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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Crouching Sin, Hidden Dragon

We used to have a cat named “Baby.”  That’s a nice name for a cat, isn't it?  It seems like it would be a harmless little kitty.  Babies are pretty harmless, aren't they?  This cat wasn't harmless, though, he was a very fierce, effective hunter.  Birds and mice were in grave danger when they came onto our property.  That cat was a killing machine. 

I remember watching him one day, as a bird settled on our front lawn and picked at the grass.  He crouched down and edged slowly toward the bird, never taking his eyes off it.  The bird was aware of the cat.  He would look in the cat’s direction and the cat would freeze.  When the bird looked away he would begin to edge forward slowly, ever closer.

Finally, the bird realized that the cat was too close and started to fly off, but the cat leaped out of his crouch and knocked the bird from the air.  I will spare you the gruesome details of what happened next.

The problem for the bird was that he allowed the cat to get too close.  He didn't keep a safe enough distance between himself and the cat.  He didn't recognize the threat until it was too late, and that mistake was deadly.  Today I want to post on the danger of sin.

Genesis 4:1-12 (NKJV)
4:1 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, "I have acquired a man from the Lord." 2 Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6 So the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it." 8 Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" 10 And He said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground. 11 So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12 When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth."

The Danger of Sin

Often, when we know someone who is involved in sin we say something like, “Oh, he fell into sin.”  He fell, as if it was an accident, or he just somehow mysteriously wound up in that state.  The truth is that sin is never an accident.  It is always the result of choices.  Intent is necessary to make an action a sin.  The real truth is that we make a decision that leads to sin.  We don’t just fall into it.  We make a decision. That decision opens a door and sin enters into our life through that open door.

Our text tells us that sin lies at the door.  That word translated as lies, literally means crouches.  It crouches like that cat that’s ready to pounce on the bird.  It’s waiting for an opportunity. Its DESIRE is for us.  It’s exactly the picture of that cat stalking the bird.  He’s crouched down; his concentration is fully on the bird.  His desire is so intense he’s literally twitching.  That’s what God is describing to Cain in our text.  Sin crouches at the door; its desire is for you.

So sin is aggressive, it’s on the attack.  Let’s look for a moment at what makes sin dangerous. Look at the story here:

Adam and Eve have given birth and the children have grown up to be men.  We know that because they have jobs to do.  They are involved in certain trades.  Abel is a shepherd, “a keeper of the sheep,” while Cain is a farmer, “a tiller of the ground.”  They have both brought offerings to God, as expected, but there is an interesting phrase here in reference to Cain's offering:  “In the process of time.”  That phrase means after a period of time has passed.  So, it means that it didn't happen right away.  There was some time that had passed before Cain brought his offering.

It gives us this image of Cain planting his crops and after he has gathered the harvest, he waits before he brings the offering.  On the other hand, we see a different phrase with regard to Abel’s offering: “Abel brought the firstborn of his flock.” Abel brought the firstborn.  He didn't wait for a second generation.  He came with the very first of the blessing he had received.

So Cain gave out of his abundance.  He waited to make sure there was enough.  He waited to see how much there would be.  He wanted to be sure that there was enough to meet his own needs before he gave to God, but Abel gave in faith.  He gave the firstborn.  He didn’t wait to make sure the sheep got pregnant again.  He didn’t wait until there were more babies.  He gave the FIRSTBORN.

There’s an interesting contrast here.  Abel gave in faith that God would continue to supply his needs.  He believes God, but Cain waits to give in fear that there won’t be enough.  We also see God’s reaction to their giving.  He respects Abel’s offering and does not respect Cain’s.  Abel’s offering is a picture of faith and Cain’s is not, and the Bible tells us:

Hebrews 11:6 (NKJV)
11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

God can’t be pleased with Cain’s offering because Cain hasn't given in faith.  There’s a lesson there for us as well; that we ought to give in faith.  Many of us don’t tithe; we don’t give the first fruits.  The Bible tells us in Exodus, that the first fruits belong to God.

