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, February 27, 2017

Deep Cover Christians

In 2010, the FBI burst into a home in Boston.  They arrested Donald Heathfield and Tracy Foley.  He was an international business consultant, and she was a real estate agent…except they weren’t.  They were actually deep cover Russian spies, who had been living and operating in America for ten years.  None of their neighbors even knew they were Russian.  Even their children had no idea that their parents were Russian spies.  The government would never have found out at all, if one of the members of the Russian spy team hadn’t defected and told the story.

In the church there are people who operate “under the radar.”  That means that they’re Christians but friends, co-workers and sometimes even family members don’t know.  Today, I want to post on “Deep Cover Christians,” starting with this scripture:

John 3:1-7 (NKJV)
3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." 3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'

Secret Agents for Jesus

In the illustration that I used, we saw a family that seemed to be like other Americans, but were really Russian spies.  They were not what they appeared to be.  They told no one their secret.  They kept it to themselves. 

In our text we see Nicodemus; he’s coming to Jesus at night.  Why did he come at night?  Did he come after work?  Was he afraid Jesus would be too busy during the day?  He came at night because he didn’t want to be seen.  He was coming in secret.  He was afraid to be seen with Jesus.  He’s a deep cover Christian. 

Do you know that there are deep cover Christians in every church, today?  There are people who are afraid to let others know that they believe in Jesus.  Nicodemus believed that Jesus was sent by God.  He believed that Jesus was the Messiah that Israel waited for, but he had to keep it a secret.  He was part of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Israel.  The Sanhedrin wanted Jesus dead and his followers to go away.  If they knew that Nicodemus was meeting with Jesus he would be in danger.  He would suffer persecution for his belief.

In certain places and certain historic times there has been persecution.  In Roman times, Christians met in secret tunnels, called catacombs to avoid being arrested and killed.  They had secret symbols to notify people of meetings.  There was real danger in being a Christian on those days.

There are places in the world right now where it’s dangerous to be a Christian.  In the Middle East, Christians are sometimes beheaded.  In China, Christians are often arrested.  In Indonesia, Christian churches are burned:  Pastors and workers are beaten or killed.  Right now, Christians are the most persecuted people in the world. 
In Taiwan, though, there is very little danger of persecution.

A number of years ago a man tried to have me deported:  He was a backslider, angry about something.  So, he called the Foreign Affairs Police, the tax board, the labor board, the local narcotics cops, and others to investigate me.  I received a call from the Foreign Affairs Police to set up an interview.  My first question was, “Have I done something wrong?”  The answer was, “Sir, religion in Taiwan is free.”

So, keeping our Christianity secret is not life or death.  That being said, some people have reasons for not being open about being a Christian.  They’re afraid that their families won’t accept it.  They don’t want to look different to their co-workers.  They carry fear that their classmates will think they’re weird.  So, they hide it, family can never know.  They don’t mention Jesus at work.  They certainly never witness to co-workers.  They act like everyone else at school.  They’re not different from the world.  There’s a shame about Jesus.  Are you ashamed of the Gospel?

Romans 1:16 (NKJV)
1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

I think that part of the problem is a fear of rejection.  People are afraid that their friends and family won’t accept them.  The Message Bibles says, “It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim…”  Are you proud to proclaim, “I’m saved – I’m a Christian!”?  Some people in the church are proud to proclaim that.   Why are they not afraid to say it?  Why are they not ashamed to admit it? 

You Must Be Born Again

Nicodemus comes to Jesus and confesses that he believes:

"Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."

“I know God sent you.  I know you’re the Christ.  I believe.”  What does Jesus say to that?  “You must be born again!”  There is something that takes place as we are born again.  You become a new person!

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

Old things have passed away!  You’re not the same person.  Old fears pass away.  Old prejudices pass away.  Old ways of thinking pass away.  Old behaviors pass away.  All things become new:  A new boldness, a new way of thinking, new behaviors. 

