Why Standing Stones?

Why Standing Stones?

In ancient Israel, people stood stones on their end to commemorate a powerful move of God in their lives. It was a memorial to something God spoke or revealed or did. Often these standing stones became reference points in their lives. Today, we can find reference points in the written Word of God. Any scripture or sermon can speak something powerful into our lives, or reveal something of the nature of God. In this blog I offer, what can become a reference point for Christians, taken from God's ancient word and applied to today's world.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Satanic Strategies

When we go through troubles we think God is mad at us.  “God’s punishing me,” or “Why is God doing this to me.”  But only good things come from God, so when we have bad things happen to us, we assume it’s the devil, and it is…in a way.  I want to look at some things in a different light.  I want to look at struggle and turmoil through Job’s experience, and apply it to our lives.

Job 1:6-12 (NKJV)
1:6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 And the Lord said to Satan, "From where do you come?" So Satan answered the Lord and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it." 8 Then the Lord said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?" 9 So Satan answered the Lord and said, "Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!" 12 And the Lord said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person." So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

God Allows Satan’s Attack

God called a meeting of the sons of God – wait what?  I thought God had only one Son.  Jesus the Son of God:  Jesus is the only begotten Son of God:  Begotten, means born.  The phrase “sons of God” in this usage refers to direct creation.  They have no mom.  Adam is a son of God.  Satan is a son of God, that’s why he’s at that meeting

The second thing we need to know about Satan is that he’s running to and fro on the earth.  He’s here; he’s there.  He isn’t omnipresent.  He can’t be in more than one place.  He’s not like God.  He’s not everywhere.  He’s running to and fro on the earth.  He’s here on earth.

Do you ever feel like you’re under spiritual attack, but then things get better for a while and then the attacks return?  It’s because he’s gone away and then comes back.  When he tempted Jesus in the desert in Luke 4 Jesus resisted.  Look at what it says:

Luke 4:13 (NKJV)
4:13 Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.

He does have helpers, though, so there are always attacks.

We have this idea that if we’re saved, love God, and live righteously then we won’t be attacked by the devil, because we’re under God’s protection, but look at our text.  Here’s Job, blameless and upright, he’s doing all the right things.  God even brags about him, but the devil says, “Yeah, because you give him everything, and you’ve built a hedge around him, (you protect him), so of course he loves you…but take it all away and he’ll curse you in this.”  So, the devil wants to attack Job, because he IS righteous.  The devil doesn’t go after you if you’re a Christian in name only.  If you’re not living the will of God, he doesn’t have to go after you.  He already owns you.  He doesn’t have to lead you into some gross sin.  He just needs to turn you away from God.  This is what he’s trying to do with Job.  “He’s blameless and upright?  I can make him curse you.” 

So here’s the hard part to understand – God says “Oh yeah, try it!  Do whatever you want, just don’t kill him.”  God allows us to be attacked.  Satan has to have permission to go after us.  This isn’t God testing us, it’s the devil:

Luke 22:31-32 (NKJV)
22:31 And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you; that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."

Satan asks to test Peter, and Jesus permits it.  He even knows that Peter will fail:  “And when you have returned to me…”  In other words, “After you stop backsliding…” 

There is a level of protection there.  God does protect us, but when we allow Satan to turn us away from God we lose that protection, because we no longer belong to God.  If you don’t belong to God, to whom do you belong?  John 8:44 says, “You are of your father the devil…”  Even the Pharisees started out trying to do the right thing.  Their laws were created with the idea that those laws would keep them on the right side of God.  They wanted to be blameless and upright, but the devil slipped in and corrupted.  This is why it’s so important that our trust be in God and not in ourselves.  They tried to be righteous on their own and left a door open for the devil to corrupt them.  They trusted their laws and not God.  God wants us to trust Him.  Trusting God is what we call faith.

If you read the entire book of Job, faith is what keeps him.  Throughout the book, it says, “Job did not sin with his lips.”  He didn’t accuse God.  He didn’t blame God.  He recognized that blessing comes with testing.  He’s right; blessing comes in on the back of adversity.  If you don’t know suffering you can’t know blessing.

So, why does God allow the devil to attack?  He does that so you can see your need to trust God.  He does it so that you can experience blessing.  He does it all for His own glory.  Here He is, He’s bragging to Satan, “You can’t turn Job – He’s locked in – He’s going to worship me, no matter what!”

The devil is an opportunist.  He’s looking for ways to destroy.  He’s opposed to God.  He’s opposed to what God is doing in your life, and he’s looking for a way to take you out.  His goal is to separate you from God.