Our tithe should be the first thing that comes out of our paychecks.  That’s how my wife and I do it.  When we receive our check we immediately deduct our tithe and bring it in the very next service.  We completely remove it from our account and set it aside.  We live off what’s left.  If we don’t do it that way we are bringing our offering, “in the process of time.”  We’re giving in the same way Cain gave.

I didn't want to post on tithing, in particular...that was free bonus.  I want to point out the danger of sin.  It isn't an accident that this takes place around giving, though.  God respects Abel’s offering.  That word translated as respects is sha-ah in Hebrew and it literally means to gaze upon; to see it.  So God could see Abel’s offering, but He couldn't see Cain’s.  As far as God was concerned there was no offering.  The danger is seen in what God says to Cain, “if you do well, will you not be accepted?”  If you do the right thing you’ll be accepted.  If we do the right thing God will accept us, but here’s the main point, “If you do not do well, sin lies at the door.”  Remember, the word translated as lies literally means crouches…as if to leap.  So, if we do not do well then sin is waiting for us to open the door so it can leap on us.

Sin is aggressive, “Its desire is for you.”  It wants you; it wants to pounce on you like that cat wanted to pounce on the bird.  I don’t need to tell you that all that was left of the bird after that was a pile of feathers.

Our text tells us that through Cain’s lack of faith in giving he opened a door to that crouching, waiting sin and we know the rest of the story.  Cain Killed Abel and was forced to be a vagabond and live in fear.

Opening the Door

I want to go back to my illustration about the bird once more:

That bird knew the cat was there.  The cat wasn't hidden.  He could easily be seen; he was lying in the sun out in the open.  The bird saw him and as the cat edged closer and closer the bird would stop and look at him, watching him.  The bird made a mistake, though; he didn't grasp how dangerous the cat was.  He allowed the cat to get close enough to be able to pounce, and the cat got him.

A lot of the time we are just like the bird.  It’s almost as if we’re PLAYING with sin.  We allow it to get closer and closer.  We see it, we know it’s there but we don’t keep enough distance between it and us to be safe.  We’re staying right on the edge of sin’s pouncing distance.  We flirt with it, and we play with it, but the danger is that we can misjudge it, and before we know it we’re caught up. 

How do we open the door to sin?  Let me give you an example from my own life.  I was a drunk.  I got drunk every night.  I missed work because of hangovers, only once or twice, but enough times to say that alcohol was more important to me than my job.  I chose getting drunk by myself over spending time with people, so it’s safe to say that booze was more important to me than relationships.  When I started to drink I never thought that it would be like that.  It wasn't my intention to become a drunk.  I did it because I wanted to have fun.  I did it because it felt good and I always thought I’d be able to control it.  I never imagined that it would end up controlling me.

People don’t start doing drugs with the intention of becoming an heroin addict.  Women don’t have sex hoping, that in the future they’ll be single mothers living in poverty.  We always think we can control it.  We always think we can play with fire and not be burned. 

It’s almost as if you open the door and say, “Here kitty, kitty,” and then when the cat leaps you slam the door at the last possible second, but the sin is aggressive and it waits.  It gets a little closer.  It changes its position just a little with each door slam and eventually, you open the door, and before you can react it pounces and it’s got you.

In our text, Cain opened the door with his unbelief.  He didn't believe that God would provide for his needs, that’s why he held out, to make sure he had enough.  “If I give it you God, I may not have enough for my family.”  So he waited and after he was sure that his needs had been met he gave the rest to God.  Those weren't the first fruits; they were the last fruits.  They were an afterthought.

Then he got angry, “Hey God, I gave to you…why aren't you blessing me?”  Then he got mad at the one whom God did bless and he killed him.  He opened the door with unbelief, and stood at the door with envy and jealousy. Finally, the sin pounced on him and destroyed his life through the murder of Abel.  He never imagined his resistance to giving to God would result in the murder of his brother and a curse on his own life.  What are you considering, right now, that may have consequences down the road, that you can’t possibly see.

