Friday, June 16, 2017

Who Leads, Who Follows ...

Speaking from the side of a mountain, offers the ability to have many listeners in the venue.  Speaking from a modest home in the time of Christ does not.  As crowds began to gather at the home of Peter in Capernaum, before things got out of hand, Jesus decides it would be better to move locations across the Sea of Galilee on to distant shores.  This will offer both a better venue for handling large crowds, as well as the change in locale for new local residents to hear firsthand what they may not have been able to travel to hear thus far.  It is solid and logical reasoning.  It is a good plan.  But does that matter?
In America today, we like the idea of having teams solve problems.  We are enamored with the concept, that where applying one mind to a problem may be OK, applying several minds is bound to make the solution better.  But does it?  When the mechanics of teamwork actually takes place, nearly all such gatherings produce (or identify) a leader.  Round tables of ideas are facilitated.  Brain storming is coached and guided.  Voting on suggestions is often requested at the behest of a natural leader who tends to call these meetings, guide them, and often create the first straw man idea from which the other team members will edit and critique.  If nature hates a vacuum, then so do I.  But I am not afraid to speak in groups, to share my opinion, and to listen to truly hear what someone else is saying.  Stick me in a team setting however that has no leader, and I will become one; or sit in my chair tortured, akin to listening to nails on a chalk board, for the waste of energy that occurs in a team setting with no direction.  I can follow.  But if there is no one to follow, I will lead.  I just cannot sit still and shut up, and do nothing.  I have learned this about myself.
This personality trait follows me into the church.  Put me in a group study situation, let the teacher pose a question, if there is silence, I will fill it.  It is not the silence I hate, it is the lack of participation from others.  It is seeing the teacher worried that no one is really listening or cares, or has a clue.  So I speak.  And then temptation begins.  It is all too easy for me to quietly take leadership of the class from the teacher, and begin posing my own questions, directing the conversation, and making a series of points.  This is a bridge too far.  It is not my place to teach where I have not been invited to do so.  Because I have opinions does not make them right, or dominant.  Because I can speak, does not mean that I should.  Perhaps my silence is exactly what was needed.  Wresting control from a struggling teacher is not my place, nor should it have ever entered my mind or lips.  Being the student is the place I should have maintained in the body of Christ, at least during the time I describe above.
It would seem though, that the temptation I struggle with in the church, is not isolated to me alone.  Speakers over time begin to think of themselves as the defacto leaders of any situation they enter in.  How many pastors are able to remain silent in someone else’s group study?  This problem is made worse, because the believers begin to look to the pastor for answers more than they look to the leader of the class to keep them on point, and arrive at the conclusion they were intended to study to reach.  It is easier to simply ask the pastor for the answer.  He is bound to know, right?  Why study if you can jump right there.  And in the mind of the pastor, they begin to think of themselves in this light.  As if it is their perpetual place to be, because of the role they have embraced.  At all times, in all situations.  Evangelists so much the more.  Evangelists have the added burden of passion (trying to get attention), and brevity (they are not here long and need to make their points before they depart).  So the mindset of leaders in ministry is that they should become perpetual leaders, almost never the follower.
This is human folly.  In the body of Christ, we are each enriched by the perspectives of others in the body.  No perspective should ever be considered dominant, or needed at the exclusion of others.  Each perspective is equally important, and should be equally treasured.  When attempting to learn more about our Lord and Savior, we should realize that each holds only one point of view.  All the other points of view, outside of our own, are what give us all a better perspective on Jesus, and how He interacts with His church.  In the church that Jesus owns, He is the only true leader.  Everyone of us is intended to follow Him, not each other, no matter what role we may play in His overall ministry.  This is a very flat organizational model.  It is also not one of consensus, but one of autocratic benevolence.  Jesus did not ask the disciples for ideas about what to do next, He consulted His Father in heaven, then took action.  Jesus did not need a team to support His ideas or plans.  He expressed His intention to move, it was now up to others how they responded, but no matter what they did, Jesus was moving.
Matthew records how this story progresses in his gospel in chapter eight, picking up in verse 18 saying … “Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side.”  You will notice Jesus gave “commandment” to depart.  This was not a suggestion.  This was not a question.  This was a directive.  It was time to move.  But extending this notion a bit further.  When Jesus gives us direction, it is never a suggestion, or a request to vote by committee to determine what to do. If Jesus says it, it is a “commandment”.  Most of us think the only commandments in the Bible are back in Exodus limited to Ten items that form the basis of how to love.  But in fact, commandments are given all through scripture, every time there is a record of what Jesus asks, and where that might be applied to more than just the person He was speaking to.  Jesus does not manage His church through suggestions, or by committee, those are human constructs.  Jesus is the leader of His church, there are no other leaders, just Him.
Matthew continues in verse 19 saying … “And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. [verse 20] And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”  Looking at this interchange, our first inclination is that what Jesus said would have discouraged this scribe from following Him.  But in truth we don’t know that.  What we may be doing when we read this, is transferring our own fears about being homeless, and without possessions, on to the scribe who was pledging to follow Jesus.  In similar circumstances it is likely we who would have retreated from being a “full time” disciple.  And instead followed Jesus, only when He was in our area, you know, like a part time disciple, when it was convenient.  Just like it is today with all too many of us.  But it is possible, that this scribe was not like us, and was undeterred by Jesus’s truth in advertising.  It is possible the scribe was willing to be homeless, to be with Jesus full time, undeterred by setting aside his possessions to be with Jesus up close and personal.
Matthew continues in verse 21 saying … “And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. [verse 22] But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.”  This one stings quite a bit more, but it is no less true than the other warning Jesus offered.  This one is beyond homelessness.  This one states a fundamental truth.  If you are not connected to Jesus, you are already dead.  Your body may still have spark in it.  But you have no life, only slavery to self and sin.  While you may claim a religion, without a direct connection to Jesus, you are as spiritually dead as any atheist would choose to be.  Following Jesus brings life.  The condition of your body is not the indicator of that.  Because the spark of life has gone out, does not mean you are truly dead, any more than being “alive” without a direct connection to Jesus means you have life.  Those who sleep in Jesus will one day experience resurrection in Jesus, with eternal life to follow.  Those who believe themselves to be alive today, without Jesus, face only pain and death to come.  A direct connection makes all the difference.
