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 …

Friday, April 14, 2017

Action Jackson ...

Years ago, there was a toy marketed to kids who could care less about Ken dolls; they craved something more manly, something more adventurous.  The Action Jackson doll (and let’s face it the difference between Jackson and Ken was only in the clothing and packaging), was something more “modern”, more “cool”.  The 70’s style clothing from jumpsuits, to tennis shoes, was designed to reflect the idea that this figurine was ready for action.  He knew karate.  He had a few accessories to prove it.  This figure was the one ready to go out and save the world, get the girl, and return home without breaking a sweat.  So little boys were supposed to be attracted to these ideas and buy them off the shelves until they were empty.  The idea spawned a movie with Billy Dee Williams to portray this kind of hero.  And another movie or remake is now in the offing based on the same fictional character and fictional ideas.  But as movies go, the gentle mind of a child is embellished with far more adult ideas and action sequences.  But the one idea that was to distinguish Jackson from Ken was buried in his name “Action”.
Jesus did not have this reference when He was giving the Sermon on the Mount found in chapter seven of Matthew’s Gospel to the Jews.  But I imagine He did not think He needed it.  Open scriptures, even in the days of Christ, and the Bible was full of heroes that “acted” for God.  Noah built an ark, big enough to save the world, and still sad that it was so small.  Abraham sought God, not the gods of his family, but the real God he believed had to exist somewhere.  Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery and to the gates of the Promised Land.  The list goes on all the way to Jesus.  All of these Biblical heroes had something in common with Action Jackson, in that none of them were at home with Barbee pondering the meaning of life.  All of them were out in the world, taking action on the beliefs they held, and finding that God was right there ready to meet them, and take them to the next step in their respective journey’s.  The difference between Jackson and Ken; Ken stays home with Barbie, Jackson is out looking for something to do.  The difference between any Biblical hero, and the best friend they might have had who we know nothing about is the same difference.  One takes action for God, the other sits home with Barbie content to move no farther.
When Jesus spoke on this day, He was looking for more than had ever been.  He was not trying to reach just one soul, or just one person.  He was trying to reach every soul, and every person.  You included, me included, the best friends we may know, everyone from Jackson to Ken to Barbie.  No matter how they have been marketed, or how your friends think of you, Jesus was not just speaking to others, Jesus was speaking to you, and to them.  What was needed in the church of Jesus Christ, was a congregation of believers who acted on their faith; not content to sit at home and wait for something to fall into their laps.  This was a big change.  Up till now, a Biblical hero was distinguished by the fact that they were so rare.  Jesus was looking to change that entirely.  Jesus wants a sea of heroes, not a spattering.  Jesus was and is looking to recruit you into His idea of a Biblical hero, even if your story never gets formally recorded.
But how does anyone accomplish that?  Even for God that seems like a huge task.  And as we examine our churches, and the people that take up space in our pews, we begin to realize that few are heroes.  As we examine the image in our mirrors, and the indentation in our sofa cushions, we come to realize that we too are more like Ken and Barbie, than like Action Jackson where it comes to matters of faith.  This sad fact however, is not because this is the condition Jesus wants to find us in.  It is because we enjoy routine supported by a fundamental lack of faith that anything we believe in is real.  We recite the words and the stories, but we do not apply them to our own lives.  We honor Moses and David, but not for a minute consider that the story of Moses might not hold a candle to our own, if we “moved” out in faith.  We simply naturally assume that Moses will always be the hero, and we will not.  Ouch.  Content to assume a position we were not designed to take.  It is as if Satan has destroyed the purpose of Action Jackson and turned us all into Ken; who only goes to see movies to see what another hero might look like.
Jesus had other ideas and still does.  He picks up in verse 7 saying … “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:”  Jesus says to “ask”.  Don’t sit there mumbling under your breath, or spewing half believing words you expect no answer to.  He simply says to ask.  Asking requires something on your part, it requires that you initiate the conversation.  He does NOT say you are supposed to fulfill the request, it is not your job to “do”.  But it is at least your job to ask for it.  And the Bible is not mamby-pamby about what will happen when you ask.  He says ask and it will be given to you.  This is mind blowing.  Our first thoughts however, are usually, what do “I” want?  We begin by making a list of all the things we want for ourselves that we believe would make us happy.  Money usually always winds up at the top of that list.  Somewhere near power and control over others and situations, somewhere near a desire to have all others love us, particularly the pretty ones.  And this is where we de-rail ask and it shall be given … to Sofie’s choice.  We ask God for things that would endanger our souls and then expect Him to deliver, or call Him a false god.
