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, 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.

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