Please join the Celebration Church Worship Arts Ministry and the Worship Ministry as we prepare our hearts for “The Victory Stone” through prayer and fasting beginning March 6th through April 18th.
Please join the Celebration Church Worship Arts Ministry and the Worship Ministry as we prepare our hearts for “The Victory Stone” through prayer and fasting beginning March 6th through April 18th.
We begin our 40 days of fasting with a burden for lost sinners, dead in their transgressions and for what remains dead in us. We desire resurrection power! We ask for God to honor our requests as we fast from certain foods, behaviors, indulgences, sinful habits, etc. Or we ask God to honor our dedication to new behaviors, such as studying our Bibles each morning or taking time each day on our knees in prayer. Each person is responsible for asking the Lord, “What do you require of me?” This is intensely personal and somewhat painful for our flesh to endure. This kind of submission requires a motivational force beyond our flesh. Ask God to give you a verse or word or confirmation what He would have you choose as your fast. We do not offer this time of fasting as an empty religious ritual but as a dedicated practice through which the Holy Spirit can work. The Holy Spirit’s power makes the difference between what we do as Christians vs other religions who emphasize rituals. This is not a time to feel elevated as super spiritual or self-righteous for our works, but we are bowing our flesh asking the Spirit to work within us and without. Challenge yourself to approach this without expectations. We are not bowing to convince God to do our will but submitting to His, whatever work He desires. Some days may feel fruitless, when you wonder if what you are doing has any impact or result. On those days, go back to the word and confirmation God gave you regarding your fast, then continue to pray and endure. Ask God to give you the strength of Moses and Elijah who fasted for 40 days (Moses for 80) and the self-control of Daniel. Daniel 10:3 “I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.” Try to keep a log of what you experience with the Lord each day, even if it is just a few sentences, to record this special time with the Lord in anticipation of resurrection work.
Old testament prophets often fasted when they received or needed a vision. We need vision as well. Our key verse for Easter is from Isaiah 28:16: “So this is what the Lord GOD says: ‘See! I a lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; the one who believes will never be shaken.’” (Berean Translation). The first command for us is to SEE, to look, to pay attention, to perceive, to discern, to watch, to learn about this stone. The Jewish leaders and most of the Jews of His time missed Jesus as their Messiah. He even alluded to Isaiah’s prophesy in their presence to let them know they needed to see, to discern His authority. They knew the scriptures, yet they failed to SEE what God was doing right in front of them. We do not want to be so blind. Our first challenge is to SEE Jesus as God’s son and Savior and to accept him rather than our own attempts at righteousness. We are also asking that the Lord allow others who come to this Easter presentation to SEE and accept Him as their personal Savior and Lord. Pray today that you may SEE Him with Holy Spirit discernment. Are there ways you have rejected Him as an authority in your life as the religious Jews did? Pray also specifically for unsaved people to attend this event so they may SEE! Ask God for opportunities to invite non-believers. Isaiah predicted that in the presence of Jesus, “The eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped” (Is 35:5). Pray that at the end of this event, we can confirm as Jesus did, “The blind receive sight” (Matt 11:5).
Fasting and prayer promote vision, but they also promote peace. At unsettling times, the prophets would fast to regain their peace regarding the Lord’s call, the Word they had to share, or the sins of people around them. What is causing you unrest? Isaiah 28:16 tells us “So this is what the Lord God says: ‘See! I lay a stone in Zion, a tested, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; the one who believes will never be shaken’” (Berean Translation). This tested stone, Jesus, is our assurance that nothing can move Him from His purpose in our lives and in this world. As long as we build on Him, we do not need to fear. He is tested so He can be trusted. He is precious, meaning of great value with affection attached. He has been shaped by God through pressure until His quality and his value and endearment to us is unmatched. He is a sure foundation because He was laid before time began along with the plans for His kingdom. Col 1:16 “For in him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” We are given glimpses of His planned kingdom and authority through the prophets, and their words continue to be fulfilled as we approach the 2nd coming. As you fast today, continue to ask for the ability to SEE! and for peace in areas where you do not sense the assurance and peace offered by Christ. If you are not at peace because of sin, spend time acknowledging that sin before the Lord and asking for deliverance. If you lack peace in another area, spend some time balancing your thoughts on Christ and his power as your firm foundation, a precious place to rest on, stabilizing and comforting you when you are tested or uncertain. “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord Himself, is the Rock eternal.” (Isaiah 26:2)
One thing about fasting that is hard to endure is the anger it can produce. Yes, anger, frustration, an impatient tension that pervades when we cannot have what we want. Something that is normally readily available to us is no longer something we can enjoy. Others are not called to resist, yet we must. Ask God to reveal the source of your frustration and consider why deprivation and not having instant gratification is a way to experience more of God. What is He teaching you about your heart’s desires? Your cravings? Your priorities? Your addictions? Your treasures? What if the assignment was to fast from anything related to the Lord for 40 days? Would your frustration level be as high? Ask God to be specific in revealing where you spend your time and money, what you think of most, what drives you? Consider Matt 6:21-33 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your vision is poor, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters: Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and ___________ [fill in your most challenging priority]. Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?… For the pagans strive after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” Consider all you God is capable of providing for you and fulfilling within you. Ask Him to reveal what you hold to that might prevent you from experiencing true fulfillment in Him.
