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, December 28, 2016

Heart Conditions

I’m a wonderful person…really!  I like me.  I love my family.  I’m a wonderful son and father.  I’m nice to people; compassionate.  I don’t drink or use drugs.  I’m not a liar.  I’m generous and I don’t kick my dog.  I’m just about perfect, except that I was born with a heart condition.

There was a problem with my heart that caused damage to my body.  It looked fine.  It wasn’t misshapen or broken; it just didn’t do what it was supposed to do.  In fact, as a human being I have two heart conditions, a physical one and a spiritual one.  Today I want to post on the spiritual heart condition, from this one verse:

Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV)
17:9 "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?

Heart Conditions

A heart condition is what we call it when our heart doesn’t work like it should.  Basically, our hearts are just pumps.  Blood enters the heart; the heart constricts and pushes the blood forward.  Then, it expands and blood enters the heart again.  That’s what happens when our hearts beat.

Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work like it should.  It doesn’t move blood efficiently.  It beats erratically; or the valves don’t work:  Something doesn’t work right; that’s a heart condition.  I’ve just described a physical heart condition. 

The word heart in a spiritual sense isn’t referring to that physical pump that moves blood.  The spiritual heart is the Bible's way of referring to the center of our emotions, personality and character.  The “Spiritual Heart” is who each of us is as a person.  The longings and desires you have for your future, the way you respond to your fellow man, your courage, your outlook on life, your patience, those things make up your spiritual heart.

When our spiritual hearts are functioning well we exhibit the attributes of God.  Long-suffering, mercy forgiveness and love; those are the attributes of God’s heart, but the question is, “Are those things found in your heart?”  The fact is that we’re all suffering from spiritual heart conditions. 

Our text describes a spiritual heart condition:  The Heart is desperately wicked.  We weren’t created that way.  We were created in the image of God; in the likeness of God.  Our hearts were created to be like His heart.  God’s heart isn’t desperately wicked.  Wickedness isn’t a part of whom God is.  It isn’t a condition of God’s heart.  It’s only a condition of ours. 

There was a change that took place in the Garden of Eden.  That change caused a corruption that changed our hearts, forever.  There was a mutation; a breakdown that caused a corrupt heart to be passed down from Adam and Eve to all of us.

Romans 5:12 (NKJV)
5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned--

God doesn’t struggle with being righteous.  It’s who He is – But we struggle, don’t we?  We often don’t do what’s right.

Romans 7:15 (NKJV)
7:15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.

Even the apostle Paul struggled to do the right thing.  So, if he struggled, how about you and I?  Do we struggle, too?  Oh, I think we do.  Are you ever envious?  Yes!  Do you get jealous?  Yes!  Are you rebellious?  Do you have bad attitudes?  Are you a liar and a thief?  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  Are you ever just plain mean?  You know you are!  Your heart is desperately wicked.  Wickedness, sinful attitudes, and sinful behavior, unfortunately that’s who you are.  That’s who we all are – That’s the condition of our hearts.

I just told you how wonderful I really am.  I’m Mr. Wonderful, but the Bible says my heart is desperately wicked.  I have a spiritual heart condition.  Just like Paul, I do things I hate, and the things I want to do…I struggle to do.  It’s my stinking, corrupt, deceitful heart.  It’s so deceitful that when I am doing the wrong thing, it sometimes lies to me and ,makes me think it’s okay.  I can justify it to myself. 

“I can hate those people – I’ve been oppressed.”
“Well, he was a jerk first – He deserves what I did to get even.”
“They don’t pay me enough – That’s why it’s okay for me to steal this thing.”

Our hearts are deceitful above all things.  People can easily lie to themselves; I’ve seen it at least a million times. 

So, what can we do with a heart like that?  How can we be saved with a heart like that?  We will always default to the dark side – just like Darth Vader.  We have to really fight to be right.  We need a spiritual “Heart Transplant”.

