Why Standing Stones?

Why Standing Stones?

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

Monday, January 16, 2012

Who's Excellent?

The people in the above video are doing excellent things.  They are doing things that are extremely difficult.  They have to put great effort and time into learning and perfecting these things.  But they have no eternal value.  These things are to please men not God.  And all of them have succeeded.  These things are impressive but they’re of little value.  They’re entertaining and exciting, but what value do they have beyond that?

“Human excellence means nothing unless it works with the consent of God.”

Today I want to explore excellence within the framework of the will of God. 

Colossians 3:22-25 (NKJV)
3:22 Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. 23 And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. 25 But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.

Are We Excellent?

According to Mirriam-Webster Dictionaries, excellence can be defined as:  very good of its kind: FIRST-CLASS

"Excellence in any art or profession is attained only by hard and persistent work."
Theodore Martin

Have you taken any time to examine what you’re doing for God?  What are the things you’re doing for God.  Have you set aside any time for Him and His purposes? 

Excellence is seen in a number of ways:  I’m reading Steve Jobs biography right now, and there’s an interesting anecdote about jobs’ stepfather.  He’s the type of man that likes to restore cars and do things with his hands.  At one point Jobs was watching and helping as his father built a cabinet.  And his father was taking time to make sure that everything about the cabinet was done right and looked beautiful…even the parts no one would ever see.  He used high-quality wood even for the back of the cabinet. That’s excellence.

Wanting to be sure that the finished product is high-quality; not throwing something together that looks good on the surface but taking the time and putting in the thought to do it right.  That’s doing something with excellence.

In our day and hour so many things are done to give the appearance of excellence without actually being excellent.  For example, I was reading about a car company in Finland that developed a high-end electric car.  These cars look like sports cars, they have beautiful interiors.  They sell for more than $100,000 USD each.  But a couple of weeks ago every single car that they’ve built was recalled, because they have a fire risk.  They spontaneously burn up.  The engineering on the battery system, that no one would see, was not up to industry standards.  They have the appearance of quality but they’re not excellent. 

This translates to how we do things for God as well.  If you look around at the church world you see beautiful modern buildings, with all the latest technology, all of the programs.  I know one church that even has a Starbuck’s right on their campus.  On the surface they’re the ideal of the modern, “Super Church.”  I’m not saying that these things are bad in and of themselves.  But inside, people are not involved in real evangelism or winning sinners to Jesus.

We used to have a booth at a night market type event in Riverside and for a while they put us next to this other church.  I listened to the way people talked to people who stopped at their booth.  They talked about all the programs…”We have a singles ministry, we have a volleyball ministry, we have coffee shop and Christian bookstore.  Who are they trying to get to the church with those kinds of things?  As a sinner I never would have set foot in a Christian bookstore.  So whom are they trying to reach…other Christians, maybe?  So then evangelism just becomes an exercise at getting people in the door.  It’s not about getting them saved; it’s about filling the pews.  I wonder if God looks at these things and calls it excellence.  Is that meeting the standards of God will?  Or is it putting the face of evangelism on a marketing strategy. 

In my last post I talked about how each of us has strengths that can overcome each other’s weaknesses:  That maybe you’re strong in an area where someone else is weak.  In that way we can overcome our weaknesses and as a church we can be effective at reaching people. That’s why Christianity isn’t an individual pursuit.  That’s why the church was intended to be a body of believers.  But excellence as a body is dependent on us being excellent as individuals.  If all of us are doing what we do with excellence then our efforts as a group will be excellent. 

If you’re involved in ministry, take a look at your ministry efforts, are you doing what you’re doing with excellence?  If you’re not involved with your church’s ministry, is that meting the standards of God’s calling on your life?  Are you excellent in the things of life, work, family, marriage, but not doing anything for God? 