Today, we will continue to unpack Isaiah 28:16. Perhaps you have committed parts of it to memory. Concentrate on the last phrase. “So this is what the Lord GOD says: ‘See! I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; the one who believes will never be shaken.’” (Berean Translation). Once I was crossing the top of a rushing waterfall with flood-level waters nearly pushing me over the top. My one goal was to get to the middle of the falls so I could safely slide down. I moved slowly, discerning each grasp and move over rocks that jutted out of the roaring water, desperate to find an immovable rock on which to balance and feel secure. In the process, I rejected several shaky rocks and avoided slippery places, eventually finding a hold that seemed trustworthy. I thought I could discern my positioning and find direction towards a safe sliding path. Unfortunately, the water got the better of me and my rock, and I went over the falls before I could direct my path. I ended up with multiple broken cheek bones and a broken jaw. I survived, but I decided never to attempt such water pressure again without secure stability in place. In other words, I was shaken, and I was ashamed for being so foolish. Have you ever been betrayed or failed by something or someone you discerned as trustworthy or secure? Perhaps a parent, a leader, or a friend has gotten the better of your discernment and left you wounded, shaken, and questioning your foolishness to trust. When things like this happen, you may be in pain for a while, but you can also thankful. These hurts are sharp reminders that our primary footing needs to be grounded in Christ and upon no one or nothing else. Be thankful God revealed their weaknesses before you lost any more time or focus. Ask God to reveal to you, people or other foundations you are placing too much of your security upon. What leader, parent, friend, teacher, spouse, etc., if proved vulnerable, would leave you shaken or painfully wounded? Ask God how might you need to shift your balance. Add this to your prayer for today: Psalm 144:7 “Reach down your hand from heaven and rescue me; rescue me from deep waters, from the power of my enemies.”
Continuing our picture of dependence on Christ, the solid rock, rather than any other stabilizer, let us consider why this is so crucial for us as kingdom builders. When does Isaiah 28:16 say we will be shaken if our trust is in Christ? NEVER. Other translations say those who believe will not be disturbed, shall not make haste, will be unshakeable, will never be stricken with panic, will not be put to shame, will not worry, will by no means be ashamed. In the midst of this project or anything we attempt in life, we may feel we are in over our heads. However, we can actually be at rest, never having cause for worry, panic, or being disturbed if our dependence is on the FIRM FOUNDATION. Again, this is crucial for us as believers. If our confidence is on anything other than the power of Christ, we cannot reach the heights he has designed for us to reach. If we are depending on our own strengths and gifts or on others who may crumble under pressure, or if we are limiting ourselves by fear or human standards, we will be shaken at some point. We will not be able to press on in faith when the job seems impossible, when the task is beyond our resources, or when everyone else says it cannot be done. We will be stunted by whatever we depend on. The only foundation we can REST on that is limitless, boundless, and makes all things possible is Christ. If He is the source of our calling to a task, decision, or direction, then our purpose, then even when we face adversity or frustration, we will not easily be shaken. Instead, we will become even more confirmed as we discover the weight of the work does not rest on us but on Him. This is why we are commanded: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Consider Matthew Henry’s words: “The right effect of faith in Christ is, to quiet and calm the soul, till events shall be timed by Him, who has all times in his own hand and power. Whatever men trust to for justification, except the righteousness of Christ; or for wisdom, strength, and holiness, except the influences of the Holy Ghost; or for happiness, except the favour of God; that protection in which they thought to shelter themselves, will prove not enough to answer the intention.”