The Devil Has a Plan for You

The other thing that we can see in our text is that the devil’s a planner.  He has a plan for your life.  He devises a plan to take you away from God and puts it into play at an opportune time.  Remember, that in Luke four, he left Jesus until an opportune time.  He was looking for a time when Jesus would be vulnerable.  The devil looks for vulnerability.  He watches for us to open a door to sin. 

Genesis 4:7 (NKJV)
4:7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it."

There is an aggression there – Its desire is for you.  He’s watching for signs of potential temptation and sin.  He listens to the words you speak, looking for weaknesses in faith. 

Job 2:10b (NKJV)
2:10b  In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

I’ve posted on the power of words a number of times.  The words we speak can provide the devil with an opportunity to attack us.  Complaining is a vulnerability.  Gossip and slander are vulnerabilities.  Speaking in unbelief is a vulnerability.  The devil is looking for those things that he can use against you.  His plan is to leave you discouraged and filled with unbelief.  Here’s an example:

Luke 22:33-34 (NKJV)
22:33 But he said to Him, "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death." 34 Then He said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me."

Peter’s bragging that he will go to death with Jesus.  Throughout the New Testament we see Peter – He’s impulsive with words – He’s outspoken – He’s brash.  He speaks what his heart wants, but he doesn’t always have the resolve to see it through.  The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.  He’s vulnerable and the devil uses it:

Luke 22:55-60 (NKJV)
22:55 Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56 And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, "This man was also with Him." 57 But he denied Him, saying, "Woman, I do not know Him." 58 And after a little while another saw him and said, "You also are of them." But Peter said, "Man, I am not!" 59 Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, "Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean." 60 But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are saying!" Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.

Peter told Jesus that night that he would follow Jesus to death, but within hours he’s accused and he falls apart.  The devil saw his opportunity.  He saw Peter’s vulnerability and he took Peter out.  Peter went out weeping bitterly.  In a matter of days Peter was so discouraged and broken that he said, “I’m going fishing.”  He went back to his old life.  He’s backslidden.  He’s not trusting God; he’s lost.

That’s exactly what the devil planned for him.  “Simon, Simon the devil has asked to sift you like wheat.”  He knew where Peter was vulnerable.  He knows where your vulnerabilities are, too.  He’s listened to you.  He’s watched you.  He has a plan for you, and it’s the opposite of God’s plan for you.  God has destiny for you – The devil has discouragement.  He wants you so discouraged that you can’t serve God, either.  He wants you filled with unbelief, too.  He wants you to turn back to your old sin-filled life because then he wins.  That was his plan for Job.  That was his plan for Peter and that’s his plan for you.

The Devil’s a Strategist

In order to defeat an enemy you need three things:

1.        You need to understand your enemy’s vulnerabilities.
2.        You need to have a plan to defeat the enemy.
3.        You need a strategy to implement the plan.

The devil is a strategist.  Once he has determined your vulnerabilities and figured out what needs to be done to defeat you, he begins to build the steps to move you into that plan.  It’s like a game of chess.  One has to be able to think a number of moves ahead of your opponent.  The devil needs a strategy to move you out of God’s will.  He’ll come up with a series of steps to destroy you.

In Luke four, the devil had a three-part strategy to take Jesus out.  His plan was to keep Jesus from fulfilling His destiny on earth.  He wanted to keep Him from being the salvation of mankind.  So, he ran the first step in his plan:

Luke 4:1-4 (NKJV)
4:1 Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry. 3 And the devil said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread."

He’s trying to get Jesus to be more human than He is God.  He’s trying to appeal to His flesh.  Hunger is the vulnerability.  “Give in to the flesh.  You don’t have to be hungry.  The stones will become bread for you.”  The flesh will take you out if you let it.  That didn’t work so the devil moved on:

Luke 4:5-7 (NKJV)
4:5 Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 And the devil said to Him, "All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7 Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours."

He’s trying to appeal to His carnal appetites – Lust.  Power and wealth are the vulnerabilities.  “You can be like a king here without having to suffer.”  Ruling the Kingdom of God is His destiny.  The devil says, “I’ll just hand it all over.”  It’s a shortcut to that destiny.  Trying to shortcut God’s will, will take you out.  That didn’t work, either, so the devil moved to the final step in the plan.

Luke 4:9-11 (NKJV)
4:9 Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. 10 For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you,' 11 "and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.' "

He wants Jesus to demonstrate that He’s the Son of God.  Pride is the vulnerability that the devil wants to exploit, here.  In this case, it’s the pride of presumption.  “You’re the Son of God; you know that He will catch you.  You can manipulate God.  If they see God catch you they’ll accept you.  That’s a better plan than God’s.”  That’s presumption and pride:  Those things will take you out.