What does our scripture say?  “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,” (Col 3:23)

The first part of this scripture is in this context:  Do what you do as if you’re doing it for God.  Do what you do with excellence, not just to look good, but because it’s the right thing to do.  That means every aspect of our worldly life.  We need to obey our bosses, because it’s the right thing to do, not because we want to look good for them so they will reward us with a raise or a promotion or whatever.  It also means every aspect of our spiritual life as well.  We should desire to be as much like Jesus as possible, and jesus did everything with excellence.

The Excellence of God – Being like Him

God is into us being excellent, because God is excellent.

Job 37:23 (NKJV)
37:23 As for the Almighty, we cannot find Him; He is excellent in power, In judgment and abundant justice; He does not oppress.

Psalms 8:1 (NKJV)
8:1 To the Chief Musician. On the instrument of Gath. A Psalm of David. O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens!

I look around me and marvel at the earth and the things of the earth.  How everything fits together and works together perfectly.  Look at your hand for a moment.  It’s the perfect tool isn’t it?  You can use it to do so many things.  How your body is made.  So many things such complexity and every thing works together perfectly.  How your mind works alone is amazing.  There is a book called “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made” that talks about how our bodies work. 

 In our bodies alone we can see the excellence of God.  How much more is it evident in the rest of the universe?  Look at this scripture:

Romans 1:20 (NKJV)
1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,

We can see God in the details of creation.  God’s excellence shows in his creation.  Who is the creator of the universe?

John 1:1-3 (NKJV)
1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

According to John, Jesus is the creator of the universe; everything that was made was made through Him.  He’s the creative power of the universe.  So the question becomes, who are we?  Are we His disciples?  If we’re here to learn from Him and be like Him then we are His disciples. 

That’s the definition of a disciple.  Not just someone who learns but someone who desire to be like their teacher.  When mwe go to school we’re learners, right?  We go there to learn many things, does that make us disciples of our teachers?  No, because the desire to be like the teacher is what makes us a disciple.

I was talking to a brother in the Zhongli church, the other day and he was telling me about one of the new guys in the church.  He talks to him; he was showing up late for church and this brother tells him, “I’m never late, because I want to get all I can get from God.”  So the guy listens to him and begins to come to church on time. That’s the discipleship process.  That’s what being a disciple is about being like the one who teaches.  So if we are disciples of Christ then we should desire to be like Him in every way.  That includes doing what we do with excellence.

I want to look at two men of the Bible who did the things they did with excellence.  The first is Joseph.  We know the story of Joseph.  His brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt.  Then his master’s wife lied and he went to prison.  Then he got out and became Pharaoh’s right hand man.  But take a look at Joseph’s character for a moment.  I want you to see something about how he did things:

Genesis 39:4-6 (NKJV)
39:4 So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority. 5 So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had in the house and in the field. 6 Thus he left all that he had in Joseph's hand, and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.

So Potiphar put everything he had into Joseph’s control. He didn’t even know what he had except what was set on the table before him.   Can you imagine?  Everyday he sat down and said “Oh look bread!  I guess we’re not broke yet.”  That’s big-time trust isn’t it? 

Joseph didn’t let him down either.  The Bible says the Egyptian was blessed for Joseph’s sake.  Because God wanted to bless Joseph, Potiphar got blessed, because Joseph did what he did with excellence.  Is your boss blessed because you work there?  Joseph was excellent in prison and the jailer trusted him over all the other prisoners.  He was excellent in his work for Pharaoh.  His diligence saved Egypt and Israel from the famine.

The other one I want to look at is Daniel:

Daniel 6:1-4 (NKJV)
6:1 It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps, to be over the whole kingdom; 2 and over these, three governors, of whom Daniel was one, that the satraps might give account to them, so that the king would suffer no loss. 3 Then this Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm. 4 So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him.