Then there is the family thing.  This request to delay the plans of Christ to cross the Sea of Galilee until after this man’s father could be buried were denied.  There was no exception made for family.  There was no “consideration” made.  Jesus needed to move, and He was going to.  The man could either follow Jesus, or turn away to tend to the cares of this world, even the sensitive concerns of burying a loved one like a parent.  Jesus was moving.  There was no time for distraction, even for concerns of the heart for family.  The connection to Jesus was more important than that.  More important than anything.  We do not know if this potential disciple got into the boat with Jesus to move, or chose to delay.  There is no indication of that.  The plan to move was made by Jesus.  The timing was immediate.  And so the plan moved forward.
Matthew continues in verse 23 saying … “And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. [verse 24] And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.”  Now comes an assessment of the plan of Jesus.  What was logical before seems utterly ill timed at present.  Getting into that boat, and leaving when they did, resulted in a full-blown storm strong enough to sink the ship (and the other ships that were attempting to follow, perhaps with these other two newly minted disciples in tow).  This plan was poorly timed at best.  Thinking in retrospect, we would criticize this plan, and blame the leader who forced it upon us (though He did no such thing).  This is how we react in the business world today.  It is the price of leadership, to be blamed for when things in life do not go smoothly.  It does not matter that conditions change beyond the control of the person who created the plan, it only matters that they did, and therefore someone must take the blame.  It was no different on those boats.  And what was worse, Jesus was taking a nap, as if there was not a care in the world.
Matthew continues in verse 25 saying … “And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. [verse 26] And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. [verse 27] But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!”  The plans of God rarely make “sense” to humans, or from a human perspective.  We are finite.  God is not.  We see things through the lens of what is in our own best interest, God sees our greater interests.  The question boils down to who leads, who follows.  Too much of our religions are often subtly based on the idea that we get God to do what we want, throwing out scriptures to prove our points and demands.  But in truth, a direct connection to Jesus may lead us in completely other directions, with other methods, for reasons we fail to comprehend. 
These disciples were all led into boats.  Satan caused the storm.  Jesus repealed it.  Faith in God’s plan does not lead to our eternal disaster, even if this story had another outcome.  But trust in a leader who loves you with a passion you cannot even comprehend, may lead you to do what does not make sense, because He asks you to.  Imagine Abraham, being asked by God to sacrifice the only son he has.  This request is completely out of line from a Biblical perspective - case closed.  No scripture could have ever proved the validity of this request.  Abraham was being asked to murder, and by God.  He obeyed.  And his faith is memorialized because of it.  That does not change the request, or the nature of it.  It did not make sense.  But it has stood as an example of faith for thousands of years.  What God did to intervene for Abraham, He did not do for Himself.  He gave His Son for us, and held back His hand from intervention.  That plan makes even less sense.  But it is the plan He constructed to redeem you and I.  It reveals a love that is infinite in proportion.
Those of us, who believe it is our role to lead in ministry, must re-examine what that means.  We are not truly leaders, we are only servants with a bigger constituency.  We follow, not lead.  Our peers follow not lead.  There are no teams or committees.  Just bodies of believers who dedicate themselves to Jesus, and to a direct connection with Him.  He leads, We follow.  There is nothing more to it than that …
 

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Woman's Place ...


Most sentences in conversation that begin with the words “a woman’s place is in …” don’t end well; at least for the person speaking.  There are in fact few ways to end that sentence that will not be found offensive.  The problem is not the “where” so much as it is “the edict” of where by the person speaking.  Many women work.  Many women do it for no wages, nearly zero recognition, and often time despite ridicule from the teenagers they are trying to raise, in the houses they make homes from their labors.  To say a woman works is simply a statement of fact … it is the “where” again that conjures up the prejudices of value derived from a commercial enterprise as somehow having more value than the value that comes from turning a building into a home.  Perhaps then the best way to end that sentence “a woman’s place is … is wherever she wants it to be.”  That will at least save the person speaking, and perhaps offer more truth than the chauvinist mind is ready to grasp.
Men like to measure themselves.  We like to compare and use yardsticks to do it.  In sports, there is a winning team and a losing one.  Children may all be “winners” for having competed; men like the idea of only one team being a winner, and the other losers.  In life, men tend to gravitate to their careers as another yardstick to measure each other by.  If my job title sounds more professional than yours, guess who wins that battle.  If you make more money than I do, we are back to a draw.  If my wife is the most beautiful woman in the room, then I will have done my job appropriately (as determined by my wife), and I will be permitted to sleep in our bed this evening. 😊  But again, if my wife is more beautiful than every other wife, I win.  This is a competition women are not so disparaging of, as long as their husband always wins.  The problem with all of this thinking is where value is derived from.  Possessions should not define our value, service should.
In that context, I may be the biggest loser.  How much I serve, even how much I serve my wife, is not up to a standard I would set for myself.  It is easier to define value in possessions, and in commercial accomplishments, than it is in humble service (where credit does not exist, nor should it).  It would seem I need a re-wire of my thinking to begin to appreciate humble service for the value that should be derived from it.  If I appreciated it properly, then the service done in the home would become of vastly more value than anything done in an office, for mere compensation.  Careers like garbage collector would be esteemed not ridiculed.  And the waitress who fills your coffee cup, would be appreciated (not just in your mind, but reflected in the tips you leave).  Appreciating humble service changes where you think value comes from, and what services people do, to achieve it.
But shouldn’t that apply in the church as well?  We have our estimation of importance as upside down in church as we do in the world.  We esteem conference leaders, the pope, the bishops, or people holding roles over the organization of the body.  Evangelists or people with great speaking abilities are esteemed over simple believers.  The folks in the pews are seen almost like cattle.  We attend events, fill up the pews, sing when directed to, kneel, fill up offering coffers, and then go home.  Next week, the same routine.  But some simple believers are also prayer warriors.  Warriors not because “they” are special, but because their “belief” is so strong it is as if they sit in the living room with the Lord, every time they bring up His name.  Their prayers are answered because their expectations are so high.  And most of us hardly know their names.
