Friday, February 16, 2018

Ignoring Truth Because of its Package ...

What if Jesus was black.  Would you refuse to hear His words because His ethnicity was not what you expected; or perhaps pay new found attention to them because of this new discovery.  Whether we like to admit it or not, we do sometimes pay more attention to the package than the Truth of the message they are trying to convey.  So take race out of it for a minute.  What if Jesus was fat.  Not just pleasantly plump, or carrying a bit of a mid-section, but full on fluffy.  Do the words of a fat man carry less weight with you?  But likely that was not the case, more likely He looked like a Jewish concentration camp victim.  He spent 40 days after all in the wilderness without food or water.  His body would have emaciated from good health to the worst case of bulimia or anorexia you can possibly imagine, and this presentation of His, was after all a form of self-mutilation.  He chose not to eat or drink, nobody forced Him (other than obedience to the will of God).
Anyone who does that to Himself, can they possibly be trusted?  Do you trust people with a mustache, or without one?  Do you trust people with a beard, maybe even a long beard?  Jesus was a Nazarene and like His cousin John could have elected to take a Nazarite vow by lifestyle, so His hair would have been long, very long, perhaps mangy, with a long beard having never been touched by a razor.  30 years of uninterrupted hair growth, is not just missing the barber for too long, it is never having met a barber ever.  His hair would have made Him look more a like Sikh or militant Arab than a modern-day hippy.  Do you trust any of “those people” to relay truth, or just to continue an agenda they have, that ultimately impacts us the wrong way.  So if Jesus looked more like John is He more trustworthy or less?  And oh my goodness His clothes.  He only had one lousy garment, a homespun of cotton / wool combination.  Picture rough cotton (not the fine Egyptian stuff) that had simple hems, and wrapped around Him without buttons, zippers, or pockets.  And it would have been constantly dirty, at least, covered by the dirt of others He was constantly hugging and coming in close contact with.  His robe would have carried their germs, or how could it not, He was always so close to lepers and filthy people.  People bathed in the stench of their own poverty, deformity, and disease.
Can you trust a dirty person, or person dirty in appearance?  What if Jesus was a heavy sweat-er, or had heavy perspiration.  He lived in the desert areas, the ultra-dry areas.  Apart from baptizing in the Jordan and walking near the Sea of Galilee it’s not like they had Jacuzzi’s just sitting around waiting for them.  They were generally walking is dry dusty air with little water to ever cool them.  They probably smelled.  There was a reason why folks needed to wash their feet before they ate a good meal.  They did not want the foot odor smell to overpower the smell of fresh bread or oil.  But the remainder of them were likely unbathed.  Could you trust a Jesus who smelled like the homeless people that occasionally wander into the back of your churches?  If Jesus did not smell pretty, would you throw Him out?
This sack of meat we inhabit is prone to all kinds of issues that detract from the pretty we might otherwise be.  But then there is the acid test of acceptance.  Familiarity.  Knowing the messenger, perhaps for some great length of time.  The closer you are to them, perhaps the harder it is to accept what truth they might have to offer.  They carry the baggage of their families.  One brother of theirs does some goofy thing, and anyone from that family is tagged with the stain of it on their reputation.  Even if not directly, it does influence the thinking.  Jesus had a ton of baggage where it came to family.  His mother Mary, claimed virginity at His birth, but let’s be real, who was buying that story?  Every girl ever caught getting pregnant ahead of marriage has some cock-and-bull story about how that accidentally occurred.  No one is too keen about owning up to responsibility.  Perhaps Mary just had a wild imagination about her situation.  At least you give her credit for sticking to a crazy excuse like that one.  But who would believe it?
While Jesus may have been perfect from birth, His earthly parents were not.  They were human.  They worked, played, loved, and made mistakes.  Jesus had brothers and sisters, who too were less than stellar.  Perhaps making mistakes, finding themselves in situations they would have otherwise wanted to avoid.  And the towns people knew it.  They were not ignorant of every mistake or sin, in the house of the carpenter Joseph, his crazy bride Mary, and their expanding family of sons and daughters who followed Jesus.  So then, could you believe your own brother, sister, mother, father, or son or daughter, if they brought you the word of the Lord?  Or, would you judge them based on all the mistakes you know they have been a part of, and write them off as goodie-two-shoes.  Could you accept a person from your own family with a message from God, or is it easier to accept the same message from a pastor you hardly know?  It makes you think.  The words are no different.
But Jesus did not only come to bring His ministry to people who did not know Him.  He came to bring it to those who knew Him best.  You would think that would be a cake-walk.  It wasn’t.  You would think His friends and family would specifically remember what Jesus was like for all of His life.  Always kind.  Always loving.  Always helping out without being asked.  Always patient.  And never seeming to get caught doing anything naughty, because He had no time for naughty things, only for things that showed love to others.  That was Him.  That was His whole life.  Anyone who spent any time with Him should have quickly remembered these facts.  They were facts about Him, that never varied.  But my how memory fades when the words asking for Love appear from the pulpit.
Matthew continues his chronical to the Hebrews of the life of Jesus in chapter thirteen of his gospel picking up in verse 53 following the parables with a story of going home saying … “And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed thence. [verse 54] And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? [verse 55] Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? [verse 56] And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?”  Jesus had brothers.  Jesus had sisters.  Jesus had that mother Mary with that crazy story she still maintained and nobody else believed.  Jesus’ earthly dad was a carpenter, not a rabbi, or a member of the Sanhedrin.
