Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Wolves of Racism [part one] ...

Prejudice begins at home.  A young mind witnesses what its role-model is willing to embrace, and imperceptibly opens to the same ideas, both for good, and for evil.  And the influence of the home, is not engrained only in a moment, but over long periods of time, where infectious ideas work there way deeper and deeper into the psyche of developing minds until the acorn and the tree are hard to tell apart.  While this may be the main way it happens; it is not the only way.  What happens “to” us; can also have profound impacts “on” us, in terms of our prejudices.  We “pre-judge” the motives of others, and predict their actions based on our assumed judgment of their motives; perhaps in part, because we have seen these scenarios before.  This is not just a white / black thing; this is a rich / poor thing, a cop / criminal thing, even a doctor / patient thing.  Anywhere there are relationships between people, it is possible for us to pre-judge and predict outcomes based on the accumulated experiences of our past (or the short word for it, baggage).  We carry our emotional or mental baggage with us into new relationships, and sometimes poison them with things that never belonged there in the first place.  But hurt a person a few times in the same way, by the same type of experience, and baggage is nearly certain to develop out of fear if nothing else.
The problem with our prejudices, and even our baggage, is that if left unchecked, it becomes a hatred in us against things or people we believe will in some way cause damage to us.  We begin to categorize individuals into groups of like characteristics, no longer seeing the person, only seeing the “type” of personage they belong to.  Our judgments begin to extend not just to those we have great knowledge of personally, but to those we hardly know, then finally to those we do not know at all.  All of this because they belong to a group with a characteristic, we know to have hurt us in the past, and now we fear will hurt us in the future.  Over time, individuals lumped in to the groups we define as threats, can rarely if ever “work” their way out of these mental classifications, into a “normal” relationship with us.  They start at the deficit of their group, and must exert proof positive to exit it.  Keep in mind these negative connotations to groups can happen based merely on their occupations, or religions, having nothing to do with race. 
Take a look at your feelings about bankers for a moment; it is no longer just their cushy jobs of 9 to 5 that click in your mind.  After the big collapse, where many Americans lost everything they had, can you still “trust” these people with your money.  You may keep your money in a bank (because the mattress theory is nearly a certainty of greater loss), but do you feel good about it, or not.  Examine how you feel about Catholics for a moment.  The people now are great folks, but the church persecuted those who felt differently for nearly 1200 years.  For a long time in this country there was bigotry against Catholics or having Catholics ever sit in any governmental seats of power, because of what their church did, without apology, for centuries when they had influence in the past.  Take a look at cops.  Are they your public defenders or does that word conjure up fear of over-reaction where you might wind up dead in some mistaken exchange gone awry? 
Lastly, take a look at the “undocumented” in our country.  How they came here was a crime, no two ways about it.  That makes them criminals, at least originally.  But not all criminals are created equally.  Those who hid Jews in German controlled territories were once guilty of a “capital” offense, not just a passport infraction.  Today we would call those “criminals” of WW2 heroes for what they did.  Seeking hope, pursuing a dream, and doing something illegal to get it, either for you, or for your kids, hardly seems like the worst criminal activity one could embrace.  And does only that singular crime, truly label you a criminal forever?  But the fear does not end because the border was porous.  Now the fear extends to those who may lose jobs to those who will work for less (many abused in the process).  And the fear continues that “legal” tax payers will be paying for public services for those here illegally, in terms of education, medical help, and drivers licenses.  If your mind conjures up many negative things associated with the “undocumented”, ask yourself how deep your fear runs, or how dispassionate you truly are.
At the end of these things, the common denominator of our prejudice, our racism, even our baggage is fear of what damage may come to us.  That fear then drives us to hate.  And in that hatred, forgiveness is nearly completely lost sight of.  This is the polar opposite of how heaven works.  Take a case in point found in the gospel of Matthew to the Hebrews chapter eighteen.  Matthew records the words of Jesus as Jesus begins to address these topics from the view of heaven itself.  It picks up in verse 12 saying … “How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?”  To begin, nearly every Christian who reads this passage, in the back of their minds, believes “they” would have been part of the ninety-nine.  Oh sure at one point we were the lost sheep, but now … not us.  Though a closer examination of any one of our lives, might reveal we have still found a way to get outside the sheep fold, and right back into the danger we were saved from yesterday.
But a second look at that same story’s beginning, might offer a different point of view.  Looking at this story through the lens of heaven, earth itself may have been the “one” sheep who “went astray” while all the other created worlds and beings in the kingdom of God’s universe did not.  Satan tempted all of them, tried to get all of them to fall, but none did.  All chose to keep trust with God.  All that is, except our world.  From this point of view, each and every one of us is the sheep who “went astray”.  And while our current condition is lost.  We did not get there by accident.  There was some “going” involved in why we are now where we are.  We are, to be exact, “gone astray”.  It was our choice to go.  It was our feet that carried us away.  And as a result, we are now lost, with no idea how to get home.
Jesus continues in verse 13 saying … “And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.”  Pay close attention to the wording at the start of this verse.  Jesus begins with “and if so be that he find it”.  This represents risk.  There is a risk that the shepherd may not find the sheep.  After all, there are wolves in the world.  Wolves that consume a sheep before he even knows he has been hunted and eaten.  There is a risk that the sheep does not want to be found.  Our heavenly Shepherd recognizes the risk involved with the pursuit of the lost.  It is perhaps the overcoming of this risk, that is the reason why there is so much joy.  For the sheep must lose his fear of the Shepherd for this to work.  The sheep, namely us, must allow the Shepherd to do with us what He wills.  We may think we want nice long wool, a coat of wool we have spent what seems like a lifetime growing and nurturing.  Then along comes our Shepherd with a set of shears and trims us down to nearly naked.  That looks daunting at first, but feels absolutely liberating once we let Him do it to us.  And it is much better than allowing our fears, to become the wolves, that consume us, and keep us long, woolly, and lost.
Jesus continues in verse 14 saying … “Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.”  Jesus reminds us of many things in this story.  Even though it is we who have chosen to go astray, it is our Shepherd (Him), who chases after us to find us.  And this is not just the “Jesus Act”, this is the will of the Father who is in heaven.  We were created with freedom of choice, in order that we might love freely, and choose to love freely.  We chose badly, but were created even with God knowing we would make an initial bad choice.  That choice need not label us criminals forever, as our Shepherd would do what it takes to bring us home.  We could simply not accomplish that, sheep are great at getting lost, or going astray, worthless at finding home.  Jesus refers back to the 2-year-old He has put in front of Him to teach the disciples an object lesson about greatness, and heaven.  And He reminds them, that the Father is not willing to lose even one of these little ones.