In the church, we begin to assume we know who should take up a particular role based upon the profile we set for that role in our minds.  Tradition colors our thoughts.  Where we would not dare utter the sentence “a woman’s place” in our personal lives, when it comes to church we happily utter the same phrase and do not end it with open possibilities.  We end it with predefined notions of where a woman’s value should be derived from a traditional perspective.  In like manner, we expect men to fill other roles, our only differentiation based on competence, never gender.  However, it does seem like men are allowed to fulfill nearly every role, but women only a few.  Forward thinking churches have gotten past this traditional view point most often because they view chauvinism as bad history.  But that is not perhaps the best reasoning.
Everyone uses the Bible to prove their own perspectives.  Everyone uses the Bible to prove their own pre-dispositions.  We do not ask our God, we tell others what He has to say, through us.  But if we were open enough to ask, are we ready to accept the answer, whatever that might be?  For my liberal friends on this topic, I offer the simple story Matthew relayed in his gospel in chapter eight picking up in verse 14 saying … “And when Jesus was come into Peter's house, he saw his wife's mother laid, and sick of a fever.”  The story begins with Jesus entering Peter’s house (in Capernaum) as we learn in the previous texts.  If we paid better attention we might realize that Peter has a wife, a home, and a mother-in-law.  The idea that ministers of the gospel should in some way be celibate goes out the window.  Peter has his priority on Jesus, but it does not negate that he has a family.  It is his family home he has invited Jesus and the crew to visit.
Matthew continues in verse 15 saying … “ And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them.”  Here is the tricky part.  Jesus heals her not because of what she will do.  Jesus is not purchasing her healing for service.  Jesus does not save you, because he wants something from you.  What you offer and how you respond is up to you.  How you love is up to you.  How much you submit is up to you.  How much you allow Him to change you, is ultimately how much you submit to Him.  But what He offers is a pure gift, that can never be repaid, nor does He ever ask for repayment.  That means that what the mother-in-law of Peter does in response to a touch from Jesus, is the “choice” Peter’s mother-in-law makes.  She serves Jesus and the disciples in humble service, because this is what she chooses or wants to do.  She could have left the home, went into the streets, and danced and celebrated the fact that she was just very sick, and now she is made well by Jesus.  She could have shouted what the Lord did for her to anyone who would have listened.  Other women did this.  The woman of Samaria was probably the most successful evangelist in all of scripture.  That was her response to Jesus.  Peter’s mother-in-law did something far more quiet, with far less recognition.  She just acted our humble service.
You can imagine that mother-in-law jokes did not begin in this century.  The tension between husband and wife when dealing with in-laws is nothing new.  I am certain that tension dates back nearly to Adam and Eve, or at least to Seth’s grandsons and daughters.  The jokes that stem from the tension as probably equally as old, and just as circulated as they are today.  Now even though Peter may not have told his share (or at least after he encountered Jesus), a mother-in-law may know they are not the most welcome person in the household.  This does not deter her at all.  She rises from her illness, and immediately does what she chooses to do.  She serves in humility, without a second thought.  She could have been a prophet.  She could have become a disciple (perhaps she did both of these after the gaze of Matthew had long since departed from her company).  What she chose to do later would be up to her, and more importantly up to the Holy Spirit.  But her choice that night was no less important, or appropriate, or of value.
Her service would be needed as the needs multiplied.  Matthew concludes this snippet picking up in verse 16 saying … “When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: [verse 17] That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.”  Those people who were sick and waiting in line to be healed might have needed refreshments.  They might have needed help to get to Jesus.  The needs they had in the conditions they were in before they met Jesus might have been substantial.  Are not ours?  So how she served when the multitudes arrived we do not know, nor was she credited, nor did she want to be credited.  But she served, in the manner she chose to serve.  No one dictated to her what to do.  No one told her where her place was.  She filled a place she wanted to fill and was honored to do so.
Too many of my liberal brothers and sisters spend so much time fighting for the rights of women in the church, they forget that the right to choose what she chose, is equally important.  Perhaps more important, as she was honored to serve the Lord of our Universe in what she did.  The choice to be humble, to seek no recognition, to “not” be a public speaker or minister, is of equal value to any other choice made.  Perhaps within the church “a woman’s place” is anywhere she is willing to serve, and anywhere the Holy Spirit makes her fit to serve.  And if the Holy Spirit decides, who are we to criticize His choice or hers …
 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Shame On You ...

“Knowing” but not “doing” provides an opportunity for someone (usually your mom), to utter the phrase “shame on you”.  As an example, you walk through the kitchen spotting a sink full of dishes that need to be washed.  Your mother is already busy with another chore that needs doing around the house.  You know the dishes need to be cleaned.  You know your mom is busy.  But you keep on walking, preferring to do the thing you wanted to do, rather than the thing that needs doing, that might otherwise help out your busy mother.  On Mother’s Day, your decision seems particularly heinous.  But you have faced this same decision on many days before, and made the same one, till the point now, where it hardly dawns on you what you “could” be doing to help out your mother, if you only chose to.  Shame on you comes to mind.
And while shame usually conjures up feelings of guilt, from heaven’s perspective it has another connotation.  All those opportunities you had to serve your family and your mother, where in fact, “opportunities” to serve.  In heaven that is like gold, it is like currency is here on earth.  The population of heaven is always looking for an opportunity to do something for someone else that might have meaning or impact, or make their lives just a little bit better.  In heaven, there is no greater task to do on anyone’s agenda than this.  From the heavenly perspective the “shame” on you, is your lost opportunity to serve.  They cannot fathom why anyone would simply keep on walking when they had instead the glorious opportunity to do something for someone else that could help out, or make their lives just a little bit better.  Mom understands.  Because your decision results in mom ever so quietly doing the dishes, cleaning them for her family.  She knows those dishes are bound to be dirty again, almost as fast as she can clean them.  This does not dissuade her.  Because she loves her family, and she wants them eating from clean plates, gaining the benefits of less germs, and the satisfaction in her heart, that her love translates into service almost everywhere you look.