Have we ever considered for a moment, that in this case the context was still Biblical?  Ask for gifts of the Spirit, for the salvation of ourselves and our families, for protection from the world.  Ask a host of spiritual benefits for the lives of others and not ourselves, and we then offer God a petition He longs to grant.  But this is usually a change in our thinking, a change we are in so desperate need of.  But the admonition does not end in asking.  Jesus says to us to take the next step, He says to us to seek.  When facing questions we are unsure what to do, how many times do we open scripture without a clue where to look, but in spite of it, we seek anyway?  Seek and you will find.  Look for God and you will find Him.  He is not purposely hiding from you, he is more often blocked from your vision because you do not want Him seeing what you do.  You put God away more often, than you seek His face.  Seek and you will find.  So we have asking, and we have seeking or looking, but this is not all.
Finally, there is “knocking”.  Knocking expresses intent in its action.  Knocking says I am here, I am ready, I want in.  Knocking says I may not be sure what is on the other side of this door, but I am too curious to leave it there and just walk away, I want to get in there and experience it for myself.  Would that Jesus had a church full of believers who wanted in to His Kingdom which has already come.  What might we find inside the playground of spiritual toddlers that exist in the pure trust and security in our Daddy’s love?  What freedom might we find?  What relief from care and burdens might we experience?  But rather than be free like little children, we instead cling to our burdens, and never even attempt to shed them by knocking on the door of that Kingdom where admission is free, and our Daddy longs to greet us on the other side of that door.  We never knock.  So we never enter in.  All of this our own doing.
Jesus continues in verse 8 saying … “For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”  Get this through your head Ken doll’s, Jesus is not monkeying around.  He is not offering a half-hearted response like, ‘well, if it is God’s will, and if you have prayed hard enough, or begged long enough, or if there is someone’s life at stake, then maybe God will be there’.  Jesus states unequivocally that God will be there and your action will be met by reaction.  We will receive.  We will find.  We will watch that door open up so we can go in.  Action finds reaction.  Lethargy finds nothing.  Contentment finds nothing.  Lethargy and contentment with our spiritual conditions lead us to look nowhere and find nothing because we do not seek it.  Understanding your need.  Understanding your need is great may be the first step in getting you up off your butt to finally actually do something.  Even if it is only to ask for greater energy and faith in God, it will be granted.  Even if it is only to seek the meaning of this text, you will find it.  Even if it is only to dust off the door-handles of your weekly Sabbath School class and enter in to study and learn from the perspectives of others on truth, that door will be opened to you.  There is no timidity in the voice of Jesus.  There is authority in it.  He speaks knowing it is He you will find.  He speaks knowing He will not fail you.
Jesus continues in verse 9 saying … “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? [verse 10] Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?”  Hello, parents in the crowd, are you listening?  This analogy is meant to cut through our negative or timid perceptions about our God and realize He is better than any parent we could have ever had.  Love motivates how our parents do their best with us.  They may not always give us a pony.  But they do give us gifts motivated by love.  They feed us with the best they have to offer.  They may not be able to afford Ruth’s Chris at every meal, but then if they could, the health detriments might outweigh the incredible taste anyway.  But parents look to keep feeding their children at every meal.  Sometimes when they are poor, they feed their children and go without themselves.  Parent are willing to sacrifice for their children.  Our God was willing to give up His only Son for the rest of His children, for us.  So our God knows a thing or two, about how to give good gifts.  He may not provide the winning numbers to power-ball, but He can put the meal on the table for today, and more importantly He can offer us true transformation that leads us to the road to perfection, if we but wanted it, if we but asked for it.
Jesus continues in verse 11 saying … “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”  Oh believers let us shed our Ken persona’s and adopt more of an Action Jackson state of mind.  Let us shed the ideas that our God is lazy, and nearly deaf, or completely uninterested in our lives.  Our God is passionate about each of us.  Our God is keenly aware of our lives and totally empathetic to what we feel, whether supreme joy (which He loves to create), or the depths of sadness (for which He is there shedding as many tears as we do).  It is not lack of interest that keeps us separated, it is lack of action.  We sit, complaining, but never seeking.  We sit, telling others of our woe, but never asking God to see it lifted and then knowing and trusted it will be removed entirely.  We don’t bother knocking anymore, because we don’t believe there are any doors to knock upon.  Clinging to our burdens so long, we forgot His Kingdom has already come, and the door stands right in front of us all day every day.  Get off the sofa.  Hit your knees or hit the streets and you will find God reflected in love to others.