We are that little one.  Our heavenly Father, and in His home, is no embrace of fear, or hatred – but instead a fervent embrace of forgiveness that will forget what we did to Him, and allow Him to love us in spite of what we did to Him.  We ask, He forgives.  No more holding it against us.  No more putting it in our faces.  Jesus continues this theme in verse 15 saying … “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”  Jesus here provides a way for us to address the injustices that happen in our world.  He begins with calling our attention to the fact that one who has done us harm, is no stranger in the Kingdom of heaven.  He is our brother.  He is family.  Before you pursue enumerating the long list of slights you believe have been done to you, consider “who” you are talking to, is family, your family.  You should be loving them that way, like Jesus loves you.  Once you love that way, then perhaps you will be ready to speak to your brother.  And your goal, is not the destruction of your brother, but the reclamation of your brother.  All you are looking for here, is for your brother to hear you.  The Holy Spirit will do whatever conviction of wrongdoing is needed, both on the side of your brother, or on yours. 
If you are not there to reclaim your brother, don’t go.  If your words of confrontation will not have the effect of reclaiming your brother, don’t say them.  You will ultimately hold yourself more accountable in this interchange than will the brother who may have offended you.  Jesus continues in verse 16 saying … “But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.”  The goal remains to have your brother “hear” you, nothing more.  The witnesses you bring, are only there to “establish” what is said – that is, they listen to you, and record what it is you said, and how you said it.  The goal remains to have your brother hear you.  If you are there to teach your brother a lesson, don’t go, don’t bring anybody.  Lessons in pain, are very rarely the lessons you or anyone else will learn from.  The idea that you still care about your brother, to try to reach him, and now you are bringing help to do so, is supposed to be the motive behind why you bring others to his doorstep once again.  You are doing the pursuing in this scenario, not like the wolf, but like the Shepherd.  To destroy the sheep and make him your prey, is clearly not the goal.
Jesus continues in verse 17 saying … “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. [verse 18] Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  Here is where an even closer second look is warranted.  The next step in trying to reach a family member (your brother) who may have wronged you, is to take the matter to the church.  Why?  So you can light up torches, gather pitchforks, and go burn down his house?  No!!  So that as a matter of prayer, and awareness, the entire church can attempt to bring your brother before the Lord, to have the Lord find a way to reclaim him.  Keep in mind the earlier text right above us, it is the Father’s will that not one of these little ones should be lost.  Jesus came here to save that which was lost.  Those texts did not go away in this context.  They are amplified here.  What you bind or loose on earth or have it echoed in heaven, is not the giving up on your brother, it is the continuation of working for your brother.
What your brother may have done to wrong you, may give you the occasion to talk to him.  But the reclamation of him continually remains your goal.  Jesus says if he refuses to hear even the entire church, then to treat him like a heathen or a publican.  HOW DID JESUS TREAT THEM?  He dined in the home of publicans and sinners and drove church leadership crazy over it.  He turned none of them away.  Cast none of them out based on any kind of judgment, for while the second coming has not yet happened, there is still time enough for reclamation, and even more time to love.  For the need of our love is greatest now, while so much pain exists.  We are not to fear our brother, even if he has slid all the way down to equality with heathens and publicans.  We are to love our brother still.  That is not a statement about our brother, it is a definition of how we love, and a witness to why we love.  Then comes the home run.
Jesus continues in verse 19 saying … “Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. [verse 20] For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  Church is now something totally different than it has been up to now.  Church happens when two of us agree on earth as touching any thing – say perhaps the reclamation of our stubborn brother who refuses to hear us on a matter we hoped would reclaim him.  There need not be a formal building we enter, even on the special day He set aside to hang out with us on.  We need not call ONLY that church.  Church is made up of us coming together, even in small flocks, flocks as small as two, to unite in the reclamation of our brother who we sincerely love.  We love our brother like Jesus does, and because Jesus does.  And while our efforts are far from what is needed, our Father God will do what we have asked of Him, for the salvation of another.  That my friends is a powerful prayer.  It superseded prayers for wealth, or power, or even health, or spiritual understanding.  Prayers for the salvation of another are the greatest of all prayers.  They are stronger still when asked not in isolation, but asked as the flock of Jesus, where at least a few sheep are present.
But the lesson was not over yet, there was still the pesky matter of what to do with wolves …

 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Achieving Greatness ...

How do you measure greatness?  Is it in the singularity of doing something few, if any other, has ever done?  Does it take the field of sport to accomplish it?  Imagine the greatest athletes that come to mind; Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Jack Nicholson, perhaps Michael Phelps.  They did things few others appear as good at.  They set records.  And while all records are meant to be broken, the style and finesse and shear accomplishment is hard to dispute.  And every sport has them.  Or do you measure greatness in financial terms?  Would then Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or Mark Zuckerberg come to mind.  They are worth billions of dollars, and Warren and Bill have tremendous records of philanthropy they continue to improve.  Does that much money equate to greatness, and giving it away, even more?  Or perhaps do you lean to discovery and look at those who pioneered in the field of medicine as those who found what it means to be great.  Names like Louis Pasteur, Jonas Salk, Walter Reed, or Karl Landsteiner; people whose passion for discover was aimed at finding medical improvements to benefit the whole of us.
When you stack yourself against names like this, against accomplishments like this, or records like this; do you even begin to enter their league?  It is easy to accept the premise that it takes being unique in some fashion to be great.  It is hard to imagine being common, and still being considered great.  But Jesus may have the hardest of all premises for us to accept.  To lose all uniqueness, abandon all ideas of accomplishment, and measure our greatness in equal parts of humility and childlike trust.  The more humble; the more great.  The more childlike; the more great.  This is something ALL of us are capable of, it only requires a choice on our part to seek it.  We submit ourselves to Jesus, and He works this work within us.  There is nothing unique about it, in that everyone can/should be an equal participant.  There is no exclusive offer, just a common one, made to everyone.  If there is any exclusivity, it is that so many refuse the offer, and so few accept it.