Nicodemus comes to Jesus, but there’s an underlying fear.  He tells Jesus that he believes in Him, but he doesn’t want anyone to know.  Jesus identifies that Nicodemus is not born again.  He’s professed that he believes, but Jesus can see his need to be born again, because of his fear of being discovered as a believer.  If you’re born again you cannot keep it hidden, because that becomes the primary thing that defines you.  Your life is built around Jesus and salvation.  Everybody that knows me knows I’m a Christian.  There’s no confusion about where I stand.

The change that took place in me was apparent.  I was struggling with aspects of my life.  I was depressed and miserable.  I hated myself and I hated living.  Then I got saved.  I was born again and it was immediately apparent that I was different to everyone that knew me.

The old things have passed away and all things were made new.  I couldn’t help myself but to tell people what had happened to me.  It’s like a bottle of soda pop.  When you shake it up, it creates a pressure to escape the container.  It can become so great that if the pressure isn’t released, it will burst the container.  I was shaken up by what had happened in my life.  I had to tell people about Jesus.  It was just bubbling out.  The pressure to tell people about Jesus was greater than the fear of what might happen, and there was a price to pay.  My boss reacted.  My parents reacted.  What could they do?  There was no denying that something powerful was happening for the better in my life.  There was no fear.  I simply refused to go back to that kind of suffering, and I was unashamed to credit Jesus for that change.

So, why is there fear?  Why does this fear represent a person who isn’t born again?  The fear that keeps people from proclaiming the Gospel is based on unbelief.  Fear and faith cannot coexist.  They’re directly opposed.  Let me give an example – People are afraid that if they tithe there won’t be enough to provide for their needs or their family’s needs.  God has promised to provide. 

Matthew 6:26 (NKJV)
6:26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

If we allow fear to overrule faith, that’s not new thinking.  That’s the old way of thinking, old things haven’t passed away.

Overcoming Fear

I want to look at one last thing with regard to being a secret agent for Jesus.

John 19:38-39 (NKJV)
19:38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. 39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.

These two men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were both secret agents for Christ.  Joseph was a disciple in secret “for fear of the Jews.”  Nicodemus came by night because of fear, but now they’ve done a very public thing for Jesus.  Joseph defied the Sanhedrin and went to Pilate asking for the body, in order to bury it.  He even gave his own unused tomb.  Nicodemus purchased and delivered the things need to bury Him.  People saw what they had done.  These things were done in the open.  The fear is gone.  They’re no longer allowing it to rule their lives.  They’re thinking in an entirely different way.  New thinking!  The old things have passed away.  They’re born again.

What about you?  Is your life rule by fear or faith?  Do you have faith in some things in the Bible and not others?  Partial faith is no faith.  You must be born again.  Are you ashamed to speak the truth of the Gospel, because you’re afraid of what family will say?  Do you worry that you won’t be accepted because you’re a Christian?    That’s the old way of thinking – You must be born again.  Are you a secret agent for Jesus?  I have to tell you Jesus has an army.  Jesus has disciples, but he doesn’t have secret agents.

Mark 16:15 (NKJV)
16:15 And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

If you want to overcome fear and be full of faith you need to swallow the fear and tell someone.  We overcome fear by confronting fear, isn’t that right?  Get rid of fearful thinking and embrace faithful thinking.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Call of the Non-Conformist

Today, I want to post something that’s usually not real popular – Sacrifice.  Sacrifice isn’t what we want serving God to be about, is it?  Fellowship, camaraderie, fun and ministry that’s what we want serving God to be about. 

I want to say something about the word serve, as in "I serve God".  It’s not just about stopping things the bad things you’re doing.  It’s not about praying.  If you’re going to serve God you’re going to have to do something.  A servant does something.  Today, I want to post on that from this portion of scripture:

Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV)
12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

A Living Sacrifice

Let’s first define the word sacrifice.  Sacrifice is defined by Mirriam-Webster Dictionaries as the destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else.  Giving up our sin is a form of sacrifice.  Giving of our resources is a form of sacrifice.  Giving up our "down time" is a form of sacrifice.

