Why Standing Stones?

Why Standing Stones?

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Living Too Close to the World

We all meet people who seem to have one foot in the church and one foot in the world.  The unfortunate part, is that you can’t be like that and have the expectation of making it into the kingdom.  We can’t live for Jesus and our own flesh at the same time, not if we want to see transformation in our lives; and not if we want to remain in the will of God and make it to Heaven.  You cannot serve two masters.

Matthew 6:24 (NKJV)
6:24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

The word mammon translates as a desire for wealth, but it can also mean anything that serves the flesh.  You can’t serve God and any other thing.  We are called to separation from the world.

I want you to know that it’s dangerous to live too close to the world.  In this post, I want to explore this from an incident that happened in Jacob’s life, using this portion of scripture as a jumping off point.

Genesis 34:1-6 (NKJV)
34:1 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. 2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her. 3 His soul was strongly attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young woman and spoke kindly to the young woman. 4 So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, "Get me this young woman as a wife." 5 And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter. Now his sons were with his livestock in the field; so Jacob held his peace until they came. 6 Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him.

It’s Disobedience that Leads Us into this Situation

Here we find Jacob living near Shechem, which is the land of Canaan.  He is living among the pagans; he’s away from the people of God.  In our times, we would consider him to be living in, what Christians call the world.  In other words, he’s not serving God he’s serving himself.  In order to find out how he wound up in that place we need to look back into Jacob’s history.

This takes place after he has worked to pay the bride’s price for both of his wives.  He has earned the flocks that he has, but he has departed from the home of Laban.  The real problem is that he received direction from God but he has not gone to the place God told him.

Genesis 31:13 (NKJV)
31:13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family.' "

God has told him to go back to the home of his father, Isaac.  God told him to go home and that was Jacob’s intention to go home. 

Genesis 31:17-18 (NKJV)
31:17 Then Jacob rose and set his sons and his wives on camels. 18 And he carried away all his livestock and all his possessions which he had gained, his acquired livestock which he had gained in Padan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.

He packed up all that he had received in Padan Aram and he left to go back to his father.  We all know the story:  He left Padan Aram in the dead of night.  He left while Laban was off shearing the sheep.  Laban got wind of it and followed him, overtaking him and confronting him; looking for idols that Rachel has stolen.  They end up making a covenant and everyone departs happy.  At this point Jacob is still in the will of God.

Genesis 32:1-2 (NKJV)
32:1 So Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 When Jacob saw them, he said, "This is God's camp." And he called the name of that place Mahanaim.
So he is still in the will of God, he’s departed for Canaan with the intention of returning to Isaac’s house.  God reminds him of the covenant that he made with Jacob, because he is seeing the angels of God once again.  This s reference to the vision he had of the ladder and the angels ascending and descending. 

Genesis 28:12 (NKJV)
28:12 Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

This is the place where Jacob vowed, “If God will be with me and keep me he will be my God.”  So God is reminding him of that promise by showing him the angels of God.  So what happened?

Did Jacob go immediately back to Isaac’s house?  No he didn’t.  He went to meet with Esau and he wrestled with God.  I wonder if that wrestling, was Jacob wrestling with the will of God for his life, because he meets Esau and all is forgiven, so he departs and look where he goes.

Genesis 33:17 (NKJV)
33:17 And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, built himself a house, and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.
He didn’t go back to Isaac.  He went instead to Succoth and built a house.  This is a statement of permanence.  He didn’t pitch a tent; he wasn’t just passing through, he built a house. What happened to going home?  This is an act of disobedience.  He has departed from the will of God.

God calls us to his plan for our lives and many times we just don’t respond, because it doesn’t suit us or because we think we know better what is right for us.  That’s a dangerous step, because we invariably end up drifting away from God and stepping closer to the world.  That’s exactly what happens to Jacob.

Genesis 33:18-19 (NKJV)
33:18 Then Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram; and he pitched his tent before the city. 19 And he bought the parcel of land, where he had pitched his tent, from the children of Hamor, Shechem's father, for one hundred pieces of money.

Now he’s hunkered down in Shechem, and he builds an altar and calls that altar Elelohe – Israel, which means the Mighty God of Israel.

Have you ever met one of those people who speak of the mighty God?  They speak of God in terms of his power and his grace yet they can’t live for him.  They call him the mighty God but they don’t acknowledge his power over themselves.