So how on earth does Jesus begin teaching Truth from the pulpit of the Temples and Synagogues with such authority and power.  He does not teach Love in the third person, He teaches it as if He were there.  Because He was.  It blew the audience’s minds.  The Son of God in their synagogues?  But they knew this Guy.  This was the carpenter’s Son, nothing more, how on earth could He have had the training needed to be a Rabbi and preach the way He was.  This was the moment.  For them, for us.  This was the moment when Truth knocked on the doors of their hearts.  They had only to listen, and accept.  So do you.  You know the truth of Matthews Gospel and you know the Truth who it talks about.  Don’t cast it aside because the text is old, in an old book, written by old men.  Don’t cast it aside because the author is fat like me, old like me, with bad vision like me, who does not smell very good like me.  Matthew was not perfect, but he did follow Jesus.  It does not matter what me or Matthew look like, we are only window dressing.  The Jesus we point too is the real deal.  This is the moment for you to decide.  Will you seek Jesus, or turn away?
Matthew continues the chronicle of their response in verse 57 saying … “And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house. [verse 58] And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”  Aaarrgh!!  They were offended in him.  They disregarded their memories, clinged to the packaging, focused on the faults of His family, and closed their ears to the Truth.  And only very little miracles followed their unbelief.  How will it be for you?  Will you listen to your friends, or fellow students, or teachers, or parents; none of whom have ever really come to know Jesus for themselves, siding with them for peer pressure not to believe?  Will you embrace the mantra of the world to please self and deny the Jesus who loves you and bids you to learn to love others?  Jesus is real.  He has always been real.  He is more real than I am.  He is far more important than I will ever be.  Throw me away completely, but cling to Jesus and I will rejoice in it.
The Truth has always been real.  Sometimes He speaks through the cutest 2-year-old toddler you can imagine saying the most profound thing that will ever be uttered – I love you.  Sometimes you catch a glimmer of Him as an outstretched hand offers the homeless from their means they can scarcely afford to give, but give anyway, and do it in secret where nobody else knows.  Sometimes you cannot explain how He did for you what He did for you – perhaps granting you miraculous escapes from car collisions that totaled your car, or confounding doctors with test results that should have showed disease and now do not.  Or perhaps it is far more personal for you.  Perhaps you have allowed Jesus to take some sin from you, that you have struggled with your entire life.  And you cannot explain how He did it, but you no longer crave that thing that was sure to destroy you.  Now you abhor it.  Jesus is real.  Forget all the packaging.  Ignore the genre of music, find the Truth in the lyrics, or not at all.  Ignore the physical appearance of the pastor; but listen closely to his words.  Don’t let the pretty impress you, or the ugly detract from His Truth.
Open your mind during your TV shows, or listen more closely in the movies you watch, and see a need for Jesus you might have otherwise missed.  The packaging is irrelevant, but the Truth behind it, means everything and is everything.  God uses broken tools.  He does not wait for perfect ones.  But He still offers us a glimpse of His love, even in the state we find ourselves in.  Even when we smell.  Even when we are bathed in the stench of defeat.  He is still there.  He is still looking to heal us, and remove from us that which would destroy us.  Let us never take offense in that, or in Jesus.  Let us find our worth in Jesus, our price in Jesus.  Let us invite Jesus in, and give Him all of who we are, even the smelly parts, or the ugly parts, or the unpleasant parts.  This is that moment, for you.  Don’t let it slip away, done ever let it slip away.
 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Treasure Hunter ...

Every so often a story will come out in the news about a Treasure Hunter who has made some marvelous discovery.  Most of it is cleaning up after pirates, or chasing down some nefarious Hitler lead.  But in the end the idea of finding some long-lost treasure has an appeal to most all of us.  Kids get inspired and begin to dig holes in the backyard, hoping to hit oil like the Clampets (of Beverly Hills), or find pirate booty.  Going to the beach, we see the periodic eternal optimists holding one of those metal detection devices, scanning the sands looking for some hunk of gold that washed up since the day before, but is now buried just a few inches down, right there for the taking.  Free stuff sounds good.  Valuable free stuff sounds better.  Something for nothing even better than that.  But for every kid with an intense imagination, there is a zoning law that would prevent them from drilling oil wells in the backyard.  For every treasure hunter there are international laws that attempt to return lost or stolen items to their historical owner (or historical governments failing that).  Actually finding treasure, and keeping it, is perhaps the rarest of all stories.
So why did Jesus say it is something we could all be?  Oh Jesus had a different name for it, but the meaning was clear as crystal in comparing it to treasure hunting in our day.  Perhaps a little back story is warranted.  Jesus has been telling parables (stories) about the nature of growth in spiritual things.  His allegories are about a Farmer planting seeds, and what happens in that process all around.  But now Jesus begins to shift gears.  He begins to start telling more parables, but this time focused more from the perspective of the seed, that is us, instead from the process overall.  The first one emerges in the gospel of Matthew picking up in verse 44 saying … “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.”  Treasure hunter.
In this case, there is some form of ancient pirate booty (had to have been Assyrian, Philistine, Babylonian, or Egyptian pirates to have historical accuracy in those days), that is buried in some random piece of land.  Our hero had to have been searching for something, or perhaps he was just one of the luckiest guys around, and has stumbled upon the buried treasure.  But instead of just taking it with him, perhaps it was more than he thought he would be able to carry, or perhaps he wanted clear title of ownership to the treasure – he goes and sells everything else he owns, to buy the field where this thing is, and have ownership of the treasure he has discovered.  Voila!  He is now the best treasure hunter of ancient days.  But what is the point of this spiritually?  Now comes the real treasure hunting, for us.