Sometimes it is harder on mom to serve, than she might let on.  Sometimes her human frailty makes it painful for her to keep standing, to keep cleaning, to keep serving.  But she continues on to the best of her ability.  As she ages this difficulty will only increase.  Each decision you make to simply pass by those tasks you know need doing, whether she ever calls your attention to them or not, are silent echoes of “shame on you” that should be said, or at least noticed.  We accept her service.  We come to expect it.  We come to think of it, as if by magic, our homes are homes.  But it is not magic, or elves, or gremlins, that make our homes a home, it is by the demonstration of someone’s love.  Shame on us, when that demonstration lacks our participation.  We should know better.  We should do better.  But examples that reveal what we should know do not start and end in the home.
Matthew recorded one in his gospel intended for a Jewish audience.  The snippet he records cut right to the quick of a Jewish heart in his day.  It revealed no greater shame.  The contrast was so striking, many would prefer if it did not happen, but it did.  Picking up in the eighth chapter of his gospel starting in verse 5 Matthew begins telling the story of what happened saying … “And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him,”  Someone was denying the pecking order.  Romans did not ask Jews for anything.  If a Roman had a need, he could simply take what he wanted, and if the Jew disagreed, he could voice his dissent from a Roman cross, or behind a Roman whip.  Centurions were even higher up the food chain.  Not only could a centurion take what he wanted, he had the added benefit of 100 Roman soldiers to insure death and destruction at the whim of his command.  But not so here, this one was different.
Matthew continues in verse 6 saying … “And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.”  OK now, we have really entered weirdo-wonderland in this day-and-age.  Not only is a Roman centurion respectfully asking Jesus for something without a single hint of force or consequences (a miracle unto itself), this Roman is worried about a mere servant who is sick at his home.  Servants are nothing in this day-and-age.  They are a dime a dozen.  You can easily just pick someone and make them a servant in your home, again, if they argue about it, they can voice their dissent behind a Roman whip, or a Roman cross.  To have a Roman care enough about a servant to seek healing for him or her is beyond comprehension to the Jewish mind.  They never do this.  Well that is up to now.  It would appear that the Holy Spirit can enter Romans just as well as He enters Jews.
Jesus responds in verse 7 saying … “And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.”  The fall down the rabbit hole continues.  Here is Jesus, not only willing to heal this servant He has never met, He is willing to travel into a Roman’s home to do it.  NO other Rabbi would do this.  NO other Rabbi would even consider it.  Nearly every other Rabbi would be delighted to know the Roman is suffering, and would love for them to get to experience what it is like to see someone they care about suffer and perhaps die.  Turnabout is fair play in the Jewish mind, and in ours.  What goes around comes around.  All is fair in love and war.  Pick your expression.  They all have a basis in trying to screw the guy who is screwing you.  But not so with Jesus.  Jesus loves that servant and it is His will to heal them immediately.  But beyond a healing, Jesus is willing to enter a Roman home, bringing with Him Jewish honor and righteousness into a Roman home, without a moment’s hesitation.
The centurion responds in verse 8 saying … “The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. [verse 9] For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.”  Finally!  Some level of sanity is going to return to this story.  If Jesus does not understand the social norms of having no Jew enter a Roman household, at least the Roman gets it.  But wait a minute, look closer, look at why the Roman centurion responds as he does.  He says to Jesus “I am not worthy”.  Wow!  Someone sees their need.  Someone sees their own unrighteousness, and is afraid they may dishonor the reputation of Jesus by rubbing their own misdeeds upon the righteous Christ should He enter their doors.  The Roman is concerned about Jesus, and ashamed of himself.
The Roman does not want the honor of Jesus in his home, he does not feel he deserves it.  But wait, he still has a solution.  The Roman understands chain of command, he knows when he issues an order, it will be done, even if it is not done in his presence.  The centurion does not have to be present to witness the order being carried out.  He only has to give an order, and it will be carried out, or the one who fails to do it, can ponder his failure behind a Roman whip, or upon a Roman cross.  So the centurion has a plan to figure this out.  But then too, his plan is based on the idea that Jesus is “one” under authority.  Jesus is not just some ordinary Rabbi that people can choose to listen to, or not.  Jesus is the God behind the church of all the Rabbi’s whether they choose to accept it or not.  The centurion recognizes the authority of God in the form of Jesus.  Thus the centurion knows his plan will work.  Jesus has the authority to give a command and it “will” be carried out.  Not because any sort of whips or crosses are behind it, but because the power of God Himself is behind it, which nothing can stop or delay.
Then comes the beauty of transformation compared with those who still rely upon self for salvation.  Jesus responds in verse 10 saying … “When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”  Matthew says to his fellow Jews, to the bloodline of Abraham, to his fellow disciples … shame on us.  Jesus “marvels” at the faith of the Roman, at the simplicity of what he asks, and at his own recognition of his unworthiness to have God enter his home.  Jesus points out, He has not found so great a faith in all the people of Israel.  Yikes!  A Roman, just out did every other descendant of Abraham in a matter of faith.  Even of those who call themselves His disciples.  How could this be?  How could Jesus have said such a thing?  What kind of shame does this heap on the house of Israel, that a Roman has greater faith?  And the gentle rebuke does not end here for the Jews or for us.
Jesus continues in verse 11 saying … “And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. [verse 12] But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  From my point of view this text is awesome!  For I am of Nordic descent, and what it means to me, is that my bloodline is not held against me, nor the pagan history of my ancestors, only that Jesus has extended to me an offer of salvation, of transformation, of a perfection He will work out within me if I will allow it.  And because of His grace, I will look one day across the table at the face of Abraham whose faith inspires my own.  I will meet David, whose heart reflected the passion of our God.  For if I meet them it will not be because I earned it, but because He earned it on my behalf, and saved me from myself.  It will be through Jesus Christ alone that this happens, or it will not happen at all.  This is simply a statement of fact, not intended as threat, but revealed as cause and effect.  Only Jesus can save me, I cannot save me at all.