It’s like those who say religious things and do religious things but they live in sin thinking that God’s power and wrath can’t extend to them.  They continue in their sin and they call it serving God.

So instead of obeying God and returning to his people; to his family, he has settled in this city called Shechem in the land of Canaan..  This the land named after Noah’s grandson, Canaan, who was cursed in Genesis 9 because his father saw the nakedness of Noah and was disrespectful.  Some Commentators even say he was mocking.  They also say that the people of Canaan were given to dissipation and licentiousness.  Dissipation means that they drink alcohol to excess, and licentiousness is lewdness and fornication.  They’re drunks and fornicators.  They aren’t the same as the people of God.  They live differently; they live like the world lives.

Jacob has chosen to live close to the world.  He has returned to those who aren’t living for God and what would we call that today?  What do we call a Christian who has departed from the will of God and has returned to the world of sin?  We call them backsliders.  We’re supposed to be separated; set apart.  We’re citizens of a different place.

As an American living on foreign soil, I’ve recently discovered how much Americans stick out like a sore thumb.  People always guess that we’re Americans.  They always know because there’s something different about Americans.  It’s the same for us as Christians, if we’re living for Jesus, then they will always know us.  It’s when we become like them that the problems start.  That’s exactly what happens in our text.  Once they got too close to the world the problems started.

The Steps to Winding Up Outside the Will of God

Genesis 34:1 (NKJV)
34:1 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land.

The first thing that happens is that we become curious.  We want to see how the sinners live.  We want to experience what they experience.

In Pennsylvania they have a group of people called the Amish.  These are devout Christians but they live in the same way that people lived prior to the invention of electricity.  They travel in horse drawn wagons, they have no phone; they have no lights.  But as Amish children come of age, increasingly, they are taking off for a time tom experience what twenty-first century teens are experiencing in the world.  They don’t necessarily want to leave the will of God, that’s not they’re intent but they’re curious.

That’s what’s happening with Dinah.  She’s going out to see the local women.  Isn’t that how we got caught up in sin.  The first time you smoked, why’d you do it?  What about alcohol?  What about drugs?  It was curiosity.  Then, she’s defiled by the king’s son:

Genesis 34:2 (NKJV)
34:2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her.

Genesis 34:5 (NKJV)
34:5 And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter. Now his sons were with his livestock in the field; so Jacob held his peace until they came.

He took her and lay with her.  He violated her.  He defiled her.  That word defiled means that he took her holiness from her.  He violated her sanctity, he made her like a filthy thing.  This is an act of violence.

What happens when we step into sin?  When we venture out of the will of God.  We lose our holiness.  Holiness means we are set aside for God’s use.  When we sin we are no longer separate.  We can no longer be used by God…we’re defiled.

When we do things like fornication or any kind of sin we’re no longer holy.  We’re defiled and filthy before God.  Finally, when we bind ourselves to sin there is a soul tie that takes place. 

Genesis 34:3 (NKJV)
34:3 His soul was strongly attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young woman and spoke kindly to the young woman.

There is an attraction to the world.  The desire to be a part of the world becomes stronger and stronger and we are tied to it all.  The problem is that world sees it differently than we do.  Shechem sees what takes place in a different way than Jacob and his sons, just as we have a different way of seeing things than sinners. Let me give an example.

The world will tell you that you have to live with someone before marriage in order to know that you’re compatible.  Really, they want to try the merchandise before they decide to buy it.  Christians see this as an abomination.  A God-serving Christian will see this as fornication, which is sin.  The first time I kissed my wife was at the altar at the end of our wedding, almost eighteen years ago.  Guess what?  We’re compatible, but if we weren’t we probably would have adjusted.

Shechem fell in love with her through this experience.  Jacob called it defilement.  Simeon and Levi were enraged enough to murder all the men of that place. 

Hamor goes out to negotiate the bride price and Simeon and Levi plot how to destroy them.  All of this could have been avoided if only Jacob had listened to God, and responded obediently.  If only he had gone home to Isaac and Rebeckah.  What would have happened if he’d done that?  We’ll never know.  All we do know is that that was the plan of God.

Avoiding the Danger

What brought on all this trouble for Jacob?  Where was it that Jacob began to drift into worldliness and friendship with the world?  It was the moment he decided not to go to Isaac’s house as God had told him. 