This is hard for us to wrap our brains around.  But it might have even been harder for the Hebrews in the time of Christ to wrap their brains around, and Matthew was going to attempt to present this truth to them regardless.  Their system of caste was far more developed, and strict than anything we see today.  They had centuries of tradition, even the scripture seemed to support their premises, yet Jesus was about to turn their world, and ours, on its head.  The story begins in chapter eighteen of Matthew’s gospel.  It does not start out from a question of discovery, but more likely, from a question of ambition or greed.  Matthew picks up in verse 1 saying … “At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  This was not about generic interest, this was purely about which one of them was to be greater than the others.  After all, you only need one governor, or one chief of the military, etc.  Not all 12 would likely get the same level of cushy job in the new Jesus administration.  And His transition to becoming King could not be too far away.
The answer would astound them all.  Mathew continues in verse 2 saying … “And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, [verse 3] And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  There was something far more insidious in the question the disciples posed than ambition from one over the other.  In that question lurked the ideas of self-reliance.  Each thought himself better than his contemporaries based on his innate abilities, perhaps drive, or passion, or steadfastness, or energy.  Each disciple assumed a position of greatness would come to them, based on what they had done to earn it, or would do to earn it.  And this disease of thinking infected their ideas of salvation – just as it has our own.  While we may not aspire to greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven, we still view it in our own world as being tied to the uniqueness of self.  And we foster those same ideas right into our salvation, that we can conquer our sin on our own, by our choice to simply sin no more.  We look to Christ as merely a partner in helping us do what we were meant to do.  We ask for Jesus to only “make up the difference between our best efforts and what is required of us”.  But that difference is more vast than our arrogance will allow us to believe.
The disciples shared our current line of thinking.  And so to begin Jesus counsels that we must ALL be “converted”.  Now keep in mind He was talking directly to His own disciples who were believers in Him, and had been following Him for several years now.  They had cast out demons, healed the sick, and learned from the mouth of God directly, along the way witnessing first hand the miracles of that transformative love in both body and soul.  But so far, refused to taste it.  They, like us, still clung to the notion of self-reliance as it relates to entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.  So Jesus begins by stripping them of the idea that “they had made it”, or, that they were ever going to make it on the path they were on.  We must ALL begin with conversion.  Letting go the notions of self-reliance, and begin to accept a role of complete dependence upon Jesus just as a 2 year old accepts the notion of complete dependence on his/her parents to survive.  Children do not do the work, they trust, and simply reap the benefits.  This was a concept those seeking greatness never saw coming.  If this was the standard, none of them would be great based on how they were thinking.  None of us will either.
Jesus continues in verse 4 saying … “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  To become great begins with humility.  It begins with the recognition, that we have extreme need, and CANNOT fill this need ourselves.  We will never beat Satan at the sin game, he is much better than us, smarter than us, and knows how to play and win.  But Jesus beats him in a New-York-minute.  We must humble ourselves and admit we cannot win; and allow Jesus to win on our behalf.  We must stop fighting our sin, and let Jesus do the fighting on our behalf – allow Jesus to change what we like, which leads to changing what we do, which leads to changing how we love, how we think, and puts us back into harmony with the laws and precepts of our God.  ONLY then is obedience possible.  Everything else is distraction, and deception.  We kid ourselves, fool ourselves, and hold ourselves outside of the Kingdom because we refuse to accept this simple premise.  What Jesus lays out with respect to our conversion, is NOT an excuse to keep sinning, it is the only escape from sinning in the here and now.
This changes the nature of greatness from something only the few can do, to something anyone can do.  You are not limited by the muscles of your body, the size of your wallet, or the intellectual power of your mind.  You only need to be converted (change your thinking), and become like a 2-year-old who trusts his Parent (the heavenly One) completely, for everything.  God is NOT our partner, in our salvation.  He is the Author of it, and the Finisher of it.  We are the beneficiary of it.  We do nothing, but accept it, and allow Him to do all the work of it in us.  Jesus continues in verse 5 saying … “And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.”  There is no such thing as “too young”, or too immature, to too dumb to follow Jesus.  Anyone, at any age, regardless of what we perceive as spiritual maturity or understanding is fully accepted by Jesus as a follower the second they choose to become one.  This idea turned on its head, the contemporary thinking that you had to study first, and upon gaining an understanding of scripture, only then could you join the ranks of the religious institution.  Jesus says no.  All you need is to trust Him and begin to love, and you are ready.  What children do best is to trust and love.  They love naturally; and are only taught to hate.
When we receive a child in the name of Jesus, we are receiving Jesus Himself.  This is no small promise.  This is the foundation of a church built upon love, transformative love, the love of Jesus Christ.  Jesus says to the sinner (and the saint), I love you, let me take your pain and the trail of death you have chosen from you.  When the sinner (or the saint) agrees to this, they need nothing more, to officially join the ranks of the church of Jesus.  No matter their age.  No matter their level of doctrinal understanding.  The rest of education can wait, the acceptance into the family of Jesus begins immediately.  The sinner (and us saints) begin every day forward with making this same choice – to love, and to allow His love to do the work it needs to do within us, to bring us into harmony with our God.  We should take joy in this.  We should have our arms ever outstretched to love sinners (even while still in their sin) and saints (even when they make repeated mistakes).  The love of our God is unconditional, and has the power to transform, all of us who still do not yet live rightly.  We need only focus on letting it do its work in us.  Submission based in a humility that recognizes its own need.
And what does the alternative look like?  Jesus continues in verse 6 saying … “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”  We, that is you or me, are NOT to “offend” one of the 2-year-old’s who belong to Jesus.  Better for us to keep our mouths shut.  Better for us to love in silence, than offer words of good intent, that have negative impact.  Better to be liberal with our love towards those who sin, than to restrict it, thinking we do them a service, we do not.  The loss, of causing a child of God to stumble or look away from God’s love is so profound it will one day break our perfected hearts.  Whether in this world, or the next, to look back and realize you had a key role in causing a precious child of God to turn away from God – because of what you said, or did – will cause a grief in you so deep you will wish you had been strapped to a millstone and throne into the sea before you caused that kind of damage to one who is now lost, at least in part, because of your role in their lives.  You may still be saved, this is not about “your” salvation.  But to know you caused the loss of another, will devastate you in a way NOTHING else ever will.  There is no greater grief.  I would expect weeping and gnashing of teeth over this one even from inside the walls of heaven.
