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.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Editor's Note:  In lieu of dumping freezing cold water over my head, I wanted to help to raise awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis AND Muscular Dystrophy.  This is taken from research via the MDA website and my own experiences.

In light of the recent popularity of ALS Ice Bucket Challenges, I thought to myself, “I can pour a bucket of ice water over my head or I can take some time to tell you about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.”  Its not that I’m opposed to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, but I’m wondering if people are really understanding how the disease affects those who suffer through it and why it is so important to raise awareness and funding to defeat it.

In much the same way Muscular Dystrophy affects the body ALS causes weakening and atrophy of the muscles.  The way it works is this:

The neurons or nerves that control the muscles are lost.  Your nervous system works like an electrical system to provide power to every section of muscle in your body.  There are millions of neurons, which are like the connection point between the muscle and the power supply. Electrical impulses come from your brain and travel through the nerves to the neurons and cause the muscles to work   When you have Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis the neurons begin to be lost.  They no longer function and the ability for the muscle to work is gradually lost.  The muscle is, in a sense, paralyzed in that one point.  Because it doesn’t receive the impulse it doesn’t work, and atrophies.  Atrophy is the wasting away of muscle.  The muscles lose function and waste away.

The symptoms of ALS usually onset in a person’s forties or fifties but can come on at any age.  In the beginning it is usually marked by weakness or spasticity (uncontrolled movement) of an arm or leg muscle.  It is easy to ignore the symptoms at this point.  Think about how many times you’ve felt weak or had a muscle twitch or jerk on it’s own.  It starts in one set of muscles and moves to the adjacent ones, until large areas of muscle are affected and can no longer be ignored. 

Most research done on ALS is done through the Muscular Dystrophy Association.  In some ways it is very similar to Muscular Dystrophy.   

So, I want to take one more moment and talk about Muscular Dystrophy.  A person suffering from Muscular Dystrophy (MD) has much the same problem.  There is a different reason for the weakening of the muscles but the outcome is similar.  MD also results in loss of muscle strength in the voluntary muscles.  The muscles for breathing and heartbeats aren’t affected.  But muscles become weak, atrophy and eventually become stiff and unusable. 

Here is where that becomes a problem.  The muscles that control your lungs continue to function properly, but the muscles that control coughs weaken and become stiff.  So if you are affected with a respiratory illness you can’t easily clear your lungs.  Most MD sufferers die from respiratory illnesses like pneumonia.  ALS and MD are not painful, directly, but as muscles weaken and become loose you tend to experience joint pain. (Stiff necks, sore shoulders, rib cage pain, etc.)

Currently, there is no treatment for ALS or MD.  There’s no medication that will stop the spread.  It is a long slow slide into weakness.  Because of that people suffer with depression, a feeling of a loss of usefulness or value.  Someone that is prone to depression can really be affected by the loss of strength.  I believe that depression can propel someone toward and early death from the diseases. 

I believe the way to help someone you know that is struggling with this is to assure them that they can lead a productive and “active” life for two decades or more.  I have lived with MD for 30 years now and I’m not close to death.  I’ve remained productive through preaching and writing and look forward with hope to more years, ahead.  There will be a need or adaptation and improvisation in an ALS or MD sufferer’s life.  But it can be managed and life can go on.

Donating to the MDA is a good way to insure that research continues and the disease can be eventually defeated. 

This has been written through research and my personal experiences with Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

God Elevates

God has a plan for you.  I've said that about a million times.  It probably seems like a cliche, but I want you to know that God does indeed have a plan for you.  Those aren't idle words.  “This isn't just preacher talk.”  This is a truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I want you to know that God has a plan for you.  It’s something that ELEVATES you.  It’s something that will lift you up.  It’s something that will bring you into His kingdom.  I've seen this happen over and over.  It’s one of the powerful things about attending CFM conferences, that you see men who were at one time, drug addicts, thieves, and liars, lifted up into a usefulness for God:  Elevated into someone that can be used by God.  He takes common men and makes them men of God.

So, today I want to post a post that I have entitled, “God Elevates.”

1 Kings 19:15-16 (NKJV)
19:15 Then the Lord said to him: "Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.

The Call

God elevates, not just the off-scouring of the earth, but He takes simple, common men, men like you and I and elevates them into men of God.  God took a simple shepherd and made him a deliverer.  He took another shepherd and made him the king of Israel, and he took Elisha, a farmer and made him a man of God.