While you consider what the meaning of that parable might be in terms of salvation (keep in mind this is Jesus telling them).  Lets take a look at a second story similar in nature that follows it in verse 45 where Jesus continues saying … “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: [verse 46] Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”  Business Treasure Hunter.  This guy is a merchant by trade, a jeweler to be specific, a specialist in pearls to be more specific than that.  This guy is far from just some hapless schmoe who stumbles across buried treasure in a random field.  This second hero is a merchant looking for something very specific, and he finds it.  After much searching, perhaps searching for his entire life to that point, he comes across a single pearl that he believes is worth more than every other pearl on planet earth.  The current owner must be aware of its value to at least some extent, because while it is for sale, it is also a something that costs “a great price”.
But the merchant is undeterred by the high asking price.  He goes and sells everything else he has to buy this single pearl.  In this sense he is exactly like the hero from the first story, they both are gladly willing to sell everything else they have to get the treasure they have discovered.  They both hold nothing back.  Neither of them seem to haggle over price, they both think they are getting the far better end of their respective deals.  So I ask again, what is the importance of these stories where it comes to our spiritual understanding.  First, good thing these are parables.  We all know the Kingdom of Heaven cannot be bought by our wealth.  But we also know the model for the early Christian church was for a new member to go and sell everything they had, bringing the wealth of the sales back to the church and giving it everything they owned.  Then the church took care of their needs as they arose.  Continued labors were also deposited into church coffers (not just 10 percent tithe), but 100% of whatever was earned.
But I do not think these stories were told, just to get Christians to begin thinking differently about how to operate Jesus’ church once He left planet earth.  Something deeper was meant for us.  Perhaps that something was in how “we” would feel about the discovery of the Kingdom of Heaven.  That discovery happens here and now, not just after death.  The benefits we derive happen here and now, just as soon as we obtain the treasure of great price – not just later in our estate handed down to our children.  There is an immediacy to the benefit of our transformation.  Living without the pain sin causes, is living in a much better way.  Comparatively, this is living with buried treasure, or perfected treasure, like none other the world has to offer.  This is not about living a dull, boring, downtrodden life – where everything fun has been taken away.  This is about living a vibrant life.  This is about having a treasure you can find now, that is truly a treasure, something worth more than anything else – and YOU are the one who feels that way.
But not every great feeling, comes from a great place.  While these stories reveal how wonderful we feel about the discovery of the treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven – those feelings of transformation away from sin are in fact the treasure.  The short term high of engaging in sin is by far not the same thing.  But some folks ignore the pain of sin, and just keep engaging in it more, hoping things will get better.  They don’t.  Jesus addressed this kind of discernment about the good from the bad picking up in verse 47 with another parable saying … “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: [verse 48] Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.”  Forgiveness is not a license to sin.  Forgiveness is meant to heal, not to continue the disease, even unto death.  Instead of treating forgiveness like a baseline to restore us back to God, some of us treat it like a get-out-of-jail-free card that will allow us to sin without worrying about ever paying the cost of our sins.  In so doing we mask the pain of sin, instead of uncovering it.  We ignore what sin does to others, keeping ourselves blind to the pain of others, in order to try to keep ourselves happy.
This kind of attempt to feel good about the Kingdom of Heaven, to use forgiveness as a weapon to do bad, winds up leaving us un-transformed, and not in harmony with the Law or will of God.  And if this condition is not changed, it will put us on the bad side of the evaluation at the end of all things. As Jesus continues picking up in verse 49 saying … “So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, [verse 50] And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  The wicked, believe themselves to be within the Kingdom of Heaven, after all they were scooped up in the net just like the righteous were.  The difference between the two, is that the righteous do not want to “do” good, they want to “be” good.”  The wicked want to do only that which makes them happy.  When the wicked do good, it is for points, for credit, for appreciation.  The wicked do good, in order to satisfy the list Jesus created – visit the poor, sick, imprisoned.  Once the wicked check these things off their list, they go back to the lives they want to live.
It is the heart of the righteous that breaks when they suffer with the poor, relate to those imprisoned, feel the tragedy of the sick in our world.  The righteous shed tears they cannot control, because they know whatever they have done to alleviate suffering is so little compared to the need.  The righteous ache to see those in need, have their needs met, on whatever level it is.  They love like the heart of Christ loves.  It is not fake.  It is genuine, because the transformation of their lives is genuine.  The wailing and gnashing of teeth is done by the righteous in this world because of the heartbreak that sin causes.  The wailing and gnashing of teeth is done by the wicked at the end of this world, because they have finally gotten caught, and can see their time to please self is at an end.
Jesus continues in verse 51 saying … “Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord.”  Jesus asks the disciples do you understand, as He asks that question to us today.  The disciples answered yes.  I am not as confident.  While taking a second look at these simple parables might reveal a point from a different perspective, that is hardly the end of truth, or the complete picture of it.  It is the luckiest hapless hero on earth scenario, stumbling across the treasure of so great a value and a price.  It will cost all of me, that is, the entirety of who I am.  I will be someone different when my transformation is done at the hand of my Creator, in the here and now, and after death if I taste it.  But the value of my transformation will be worth more than any pearl, or any pirate booty.  This is the Truth of what Jesus Christ offers.  But then Jesus makes a promise that gives me hope.
Jesus continues in verse 52 saying … “Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.”  Treasure Hunter.  You and I, the modern scribes who are instructed unto the Kingdom of Heaven are householders (i.e. Treasure Hunters).  We bring forth treasure, things old and new, from our search of the scriptures and the Word and will of God.  Different perspectives bring forth additional context, additional insights, additional understanding.  No one of us has it all.  Each of us has something to add.  Treasure Hunters.  As we all submit to Jesus before asking to be led in His words, we find more to know, more to share, and insight from each other as we get insight directly from Him.  In this, if it costs us all, it is worth it.  In this, if it totally changes who we are, and how we love, it is worth it.  Anything Jesus offers us is worth it.  Nothing else, is worth holding on to.  Sin is the disease we so long to see cured, in the world, and in our own hearts.  We are getting the better end of this arrangement by far, it is worth more than anything else we will ever own or aspire to own.  This is treasure we get to keep, and transformation that turns us into treasure for others.