Jesus continues in his warnings of what happens when we give ourselves not to Him, but to our own ideas of self-reliance and the evil it brings.  He continues in verse 7 saying … “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!”  This was a warning to Judas over his upcoming betrayal.  The betrayal of Judas was foretold by the prophets and it had to take place in order for scripture to be fulfilled, but the devastation to Judas would be crushing.  Jesus knew it, and this warning was to try to warn Judas about what it would do him.  But these same words were also meant for Peter.  The betrayal of Peter, by denying Christ, was not needed, it was chosen.  Peter too would be crushed by what he chose to do.  And these same words echo through the ages to you and I, for the constant failures we choose to embrace, and the stubborn refusals we hold to give up our ideas of self-reliance in our salvation.
Then Jesus speaks to us in an allegory we do not yet fully comprehend.  He continues in verse 8 saying … “Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. [verse 9] And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”  Where it comes to offending a little child of God, how often do we find our feet or our hands engaged in activity that drives a child away from God.  While God is not our partner in salvation for He does it all; very often we have partners in our sins, real human partners.  We encourage each other in our sin, rationalizing our actions, and saying we can always ask for forgiveness later.  Better to lose hands and feet, than to be a partner in the demise of another child of God.  And our eyes.  How often do we train our eyes to find and see evil, most often because it appeals to us.  We look at other children of God, not as family, but as potential victims of our lust or our greed, or our avarice.  Better to pull out our own eyes, than to see other children of God in this way.  To embrace evil, is to embrace the pain of hell fire a long time before the flames ever touch our skin.  This is what Jesus is so desperate to help us avoid.  Protecting His little children from others even within the church is Him protecting you and me as well.
Finally Jesus brings it back to a more positive note as this encounter concludes in verse 10 saying … “ Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. [verse 11] For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.”  Little children, of a very young age, in fact since they were born, already have guardian angels assigned to them.  Those angels behold the face of His Father which is in heaven.  When you despise the beloved of our God, you despise yourself, and face a grief in yourself you cannot now imagine.  We must all remember the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.  Jesus is not talking about loving that which is easy to love, but that which is steeped in poo and very hard to love.  2-year-old’s very often make a mess in their diapers which no one, is too eager to have to clean up.  It smells.  It can make you nauseous.  When they have spread it all over their face and hands and clothing, that is how we look when covered in our sins.  But even in this condition, our Father loves us, enough to embrace us even then, clean us up meticulously until we shine like a new born day.  To avoid offending a sinner, even when they are still steeped in their sin, is the message from a Savior who came to save us ALL from those same sins, namely to save that which was lost.
And our Savior had much more to say …
 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Taxes for Jesus? ...

Not talking about tithes, they are an opportunity to share in the ministry of redemption with Jesus.  Tithes are asked of your increase (to remind you that you experience increase).  Tithes help you prioritize the value of what is important to you – hint: if money is what is important, you are missing quite a lot.  Then there are offerings.  Offerings are as the base of the word implies, an offer, of your treasure back to God from the free will choice of your heart.  You give to Him whatever you see fit to give.  You are not constrained to any limits of 10%, so no gift from you is too small, or too large.  It is only a reflection of your heart as you give it.  The joy you experience doing that, is a joy you alone can realize, and God alone can share as your heart shines open to Him.  Your gift is never made fun of.  It is never ridiculed.  It is never wasted.  It changes your heart each time you give it.  Repeated giving has a profound effect on you, and if it is accompanied by joy you feel from doing it, even more so.  If you would rather keep your treasure than give it, or giving it makes you angry, the sacrifice is not truly an offering.  Keep it.  Hold on to it; and realize the futility of trying to hold on to something as fleeting as treasure.  Give it; and learn to experience that giving is truly better than receiving, and far better than hoarding.  But tithes and offerings are not anywhere near the category of taxes.
Taxes are non-negotiable.  Taxes are certain (like the death they inevitably represent).  Taxes are imposed usually by governmental, or controlling entities interested in the preservation of power.  Taxes are not part of the system of government of heaven.  In heaven, people will long to find another way to give something more of themselves they have not thought to give already.  Ideas will be exercised full time in trying to give more, and make the lives of someone else in heaven, just a bit happier (as if that was possible).  No one will ask you to.  You will do it, because you cannot bear to do otherwise.  This is how God does it.  When you come in closer harmony with Him, it will rub off on you as well.  So in heaven, there is no need for even the concept of taxation.  But in this world, the devil is duly pleased with implementing as harsh a method of taxes as he can impose.  Taxes are never pleasant, usually wasted, utterly futile, and always too high.  So who could have imagined imposing a system of taxation in the name of Jesus?  Church leadership, that’s who. 
Matthew records an incident in his gospel to the Hebrews in chapter seventeen of just such a thing.  Let us take a second look at it and see what lessons may be hiding in these few verses.  Picking up in verse 24 it begins … “And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?”  Ouch.  To begin, the Temple at Jerusalem was more than just the physical place idealized by the nation as the best place to worship God.  It was also a symbolic seat of power.  What should have been dedicated to God alone, had become corrupted by the politics of trying to run a nation.  Sound familiar?  We need only turn on any news outlet today, and see where the influence of protestant churches attempts to influence the policy of the USA.  Catholics as well, continue to look to influence policies in nations all across the world.  It would seem, Christianity, which should have been a thing left to the pure worship of Christ, has now also become a symbolic power of political influence.
And where there is politics, and where there is power of any kind, there must also be funding to keep it so.  Thus a system of taxation is imposed for the maintenance of the Temple (or at least in theory that what it might be used for).  But then, have you ever known any kind of tax to be used on the thing it is supposed to be used on?  And more likely, have you seen taxes seem to find there way into the pockets of those in power, be they in the church, or out of it.  Here in this system of taxation, yet again the Sanhedrin looks for a way to trip up Jesus.  If Jesus refuses to pay the tax; they will claim He does not care about the upkeep of the Temple.  If He pays it, then He shows humility or deference to the Temple, and by proxy, to them.
Since Capernaum was Peter’s home town, the tax masters approach Peter, hoping to embarrass him when Jesus refuses (or at least that is what they expected).  Matthew continues in verse 25 saying … “He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?”  Jesus however, had a different lesson to teach.  Instead of focusing on making the tax they asked for, He poses an entirely different question, about ownership.  Jesus divides the audience for tax payers into two camps, the children of the King, and strangers to the King.  He then asks Peter who the King is likely to taxes from, His own children, or total strangers.  Look closely my brothers and sisters, Jesus is here putting you into a classification you might forget you belong to.
