of the Holy Spirit:

God’s enabling gift to us today: the “indwelling, convicting, sight-giving, desire-producing, strength-affording presence of the Spirit” – Pastor Harold Warner

That’s the gift of the Holy Spirit, look at what we receive:  That Spirit is the Spirit that produces fruit:  Presence of God, conviction, vision, desire and strength.  That’s the power that makes something happen.  It doesn’t come from us alone, it comes from being of one accord, so the Spirit can fall.  Our power is in our unity.

Getting Back to Relationship

I want to look at relationships for a moment, because relationships within the church indicate unity.  Relationships demonstrate a kind of holiness.  Look at this scripture:

Matthew 5:23-24 (NKJV)
5:23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

This scripture shows us how important relationships are to God.  That word brother is talking about, “your brother from another mother,”  not necessarily your blood brother, but your brother and sister in Christ.

You’ve come before God with an offering, a gift for God and you think of some issue between you and someone in the church.  There’s anger, there’s some division; you are not of one accord.  There’s distance growing between you, then:

Leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way.  First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Don’t give that offering until you have come back together with that person that you have an issue with, then come and give the offering.  Do you know what that says?  It says that if you’re not right with your brothers and sisters in Christ, then you’re not right with God.

In Romans 12, Paul shows us what the relationship should be like:

Romans 12:10 (NKJV)
12:10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;

“Be affectionate with one another”; care for each other.  Let each other know how much you care about each other.

Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples by your love one for another.”  Can people see that in your relationships, or do they see squabbling, backbiting and distance?  Do they see God’s love in your relationships, or do they see the same thing they see outside of the church?

“Giving preference to one another” – Have each other’s back.  Stand together.  Hang out with each other.  Wouldn’t you rather be around the people of God?  Is it better to be around people who are opposed to what God is trying to do in your life?  Your sinner friends don’t care whether you remained saved or not.  It’s the brothers and sisters that care about that.

Our relationships are important because they show the world what Jesus can do to change people.  People are naturally self-centered; naturally concerned for their own welfare. 

“I’ve got to get what’s mine, first.”

You don’t have to drive in Taiwan too long to see that.  Nobody can wait for anyone else – I’m first.  If you don’t believe me try crossing the street in front of a taxi.  It’s human nature to think that whatever “important” thing you’re doing, it’s more important than everyone else’s.

Sinners are blown away by people who put others first.  Jesus put all of mankind’s needs before His own.  The Bible says, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  He put our need for salvation before His own life, can’t we just put other people’s needs first, sometimes.  Here’s a truth of life for you, “It’s not always all about you.”

The Blessing of a United Front

Being together, being of one accord, being united is a blessing.  God can use a church that’s united in their vision.  I want to go back to my illustration for a moment.

During the civil war, when the nation was divided there was only turmoil and destruction.  America was being destroyed, millions died, families were torn apart.  Men fought against their own brothers in that war.

Land and livelihoods were stolen and destroyed.  America had lost its greatness.  After the war, after a time of unification, huge things were accomplished:  Huge engineering feats like the Transcontinental Railroad.  There was increased westward expansion – The taming of the west.  There was growth, and economic prosperity.  America came to be viewed as the land of opportunity.  Millions of people emigrated from their homelands because of the promise America held.  That’s the blessing of unity.

If our church is unified, if we’re of one accord, the Bible promises that we will see that same blessing:

Acts 2:47 (NKJV)
2:47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

Do you want to see things happen in your church:  Miracles, financial breakthrough, revival?  That’s the blessing of unity.  The Holy Spirit can fall in a place where the people are of one accord.  When we’re together that’s when things can happen:

John 20:19 (NKJV)
20:19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you."

They’re together, in the same place, for the same reason and Jesus, the risen Jesus, the glorified Jesus walks in and says, “Peace be with you.”

That word peace is interesting in this case.  The Greek word translated as peace comes from a root that means “to join,” as in put together.  Peace comes from being together.  It can also be translated as prosperity – not financial but by being joined together we prosper in the things of God.  I believe that means revival, miracles, financial breakthrough, and growth:  The blessing of unity.  Do you want to see things happen in your church?  Be of one accord.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Eight Ways to Hear From God

I was ordained into the ministry in 2001:  Sixteen years ago.  What’s interesting is that throughout all those years, in two separate nations, two distinctly different cultures, I’ve heard people saying all the exact same things. It’s because there are certain things that are just human nature.  They’re cultural universals; all people regardless of culture have certain traits and attitudes that are built into their psyche.  You just can’t get away from it.  Because of that certain things have been repeated, over and over, in my ministry.  I haven’t been surprised by anything in a long time. 