: Besides vision and peace, another result of fasting can be authority which infuses your kingdom work. Notice, authority does not mean worldly position or power. Authority is recognizable in a person, regardless of status, position, or worldly power. Jesus fasted for 40 days just after his baptism, before He began his earthly ministry. As result, crowds were continually drawn to Jesus “because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matt 7:28-29). With this same authority, He “rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm” (Matt 8:26). A few chapters later, Jesus confers this same authority on his disciples, giving them “authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease” (10:1). Jesus was following the precedent set by Moses and Elijah. Moses fasted (40 days X 2) and was given the law. He maintained such a glow after fasting before the Lord that the people asked him to veil his face. Similarly, Elijah, sustained by 2 meals prepared by an angel, journeyed for 40-days and was given authority to continue his stand against King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. He also conferred authority to others, appointing new leaders for Israel, including the prophet Elisha. Both Moses and Elijah stood as figures of authority in Israel’s history, and both stood with Jesus on the Mount of transfiguration. Incredible to think of what kind of conference these three had. No wonder a bright cloud enveloped them and the disciples fell down in terror. The voice of God confirmed the authority of His son before them, commanding “Listen to Him!” (Matt 17:5-6) We may not be receive authority of the same measure, but our gifts can be blessed with spiritual authority when we fast. As we prepare to take the stage, sewing, acting, singing, dancing, painting, building, hooking up microphones, organizing, creating, orchestrating, turning on lights, teaching, and monitoring children backstage, etc., ask God to imbue or saturate all those gifts and acts of service with supernatural authority. Is it possible that God may cloud this event with radiance? How may the authority we accrue as a group command demons and storms in the lives of others to be still? How may God’s voice thunder through our efforts to those watching, calling them to “Listen” to Jesus?
Fasting in whatever way you have chosen should involve cleansing. Consider what ways your fast is a cleansing strategy. Maybe you are getting into the word more or avoiding watching or listening to less than holy things, cleansing your mind. Maybe you are avoiding toxic foods or behaviors to cleanse your flesh. Jesus came to cleanse us from our unrighteousness and from the effects of sin in this world. Maybe your life is like the leper who was suffering from some rotten flesh. Jesus was willing to cleanse him (Matthew 8). Maybe you are more like the Jewish temple, pretty on the outside, yet harboring materialism and legalism on the inside. Jesus can turn some tables over in order to cleanse you (Matthew 21). Maybe you are like the children of Israel who continued to be unfaithful to the Lord in spite God’s faithfulness. Consider what God promises them in Ezekiel 36:25-29: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. [HA! THE STONE ROLLED AWAY AND LIFE BREAKING THROUGH] And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness.” As we fast, we are demonstrating our willingness and even our participation to receive a fresh cleansing from Christ. Get honest before the Lord with your thoughts and struggles with sin and idols in your life today. Beg him as the leper who could do nothing but hope for a miracle from Christ for renewal and cleansing. His resurrection power can overcome any stronghold of the enemy in your life. 1 Peter 3:21 speaks of Noah’s family saved through water “and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” Ask God how you can better participate in His cleansing of you. Perhaps Jesus is telling you to “Go wash in the pool of Siloam” (John 9:7) as he told the blind man so that others may wonder at your change (9:8-9) and Christ may reveal Himself to you (9:37-38).
Another result of an extended fast is a change in appetite. Such a change takes time. Hopefully, once we complete this 40 day fast, we will not go back to life as usual. We may subdue certain rumblings of our fleshly desires and even find we have developed healthier cravings. Unfortunately, since the Garden of Eden, mankind has battled a temptation to taste forbidden fruit. Psalm 34:8 encourages us to “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” The enemy also promises that the taste of sin will be satisfying, and our flesh is exposed daily to His promotional efforts in what we see and hear, to the point we may feel almost force-fed. When we make a conscious effort to deny ourselves and to shut off the flow of deceitful messages, we can begin to detox our flesh and allow the Lord to purify us. The purpose of this is evident in 1 Peter 2:2-3 “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Our growth results when we crave God’s word and time with Him. For as Christians with the Holy Spirit available to us, we are called to spiritual growth. Paul tells the Corinthians, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.” Why were they not ready? Evidently, their tastes had not yet been purified for Paul tells them, “You are still worldly.” (1 Corinthians 3:2-3, NIV). We must watch our spiritual diets, taking in what is spiritually healthy so that we may grow into competent leaders and teachers, able to feed others. The writer of Hebrews convicts those who remain complacent or allow impure tastes to dull their sensitivities: “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong [or good from evil].” (Hebrews 5:12-14, NLT) Spend a moment considering your spiritual diet. What are you feasting on to feed your spiritual growth? What unhealthy things do you have a taste for? Ask God to reveal tastes that are not of Him. How have enemy flavors become a regular part of your diet? Ask God to change your appetite. A dear friend of mine was an alcoholic, yet when he accepted Christ, alcohol became sickening to him. He now serves as an evangelist, feeding congregations all around the state. May we all experience such a radical change in appetite!
