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.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Killer Instinct ...

American idealism despite its best intentions, still allows for winners and losers.  Generally, for someone to win, someone else, perhaps lots of others, have to lose.  We don’t like thinking about it.  We don’t like recognizing it.  But capitalism is rife with it, and our society seems to be built on it.  In order for democracy to emerge, the former king had to lose.  In order for slavery to stop, half of our country had to be defeated.  In order for you to get that promotion, someone else had to be passed over, perhaps many others.  We like to recognize that good can come from winning.  But we are equally uncomfortable accepting that when others win and we do not, we have “lost”.  We find dozens of other words for our loss, and we work overtime exhausting the dictionary to find an articulation that in no way associates us with losing.  But in games with only a single winner, or very few winners, the rest of the participants are in fact losing, even if they refute the term losers.
So what does it take to succeed?  If you measure success in wealth, all of your role models would tell you the same thing.  It takes a killer instinct.  One does not become a billionaire by being generous.  Time enough for generosity “after” you have made your fortune, not during its acquisition.  Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have time to be magnanimous now.  But while they built their fortune, they did whatever they had to do, to kill the competition and insure they were on the winning side of any equation.  When you listen to then candidate Donald Trump describe the kinds of people he wanted negotiating our deals with foreign countries, the one characteristic he seemed to admire or respect the most was “being a real killer”.  Obviously these people he admires were not actual murderers, but the parallel of “killing” the competition does not leave room for much thought about equity, parity, or win-win scenarios.  These men in their roles as negotiators were charged with winning every penny they could, and leaving the other guy with nothing, or as close to it as they could get.  Real killers, with killer instinct.
Perhaps an unfair comparison emerges with ravening wolves.  A ravening wolf conjures up imagery of a fierce creature with amazing strength, cunning, and hunger that cannot be satiated.  The goal of this creature is to win, and to feast on your carcass, leaving you dead, and eaten, consumed, with only scraps left.  You would think these kinds of folks would be products of our American Idealism.  You would assume that in the commercial world, this kind of vicious personality must thrive, and be rewarded for its tenacity.  But away from commerce, away from the rice bowl of how we survive and how much wealth we accumulate; the very need to be a ravening wolf would dissipate and become neutral.  But then, that would depend on how much control you seek.  The winner in commerce always believes they win because they control the outcome, they control the circumstances, limit the options, steer the direction of the deal, then pounce and close it to their desired goals.  The control is the addiction, that underlies these personality types.  They thrive on it, like a junkie looking for their next fix.  And so the desire to control, spills over into other aspects of our lives.
The “control obsessed” are not looking for partners in marriage, they are looking for servants.  They will take, and think only to give when it suits them, or contributes to the outcome of the bigger, wider deal.  The control obsessed are not just content to have political opinions, they must insure everyone in their inner circle will be swayed to vote as they vote, and believe as they believe.  The unfair comparison to the wolf as a creature who ravens becomes not just an image in commerce, but an image across the life span of those who obsess about being right, and dictating the outcomes of anything they touch.  And then they go to church.  Religion, or to be more precise, the interpretation of doctrine, becomes only the next vehicle upon which control must be established and ruled over with an iron fist.  Once a nugget of truth is uncovered, those with a mind for control, use it as a divining rod, as a wall to segregate believers into one of two camps … theirs and the wrong side.  There are no other options, no compromises allowed, no gray areas.  They are right, backed by God; the other side is wrong, and powered by Satan.  All those who share their beliefs will ultimately be saved; all others condemned to the fires of hell.  A ravening wolf, in a flock of sheep.
Jesus knew these people, and personality types.  He was dealing with them in His day.  They pretty much populated the Sanhedrin entirely.  There were a few exceptions, but a far few minority.  Those charged with the instruction of the people wanted control more than they wanted a one-on-one personal relationship with the author of the religion they taught.  They were willing to kill the author of their religion rather than cede control to Him.  And we look at them and think the problems died with the order of the Pharisees and Sadducees and no one like that could populate our churches today.  Yet if one were to examine the history of any particular church in any particular denomination over a 50 year period; one would likely find a number of times over the years when the membership “split” over a particular issue that came up.  Lurking behind the issue was a person with a strong personality type, a desire for control, and a willingness to split the body of Christ rather than cede control over it.