Matthew continues in verse 26 saying … “Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.”  Peter responds what common sense calls for, a King would take taxes from strangers, never from His own kids.  Jesus then makes a very profound statement – Then are the children free.  You are not a stranger to your King, He calls you His child, and loves you so, and treats you so.  The children are provided for by the King.  The children eat because the King puts His food on their tables.  They wear the clothes the King has seen fit to dress them with (one day this will include a robe of righteousness none of us deserve, but all of us receive washed clean in the blood of our King).  The children need not concern themselves with how they survive, for the King takes care of ALL these worries.  It would stand to reason then, with our survival insured by our King, we are free to give of ourselves completely, without fear or regret.  To mirror for others what our King chooses to do in the great love of His kids.  Religious taxes are an anachronism we need not be bothered with.  However even free children must concern themselves with helping others come to Jesus to find freedom.
Matthew continues in verse 27 saying … “Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.”  Jesus ultimately paid the tax (for all of us), not because He needed to, but because He was free to.  Jesus was more interested in trying to find a way to the tax master’s heart, than He was about making a principled stand on why He did not need to pay this tax.  So He creates a miracle, where money, gold that is, is found in a random fish Peter catches in his hometown Sea of Galilee shores.  I imagine something that had never been done before.  The tax masters bear witness to the miracles of Jesus, even though they never asked for a sign.  The tax was still unfair.  But Jesus paid it.  He did not argue, or raise arms, or hold a revolution.  He did not even try to make sure His next church would never be consumed with thinking about these kinds of things again.  He just went the extra mile.  Because He still craved for the soul of those assigned to collect the taxes, and those wicked enough to dream up that system.
Jesus does not check back up on this tax, to see if it was used rightly.  He knows it will likely never be used rightly.  He is intentionally giving funds to those intent on killing Him.  They may wind up converting this gold coin into several silver ones, that one day briefly line the pockets of Judas who will betray Him over it.  That gold coin may instead have found its way into Roman pockets, funding a spear that would one day pierce His side, or a cross He would one day hang upon.  Where His tax money went was STILL not His concern.  The life of the tax master was.  Life was more important than money.  A pathway to the heart more important that asserting His freedom not to pay.  He did what was not required, because His treasure is in hearts reconciled to Himself.  A silly gold coin was not going to get in the way of that.
And where are we today in how we value our money, and our gold?  Have our Christian churches decided we must defend ourselves, in effect, choosing to take on the role of the King, rather than trusting in the King to do what His love demands of Him.  Have we lost trust in our King, choosing to fight to live, rather than trust that our King has our eternal lives in His hands, and our earthly ones as well.  Have we told ourselves it is our “job” to “provide” for our families, and look to our King, only when we don’t believe we have enough money to get the job done.  We fight to hold on to our taxes, to keep as much as we can.  If not from our churches (and some treat tithes and offerings, not much different than taxation), then from our governments.  And we never once consider trying to find pathways to any heart outside of our own.  We develop a spirit of fighting to keep what is rightfully ours.  And in this spirit, we try to keep those other Christians who may disagree with our beliefs, away from us.  We reason we must fight the devil, and since they do not agree, they must be with the devil.  Yet all of us claim to follow Christ.  And there was no fight in Christ, to keep what was His, not even His life.  He gave all, to reach all, to reach me, and you.
Perhaps our churches today, could abandon ideas of influence and power, leaving behind the provinces of Satan.  Perhaps instead we could hone our skills in loving others, trying to give more of ourselves to others, to meeting needs anywhere and everywhere – without fear, or regret.  In this we would enter the provinces of Jesus, and find a King already there, working so hard already, now looking for those of us who are ready to join with Him, in the ministry of finding a pathway to hearts.  Even if that means we lose a few things along the way or give up what should not be required.  At the end of it all, the real treasure, is the treasure of souls.  Gold is nothing but pavement for city streets, worth nothing more than gravel is today.  But the feet that may one day walk on it, are priceless.
 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Darkness Has a Plan for You ...

We talk extensively about what plans Jesus has in mind for you.  They begin with your liberation.  Your freedom from slavery to self-love, and the sin you embrace.  The plans of Jesus for you, start by breaking your chains to pain and death, and in their place granting you a new life, a real life, something way more than mere existence.  In short, what Jesus has in mind for you (and only you), is unique to you, and offers a purpose without end, an infinite place in His Kingdom that will never expire – and they begin in the here and now, as soon as you allow them to begin.  But unfortunately, these are not the only plans that exist where you are concerned.  Your life is a not a simple choice of what you want, and what Jesus wants.  That is not the two-way choice you face.  If it is not the light you choose to embrace - that will form a shield around you; the darkness is all that is left to you.  The darkness tells you, that “you” are strong and in charge of your fate.  Submission is an act of weakness, you need not submit to Jesus (though the reality is that through submission, you replace your weakness, with His strength).
The goal of the darkness is to first deceive you into believing that there is no darkness at all.  Once you accept this premise, darkness will have full sway over you, and you without the slightest recognition, that events, circumstances, and results are not “just” because of what you choose, and why you choose them; but because you are under attack by a darkness so black its malevolence cannot be fully measured.  Yet so many, even within the church, come to believe the darkness is not real, something of bed time stories, and tools to control the masses through fear.  But fear, is not a tool to escape sin, it is a reason for sin, and a symptom of sin.  Jesus does not want your fear, He wants your trust, and ultimately He hopes you will make a choice to love Him.  The devil is slick in projecting the negative aspects of who he is on to God, accusing God of the things he (the devil) is most guilty of himself.  Obfuscate, hide the idea of darkness at all, and convince you that your life is a matter of luck, and God’s punishment, that darkness plays no role in it at all.