Do you know what is one of the biggest problems in society, today?  Everybody knows everything.  Nobody can hear any criticism of what they want to do.  Nobody is willing to take any advice from anyone. I used to ask my wife, “How did I become the only man in the world that doesn't know everything?”  Actually, it works in my favor, because I can listen to criticism and I can take advice.  Because of that, I can avoid problems, struggle and turmoil.  What about you?  Are you always right?  I know that some people are reading this right now and saying to themselves, “He’s wrong, he doesn't know what he’s talking about.”  Sometimes, someone else can see the outcome, down the road, when we can’t, or actually, they see it when we don’t want to.

How do we Keep Sin at Bay?

Where did Cain really go wrong?  Was it in his giving?  The way that he gave was wrong, it was the thing that opened the door, but I don’t think that was the fatal thing.  Was it getting angry with Abel getting blessed?  Jealousy and envy are definitely sin.  Bitterness is ugly and physically harmful to us.  These things certainly contributed to Cain’s outcome, but that wasn't the fatal flaw, either.

Cain’s fatal mistake, the thing that led to his downfall, was that when God told him that he was wrong, he couldn't repent.  God came to him and told him, “If you do well, you WILL be accepted, but if you don’t, sin WILL destroy you.  Cain didn't listen to God; he never repented.  It was his lack of repentance that led directly to the murder of Abel.

Some people are reading this with unrepented sin.  Maybe you don’t see the consequences down the road, or maybe you think it’s just a little thing, or may be you understand it's sin, but you think you can control it.  You ought to be looking.  You ought to be watching because if there is unrepented sin, it can destroy you.

Sin is aggressive, its desire is for you, but you can overcome sin through repentance.  Cain didn't have to spend the later years of his life as a vagabond, looking over his shoulder, fearing death.  All he needed to do was repent.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Nevertheless: For the Pioneer Church

Editors Note:  I have been pastor at a pioneer church in Taoyuan City, Taiwan for the last four and a half years.  Over that time we have faced a number of obstacles, not least of which is demonic opposition.  This post is written from the perspective of this church in Taoyuan City, but I think it's applicable to any pioneer setting in any nation.

One thing that we are seeing happen, is that there is a resistance to the church’s efforts to reach our community with the Gospel.  All Hell is breaking loose.  People in the church are struggling, spiritually, financially and in other ways.  People have been leaving the church for reasons that seem to make no sense.  People are living on the edge, one foot in the kingdom of God and one foot in the world.  All of these things happen as the devil tries to rob us of victory.

There is an opposition that faces us.  How many understand that this is warfare?  We are in a battle for souls and we face an enemy that is determined to destroy the works of God.  He fights his battles trying to wear down the soldiers of the opposition.  Here’s the bad news… We are those soldiers.  Today, I want to post on overcoming the opposition and maintaining the victory.

2 Samuel 5:3-10 (NKJV)
5:3 Therefore all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord. And they anointed David king over Israel. 4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. 5 In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty-three years over all Israel and Judah. 6 And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who spoke to David, saying, "You shall not come in here; but the blind and the lame will repel you," thinking, "David cannot come in here." 7 Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion (that is, the City of David). 8 Now David said on that day, "Whoever climbs up by way of the water shaft and defeats the Jebusites (the lame and the blind, who are hated by David's soul), he shall be chief and captain." Therefore they say, "The blind and the lame shall not come into the house." 9 Then David dwelt in the stronghold, and called it the City of David. And David built all around from the Millo and inward. 10 So David went on and became great, and the Lord God of hosts was with him.

Strongholds that Oppose

This takes place after the war between Saul and David has ended.  Saul is dead and the prophecy that Samuel had spoken to Saul at the Witch of Endor’s place has been fulfilled.

1 Samuel 13:14 (NKJV)
13:14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you."

I want you to see this because our text parallels for us what I call the “Gateway to Abundant Life.”  Jesus has promised us a more abundant life in Him.  It says in:

John 10:10 (NKJV)
10:10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

This is what Jesus is speaking to us.  The Gateway to abundant life is allowing Jesus to reign as undisputed king in our lives.  We must crown Him king in every aspect of our lives in order to enter into that abundant life.  I’m not talking about a prosperity doctrine here.  I’m not talking about wealth or material riches.   I’m talking about the victory that comes from serving God.  We can take back our lives and take our community for Jesus.  That victory is abundant living.