Jesus then concludes this snippet of His sermon with the most profound of summations in verse 12 saying … “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”  People have called this the golden rule.  But that is a huge misnomer.  There is no gold mentioned here anywhere.  This would be better titled, the summation of the Law, and the Prophets is found in simply loving others.  What we would wish for, we might fulfill in the life of another.  In our marriages and in our romantic relationships, stop defining them by what you want, and instead by what you have to offer, and the passion that exists behind that offer.  What makes you happy in watching the reaction of your partner?  Is there any greater fulfillment in all of life, than seeing that happiness in their eyes, and knowing it is you who brought it to them?  Indeed there is not.  Defining your value this way is defining your value in the light of heaven.
Honoring your mother and father is not merely about obedience, it is about a level of respect and care that would return the love they have shown you, in an exponential way.  There will come a time when without your love and care, their degenerated capabilities will cause them to suffer.  But long before capacity is diminished there is time to love with a passion that knows it is loved in return.  There is time to enjoy the sharing of love, the dedication of time set aside from other priorities, to share and exist, and be known.  Relationships held in a new reverence where their value would be hard to overstate.  The Law, the Prophets, all designed to point your heart back to God, so that you can reflect His love to those all around you.  To those in need, but also to those who believe they have no need, for theirs is the greater danger, and all in equal need of God’s love reflected through you.
Love is not a passive, sit on the couch, kind of thing.  Love is an infectious, got a find a new way to express it, always searching, always discovering kind of thing.  Love and action find a symmetry, that cannot be found in the indentations of a sofa.  Seek for ways to express love to others, and you will surely find them.  Knock on the door of the hearts of others, yourself steeped in the love of God, and that infectious love will work its way into the hardest of hearts.  For it is changing hearts where the skill of God is unmatched.  It is in the transformation of hearts of minds and someday of bodies, where God will work His work of perfection within us.  It can start today.  Action Jackson is sure to find it.  Ken may or may not.  Who will your persona become?  No one can force you either way.  But there is so much more to a life of love, than perhaps today you are equipped to imagine, why not reach out, why not ask, why not seek a little, and just watch what happens in you.
And the sermon was far from over …

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Lacking All Sense of Judgment ...

How does that guy end up with that girl?  Men think these questions to themselves, as from looking at the external beauty of the woman, and the relative comeliness of the man, the pairing just does not seem to make sense.  Could this beautiful woman truly not understand just how beautiful she really is?  Or could she truly not understand just how homely her partner is?  Does she just lack all sense of judgment or perhaps is her eyesight just that impaired?  Even the series of questions reveals a thinking about the judgment of men, that it is based in the appearance and little else.  Perhaps the judgment of the woman is based in something deeper, something more meaningful, something that will last.  But then …
Does this dress make me look fat?  I can’t wear that dress to the event because “she” is wearing one just like it.  The reasoning of women often seems grounded in insuring their own appearance remains at its peak condition, and cannot be confused with any other woman.  Having two women show up at the same event wearing the same dress is only acceptable if both are bride’s maids, and even then, both resent it.  Something about wearing the exact same dress is simply intolerable for women.  Yet as they examine the sea of men that accompany them to these events, they fail to realize that tuxedo’s, and even most formal suits, are so close in look and feel, that only designers can easily tell them apart.  Men are content to wear the same formalwear, without a second thought.  Women are content to allow them out of the house this way, in fact, most prefer it.  But two identical dresses require one women to go home and try again.  A self-imposed rule, but one as solid as any printed in a book of law.
Why a man questions the happiness of a couple where the woman is stunning and the man is at best “normal”; and why a woman constantly questions her own appearance; are questions of judgment Angels find great mystery in.  Would, that our lack of judgment only extended to our appearance.  But it does not.  Humans have a nasty way of taking what we have learned, and instead of building one brick of knowledge upon another, until we form a magnificent structure of understanding, we pick up our brick and run with it.  We ignore all other truth, even the question about how other truth might fit with our own to form greater truth.  Instead we grab the nugget of truth that makes up our brick … and we immediately proceed to slam someone else in the head with it.
We make our brick, the sole basis of our gospel.  We push aside any attempts at greater understanding, and we make our brick the determining criteria of whether others will find themselves in hell, or not.  Should they accept what we say, and how we see things, then they are fine for now.  Otherwise, hell and damnation are surely the punishment coming to anyone who would ignore the plain truth of our brick.  And since that is the eventual outcome they must face, slamming them in the head with our brick now, seems like the right thing to do.  And so, even in spiritual matters, we find ourselves lacking all sense of judgment.  We find our core doctrines as rigid as those of our Pharisee forefathers.  We find our propensity to curse any who refuse our beliefs, as natural and rigid as any zealot who ever walked the earth before us.  We may not kill others who disagree.  But we are comfortable condemning them in the afterlife to eternal death, believing they must convert or be eternally punished for their lack of insight.