But what happens when you begin to deviate from “normal” behavior.  What happens when you entertain thoughts of the abnormal, of the unacceptable to social norms, and find them attractive, appealing, and ultimately ideas you wish to follow and embrace?  What is perverse, becomes a part of who you are, and who you have chosen to become.  And perversity need not have only to do with sexual expression, it can exist in a number of plains.  The kleptomaniac steals, like you and I take a breath.  We look at these people and refer to their condition as a sickness, as a form of mental disorder.  But that is not how they see themselves.  What is aberrant and perverse to us, is fully normal to them; even if normal is different, just a different idea of normality.  The drug addict, and addicts of every variety, understand logically the danger of their behavior but choose it anyway to get the fix.  The child who entertains the ideas of torturing small animals, and works his way up to humans, becoming a serial killer and a sociopath – chooses not to see himself as a “problem” but as a “solution” to our society.  The perverse expanding its reach across our populous more insidious than any virus, and more effective in its spread.  Until every man looks in the mirror and determines that they are good person, despite whatever differences there might be in how they behave.
But facts remain.  The timeline for darkness is finite.  It will one day come to an end.  John wrote in revelation about the very end of evil, when Satan himself will finally be consumed in the lake of fire.  And once that is done, death itself will be consumed.  The ultimate death of evil.  The ultimate death of death.  No eternal minions to propagate the existence of evil, or torture, or dying.  Instead the absolute end of it, in thought, in motive, in deed, and in instruments of its expression.  This means Satan is on a clock.  Where once he existed from his creation, in a life not intended for an ending, now he is destined to one day be finally consumed in fire, never to exist again.  That clock ticks loudly in his ears.  Every day is a day closer to his final end.  He cannot avoid it (though he will try).  He cannot overcome it.  He is bound to his fate.  So as evil does, it looks for a way, to plot revenge.  Forgiveness does not exist in the mind of evil, any more than mercy does.  And to strike with revenge, he must strike at what God loves the most, namely at you.
So darkness formulates plans for your life, just as firmly as what Jesus does.  The darkness can hurt God, by hurting you.  They can make the pain of God greater, by having you blame God for the pain that comes your way (when in secret it was never Him).  They can make the pain of God better, when they get you to hurt yourself.  They can make this pain better when they can deceive you into believing that a “new normal” is just as good as any old normal, even if that includes being a serial killer, or an addict, or someone who thinks forced sex is better than consensual sex especially as it relates to children.  In morphing what you do, the evil spreads, and impacts itself on other children of God further increasing the pain.  And do you then have value in the dark kingdom … no.  You are nothing to them, merely a tool to spread pain, and a victim to have pain inflicted on.   Lest you believe any differently, or think it could never happen to you, or think you are too innocent (or your baby) is too innocent, to ever be caught up in this – lets take a look at a story Matthew recorded in his gospel in chapter seventeen.
Matthew picks up in verse 14 saying … “And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, [verse 15] Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.”  First note, that the victim is not the man himself, a father, and someone who believes in the power of Jesus Christ.  The victim is the son, a child, presumably an innocent child.  But his state or age in life, did not prevent his possession, by a demon of the darkness.  And what does this demon force the victim to do, to fall into fires to burn, or into waters to drown.  The darkness plagues this boy, to send pain to his father, his parents, his family.  The darkness tortures this boy to rebuke the church (whether old or new).  And the boy, or what happens to the boy is of no consequence.
Matthew continues in verse 16 saying … “And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.”  Yikes!  This father, brought the boy to the disciples of Jesus.  You know, the ones with the keys to the kingdom, who are able to bind things on earth (figuratively) and have them reflected or heard in heaven.  James the future leader of the church in Jerusalem, Peter the future evangelist to the world, and John the chief prophet of the Christian faith, as well as all the others and none could cure him.  Now everyone of us, looks at Judas and says in our hearts – figures.  But then Judas had the same gifts of demon repulsion as did any other disciple, and was no less a leader in the church, and in the faith as Peter, or as you, or as me.  So the failure of Judas was no more or less the same failure as Peter.  It was not about what Judas would ultimately do, that causes him to fail.  For Judas could have been forgiven of that future sin, just as Peter was forgiven for ones he would commit in the heat of those events.  The problem of this father, and his boy, were in the here and now, and in the here and now – not one of the disciples could overcome the darkness nestled in this boy.
Matthew continues in verse 17 saying … “Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. [verse 18] And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.”  First note, that the child is healed immediately.  There is no delay on the part of Jesus.  The misery the darkness brings to this child’s life is over for now.  But the words of Jesus look none too happy.  “O faithless” generation.  Is Jesus speaking to the dad, seems very unlikely as the dad believes, and tried the disciples of Jesus, before coming to Him personally.  And the boy may or may not even be present, and is infected with a demon, so unlikely Jesus is challenging his faith.  There will be no blaming of the victim here.
But the church?  Is Jesus challenging his own disciples?  Is He challenging the Pharisees and Sanhedrin?  Or is He challenging you and I?  Perhaps all of the above.  But it is not just our faithlessness that warrants the attention of Jesus, it is also our perversion.  Have we adopted the aberrant as normal, perhaps just a different kind of normal, but one far outside of harmony with the laws and character of a God of love?  Do we see ourselves in the mirror, and see nothing wrong.  Have we perverted the Word itself.  Have we used the Word to justify our traditions, our ideas, and our notions of separation with the brotherhood of Christ – each group claiming purity, while ostracizing any other “less informed” groups of believers.  Our perversion need not just be in our sexual expression, it can also be founded in how we read the Word, and what we do with what we find, using it as a weapon against other sinners, instead of a hospital field manual of how to love others back to the feet of Jesus, ever pointing them there for the relief they so desperately need. 
How long shall I be with you?  And more poignantly; how long shall I suffer you?  These questions of Christ imply a seeming limit to His patience.  But I believe it is more a statement of His absolute frustration with us.  He offers total healing.  He offers a path to perfection, and a life beyond our wildest dreams.  And we sit around delaying that choice, avoiding it, postponing it.  As if the pain and death we now embrace is somehow better than what He offers.  Our blindness, our stupidity, so amplified against what the alternative is.  This is the plans of darkness for you, unfolding in your real life.  To keep you from submission to Jesus.  Making up all kinds of excuses why you should ever avoid that choice.  Not yet, you need to make more money first.  Not yet, you need to have unbridled sex with as many as you can first.  Not yet … the list goes on and on … each choice a hidden pathway to pain and death and misery along the way.  The words of Jesus reflect a coming finality to making that choice for something better.  There is a clock, and it is ticking – whether for Satan, or for you with him.  This is not about fear, it is about a choice for something so much better, that could be made now, right now.