Today, I want to post about one of those issues that surface from time to time.  People won’t come to me with this because they don’t think it’s a problem.  In fact, I believe that most people think that this attitude is an indication that they’re more spiritual.  So, I want to use this scripture as a jumping-off point:

Hebrews 1:1-2 (NKJV)
1:1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;

I Want to Hear Only from God

The inspiration for this is something that I overheard, recently.  We all know that God speaks to us through sermons, but sermons are generally inspired by what’s going on in the church and congregation.  God doesn’t wake me up with a thundering voice.  He doesn’t show me a vision while I’m eating my lunch.  When God speaks to me I usually feel uneasy about something someone has said or done.  Other times, I’m inspired about the direction that the church is taking.  I begin to turn over in my mind, what I’ve seen or heard.  I will often make the joke, “I think I feel a sermon coming on.”  That’s how it is, I get that sermon feeling.

There are a number of ways that I can gauge how well people in the church are doing in their Christian walk:  Through their lifestyles, through their attendance, involvement, giving, and relationships within the church.

Certain statements can be a red flag, because on the surface it might sound totally spiritual, but there’s something behind it that isn’t God.  It’s actually a cop-out to fully committing to your church, and the people of God.  The person making that statement may not even realize it – The statement is, “I only come here, to hear from God!” 

There is something that’s implied here and that is that if they’re not hearing from God then they’re going to leave.  I believe that, if I’m not hearing from God, then I’m in the wrong church.  The problem is that sometimes you confuse hearing from God with hearing you want to hear.  That’s the question, today, how do you determine whether of not you’re hearing from God? 

In my own experience, people have left our church saying, “I’m not hearing from God, so it’s time to move on.”  People have said, “I had a different experience in another church.”  People have said, “God has led me to leave this church and go to another.”  I’m not saying that it’s never legitimate to leave a church.  Things happen, people fail, even pastors can fail.  If your pastor is immoral, or stealing from the offering, by all means get out of there.  Nothing good is happening there. 

But I think we need t remember and be aware that God placed you in your church.  You didn’t find it by accident; you were placed there and God placed you there for His purposes, not yours.  His purpose is not to start you on a tour of your city’s churches.  He has placed you there as a part of a body; a complement to other talents and abilities, both material and spiritual, that can be used by Him to build His church.

What happens to people sometimes is that they’re looking for preaching on specific topics.  Someone who left our church, called me up before her family left and said, “You never preach on the love of Jesus. You always preach on sin and tithing.”  I preach eight to ten times a month, but that person came to three sermons a month and her husband, even less than that.  They really didn’t know what I preached, because they only heard a small percentage of sermons.  Okay, well I preach a lot on sin, but sin is the biggest obstacle to people getting into heaven.  My job as a pastor is to get them into Heaven.  This couple’s reason for leaving is that they weren’t hearing from God.  But you know how I see it?  Maybe that was what God wanted them to hear.

I think our text says something that we all need to hear, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke…”  At various times in various ways – That word “to vary” means different.  So, at different times in different ways God spoke. 

God doesn’t speak to us, only through sermons that are preached.  God has a number of methods that He uses to speak to us; a sermon is only one way.  In fact, in thinking about that, I came up with seven other ways that God speaks to us.  God reaches out to us “in various ways at various times”.  I really think we limit ourselves when we say, “I only come to her the preaching, because I only come to hear from God.”  I want to look at the various ways that God speaks to us.

Eight Ways to hear From God

I made a list of eight ways God speaks to us.  It’s like God is talk, talk, talking, all the time, but we’re not always listening.  Most of the time we listen to sermons, although I know some of you need to read texts, look at your social media, take phone calls, and say wonderfully witty things to your neighbors, but at any given moment at least a couple of people are listening.

God Speaks through Preaching

1 Corinthians 1:21 (NKJV)
1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

God has always spoken to His people through preaching.  This is how God reaches the lost: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel…” (Mark 16:15) God is able to touch people through the words of a preacher.  It’s not about talent, great oratory skills, or persuasive words.  It’s about God moving and touching people through the MESSAGE – His words through the preacher’s lips.  I’m not preaching what I think; I’m preaching God’s word.  Preaching is the first way that God speaks to us.

God Speaks through the Bible. 

The Bible is called the Word of God, after all.  “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” (2 Timothy 3:16)  I know, I know men wrote the Bible but they were inspired men.  That word translated as inspiration literally means – Divinely Breathed In.  God put that word there.  They received it from God.  It isn’t something that they made up, it was God-breathed.  How do you speak?  You speak through exhalation.  God speaks through the Bible.

God Speaks to us through Prayer

“Come boldly before the Throne of Grace for help in time of need..” (Hebrews 4:16)  We come to the Throne of Grace; the place where God is and cry out for God to move in our lives – and He responds.  It may not be words that He uses, although it often is, it may be actions that speak.  You know the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.”?  Have you ever been moved by seeing something happen:  A child rescued, an unmerited kindness, someone saved?  I get tears in my eyes from these kinds of things – It’s almost embarrassing – They speak to me.

God Speaks to us through Visions and Dreams

“Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams…”  (Acts 2:17)  God does speak through dreams and visions.  God will show you the future.  God will reveal things to you about yourself.  He’ll speak to you about what to say to encourage, or give you things to preach. 

