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, May 17, 2011

Lessons from a Fig Tree

One of the things I preach about often is faith. Mostly I speak of it in terms of our need for faith in order to see God move in our lives. If you think about it, faith is probably the most important aspect of our Christian lives. We need faith for so many things,

We need faith to:
Pray for the sick
To have real Christian joy
To know that God cares about us
To worship God

It even takes faith to receive the gift of salvation. But one thing we often don’t think about is that it takes faith to live out your purpose in God.

I live in Taiwan and recently after Bible study class we had a discussion on the differences in Eastern/Western thought on fate and destiny. Fate and destiny, from the eastern point of view, are interchangeable. They have the same meaning. But our discussion centered on the question of whether they are, in fact, interchangeable.

According to Mirriam-Webster Dictionaries fate is defined as: The cause or will that is held to determine events

Destine is defined as: to direct or set apart for a specific purpose or place, then destiny can be defined as that specific purpose.

So fate can be considered to be the force that carries you to your destiny. It is something that can’t be changed. But destiny is the end point of fate and that can be changed by decisions that you make along the way.

My thought of it is like this: Fate is like a river that runs into a lake. In the lake there are two cities one is to the right of the river delta, we’ll call that one Beautiville. The other is to the left of the river outlet. We’ll call that one Uglyland. As you drift on the river the current carries you ever onward. You can’t change the course of the river or the direction in which the river flows.

The river Fate carries you toward the two cities, but you make a decision where you will turn at the end of the river and the destination at which you arrive, is governed by the decision you make. The River is fate and is unchangeable. The destiny is the city at which you arrive and that is governed by the choice you make along the way.

Let me ask a question, "Was your destiny changed at the moment you received salvation?" As you continued to live in sin you were carried inexorably to a destiny of eternal torment and separation from God. But as you repented and turned from sin, you were accepted by God and your final eternal destination was no longer hell but heaven: The Joy of your Lord. Destiny, for you, at the moment of repentance was changed.

But even more than that, I believe that we, as individuals, have more than one destiny. For example, I believe that because of the Muscular Dystrophy it is my destiny to be disabled. But because of the call of God on my life , it is also my destiny to preach in Taiwan. Finally, as a result of the gift of salvation it is my destiny to abide in heaven. One person three separate destinies…so far.

It requires no faith at all to be swept along by the current of fate: To allow outside events to shape our lives and determine our destinies. We can simply drift along and allow these events to govern our destiny. But it takes faith to recognize the call of God and work to make the effort to change the outcome of fate in our lives. With faith we can shape our destiny. Today I want to look at faith and destiny in light of the following scriptures:

Mark 11:13-14 (NKJV)
11:13 And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 In response Jesus said to it, "Let no one eat fruit from you ever again." And His disciples heard it.

Mark 11:20-23 (NKJV)
11:20 Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21 And Peter, remembering, said to Him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away." 22 So Jesus answered and said to them, "Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.
The Fig Tree

In our text, Jesus comes to a fig tree. He’s looking at the fig tree and sees that it’s empty. So he curses the fig tree and by the next day the fig tree has withered away and died. Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? Do you think He was angry at the fig tree? In order to answer that, we need to examine the purpose of the fig tree. The purpose of the fig tree is to produce figs. If a fig tree is not producing figs, what good is it?

Luke 3:7-9 (NKJV)
3:7 Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 9 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
Do you realize that God didn’t save you for your purposes? That’s what we think sometimes, isn’t it? God saved me so I could go to heaven. He saved me so that I could recover from my hurts and disappointments. He saved me to make me happy. I have to tell you that God didn’t save you for any of those things. Not that you won’t see those

God didn’t save you for any of those reasons. He saved you for His purposes. This isn’t about fig trees it’s about disciples. We are called to bear fruit. That is the purpose of disciples and Jesus will look at us and expect us to bear fruit; good fruit. Our text tells us what will happen if we choose fail to live up to His purpose for us. If we fail, or as I say in the introduction, if we choose to turn away from our destiny, then we are in danger of judgment.

Jesus is making a judgment here. He judges the fig tree and finds it without fruit and curses it, causing it to wither and die. It wasn’t fulfilling its purpose. This isn’t something that veers away from Jesus’ teaching. It’s not some different angry approach…really it’s Jesus being consistent. He said the same thing in Matthew 7. Jesus will always uphold his standards. He will judge us in the same way if we do not live up to our calling or what He would call our purpose. Look at this scripture in Matthew 7:

Matthew 7:21-23 (NKJV)
7:21 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' 23 And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'
What things did Jesus say these people told Him they had done:

Cast out demons
Done many wonders…In Your Name and what are these things…

Mark 16:17-18 (NKJV)
16:17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."
The things they said they were doing were the things that Jesus said were the signs that would follow those who believe. These people were the believers. They were the Christians, but Jesus judges them and tells them to depart from Him, why? Because they didn’t do the will of “My Father in heaven.” We can believe from this that we will be judged, as well, if we forsake the will of the Father. In other words, we will be judged if we do not fulfill our purpose: That purpose that God has for us.

It’s imperative that each of us examines our own life:

Is your life given over to the will of God for you?
Are you laboring to do what God has called you to do?
Are you producing fruit?