 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Fields of Perfection [part four] ...

Some journey’s have unintended consequences, and some unexpected benefits.  Imagine yourself planning a first-time trip to London England for your family.  None of you have ever traveled oversees, but you go about all the normal things we would expect to do.  We arrange a passport for everyone.  We make airline reservations, and hotel accommodations.  We arrange for local transport, though expect to take taxi’s and the tube for the most part.  These are the things we expect to have to do, in order to take a journey to London.  But then something unexpected happens, an Ambassador from France arrives at your doorstep the eve before your trip.  They knock on your door and tell you that historians in France have been working on tracing the ancestors of King Louis and believe you may be the last living direct descendant.  They want you to come to France (courtesy of the French government), for an all-expenses-paid first-class trip to explore your heritage.
Surprised would hardly be the word for it.  You agree to go.  You are taken on a supersonic plane that arrives in 2 hours, much less than you expected, and you ride first-class all the way.  You are taken to the Palace of Versailles outside of Paris where Louis spent much of his life.  But not to tour it.  To stay in it.  You are to sleep in a bed made of down feathers that measures about 15 feet across.  Every room in this huge castle now belongs to you.  Beyond this, the Hope Diamond which once belonged to your ancestor is now laid out upon your neck.  The historical wealth of France is transferred to you.  This does not happen because you planned for it.  It did not happen because you deserved it.  It happens because of something outside of your control entirely, it happens because of your ancestry, and happens because of something inside of you that you were entirely unaware might be there.   You did not know you were an heir to a throne, but you come to discover it by the hard work of somebody else.
Most of us do not dream of becoming an heir to a long expired French throne.  It did not work out that well for King Louis after all.  The unexpected consequence of power is not something uplifting to human nature, it is something that tends to tear what is important in us down.  But it turns out, you, and each member of your family, are in fact heirs to a different throne, and direct descendants of the King who still sits on it.  And the journey of discovery, or reconciliation with that throne, is what that ambassador knocking at your door, wants you to begin.  This journey, like the imaginary one we described above, will happen not because you plan for it.  There is nothing you can do to get ready for it.  You are only asked if you will go, or not.  What happens then is in the hands of the King who desperately wishes to meet you in person; and show you what He has in store for you.  He wants so much to put a crown upon your head.  Not one made of silly hope diamonds that twinkle only when light hits it, but one made of stars which themselves shine brighter than our sun from within. 
This journey does not happen because you deserve it.  You cannot earn it.  It is the gift of the King, to you, His long-lost child.  And your prince-ship (or princess) was something buried in you, that your mortal mind can scarcely imagine, let alone comprehend.  How do I know?  Because the perspective of the farmer is always greater than the perspective of the seed.  Jesus Himself reminded us of this.  Matthew continues a series of journey-related parables told by Christ in chapter 13 of his gospel.  As discussed so far these journeys are not quick, or instant.  They are told in the growth process of a Farmer and His seeds.  But progression, or rather transformation, is what occurs in each of them.  This one picks up in verse 31 with Jesus saying … “Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: [verse 32] Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.”
A short story as stories go.  But the point is revealing.  The farmer once again is Jesus Christ, as it has been in all the parables that precede it.  The field is the world.  The seed is us, that is, anyone who would choose to accept being the seed of the Farmer.  The farmer does the planting, and in this case, the seed hardly recognizes what it will become.  From the perspective of the seed, they are the tiniest of all their peers, the least of seeds in fact.  This seed looks at other seeds to determine its own value, but has no idea what it would become.  You can imagine other herb seeds laughing at the tiny little grain of mustard seed; other seeds imagine themselves bigger because they begin the journey bigger already.  They think themselves ahead on this journey because of how big they are today.  But not so.  Seeds are ALL tiny, especially in the hand of the farmer.  But after the transformation, the tiny grain of mustard seed becomes a great tree.  It gets so large other species like birds, can actually make a home in its branches.  Hard to do that in a basil herb, or perhaps oregano, or garlic.
The point of this parable is that the seed does not really know who it is.  The seed has no idea what it is intended to become.  Only the farmer knows that.  And ONLY the farmer can see to it, that destination is what occurs, guiding the transformation from seed to tree – faithfully watering, fertilizing, providing sunlight, etc..  Our farmer does the work.  The journey is not ours because we deserve it.  And as these parables reveal, not even because we can imagine it.  Our imagination is stunted by our past, and the diversion of our focus away from our farmer.  We start looking at who we are today, and see only the least of all seeds (in or out of the church).  Looking at self does not make the journey happen.  Looking to the light of the farmer does.  But the great news is that, it does not matter if you can grasp who you really are.  It does not change a thing.  You are heir to a throne whether you believe it or not.  The journey will reveal it.  All you need do is begin.
Jesus decides to make another analogy to bring home the point in a way perhaps his female audience will also understand better.  He continues in verse 33 saying … “Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”  The dough has no idea what leaven will do to it.  The dough had no plans to go anywhere or be anything greater than it already was.  But introduce the transformative power of the Kingdom of Heaven into the dough, and rise it will do.  The dough will never understand that process, neither will we.  It was not the work of the dough to make itself rise, it was the introduction of the leaven of the Kingdom of Heaven that made that happen.  Only Jesus understands the work He is doing, and what results it will have.  We do not.  But the rising is guaranteed. 
