Friday, May 24, 2013

Seperation Anxiety - Communion (part nine) ...

I am always amazed when I watch the TV reality series Survivor on the night when they reunite loved ones with those participating in the game who have had no contact with family for 4 weeks or more.  The reunions are almost always tearful, emotional, and filled with expressions of love.  The contestants are always sad when family leaves, and the visit carries what appears to be an immense amount of meaning to each of them, season after season after season.  To be separated from love, is a hard thing to endure for a creation made in the image of love.  But to be separated from the source of love is almost beyond comprehension.  It may be that separation from the source of love (God), is the very definition of hell itself.  For if God is the source of love, of life, of joy, of fulfillment, then separation from all those traits leaves only their antithesis – pain, death, misery, and hunger that cannot be filled. 
But this is where mankind is in a difficult position; the disciples had grown accustomed to a physical proximity to Christ (the source of love).  And now, due the fulfillment of His mission, there was going to be physical distance between Him and them, between Him and us.  His mission once fulfilled, there would be time between His first appearing and His second.  We were to be separated once again, at least by His physical proximity, by a physical distance we are unable to transcend.  And separation would be painful for us and for Him.  Anxiety would be natural in this circumstance.  Like those players on the show Survivor who know that family waits for them, and loves them, and misses them – each day of physical separation is difficult to endure.  The reality of that knowledge is not quite the same as the reality of their presence.  That feeling is amplified many fold when it is applied to us and to God.
John continues to relay the communion Christ was having with His disciples on that final night before all the ferocity of the hate of the world would be levied upon Him.  Christ was aware of the great sadness His followers would experience when He was taken from their view.  And so again, thinking nothing of His own comfort, and everything about theirs, even only moments before the pain He would endure; He offers His followers hope in the most hopeless of situations.  John records in chapter 16 of his gospel, beginning in verse 5 … “But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? [verse 6] But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart.”  The reality of separation was near at hand, the anxiety and sadness that would accompany that reality was there as well.  The hopes of the disciples that an earthly anti-Roman kingdom was about to be established were crashing around their ears.  Jesus had never been wrong.  And everything He was saying ran counter to the idea that the Romans were about to be toast.  They were moving at night, alone, with no throngs of admirers, and the idea that Christ would be taken from them was not an appealing one.
Yet even with the impending doom of our separation, something was going to be different this time, than when in the garden Adam and Eve would leave their home and no longer enjoy the daily company of God walking with them in the evenings.  This time when Christ left, a new phenomenon was going to occur.  Jesus continued in verse 7 … “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.”  While Christ was physically with them, and bound in the constraints of His humanity, He could only be with those who were in His immediate presence.  But God is more than what our human constructs can bind.  When He returned to the side of His Father, another part of God would be sent to “Comfort” them.  The Comforter would not be bound by human constructs forcing Him to localize in only one place at a time, or with one believer at a time.  The Comforter would be omni-present, able to be with each of us, no matter where we were in the world, at the same time, all the time.  This ability of God, Christ makes reference Himself as “expedient” for us.  It is more practical, and will be needed more by us, in the time of our physical separation.
Jesus continues in verse 8 … “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: [verse 9] Of sin, because they believe not on me; [verse 10] Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; [verse 11] Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.”  Here Jesus outlines the primary work and mission of the Holy Spirit.  Remember in earlier verses Jesus had said that the Holy Spirit would testify of Him.  Here he captures three significant concepts that are worth a second look.  First, the Holy Spirit or Comforter (remember it is the name Comforter Christ uses in the context of this discussion), will “reprove” the world.  The term reprove might find synonyms in this context, with other words like “correct”, “aid in understanding”, “reveal”, or “identify” to the world.  Notice too, the world is bigger than just those who do not believe, it also includes those who do.  With respect to that, the first task our Comforter takes on relates to sin.  Our sin is identified when we do not believe on Christ.  When we cut off the source of our forgiveness because we refuse to believe in Him, we are left with our sin and no recourse for its pardon.  But our lack of belief has worse consequences; when we refuse to believe in Christ, trusting instead to ourselves, and our own ideas about the removal of sin, we cut ourselves off from the only source who can change our nature, and remove the sin from our desires as well as our actions.  When we do not look at Christ for perfection, we simply do not find perfection at all.  Thus, even when we believe in His forgiveness, we are left struggling with our sins, because we refuse to believe in His ability to perfect us, and save us – from us.
The second task of the Comforter (noting again that the work of a comforter is not supposed to be “bad” or upsetting news to us, but instead something to anticipate or desire) – is the reproval of righteousness because Christ is physically with His Father and we will see Him no more until He returns.  The eternal end to sin itself can come only in one way, through absolute trust in God, and NOT in ourselves.  We who have never seen Him face to face, are given the choice to believe in spite of our lack of “facts” and surety of scientific evidence of His existence.  We are given the choice to believe in His promises, recorded in His word, without benefit of absolute proof they are true.  We trust anyway.  We believe anyway.  Because our belief or lack of belief is a choice we make.  Our righteousness then, can only come when our belief allows Him to remake us, from the sinful creatures we are today, into the creations He intended that love without limit, and serve for the infinite joy that is found in service to others.  That definition of righteousness happens when we choose to believe in what we cannot see, what we cannot prove, what we cannot scientifically be assured is absolutely true beyond doubt.  And this belief and trust in God, is what will keep us from ever finding sin again throughout the eons of time in eternity.  There will be no “second Satan” because the lesson of evil has taught us to rely not on our wisdom, but on His.
