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.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Faith to Hear From God

Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible, and receives the impossible. What a true statement that is. We have seen this type of faith before.

It’s the faith of Abraham, that this descendents will number the sand on the seashore. It’s the faith of Sarah that she will have a child at 90 years of age. It’s the faith of the centurion that Jesus will heal his servant. It’s the faith of the woman who pesters Jesus for her demon-possessed daughter. It’s the faith of Mary as she hears from an angel that she is to be the mother of the Christ. It is also the faith of Joseph as he looks at his pregnant fiancé and makes the decision not to put her away. This is the kind of faith that believes the incredible.

Matthew 1:18-25
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.21 “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying:23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife,25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.

The Faith to Believe

Our text takes place at an amazing time in history. This is the beginning of the fulfillment of the most ancient of prophecies. This is the fulfillment of the scriptures that a redeemer is to be born. Was he really born on December 25th? Probably not. Did it really take place? Without a doubt! Every Christian knows the truth of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, because we have the benefit of the Bible. We can look backwards through history and see what has already taken place. We can see what Jesus did in life.

But think about Joseph for a moment. He didn’t have the benefit of history to understand what’s taking place at this moment. He’s only seeing the woman he has pledged to marry, and she’s pregnant, and he knows that he’s not responsible. Can you imagine what must have gone through his mind? What would you have thought?

This is the woman that he’s chosen to marry. Being pregnant before marriage brought huge disgrace to your family, and your future husband. It isn’t like today where you rarely meet someone who gets married before starting a family. This is serious stuff. This is a huge blow to Joseph.

Deuteronomy 22:23-24
23 “If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her,24 “then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor’s wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you.

This is what Joseph is seeing when Mary comes up pregnant. He’s thinking that she hasn’t protected her virginity. We get a glimpse of his character that he didn’t have her stoned, that he was looking to put her away, or divorce her, quietly.

But his thoughts and actions are not thoughts and actions of faith. His thinking is that she has committed adultery. His thinking is that he’s going to divorce her. He’s not thinking that she is the vehicle by which God will bring his promised redeemer into the world. But then God speaks to him and he’s convinced.

Blaise Pascal French mathematician and philosopher once said, “It is the heart that senses God, and not the reason. That is what faith is: God perceptible to the heart and not to reason.”

He recognizes God because he has a heart for God. What if you had found yourself in the same place? Would you be able to hear from God? Maybe God has spoken to you but you didn’t recognize God’s voice.

Have you ever wondered why people get so nervous when you say something like God spoke to me last night? I remember in the 2000 election George Bush said, “God has called me to the presidency.” And the press freaked out. President Bush recognized the call of God, because he has a heart to hear from God and the press didn’t because they don’t have a heart to hear from God.

Joseph’s heart is tender toward the voice of God, and that’s how we should be. God speaks to us in different ways. He can speak in a vision or a dream.

Joel 2:28-30
28 “And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. 29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. 30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke.

Or he can speak through his word…the Bible. Or through a man of God, the question is are you able to hear from him? Joseph heard from God…and he had to hear from God and believe in order that the prophecies could be fulfilled.

Jesus was to be born into the house of David. Joseph was in the lineage of David.

If you look at the beginning of Matthew Chapter 1 you will see the lineage of Jesus. From Adam to Noah; from Noah to Abraham; from Abraham to David; Follow it all the way down to verse 16

Matthew 1:16
16 And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.

Mary wasn’t in the lineage of David, Joseph was. So Joseph had to accept Mary and Jesus, mother and child so that Jesus would fall into the lineage of David. I’m sure at first this was a difficult thing to accept.

What about you? Has God ever called you to something difficult, and your response was, “That’s not God, if it was God it wouldn’t be so hard.” I’ve seen people turn down a calling to preach because of the hardship it would put on their family. They said it wasn’t the right time. The economics of the situation weren’t advantageous. It’s too hard right now. I wonder if they will ever get the opportunity again. Pastoring is a call from God, but those men’s hearts weren’t tender to the voice of God at that moment and they missed the call. What would have happened if Joseph’s heart wasn’t tender to hear from God? What would have happened if Joseph missed the call of God on his life?