Transformative love, that is love, not content to leave us in our sin, with our pain, and the death we embrace because of it.  That love of God, instead removes our pain, our sin, and even our death.  It grants life eternal.  Not just eternal “existence”, but eternal “life”.  Real life.  And it begins the moment it is introduced.  The end of the journey does not arrive in an instant, but the benefits of the journey begin to be seen immediately and throughout, ever growing towards the fields of perfection He has in mind.  Perfection is not just intended for one or two, it will in fact be seen throughout all of heaven, in each and every one of us, its residents.  So if all will see it.  Then all need not wait to see it develop within them in the here-and-now.  It can begin today.  These stories were designed to illustrate these things to us.  But have they?
Matthew makes a commentary on these parables of Jesus, now four of them on the same theme, as he states in verse 34 saying … “All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: [verse 35] That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.”  The Truth is here revealed.  The beauty of the gospel, kept secret from the foundation of the world is here revealed.  This is the battle plan Jesus had when Satan will still Lucifer.  These are the plans Jesus had to keep hidden from Lucifer, asking Lucifer to trust Him rather than grow envy and break trust, resulting the in invention of sin and evil and death and war.
That our Savior and Lord would provide a way of our escape from the addiction of sin, was the plans for our transformation, created before we were.  Man was created in spite of knowing what Love would cost.  Man was created with free will, our God desperately hoping we would not break trust with Him, as Lucifer had done – even though we chose it as well.  But with our fall, was already created a way for us to reconcile, and learn to trust in our God once again.  To re-establish trust on our part in our God to truly save us – to do what He has promised to do.  Each of us face the same challenge and tests Lucifer did, and Adam did, and Jesus did.  We are all asked whether we will trust God, in spite of what we think or feel or believe.  As we learn to have that kind of trust, we learn to make a life where sin will never enter in to it again, not in the eons of time we will face in eternal life.  Our trust in God will be so great, sin will have no vehicle for entry ever again.
These were the secrets revealed to us in a series of parables.  And Satan must have wept at the beauty of how great the love of God is, for us, and once for himself before he abandoned it completely.  The seed does not have to understand everything, not even who it is.  The seed has only to look to the farmer, and watch what the farmer has in store for it, letting the transformation truly begin.
 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Fields of Perfection [part three] ...

A journey can sometimes be an arduous thing.  The voyage from point A to point B is not always painless.  But that pain is nearly a guarantee when an enemy works to insure it.  I always find it remarkable that folks who ascribe to atheism do so while blaming God for everything bad that happens in the world (if there was one); but fail to ever attribute any of the pain and suffering to the devil, His enemy.  It is as if there is only one responsible party for anything bad, but the other guy just continues to not exist.  Even in atheism, the devil continues to pull off the great deception of just never being there for anything bad.  But in Christianity, this deception takes the form of “forgetfulness”?  Somehow Christians think there are bad people in the world, but seem to forget they face the chief of all evil in their journey away from self.  On occasion we remember there is a devil, but in general seem to think he couldn’t possibly affect “our” lives (perhaps with disease, temptation that leads to failure, or even death itself).  But he does, and he remains very active as Jesus reminds us so long ago.
Imagine planning a vacation to Disney World (home of the 6ft rat 😊).  But then everything that could go wrong, does go wrong.  Some call that Murphy’s Law (perhaps the devil’s middle name is Murphy?).  Bad coincidence is survivable, though not enjoyable.  It would however not make for a great vacation to say the least.  We think of our vacations as an escape from stress, not a deepening of it.  But now imagine that same vacation plan you create and begin to set in motion.  This time, the circumstances beyond your control are cooperating fully, but your wife is not.  This time, your wife not only resents going, she is determined to make your vacation as miserable as possible.  You do not just lose your wallet, she steals and hides it.  You did not just forget your reservations number at the hotel, she not only stole your paperwork, she secretly cancelled the reservations without anyone knowing.  This behavior is not designed to keep you from going, perhaps she is unable to do that, but it is designed to make every inch of going as hard as possible, and as miserable as possible.  That, is the role the devil plays in your spiritual journey.  He is unable to stop you from movement, but he is unwilling to concede a single inch without inflicting as much distraction, failure, pain, and misery as it is possible to inflict upon you along the way.  And it is not the will of God, it is the will of His enemy.
So the argument emerges, why not just prevent him (Satan) from doing it – perhaps kill him to keep him from this?  But then, without any kind of test, would you ever know what you “truly” believed, and how much you truly believed it?  Without test, would you really know how much you trust God to save you, or would you believe you did it all yourself?  And when the devil uses human agents to accomplish his goal of making your journey miserable, can you possibly consider killing the messenger who needs redemption and reconciliation as much as you do?  Bad children are still children.  You do not execute your two-year-old because she intentionally throws milk at you.  You do not kill her because she hits her sister.  These behaviors are what need to go.  But your daughter remains your daughter even when her actions cause pain to others, and ultimately to you, and God.  In the eye of God, “bad” people, are children He is still trying hard to redeem.  And sometimes your spiritual journey is made more difficult by people who act as agents of the enemy whether they know it or not.  Something that again, is not new.
Matthew documented a parable of Jesus in a continuing line of parables that addressed this in chapter thirteen of his gospel.  He picks up with the words of Christ beginning in verse 24 saying … “Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: [verse 25] But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.”  Before we decipher the meaning of this parable which Jesus explains in further texts we will read before proceeding, there are a few other items of notice.  First, this is the second parable in a line of them that uses farming as the analogy.  As stated before farming is not an instant process, it is a growth process.  It takes a farmer’s care if a harvest is to be gained.  The seeds respond to the work of the farmer, they do not work for themselves.  They will need planting, fertilizing, water, sunshine, and earth before what God intended them to become happens.  This is in a perfect world.  This story begins with introducing intentional means of destruction.  Here we learn, that the farmer has an enemy, and the enemy has done something to intentionally hurt the farmer, the seeds are only a mechanism to hurt the farmer, that was the enemy’s only goal, the seeds mean nothing to him.