Matthew concludes this snippet picking up in verse 19 saying … “Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? [verse 20] And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. [verse 21] Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.”  We have our answer.  Jesus tells the disciples, that it is “their” unbelief that caused their failure.  That was not a slight against Judas alone.  It was an assessment across all of them, even the ones who will one day take a more leadership role in the faith.  And perhaps a continued assessment of you and I.  Faith as small as a grain of mustard seed is a tiny thing, and yet none of us seem to wield it.
We accept the cancer we encounter as “a fact of life”, never once considering it might be a direct result of the darkness.  We accept the need and the poor, as just another “fact of life”, again ignoring the influence and direct plans of the darkness on the lives of those impacted.  And none of us wield our grain of mustard seed to provide the fix – not a relief to suffering, only an accompaniment through it – instead of a true miraculous fix.  We just let the pain linger.  Afraid to test our mountain to be moved.  Afraid to be shown publicly, we lack the faith to even make it rumble a little.  And the plans of darkness triumph at the expense of the weak wielding of our mustard seeds of faith.  What is more, Jesus offers that this particular demon requires prayer and fasting to get it to leave.  As we try to pray with our tiny faith, perhaps our faith would be better augmented if we were willing to fast quietly, pray incessantly, and then look again to see if our mountains have been moved, and the demons of darkness vanquished against the bright light of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.
Your life will come down to only two paths.  It will not be a choice between good and evil.  That is too easy.  It will be a choice between submission to Jesus, and a liberation and freedom that leads to real life as it was meant to be enjoyed.  Or it will be consumed with the plans of darkness who care no more for you than does a tyrant stepping on an ant as he moves from one place to the other.  There is no middle ground.  There is no happy median.  There is life abundantly.  Or there is misery even more abundantly.  Everything else is deception.  Everything else is fear.  There really is only one way out, and His name is Jesus Christ.  And Jesus had more yet to say …
 

Friday, May 11, 2018

A Vision of His Kingdom ...

Does Jesus lie?  Non-believers may not have a good basis to answer that question.  And even believers sometimes doubt its answer.  But to answer in the affirmative, it would help to have an explicit example of where Jesus did lie.  Otherwise given the vast history of things He predicted that came true, and the personal examples in your own encounters with Jesus, I believe you will find that Jesus does not lie.  So lets give it a stretch and look for an instance that proves this theory wrong.  You might begin with prophecy and its interpretation.  Does being wrong about how you interpret prophecy make Jesus the liar?  To believe that is to state, you are completely right, and if reality deviates with what you believe, it must be Jesus who lied about it.  Given how often you are wrong in life in general about a great many things.  It seems hardly plausible, that in matters of scriptural interpretation, you suddenly became all knowing – and Jesus must have lied, if reality does not work out the way you interpreted it would.
More likely, a second look, a deeper study, will find more meaning in the same texts you studied before.  More likely, the other meanings that may emerge offer you a different way to see things, perhaps a better way, perhaps a way closer to what Jesus originally intended, than what you gathered the first time you read it through.  To trust to the interpretation of the church leaders, and church tradition, is to walk the path of our Pharisee forefathers, and wind up in the same end result – kill Truth, rather than change our minds.  On the other hand, looking to so many of the Biblical prophecies that have been fulfilled, and so accurately, tends to give one confidence that Jesus knows what He is talking about.  His record is very very good.  This inspires confidence that again Jesus does not need to lie.  The Truth is always better for us to know, and always what He reveals to us, even if the revelation is slow – because that is the speed our minds need to receive it without blowing a gasket.
Just a few segments ago, Peter stated that Jesus was the Son of God, a revelation given to him by God the Father.  Jesus called him blessed to receive it.  And immediately Jesus asked His disciples not to tell anyone about it yet.  Instead He began revealing to them that He was to die at the hands of church leadership, be tortured no less, and crucified; but then to rise on the third day.  As for Peter’s revelation, Jesus asked His disciples to keep this from His otherwise would be followers – they were NOT ready to hear it yet.  While it was true, it was a Truth, not everyone was ready to hear.  Then the remainder of what Jesus told His disciples, they DID NOT LIKE hearing.  Peter even tried to rebuke Jesus, and tell Him this would never happen.  Yet again an unpleasant truth, but then a truth so glorious the history of the universe would soon be defined by it.  Even then His disciples could not get over the fact, their own interpretation of the role of the Messiah, like the church leadership of the time, was wrong.  Did it make Jesus a liar?  No.  Things unfurled exactly as Jesus had predicted, including the fantastic parts that could only happen after the horrible parts.
Outside of the miracles (and they were astonishing, perhaps terrifying, and yet so glorious), the disciples looked up to Jesus as one of their own.  Jesus was different to them, but more the same than different.  For the most part Jesus looked like any other man, since Adam, until then.  But to increase their faith yet again, this was about to change.  Matthew picks up the story in the last verse of chapter sixteen, that in context, continues the next thoughts right into the first verses of chapter seventeen.  Perhaps it would have been better if placed there, but no matter, we are capable of continuing a read as needed.  It begins in verse 28 saying … “Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”  And so begins our intense analysis; did Jesus lie?
We interpret this text to mean … some of you disciples … not all, but a few … will not die … until you see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom (or in our minds, the second coming of Christ, which the whole world continues to wait for).  Since ALL the disciples died, we know this could not have been true.  In fact, ALL the disciples (short John but not for lack of trying) met martyr’s deaths, ugly, gruesome, torture of extreme bodily pain, which was only relieved by death itself.  That was how reality unfolded, which definitely does not jive with our traditional interpretation of this verse – so again I ask did Jesus lie?  Or perhaps, did Jesus have something else in mind, then what we traditionally think?  The answer is contained in chapter seventeen of Matthew’s gospel, in the very next texts as this story continues.
It picks up in verse 1 saying … “And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,”  You will note this is a few of the disciples, or “some” of them.  In reality, these represent three key disciples who will serve in the new Christian church’s leadership.  James will head the new church in Jerusalem (its traditional headquarters, as the impact of the Messiah was first to be felt by the traditional bloodline of Abraham if they but accepted it).  Peter will be the first great evangelist, spreading the gospel far and wide across the then known world.  John would be the chief prophet to not only the Hebrew church, but to the Christian faith all the way from that time to the last remnant to walk the earth before His return.  These three disciples were taken apart from the rest, and up the mountain they hiked, likely to the place where Jesus went to pray at night.  Chances are, none of them thought anything strange about it at first.