Satan is doing the same thing in your life.  He’s listening and looking for your vulnerabilities.  He’s developing a plan to destroy you, and he’s working out the strategy to get you there.  You need to get a handle on your heart.  You need to examine your words and your actions to find out where you’re vulnerable.  If you close the door on sin, protect your mind and heart, you can protect yourself from demonic attack.  People serve God successfully for fifty or sixty years.  They endure until the end.

Job did it.  He resisted the plan of Satan.  He guarded his heart and his lips.  Paul did it.  He said, “His grace is sufficient for me.”  I close with this:

James 4:7 (NKJV)
4:7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

He will flee from you…until a more opportune time.  Just don’t give him one.  He’ll attack you throughout your whole life, but you don’t have to let him win.

Monday, March 6, 2017

What Happens When We Lose Vision?

Recently, I was inspired to preach on vision.  I just finished reading a book on the beginnings of our fellowship.  [An Open Door, Ron Simpkins © 1985, Potter’s Press]  This book is filled with Pastor Mitchell’s vision for the fellowship and the Gospel.  What makes it most interesting is that pastor Mitchell never sat down and came up with a “Mission Statement.”  He never sat down and said, “This is my vision!”  Over time God revealed His plan and Pastor Mitchell did what God called him to do.

As we look back over the forty-seven years since our fellowship began, it’s difficult to deny that we have been in the midst of great revival.  We have planted churches all over the world.

It’s important to understand that as individual Christians, we must have a revelation of God’s will for our own lives that we can respond to if we want to reach our destiny.  Today I want to look at what happens when we lose that revelation:

Proverbs 29:18 (NKJV)
29:18 Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; But happy is he who keeps the law.
 1 Samuel 3:2-3 (NKJV)
3:2 And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see, 3 and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down,

Without Revelation People Cast Off Restraint

The Bible tells us that where there is no revelation that people cast off restraints.  We begin to operate outside moral limits.  We are governed by lusts and desires rather than what God has revealed to us about His will for our lives.  When we're acting on satisfying our own lusts, then anything goes.  We will do whatever we need to do to satisfy our basest desires, and sin takes over.

Revelation is vision.  It is something that’s revealed by God:  Something that at one time was hidden can now be seen.  God reveals His plan and purpose for our lives, but there’s a part that we play in God’s revealing.  We must pray and seek revelation from God.  “God show me what plan and will you have for my life.”  Once that’s revealed then it is up to us to act in a way that brings that revelation to life.   We call that living out God’s will for our lives.  We are moved by God’s will and not self will.  In other words, we need to be looking for God’s will. We need to have vision.

In our text we see Eli.  Eli is the leader of Israel.  He’s judge over Israel.  It’s his responsibility to lead Israel into the will of God for that nation.  He’s the one who has revelation, but look at this phrase: “when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see.”  He’s losing his vision; he’s going blind.  This speaks of his physical sight, but what happens in the natural can be a reflection of what’s happening in the spiritual realm.  He has lost his vision in a spiritual way as well.

1 Samuel 2:27 (NKJV)
2:27 Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, "Thus says the Lord: 'Did I not clearly reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh's house?

Eli is Aaron’s grandson.  Aaron was chosen by God to be the one who ministers in the tabernacle. Only a descendant of Aaron can do that.  God clearly revealed Himself to Aaron, and his ability to see God’s revelation was passed down to Eli.  Eli, at one time had vision.  He’s going blind in a physical and spiritual sense, and that loss of vision played itself out in his son’s lives.

Eli has two sons, Hophni and Phineas.  Look at these men:

1 Samuel 2:22 (NKJV)
2:22 Now Eli was very old; and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.

They’ve violated their relationships with the people to whom God has sent them to minister.  They’ve used their authority in an unholy way.  They also took the meat of the offering before it was offered.  That isn’t how God had set it up.  Eli because, of his own loss of revelation and vision, didn’t hold them accountable.  These men have cast off restraint.  It’s up to us to seek a personal revelation from God.  Hophni and Phineas never had revelation.  They never had vision, and so there were no moral limits on their lives.  They did whatever appealed to their carnal flesh.  Because Eli had lost his own vision and revelation, it was never imparted into his sons.

This is one danger of backsliding.  It’s also the danger of putting worldly things, rather than spiritual things, first.  When we do that, we are imparting into our children that the calling of God is less important than the things of the world.

Hebrews 11:24-27 (NKJV)
11:24 By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, 25 choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. 27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.

I’d say that Moses had vision that was revealed to him by God.  “Esteeming the reproach of Christ,” this is centuries before Jesus on earth.  “He endured as seeing Him who is invisible”.  There was a revelation of God’s call on his life and that revelation caused him to put aside the sin.