This is what happened in our text:  The elders of Israel made David, who was king over Judah in Hebron, king over Israel as well.  This made him the undisputed king of the entire nation.  Right at this moment, Israel is poised to step into a new vision for God’s purpose.  They’re ready to step into God’s will for their nation.  The old capitol, Hebron, would no longer serve, so they chose to move into Jerusalem, and this is the moment that they began to meet strategic opposition.

The place of Jerusalem, at that time was called Jebus.  It was chosen by David to be capitol over all of Israel because of its strategic location.  So David and his men went out to the stronghold of Mt. Zion, this is what is now called the City of David.  At that time it was a fortress city, built within a canyon surrounded on all sides by mountains.  It was built to withstand enemies.  The walls could not be climbed.  They were massive and impregnable.   The city possessed the high ground from which it could be defended.  Trained soldiers were stationed in each precinct of the city to protect it and its water supply.  The city was a stronghold of opposition in the center, the heart of Israel.  It had been a thorn in the side of Israel since the beginning.

God had given them the whole land, yet they had never been able to possess it all. 

Joshua 15:63 (NKJV)
15:63 As for the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem to this day.

They couldn't be moved, so Israel coexisted with them.  It was a relationship filled with tension.  Have you ever been in a situation where you were expected to be civil and coexist with someone who harbored great animosity toward you?  There’s a tension that you can feel.  Even as an outsider to the situation you can feel the tension.  You’re on edge.  You’re uncomfortable.  It’s very stressful, isn’t it?  This is the relationship between Israel and Jebus, at the time of our text.  They’re not at war, but it’s hanging just below the surface.  Because of Jebus’ location this is where David has chosen to rule.  It was the most strategic place in the land and yet it was firmly entrenched with the enemy of Israel.

Our church, like Israel is poised to step into all that God has planned, and yet we’re in a place where the enemy is firmly entrenched.  Face it, if he wasn't firmly entrenched in the lives of the people of the city we wouldn't need to be here.  Like David, we have to face that opposition on the enemy’s turf; in the enemy’s fortress.  We’ll have to gain entrance into the stronghold to root him out; to destroy where he lives.  In order to step into all that God has for us, we will have to tear down the strongholds of which he has taken possession.


In verse six we see the taunting and mocking of the enemy. 

2 Samuel 5:6 (NKJV)
5:6 And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who spoke to David, saying, "You shall not come in here; but the blind and the lame will repel you," thinking, "David cannot come in here."

Have you ever watched the warm up to a boxing match?  The two fighters are standing nose to nose.  They’re talking smack.  “You’re weak.  I’ll mop the floor with you.” Blah, blah, blah.  They’re trying to gain the psychological advantage over their adversary.  They’re trying to get their opponent to feel afraid; to doubt his own ability and strength.

This is the same thing, going on in our text.  “We’re going to tear you up.  Even the weakest among us could whip you any time.  We’re too tough for you.”  Yet we read in verse seven:

2 Samuel 5:7 (NKJV)
5:7 Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion (that is, the City of David).

Nevertheless…nevertheless, David took the city.  It doesn't matter how much power the enemy has.  It doesn't matter how strong he is; how long he’s been there; what he has done to fortify his position.  None of that matters because we’re not fighting him strength for strength.  It’s not the power that we can muster on our own that tears down strongholds.  It’s the power of the one we serve that matters.

We have engaged the enemy; we are a people at war.  We fight one who seems to be much more powerful than we are.  Even in the face of all that’s against us, there is still that one word…NEVERTHELESS.

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (NKJV)
10:4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

The weapons of our warfare are for the bringing down of strongholds, despite the power that we think we face.  In other words… NEVERTHELESS!  