Those children of bloodlines more closely linked to Abraham.  Of the seven other nations he spawned before his death.  Of Esau, and the nations that descended from his loins.  Of Israel and the continued blood line of Abraham himself.  The advantage of proximity is not a guarantee either, only submission to Jesus Christ guarantees the seat at the table.  A rejection of Jesus; defining him as a prophet, or outstanding Rabbi, but not as a personal savior, leaves one in darkness gnashing teeth for pain.  The universal commonality of false religion begins in the mirror, where one looks to be good enough to be saved.  Odin recognizes that idea.  Mohammed does as well.  Ganesh does as well.  So does Buddha.  And sadly, so do many many Christian religions, denominations, and sects.  Too many Christians have relegated Jesus to the Being who died, rose, and forgives;  but the idea of Him perfecting us from the inside out is foreign to them, and not based on any kind of real submission.  Too many Christians look to the actions of a religious nature they pursue to save themselves. 
We must attend church, read the Bible, pray daily, and be “good” people to our neighbors.  Outside of that, we can have the hearts of a raging demoniac, and crave the things that would destroy us, engaging in them, and then begging forgiveness.  Ever in a cycle of sin-and-forgive, never considering the idea of change, or re-creation; having lost faith that Jesus is a Creator in the first place.  But putting aside our denominations for a moment, putting aside our race, and our cultural heritage.  It only takes one thing to find salvation, it only takes a submission to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  A full surrender of our desires, our will, our decisions to Him, leads to a perfection we begin to slowly come to know, but are completely unable to explain.  This is the difference of Christianity against every other religion.  Because true Christianity is not based on self, it does not have the same results as others do.  It works.  It transforms.  And it leads us to become different, because He makes us different.
Jesus does not forget the Roman in front of Him, for the lesson He would teach His people then, or now, as he continues in verse 13 saying … “And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.”  Imagine the impact upon the Roman’s faith from this encounter.  Imagine the impact of the servants.  Only the Holy Spirit could have inspired the Roman to so love his servant, that he would reach out to a Jew to find healing for him/her.  Only the Holy Spirit could have convicted the Roman of the surety of the authority of Jesus to carry inside of Him the voice of God Himself.  A Roman.  A centurion at that.  A person whose job would lead them to torture Israelites, or at least unfairly treat the people of God.  The persecutor was to be loved by God so much, that the Holy Spirit would interact with him as well.  If there were to ever be a dichotomy of good and bad people, the Roman would have fallen on the bad side of that equation, and yet his faith surpasses all those on the side of the good.
The lesson is clear for us.  There are no good and bad people in the world.  We are all bad.  And we are all in need of a Savior to save us from who we are.  This is the offer Jesus makes.  Jesus would take every person in the world, no matter how bad, and redeem them unto Himself.  He loves us all.  He makes no division.  And He accepts everyone, interacts with everyone, and loves everyone with a passion we will never understand.  Finally, He can save every one of us.  Each of us.  You and me.  He is the only God offering to do so, and the only God able to follow through on that promise.  By contrast, Odin expects me to earn my place in Valhalla, dying a noble death in battle, soaked in the blood of my enemies.  The version of heaven Odin understands is forevermore repeating the battles in heaven, dying each day, resurrecting for the parties each night, and repeating the process for infinity. 
Jesus offers to perfect me for His kingdom.  He soaked Himself in His own blood on behalf of His enemies (including me).  His idea of Heaven is place where the exploration of love and discovery have no end, or upper limits.  The actions of love we take in heaven are ones of service to make the lives of others just a little bit better.  There will be no “shame on me” in His kingdom, because He bore all my shame, to exchange it for infinity with me and Him together forever united.  The contrast is so striking it can barely be comprehended.  My Jesus is my God.  Odin is only myth, and sad myth at that.  Jesus is interactive, not done with me yet, but certainly working with me every day.  Jesus does that.  Odin has never lifted off the pages of history.  Jesus is here today.  But it is not Odin I fear.  It is the man in the mirror, finding a way to never truly submit to the Jesus I know can save me.  Odin is not my enemy or the enemy of my Lord, I am.  My will is opposed to His own.  So I must learn to submit my will to Jesus instead.  What I want is in opposition to Jesus, so I must learn to want to different things, by allowing Jesus to change what I want.  How I love is dwarfed against what is possible, so I must learn to reflect the love of Jesus through me, and begin to experience what love is really like.  I give Jesus me, so that He can slay me, and re-create His version of me.  That is who I wish to be, no clinging to the legacy of who I am today.  I need to be rid of this me, that is what salvation is all about … for me.
I hope to be the guy who never walks past a stack of dirty dishes again.  Not to avoid the shame of it, but to experience the joy of service in it …
 

Friday, May 19, 2017

A Different God ...

Atheists make a point; if there is a God, why does He let “you” suffer?  And Christians set about the task of apologizing on behalf of Jesus.  Mind you, there is truth in the notion that in order for free will to be free, it must permit the choice of that which is bad for us, it must permit the choice of sin.  And sin brings with it pain and death from cause and effect.  It is also true that in a world that recognizes the existence of God, we must equally recognize the existence of His enemy Satan, who has no compunction over causing pain and death to as many as he can.  Stacking up the impacts of our own bad choices, compounded with others, and increased by the deceiver of souls; quite a bit of damage ensues.  Imagine greed unrestricted for a moment, or lust, or anger.  Were there not some level of restriction held back by the four angels of the four winds we might have completely self-destructed long ago.  So even our continued existence is possible only because our God must interfere within limits or witness His creation commit suicide on mass.
But the nature of the Atheist’s challenge is more personal than why does pain exist at all, it is why does it exist for “you”; for someone who claims belief in Jesus Christ.  The challenge is simply why does God who must at least at some level interfere to preserve you, not do a better job at it?  Why does He not answer the most desperate prayers, or prevent the most heinous tragedies from happening at all?  When asked this, most Christians punt.  The most common refrain is, it is a mystery, that only faith can overcome, and trust that whatever happens is in our best interest permitted by a God who we know loves us with a passion we may never understand.  But that answer still leaves the victim a victim.  Rape victims will still have been raped.  Abuse victims still abused.  The dead still killed by others, or by the cause and effect of their own choices.  Our modern faith seems poised to deal with the aftermath, but seems to have a problem dealing with prevention through consistent direct divine intervention.