Jesus knew these people would not just appear as errant members with loud persona’s.  They would appear in important positions within the church, having inserted themselves there over time.  Ever looking to expand their influence and control, over a body that needs not either.  Matthew continues recording the words of Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount in chapter seven of his gospel, picking up in verse 15 saying … “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”  Jesus here uncovers the masterworks of Satan’s deceptions.  The ravening wolf is not so bold as to show his or her true nature in a flock of those striving for sheep-hood.  The wolf must blend in, in order to be effective.  The wolf must appear like any other sheep, but only as one who has “strong” convictions.  In addition, Jesus warns us that key roles within a church are not immune to this phenomenon.  False prophets.  Prophecy is not just some random role, it carries an important one within the body.  Later Jesus will add dimension to this role saying that some healed, cast out demons, and did great works in the name of Jesus.  Yet Jesus does not know them.  The works of miracles remain, performed by the wolves who cover up like sheep.  They are false prophets, not because what they prophesy is necessarily wrong, or that they are unable to truly heal, or cast out demons.  The criterion for false is something else.
Jesus continues in verse 16 saying … “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? [verse 17] Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. [verse 18] A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. [verse 19] Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. [verse 20] Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”  Jesus puts a criterion for our determining who are wolves and who are sheep by their fruits.  Not by their results, but by their fruits.  A ravening wolf can still prophecy in the name of Jesus, heal, and cast out demons in the name of Jesus; those are all results.  Fruit is different.  The splitting of the body, the idea that control must be maintained, standards upheld, and people excluded is the fruit, is the legacy, of a cunning wolf.  Wolves are not truly interested in loving others, more than they love themselves.  Wolves love only themselves, others they put up with.
The ministry of the wolf is about expanding the church, in that it is about expanding the control and influence they have over the church.  Disguised just like every other sheep, their priorities do not center on bringing genuine acts of kindness, care, and love into the lives of those who so desperately need it.  Wolves make their love and affection come with price tag.  You must believe as they do.  You must submit to their authority.  Then and only then will acts of kindness be bestowed.  Conditional love.  Conditional admittance to the body of Christ.  Conditional standards for continued admittance.  All of which based in an authoritative model where the influence of the wolf truly drives the decisions being made.  The wolf will happily split the church rather than submit, or compromise, or surrender.  Surrender itself is a curse word in the mind of wolf.  They do not like that word used in any context.  It is foreign to them.  And so surrender to Christ is also completely foreign to them.  Control, personal accountability, are the terms they understand and they prefer in the context of religion.
The fruit we produce, the legacy we leave behind tells a story about our lives, even in the church.  When we love our brother so little we would rather exclude his company, than tolerate views different than our own; we have lost sight of the author of our religion, who alone can change the heart of anyone in error, whether that be our brother, or frankly, whether it be we ourselves who are in need of the change.  Tools and thoughts of exclusion are tools and thoughts of the wolf, not the Shepherd.  The Shepherd gathers sheep no matter what each sheep may be thinking that is still incorrect.  The Shepherd works to teach the sheep what is right, sheep do not do that for each other.  Sheep are not qualified to know who is right or wrong, only the Shepherd knows, and only the wolf would make it an issue to separate part of the flock from each other.  The wolf wins in division, and loses control when unity abounds.  So the wolf is constantly seeking division, looking for any occasion to initiate it.  A prophet, who heals, who casts out demons is capable of doing this, all to be recognized for the credit they deserve, and the control they would implement.