But the truth of Jesus Christ is not found in the eye alone.  Nor is it found in the ear alone.  The eye and ear have radically different functions and perspectives and BOTH are correct.  The foot moves us to a better place.  The hand reaches out in comfort and affection.  The arms hold.  The brain discerns.  It takes every part of the body to even begin to understand the Truth of Jesus Christ.  Thinking the eye’s alone have it, makes the body deaf, and mute, and crippled.  Thinking the brain alone has it, makes the body cold, unfeeling, and unable to move at all.  But this kind of body analogy forces believers to begin to accept the reality that “their” brick is not the ONLY brick, that makes up a picture of truth.  It reveals that even in spiritual matters, we are ill equipped to judge.  And so Matthew continues recording the Sermon on the Mount in chapter seven of his gospel.
Jesus continues in verse 1 saying … “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”  When we judge others, we reveal something about ourselves.  It is automatic.  It is unavoidable.  No matter the subject, from bad fashion, to bad doctrine, what we use to judge others says MORE about us, than it will ever say about them.  And so, our Lord, the One we claim to follow, gives us a simple instruction that we should just not judge.  He continues in verse 2 saying … “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”  The brick of truth we use to slam others in the head, will eventually be the same brick that slams us.  As our insight into truth deepens we will come to realize the using truth to slam others is the wrong use of truth at all.  Truth without love, is “truth” outside of Jesus, and therefore less about truth and more about opinion.  Doctrines are meant to point people to Jesus, not divide people who claim His name from truly loving each other.
Jesus continues in verse 3 saying ... “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? [verse 4] Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? [verse 5] Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.”  This analogy is not just about fashion, or about whether a couple is evenly matched in beauty and physique.  It is about something deeper than this.  It is about doctrine.  The mote that is in our brother’s eye represents some misunderstanding our brother has in related to scripture, that we think we know better about.  The condition of our brother is not even made in dispute, Jesus does not even argue it.  But, the beam that is in our own eye, represents a FAR greater error by orders of magnitude than the little misunderstanding our brother has.  I dare say, it is the beam of doctrines, rigid and large and all-encompassing that have no sense of love within them.
While we take an unusual interest in the small error of our brother, we reveal our complete misunderstanding of love at all.  Love is not meant as an excuse to sin, it is meant as a motive to seek Jesus who can change our very desires to want sin no more.  Love does not destroy doctrine, it becomes the foundation for them.  For if doctrine cannot be forged in love, it is merely opinion, not truth.  Truth is unafraid of new thinking, of questions, of growing larger than it is today, because our understanding grows larger.  We begin to incorporate other perspectives of the body, the eyes, the ears, the fingers.  And instead of shrinking, our truth becomes greater and more beautiful.  The man sees himself through the lens of Christ and sees that love reflected and true, is a great attractive quality that any woman would cherish.  The woman sees herself through the lens of Christ, and realizes that perfection is not brought about by Maybelline, but by submission to Jesus who makes her of infinite value to His Kingdom and the heart of any man.  Families are formed, with Jesus as the foundation, and nothing Satan can throw can rip them apart.
We learn to obey the simple edict of our Lord, to judge not.  Then the strangest of things happens.  Jesus proceeds with a text that is nearly the exact opposite of the entire lesson He just lays out.  Jesus continues in verse 6 saying … “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”  Yikes.  We just went through the entire idea of Judging Not, His exact words, but now dogs and pigs are introduced.  How can we know who a dog or pig is?  Isn’t the point of the gospel to be shared with those who do not know Jesus?  If we begin by thinking they are all dogs and pigs, who would ever get to hear the gospel.  It makes no sense, or does it?
Take a closer look at the preceding texts.  The beams and motes, are in your “brother’s” eye and your own.  It would seem as though these verses are specifically targeted at members, at believers in Jesus.  We should be avoiding the doctrinal brick in the head between those who claim the name of Jesus, of those who believe in Him.  The generic admonition not to judge, allows us to spread the gospel of love to everyone without judgment.  Where the dogs and pigs begin to emerge is where love of others is rejected in favor of love of self.  Those who would twist the gospel of love, into blanket excuse and permission to love themselves with abandon, without limits, and at the expense of others.  Those who claim forgiveness is their get out of jail free card, while having no intention of change, or desire to change.  Those who would twist the life and sacrifice of Jesus as a way to sin and claim forgiveness, never even attempting to see if the sin itself might be transformed away from them, removed from their desires, and replaced by something more holy.
