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 6, 2014

Are You Violent?

If you go to Disneyland, one of the things that you see at every ride is a zig-zag of  velvet ropes.  These are there for people to line up behind,  to insure a smooth and safe access to the ride.  But it isn't done the same way at Universal Studios.  In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that I haven’t been there in many years, but the last time I was there, they didn't places for you to line up.  Instead they had a closed gate and everybody just kind of crowded around the gate.

The fun started when the gate was opened.  People began to crowd into the gate.  There was a bit of jostling and bumping, elbows were thrown, and maybe even a few toes got stepped on, as people rushed in to get the best seats.  You had to be aggressive to get a good seat.   The violent took the good seats.  It occurs to me that heaven may be a little like that.  Don’t just shut me down; I want you to think about this for a moment.

Have you ever felt that you weren't deserving of the grace that God poured out on your life?  Have you felt like you've done nothing to deserve what God’s done for you?  Well, it’s true you HAVE done NOTHING to merit God’s grace on your life, but neither have any of us.  God has done what God has done for reasons of His own.

Have you ever wondered why you’re saved and someone else isn't?  “Why have I been chosen or called out, when there are many others who are more religious:  Many others seem to be more like whom God would call? 

“I was just a sinner.  I didn't have anything God would want,” but when you say that you’re looking at things from your own perspective, which is different from God’s perspective. God doesn't see things in the way that you and I do.  He doesn't make judgments about men in the same way that we do.

1 Samuel 16:7 (NKJV)
16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

So, God doesn't look at our position, or social standing, or religiosity.  He looks at the heart.

When Saul was made king, it was because the people demanded a king.  So Saul fit all the people’s expectations about what a king should be:

1 Samuel 9:1-2 (NKJV)
9:1 There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bechorath, the son of Aphiah, a Benjamite, a mighty man of power. 2 And he had a choice and handsome son whose name was Saul. There was not a more handsome person than he among the children of Israel. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.

Aren't those some of the requirements that we look for in our political leaders?  God anointed him because that’s what the people wanted; a king like all the other nation’s kings.  When Saul sinned and the kingdom was taken from him, Samuel told him that God was looking for a man after his own heart.  God chose David.  He chose David because David had the kind of heart that God was looking for.  It didn't have anything to do with David’s religiousness.  It was thing of the heart.  It wasn't that David deserved to be king.  It was that he had a heart after God.  He desired God and God’s blessing in his life.

Who are we?  Are we those who deserve God’s blessing, or are we just the kind of people that God can use.  God doesn't choose us based on what we think is religious thought and action.  He doesn't choose us on the kind of thing that we think would appeal to God.  He didn't choose the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  They were the religious men of Jesus’ time and they were rejected, even though they thought they were close to God they were far from him.

Matthew 15:8-9 (NKJV)
15:8 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' "

These are God’s thoughts on the religious.  So whom does He choose?  Look at whom Jesus chose for His ministry; common, unlearned men; fishermen.  He chose those that were thought to be profane:  Those that didn't have the religious education, or the refinement of position.  In short, He chose the common people; the off scouring of the earth:  People like you and I.  The ones of whom they said would never amount to anything.  These are the people of God.

Today I want to post on what it really takes to become a man or woman of God.  We receive from God by contending, by diligently seeking.  This post will tell us what kind of person can be rewarded because he or she has diligently sought what God will do. 

Matthew 11:12-15 (NKJV)
11:12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

The Kingdom Suffers Violence

What does that mean, the kingdom of Heaven suffers violence? What is meant by the violent will take it by force?  The word violence here means that it’s forced.  For example, if someone breaks into your home or office.  If they smash the lock, kick in the door, or break a window, we would say that the building has suffered violence.  There was an entry that was by force.  People are breaking into Heaven.  They’re forcing their way into Heaven.

The Pharisees and other religious leaders thought they had a hold on heaven.  They thought they would be the only ones worthy to enter Heaven.  “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.”  The prophets and the law spoke of the way to Heaven as being only through strict obedience to the law.  We didn't have the covenant of Grace at that time, so the only way to Heaven was through keeping the law.  If you talked to Pharisees they thought that they were the only ones who kept it strictly, and so they were the only ones on their way to Heaven.

Luke 18:11-12 (NKJV)
18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'

The scripture above is how Jesus saw them:  That they felt above it all; that their works are what will get them to Heaven.  This is why they were so offended by Jesus reaching out to sinners.

Luke 7:39 (NKJV)
7:39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, "This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner."

Matthew 9:10-11 (NKJV)
9:10 Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

It was the sinners to whom he reached out, People like you and I.  Face it; we weren't the best choices.  How many of us were sinners:  Liars, drunks, thieves, addicts, and adulterers?  Pick your sin or sins from that list.  We wouldn't have been the choices of the religious leaders, and yet we’re the ones who have laid claim to the kingdom.  We've taken it by force.  The prophets and the law prophesied that the only way to Heaven was through the law, not grace.  It was only through living the way the Pharisees thought they were living, but John taught something different.  John called on us to repent.  We needed to repent in order to see the Kingdom of God.  He doesn't preach about the law.  His message is repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Matthew 3:1-8 (NKJV)
3:1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.' " 4 And John himself was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance,

So John preaches a doctrine of repentance.  It isn't a doctrine that says we must live to the law, but that we need to repent and it holds even to this day, because that’s what we preach, “Repent!”