God often sends us signals but we filter God’s call through our own desires and because of that we miss what God is doing in us.  That always leads to trouble.  Jacob would have avoided all of it if he had been obedient to what God had spoken to him to do.  We need to listen for the voice of God in our lives.

How do you pray?  Do you lay out for God what your needs and desires are?  Do you tell God you have to move here or do this thing or that thing?  Do you ever stop and listen for the voice of God speaking to you, or do you hear your own thoughts and tell yourself you’re hearing from God?

That’s the most dangerous thing you can do, because how many know that our minds play tricks on us.  Don’t believe me?  Then take a look at an optical illusion, sometime. 

We need to be sure that the voice we’re hearing is the voice of God.  That it’s his voice we’re listening for. 

The second thing is that we can’t flirt with the world.  We can’t settle for the world’s standards and call it living for Jesus.  We need to remain within His standards.  That is that the commandments are commands and not guidelines or suggestions.  These are standards that he has put in place to help us remain in His will.  Sin is always sin; right is right and wrong is wrong.  There is no relativity to sin.  When we live too close to the world, the world will get on us and taint us.  The world WILL change us and draw us away from the will of God.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Prophecy and Judgment

Editor’s Note:  I have been on sort of hiatus for the last several months.  I have continued to pastor and write sermons but haven’t really had time to transcribe sermons into posts.  I have tried to fill the void by bringing excellent sermons from some other pastors.  I will occasionally do this throughout the year.  So if you submitted a post and I haven’t posted it.  I will get to it.  Some of them I have to build from notes and of course this will take some time.  Thanks for your patience and I hope you enjoyed the guest posts. – Chris

I have just finished reading the book, The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn.  This is a powerful book that compares judgment in Israel with the 9/11 events in America.  The book uses the prophecy of Isaiah in Isaiah: Chapters 9 and 10.  But I began to think of this prophecy and relating it individuals.  The question that formed in reading this was this:  If God judges a nation for turning away from God, does He also judge individuals for their apostasy?  That’s the question I want to explore in this post:  Prophecy and Judgment.

In twenty years as a Christian I’ve seen many people walk away from the will of God.  They’ve turned their backs on God and walked away from His provision and protection.  I’ve also seen in many instances a judgment fall on their lives.

Let’s look for a moment at the Prodigal Son.  He’s left his father’s house and taken his inheritance with him.  The Bible tells us that he begins to live riotously, (that’s what prodigal means), squanders his inheritance, and ends up with nothing.  He is reduced to eating what the pigs eat.  If you ask any pig farmer they’ll tell you that pigs eat garbage. 

So look at what has happened in this young man’s life.  He was raised in a wealthy family.  He had the best of everything.  But after he has left, he’s lost it all; his wealth, in his mind, he’s lost his family, and he has been reduced to living in squalor, eating garbage.  Is that judgment?  I would say that it is!

I have known men who have experienced much of what the prodigal has experienced.  They have turned away from God only to lose those things that were most important to them.  They’ve lost their families to divorce; they’ve lost their jobs and their finances and in some cases even their health has been ruined.  Does that sound like judgment?  I would say that it does.

Judgment always follows departure from God.  Its not that God is angry and wants to get back it us.  He’s not like some jilted romantic.  God has a purpose for judgment.  This post is about that judgment and God’s purpose.

Isaiah 9:8-13 (NKJV)
9:8 The Lord sent a word against Jacob, And it has fallen on Israel. 9 All the people will know-- Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria-- Who say in pride and arrogance of heart: 10 "The bricks have fallen down, But we will rebuild with hewn stones; The sycamores are cut down, But we will replace them with cedars." 11 Therefore the Lord shall set up The adversaries of Rezin against him, And spur his enemies on, 12 The Syrians before and the Philistines behind; And they shall devour Israel with an open mouth. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still. 13 For the people do not turn to Him who strikes them, nor do they seek the Lord of hosts.

The Prophecy Against Israel

This is a prophetic word given by Isaiah to Israel.  As a prophecy it speaks of coming judgment.

At this time in Israel’s history, Israel is divided into Israel in the north and Judah in the south.  The capitol of Israel is Samaria.  The Assyrians have attacked it and they’ve caused much damage.  “The bricks have fallen and the Sycamores are uprooted.”  But Israel has vowed to rise again, “We will rebuild.”  The have vowed to comeback stronger and better, “We will rebuild with hewn stone.” They will replace the clay bricks with quarried stone.  Stone is much stronger than the clay.  They will replace the Sycamores with Cedars.  Sycamore is a common tree with soft, spongy wood.  Cedar is more suitable to building because of its grain and fragrance. So they vow that THEY will rebuild and be stronger.