The pigs who would turn and rend you, cut you with sharp teeth and no concern, can easily be those whose version of life and philosophy is self-centric and do not want it disturbed.  They can certainly be out of the church, but they can populate it as well.  Those who do not understand love, may not want you to upset their perception of love for others.  They may be greedily feasting on doctrines who do not require them to love, only to obey the lists of do’s and don’ts outlined in the traditional interpretations of men.  It is not up to us to pre-determine who the dogs and pigs are.  It is up to us to be careful when we encounter them.  And to take heed not to become them.  The latter the far more dangerous outcome of our embrace of the rigidity of doctrine than the former.  To keep our pearls, and keep what is holy, we must center our love in Jesus Christ, and insure it always turns outward, away from ourselves, to those in need.  When our love is rejected on occasion, we must be more careful in its expression, and pray more for change.
In this way, we adhere to the counsel of Jesus, avoiding judgment, and still passionately pointing the world to Jesus to find relief from sin, not a continued embrace of it.
And the sermon was far from over …

Friday, March 31, 2017

The End of Fear and Uncertainty ...

How much of your life is curtailed because of fear?  How many things do you avoid, or risks you refuse to take, because the fear of the loss that might come to pass, is just too great for you?  The thing we call life, the way we define our existence, is so often ravaged by our fears.  We construct a box for ourselves to live within, hoping that if we stay confined to our box, we will be safe.  But inevitably life has a way of knocking down the walls of any box, and when the reality of those challenges present, its most devastating side effect, is to deepen the fear that governs how we live at all.  Imagine for a moment if you had taken every risk you were ever presented with, but imagine that they all worked out positively.  It is as if your brain won’t let you imagine that outcome.  Surely the nature of a risk, is that not all of them work out the way we want, so imagining they do is nearly impossible.  It presents a “too good to be true” scenario.  And yet, your mind is much more comfortable imagining every risk would have worked out badly.  And that kind of imagination, governs what you have done, and what you will do.
That kind of risk avoidance, that is so easy to imagine going badly, and so difficult to imagine working out the way we want, leaves a footprint in how we live.  It confines our actions, and stunts our imaginations.  It pushes us to want a life we can define, and predict, with relative certainty will go the way we want.  You call that common sense.  An outside observer would call it moved-by-fear.  So to get you to look beyond.  To get you to examine what life may have to offer beyond the limits and history of your fear, you must ignore your fears.  This is especially true in matters of religion.  Nearly every time an Angel is commissioned to communicate with mankind, the first few words are generally, “fear not”.  There is a reason for this.  Confronted with the supernatural, with the out-of-bounds, something beyond the limits you set for yourself and your ideas about life … the first human response is one of fear.  Not joy, not rejoicing (imagine it, most of the news they have to say is usually always good, sometimes really good), not even curiosity.  The first human response is fear.
Having an Angel appear in your real world, knocks the wall down of the nice little box you construct for yourself.  Thus, the message of the good news they bring must wait, while first they re-assure our fears.  And these messages are most often reserved for believers, for people who have chosen to believe in our God, in His Word, and the history of communication between God and man it has presented.  Even behind the lives steeped in belief, remain human fear, human uncertainty.  And this condition is not meant to be permanent.  It is not even meant to be how we live today.  Consider as an example, the slightly misplaced argument that toddlers have on the playground about “my dad is bigger than your dad”.  The real notion behind it, is that the toddler is asserting his/her own security based on the idea that their dad is big enough to ward off any threat.  The toddler is comfortable looking to daddy to protect them, care for them, and generally be a fence between themselves and evil.  While slightly misplaced, the basis of this argument is sound, if we were to apply it to God instead.  Even daddies need that analogy.
Security enables us to feel better.  Certainty, a hedge against the downside of risk, allows us to live life in a completely different way.  When you are not scared about eating, about making a living, about God taking care of the things, the burdens, you usually take upon yourself; something wonderful happens.  You begin to let go of the fear, and start to really live, outside of the box, outside of the boundaries you used to place upon yourself.  Your existence begins to change because the way you think about your existence begins to change.  It is in a sense self-fulfilling, but it cannot begin or be effective, without an outside assurance that will cover the fears we face, and hedge the risks we no longer fear to take.  What our “Daddy” can do for us in this regard, is something He longs to do.  It is how we live in the eternity of heaven.  And it can begin right here and right now, if we will only let Him do it for us.