Has God revealed His calling and will for your life?  Do you understand God’s vision for your life?  Have you sought a revelation of God’s will, so that you can live it out?

Losing the Vision

1 Samuel 2:29-30 (NKJV)
2:29 Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?' 30 Therefore the Lord God of Israel says: 'I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.' But now the Lord says: 'Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.

The man of God has come to rebuke Eli, and warns Eli that he has drifted away from God’s call.  His sons have cast off all restraint; nothing any longer restrains them from their sin.  They even fornicate in the House of God.  So, God judges them and judges Eli for his unwillingness to restrain them.  Eli calls them out, but he doesn’t hold them accountable.  God tells Eli, “You honor your sons more than me.”  There’s judgment on God’s part and the promise is removed. 

All of God’s promises are conditional – IF you do this THEN I will do that.  You violate the if and God takes away the promise.  God has removed Eli’s family’s destiny. 

God has a destiny for your life that coincides with your calling.  If you live out your calling, then God will deliver on your destiny, but if you violate that calling your destiny is changed.  God will take that promise and give it to another man.  In this case, God chooses Samuel to replace Eli’s sons, as the one who will inherit the promise.  Instead of Hophni and Phineas becoming the next judges over Israel, Samuel becomes the next judge.

We also see this in Saul’s life, the first king of Israel.  God has told Saul that his family will rule over Israel forever, but after his disobedience and presumption God tears the kingdom from him and gives it to David; a man after God’s own heart.

1 Samuel 15:26-28 (NKJV)
15:26 But Samuel said to Saul, "I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel." 27 And as Samuel turned around to go away, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. 28 So Samuel said to him, "The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.

There’s a calling on our lives.  God has called us to something and He’s looking for obedience.  He’s looking for us to respond to, and execute His will, not trying to make our will God’s will.  That’s where Saul failed.  He lost God’s vision and replaced it with his own vision.  Because of that, he lost the kingdom and the promise for his son Jonathan.

Eli lost the vision and allowed his sons’ visions to rule him.  Because of that, his destiny was taken and theirs as well.  In both cases, God gave that same destiny to someone else; someone who would carry out God’s vision.

We need to be careful that we do what’s necessary to carry out God’s calling and vision in our lives if we want to see our destiny.  Vision lost is destiny lost.  We need to strengthen, and look to build on, God’s calling and destiny on our lives.

Maintaining Vision

In our physical lives a loss of vision is natural.  I don’t see as well as I did when I was young.  I went from 20/20 vision to bifocals.  In our spiritual lives, we are also in danger of losing vision. 

Pastor Mitchell has built his vision for our fellowship, based on God’s revelation for over forty-seven years.  It has grown over time.    In the beginning, the vision was for the church in Prescott.  It grew to include hippies and wanderers in town.  It grew to include discipleship; preparing men for the harvest fields.  It grew to releasing men to pioneer churches in Arizona, then into other states, and finally internationally. 

That vision has enlarged and strengthened over the years.  It went from that one church in Prescott, Arizona, to more than two thousand, two hundred churches in more than half the countries of the world.

The way he has maintained and even enlarged that vision is by contending for what God wants to do.  He prays!  He watches for open doors!  He listens to the men he has released into ministry.  He presses for more of God’s plan, and responds with a willingness to obedience.  That’s how he maintains and enlarges the vision. 

What about you?  Are you looking for God’s calling on your life?  Are you open to whatever God calls you to, even if it doesn’t fit in with your own plans? 

I never had plans to come to Taiwan.  I had never even thought about Taiwan, until God opened my eyes to his calling.  It was a revelation of His plan for my life.  I wanted God to lead me.  Even now I want to reach God’s destiny for me.  I’m still open to God’s calling.  There’s only one way to His destiny and that lies in our response to His calling.

When we allow ourselves to give in to our flesh; when we allow ourselves to put our own will first, we’re really casting off God’s will for our lives, and we are in danger of casting off restraint and bringing ourselves to a place of judgment.  In Eli’s case God judged his sons for their father’s loss of vision and their subsequent loss of restraint.

I’ve seen this in my my own as well.  Parents who had no vision of God’s calling on them, their children struggle with a loss of restraint:  Pregnant and unmarried, involved in drugs and homosexuality, and fornication.  All of these things are symptoms of a casting off of restraint and a loss of vision.  There will be judgment and a loss of destiny, unless those children begin to seek God’s revelation for themselves.  You can come back from this, if you repent and begin to look for a revelation of God’s will for your life and respond to that calling in obedience.

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.”

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?