That’s what I want to look at in this post – the process.  How man becomes not just a man, but a man of God.  This isn't about men becoming preachers; it’s not about men being launched out – It’s about becoming a man of God.

The process of becoming a man of God without fail comes from a calling.  It’s a calling, it’s not a profession.  It’s a calling, it’s something that God does in you.  It’s not something that happens in a classroom.  It’s not something that happens as you respond to an advertisement – It’s a calling.

1 Kings 19:19-21 (NKJV)
19:19 So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him. 20 And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah, and said, "Please let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." And he said to him, "Go back again, for what have I done to you?" 21 So Elisha turned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them and boiled their flesh, using the oxen's equipment, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

This is the calling on Elisha’s life.  Elijah walks past him and throws a mantle over him.  That mantle is like a cloak.  It’s like a covering that the prophet wore.  It was the symbol of the calling to be a prophet.  He’s saying, in a sense, “Here it is, this is what God has called you to; you’re called to be a prophet.” 

Elisha recognizes this as a calling.  He knows what’s meant by the mantle being laid upon him.    He knows what’s happening here, and so he says to Elijah, “let me go and say goodbye to my family.”    Elijah says, “What’s it to me what you do.  I haven’t called you to this, God has.  This isn't coming from me this is the call of God.  What are you going to do about HIS call?”

We have a tendency to stay with what’s comfortable; to stay with what’s familiar.  We want to stay in the culture in which we’re living.  For example, people will say to me, “The culture of Taiwan is familiar.  I can’t violate the culture of Taiwan.  This is how I was raised.  There are certain things I’m uncomfortable about as a Christian.  There are things that go against what I've been taught.”  It’s another way of saying, “Let me go and kiss my parents,” but Elijah says, “Are you going to let your parents  keep you from the calling of God.  Are you going to put filial piety before God’s will for you?  This is the calling of God!”

So what does Elisha do?  He turns around and destroys the things of his old life.  He offers them to God as a sacrifice.  He’s a farmer, but he says, “I’m not going to need these things anymore.  God has called me to a different place.  I need to respond to God’s calling.”  There’s always a sacrifice in the response.  We can’t continue in the things of the world when we respond to the call of God.  There’s a change that’s going to take place.

I met a young man a number of years ago.  I was witnessing to him, telling him about Jesus and he told me, “I don’t believe in God.”  I pressed him and he eventually said to me, “You know to tell you the truth, I can’t become a Christian, because there are some things I want to do that I know I ‘d have to give up.”  He knew that it was a calling of God.  He knew he couldn't answer God’s call and remain the same.  Elisha knew that if he followed the prophet he’d never be the same, so he gave up the vestiges of his old life. 

In 1520, when Cortez the explorer, landed in Mexico, his men came ashore and Cortez burned up the boats.  There was no way back.  His men HAD to be committed to what they had embarked on.  They had to follow Cortez. 

This is what Elisha was doing.  He burned his farming tools and boiled his oxen.  There was no way he could go back to being a farmer.  He was now committed to what he was doing; he had to follow God.  Then, “he arose and followed Elijah and became his servant.”

God’s Method of Elevation – Discipleship

It’s important that it says here, “he became Elijah’s servant.”  It wasn't that he was taking the prophet’s clothes to the laundry or washing his car.  I’m not talking about servant-hood in that case.  What Elisha did was serve in Elijah’s ministry.  He grabbed hold of Elijah’s vision.  He learned to do things the way Elijah did them.  He wasn't out there with his own plan and his own methods; he was doing what Elijah did. 

He followed Elijah.  He went where the prophet went.  He was trying to glean as much from the prophet as he could.  It was like Jesus’ disciples, who followed Him around.  They weren't off doing their own thing.  They were with Him.  They were doing what He did.  They were listening to His words and following His teachings.  They were on board. 

Elisha was doing the same thing.  He was going where Elijah went.  He was doing what Elijah did.  He was actively taking part in ELIJAH’S ministry. 

People come to me all time, “This is what you should be doing.”  Or, “This is where I think you’re making a mistake.”  Or, even, “This is what they did in my old church.”  I appreciate your input, but this is where I’m going.  I’m following God AND my pastor, who’s following HIS pastor, who’s following HIS pastor.