Jesus decodes this parable beginning in verse 36 saying … “Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. [verse 37] He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; [verse 38] The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;”  Duh!  The explanation of this is kind of exactly what you might expect, but the disciples asked for one anyway.  It is good being stupid.  Think about it, you could have made assumptions about this story, and hardened those assumptions until no other truth gets in.  That is what we do all the time, and we call those assumptions and interpretations – doctrine.  Once hardened in tradition we call it core beliefs and we would rather die than open our minds to some other interpretation of the same set of facts.  The disciples were smart enough, or rather stupid enough, not to make assumptions of their own, but instead TO ASK TO BE LED by Jesus before putting “anything” in their minds.  And this approach works, even today.
As it turns out, the farmer is Jesus the Son of Man.  The field is the world.  That sentence is sometimes one Christians like to forget.  We associate “the world” as being the mission fields, someplace primitive and far away.  But the world includes Hollywood, and New York City.  It includes gay bars, and for that matter, bars of every kind.  It includes places like Kansas, Alabama, and Arkansas.  It includes the families within our own churches, and the people within our own families.  The world is not exclusive, it is inclusive of everyone, everywhere – in places that are primitive, and in places where sins are committed on purpose by people who should know better, like us.  The good seed are the children of the kingdom.  We like to think that is us.  But we forget that word “children”.  We gloss over it like a phrase so often repeated it loses meaning.  There are only “children” in this explanation.  No adults identified and everyone in the world is included in the meaning.  That means you are either following God, or His enemy, and you are not old enough to even think there is a third option.  Folks convinced they are adults, are actually children following the enemy who tells them they are adults and in control, they are deceived and they do not know it, because they do not want to admit the truth, told by The Truth.
These weeds however are not wicked supernatural agents, they are just humans, doing the bidding of who they follow.  And your spiritual journey can be impeded by them.  It is like having your husband hide your purse everyday before you leave the house, or your wife hide your wallet.  People clinging to false ideas, they are certain are correct, and wanting to share them with you whether you want to hear them or not.  Better to both come in surrender and humility before Jesus and ask Him, what does The Truth say in this matter or that one.  That act of following, combined with that acknowledge in humility that we need His wisdom, is becoming children of the kingdom.  It is attempting to become perpetual students at the feet of Jesus to learn, ignoring all other distractions and purported “wisdom” of men.
So let’s go back to the parable in verse 26 as Jesus continues saying … “But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. [verse 27] So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? [verse 28] He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?”  Before we get the explanation a couple things to notice here.  Notice that question of the “servants” to the farmer – didn’t you sow good seed, why does it have weeds?  Nearly everyone blames the farmer, or God, for the weeds.  We do something bad, we blame God for it.  We suffer from the bad actions of someone else, we blame God for it.  But God says … “an enemy has done this”.  There is more than one supernatural actor in this story, and in our world.  Satan tempted Adam and Eve, God did not.  God warned them how to avoid temptation (stay together, and stay away from it).  But we treat the warnings of God lightly believing in strength we do not have, and stumble right into failure without even a second thought, until the guilt of our failure sets in again, or the consequences have immediate effect.
Jesus deciphers more in verse 39 saying … “The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.”  In case there was any debate about how weeds get there, they get there because the devil sows them.  The devil tempts people into failure after failure until they no longer believe anything but failure is possible.  In truth it is less the sin he wins them over by, but instead the notion that “they” could control the sin if they just wanted to try hard enough.  Instead of looking to Christ where victory over sin is guaranteed (we do nothing, and Jesus beats it for us).  The devil gets people to try to fight him one-on-one, over and over again.  He tells Christians you must do your best first before God can help you, or will help you.  Christians believe the lie, and so are doomed to a life of failure after failure.  If the world would look to Jesus to save them, truly let Jesus do the work for them, salvation would be assured.  The kind of salvation that changes what you do, because it changes how you think and how you love.  The only thing you “do”, is keep surrendering to Jesus and stay out of the fight.
We return to the parable with Jesus answering the servant’s question about getting rid of the weeds early, picking up in verse 29 saying … “But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. [verse 30] Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”  More here than first meets the eye.  The argument about “soon” should have faded a bit.  The servants ask the farmer if He wants to move early to get rid of the weeds, and the farmer does not.  The farmer wants to wait, give it time.  He wants to save everyone, and everyone has that chance.  Only this farmer could turn weeds into wheat, and that is what He longs to do.  God would prefer to return to a world entirely occupied by wheat, where every weed gave themselves to Him to be transformed.  But alas, too many weeds, choose to be weeds, and do NOT want transformation of any kind, even Christians sitting in pews, singing hymns since they were children.  A hardened heart, is a hardened heart – where it is sitting, and what it is singing – are not important.
Jesus interprets picking up in verse 40 saying … “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. [verse 41] The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; [verse 42] And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. [verse 43] Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”  Here is where the rubber meets the road.  The criteria for the angels as they sort weed from wheat is perfection.  Things that offend, and they that do iniquity – are the weeds that are cast out and burned at the end of all things.  Notice it does not read, well Christians that only do iniquity or sin on occasion should be spared.  This is not a partial-pass method here.  Those that still sin, that still offend, will be cast out.  It means that our journey does reach an end, a maturity in Jesus where we will stop sinning, and stop offending.  Stop sinning that is our actions and motives coming in harmony with God and the Law.  Stop offending, that is we stop teaching others incorrect methods of salvation, stop teaching them to rely upon self, and rely ONLY upon Jesus, to TRUST Jesus to save them, for only He can.