Isaiah 28:16 speaks of the “stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone.” The concept of the cornerstone a very familiar concept for the Jewish people. It originated with the temple of Solomon. The Jewish people would also have been very familiar with the initial rejection of the cornerstone which Christ speaks of in the Gospels. Matthew 21:42 “Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes”?’” In these verses, “Christ referred to an actual occurrence in the history of Israel…. When the temple of Solomon was erected, the immense stones for the walls and the foundation were entirely prepared at the quarry; after they were brought to the place of building, not an instrument was to be used upon them; the workmen had only to place them in position. For use in the foundation, one stone of unusual size and peculiar shape had been brought; but the workmen could find no place for it, and would not accept it. It was an annoyance to them, as it lay unused in their way. Long it remained a rejected stone. But when the builders came to the laying of the corner, they searched for a long time to find a stone of adequate size and strength, and of the proper shape, to take that particular place, and bear the great weight which would rest upon it. Should they make an unwise choice for this important place, the safety of the entire building would be endangered. They must find a stone capable of resisting the influence of the sun, of frost, and of tempest. Several stones had at different times been chosen, but under the pressure of immense weights they had crumbled to pieces. Others could not bear the test of the sudden atmospheric changes. But at last attention was called to the stone so long rejected. It had been exposed to the air, to sun and storm, without revealing the slightest crack. The builders examined this stone. It had borne every test but one. If it could bear the test of severe pressure, they decided to accept it for the cornerstone. The trial was made. The stone was accepted, brought to its assigned position, and found to be an exact fit.” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, 597-598.) Christ was always faced with the dilemma of “no room in the inn,” “no place to lay his head,” not being “accepted in his hometown,” and being “despised and rejected by men.” Ask God what areas of your life show no room, no place, or no acceptance of Christ. Are there times when He is an annoyance to you? Unfortunately, He cannot be an add-on in your life when you find it convenient. He desires to be the beginning and the end, the first and last in all areas of your life. Perhaps Paul can helps us put this in perspective: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.” (1 Cor 6:19)
Jesus uses the familiar concept of the rejected stone to identify himself and pointedly call out the Jewish leaders. He first tells them the parable the vineyard owner who rented his vineyard to some tenants and sent servants to collect the fruit. When the servants were rejected or even killed, he sent his son. They killed the son as well. Jesus asks the Jewish leaders what the vineyard owner would do when he returned. They answer, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time” (Matt 21:41). At this point, Jesus says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone… Therefore, I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” (42-44). The Jewish leaders immediately recognize that Jesus is claiming rights as the vineyard owner’s son. Further, He is claiming to be the cornerstone they have been expecting their entire lives, the Messiah on whom the Kingdom of God was to rest. To them, this was arrogance beyond belief. Had they not been the ones serving God, garnering rank and position in the temple, preparing for a Messiah that would come in with worldly force, toppling the Roman Empire and raising them to power. Certainly, this man before them has no such authority over them and certainly not over worldly empires. Ironically, his words incite them to behave just like the tenants, planning to have him arrested and eventually killed for his claim on what belonged to His Father. Jesus has just reprimanded them for being irresponsible with all God has given them. As a nation, they have killed God’s prophets, and individually, these men standing before Him are already shouting “Crucify!” in their hearts. One of the most convicting statements he makes is that “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” While this offends the Jewish leaders, it should have convicted them as it should convict us. How much kingdom ground we have given up as a nation, as the global church, as individuals? How have we been irresponsible with all God has given us? On a personal level, ask God to reveal ways you may have failed to produce fruit. How will he view your treatment of His word and His son when Christ returns? Is there any chance He has had to take kingdom work from you and give it to someone else who would produce His fruit? The thought of that possibility should be painful. Consider John 15:5-8 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
So, today is mind blowing for me! In all honesty, the word for today was not part of my understanding during the writing of “The Victory Stone” or when Isaiah 28:16 became our key verse. Somehow, God led us to an image connected with Psalm 118. Verse 22 states, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Why am I blown away by this? Because I discovered Psalm 118 is a common liturgical Psalms used by the Jewish people when entering the temple and for Christian Easter sermons!!! Get this: “Psalm 118 is the last psalm in a group of six psalms in Book Five known as the ‘the Egyptian Hallel’ (Psalms 113-118), psalms that are used in present-day Jewish life at the Passover meal on the eighth day of that annual spring celebration…. Many scholars maintain that in ancient Jewish life Psalm 118 was used in liturgical processions, perhaps an entrance liturgy into the temple in Jerusalem. According to the Mishnah, a document that interprets the Torah, the procession around the altar that took place on seven successive days during the Feast of Tabernacles was accompanied by the recitation of Psalm 118…. In present-day Christian lectionary use, Psalm 118:1-2 and 14-24 is the psalm reading for Easter Sunday… Psalm 118 has a rich and varied history of transmission and use in both Jewish and Christian life” (workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2380). Now consider this: Psalm 118 was “chanted or sung in the temple during the slaughter of the Passover lambs! They were also chanted at Pentecost, the feast of Tabernacles, and the feast of Dedication. The Levites would stand before the altar and chant them verse by verse, as was also the practice of families in the privacy of their own Passover celebrations. It is speculated Psalm 118 was the hymn Jesus and his disciples sang in the upper room (Matt. 26:30) just before heading over the Brook Kidron to the Garden of Gethsemane” (theawakenedchristianman.org/2018
/05/16/2018-the-psalms-and-israel/). So, when Jesus brought this image up to the Jewish leaders in Matthew 21 and Mark 12, he was setting them up to remember His words. The next time they would hear them would be while standing over the Passover lamb just before His crucifixion. He was claiming identity with an image that was sewn into their memory from temple entry, continual recitation, and temple sacrifice, and He would soon bleed all over it, yet still they could not see Him for who He was! May God use this verse during our Easter presentation to illuminate Christ as the image of the rejected cornerstone. Today, praise God with me for confirmation that this is His design for our Easter Celebration! Ask for continued personal confirmation in His provision of Word and Anointing over you and every element of this offering we are presenting to Him. May we not miss 1 incredible detail of His Word and all He wants to show us!