Jesus continues in verse 21 saying … “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”  Knowing who Jesus is, is not the same as experiencing what Jesus can do for you.  Jesus while on earth, only ever did the will of His Father.  Though divine, He did not trust to His own wisdom.  Instead He surrendered His will to the will of the Father every single day, every single minute.  His example remains for us today.  Doing the will of the Father in heaven, participating in the mission, is about bringing reconciliation through simple humble love that cares more for others; and is absent of self, and self-interests.  We reconcile people to God by demonstrating the love of God to them here and now.  Not just the pretty people.  Not just the clean people who already think like we do.  But the dirty ones, the filthy ones, the ones steeped in the poo we would hope to never smell again.  The ones who hate us now, and don’t want to understand us, have no intentions of ever submitting to us, or thinking like we do.  It is not our job to change their hearts or minds, only to love them in spite any way they treat us.
Reflecting the love of the Father has no room for thoughts of winning and losing.  The Father always wins.  Love is not measured in units of wins and losses, love is a continuum whose upper limit can never be reached.  No matter how much you love today, you will find that connected to the Father, to the source of love, you will be able to love even more tomorrow.  That is the fruit you should seek.  That is the trail of seeds and fruit skins that should mark the trail of your life and its fruits.  A trail of acts of love, of unity, of forgiveness, of tolerance, of patience.  Those fruit come from a tree who not only knows of Jesus, but has experienced the transformation of Jesus personally.  A transformation where Jesus takes whatever tree you are now, and turns you into a good one, that leaves a trail of love in its wake.  Surrender marks the beginning, surrender marks the end of it.  Control, exclusion, segregation, arbitrary standards, have no room or place in a tree that Jesus makes.
Jesus concludes this section with a hard truth.  He states plainly that our actions in His name are not enough.  Our motives matter.  Our surrender matters.  Our trail of love matters, perhaps that love being the only thing that counts.  Picking up in verse 22 Jesus says … “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? [verse 23] And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”  Reconciliation over segregation.  Love over prophecy.  Humility over casting out devils.  A heart that breaks from the weight of God’s love, over a fine series of wonderful works done for the credit, or the sense of duty that comes from the acceptance of doctrine, but not the author of doctrine.  The wolf has the arrogance to call for Jesus as Lord and believes he deserves a place in the Kingdom of God.  But he is mistaken.  The sheep knows full well they deserve no such honor.  To be given it, is to be given yet another gift of God that demonstrates just how great the love of God truly is.  Eternity given to us, is His mercy on display.  We can never earn it.  We can never even possibly hope to control it. 
So perhaps the call of Christ is to those wolves, and emerging wolves, that still attempt to sit in the congregation of sheep.  Perhaps the warning of Christ is to you and me, that it is not too late as yet.  There is still time to let go, to surrender, and to experience the peace only surrender can bring.  To abandon the work of iniquity even if done under the banner of Christianity.  To find the author of doctrine, rather than the form and fashion of doctrine.  The call of reconciliation echoes on even today, even for the “control obsessed”, even for the wolves.  It is still not too late.
And the Sermon was nearing an End …

Friday, April 21, 2017

Wide Butts and Skinny Seats ...

If you were fortunate enough not to be dragged off of a United flight kicking, screaming, and bleeding; perhaps you noticed that over time all the airlines have been steadily decreasing the size of the seats and the leg room from one row to another.  It has gotten so bad recently, that nearly everyone is uncomfortable.  If the person in front of you reclines, you get their head in your lap and your knees buckled to the sides, or thrust into their back.  Given this condition, airlines have opted to offer a new product, the idea of “premium coach”, where they upgrade the seat, and offer slightly more width and legroom once again for an increase in price.  For folks with a smaller frame, the inconvenience of flight is a temporary one they will endure to get from point A to point B.  But for the remainder of the American public, who start out larger, or wind up that way, the inconvenience of flight is nearing pure health risk.  Clots forming in legs due to the uncomfortable positions flight causes; combine this with unhealthy eating, and an increasing size, and it adds up to potential loss of life.  Once the court systems realize this, I suspect airlines will go back to larger seats, more leg room, and higher prices.  For now, First Class, is the only escape.