Jesus Himself gives us the roadmap for this.  Matthew continues recording His Sermon on the Mount in chapter six of his gospel.  Jesus has just concluded a snippet about true currency valuation, and what relevance money has in the light of eternal things.  But before humans can let go the fear of using our money differently, we need assurances too many of us ignore.  Yet here they are.  Picking up in verse 25 Jesus continues saying … “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?”  This is radical reprioritization.  We spend our lives working to feed our families, put a roof over their heads, and clothes on their back.  From the extreme rich, to the very poor, the mechanics remain the same.  Yet here is Jesus putting an abrupt halt on everything we value, on our entire economic structure, and furthermore saying “take no thought” for it. 
This is beyond a general admonition not to have fear regarding it.  This is nothing even remotely related to having balance between responsibility and spirituality.  This is a one-sided, completely weighted statement, that passes up any boundary we are comfortable with.  “Take no thought” means past not worrying or stressing, don’t even think about it.  We can be that certain in how we live, that God Himself is looking after our lives, that we need not even think about what we eat, or wear.  The question is not whether I shop at Saks Fifth Avenue, or Walmart, for my clothing.  The proposition Jesus makes, is that my body is the important thing to God, and God will take care of clothing it.
Jesus continues in verse 26 saying … “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?”  Jesus has a point.  Birds wake up every day, and go eat.  The bird never has to worry that they will not find food.  They simply look, and there it is.  God does the worrying.  God provides for the feeding.  The bird is just living his life, he is not obsessing about whether he has a full pantry of food at home, or whether his canned goods supply are adequate to withstand the next hurricane disaster.  The bird just wakes up and eats.  Mom’s bring home food for their little birds.  There is never a worry about this kind of thing.  If you took the evil of predatory creatures out of the equation, birds would thrive.  You don’t see them going extinct because of lack of food.  Even though they still have to contend with what man does to their natural habitats, with pollution, with weather events just like we do.  Yet after a hurricane, when the storms roll away, there are the birds.  They just wake up and eat and live without a thought about it.
Jesus drives home the point in verse 27 saying … “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?”  This is not just a frustration the shorter population faces.  It equally applies to health issues you have almost no control over.  Think about it, as you read this, your local hospital is filled with people in varying degrees of need.  This is true all over the city, country, and world in general.  Wealth is no barrier against being there.  Youth isn’t either.  Fitness despite all its other benefits does not shield you against cancer.  And our thoughts about what we want, and our fears about what we want to avoid, do nothing from keeping any one of us from becoming the patient in the bed right next door.  If we cannot control our bodies by sheer force of will, why do we take on the fear and stress over them as if we could.  The stress does not fix the problems, it only makes them worse.  There is a better solution.
Jesus continues in verse 28 saying … “And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: [verse 29] And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [verse 30] Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?”  Ok Macy’s, your entire value proposition has just been cut to the ground.  And so has yours Walmart.  Jesus asks us to simply look at the beauty He has created around us in nature.  Beauty that occurs whether we encourage it or not.  If God offers us the beauty of Roses, and Lillies, and Tulips and Trees; He takes care of things that have a short span of time here in the world, and things that last.  Flowers cannot just transplant themselves to find better foods.  Nor has a tree ever been given this kind of option.  The Sequoias have been there for quite some time, and yet still they grow, their beauty a remarkable thing.  If God so takes care of the transient things, why would He not take care of you?
Jesus summarizes His thoughts picking up in verse 31 saying … “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? [verse 32] (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. [verse 33] But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  Your thoughts, your worries, your pursuits are either wasted in the temporary things of this world, or founded in the eternal things of God that matter.  Jesus tells us here that what we eat is not worth thinking about, food will be there.  He tells us what we wear is not our concern, God will make sure we have something, and that it lasts.  Following this advice may not offer us a wealth of new clothing every season, but it will meet our needs.  Following this advice may not have us eating at Morton’s every night, but it will have us eating to meet our needs.  And trusting God, to provide these things, is to just test what He provides.  His gifts are amazing.
What should be our focus is seeking His kingdom, the thing that lasts and matters.  The rest of the temporary needs will be met.  Jesus concludes this line of thinking with a more realistic and somber thought continuing in verse 34 saying … “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”  The problem is not our food, or clothes.  It is our priorities.  It is our faith or trust in God.  It is our inclination to focus upon ourselves and begin to indulge the evil that lays in wait all around us.  THAT is the real problem.  That is something we can have a little stress about.  Because the problem there is not half so much about what surrounds us as what lies inside of us.  Our refusal to trust.  Our refusal to change how we live, and who we rely upon to support us.  We take on burdens that do not belong to us, and in so doing continue to entertain fear, and uncertainty, that otherwise could die a permanent death.