This is the end of our journey, and there is an end to it.  Those who remain alive at the second coming of Christ will have already reached the end of our spiritual journey’s.  Those who died in that quest, will have the remainder fixed in the twinkling of an eye at the resurrection of the righteous.  But the wheat will be perfect at the end of all things, sinning and offending no more.  He who has ears, let him hear, are the words of Jesus, The Truth.  The criteria of perfection is not a threat, or a death sentence.  It is a promise.  It is hope.  It is a description of what the end of your journey looks like within who you are.  It is the gift of Jesus Christ to you, and will happen within you individually.  The church does not bring it.  Your wife or husband does not bring it.  It happens because you submit and surrender to Jesus one-on-one, and only Jesus brings it about within you.  Your failures do not prevent it, they are but guiderails to point you back to Jesus, to surrender more, and trust more, to let Jesus bring it about in you.  Do not focus on failure, focus on Jesus.  Stay your eyes upon Jesus and He will do everything that must be done to save you.
What these stories teach us, is that there is no quick fix, no instant, no one-and-done.  But what they also teach us, is that the Farmer will see the harvest complete within each of us His seeds, if we but let Him.  The farmer does the work, we become the benefit, and perhaps feed the world, or at least our corner of it, turning every eye back to the farmer Jesus Christ.  The seed is not the hero of this story, the farmer is.  The harvest itself is not the event of this story, the transformation of the seed is, that transformation happens before the harvest can begin.  We must be transformed by Jesus, before our actions matter.  We must love before showing kindness has the full effect it could have.  Our motives behind what we do matter.  And the perfecting of our souls, minds, and hearts IS possible through Jesus Christ as we submit ourselves to Him, and trust Him to do the work.
And there would be more parables in this line before it was over yet …
 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Fields of Perfection [part two] ...

Why not simply “arrive” where it comes to spiritual growth?  Why take a journey that we know it is possible to complete in the twinkling of an eye?  It is easy to blame God for the delay, or perhaps develop doubt there is a God, because of the delay.  One of the effective arguments atheists and nominal Christians make, is that people have been talking about the “soon coming return” of Jesus Christ since the days of the disciples and over 2000 years have passed in that time.  Oh sure, if you stack that against time in Universal measurements or against the stars it is short, but against human life spans, it is well beyond any of them.  A belief in “soon” that does not come true, can sometimes equate to a belief that transformation just takes too long, and there are too many failures that keep occurring along the way.  Perhaps transformation too is just one of those “soon coming” things that for me will never seem to arrive; always to be lost in the journey.  There comes a time when even progress is not enough, the destination is just too much what we long for.  Not the destination of heaven, so much as the destination of perfection, even in the here and the now.
And if our “standard” is no less than perfection, we cannot just shrug it off, and act as though it is “OK” that we are imperfect.  It is never “OK” with God that we carry the cancer of sin, that we suffer from the pain and death it brings and causes.  God longs to give us the cure.  So when our failures teach us we are obviously not cured yet, we return to the question of why, or as with His long awaited return; how long?  And if knowing it must be a journey is not hard enough, it turns out the other complicating factor is … us.  What we believe, and how certain we are of our beliefs, can delay the journey entirely.  Even the beliefs that we are taught from the church, or from spiritual leaders we trust, or things we seem to have discovered on our own.  It is not even the incorrect beliefs that are our problem nearly as much as the certainty to which we cling to them.  We hold the mind of the unconverted even while we occupy the pews of the church we call home.  And because of it, our journey takes even longer.
This is not new.  There was an example provided in the gospel of Matthew in the thirteenth chapter.  Right in the middle of telling parables about the Kingdom of God, and salvation, and heaven; the reason why stories are being used is provided.  And those reasons are just as applicable today as they ever were, so much to sorrow over it.  Matthew picks up in verse 10 with the most obvious question … “And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?”  This is the gospel after all.  We are not just trying to explain how to build a kite; we are trying to save lost souls here, trying to provide the roadmap to doing it right.  But instead of providing direct, frank, and explanative words; Jesus chooses to tell stories to get the point across.  And it looks as though no one is getting it, sometimes even the disciples are having a hard time admitting they too, are not getting it.
Ever ask the question, if Jesus wanted us to know what to do about [insert some modern problem here] why didn’t He just say that in the New Testament?  The question about Sabbath observance is sometimes put in this category.  What you can do or not do.  Or which day is the right one.  There is a lot of other scripture to answer these questions, but it might have been nice since Jesus knowing what would happen later, if He would have just given some direct counsel on the matter in question – rather than bury it among tons of other texts that must be read in context to even get close to answering it right?  Homosexuality is another idea floated this way.  While the Bible is full of condemnation for it, Jesus never said one word in first person against it.  If Jesus is our final authority why not just state what His position is?  Instead we have stories, historical events, and societal prejudices that influence our ideas on any given topic we research in the Bible.  Seems like the lead is buried.
But Jesus answers this question picking up in verse 11 saying … “He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. [verse 12] For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. [verse 13] Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.”  So a little flattering that the disciples are going to be the privileged few who get to understand the mysteries.  We take that by extension to mean “us” as well since we get to read the written works of those disciples where it comes to the gospel.  The idea that to those to whom it is given, will be given even more in abundance sounds really good to us.  We think that must mean - to church folk, to folks who are searching, or are already in the aisles and pews.  But we missed one subtle word printed plainly there that perhaps our brains just wanted to miss.  To him shall be “given” more abundance.