With Christ as our established cornerstone, God has a design for each of us to build upon Him just as Solomon had a design for each stone that would go into the temple construction. Builders were careful to take rocks hewn from a quarry near the temple site but deep enough so that no sound carried to the construction area. The wisdom of Solomon is very impressive, in that he could take the specifics God gave him and have stones fully prepared while still in the quarry. Peter knew something about such preparation. After his confession that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus tells Peter, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus gave Peter a very vivid object lesson because he needed Peter to understand that his confession of Jesus as the “Petra”(—an immovable mass of stone) would be foundational to the New Testament church. Peter, whom Jesus calls “petros”(—a small stone, a pebble, loose and moveable) would be foundational as well (Exploring the Espistles of 1 Peter, John Philips, 87). Peter certainly had some growing to do and some rough edges to smooth out. He would need significant transformation during his time in the quarry. However, through much humbling and redemptive shaping, Peter emerged from his time in the quarry, prepared to take his place in the building of the church. Peter encourages us to do the same using the same image Jesus used to teach him. Peter teaches, “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture is says: ‘See I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall’” (1 Peter 2:4-8). In order to become living stones, like Peter, we must endure significant time in the quarry, allowing our rough edges to be shaped in accordance to the design of the King. Perhaps you are experiencing some painful shaping in the past or you are experiencing some now. Ask God to reveal how such shaping prepares you for your place in his Kingdom. Ask Him for a spirit of submission to the Sovereign design of your King.
Continuing with Peter’s image of the “living Stone” in I Peter 2, consider this: “The word ‘living’ comes from zoe and refers to life in all of its forms, from the life of God Himself down to the life of the most insignificant thing. It refers to active life, life as the opposite of death. The word is used for both resurrection life and eternal life” (Exploring the Espistles of 1 Peter, John Philips, 87). We could almost replace the word “living” with “resurrection.” Next to it, “the word for ‘stone’ is lithos. It is used [when referring to] the tables of stone on which were engraved the Ten Commandments” (87). So, the word “stone” is associated with embodiment of the law of God. Peter is reminding believers that Christ is the resurrection and the living representation or fulfillment of God’s law. Peter tells us we are to be “like living stones.” Our lives should represent resurrection. People should notice the resurrection power of Christ, new life, and transforming work in us. This does not mean we have to be perfect, but the life of Christ should be outshining our dying flesh day by day. And so, like Christ, we are to embody the law of God. We are to keep his commands. John tells us “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God” (1 John 3:9). Sometimes in our culture, we hesitate to call sin, sin. We are reminded repeatedly in our society not to “judge” others. Somehow this permeates into our psyche so that we not only fail to rightly discern the disobedience of others but our own as well. Spend some time reading Romans 5 and 6. Ask God to reveal commands you are neglecting or sins you are excusing in your own life. Spend some time in confession and ask to be made into a living stone in the image of the resurrected, obedient Christ. “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2)
Our play is based on the life of a local hero, whose story was dropped into our laps before the first word of script was written. While looking for information about Tennessee post WWII, with no intention of getting too involved in the actual battles of the war, I stumbled upon a list of Tennessee veterans online. I found James Wiley Smith, from our area, had not only survived D-Day drops, bridge battles at Nijmegen, and the Battle of the Bulge, but he had also fought in Vietnam and Korea. Upon more research, I discovered James Sr. had passed away, but the funeral home that received his friends was on my regular daily driving route. Through a mutual Facebook friend within the names on his obituary, I tracked down his son, James Jr. My next discovery was beyond all expectation. I called to schedule an interview with James Jr., and when I asked his address, I realized James Jr. lived only 3 minutes from my house! I had driven, biked, and run by his house for years, never knowing a hero’s son was so close. However, once I discovered who and where he was, I had to visit him. The moment I stepped foot into his home, I was warmly invited in and quickly surrounded by hundreds of the pictures, articles, medals, and even the jacket his father wore in WWII. I felt like I was on Holy Ground. I nearly cried when I found the hero’s bible among all the memorabilia. I felt so privileged to have found such treasure and to see James Sr. through his son’s eyes. James Jr. had memories of his father’s letters, his strength, and his sacrifice. Graciously, James Jr. allowed me to take many key pieces home to pour over so I could discover for myself the hero who had fought for me. I got lost in the pages of history, was fascinated at the handwriting of a hero, and was awe-inspired at the face of a man who defeated death in so many battles. I cannot help but see some parallels in what we hope to create for audience members. They are all searching for something, with no intention of getting too involved even while attending an EASTER program. I hope and pray, they stumble upon THE HERO. Like me, they may have passed the church not knowing sons and daughters of a hero were so close. Pray that once they step foot into His church, they are warmly invited in and quickly surrounded by hundreds of pictures of testimony and evidence of His victories in our lives. May we share with others the words, strength, and sacrifice of our Father. Ask the Lord to prompt our audience members to take key pieces home to pour over…images in their minds, precious words from the Lord, His handwriting on their hearts, and maybe just a glimpse of the face of the One who has fought for them. John 14:6-11 “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.’ Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus replied, ‘Philip, I have been with you all this time, and still you do not know Me? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words I say to you, I do not speak on My own. Instead, it is the Father dwelling in Me, performing His works.’”