How great could be our Christian lives and experience if we could think differently about who takes care of us, and who is there to meet the risks, and solve the challenges.  A sense of self-reliance is our biggest handicap.  Atheists must rely upon this as it is all they have.  But Christians should be able to rely upon something more, to a point where we literally … take no thought.
And the Sermon was far from over …

Saturday, March 25, 2017

True Currency Valuation ...

Where do you keep your funds?  For folks at the top of the middle-class strata, a financial portfolio is warranted.  You never want to keep too much cash just sitting idle in your average checking account.  But for folks a way down from “upper” the question has less meaning … we keep our funds in our rent, in our utilities, and in the food we put on the table.  For folks even farther down, it is not as much an issue of managing cash, but rather, managing credit and debt.  But no matter where you sit, the question is still relevant from a different perspective … what do you use your funds on, or plan to use them on?  From this angle, each of us might have more in common than we think.  We ALL use whatever funds we have, to maintain us, to maintain our families, and to try to put our children (if we have any) more ahead of where we started out.
So for nearly all American Christians, we value our funds, our currency, in what it is able to do for us, and for our families.  Money then, becomes a tool.  It is a mechanism we exchange for the basic needs of life.  On occasion, we have more than we need of it, and so we use it on something we “want” rather than something we “need”.  Even the poorest of us have spent credit dollars on something we wanted instead of something we needed, knowing that may not have been the wisest of decisions.  But the mechanics remain the same, and so our valuation remains the same. 
But then, what happens when heaven becomes our home?  All of the sudden, currency has zero valuation.  It no longer exists, even as a mechanism for exchanging goods or services.  We have everything we need without effort, and what we create finds its highest meaning in being given to someone else to bring happiness to another.  It would be harder to define the exact opposite of where we are now, than to simply picture what life in heaven will be like.  So how do we bridge the divide?  How do we find a practical way of transitioning our current currency valuation to our future state currency valuation without becoming destitute or going without the basic needs we have on a day-to-day basis?  Most Christians rarely attack this question.  Fear keeps them from thinking about it.  But as it happens Jesus lays out for us an excellent transition plan in His Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew continues recording it in chapter six of his gospel.
Picking up in verse 19, Jesus says … “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:”  To transition how we think about currency valuation, we must begin by recognizing that wealth itself is transient.  Beyond the addiction of always wanting “more” no matter how much we have now, there comes with it, an intense fear that we will lose even what we have.  Banks are built upon this fear.  We secure our currency in banks, because to keep it all at home, is to invite a burglar to a field day when they learn of this.  Keeping our money in a bank, insured by the FDIC, our funds are supposed to be largely safe from theft.  Until the theft comes in a three-piece-suit costing more than your home; packaged in the form of securities that not even the best accountants can easily decipher, with interdependencies so entangled it makes a plate of spaghetti look linear.  When the theft happens this way, the FDIC is no match for it.  Banks can easily collapse.  Your funds can easily disappear.  And your wealth, your savings, your insurance for your future, becomes a footnote in history about the next great depression as something too big to fail, does.
So the first counsel Jesus offers, is to change the strategy about where we place the currency we value.  He continues in verse 20 saying … “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:”  As it turns out there is a better place to put treasures, it is the eternal city of heaven, where not a single thief makes his home.  Where no bacteria exist to destroy, rot, or age whatever you place there.  Now this sounds wonderful, except that the mechanics are clearly a bit fuzzy.  How does one place funds we will need access to, into the heaven first national bank, given the light years of interdimensional separation that exist between us and our God.  Could our angels become our currency couriers?  Or is there a more instantaneous method of making deposits and withdrawals?
Jesus continues in verse 21 saying … “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  This winds up being a very profound statement.  Jesus reverse engineers our mechanics of deposits and withdrawals.  Currency, no matter what format we currently value, coin, cash, certificates, stocks, bonds, etc.. should not be where our “hearts” are.  We use that currency on ourselves and our families today.  It is the object of our spending that winds up being closer to where our hearts are.  We love our families.  And sadly, as our spending patterns reveal, we love ourselves quite a bit too.  But there is a fix for this.  If we begin to examine our funds as a tool, a continuation of what we already do.  But instead of using the tool on ourselves, we begin to use the tool, on the people we love, the people we hate, and the people we hardly know … we start making deposits of our currency into the city of heaven.  In point of fact, we are exchanging our currency from disposable formats to permanent ones.