The remainder of the answer of Jesus applies to those who believe they already know what they need to know.  They have learned it through joining a church, or having conducted years of study on their own.  They might have learned it by going to a Christian school system, or Christian University.  They are not newbies, but people long-in-the-tooth where it comes to spiritual matters.  They are not the nominal believers who never “do” anything, but they are the people who act on their faith and make it a point to get out there and serve in the plain light of day.  These are the people who hath … not.  Their eyes work or function, but they see not.  Their ears can hear just fine, but they hear not.  And worst of all, they, or rather “our” comprehension and understanding is poo-poo.  To “us?” shall be taken away even what little even what we have.
That reads like a punishment.  It reads like a punishment for well-meaning folks.  But again, this is actually about salvation, and what is needed here for “us” is exactly that.  We need a reset of what we are so certain about.  We need a reset of what University, or our local church has been pushing into our heads for so long we can nearly rote repeat it.  We must unlearn what we have learned, and be taught what we should know through a mechanism we have least tried out (becoming a direct student of Jesus).  Matthew reminds his audience this entire scenario was predicted long in advance by the prophet Isaiah, lest we think this only applied in the days of Christ, or will never be relevant again.  He continues in verse 14 saying … “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:”  The prophet Isaiah had a relevant message to his people in his day of the same phenomenon that Jesus fulfilled in His own.  And that prophecy had no time stamp on it.  The same plague moves forward through time through the same people even within the true churches of God.
The reason is heartbreaking to hear continuing in verse 15 saying … “For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”  Queue the weeping and gnashing of teeth please.  We are “tired” of hearing.  We have closed our eyes to “The Truth”.  And perhaps worst of all, and the most telling sign, our hearts have waxed gross, we love very little anything that does not resemble ourselves.  And it appears that understanding will only come through the heart, which in this case has grown cold.  All of the signs of people or believers who would have made excellent members of the Sanhedrin in the days of Jesus.  People certain of their spiritual knowledge and completely unwilling and not inclined to submit that “knowledge” to the higher power of Jesus Christ.  Our journey is stunted because we refuse connection with Jesus that could have resulted in our conversion, and our healing.  Could sadder words ever be uttered, particularly when they are squarely directed at “you?” or “me?”.
So what made the disciples different? … They were stupid.  And they knew it.  And they depended on Jesus for their wisdom, looking to learn anything HE had to teach them, never even daring to teach Him anything.  The only beliefs they brought with them from before Jesus and they ever clung to, were WRONG!!  And those beliefs were taught to them by the church.  Freedom from Rome was not in the cards from a Messiah bent on freeing them from sin, freedom from sin was more important.  But the church disagreed.  And it still does.  So many churches continue to teach that freedom from sin is nothing more than forgiveness bundled with a license to continue sinning.  Dangerous doctrines that equate infinite forgiveness with the ability to infinitely keep sinning with nothing but a little guilt.  Or worse, they teach us that freedom from sin comes only when “we” try hard enough.  Neither is true.  But we cling to error in our beliefs about salvation that stunt our journey and prevent us from a connection with Jesus that would in fact actually save us, from us.  We don’t need a partnership with Jesus, we need a hostile take-over by Him (us out, Him in).  We do not have permission to sin because God “understands” our weakness.  We need a cure from God as we direct our weakness and everything else about us to Him in full surrender of what “we” think needs to be done about it.
Recognizing one’s own stupidity has an upside.  Seeing our true need has benefits we cannot imagine as Matthew continues the words of Jesus picking up in verse 16 saying … “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. [verse 17] For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”  Being willing to be taught by Jesus begins by recognizing we have nothing to offer Him, and everything to gain by listening and being taught by Him.  And on that score, “church” is not the same as personal submission and surrender to Jesus Christ.  Before accepting what others say about scripture (including this author), pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the leadership of Jesus Christ.  Otherwise, group think, or who you think may have a point, may not.  Jesus does not want to leave you blind to His word.  Nor is His word dangerous to you.  But your pride in your learning is dangerous to you.  Being unwilling to expand, alter, or change your mind about what you know when something new is brought to you by Jesus is very dangerous to your journey.  It can stunt it badly.
We have the wealth of scripture, not only of the New Testament, but of the Old Testament as well.  BOTH are views of our God’s intense love for us, and His work to redeem us.  If the OT does not read that way to you yet, you need to view it more through the lens of Jesus Christ.  If what you get out of the OT is a vengeful God who wipes people out because He feels like it, you have entirely missed the lens of Jesus Christ.  For the life of Christ was in full submission to His Father’s will from day-one to day-last.  He never did His own thing, and what is more, all those acts of love were His Father’s thing for you.  That intense love for you is not only from Jesus but from the Father as well.  That means when people die in the OT, it was not a time for joy, but a time for GREAT sorrow.  If the embrace of sin had to be cleansed; you should know that it made God sorry His efforts to redeem were so soundly rejected.  It did not give Him glee.  Jesus was saddened at the hearts of the Sanhedrin who would rather have killed Him, than learn from Him.  Have you joined those Sanhedrin ranks some 2000 years after they fizzled out?
Or, are you ready to see the stupid in you, you call certainty of knowledge.  Are you ready to be taught, that is to be the perpetual student ever willing to give up an incorrect belief for the right one as Jesus reveals them to you?  Pay no attention to the vehicle for The Truth, only insure it is Jesus you follow, even if the messenger is flawed or not what you would expect, or through a means you otherwise never thought possible.  Or has your heart waxed gross, have you decided you have enough love for your lifetime and could not possibly need more.  Have you grown ambivalent to need, particularly the need of others you hardly know.  Have you closed your eyes to the new, believing the old will save you?  Have you shut off listening because you do not like the method or messenger the sound comes from, an imperfect vessel like yourself.  And we wonder why we need a journey, and why it takes so so long for us to learn to trust and fully surrender our own will.  Because what we “know” is likely the thing we need to relearn.  How desperately we need that connection to Jesus.
And the parables were not over yet …