A Heart Transplant

David recognized his need for a new heart:
 Psalms 51:10 (NKJV)
51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

David’s asking God for a heart transplant.  Take this filthy, wicked, stinking heart and replace it with a clean one – a pure one:  A heart like yours, God.  That should be our prayer as well.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a heart that led you to do the right things instead of the wicked ones:  A heart that prevented wickedness?  Wouldn’t it be nice to know that you will always be godly – like God?  How wonderful to not have to battle temptation.  How wonderful to not destroy yourself through sin.  How wonderful to always do the right things – without fail.  Did you know that that’s a promise of God?

Ezekiel 36:26 (NKJV)
36:26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

That corrupt, wicked heart, that’s hardened by sin, God says He’ll take it out; remove it and He’ll replace it with a new one – a tender one. Is that the kind of heart you want?  That’s what David wanted.  That’s what David longed for.  David was a man after God’s own heart.  He wanted a heart like God. 

God said that about him, “He’s a man after my own heart.”  That’s the kind of man God was looking for to lead His people:  Someone with a heart like His.  That’s the kind of man that God can use.  Do you ever pray for a heart like God’s?  Are you contending to be more godly?  Godly means to be like God – to have the attributes of God:  long-suffering, mercy, forgiveness, love.

There is a way to get that.  There’s a way to get a heart transplant.  To start you have to repent.  Repentance is a change of heart.  You have to have a change of heart about sin.  You have to have a change of heart about your lifestyle.  You have to have a change of heart about priorities.  That’s repentance.  That word repent literally means to turn around, as if you’re traveling in one direction – away from God.  Your becoming less like Him and more like your father the devil, (John 8:44), and you change your mind about the direction you’re traveling.  Then, you turn around and travel toward God.  That moment when you have a change of heart that’s when the heart transplant has taken place.  That’s a heart transplant, right?  Take out the defective one and replace it with a new one:  One that works properly; a heart that’s tender toward the things of God.  The stony heart is gone and is replaced with flesh.

That’s why when you get saved you look at the world differently.  You look at people differently – with compassion.  You look at sin differently.  It becomes ugly and disgusting.  You look at God differently.  Pleasing Him becomes important, instead of just pleasing your own carnal, animal nature. 

Were you different after getting saved?  If so, that’s that new heart pumping strongly in your chest, moving pure blood throughout your carnal self; purifying, changing, removing the filth of sin.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

Have you ever heard the expression, “I feel like a new man.”?  That’s the power of repentance.  As the heart functions properly, you become stronger.  You feel good again.  You’re a new man.  When it’s a spiritual heart transplant the Bible says you’re a new man – literally.  You’re a godly man, a man or woman that’s like God. 

Remaining a Man After God’s Own Heart

Romans 2:5-7 (NKJV)
2:5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who "will render to each one according to his deeds": 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality;

After a transplant we have to keep our new heart healthy.  We have to commit to caring for, and guarding our new heart.  We need to protect it.  The scripture calls it “patient continuance in doing good.”  Why patient?  We'll continue to endure temptation.  When you get saved sin doesn’t go away.  The Devil doesn’t just back off: “Oh rats, they got saved; well I guess I have to leave them alone, now.”  It doesn’t work like that – The world continues to be the world.  The temptations continue to tempt.  The attitudes continue to work on you.  People are still people, right?  You still want to kill some of them. 

The difference is that now you have the tools to stay away from that.  You can avoid trouble.  God will meet your needs and help you to avoid sin.

Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV)
4:16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Come boldly to Him.  Cry out for help to Him.  “God I don’t want to sin – I need your help.”  Paul said “Who will deliver me from this body of death.”  He’s talking about sin.  I think we can all agree that Paul was saved.  How often has that been your prayer?  “Oh God, keep me from sin.” 

A prayer like that will inspire courage and endurance in you.  Jesus won’t leave you there to struggle alone.  He will always be there for you, but you have to reach out to Him.  That’ll keep you saved. 