Now most Christians have a story or two about some point in their lives where divine intervention was done on their behalf.  God keeps us out of the car accident, or keeps our health going when the normal course of events should have taken us out of planet earth.  So the modern Christian, despite not having a comprehensive answer, has at least a partial one.  Our God has been preserving us.  Without Him, we would have been dead already, or in far worse shape than we find ourselves today.  And some modern Christians hold out hope to be favored by the God of Job; who while He permits calamity to occur, He restores our lives after the damage to a much greater point than before the damage began.  But Job’s first set of children were still dead.  Having a new baby is awesome.  But it does not replace the hole in your heart of losing even one of your children, let alone all of them.
Some modern Christians just write off anything that happens in this world as meaning “less”.  From the point of view of eternity, of life without the pain of sin and the death it brings, nothing that happens in this world can ever deter from the infinite bliss of perfection we will come to live in the hereafter.  This perspective is perhaps the most healthy, as it keeps the eye and the priority on what is really important, and what is not.  It also has the side effect of recognizing we need an end to the sin inside of us, to experience and enjoy what an eternity of perfection has waiting for us in the plain of existence God had in mind originally, and is restoring us to.  But even this perspective is lacking something.  It presumes that God will “do a better job” preserving us, only when conditions are finally favorable.  Why does He not do it today, is another question.  And ultimately it is a question where “we” question just what kind of God He is.  It would appear modern Christianity has lapsed into the service of a different God.  Why, and how, spring to mind.
Matthew records for us, in his gospel intended for a Jewish audience, a picture of what sure looks like a different God than the one we have come to apologize for.  The Jesus Christ who walked the sands of Israel so long ago sure presents as something completely different than the Jesus Christ we struggle to make excuses for today.  And if Jesus has not, or will not, ever change.  Then perhaps it is us who have shifted while the rock remained right where it has been all along.  Take as an example the story of the immediate aftermath of the Sermon on the Mount in chapter eight of Matthews gospel.  What Jesus had done was simply preach a sermon.  There were many truths within it, most centered on Salvation, and how following Jesus, submitting to Him, sees that occur within us.  There were no quid pro quo sections in His sermon.  There were no fantastic promises of wealth offered there, or of control, or of fame.  In fact, the antidote of these things are found buried in His words.  What He values is not based in wealth, but in service, not in control, but in submission, not in fame, but in humility.  His entire value system is upside down from our perspective.  But what was the response to it?
Matthew opens chapter eight in verse 1 saying … “When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him.”  The people got it.  Rape victims, abuse victims, those victimized by a church whose leadership abused their control, got it.  Salvation was possible through Jesus Christ and honestly that was all that mattered.  They saw a different God than us.  They were certain about a different God than we appear to be.  They began to show it, revealing Him to us, and revealing what we truly believe to ourselves.  Matthew continues in verse 2 saying … “And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.”  Aids victim, stage four cancer victim, multiple gun shot victim, pick the terminal condition you equate to the most today, and the ancient equivalent was leprosy.  Highly contagious and not well understood, meant complete social ostracization.  No one wanted you around.  You were going to die.  Any remedy had long been forgotten.  You were dirt.  You were less than dirt.
And at least one of them, comes straight up to Jesus after hearing His sermon from afar, and says to Him Lord, “if thou wilt”.  There will be no medication needed, no team of doctors or nurses required.  The man or woman destined to die will come to the Lord of renewal, and state a fact.  This victim knows what Jesus can do.  Jesus need only will it.  No apologies.  No deterrence of faith.  And what happens next separates the God of that man (or woman) from the God of you or I.  Jesus responds in verse 3 saying … “And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”  There was zero delay in His answer.  There was zero equivocation in His answer.  There was zero pre-conditions that had to be met in His answer.  The dead, or destined to be dead, was to be restored in that instant. 
Further, Jesus was not some cold, removed, uncaring person afraid to interact with what you and I are too afraid to love.  Jesus touches Him (or substitute her as many women had leprosy as well).  I imagine Jesus reaching right out to the most infected part of the victim He could easily see, and began the healing right from there.  I imagine seeing not just a cessation of the disease, or stopping its progression, and leaving the scars and missing sections that had already rotted and fallen off.  I imagine Jesus begins re-creating the victim, replacing every missing part with a new one created from the fingertips of the Creator.  I imagine seeing the scars and blemishes fade into the normality of perfection at the time.  Full restoration.  Full recreation.  A point not too subtle for us to see where it comes to our salvation, and the need we have to be re-created from the inside out.
But this must be a different God, than the one modern Christians claim to serve.  There was no delay in what the will of Jesus was.  There was no pondering about it.  It did not take a committee to decide what to do.  It took a man seeing his own need and reaching out to one He knew not only could do it, but would do it.  And Jesus did what Jesus wanted to do for him, and longs to do for each of us.  Jesus then does something that continues to be relevant to us picking up in verse 4 saying … “And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.”  The way of healing leprosy had been long forgotten by those who ran the church.  They had been given a method of healing it.  But they forgot it, or abandoned it, or perhaps just like modern Christians, began to doubt what their God wanted done in a situation like that.
The leadership of the Jewish faith in the time of Christ served the same God we modern Christians do.  A God whose will is ever in doubt, or cannot be explained.  A God who does not “do” anything, or does not “do” enough.  A different God.  Certainly a different God than Jesus Christ who did not hesitate a single minute healing the man in need right in front of Him.  That God, that Jesus Christ, did not seem to leave us in doubt as to what He will was.  He was asked.  He healed.  End of story.  No doubts.  No difficulty in explanation, but rather extreme clarity.  Jesus does NOT want us to suffer and die.  Jesus came to reverse those conditions within us.  Jesus is NOT only interested in our spiritual condition (though that is the more important one), He is also equally interested in our physical condition.  He restores us, both body and soul.  This is the work Jesus longs to do.  This is that God.  This would by all accounts appear to be someone different than the God we have evolved in our minds is supposed to be Him.  In asking this man to return to the leadership of the church to be a testimony unto them, He is also asking this man to be a testimony unto us.
