Monday, November 8, 2010

Sun Stand Still

First,  sorry that I have been absent for a few days.  Life and ministry and responsibilities meant that there just wasn't time for a post.  But this week we are back in the groove.  And, as has become a habit, below you will find the message I shared yesterday at Good Shepherd.  Before we get to that, an important note that, as I will mention this message was based on and inspired by the book 'Sun Stand Still' by Steven Furtick.  It is a great book with a challenging message for all of us that would claim to be followers of Christ.  Much, in fact most, of what is below is taken from the book and I would strongly encourage you to pick it up.  Thanks for journeying with me!  And see you tomorrow.

Josh.10.1-15 (NIV)
1Now Adoni-Zedek a king of Jerusalem b heard that Joshua had taken Ai c and totally destroyed [1] d it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon e had made a treaty of peace f with Israel and had become their allies. 2He and his people were very much alarmed at this, because Gibeon was an important city, like one of the royal cities; it was larger than Ai, and all its men were good fighters. 3So Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem appealed to Hoham king of Hebron, g Piram king of Jarmuth, hJaphia king of Lachish i and Debir j king of Eglon. k 4“Come up and help me attack Gibeon,” he said, “because it has made peace l with Joshua and the Israelites.”
5Then the five kings m of the Amorites n —the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon—joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it.
6The Gibeonites then sent word to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal: o “Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us.”
7So Joshua marched up from Gilgal with his entire army, p including all the best fighting men. 8The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid q of them; I have given them into your hand. r Not one of them will be able to withstand you.” s
9After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise. 10The Lord threw them into confusion tbefore Israel, u so Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely at Gibeon. v Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon w and cut them down all the way to Azekah x and Makkedah. y 11As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the Lord hurled large hailstones z down on them, aaand more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.
12On the day the Lord gave the Amorites ab over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon. ac ”
13So the sun stood still, adand the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on [2] its enemies,
as it is written in the Book of Jashar. ae
The sun stopped af in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting ag for Israel!
15Then Joshua returned with all Israel to the camp at Gilgal.

Matt.17.14-20 (NIV)

Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Boy a

14When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15“Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures b and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”
17“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.
19Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
20He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith c as small as a mustard seed, dyou can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. e Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Impossible.  It’s a word we use a lot.  Impossible is a situation we run into in our personal lives at school or work, on athletic fields or in our lives together.  And while I think the word is probably overused – sometimes when something is simply unlikely, amazing or impressive – we all know how to define impossible.  If it’s impossible it simply can’t be done.
But since you are sitting here, in church this Sunday morning – instead of sleeping in, eating brunch or something else – then I am going to assume that you have experienced or at least are aware that being in relationship with Jesus Christ sometimes allows you to brush up against the implausible and the unlikely, if not the impossible. 
The Bible – both Old and New Testaments are littered with stories of the miraculous.  Unlikely and even impossible things that happened through the power of God.  Sometimes these miracles are just examples of God choosing to act on our behalf.  Often these miraculous and impossible things happen when people trust in God, listen to the call God has placed on their lives and respond by acting out in faith.
We have looked at several of these stories this fall.  Stories of resurrection, healing, walking on water – and even stopping the sun from setting.  One of the things that all of the miraculous and impossible acts that we know of and read about seem to have in common is that they happened a long, long time ago. 
Why don’t we hear about God doing the impossible today?  Why don’t we see examples of God doing the impossible around us?  And maybe most pointedly why don’t we experience God doing the impossible in us, through us or for us? 
The answer, in short, is that we have stopped asking for God to do the impossible in our lives. 
But what if God doing the impossible wasn’t just meant for Bible times and people like Moses and Joshua – but was actually meant for people like you and I and for the people of God, just like Good Shepherd. 
This idea is the focus behind a book I read recently, written by a pastor in Charlotte, NC named Steven Furtick, and the book is titled ‘Sun Stand Still’, taken directly from the story of Joshua that we heard just a few minutes ago.  To be honest there is a lot more from the book and behind this idea than can even fit into two messages.  But I am going to try and give you an overview and a sense of the main ideas – and encourage you to borrow the book from me or pick up your own copy if you are interested in learning more. 
The book begins about where we pick up the story in Joshua: Joshua is leading the Israelite army against the forces that have aligned against them to try and keep them from settling in the promised land.  The odds are steep, and the Israelites are definitely outnumbered.  But God has promised Joshua (in verse 8) that ‘I have given them into your hand.  Not one of them will be able to withstand you’
So after an all night march (scholars say at least 20 miles and mostly uphill) Joshua and the Israelites rout the Amorites and give chace after them.  And almost without knowing it, we are at a crossroads.  Today has been a good day, a very good day, for the Israelites.  They have a won a great victory.  This is where most of us, likely where you and I would thank God for victory and blessing and call it a day.
But the victory isn’t complete – there are still many Amorite soldiers fleeing from them. 
Once night falls any hope of tracking the Amorites down and capturing them will be lost and this great victory will be turned around, because the surviving Amorites will be able to regroup and eventually mount an attack against the Israelites.   
So the crossroads for Joshua is this: believe and act according to the reality he was faced with: that it was a great victory, but there simply is no way to completely conquer and capture all of the Amorites.   Or to believe in the promise God had made in verse 8 – that not one of the enemies would escape or withstand his hand.
Joshua chose to believe in the promise of God and asked for the impossible.  An impossible thing that would allow he and the Israelites to fulfill and receive the promises that God had made to them.  Joshua asked God to make the Sun to stand still and, well you know the rest.
Now of course we can’t just gloss over the ‘Sun standing still’ part of all of this – because understanding that God really can and does the impossible is essential to seeing how this matters for our lives.
There are all sorts of questions: Did God actually stop the earth spinning on its axis?  Was there some sort of artificial daylight (is it artificial if God created it)?  What really happened?  There are entire books written about those subject, but I choose to believe that the same God that entered into history to bring his Son back to life, is able to intervene for his people then and now.
But the better, and deeper question we should be asking is this: Could it be that God intends for us to have the same kind of audacious faith – the kind that dares to believe God for the impossible – as a normal way of life?
What does it mean to have audacious faith?
Audacity is the opposite of complacency.  It is an approach or a mind-set that approaches God with confidence and believes him for the impossible.  Audacious faith isn’t some new idea, but rather a return to the simplest core of what it means to be a Christian: trusting Jesus completely in every area of your life. – That is audacious!
Before we can begin to truly pray a ‘Sun stand still’ prayer in our lives we have to have the audacious faith to believe that God is able to answer our prayers by doing the impossible and that – if they are in line with God’s will that God wants to answer those prayers with a resounding and even impossible yes – remembering if we have the audacity to ask, God always has the ability to act
Audacious faith takes God at his word and seeks to find how we can form our lives around the promises God has already made and prepared for us.
Before we can really ‘activate’ or begin to live out this kind of faith in our lives we have to align ourselves with the mind of God.   In the book, Steven Furtick talks about getting a glimpse of what God had in mind for him on ‘page 23’ of a Jim Cymbala called ‘Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire’.  The quote was ‘I despaired at the thought that my life might slip by without seeing God show himself mightily on our behalf’
In reading that Furtick realized that God has amazing things in store – available for us – if we would but ask God to work in us and through us and then be available and open to the Holy Spirit. 
The ‘mighty work or showing’ of God on our behalf is different for everyone.  But it is for everyone, it isn’t just for superstar Christians or pastors or just the session members, but for every one. 
So how does this work?  Unfortunately there aren’t 5 steps or 7 habits or anything like that – but there are three phases or ways of relating to God that help us get to where we are trying to go.
First we have to Seize – if you want to see God do something impossible in your life your heart and mind to God’s vision for your life:
And this is key – God’s vision for your life is bigger than yours. 
Ephesians 3:20: him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us
Essentially our vision is a kids cup and God’s vision is the crazy 144 oz insulated thermos that you see people carrying around everyone in a while
Activate our faith - Audacious faith doesn’t really begin until we make the decision to step out (or take a leap of faith) with a strength that is outside of yourself.  Seeking after God’s outsized vision for your life, will, in the normal course of things, cause you to pray ‘Sun stand still’ prayers filled with an audacious faith.
Make your move – When we respond to God’s supernatural answers by acting boldly in faith we will find ourselves right in the middle of a move of God, the impossible coming to pass or maybe even a miracle.  Audacious faith in God and ‘Sun Stand still’ prayers are not passive activities, but rather they are the combination of an active belief in God joined with participation in the purposes of God.
I hope this all sounds great and exciting to you – because as I read our Bible passages this morning and as I read and studied this book and our scriptures I got excited about the change living with an audacious faith and praying ‘Sun Stand Still’ prayers might bring  ( so I really hope I conveyed that excitement)
But if you are anything like me when you listen to a message like this, it all sounds good . . . but.   But how am I ready or qualified or capable of being part of incredible, and impossible things? 
The good news is that if we are feeling unimpressive or unqualified for whatever it is we think God is calling us to – we are in good company. 
Jesus didn’t pick the ‘best and the brightest’ for his disciples, but common, ordinary and often uneducated men as his disciples
In a story we heard just a few weeks ago, God had Gideon dismiss thousands of his soldiers so that God’s glory would shine more clear
Etc., etc., etc. 
The bottom line – for this week anyway – is that God isn’t interested in what we think is possible or within our skill-set or comfort zone.  God is interested in our active faith in his Goodness and greatness. 
God call not to match our skills, gifts and abilities against some heavenly ‘chore chart’.  God makes the impossible possible through you and I when we are willing to step out in audacious faith beyond what we can do on our own . 
This is what Furtick says: ‘The impossible becomes possible for you only as you carefully observe and faithfully obey the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Yes, God wants to increase your influence and multiply your impact in more ways than you could ever imagine. But he doesn’t always do that by calling you to make drastic changes in your life overnight.  God probably won’t call your family to relocate to a remote jungle before the end of the month.  Most likely, some ordinary opportunity or responsibility in your everyday life will seem to catch fire.  Faith opens your eyes to see the potential to serve a God who is already at work on your behalf.’
More next week on how to pray a ‘Sun Stand still prayer’ and live a Sun stand still life and what impossible thing God might be calling us to do as Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church.  Amen.

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