Hebrews 13:5-6 (NKJV)
13:5 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." 6 So we may boldly say: "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?"

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Superlatives of God

As a writer I’ve been taught to be careful of the use of superlatives.  Superlatives are words like “fantastic”, “magnificent”, and “splendid”.  Generally, when a writer uses words like that, they’re probably exaggerating.  Let me show you an example:

Fuddrucker’s Restaurant advertises that they serve “The World’s Greatest Hamburgers.”  You’ve tried every hamburger in the world and you know that?

We use words like that all the time to describe what are really ordinary things.  Fuddrucker’s hamburgers are pretty good, but the best in the world?  I seriously doubt it.  When the writers of the Bible described the blessings of God on His children, they wanted to speak in the strongest of terms, so the Bible is full of superlatives.

Today I want to post on Thanksgiving.  I think that as Christians we have a lot to be thankful for, like the blessings of God. 

2 Corinthians 9:10-11 (NKJV)
9:10 Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, 11 while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.

The Superlatives of God

A superlative is a comparison word.  For example, This is the Best tea of these two.  Best is the superlative.  It’s interesting to read your Bible and see the way the writers thought about God.  It’s difficult for them to speak of God’s attributes without using words like “greatest”, “best”, or “most”.  Face it God’s abilities are far beyond ours.  He’s much more capable than any of us.

Psalms 147:5-8 (NKJV)
147:5 Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite. 6 The Lord lifts up the humble; He casts the wicked down to the ground. 7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; Sing praises on the harp to our God, 8 Who covers the heavens with clouds, Who prepares rain for the earth, Who makes grass to grow on the mountains.

What I really want to post on today is Thanksgiving.  As Christian we have a lot to be thankful for.  For one thing we’re not on the way to Hell, anymore.  I don’t know about you but I’m glad about that. 

One other thing we might have to be thankful for is the mercy and character of God.  The writers of the Bible articulated their thoughts on the awesomeness of God by talking about His attributes in the most expressive terms available:

Isaiah 55:7 (NKJV)
55:7 Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.

Here Isaiah is speaking of God’s mercy, “He will abundantly pardon.”  God’s not stingy with his mercy.  He pardons abundantly; over and over.  He doesn’t withhold mercy.  How wonderful for you and I.  I can’t tell you hoe many times people have told me that God couldn’t forgive them, “You don’t know what I’ve done.”  You’re right, I don’t, but the Bible says, “God is faithful to forgive.” (1 John 5:9)  That means He always forgives, if you repent.  That’s what the mercy of God is like; it’s abundant, and do you know why?

Ephesians 3:19 (NKJV)
3:19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

It’s because the love of God “passes knowledge”.  That means it’s beyond what you could know.  Think about how much Jesus loves you.  He loves you so much that He died a brutal death for you.  He loves you so much that He left heaven just so He could come to earth and suffer for you.  Those are things that you know about his love.  Guess what, He loves you more than that; more than you could possibly know.

He did all of that so that you could be filled with the fullness of God:  So that God could dwell in you.  That’s what we have that no other religion has – God dwelling in us:  God becoming a part of us.  What a gift God has given us in the gift of His Son.

2 Corinthians 9:15 (NKJV)
9:15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

There are no words that can describe that gift.  Words are inadequate.  This verse is talking about the blessings of God that come to you, through other people praying for you; contending for you, because of your generosity:  What you have given them.  This isn’t necessarily about material things (although it could be) it’s about giving of yourself:  Giving of your time, your resources, your encouragement and your prayers.  People will want to pray for you as you live your life in imitation of God’s abundance of love, mercy and faithfulness.  The value of prayers and blessing is indescribable.

Finally, there’s this:

Psalms 147:5 (NKJV)
147:5 Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.

His understanding is infinite; without end.  God know everything; He understands all.  He understands what you need, what you go through.  He understands every temptation and weakness.
 Hebrews 4:15-16 (NKJV)
4:15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

He understands and He’s willing to help.  He encourages us to come to Him for help.  What a gracious God we serve

What are you thankful for?