Daniel has an excellent spirit; he was given to excellence in all that he does.  There was no error found in him:  None, zip zero nada, 零.  He has an excellent spirit so the king trusted him above all the others.  As Christians people should be able to see that in us.  You know, we can’t do everything perfectly, we’re human, but perfection isn’t excellence, anyway. Excellence is found in faithfulness, giving your best effort and attention to detail.  It’s from doing it the very best you know how and learning from the mistakes you made and doing it better the next time. 

As an executive I never got angry just when there was a failure on somebody’s part.  If they did what they did with their best effort I would just point out the error and we’d go on.  But if they were careless or kept making the same mistake and never learning from it then there’d be fireworks.  Excellence is found in giving your best.

Being Excellent

How are we excellent?  It’s found in verses 23 and 24 of our text:

Colossians 3:23-24 (NKJV)
3:23 And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

So what is it constitutes excellence?  Doing everything as if we’re doing it for Jesus, know that in Him we have our reward.  Isn’t it interesting that God cares about how we do things?  Do you know why God is interested in how we do our tasks; how well we work for our bosses; how well we do what the things we do for Him?  He cares because it reflects on the Gospel. 

People should see Christ in us.  That means being excellent.  People should see the power of God to change lives in us.  That means overcoming our weakness and sin.  People should see the excellence of God in us, because we are living as much like Him as we can.  Because we’re His followers we should be like Him and that means being excellent in our approach to everything.  Can you imagine what a powerhouse our churches could be in our communities if everyone in the church approached the call of God with excellence?   We could turn the world upside down.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Knitting in Church

I have recently had surgery on my arm and the wound is at that stage where it's beginning to itch.  It’s very itchy.  That’s because the skin is knitting together.  When the surgeon cut my skin he separated it into two pieces.  It’s becoming one piece again.  It’s knitting together. 

In a church we take a number of individuals; separate pieces and we try to knit them together.  Try to put them together into one church.  When something is knitted together both parts become one, they move together they work together they go in the same direction seeking the same goals. 

What should be happening in any church is that everyone is becoming of one accord:  That everyone is moving together, striving together for the same thing.  It’s easy to look at the church and say that putting together outreaches and events, that witnessing and bringing in people is the job of the pastor, but if your heart and your pastor’s heart are knit together then you will be doing the same things the pastor is to reach people. 

This is my third post in a row on fellowship.  I’ve been preaching on it a lot, recently, in order to build the camaraderie among the people in my church.  I think it is important that we recognize our need to be together and to strive together.  W need to remember that we were brought together for a reason:  So that   we could bring our strengths and them to the strengths of others, overcoming each other’s weaknesses to win our city for Jesus. 

In this post I want to bring home the need to knit our hearts together.  I’ve said it before; Christianity isn’t a solo pursuit.  There is a call on each of us to reach people with the Gospel.  The call is on all of us, not just the pastor.  Jesus didn’t just send the apostles out to preach, He sent the seventy also.  That’s the pattern of the church of Jesus Christ. 

It isn’t a shepherd who makes sheep.  The sheep make more sheep.  Each of us has influence with people with whom your pastor could never have influence.  Each of you meet and rub shoulder with people whom he will never meet.  Look around your church, whom have you invited and brought in and led to Jesus?  I’m not talking about people from other churches; I’m talking about sinners. 

This is my first post for the New Year.  I preached this New Years Day, the day when people make resolutions for change in the following year.  I think this is a good time to evaluate our commitment to the will of God and make any resolutions necessary for the New Year.  So from this portion of scripture: 

1 Samuel 18:1-4 (NKJV)
18:1 Now when he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 Saul took him that day, and would not let him go home to his father's house anymore. 3 Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.

The Relationship

This scripture is talking about the knitting together of Jonathan and David’s hearts.  We can see from reading this that there is a deep relationship that has been started between the two men. 