2 Kings 2:5 (NKJV)
2:5 Now the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho came to Elisha and said to him, "Do you know that the Lord will take away your master from over you today?" So he answered, "Yes, I know; keep silent!"

They weren't just being informative, here.  They weren't thinking, "Elisha may not know, we need to tell him."  They were trying to talk him out of following Elijah.  They were saying, “Why are you following him, God’s going to take him away.”  The sons of the prophets were trying to send Elisha in a different direction.  They were going to Elisha and saying something different than Elijah, and the result could have been confusion and division, but Elisha said, “I’m following Elijah.”  Because God had spoken to him.

2 Kings 2:6 (NKJV)
2:6 Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here, please, for the Lord has sent me on to the Jordan." But he said, "As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!" So the two of them went on.
His prayer was give me a double portion of what that man has.  “I want what Elijah has but I want twice as much.  I want to do what Elijah’s doing but more so.”

2 Kings 2:9 (NKJV)
2:9 And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, "Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?" Elisha said, "Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me."

It was God speaking to Elisha, but from where was God speaking?  He was speaking from the mouth of Elijah.  Elisha was listening to Elijah not the other voices; not the conventional wisdom – He was listening to Elijah and hearing from God.  This is what discipleship is.  It’s not being “blown around by every wind of doctrine.”  It’s not listening to all the “Christian” voices and opinions.  It’s not following the sons of the prophets, for Elisha it was following God and Elijah.  So look at what happens:

2 Kings 2:7-8 (NKJV)
2:7 And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood facing them at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan. 8 Now Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water; and it was divided this way and that, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

Elijah takes his mantle and uses it to open the waters and they cross the Jordan.  A chariot of fire descends and Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind, and Elisha witnesses the whole thing.  Then he picks up the mantle, only now it’s his mantle – The transference is completed.  He walks back to the Jordan and look at what he does:

2 Kings 2:13-14 (NKJV)
2:13 He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood by the bank of the Jordan. 14 Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over.

He did the same thing his pastor did and with the same result.  Now he’s the prophet of God.  God ELEVATED him.  He learned what to do by watching and imitating his pastor.  He didn't get together with the sons pf the prophets and ask, “What do you think I should do?”  He didn't ask, “How do you think I should go forward.  What do they do in the Sons of the Prophet church.”   He did what his pastor did and it worked.

I think if I hear one more time about how because of Taiwanese culture this can’t work or that can’t work, or you can only say that in Taipei…I’m going to scream.  I’m not preaching American Christianity and I’m tired of hearing about Taiwanese Christianity.  There is no American or Taiwanese Christianity; there is only Christianity.  It’s not American culture or Taiwanese culture that I’m preaching it’s Christian culture. 

Recently, our fellowship added two more churches in Africa.  There must be close to two hundred fellowship churches in Africa now.  It was all started by non-African pastors and they have exploded:  Because it’s not about culture – it’s about Jesus, and what He said and did.

People always tell me Taiwanese people won’t go to church on Sunday evening, well Christian people do – All over the world.  In every culture that our fellowship is in, people go to church on Sunday evening – It’s Christian culture.

God Elevates

Elisha received the double portion he asked for.  He did exactly twice the miracles that Elijah did.  God elevated him from a simple farmer to a man of God.  How did He do it?  He did it through discipleship.  Elisha fastened himself to the man of God.  He said, “I’m going to follow what he’s teaching, because what he’s teaching is from God."  God elevates through discipleship.

After this episode you never really hear about the sons of the prophets again.  Do you know why?  They never really did anything after this, but lose some guy’s ax head, that Elisha had to find for them.  That’s it.  They didn't do anything else.  But Elisha, we can read about what he did and all that happened in his ministry.  The Bible goes on and on. 

I don’t listen to the sons of the prophets in Taiwan.  If I listened to the things they’re saying:

I have no idea what I’m doing.  I have no understanding of Taiwanese culture.  I’m running off all the converts, because I preach too hard.  I don’t conform to the local churches' actions.  What I’m preaching isn't God, it’s American culture. 

If I listened to all that, I’d go home immediately feeling like a huge failure. 

I’m following a pattern.  A pattern that’s resulted in more than three thousand churches all over the world.  If it can work in all of the rest of the world, it can work in Taiwan, or wherever you are; in spite of the local culture.  So, I’m going across the Jordan – Are you going to stay here with the sons of the prophets or are you coming with me?