Those are questions you have to be asking yourself. Because I’m going to be blunt for a moment: Some of you that are reading this know that God has called you to a specific purpose. You already know to what He’s called you. But you hesitate to fulfill it, because God’s will for you interferes with your own will for your life. I want to warn you that there is a danger there. Jesus will judge you if you don’t produce fruit like He judged the fig tree.

We Will Wither and Die

Mark 11:20-21 (NKJV)
11:20 Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21 And Peter, remembering, said to Him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away."
I want to look at this for a moment from the fig tree’s perspective. What exactly did Jesus say to the fig tree? Look at verse 14:

Mark 11:14 (NKJV)
11:14 In response Jesus said to it, "Let no one eat fruit from you ever again." And His disciples heard it.
That’s Jesus’ judgment of the tree. Look at what he didn’t say. He didn’t say, “Die you foul, fruitless tree.” He didn’t say, “I curse you to wither away, fruitless wretch.” All He said was, “then let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” His curse that caused the fig tree to wither was telling it that if its purpose wasn’t fulfilled now, then it never will be able to fulfill that purpose in the future. I think it’s interesting that there is a timeline for our response to God’s call.

God is calling and He has a timeline for us to respond to His call. If we hesitate, or put off responding there will come a time when we will no longer be allowed to answer that call.

I have a friend who, ten years ago was asked to go out and pioneer a church. In fact, the year I was sent out this man was asked before I was. But he declined. He said I’m not ready financially, or whatever his reason was. But in the ten years since that time, he has never been asked to go again. In fact, his pastor asked me, “How can I invest in someone like that?”

That pastor wasn’t being mean he was making a judgment based on this scripture:

Matthew 16:24-25 (NKJV)
16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
Jesus said this to Peter in the context of his statement to Peter that he was mindful of the things of men, rather than the things of God.

Matthew 16:23 (NKJV)
16:23 But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."
Do you know why He said that to Peter? He told Him that because Peter was telling Jesus He didn’t have to live out the will of God, which for Jesus was to die on the cross.

Secondly, look at the reaction of the tree to Jesus telling it, it will never fulfill its purpose. The tree withered and died. We will do the same thing. When Peter thought he had destroyed his destiny in denying Jesus three times at His trial before the Sanhedrin, what did he do? He gave up. He was a broken man.

After the crucifixion we see Peter and he’s saying, “I’m going fishing.” He’s given up. Later we see him behind locked doors, hiding for fear of the Jews. This is the same man who raised his sword and took off the ear of one of the soldiers that was there to arrest Jesus. Where was that courage and resolve? He had withered under the idea that he had failed and thereby disqualified himself from fulfilling his purpose and calling. He has given up; a withered and broken man.

But Jesus never cursed Peter. Peter, thinking he had destroyed his destiny, withered away on his own…just like the fig tree.

This is Really a Lesson on Faith

Mark 11:20-23 (NKJV)
11:20 Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21 And Peter, remembering, said to Him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away." 22 So Jesus answered and said to them, "Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.
I think it’s really interesting that Jesus turned this into a lesson on faith. When the apostles see what has happened to the tree they’re amazed, aren’t they? “The tree you have cursed is withered away.” It’s almost as if they’re saying, “How could this have happened?” Jesus says to them, “Have faith in God.” So he links it to faith. He’s telling them they can do anything if they have faith. He’s saying that in the context of them being able to do what He has done, if they have faith in God.

“See what I did, you can do that too, if you have faith.”

But I want you to look at this a little differently, too. And I want to go back for a moment to the brother who declined to go out and pioneer. Because what was the thing that kept him from the call of God, a lack of faith.

“I’m not ready yet, I don’t have the finances.”
  "I’m not ready yet, I don’t know enough.”

It takes faith to answer the call of God. I don’t know anybody who felt ready to respond to God’s call in the moment He called. Look at some of the men God called to be leaders. Look at their reactions in the moment God called them.

Abraham in Egypt: Tell them you’re my sister so they don’t kill me. I know what God promised but these people are going to kill me for you.

Abraham at 100 years old: A baby? I’m 100 years old and I’m going to father a child? You know what I’m going to name him? Laughter.

Moses at the burning bush: I can’t do it God; I’m slow of speech. Send someone else, send anyone else…I know send my brother Aaron.

Jeremiah at fifteen: Me, I’m fifteen, I’m just a baby…what can I possibly have to say?

I want you to know, God is calling you, now. Some of you are reading this and you know that God is calling you to a purpose, right now. The question is, what are you going to answer? What you respond is between you and God. But the way you answer that call is a statement of your faith. Just like these men’s answers were statements of their faith.

With faith you can live out your destiny. With faith you can move what ever mountain is an obstacle between you and your destiny.

Mount Finance
Mount I don’t know enough
Mount Ability
Mount Personality

Whatever mountain it is can be moved if you have faith. It takes faith to live out your destiny and God’s will. Peter lost faith after the crucifixion, that’s why he withered. But Jesus challenged him on the Sea of Galilee, “Peter, feed my Sheep.” I’m writing this to challenge you. Peter rose to the challenge, what will you do?

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