But God tells them in verse 9 that they’re speaking with pride and arrogance, because they have removed God from their thinking.  They’re thinking that this is only a security problem.  They’re not thinking of it as a warning or a judgment.  They’re only thinking that they need to protect themselves better:  That they can become safer if they rebuild with better materials.  Hewn stone is stronger than clay, “Let’s build with that.”  Cedars are better than Sycamores, “Let’s plant those.” 

They’re thinking that they will make themselves stronger.  They’re thinking that they can do what they’ve always depended on God to do before. 

It’s really defiance, they’re telling the Assyrians, “You can’t destroy us, WE will rebuild.”  WE will do it.  In some ways it’s the same kind of thinking that the people who build the Tower of Babel had.  We will do what only God has done.  “WE can build a tower to the heavens.”

Israel’s thinking is:  We can do this; we can fortify and protect.  We don’t need God for that WE can do it ourselves. We can do what God has always done.  God has always said that He will protect His people.  That He will provide for Hid people.  But Israel has forgotten that.  In fact, they’ve already turned away to idols.  They’ve already turned away from the God who delivered them.  It’s this attitude that has brought about this warning.  Look at what it says: 

Because you have arrogantly said, “We will rebuild,” leaving God completely out of the equation, God is warning them, through Isaiah that the enemies of Rezin, (Israel’s ally), will rise up against him and them.  God has sent this as a warning to them that another judgment will come upon them.

The action of the Assyrians in knocking down the walls and uprooting the Sycamores was already a judgment.  This prophecy is a warning of more to come.  If the Assyrian attack didn’t open their eyes there is a more terrible judgment to come.  God gave that to Isaiah to speak to them.  First there is the action and then there are the words.  Following that Israel must make a decision, to turn back or to be judged.

Here’s a question, do you think God does that in individual lives as well?  Do you think we can leave God’s will and God’s protection and go out on our own and forget about God, or do you think God deals with us as individuals in the same way he dealt with Israel?

This is a prophecy.  This is a warning to Israel, “It’s going to get really ugly if you don’t turn back to me.”  It would be really frightening to me to walk away from God, because I’ve seen the devastating affect of walking away from God. I’ve seen men lose their families.  I’ve seen them begin to live riotously.  I’ve seen them living on the streets and eating from garbage cans, because this has taken place in their lives.  The really frightening part is that often they think they can’t turn back to God because they have given themselves over to exactly this kind of pride.

I don’t know why people are homeless here in Taiwan, but in Colton and Riverside, because of my position in the church I knew a lot of homeless men.  I saw their arrogance in their hatred of authority.  I saw their pride in their refusal to be accountable to a boss. “No one is going to tell me what to do!”  I saw their defiance in their unwillingness to be a part of the society at large, it was as if they screamed, “You won’t reach me, you can’t touch me I don’t need you.”  That’s exactly what Israel was saying when they declared, “WE will rebuild.”

This prophecy is telling Israel that their enemies will devour them; they will destroy them.  We also face an enemy that wants to destroy us.  The Bible tells us that our enemy, “is like a roaring lion seeking whom he will devour.”

The Purpose of Judgment

So, is God just an angry God?  Is God just a judgmental God, “You better tow the line boy, or I’m gonna tear you up!”?  Is that who God is?

Why would God turn his people over to their enemies?  He does that because He wants them back.  God isn’t doing this to be bitter and vengeful.  God isn’t motivated by hatred or revenge; in short, God isn’t like you and I.  God is doing this to bring them back to Him.

“What about the flood?  “ you may ask.  Why’d God destroy everybody in the flood?  He didn’t send a prophet to them to tell them about the coming judgment.  He did send a warning, He sent Noah, to preach righteousness.

2 Peter 2:5 (NKJV)
2:5 and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly;

He was trying to call those who were facing judgment to Him.  What do you think would have happened if someone heard Noah and repented?  He would have been allowed on the ark.  Remember in the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrrah, the city would have been spared for the sake of ten righteous men.