People sometimes struggle with gratitude.  There are people who focus their lives on what’s missing.  How unhappy they are!  They never take time to be thankful for the things of God.  It’s always, “I don’t have the nicest car.”  Or, “I don’t have the nicest house.”:  “The most sensitive husband, the most beautiful wife.”  Those people only go to church for what God can do to make their lives seem better.  They’re consumed with the carnal things and forget about the blessings of God.  Look at what the psalmist says:

Psalms 105:1-3 (NKJV)
105:1 Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! 2 Sing to Him, sing Psalms to Him; Talk of all His wondrous works! 3 Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord!

Are you thankful for a God that does wondrous works?  Are you thankful for a God who gives mercy abundantly?  Are you thankful for a God that lifts up the humble and casts the wicked down to the ground:  The God who makes rain so that grasses can grow.  (Rice is a grass – His rain produces food.)  Are you thankful for a God like that or are you more concerned with worldly things?

I’ve seen Christians who are depressed because they don’t have it all.  They forget about a God who forgives sin and who prepares a place for them.

Revelation 21:4-5 (NKJV)
21:4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." 5 Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful."

You may not have it all on this earth, but there is a place where there will be no more sorrow or pain.  A place where there’s a crown of righteousness laid up for you.

2 Timothy 4:8 (NKJV)
4:8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.

Have you forgotten about God’s goodness and love?  Are you so focused on the world’s definition of greatness that you can’t be thankful for the spiritual things you have; for the future you have in Jesus:  The eternal things of Christ?

Be Thankful

Psalms 100:4-5 (NKJV)
100:4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. 5 For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.

This is the attitude we should have.  This is talking about the temple, Enter into the place of God’s inhabitance with thanksgiving and praise.  How many come to church grateful for the God that we serve?  How many come to church looking for more from God?  Are you entering into the house of God gratefully?

Every November Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving was instituted in the beginning by George Washington:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and to humbly implore his protection and favor…The people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God…

This is what thanksgiving is about.  We shouldn't be grateful one day a year, after all, God works wondrous works in us every day of our lives.  This is not American culture – It’s Christian culture.  Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday to thank God for fruitful fields, healthful skies, abundance of precious metals, and a harmonious and increasing population.  He called them the gracious gifts of God.  We should thank God for all of His gracious blessings but also just for being whom He is. 

All of these writers used superlatives to describe God.  They had to, because God is beyond comparison with people.  You can’t describe God in normal ways because God is above all of that.  I don’t know about you but I’m grateful to serve a God who’s not like people but infinitely greater.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Pathway to Fruitfulness

One of the things I love about the Old Testament is that there are stories that can give guidance and direction.  It’s a little different from the New Testament where we have the words of Jesus for guidance, or where the apostles show us how to live through Jesus’ words.  The Old Testament has stories that can demonstrate truths of life.

Today, I want to post from the Old Testament, specifically from Genesis Chapter Thirty-five.  I want to use the story of Jacob returning to, and then leaving Bethel.  It’s a story of being in God’s will and the pathway to personal fruitfulness.  It begins with this:

Genesis 35:1-4 (NKJV)
35:1 Then God said to Jacob, "Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother." 2 And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. 3 Then let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me in the way which I have gone." 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem.

The First Steps:  Entering Into the Will of God

Let’s remember the beginning of this – Jacob was a cheater.  He tricked Isaac into blessing him with Esau’s blessing.  Remember, his mother dressed him in Esau’s clothes and put goatskins on his arms.  Esau was a hairy guy, Jacob wasn’t.  Isaac was blind and this worked Isaac was fooled. 

Esau was angry, wouldn’t you be?  Jacob cheated him out of his blessing.  So, he determines to kill Jacob and so Jacob’s parents send him away to Laban, his uncle to find a wife.