But this says “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”  In the Old Testament sacrifices always consisted of giving an animal to be killed and burnt on the altar.  The word altar comes from a word that means immolate or burn up.  If you were a sacrifice you had to die.  There was no living sacrifice.  Of course, animals, not people were sacrificed.

In the New Testament God has done away with animal sacrifice. 

Hebrews 10:10-12 (NKJV)
10:10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God,

Because of what Jesus did, the slaughter can stop.  Jesus was the last sacrifice ever at the temple, but our text tells us there’s a new type of sacrifice; a living sacrifice.  You might call it a change of lifestyle.  A living sacrifice is sacrificing the sin that you’ve been living.

This is one of the things that keep people out of the church, though.  There are pastors and leaders who don’t dare preach on sin because it will cause certain people to leave.  People want to be comfortable that they can enter Heaven with the sin that’s in their lives.  Unfortunately, that’s not true.  A pastor that never preaches on sin, your specific sin, isn’t doing you any favors, because there’s no opportunity available for conviction or repentance. 

The reason for their reluctance is that people don’t want to give up their sin.  They like it!  We always think we can control the affects of sin.  No one thinks that they’re going to become an alcoholic when they have their first drink.  They just think that they’re having fun.  No one plans on Lung Cancer when they first start smoking.  No one ever sees the consequences of their sin happening in their lives.

We sin because there’s some reward in it for us.  Maybe it’s fun, or maybe it looks appealing.  That’s why beer commercials make it look like everyone’s having a good time.  The guys are getting the chicks because they’re drinking the right beer.  Everyone is laughing, and happy.  You’re not going to sell a lot of beer by showing some guy dying, or becoming a paraplegic because he was driving drunk.  It’s designed to make it look appealing, so people will buy that beer.

If you’ve ever smoked, do you remember your first cigarette?  Did you feel cool, or just nauseous?  You have to work at sin until you begin to enjoy it.

The problem is that we become attached or addicted to sin.  Sometimes, we just don’t want to stop.  Fornication is like that; it feels good.  Drunkenness feels good.  It’s a sacrifice to quit that – A living sacrifice.  Our text tells us that’s our reasonable service.  That word reasonable means not excessive.  It’s reasonable; within reason. 

Let me tell you what an unreasonable or excessive sacrifice is.  Having your beard ripped out, and your back laid open, then carrying a heavy wooden cross to the place of your execution.  Then being thrown onto that cross, having nails driven through the mass of nerves in your wrist and ankles, and being lifted up to slowly suffocate.  All of that happens and you’re innocent…that’s an unreasonable sacrifice.

All we are called to do is repent; change our minds, give up the carnal, sensual things – reasonable service – and be holy; set aside for God’s use:  Reverent; in awe of God.  This is where the service comes in.

When we talk about service, we often say things like, “I gave up drugs and drinking, I’m serving God.”  The problem is that when you use the word service it implies that you’re doing something.  A servant serves – they’re doing something.  You’re really only a servant of God if you’re doing something that serves God’s purpose or needs.  What are God’s purposes in the world?  To save sinners.  What are you doing to serve God in that area? 

A servant doesn’t look at church like it’s a social club.  A servant doesn’t see church as a place you visit when you want or need something.  A servant prepares him/herself to meet the needs of God.  That Bible calls that our reasonable service. 

It’s not enough just to stop sinning.  The Bible tells us we need to look for what we can do to serve God.  It’s reasonable for God to expect that because look at what He sacrificed to buy us back from sin.  He gave His only Son so that we could walk away from sin, once and for all.  It’s reasonable for God to expect that we would be holy in that new life.

Here’s a spiritual truth in the form of a question:  Why would you want to take the issues and problems of the old life that drove you to salvation, into the new life that you’ve been given?

It’s like the guy who’s been given a new lease on life through a liver transplant risking the destruction of the new liver by continuing to drink excessively and use drugs.