Acts 2:38 (NKJV)
2:38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This isn't saying live unto the law, it says repent.  That’s what peter is preaching, and if you've read enough of this blog, you know that’s what we’re preaching, too.

Without repentance sin is not remitted.  The sin is not paid.  We must repent for the remission of sin.  Remission literally means that the price has been paid.  When you receive a bill it says next to the amount owed, “please remit this amount:” Please send away this amount.  We send in our money and the bill is remitted.  The price goes away.  So the remission of sin doesn't just mean our sin has been forgiven, it means the sin has been sent away.  If we want to see our sin sent away, we need to repent.  Then we are able to enter into the kingdom.

And this is what I call the “Doctrine of Violence.”  This is what it means to say the Kingdom suffers violence.  We have by passed the law and we have broken into Heaven.  Instead of going through gates marked “The Law.”  We have broken down those gates and the battering ram that we used is repentance.  We don’t deserve to be there.  We sinned, we broke the law, and we haven’t lived it out.   The iniquity that stains our souls is the mark that keeps us from entering in.  But repentance causes that iniquity to be washed with the blood of Jesus and the mark is gone.  We are able to step in.  We’re there by grace. We’re there by mercy.  We’re there by our repentance and His remission of our sin. 

He has paid the price and our repentance declares our commitment to that grace.  “I’m sorry that my sin put Him on the cross, but His crucifixion will not be in vain.  The price He paid for my freedom will not be taken for granted.  I’m not going to live in a way that will cause Him any more suffering.”  That’s repentance.  This is the violence that the Kingdom suffers.  This is breaking and entering into Heaven.

It Comes Down to Faith

All of this is predicated on faith. We take on faith that Christ is who He said He was.  We take on faith that His death on the cross is atonement for our sin.  It’s the same faith Abraham had in Hebrews 11:6:

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.

It’s by faith that we believe He is.  It’s by faith that we diligently seek Him, and receive the reward of our diligence.  It’s by and through faith that we are the violent that take the Kingdom by force.

I had a guy ask me once, “How do you know thirteen guys didn't just decide to get together and write The Bible?”  By Faith.  “How do you know that this isn't just the greatest con game in history?  By Faith.  “How do you know that God will answer your prayers?”  By Faith.

Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)
11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for.  This word substance means that this is the fleshing out.  In other words this is the reality of the thing that’s hoped for.  It’s the evidence of things not seen.  Evidence is an outward indication of the existence of some fact or some thing.  So what is faith?  It’s our hope made real and that what we can’t see exists.  So, we’re saved because we believe God became man, in the person of Jesus Christ, and that his shed blood has atoned for our sin.  We also believe that our repentance gains us access to Heaven.  We take these things on faith and that faith is our salvation. 

We have taken the gates of Heaven by force, and if we have used force to enter then we are the people of violence; the violent.  So then question in this is, “Are you violent, or are you suffering from milquetoast faith.  Do you know what milquetoast is?  It’s toast that has been soaked in milk to make it soft, to take the hardness away, to make it palatable.

Are You Violent?

The church world today seems to be a church of milquetoast faith.  Many churches believe the Gospel is too hard for people to bear.  We need to soften it up   We don’t want to offend the sinners by confronting sin; by telling them that their sin offends God. 

You know, I would have never gotten saved if the Gospel didn't hit me right between the eyes, “Here’s what you’re guilty of, now what are you going to do with that?”   I dealt with it in the only way I could; I repented.  I stepped out in faith.  I said, "God I hope you’re real, I hope the that your promises are true."  Jesus Christ and his atoning blood are the substance of the things I hoped for.

Who are you?  Are you one of the violent, or are you afraid to step out in faith and break down the gates of Heaven.  It’s the violent that come into the kingdom; men and women of action; men and women who will get on their knees and fight. 

I praise God for our fellowship's leadership, who are not blown around by every wind and doctrine:  Leaders who don’t get involved with every religious fad.  Leaders that have committed themselves to a course that will constantly press the battle right to the gates of Hell. When you think about it, that’s what this is, a battle. 

Have you ever noticed how many references there are to battle and soldiers in the Bible?  Christianity isn't just a simple thing.  It’s not a feel-good Gospel. It’s a battle that must be fought.  There’s no room in Christianity for milquetoast faith or a milquetoast Gospel.  This is a life and death struggle and if you’re going to survive it you’d better be a hardened fighter.  You better use all the tools at your disposal. 

Do you know how battles are won?  Battles are won by breaking through the enemy’s defensive positions and forcing the army through the gates of the city and capturing it.  How do we win the war we’re engaged in?  THE SAME WAY, by pushing through the enemy’s lines and taking the Kingdom by force.  We are called to be men and women of violence:  Not physical violence, but spiritual violence.  We’re called to storm the gates of Heaven.  Are you Violent?

Disclaimer:  I am not advocating for physically violent behavior.  I’m expressing my thoughts on the Bible statement that the “Kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent will take the Kingdom by force.”  This is a commentary on spiritual violence.

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