The rock does not move, only the sands of self do that.  It is not our Jesus who has changed, or wants something different for us than He did for that victim of leprosy.  He wants ALL of His children restored to Him in perfection, not just in mind, or spirituality, but in the bodies He created us to have.  The rock is still there.  It is us who need to return to it.  To conjure a different image of the God we serve, one absent of doubt, and apology.  An image of Jesus as He truly was, not an image of Jesus today masked behind a cloak of invisibility and doubt of intentions.  His intentions have not changed, only our faith in them.  His abilities to restore have not changed, only our perception of our need.  We no longer ask, either with certainty in what He would will, or with faith that an answer will actually be provided.  We ask with doubt, and with coverage in case what we want is rejected with no.  We offer the excuse of “not yet” to our feeble prayers.  But Jesus did not tell the Leper, I will get back to you.  He just healed the victim who needed the healing right in the moment he asked.
If the health of the body of those who are Christians is in disarray today, the responsibility clearly lies on our own doorstep.  The guidance in His word about what is good and what is not for us to eat is clearly outlined.  We know what we need to do from an exercise, sleep, rest and dietary standpoint.  And when disease comes to us in spite of what directions we follow from the word, we have a God whose will it is to heal us immediately, fully, restoratively and on the spot of our question for it.  That is His will.  That is His will for you, for me, and for the entirety of mankind from Adam to us.  Not just for the good people, but for all of them.  Not just for the folks who understand doctrine perfectly, but for those who are mistaken about nearly everything.  The leper did not have doctrinal perfection, he had a singular belief in the “will” of Jesus Christ.  That is the will of that Jesus Christ who scripture bares witness to.  Who is the Jesus Christ you serve?  Is it the same guy? 
Do you serve that God, or have the shifting sands of your perceptions invented a new version of Jesus Christ, a much lesser version, a version we feel the need to apologize for when the tough questions are posed, because the physical proof seems lacking all the time.  Have we, like our Pharisee forefathers, found a different God; or are we ready to serve the Jesus Christ who even today stands right in front of us as He ever was, His will clear to restore what is broken within us, both body and soul.  Are we ready to ask Him now, seeing our need, and “knowing” His will?  Are we prepared for the yes, we have so long believed was only rarely granted, but now will be our regularity?  I am tired of the different God, I have constructed in my mind, I would rather return to the Rock who has not moved, and the certainty in what He wills.  Is anyone else ready as well?
 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Shifting Sands ...

Perhaps one of the best known Biblical analogies, or perhaps most often quoted, is the notion of shifting sands.  It is applicable across so many disciplines.  In business, to build a product or service set, upon the shifting sands of customer desires one must have equal flexibility in the product or service to be able to shift as customer desires shift.  To assume customer desires are fixed, are stagnant, is to insure bankruptcy down the road, even if at present everything looks wonderful.  In crime prevention, the same biblical analogy holds true.  Those who commit fraud for example, find methods that today are successful, they exploit them, but as law enforcement catches up, the criminals shift, they move, and they continue shifting trends to avoid being caught.  The constant shifting is required, or a jail cell awaits them.  This is not just a tacit recognition that change is inevitable.  It is about the nature of change.  We do not radically readjust our thinking very often, but we are comfortable with moving it just a little at a time.  When measured in longer increments the movements seem substantial, but when measured at any given moment they look like minor shifts from where we were, only a subtle shift in direction or thought.
Since this truism applies in our secular lives, it only seems natural that it would apply in our spiritual lives as well.  And it does.  But this may not be as wonderful a thing as you might first expect.  Subtle change to adapt to the times is only surface behavior.  Subtle change to improve the nature of your spiritual life could be devastating.  Shouldn’t I be improving over time, wouldn’t those improvements be small and appear only as shifts in my behavior as it gets better over time?  You would think so, but do they come from shifting sands underneath, or radical alterations inside?  Consider for a moment what Matthew recorded as the final thoughts of Jesus as He ended His Sermon on the Mount.  Note that Jesus could have ended His Sermon with any of the previous content He relayed, but instead He chose the analogy of shifting sands and the alternative He offers.
Jesus picks up in chapter seven of Matthews Gospel in verse 24 He starts His closing section saying … “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:”  The interesting piece of this analogy for me begins in the very first verse of it.  It begins with the rock.  If the rock is our foundation we will find that what we build can withstand what comes next.  This would seem counter-culture to our truism of embracing change slowly and steadily over time.  Rocks tend to be immoveable objects.  You can count on a rock to be there.  In this case, you can count on our heavenly “Rock” or foundation not to move.  Jesus does not change.  Jesus has not changed.  He does not shift to embrace the times, but He remains relevant in all of the times.  His message of the gospel, of salvation, of reconciliation with the Father and a way to live without enduring pain and death that sin cause, is relevant to everyone.  The methods of achieving them remain the same.  Through Jesus Christ. 
The homebuilder who bases his life, and builds it on the teachings, the love, the example, the witness, and the Lord Jesus Christ, finds he has built his structure on something that can be counted on.  Jesus continues the analogy in verse 25 saying … “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”  Look carefully here for the words Jesus uses are important to our understanding of how it works.  The rains come.  Not just rain, but floods in fact, with wind that is destined to beat upon that house.  Just because we build our spiritual structures and understandings upon Jesus Christ, just because we love others selflessly, does not mean we are destined for a cushy life.  It does not mean that we become immune to the pain and death that come from the choices of others.  Sometimes that pain and death is inflicted upon our spiritual house.  For our enemy is not destroyed as yet.