Along the way God shows him the future – A ladder that reaches Heaven; a pathway to Heaven.  Jacob is moved.  He’s met with God.  He’s heard from God and so he names that place BethelBethel means “House of God”.  This is God’s dwelling place – This is where you hear from God.  Look at what city-data.com says about Bethel and Luz:

Bethel means “House of God” (“House of El”).  Luz means “to turn aside”, “to depart” – “with devious or crafty connotations” (Boling, AB, p59 - who translates Luz as deception.)

Think about who Jacob was before this encounter with God.  He was crafty and deceptive.  The name Jacob even means usurper – underminer.  One who takes without consent which is exactly what he did to Esau.  He was separated from God because of his sin and greed.

Then he has an experience with God at that place and changes the name of the place to Bethel.  It’s a picture of the change that took place in Jacob himself.  It is a picture of what takes place in each of us when we have an encounter with God.  When we get saved we are not who we were before.  God dwells in us.  This seems to be the case with Jacob as we no longer read about him acting in a dishonest or deceitful way again.

Jacob made a vow in that place – That if God provided for him that he would give a tenth.  Then he left Bethel and went to Padan Aram.  He was there to find a wife; to work for Laban for a wife.  Jacob became wealthy in that place.  God did provide for him.  He left that place with two wives, a huge flock of livestock and eleven sons, and another on the way.  He was a wealthy man.

Now God says to him, “Go to Bethel, dwell there and fulfill your vow.”  So Jacob leaves Laban’s house and prepares to go to Bethel.  When he does he calls everyone together and they give him all of their idols; the things that they put before God.  In this case they were actual idols, gods, household gods.  Thery are turned over to Jacob who buries them under the Terebinth tree.

This is a landmark.  It’s something they will remember again.  It’s a place that they’ll recognize.  It is their moment of surrender.  It is now a reference point in their lives.  It’s a place that they can return to and remember what God id in their lives; that God moved in them in that place.

I can remember the moment when I decided to turn to Jesus.  I remember the moment when I surrendered and said, “Whatever you want God.”  That’s what’s happening here at this landmark moment – They have surrendered to God.

There is an old saying, “Every journey begins with the first step.”  So if we’re talking about a journey to fruitfulness, these are the first steps.

The First Step

You listen for God – Jacob was CALLED to Bethel.  God spoke to him, “Go to Bethel and dwell there.”  If you want fruitfulness in your life you need to listen for God’s call…and then you have to be obedient.  Often, we hear the call but it interferes with what were doing; what we’re pursuing – The things we want.

The Second Step

You surrender to God.  “Okay God, I hear you and I’m going to obey.”  Then you step away from the idols that you’ve been carrying.  Some people don’t want to change.  They want to be in God’s will and their own, too, but God calls us to something different.  He calls us to His purposes.  If our will doesn’t line up with His will then he’s calling us away from our own purposes.

It is a landmark decision in our lives to bury our own will – our idols, desires, will and take up His.  Have you gone to Bethel yet?  Have you taken the first step?

In Taiwan there are literal idols in lives that need to be buried.  You can see them in people’s homes.  You can see them in every temple; literal idols, local gods.  But you can also them in people’s lives.  I can name some of them for you:

Education – If it comes between you and God it’s an idol.
Wealth – Are you pursuing wealth before the will of God?  If it’s more important to you than God’s calling it’s an idol.  People have idols in their lives – You have idols in your life.  If you want to see fruitfulness, you have to bury them.

The Next Steps:  Hearing God’s Purpose

Genesis 35:6-14 (NKJV)
35:6 So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. 7 And he built an altar there and called the place El Bethel, because there God appeared to him when he fled from the face of his brother. 8 Now Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the terebinth tree. So the name of it was called Allon Bachuth. 9 Then God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Padan Aram, and blessed him. 10 And God said to him, "Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name." So He called his name Israel. 11 Also God said to him: "I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body. 12 The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land." 13 Then God went up from him in the place where He talked with him. 14 So Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He talked with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured a drink offering on it, and he poured oil on it.