In the New Testament Paul speaks of the purpose of judgment:

1 Corinthians 5:3-5 (NKJV)
5:3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

The judgment was for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit might be saved.  Judgment was a call back to Him.  God is using the action of the Assyrians to call His people back to Him.  Look at what He tells them through Isaiah:

Isaiah 10:24-25 (NKJV)
10:24 Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts: "O My people, who dwell in Zion, do not be afraid of the Assyrian. He shall strike you with a rod and lift up his staff against you, in the manner of Egypt. 25 For yet a very little while and the indignation will cease, as will My anger in their destruction."

He’s telling Israel, they’re going to damage you, they’re going to hurt you, but it’s only for a little while, until you turn back to Me.”  This is God’s primary purpose in judgment.  There is punishment for their rejection of God.  He’s warned them of that throughout history, “I’m a jealous God.”  He’s said it over and over through the law, through the prophets, through Moses and David, through Sodom and Gomorrah.  The sin and idolatry must be punished, but the primary purpose of judgment is to bring about repentance.

Sin and idolatry must be punished.  God’s anger is kindled.

Isaiah 9:16-17 (NKJV)
9:16 For the leaders of this people cause them to err, And those who are led by them are destroyed. 17 Therefore the Lord will have no joy in their young men, Nor have mercy on their fatherless and widows; For everyone is a hypocrite and an evildoer, And every mouth speaks folly. For all this His anger is not turned away, But His hand is stretched out still.

God punishes the leaders for their leading of the people to turn away from God.  But He also holds them who are led astray personally accountable for their own idolatry.  “Those who are led by them are destroyed."  Judgment is personal.  You are responsible for your own response to God.  God isn’t going to give you a pass, you will be judged for turning away and his judgment will punish.  The plan is that the judgment will turn you back to Him. 

When do we cry out to God?  When all is going well?  Is that when we feel a need for God or do we cry put when we have come to the end of ourselves?  When we are humbled and miserable is when we cry out for God:  That’s the place where judgment will bring us.

When did the prodigal son, come to himself?  He came to himself when he had lost everything and was miserably competing with pigs for garbage to eat.  That’s when he decided to return:  After the judgment had driven him to his knees.  That’s the purpose of judgment.

Isaiah 10:21-22 (NKJV)
10:21 The remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, To the Mighty God. 22 For though your people, O Israel, be as the sand of the sea, A remnant of them will return; The destruction decreed shall overflow with righteousness.

When they come home, the judgment will stop.  The Assyrians had come in and piled up destruction.  God was waiting for them to turn back, He even sent Isaiah to warn them that a worse calamity was coming.  He was calling them back to repentance.  He was looking for them to turn around.

The Bible tells us that the father of the prodigal son saw him afar off.  He saw him far down the road and ran to him and kissed him.  Have you ever thought about why he saw him so far off?  It’s because he was standing at the fence and looking for him.  He waiting and hoping for his return.  It’s the same with God.  We go through judgment so we will come to ourselves and return to a waiting God.

God’s Response to Those Who Come Back

When the prodigal returned the Bible tells us his father slaughtered the fatted calf and the whole household rejoiced.  The prodigal himself was forgiven and restored.

Look at what happens in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Isaiah 10:26-27 (NKJV)
10:26 And the Lord of hosts will stir up a scourge for him like the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb; as His rod was on the sea, so will He lift it up in the manner of Egypt. 27 It shall come to pass in that day That his burden will be taken away from your shoulder, And his yoke from your neck, And the yoke will be destroyed because of the anointing oil.

God uses those who desire to destroy us to execute judgment.  When the judgment is finished, though, then the evil is punished.  Their judgment and oppression will cease and they will be judged for their evil.

Immediately following this prophecy of judgment, Isaiah begins another prophecy.  It begins like this:

Isaiah 11:1 (NKJV)
11:1 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.

This is a prophecy of blessing and renewal.  This is God’s promise of a redeemer.  He is a descendant of Jesse through David.  He is called a “Son of David,” in response to this prophecy.  The word Christ literally means “the Anointed One.”  He is there to lift the bnurden of sin, the yoke of oppression and to judge the evil one. 

This prophecy is a warning to Israel that judgment will come on them for turning away from God.  It tells us also of personal judgment if we turn away from God.  We must guard our hearts because it is easy t turn away from God in the busyness and turmoil of life and embrace other things making them a god.  Idolatry requires judgment because God doesn’t give up on us but looks for ways to call us back to Him.  God is a good and gracious God.