“Sometimes the surprise was nice…” Dorothy is plagued by James and his surprises. So many times, we are taken by surprise in what the Lord allows into our lives. Sometimes the surprise is nice. A wedding proposal, a new job, a new baby…perhaps? While such surprises require a bit of adjusting, we are usually happy to accommodate. However, when the surprise disrupts our expectation or our projected linear progression, we are less adjustable. At times, God may prepare our hearts before a surprise so that the fall is cushioned. At other times, the crash is hard. Perhaps a surprise has caught you off guard recently, or you sense God preparing you. How are you coping? Peter, a man acquainted with earth-shattering trials tells us, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12). James, another trial survivor, says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything.” (1:2-4) When things do not go our way, what is our attitude toward God? We may try to calm ourselves by predicting what God is doing or is going to do. This can be a coping mechanism, but it can lead us to more disappointment when what we predict also fails to come to fruition. Like Dorothy, we expect or predict God will move in a certain way…but what if he doesn’t? Take the surprise that has “rock”ed you lately before the Lord, and ask him for a spirit of joy and a persevering heart, one tendered toward enduring in His presence rather than expectations. Answers and outcomes may not be clear, but those can be hinderances if they pick us up off our knees. How may God be testing your dependence on Him by not readily giving you a comforting resolution? Thankfully, like a good teacher, God is gracious when testing us, not always giving us the answer, but encouraging us to press further into Him than we knew possible. Ask God to show you how you may be predicting rather than trusting or rushing with impatience when He is asking you to be still.
“Sometimes He has to wait ‘til we are ready to hear the answer before He gives it.”
Grandmother’s line in the script reminds us that just because we don’t have the answer doesn’t mean God doesn’t have one. Often, He takes his time, adjusting us or aligning other circumstance and even other hearts until we are finally “set to have the right perspective.” What do we do in the mean time? What happens when we have a call on our hearts, but nothing is in place to live it out? What happens when a diagnosis leaves us in limbo about the future? What do we do when choices of someone else have left us helpless? How do we get thru the day to day when a great burden rests on our shoulders that we are committed to carry? A looming question mark or difficult hardship should not become our excuse to give up or fall into the victim mentality. We are equipped for more. 2 Peter 1:3 tells us, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” We may feel like Dorothy at times, moving countless stones one at a time in the daily choice to go on with the mundane things of life. But we must do our best to continue with even the most insignificant work God has put under our authority and management. Seasons of doubt or drought are not dead times in your walk. They are preparation times. They are times to be faithful with what may seem to be small things. They are building seasons. Ask God to help you go beyond the heavy uncertainty you may be facing in any area of your life and to do what He has put in your hands for today to your best ability and to His glory. For some of us, the act of resting in Him is the task at hand. For others, it may be resisting the desire to retreat from life and other people. Ask God to help you see the value in the smallest move toward obedience. No doubt, those moves are building up more than you realize. Consider the following construction plan: 2 Peter 1:5 “…make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection, and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Keep moving stones, and let God direct the path.