When he arrives in Bethel, he builds the altar – He obeys God.  He’s in God’s will and Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse dies there.  This woman was his nanny.  She helped to raise him.  He loved her; she was like a grandmother to him.  This is a great sorrow to him.  I know that because he named the place he buried her Allon Bachuth – The oak of weeping.

We can’t always expect things to be easy, when we’re in God’s will.  Sometimes there will be sadness.  Sometimes, bad things will happen.  It’s not always easy, but if we remain committed; if we don’t falter we will hear from God.  God speaks to Jacob.  He reiterates the promise, “I’ll give this land to your descendants.”  He reminds him taht he's been transformed, "you're no longer Jacob, but Israel."  God doesn’t back away from the promise.  God tells him the promise is still there and the promise will come through him.  He tells him to go forward and be fruitful.  So now we see the next steps:

The Third Step

Do not waver, despite the circumstances.  Stand firm in your promise to God.  Stand in the face of heartbreak.  Bad things will happen, that’s just how life is.  Job said it, “Can we expect blessing and not adversity?”  Persevere in the face of adversity and God will speak to you.  God will comfort by reiterating the promise and reminding you of your destiny.  God will direct your next steps:

The Fourth Step

Jacob sets up a stone.  He’s honored God, “I heard from God in this place.  This is truly God’s house.”  I posted a post once called “The God of Location”.  God is a God of location.  Now God is sending Jacob, “Go and be fruitful.”  This took place in God’s house.  It’s a picture of the local church.  There’s a place that you’ve been called to.  God to Jacob – Go to Bethel.  God to you – You’ve been set into your church.  You’re called to that place.   Those who’ve left they didn’t leave under God’s guidance.   They stepped out on their own.  God said to Jacob, “Go to Bethel and dwell there.”  Those who left stepped off of the pathway to fruitfulness.  They stepped off of God’s planned route.  If you leave, the question is, has God sent you, or are you thinking for God?

God will call you in the local church and send you.  “Go and be fruitful,” but it’s likely to be a part of the church he set you in.  I didn’t leave my home church on my own.  I was sent to this place as an extension of that church and told to be fruitful.

The Pathway to Fruitfulness

Finally, we’ve arrived at the third part of the story:

Genesis 35:16-20 (NKJV)
35:16 Then they journeyed from Bethel. And when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel labored in childbirth, and she had hard labor. 17 Now it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said to her, "Do not fear; you will have this son also." 18 And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni; but his father called him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel's grave to this day.

So Jacob leaves Bethel to travel to Ephrath – Ephrath means fruitfulness.  Jacob is on the pathway to fruitfulness.

He’s heard God’s command, “Go to Bethel.”  He’s surrendered His will and given up his own.  He’s gone to God’s house.  He’s honored God.  He’s honored his vow.  God has promised him ppople – descendants as the stars in the sky - A great nation – fruitfulness.  God told him, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

That’s the pathway.  This is the direction to fruitfulness, but there’s one more thing.  There will be loss.  Something has to die for fruitfulness to happen.

John 12:24 (NKJV)
12:24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.

There is a price for fruitfulness.  Fruitfulness has a cost.  You might have to give up something.  You might lose something – in my case the ability to walk.  It could be something else.  It could be wealth and power.  You won’t be fruitful, if you're divided in your commitment.  A seed has to die – You have to die to self will, in order to produce fruit.

On the road to fruitfulness Jacob had to give up Rachel.  She was the thing he most wanted prior to God’s call.  I’m sure that was painful to him, but look at the end result.  He was fruitful – His descendants became a great nation.  They did receive the Promised Land.  Jesus was in Jacob’s lineage, through Him ALL the world was blessed.

The pathway to fruitfulness isn’t always easy.  There will be struggle and loss along the way, but there will be a reward in the end.

I want to encourage you today.  God has a calling on your life.  He’s sent you to Bethel.  He wants you to surrender your will to His and he will make you fruitful.