And when you consider First Class, you find there are only a limited number of seats, not everyone fits.  Not everyone will be allowed in there.  It costs more, so financial wealth is used as in invisible barrier.  And general compliance with airline rules to avoid situations of getting forcibly removed from an airline keeps the majority of patrons from rioting and demanding better accommodations.  Think of it, a smaller number of seats available, using wealth as a general barrier to admittance, and willing compliance from the inconvenienced add up to uncomfortable flights for the masses, and reasonable accommodations for those with deep purses and wallets.  Is there a gospel equivalent?
Matthew records what Jesus was teaching in His Sermon on the Mount in chapter seven of his gospel, picking up in verse 13 Jesus says … “ Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:”  Jesus appears to equate the path to perfection, the path to heaven, as a nearly exact opposite of airline travel.  But isn’t that a scary thought?  The parallels may still be the same, it is easier to be financially wealthy on the wide path (money is still an invisible barrier), general compliance or acquiescence of masses still applies, and the mistaken idea that there is not enough room on the smaller one still exists.  From the perspective of our God, the path or gate on the path, that leads to Christ is a small one, a skinny one, and so few will find and pursue it.  On the other hand, the path, or the gate on the path, that leads to destruction is a big old comfortable, wide easy to pass through gate.  Many will pass through that, because it is easy.
Jesus continues in verse 14 saying … “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”  Jesus describes a model that in airline terms would have the first class passengers, scrambling to get into coach; instead of the entire plane load of passengers having envy and hoping for a spot in the wider first class venue.  From a gospel point of view, the skinny path is the one you want to be on.  The big old highway, is the one you want to avoid.  Jesus takes this analogy just a bit further adding a twist, Jesus says that the path is so skinny “few will find it”.  At least in an airline we know where things are, it is easy to see.  From the gospel analogy, not so.  The easy path is the wide path, and the one folks seem to trip over themselves jumping onto.  The path you want is so skinny, that few even find the thing, let alone decide this is where they want to travel.
Now within this analogy, Jesus never discusses how hard it is to travel the skinny path.  It is skinny only because few find it, and few travel it.  But the life of the ones who do, are not said to be difficult, or tortured, or persecuted.  We conjure all that stuff up in our heads, because we believe it just must be difficult to find Jesus or perfection.   After all we have tried it ourselves, and it has never been easy to achieve any form of perfection, even in a limited venue like a hobby, or interest we have.  Attempting to play the piano perfectly for example, just seems impossible even for the best musicians in the world.  So we come to accept that it is the imperfections, the nuances of where we apply emotion, and where we restrain it, that make us unique, and interesting, and worth listening to.  Technical perfection, does not even equate, to musical perfection.
We come to accept the idea that perfection is not possible because we have never been able to achieve it in ourselves.  Therefore, if perfection is not possible, then God must not require it.  God is forgiving after all.  He forgives whatever we do.  So perhaps where it comes to salvation, God simply “winks” at our sins and intends to save us no matter what we do, or how often we do it.  The wide path emerges within the Christian faith, of nearly every denomination.  History proves out that perfection in humans just does not appear, so history and science seem to support our ideology.  The Bible bears out that even some of the worst sinners are on the to-be-saved list.  David, who carries the distinction, of being a man after God’s own heart, committed some of the worst sins there are.  Perhaps even the scriptures support the notion, that perfection is simply not a requirement God carries, as He knows none of us are capable of it.  And to an extent there is logic in this kind of thinking.  But it is wide path thinking.  It is “easy” to adopt and follow, but it is “harder” to live than one might expect at first glance.