In many ways we can see that the men are very much alike.  We know about Jonathan’s charge on the Philistine Garrison with his armor-bearer in 1 Samuel 14, and we know about David’s assault on Goliath in 1 Samuel 17.  They are the same kind of men.  They’re both courageous.  They’re both full of faith.  They’re both men of action; they took the action of their faith.  They trust God with their lives and expected God to bring about a supernatural victory.  They are kindred spirits.  That word kindred means that they are of a like nature:  They have the same spirit.

It’s interesting that they come from completely different backgrounds.  Jonathan is the eldest son of the king.  He is the next in line for the throne.  He has been raised with the best of everything.  He has given the best education in the kingdom to prepare him to rule the kingdom.

David on the other hand, is the youngest of the seven sons of a shepherd.  He works in the field as a shepherd, his education can’t compare with Jonathan’s.  They’re two different people that come from two different backgrounds and yet at this moment they’ve knit their hearts together.  What would cause that?

Why would them come so close together in this moment?  What is it that they have in common?  What is it that draws them together?  I believe it’s their faith in God.  What they share most is that they’re in the will of God. 

In our church we have a number of people from completely different cultures, educational backgrounds and interests, but one thing links us all together…Jesus.  The one overriding thing in our lives is Jesus. 

David and Jonathan’s desire to be in the will of God for their lives is the thing that knits their hearts together.  These two completely different individuals came together because of their desire to do the will of God.  It occurs to me thatwe can sall come together for the same reason. 

When we decided to come here we had the support of everyone in our home church.  Everyone supported the Taoyuan City church financially.  Everyone prayed for the Taoyuan City church..  Everyone was excited that THEY would be reaching another country through us.  The funny thing is that we are all very different.  Many of the people in that church came from Mexican gangs.  Many were drug addicts.  Many were alcoholics.  Some were high school dropouts.  Some are highly educated.  Many of them didn’t even know where Taiwan was.  Some people still ask me, “How’s the Thai food?’  But I don’t now, I live in Taiwan not Thailand. Most Americans are kind of geographically challenged.
The point is that they rallied behind our pastor’s decision t send us here.  They pray and support us even though we come from such different backgrounds.  Our hearts are knit together for the people of Taiwan.  We are of one accord.

There’s an interesting dynamic that took place in the early church that we can see in the Book of Acts:

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.

They were all of one accord in one place; that’s when the Holy Spirit fell.  That’s when God came upon them and began to indwell in them.  When they were of one accord in one place. 

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.

They were continuing daily with one accord in the temple.  When they were in one accord that’s when God added to the church.  When we’re not scattered and doing different things; when we’re together and on the same page, or knit together, that’s when God can bring increase into the church. 

Finally, look at this:

Matthew 12:25 (NKJV)
12:25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.

If we are divided and scattered we are destined to desolation.  Do you know what desolation is?  It’s barrenness or a lack of fruitfulness.

Jonathan Gives Up the Kingdom

There is an interesting exchange that takes place in our text.  It’s found in verse number 4:

 1 Samuel 18:4 (NKJV) 18:4 And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.

Jonathan takes of his robe and sword and belt and gives them to David.  The robe signifies Jonathan’s royalty.    It’s the thing that marks him as the king’s son and heir to the throne. It is the symbol of his inheritance of the throne.  By giving them to David he is transferring his royalty onto David.  In other words he’s saying, “You are now a part of royalty; you are now the successor to the king.”  We know that in1 Samuel 16, Samuel has already anointed David the King over Israel.  Jonathan is making a stand for the will of God.
Look at what happens later in their relationship.  Saul has decided to kill David.  In Chapter 18 he tries to pin David to the wall with a javelin.  In Chapter 19 he sends soldiers to David’s house to kill him in his sleep.  His wife, Michal, lowers him down the wall so he can escape.  He escapes to a city called Naioth.  Saul finds out and chases him to Naioth; David comes to Jonathan.

Finally, in Chapter 20, there is a big feast coming up.  Jonathan hatched a plan.  He told David to hide and when Saul asked Jonathan why David wasn’t in his place at the feast Jonathan would tell him that Jonathan had given David permission to go and worship.  Saul’s reaction would tell Jonathan if Saul was serious about killing David. 