But notice too the words of Jesus, our spiritual house, the structures of our lives do not stand because of our elegant building materials, superior architectural understandings, and dedication to good construction practices.  None of that matters.  We could have built a shanty with mud and sticks, or a mansion of marble; the building materials do not matter.  The house stands because it is built upon the Rock of our salvation, upon the unmovable thing, upon Jesus Christ.  And if Jesus Christ does not change or shift; if He is the same then as He was at Adam, at Noah, at Moses, and at you and me – then perhaps it is our understanding of scriptures that requires a new lens, the new lens of Jesus Christ.  If love was the thing Jesus bore witness to in how He lived for others, then that same motive was alive and well at Adam, at Noah, at Moses, and at you and me.  The love of Jesus that has the power to transform us has been alive since Adam chose to break trust with God, and until you and I find the perfection of restoration Jesus has in mind for each of us.  A rock.  A constant we can build upon.  If we are founded properly, the deviance in our structures, in our understandings, can be overcome, not by us, but by our foundation.
It is the arrogance of common sense that wars against our salvation.  Jesus continues in verse 26 saying … “And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:”  Those who reject the teachings, the love, the witness, and the pathway of Jesus Christ to attempt to reconcile themselves to God – often use common sense as their guidelines.  It is common sense that if I fail to perfect myself, then perfection is just impossible.  It cannot be done by some invisible God simply because I surrender to Him.  I sin as little as I do, because I keep my own sin in check.  If I let go of that restraint, I will be sinning like a monkey where no one can stop me.  If I let go, I will surely be lost completely.  At least now, I am partially good, and trying to be better.  Surrender of my bad habits to some invisible Jesus Christ just does not make common sense.  After all, no one can tell me “how” it would work.  No one seems to understand it.  Not many others seem to have done it, so why should I be the first?  It just does not make common sense.
And in our quest to make sense of it all, we become foolish.  We reject the simplicity of a gift we cannot understand, and in its place, we build our salvation, our spiritual structures upon ourselves.  At least we are capable of shifting with the times, of being flexible to adopt what society dictates is normal whenever they dictate normal or change what it is.  The sand of our foundation is our own ego.  We realize we are flexible and tout that as an attribute, as an advantage.  But Jesus ends His sermon with one of the most ominous warnings He will ever utter.  He continues in verse 27 saying … “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”  Once again rains will come.  Common sense or not, we will not be immune from the troubles of life, from the choices of others, from the sin and pain and death that remain a part of this world. 
And when trouble comes, our building materials will be no defense either.  Our architectural understanding, and excellent construction methods, are no defense.  For we are not rooted on something that works, we are built upon the foundation of self, on something we know can and will shift as needed.  And our spiritual structures collapse.  And our salvation falls to the earth with a tremendous thud.  And as we fall, our pitiful attempts at restraining our sins are no match for the despair, and the reality of how low we have sunk.  For our foundation, simply mixed earth with water, our ideas with the pain of sin that will inevitably be foisted upon us, and our entire structure collapses.  Jesus says and “great” was the fall of it.  Sodom comes to mind.  The mixed multitude that chose the golden calf over the God of Moses comes to mind.  The wicked kings of Israel who disobeyed the commands of God offered through the voice of His prophets come to mind.  And the guy in the mirror, who only this morning promised once again not to sin that sin again comes to mind.  We all share the shifting sands of a foundation based upon ourselves.  And we are all fools, destined to see our structures collapse entirely.
 The footnote of Matthew is worth considering in the light of this.  Matthew completes this sermon picking up in verse 28 saying … “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: [verse 29] For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”  The people were astonished.  Are you?  Are you ready to consider that your common sense is worth nothing, as is your judgment?  Your salvation will be based on neither of these things.  You cannot doctrine your way into heaven.  No set amount of reading will ever be enough.  No set amount of praying, or rituals of when you pray, or what you say will ever be enough.  You must build upon Jesus alone.  You must submit your wisdom to His, trust His judgment not your own.  You must be transformed completely from who you are, to who He wants you to be.  You will love others, not judge them, nor condemn them.  You will instead lure them to Jesus, as Jesus lured you to Him, not with threats of punishment but with the wonder of living without the pain of sin, and the death sin brings.
Not just an eternal life, but a life worth living every moment from now till eternity.  This is what Jesus offers you.  Not just at the end of the rainbow, but in the here and now.  He offers you admittance into the Kingdom of God as a toddler bound to play with our Daddy, until Daddy brings us home with Him.  Jesus offers you to take the burdens from you, that you were never supposed to be carrying.  The burdens of survival, the burdens of removing sins, the burdens of thinking you had to do it all, or at least some portion of it.  You don’t.  Jesus will.  All Jesus needs, is for you to begin letting Him.  That is a promise you can test, and find He is faithful behind it.  For this Sermon was not just some random set of words by a random preacher.  It was taught by one having authority.  He was teaching subjects He knew about, for He is God and was God, and ever will be our God.
Common sense would deny us what faith alone can bring.  Common sense would keep us bound to sin, and living half-lives that are barely worth getting up in the mornings to face.  We are bound for radical transformation, that can happen in the here and now, as we learn to base our lives upon a Rock that does not change, yet remains perfectly relevant every day of our lives.  Faith in things that do not make sense, Faith in things that have no upper limit, Faith would see us live an infinite life with infinite possibilities, that is what Jesus offers.  Only a fool would reject it.  Only a fool would choose the failure of themselves, over the perfection Jesus can instill.  Our ability to change does not have to be confined with what we have seen in ourselves.  For the reason behind what we can change to become is not grounded in us, but rooted and grounded in the foundation of Jesus Christ.  That is the difference.  A radical change.  A radical transformation brought about within us, by something that is outside of us.
It does not matter if others have not done it.  It does not matter if we will be the first.  It does not matter if we cannot truly understand the how of how it works.  It only matters that we do allow Jesus to do what Jesus wants to do within each of us.  And we are given the freedom to love others, and let Jesus save them too.  In His own way, in His own time, Jesus will, Jesus must save them too, or they like us, will never be saved.  There is only one way to find this kind of transformation, this kind of path to perfection, it only comes through Jesus Christ.  It is not a threatening statement, it is a statement of cause and effect.  It is a statement of truth.  There is only one gift of salvation on the table from one God.  All others are counterfeits founded in the sand of self.  Let us not be foolish, but wise.  Let us pick up the gift, and cherish it.
And this Sermon had reached its end.