Perhaps your issue is not that you lack an answer but that you have an answer that includes a call which will require a leap of faith with your heart’s desire into the unknown. Success may be uncertain, and, in fact, the only thing you may be certain of is that the enemy will be gunning for you. (Welcome to my world with this production!) Be encouraged, and like James, when those close to you question what in the world you are thinking and the sacrifice seems overwhelming, answer in your heart, “God has called me to it, and I cannot say no.” As you face battles in your determination to keep obeying the call God has pressed on you, cling to His word as the weapon that will continue to destroy the enemy’s tactics against you and equip you to press on. And pray dependently for supernatural assistance so that when you hit those moments that you cannot possibly prepare for, as James does in the Battle of the Bulge, you can be at rest even in the hardest campaign. This is not a race for the weary. Often, you may feel very alone, but, just as it was for James, the alternative is missing out on crushing the enemy, rescuing others who cannot stand on their own, and showing a threatened world what victory looks like for the glory of Christ. You may find you are a more fearful or reluctant participant in answering God’s call on your life. Like Dorothy, you may not be sure where to begin. Be encouraged to pick up the first small stone and begin to move as God directs. You will find that, like Dorothy, you become stronger and better at it over time. Ask God to continue to direct you and confirm all He has called you to in this production and in your life. Pray that we all are able to open our eyes “to see the path God strengthened [us] to build, all those stones He moved even when [we] doubted Him. And… the garden [we have] plowed with prayer, knowing [we cannot] yet see all He [will] provide.” Pray that God completes the work He has started to the praise of His glory. Take courage from David’s words to his son Solomon before his construction of the temple, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished” (1 Chronicles 28:20).
Today’s word is one of caution. Temple building happens all the time. Just because a building is going up and God’s name is plastered on it, does not mean God is in it. For us as believers, we can get caught up in “a vision” or a ministry that looks good, feels good, seems good on paper, and even has the unity of people getting behind it, yet God may be nowhere near it. Ancient people were passionate and unified with a vision toward building the tower of Babel, yet that was an entirely man-centered project. God-fearing people can make the same mistake. The Israelites where incredibly unified and sacrificial when they asked Aaron to make them an idol of a golden calf while waiting for Moses to return from Mount Saini. The majority of the Israelite tribes also worshipped idols set up in Samaria after the 12 tribes were divided following Solomon’s death. These are just a few examples from the Bible of “good” people with “good” intentions gone wrong. We look at these examples and think we would never be so foolish, yet organizations and even churches can be misdirected towards man-made goals, building temples God does not direct or inhabit. In this venture, in this ministry, in this “production,” we must be careful that we are following God’s vision. What checks could help our discernment? Ask God to reveal any red flags we may be ignoring. Even if we are working toward God’s vision, how might our individual hearts be misdirected? For me personally, I find confirmation in how the story of James and Dorothy Smith was given to us along with the image of stones, which the Lord had revealed and had cooking in my brain before I ever knew an Easter project was on the horizon. Another confirmation is the gift sets of those involved. God has constructed a team of varying and complimenting gift sets and has equipped that team to manage each branch of this effort. At the same time, we are all being challenged beyond our abilities, and our faith is being tested and stretched which tells me God is at work. Further, young people are being discipled and loved in the process of this project to His glory. As each new piece of the puzzle comes into place, we should all become more aware that God has gone before us in preparation and timing. Yet, we should all continue to ask God for confirmation as we progress, lest we take a wrong step in the wrong direction. God is gracious with our humanness and our mistakes, but we must remain teachable and centered on Him rather than our own wishes or the desires of those we may want to impress or please. Ultimately, anyone who witnesses the making of and results of this production on and off stage, should experience God’s presence, not ours. Each of us is responsible for centering our focus Him, answering to Him, and worshipping Him above every other priority. Ask God to show you anything in this process that has taken your focus off Him? What motives do you need to keep in check? What pit falls do we need to be aware of that may become snares? May we be able to claim as Paul does: “For the appeal we make [with the gospel] does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts” (I Thess 2:3-5).