So David and Jonathan followed the plan.  David missed the feast and when Saul asked Jonathan about David, Jonathan told him he had given David permission to miss the feast.  Look at Saul’s reaction:

1 Samuel 20:30-34 (NKJV)
20:30 Then Saul's anger was aroused against Jonathan, and he said to him, "You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother's nakedness? 31 For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom. Now therefore, send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die." 32 And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said to him, "Why should he be killed? What has he done?" 33 Then Saul cast a spear at him to kill him, by which Jonathan knew that it was determined by his father to kill David. 34 So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had treated him shamefully.

It was obvious to Jonathan what Saul intended to do to David, so he warned David to flee.

So because his heart was knit with David’s Jonathan warned David to flee from Saul.  Jonathan has begun to protect David.  He knows by what Saul said that David will be the next king of Israel, not Jonathan.  He knows that saul as the authority wants David dead.  He’s going against his father’s wished because the will of God and his relationship with David are the most important to him. 

Sometimes, and this is especially true in Taiwan, the desires of our family members come into conflict with the will of God.  This can make serving God and being in the will of God difficult.  Something bad happens to the family and they look at you and say the reason this happened is because you have brought a curse on the family because you left the traditional Taiwanese religion.  There is anger and hostility.  This is exactly what happened to Jonathan, he came to a point where he had to decide between God’s will and his father’s.  Jonathan makes a stand against his father’s wishes because those wishes lie outside the will of God.

Look what the Bible says:

Luke 14:26 (NKJV)
14:26 "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.

That word translated as hate doesn’t mean what we take it to mean today.  We use the word hate as a strong dislike for another.  The word literally means to love less.  So what Jesus is saying in this statement is that He comes first.  If we place Him first in our lives, then His will must also come before any others, including our own.

That’s why I can’t understand why so many things come before going to church and the other things Jesus has commanded us to do.  If you’re not doing his will, you’re not putting him first.  You may believe in him, but you’re not a disciple.  Jonathan put the will of God before everything else in protecting David.  God’s will came before his father’s will; it even came before being king.

What it Takes to Knit Our Souls Together

Today we need to take a look at where we are as individuals.  What are you doing to further God’s will?  Are you laboring to bring the Gospel to others in your community?  Do you have the same desire to build the church as your pastor?  Where is your personal vision with regard to the vision of the church?  Is your heart linked with your pastor’s?  Are you moving in the direction your church is going or are you doing your own thing?  Are you looking for what you can do within the pattern of your church or do you have a better idea?  Are you involved or are you thinking your role is to sit and watch?  Pretty tough questions, huh?  Your answers will tell you whether or not you are in aone accord with your pastor and your church.

There came a point in my Christian walk where I had to say, I’m going to surrender my will and my vision to the vision of my pastor.  If we’re all going in different directions we can’t move forward.  If we stay together we can accomplish what God is looking to accomplish in our city.

Let me give an example.  Say I’m walking down a path and across the path is a big Gate.  It’s welded shut.  It requires a key to open it.  Behind the gate are a lot of people.  The people are starving, some are hurt, some are suffering with sickness.  They need to be set free so they can be healed and helped.  I come to the gate and I try to push it open and nothing happens.  I fight and struggle and I manage to squeeze some between the bars a few are saved and the rest die. 

Or say there are a number of us there at the gate.  And we see the suffering people and we decide we need to help them.  So one person starts trying to dig a hole under the gate.  Another starts to chop down a tree to make a ladder.  A third starts to file at the weld on the gate.  We’re all doing different things but time is running out and before we can rescue everybody…most of them die.

But what if we come to that gate and all begin to work together.  One team begins to cut the lock and the others push on the door.  By working together we break the gate open and everyone escapes.  Which is the better way?