Matthew continues in verse 2 saying … “And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.”  This is the true form of the Son of Man.  This is Jesus, NOT like one of them, burdened by our world of darkness, but how the Son of Man looks in His kingdom – just as He said only six days earlier at the end of chapter sixteen in the gospel of Matthew.  This is not baby Jesus in a manger.  This is not good-time Jesus at the Wedding in Cana.  This is not tortured Jesus upon a cross, dead.  This is Jesus alive as He was following the resurrection, the same way He will look past His ascension from this world forever more.  This is Jesus at home in His kingdom.  And true to form about the kingdom of Jesus, it was not meant to be alone in.
Matthew continues in verse 3 saying … “And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. [verse 4] Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.”  The first thing that appears in the Kingdom of Jesus are the redeemed for which He is destined to die and return again triumphant.  These represent the first fruits of the Kingdom.  Elijah is there never having tasted death, translated while still alive (like Enoch before him).  Moses did die, but was resurrected by Jesus and taken to heaven early (partially because Satan was trying to mess with the body).  Both architypes are representations and reminders that Jesus will go through whatever comes to Him personally because His ability to visit with Elijah, and Moses, and Peter, James, and John depends on it.  His love will motivate Him to face whatever comes, because His Kingdom is not a Kingdom at all without His children in it.  It is not home without you, without me.  He so loves the countless millions He intends to fill His home up with, that association and fellowship have become the treasure He prizes above all else.  The streets of gold are for you to have fun with – your company, is what He is looking forward to with such a passion you can hardly comprehend it.
Peter offers the best his brain can think of.  He immediately assumes the place must be the important thing.  He offers to build three tabernacles, that is, three temples to worship in.  One for Elijah, one for Moses, and one for Jesus.  But Elijah wants no temple, nor does Moses.  The lives of men are not worthy of worship, even those of the great Biblical heroes we admire still today.  It is only Jesus that is worthy of worship.  The cleaned-up versions of Elijah and Moses, depend on Jesus following through with the sacrifice He is still to make.  There is no holiness in Elijah or Moses, that does not first originate in the transformative power of the love of Jesus, which they have fully agreed to accept, even though it will change them completely from who they were, unto who they are at this moment, and every moment going forward.  Peter is too much a baby in the faith to begin to contemplate this yet.  He has not even finished speaking when he is interrupted, by none other, than God the Father who is also present.
Matthew continues in verse 5 saying … “While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. [verse 6] And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.”  God stops Peter in his tracks, there is no need for tabernacles that honor men, not even elaborate temples to honor Jesus, there is ONLY need to listen to what Jesus says.  God the Father appears clouded in a brilliant cloud, barely able to contain the majesty and glory of who He is.  He speaks saying … This is my beloved Son.  Any doubts about the identity of Jesus, or the fact, that this is what His kingdom is and will be are shattered into a million pieces.  God the Father proceeds to acknowledge the life of Jesus to this point, in saying that He is well pleased with His Son.  In case you thought Jesus was ever wrong, let it go.  In case you thought Jesus did not have all the facts, well, one of you might, but it is not Jesus.  God the Father wants you to listen to Jesus His Son.
And in this verse crumbles the entire Muslim faith.  An endorsement of Jesus as the Son of God, and the way by which entry to the Kingdom is attained.  The One God is in three parts, and the Father says, to listen to His Son.  Case closed.  Every other supposed claim to deity is shattered in this one verse.  One God who asks you to listen to His Only Son.  This right here is all you need for salvation.  This Jesus will be all you ever need.  And listening is free.  Just like the transformation Jesus longs to bring to your life, to end the pain and death you embrace, and offer you a life beyond imagination that starts in the here and now, not just after the grave.  And what happens when human men encounter the God of the ages.  They fall flat on their faces and become exceedingly afraid.  The fear in them, is a reflection of the sin in them.  Before Adam fell he looked forward to the walks with Jesus in the Garden of Eden.  But after he fell, he immediately feared allowing his sin to come in to contact with the perfect love of God.  And no matter how good you think you are – the mirror of the Father God – will reveal the truth of how much farther you have yet to go.
Matthew completes this vision of the Kingdom in verse 7 saying … “And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. [verse 8] And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. [verse 9] And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.”  And here in this sequence of verses is the direct interpretation to the last verse of chapter sixteen.  Some of the disciples, still alive, saw Jesus in His Kingdom, with the saved, and with His Father.  A vision not the complete reality, because until the final days, we will remain unable to see God the Father until all our evil has finally been washed away.  But this version does not require a second coming, only a vision of what the end result of the second coming will one day look like.  Not only does it prevent Jesus from being a liar, you don’t have to bounce around scripture looking all over the place to find a convoluted meaning for what it means.  You literally only have to keep reading.  Just a few more verses in sequence.
And in case you thought prophecy had only one meaning … hang on to your hat … Matthew continues in verse 10 saying … “And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? [verse 11] And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. [verse 12] But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. [verse 13] Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.”  Church leadership, and church tradition, and the common people of the church – all believed that the prophecy of the coming of Elijah before the coming of the Messiah was a literal one.  Jesus, here states, no, it was a figurative one.  It was the message of Elijah to restore all things, i.e. for the nation to repent, that was needed to prepare the way of the Lord.  For if we will not repent, we will not submit, we will not allow Jesus to change us, and so keep Jesus at arm’s length (our choice, not His).
In the very next sequence of texts, as if to reinforce the point that we do not always get it right.  Jesus reinterprets what scripture intended to say for the followers willing to listen directly to Jesus, instead of to tradition, or the church leadership to tell them what they should think.  Does Jesus lie?  Only you can answer that for yourself.  But for me, He never has, and I believe He never will.  He simply does not need to lie.  The Truth is who He is.  The Truth is the core of the gospel.  The gospel is not good news based on lies, it is good news founded in a power that can transform you no matter where you are, what you have done, or how you think today.  Submit yourself to Jesus and watch how much better your life gets.  Watch your priorities change.  Watch what you treasure turn to thinks that really matter, and how your treasure keeps growing based in a love you can barely describe.  Watch your interpretation of scripture begin to change, not towards heresy, but towards a fulfillment and proximity to God that only comes from being in harmony with God.  There is no end to the upside, and in all of it, no reason to lie ever again.  No wonder He is called the Truth.  And the Truth had more yet to say …