Jesus ”laid Himself down as a sacrifice, so we could build upon Him. Your grandpa and I prayed to be living stones along your path, shaped by time and struggle, with our stories pointing you to Christ.” Whether we acknowledge it or not, our lives are leading others and offering direction. The markers we set down speak to those who follow us. Often in the Bible, a stone was set down to mark where God took over the direction or delivered the life of an individual or even a nation of people. Abraham built at least 4 altars, Jacob set up a stone in Bethel (Gen 29), Moses found support on a stone to hold his hands up for Joshua’s victory against the Amalekites and built an altar called “The Lord is my Banner” (Exodus 17), Joshua set up 12 stones to signify Israel’s baptismal crossing of the Jordan toward victory in the promised land (Joshua 4), Samuel raised a stone calling it Ebenezer—“Thus far the Lord has helped us” (1 Samuel 7), just to name a few. These stones were signs of communion with God, of deliverance, of covenant, of offering, of worship, of testimony, and of obedience to God’s commands. My mind is blown again as I have found that the Hebrew word for stone is Eben (the root of Samuel’s Ebenezer). Consider this: “The Aleph, [the symbol is the last part of the word, but Hebrew is read from right to left, so it is read first] is the first character in the Hebrew alphabet and represents God or Heavenly Father. The Bet, [which appears second and is read second] combined with the Nun [appearing first but read last] means Son in Hebrew or Jesus Christ. Hence the stone in Hebrew means the Father and the Son.” When Jesus instructs his followers to build their house upon a rock, this word is used. When he speaks of building his church upon a rock, this word is used (“The Word Stone or Rock in Hebrew,” reliefsocietyofwomen.com). The word stone also has the meaning of a seed or a son, one who continues the line of a house that lasts for generations (ancient-hebrew.org). So, every time a stone was placed as a marker, it was essentially crying out! “FATHER and SON!” We should be challenged by this. The major decisions in life, the crossroads, the moments that define us should be places marked by our communion, obedience, and testimony of God taking the lead. Every battle, time of deliverance, and moment when we need rest and support should be marked as places God’s presence, help, and victory as well. We are leading a generation behind us that needs firm direction, a firm path to follow with testimonies that encourage and direct them on the narrow way. Pray that your life may be full of stone-marking moments with the Lord. Consider even now how you may share testimony with someone today about a stone-marking moment that may encourage and offer them solid evidence of the Father and the Son. As Jesus made his triumphal entry into the city, the Pharisees told him to quiet his disciples, but he told them “I tell you…if they remain silent, the very stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:40).
We are halfway there! This is the place where we all need our second wind and endurance. James probably felt the same when he was again strapped into a parachute and dropped in broad daylight in Holland for Operation Market Garden. I wonder if he expected the same confusion he had experienced in D-day. What fear of the enemy might have had him shaking as his plane lifted off the ground? Success had set him and his unit up to have to face danger again. Surely, some improvements in preparation and communication were learned from the mistakes at D-Day so that the execution of this mission would be more effective. Still uncertainty loomed. In some ways, as a ministry in this venture, we are the same. Our success with “Esther” last year has set us up to face such a project again. We are strapping in and taking off again into the wild blue yonder. Our team has the benefit of better preparation and communication so our execution should be more effective. Yet, uncertainty looms. At first, Operation Market Garden seemed to go smoothly. Troopers were dropped on a sunny day, a glorious sight. The Dutch civilians watching the drops had been starving and running out of hope when they spotted white clouds of salvation falling towards them, a sign of deliverance and an end to their suffering. American troopers landed in the exact spots planned for them, assembling their companies and moving to their offensive positions quickly. One veteran recalls, “There was no German opposition. We just landed on the fields…peaceful.” The troopers were welcomed by the civilians who ran to help them, giving them bread and apples. Instead of the enemy attacking, children ran to them, welcoming them saying, “Hello, Americans!” James and his 82nd airborne division were successful in their mission to take the bridge at Nijmegen. However, the British airborne, who were to take the key bridge of Arnhem a few miles North, were not as fortunate. They were met with merciless resistance as communication was bungled and troops were dropped too far from the bridge. They were under attack for 8 miles in trying to reach Arnhem with German tiger tanks cutting them down all the way. The American troops in the 3rd battalion of the 504th, who had been part of the forces securing Nijmegen, were commanded to proceed toward the bridge at Arnhem in order to rescue the British who were being cut down on the other side. To do this, they had to cross the 300-yard Waal river under the Nijmegen bridge. If they made it across, they would land in exposed territory with German firepower waiting. It was seen by the battalion staff and the company commanders as a suicide mission, and they kept hoping it would be called off. However, 24 to 26 canvas sided boats with wooden bottoms were soon over-filled with soldiers untrained to paddle. Many were disoriented, and when several boats reached about 1/3 of the distance, enemy fire power kicked up. Men and boats were literally blown out of the water. The few that made it across pushed toward Arnhem to help the British. Unfortunately, the bridge was not taken, and the British airborne were either killed or taken prisoner. Operation Market Garden was largely viewed as a failure. What was the reason for this failure? The British part of the offensive dropped the ball. The British had proper intelligence, but in a rush to try and end the war with this offensive, they overlooked potential risks. Communication failed. Crucial details were ignored. Their mistakes forced others who had done their jobs to try and come to their rescue, which left everyone wounded and weakened in the process. What a cautionary history lesson! Pray that we are faithful in our efforts, not getting in a rush at this point or failing to attend to crucial details. Pray that individuals and teams do not have to call upon others for rescue so that we are all wounded and weakened in the process. We must use the intelligence the Lord gives to prepare, communicate, and do our part in order to bring relief to those starving spiritually and in desperate need of hope. Pray we learn from Operation Market Garden and only fail to repeat such a misadventure. (Credit to “A Path to Victory, Part 5- Operation Market Garden/South Carolinians in WWII”.) Hebrews 10:36 “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised…But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.”