Being a Non-Conformist
 Romans 12:2 (NKJV)
12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

There’s an old joke about non-conformists:  You can’t tell them apart – They all look the same.  That's what non-conformity may look like in the world, but it isn't true of Christianity.  We are called to be different from the world.  Look at this – It’s the vow of nazarite:

Numbers 6:2-6 (NKJV)
6:2 "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, 3 he shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins. 4 All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin. 5 All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. 6 All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body.

The vow is about separation to God’s use, right?  Verse two says, “to separate himself to the Lord.”   That’s what holy means, right?  The vow sets out the steps to do that.  No wine or similar drink – No vinegar.  Vinegar is the Bible’s way of saying alcoholic wine.  They shouldn’t cut their hair, and should stay away from dead bodies.  This is different from the way non-nazarites lived.  Another way to say that is that the non-nazarites lived like the world lives.  Nazarites don’t conform to the worldly behaviors.

Our text calls us to be modern-day nazarites. “Do not be conformed to this world;” be different.  Our behavior should be different from the people of the world.  People should be able to see holiness or separation in our lives.  “Hey those Christians, they're not like us.”  Think about this – If we’re not involved in all the things the world is involved in, drunkenness, fornication, drugs, and immodesty to name a few. I’m talking about sin or self-destructive behavior.  Sin is self-destructive, “The wages of sin is death.”  If we’re involved in all those things how can we say that Jesus has the power to change lives?

Do you know what one of the most depressing aspects of my old life was?  It was thinking that I had ruined my life:  That I’d never be anything but a drunk:  That there was no hope for change.  I couldn’t see a way out of the mess that my life was in until I met people whose lives had changed, because of what Jesus had done in their lives I knew it was real, because they didn’t live like me.  They were transformed; changed by the renewing of their minds.  They had a different way of thinking.  While  we're involved in sin, we're not in our right minds.  We're involved in self-destructive thinking.  Self-destructive thoughts are not right thinking.  In many cases it’s a form of mental illness, but by choosing not to conform to the world.  By being holy, by separating ourselves to God’s use, which is our “reasonable service” we're transformed.  Their minds are made new, that’s what renew means; to make new again.  We came to ourselves.  We're now in our right minds again.  I’m a non-conformist now.  I’m not like the world.

Continue in Sin

Romans 6:1-4 (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? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

So, as we become Christians – followers of Christ – we discontinue the sin we in which we were involved.  It’s a reasonable sacrifice; let it go.  Jesus died to free us from that.  He paid the penalty.  We have chosen to follow Him and in doing that we’ve received the call of that nazarite vow.  We’ve died to sin.

As we pass from the death of sin into a new life in Christ.  We leave the old behaviors, the old way of thinking behind.  We begin to walk in the newness of life.  

Be new.  You have a new life, you can let go of the old one.  I’ve been saved twenty-five years and I still wake up marveling that I feel good.  Before, I started every morning with a curse word. Oh, _____, it’s morning.  I hate morning!”  I was still sick from the alcohol of the night before.  I hated life.  I’m delighted that I didn’t have to bring that into my new life.  Now, I usually wake up cheerfully…usually. 

I sacrificed the drunken behavior.  I’ve taken up my reasonable service.  I’m living for Jesus, and my mind is renewed. 

We think our text is a command, but really, Paul is begging us to do that.  He’s saying, “Try it.  You’ll be transformed. Your mind will be renewed.  I think it’s sad when people go into their new lives in a half-hearted way.

“I’m only going to give this much.”
“I’m not offering my body as a living sacrifice.”
“I’m only giving a part of me to God’s will.”

It’s sad, because if you’re thinking that way, you’ll never experience real transformation.  You’ll always be stuck with a certain part of your sin.  You’ll never know complete escape, and you’ll always wonder why Christianity doesn’t work for you.  The best advice I can give you is from an old television commercial.  The tag line of the commercial was, “Try it, you’ll like it.”