Money does not make it to heaven.  But your wife does.  Your son does.  Your daughter does.  The co-worker who edged you out of that promotion does.  The boss who makes your life miserable does.  The homeless man you are sure spends all your donations on liquor and drugs does.  Some guy in Africa you never met, and at the moment, could care less about, winds up in heaven, because the tool you employed here was translated into a tangible demonstration of love, meeting the needs of that person you never met, showing him Jesus in a real way, and making him curious about the love of this God he hardly ever knew until a random missionary introduced him.  You yourself, have never been to Africa, or Asia, or downtown L.A. on skid row.  You yourself, may not have ever moved much off of the pew you sit on at church week-to-week.  But your current funds can travel very quickly, and be translated into permanent impacts in the lives of people you may hardly know, or care about, or frankly dislike.
Imagine what your co-worker thinks when you take the time to shop for their child to buy them something they wanted at a holiday.  Or to meet a need they may be struggling with when life presents the challenges it does.  Translating currency into real world impacts, into tangible offerings of love, has a heaven bound deposit on the transaction.  And when you submit yourself to your Lord, the passion He puts inside of you for other people is so intense, you may wind up going through your earthly currency very fast, in favor of heavenly currency.  What you value changes.  And it must.  For the American currency system is headed for the fires that will purify the earth.  But your co-worker does not have to be.  The guy who calls himself your sworn enemy, can still be the guy you spend eternity with.  Not begrudgingly trying to find the far side of heaven where he will not be.  But the guy you want to live right next door to.  The guy you keep trying to give your mansion to, but he won’t take it, insisting you take his instead.  The kind of real love you will have for each other in heaven will be so intense, you will think he is family.  And he is.  Not because of birth, but because of choice.  Ultimately because the currency you had here was nothing more than a tool, to help get him there.  Otherwise it was worthless.
This comes because what you value changes.  What you focus on changes.  It is a post-transformation realization such as nothing like it before.  Jesus continues talking about that change resuming in verse 22 saying … “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.”  If we focus on the real value of finding ourselves, and the community we touch and encounter in heaven, the light we will reflect will be enormous.  Jesus continues in verse 23 saying …” But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!”  First, this second portion of this text is not about your particular salvation.  You may be saved because of the grace and mercy of God, no matter what or how you spent your funds on in this world.  But if your focus with your funding is centered upon yourself.  It will be spent upon yourself.  And the opportunity you had to use it as a tool for the salvation of others is squandered and wasted, and will never return again.  You cannot get that time back or the impacts you might have made.  You cannot back up time and do it right a second time.  You have only one shot to get it right, and the community you encounter has only that single shot from you as well.
How great the darkness!  To be in heaven and have the Schindler’s List moment; realizing there could be so many more people here if you had been willing to part with your funds and your love more generously here on earth.  If you could have seen what your currency was truly valued at, and used it to bring others to Christ.  You would not retain a penny.  But the Monday Morning Quarterback realization does nothing to change the game that has already been played.  If your co-worker is lost to heaven, he is lost forever.  And YOU above all others will feel that loss, because in your heart of hearts, you know you could have done more, but instead you held on to your funds and your love, fearing a reduction in either.
Jesus then summarizes the problem with money we refuse to value in the light of heaven in verse 24 as He says … “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”  You cannot serve God and the acquisition of funds.  Spending your life making money.  Spending your life making just a little more of it.  Winds up exhausting the time clock of the life you have been granted.  The abundance of your life’s work is not spent moving souls to the Kingdom of Heaven by introducing them to Jesus.  It is instead spent in meetings, in office politics, in debating financial strategies with the spouse, in trying to recover from the challenges life throws your way.  The abundance of your life is spent battling the effects of stress, because currency acquisition is a cruel mistress, unforgiving, and fickle.  While you give your life and time to it, it gives you back nothing but a hunger for more.  An aching hole of more and more and more.
When at last you look back upon your life, how many meetings will you remember, and how important will they be?  Would you not trade the accumulation of whatever wealth you have, for just more time to insure the love you could have expressed is expressed?  If I am always working to sustain myself.  I am always working.  Period.  The scraps of what is left, are scraps, not the bulk of what we had to offer, but the left overs.  It is the left overs we offer to our families.  The left overs we offer to our church.  Nothing to the co-workers, the folks we don’t know, and the folks we don’t care about … because to prioritize, I must reserve what left overs I have for the folks closest to me.  And so we live our lives content to share only our left overs with those we love most, and we call this “normal”.  And it truly is.  It is the normal Satan has convinced us all, is the only way we can survive.
But Jesus continues to offer us another way.  And the sermon was far from over …