The problem with our wide path thinking is that it leads to destruction, not the destination we had in mind.  The problem with our wide path thinking, is that the premise is upside down.  To accept imperfection in a spiritual context, is to accept some sin we commit, and are powerless to stop.  That sin however, is not really a source of joy, and fulfillment.  That sin, no matter what it is, provides a momentary distraction from the decades of pain and self-destruction that come with it.  We have blindly accepted the devil’s marketing campaign that sin is good, and being good is boring.  Wrong.  Sin is pain.  Sin is not fun, or cool, or exciting.  Sin is pain, pain that leads to death.  It always has been.  Sin sits on one side of the cause and effect equation, pain and death sit on the other.  They are inextricably linked.  Sin leads us to hurt those we love, those who love us, and our God.  The waves of pain we start with even a single sin, expand out across the water, until nearly everyone is encompassed by them is some form or fashion.  It is sin, that our Lord is trying to provide us a way of escape from.
Our God does not offer us forgiveness from sin, so we have a get out of jail card to keep sinning.  He offers us forgiveness in the same hand He offers us reformation, and re-creation.  His goal is not to see us keep sinning, because He wants us to get away from the pain and death it causes.  Our God is trying to get us off the path to destruction, not pour gasoline in the engine to make us go faster on it.  There is a different road.  There is a more narrow road, because it is less popular, and fewer believe it exists.  Fewer travel it, because they place the real ideas of perfection within themselves, instead of trusting to Jesus to see it happen within them.   Jesus can work out perfection in you, you can’t.  You need to be saved from you.  That is not work you can do.  That is work you must watch happen, because you let Jesus do it.  Narrow path thinking.  Less popular thinking.  Less traveled, because few are willing to believe it.
The road to perfection is not a difficult one of struggle, failure, and disappointment.  It is one of joy, of relief, and heads to a destination where everything is perfect.  There will be no sinners in heaven.  Think about that for a moment.  God does not wink at sin.  He cannot.  He knows the pain and death sin brings.  God wants it exterminated for all time going forward.  And God is not looking to exterminate you to achieve that goal, only the sin within you.  That is work only Jesus knows how to do, but is only able to do it, if you surrender and let Him do it.  If there is a fight to be had, it will be the fight to forsake our former ideas about perfection, and allow Jesus to work His work within us, unimpeded by our attempts to save ourselves.  The narrow road is not really hard, it is only less traveled.  Think about that for a moment.  It was never supposed to be our responsibility to save and perfect ourselves, only to truly turn over our salvation to Christ, and let Him save us from us.
If the narrow path is not hard; if it is easy; if it leads to our salvation, and our perfection, why not jump on that one right away?  The love of our Lord was not meant as an excuse to sin, it was meant as an escape from our sin.  Jesus did not come to earth to leave you in the conditions of pain and death He found you in.  He came to take you out of your conditions, to re-create you from the inside out, to remove from you the diseases that cause you pain.  The entirety of the New Testament show Jesus doing exactly this.  Not just the physical healings which were miraculous in themselves.  But the much deeper miracles of changing who people were, of putting them on the path to perfection, and bringing them along on that path away from the former things, and on path to the better things.  The distance you move on this path is not the important thing.  The fact that you are on the path is the important thing.  Going through the gate of Jesus Christ, getting Him to be responsible for making you perfect, as you learn to perfectly surrender to Him.  This is what salvation and the love of God is all about.
This can only occur, between you and Jesus.  The relationships around you, between those you love and God, are not the same as the relationship you hold between you and God.  You do not get credit for having a parent who really seems to understand the narrow path.  Nor do you get credit for having a spouse, or a child, who has it down.  Where you are with Jesus.  What you understand about Jesus.  How much you trust Jesus to do this, to see your salvation happen, to be the author of your perfection.  This is all that matters.  It is a one-on-one between you and Jesus Christ.  Nothing in between, nothing in the middle.  There is no intercessor between you and Jesus Christ.  Not your minister, or your family, you stand one-on-one with Jesus with nobody else in the way.  He bids you to enter through His gate, and let Him take from you the pain and death sin causes.  He bids you to taste and see how good He is, how easy the narrow road can be with Him in charge, carrying you across the finish line.   He bids you to let go your burdens, and enter the Kingdom of God that has already come.  To play with Daddy, until Daddy bids you entrance to our final home in a place where only perfection exists.
And the Sermon was not over yet …