What are you hearing from God these days? To what is God calling you? What would happen if you miss the call of God on your life? Look at Esther for a moment.

Esther 4:14
14 “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

God will do what He must do to bring to see His plan play out. He will bring it about through some other person or some other means. But who knows if God has orchestrated the events in your life to put you in a place to bring His plan to fruition. For Esther to go to the king and plead for the Jews was dangerous and difficult, but she’d heard from God so she did it. Have you ever heard from God? Would you recognize the voice of God if he spoke to you? What is hardest for us to remember is that God calls us, to salvation and to his will for his purpose and not our own.

Answering the call of God has never been easy. Moses had to face his fears and go before Israel and Pharaoh in order to live out his call. Gideon had to go to battle against an entire army with 300 men in order to live out his call. Joseph had to put away his fears and the reproach to be man God called to be the father of the incarnation of God on earth. Do you think God’s call will be easier for you than it was for these men? Do you think it will come without sacrifice; without risk?

I have a friend that was a missionary, right here in Taiwan. He originally went to the mainland of China to preach. He was in the city of Guang Zhong for a number of years. But the secret police infiltrated his church and one day he received a call from his employer that he needed to come to the school immediately. He was called there for questioning and possible arrest. He had two small children, he had a wife and he and his wife were ordered to appear. He didn’t know what would happen. It was very possible that he would be put in prison, possibly tortured maybe even executed. His wife faced the same fate. He was in the will of God. Maybe God needed his martyrdom to do something he wanted to do. He knew that this moment was a possibility when he left America. But he took the risk to be in the country. He took the risk for the call of God.

Standing By Your Faith

Matthew 2:13-15
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt,15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

Joseph hears the voice of God once more and again he responds to God’s words spoken in a dream. This time he is called to abandon his comfortable life and go into Egypt to protect what God is doing. At this point there is no visible danger. The Magi have come but Herod isn’t angry…he isn’t having babies killed yet. But this dream tells him to get up and go, because the king will come after him. Look at verse 16.

Matthew 2:16
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.

It was after Joseph left that Herod went off. After Joseph had gotten Jesus safely out of the way. He left right after the dream. He’d seen no evidence of danger but he left on the words of a dream; he left on faith. He left all that he had had, his carpentry business, His home, who knows what else. Faith is taking action when there’s no visual evidence that action must be taken. Faith is taking action even when you can’t see that the action you take is the best course of action.

How many things do we do on faith every day? We fly on airplanes, that’s something we do on faith. Faith, that the plane is in good condition; that the pilot knows how to fly it: That the Air traffic controllers won’t make a mistake. All of these things are a step of faith aren’t they?

We can easily have faith in men, but it’s more difficult to have faith in God isn’t it? Why is that?

We can get on an airplane without fear because we have seen airlines fly millions of miles without accidents. There is visual evidence that air travel is safe.

There is not always visual evidence of God’s call. Sometimes we have to just believe that God has called us. Sometimes we are going to doubt that calling when we don’t see anything happening right away.

When I pioneered my first church I believed that I was where God wanted me. That Riverside is the city that God had given to me. But then nothing happened. For the first 6 weeks we didn’t see any visitors. That’s when doubt began to creep in.

What went through Joseph’s mind when he abandoned his home and went to Egypt? Maybe there was some time that passed before Herod started killing babies. Maybe Joseph had a hard time establishing his trade in Egypt. I wonder if doubt began to creep in. I wonder if he got discouraged and wanted to go home. He was there for a while before Herod died. But he stood by the dream, didn’t he? He stood by what he was sure was the call of God, even through the difficulty. Do you think that once we have answered the call that everything will go smoothly? “Hey it’s God’s will…it’s all gravy from here.” What happens when you’re called on to struggle to protect God’s will?