These four things are obviously the work of God, of course He works through those things, but He works in less obvious ways as well.  God can speak to us through other people.

God Speaks to us through Godly Counsel

I don’t know everything; my wife will tell you that.  She’s seen my lack of knowledge firsthand. I don’t have limitless knowledge, but I do have a bit of wisdom.  I have asked and received wisdom when I needed it.  “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God…” (James 1:5)  Wisdom comes from age and experience, but wisdom also comes from God.  I pray and listen for God’s answer.  I know God’s voice.  I can tell you if what you’re struggling with is from God or not.  “God wants me to be rich,” nope that’s not God.  “God wants my obedience to His call,” yep, that’s God. 

God Speaks to us through Relationships

This is a hard one for people.  “I want to hear from God not what these other people think.” Sometimes, God uses a brother or sister in the church to open your eyes to an attitude or an issue of pride.  “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”  (Proverbs 27:17)  If I could say something to some of you, “Get over yourself.  It’s not all about you.”  You’re not the only one hearing from God.  Maybe you didn’t like what was said, “Oh boo hoo hoo.”  Maybe God’s trying to speak to you – “You’ve got a pride problem.  I didn’t save you for you; I saved you for other people.”  God can speak to us through our relationships, and sometimes, He rebukes instead of encouraging.

God speaks to us through Fellowship

“…They were all with one accord in one place.”  (Acts 2:1)  One accord means together in mind and spirit.  They were on the same page together.  Look at this:

John 20:19 (NKJV)
20:19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you."

Jesus didn’t meet with each of them alone, after He rose from the dead.  He always spoke to them when they were together..  Christianity was never intended to be a solo pursuit.  Jesus’ plan included a church; people together.  The church isn’t a group of rugged individuals it is a collection of like-minded people:  It’s called Fellowship.

God Speaks to us through Life Itself

Usually, when things go wrong I life we say, “I need to hear from God.”  Sometimes, life going wrong is hearing from God.  God uses adversity and hardship to change us and mold us.  In Jeremiah 18, when the pot was marred/flawed the potter smashed the clay and made a new pot. “Arise and go down to the Potter’s house and there I will cause you to hear my words.”  (Jeremiah 18:2)  He is the potter and you are the clay.  Can you hear Him speak?

Getting All That God Has For You

Do you really want to hear from God?  Some are reading this and may be angry, sometimes God rebukes.  Others are saying, “Oh, this is just what I needed to hear.”  Either way I want you to know that this is a godly message.  The question is, “What are you going to do with what God has said?” 

Do you want all that God has for you?  Then it’s time to fully commit yourself to your church.  Here’s a way to start:

Acts 2:44-47 (NKJV)
2:44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

This is a description of the first century church.  Isn’t it interesting that it doesn’t say anywhere, “hearing from God!”  It was just assumed that you’d hear from God if you really wanted to.  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.”  ( Luke 11:9)  Hearing from God, isn’t pastor’s responsibility; it’s your own responsibility.  If that’s true and you’re “coming only to hear from God” and you’re not hearing from Him then you’re missing it.  “I have to leave the church because I’m not being fed.”  It’s not that you’re not being fed; it’s that you’re not eating.

Look at Acts 2 again.  This is the design of the church, “Continuing daily of one accord.”  Our church is Pentecostal.  We’re not Baptists or Lutherans.  We’re not Calvinists or Hyper-gracers.  It’s not about “me and God.”  It’s about us and God. 

God never showed up to referee doctrine.  Figure out what you believe and who you follow.  I’m not saying those others aren’t godly, I’m just saying I would choose what God has chosen for me. 

“Breaking Bread from house to house.”  They had relationships:  They thought that it was important to spend time in each other’s company. I’ve heard people say, “I just want to come to church; I’m not interested in that other stuff.”  According to this, that other stuff is part of God’s plan.

You can’t be a lone ranger for Christ.  Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.  You can’t break bread from house to house and stay home alone.

I thank God for my brothers and sisters in Christ.  They encouraged, they exhorted and they rebuked.  In short, they helped me stay saved.  I could get pretty squirrelly on my own – believe me!

“Sold all their possessions, divided them among all, as any had need.”  They were involved in each other’s lives and problems.  We’re not going communist, this was written in a different time and different situation, but they cared for each other.  They helped one another.  They were there for one another.  It wasn’t about me getting my needs met.  It was about others getting their needs met.  Outreaches, musical groups, drama events, those things are about being there for other people:  Helping other people to come and find Jesus.  This is what was commanded to all of us.  Get involved in what your church is doing.

Finally, a relationship between you and God is about more than you and God.  If it wasn’t God would never have established the church structure.  “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together…” (Hebrews 10:25)  This is the Bible saying be a part of your church.  Does it sound like a suggestion?  It isn’t.    The reason that Jesus used the church structure is simple.  It’s because it’s the best way for people to stay saved and make it to Heaven.  We need each other.  Jesus spoke to them when they were together.  Do you want to hear from God?