There will always be opposition to Christ’s sovereignty in our city and even in our lives.  This is what we’re fighting against.  As we make Jesus king and take possession of this city we must displace someone else.  The devil has made a stronghold in this city.  We MUST enter into his dominion and root him out, and I want you to know that doesn't happen without a fight.  It’s the same in our hearts where he has made a stronghold.  He’s not coming out without a fight.

The Conquerors Heart

As we look at the stronghold before us; the walls of Jebus.  The weak and fearful will see certain defeat.  They utter words of despair and seek a compromise.  “The enemy’s too strong, we’ll never be able to defeat him.”  But a conqueror sees God’s moment and says nevertheless.  This is the pivotal word in our text:   NEVERTHELESS. 

David didn't go into denial.  He didn't say, “Walls? What walls?”  He wasn't mindless of reality.  Faith isn't found in denial of reality.  Faith is found in the word nevertheless.  It’s at this moment that you hear the words of the enemy loud and clear, “Excuse me, can I tell you something?  It’s hopeless.  You can’t get in here.  You can’t defeat me, so you might as well give it up.”

When David was crowned king over all of Israel, Jebus fell:  That which stood all this time from Joshua’s day to David’s.  When David was made king, Jebus fell.  When you make Jesus king over all of your heart the strongholds of sin will fall in your life:  Those strongholds that had resisted you for all those years.  When you put Jesus on the throne, you break down the walls.  When we declare Him to be king in this city, we’ll see the strongholds here begin to break down.  What we’re facing right now are the taunts:

“The blind and the lame will repel you.  If you were doing the right thing, the church would grow. You’ll never be able to reach people.” 

The first time a church was launched out of Prescott, Harold Warner had an accident and broke his back.  The church was almost split over whether sending out churches was the right thing to do.  People thought it wasn't God. 

It was just the opposition.  The devil doesn't fight fair.  It was just the taunts.  “What can one little church in Arizona do to win the world?  That’s not vision; it’s insanity.  Pastor Mitchell and Pastor Warner both, pressed in and our fellowship has reached multiplied thousands of people around the world…NEVERTHELESS!

Fighting the Battle

How do we begin to do that?  I believe that we have to change the way we think.  We need to look at how we do things and be creative.  God will make a way.  Look at how David took this city.  He sent men up the water shaft.  This was the gutter that let water out of the city.  In other words they climbed up through the sewer.  The Jebusites protected all the water that they used but no one thought to protect the gutters from the intruders.  David thought outside the box.  He did things that were unexpected.  We can do that in three simple ways.

  1. We must stoke the engine of creativity.  Creativity is Biblical.  It’s the fifth word in the whole Bible. “In the beginning God CREATED…” It’s our challenge to keep God’s unchanging truth the same, and yet find creative ways to communicate it.
  2. We need to cultivate a faith that sees a way.  How many know that fear blinds you?  When you’re fearful you’re only seeing the possibility of defeat, but faith opens the eyes.

2 Kings 6:17 (NKJV)
6:17 And Elisha prayed, and said, "Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see." Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
This is a prayer of faith.  He saw the fear and panic in his servant and prayed for faith for him.  This should be our prayer, too.   Samson, in faith, found the jawbone of a donkey and saw a way to use it to slay a thousand Philistines.  Faith is a way of seeing the possibility of what God can do.

  1. Exercise due diligence.  In other words don’t be lazy.  Faith isn't an excuse for laziness.  God isn't going to say “poof” and destroy all that which stands before us.  God didn't just blow down the walls of Jebus, they had to find a way.  They had to step out and allow God to use what THEY did to bring about the defeat of Jebus.

We have to step out in faith, here and perform the best we can, allowing God to bring about the victory.  The devil tries to discourage.  He accuses us of all kinds of things.  He tries to undermine our faith and resolve.  He ridicules and belittles trying to make us back off.  Nevertheless, we have the power to overcome because we have the overcomer firmly placed on the thrones of our hearts.  With Him as our king this stronghold will fall, just as Jebus did before the King of Israel, and He will reign in this Jerusalem, or Taoyuan City depending on your perspective.