I am amazed by men who are called to pioneer churches and quit after a couple of years. “I wasn’t seeing what I wanted to see.” I wonder what they went out expecting. Did they think there would be no struggle? Did they think that the Devil wasn’t going to just hand over the city? “Oh, God called you? My mistake, here it is.”

The thing that kept me going for a number of years was my pastor saying, “In the first couple of years what God is doing in the man is more important than what he’s doing in the church.” What is it that builds character in men, blessing or adversity?

Sometimes what God is doing isn’t apparent. Sometimes you have to continue on without any evidence that God is doing anything at all. You have to have faith that it was God who called you in the first place. Joseph packed it all up and left in the dead of night, because he was sure that it was God who had called him in the first place, and it became necessary to protect what God was doing. Sometimes God needs us to take an action to see His plan come to fruition. We need to be sensitive to the Voice of God and faithful to act when we hear His voice. This is also a step of faith.

Being a Part of the Plan of God

Matthew 2:19-23
19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,20 saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.”21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Once more Joseph is called in a dream. Once more he acts on his faith that it is God calling him. Many times in the Christmas season Joseph is the forgotten man. We see him in the “nativity Scene” but he’s in the background. Mary gave birth to Jesus, she wrapped him in swaddling clothes. The Shepherds are gathered around, they heard the cry of the angels. The wise men are there with their gifts and their adoration. Even the animals are looking in. But Joseph is kind of lost in the scene; he’s a bystander.

But it is Joseph’s faith that saw the plan of God through. It is his faith that gave fulfillment to the prophecy. Every time God spoke he responded in faith, and made a decision that resulted in the plan of God being fulfilled.

God gives us the ability to be a part f his plan by speaking to us and then allowing us make a decision to act in faith and move his plan forward. That should give us pause, shouldn’t it? It should require us to stop and prayerfully consider any decision we make. Is it a decision I’m making in faith? . Will it advance the plan of God or not?

It is interesting that each dream mentioned a specific prophecy. 1) You shall call His name Jesus. 2) My Son shall be called from Egypt. 3) He shall be called a Nazarene. Joseph must have understood the prophecies concerning the messiah, so he could understand whether or not the dreams were from God. Like Joseph, we have to prepare ourselves to hear from God. We must study the scriptures to recognize God’s character so we’ll recognize God. Joseph must have heard God’s voice before, so he recognized it as the voice of God. He was a good Jew, he must have prayed.

Finally, look at Daniel’s life for a moment. We’ve heard the story of Daniel interpreting the dream of Nebuchadnezzar. The king had a dream, he didn’t remember the dream, but it disturbed him. So he called his wise men to tell him what the dream was and what it meant. They couldn’t tell him the dream or the interpretation so he was going to kill them all. So they came for Daniel and Daniel asks for more time:

Daniel 2:13-19
13 So the decree went out, and they began killing the wise men; and they sought Daniel and his companions, to kill them. 14 Then with counsel and wisdom Daniel answered Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, who had gone out to kill the wise men of Babylon;15 he answered and said to Arioch the king’s captain, “Why is the decree from the king so urgent?” Then Arioch made the decision known to Daniel.16 So Daniel went in and asked the king to give him time, that he might tell the king the interpretation.17 Then Daniel went to his house, and made the decision known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions,18 that they might seek mercies from the God of heaven concerning this secret, so that Daniel and his companions might not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.19 Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. So Daniel blessed the God of heaven.

God brought clarity through prayer. A lot of the time our faith is based on our relationship with God: The stronger the relationship, the stronger the faith. God has a plan and a purpose that he is trying to fulfill. Often it is up to us to act in faith and move the plan forward. Sometimes it involves difficulty, sometimes we have to fight to protect it, and sometimes we have to act in a way that will cause it to come to pass. So we want to be sure our actions line up with the will of God. We can become sure that they do if we will pray and seek God for direction. Once we make a decision we need to e committed to seeing it through. These are actions of Faith. These are decisions that will move the plan of God forward. Joseph lived this out, because he was a man of faith.


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