The third task of our Comforter is the reproval of “Judgment” itself.  Our trial is over.  Our verdict was guilty.  Our sentence was passed.  And Our Advocate told the Judge that HE would take on our punishment in order that WE might be spared.  And so the “threat” of our judgment is over, done, and no longer hanging over our heads.  Instead, only hope remains for us.  Salvation, forgiveness, and redemption through the sacrifice of our Advocate on our behalf, means the trial has no more meaning to us.  We are past it.  The “great day of judgment” has already been revealed where we are concerned.  We are guilty, there is no escaping that, but our punishment we will escape, because our Judge took it on Himself in order to spare us.  Those who fear standing before God, in a trial of weighing all of the “good deeds” they have done in their lives against all of the “bad deeds” they are decidedly guilty of, have missed the point entirely.  Our “good” will never outweigh our evil.  For one thing, any good that ever came from us, came through us as we submitted our will to Christ.  Therefore it is not “our” good in the first place.  Second, our evil is as much a part of us as is our DNA, unless again we submit ourselves, including our decisions, our desires, even our thinking back to Christ in order to be remade.  When we are remade it is not evil that is natural to us, but repugnant to us, and only love is what we seek.  In this, our Comforter actually brings us comfort.  We need not fear a judgment that is already past, done, and over.  Instead we can accept His gift, of transformation and the removal of pain and death from our lives and existence.
It is a profound mystery to me, that Christians believe it to be their job to “judge the world” and “judge others” and “judge sin” when they have never been given this task to perform.  Even our Comforter comes to “correct” our ideas on these topics, and offer us hope through Jesus Christ.  He does not condemn us, as it is evil that has been judged, and salvation that is found in Jesus Christ.  Jesus does not constrict His offer of salvation only to men, or the young, or the healthy, or the perfect, or those who are straight or gay, or have abstained from adultery or addiction.  The condition we find ourselves in prior to accepting His salvation is ALWAYS one of self-inflicted pain.  This is the very condition He longs to free us from.  Our lives AFTER we allow Him to transform us will be different, and will find us more fulfilled, with different wants, needs, and attitude on what it means to love and serve.  It has never been the job of the Christian to judge, it has always only been the “job” of the Christian to love.  And when we are transformed, it is no “job” to love, and no “commandment” to love, instead His love is “who” we are, it is then natural for us to love.
Again what Jesus is offering His disciples, what is in fact expedient for them and us, is this Comforter, who does these 3 tasks, and enlightens our world through them.  He brings us Comfort through these tasks, not condemnation, reproach, or doom.  The point of His work, is to provide us Comfort and in these areas we should see the hope He brings.  Jesus assesses the situation and continues in verse 12 … “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.”  Already the anxiety of losing their Lord was setting in.  They were unprepared to hear any more news that was not happy in nature.  Like we are today, we get mired in the reality of our day-to-day, and it is hard for us to see the bigger picture because we define our lives by the here and the now.  But the words Christ wished to communicate would be delivered.
Jesus continues in verse 13 … “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.”  Here we go again.  When God, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit is come to us, he does NOT speak of Himself.  He is here to serve our needs, see to our comfort, and educate us into “all” truth.  God is always serving others, in this case, His creations.  He never seems to serve Himself.  The mission of the Holy Spirit is not to educate us on who He is right now, but instead on who Christ is.  He passes on to us the things He hears in heaven, the messages Christ wanted to communicate with us, but we were unable to bear.  It takes time to build trust with anyone.  If in the first encounter with God, Abraham had been asked to kill his only son, he would likely have declined.  It takes great trust to act against our own interests, logic, wisdom, and feelings, and do what God asks us to do.  This is not something we do overnight, but it becomes something we do over a lifetime, as we yield ourselves to Him.  When we first encounter God, we may not be willing to let go of our most cherished sin, but over time with Him, we realize the sin we cherish, is the sin that is destroying us and causing us the most pain in the here and now.  When once we may not have been able to bear the news that we would be losing that most cherished sin, we come to the point where we long to be free of it, and then mystified that it was ever a part of our desire and lives in the first place.  This too is the work of the Holy Spirit on each of us, unique to each of us.
Jesus continues in verse 14 … “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. [verse 15] All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.”  Here is the union of the Godhead presented in the continuing mission to save us from the evil we embrace.  The Holy Spirit does NOT glorify Himself, instead only glorifying Christ.  Indeed the acts of love the Holy Spirit performs for us, are on behalf of Christ, and at the will of the Father.  We all belong to the Father, and He shares us all with His son.  Notice that the Father holds nothing back from His son.  He retains no ownership of even His most precious treasures, us, from the Son which He loves so much.  He holds no acts of love back from us, the objects of His so great love.  For God does not value ownership and possession, He values service and gifts and acts of love He is able to perform for us, and for all the creations He made and loves.  Those truths we still need to hear from Christ, are delivered to us through the mechanism of His co-partner in our redemption, the Holy Spirit.
Jesus then must tell them what is to come (once again), but He is no longer able to be so direct.  Instead He elects to speak more in the context of a proverb, to some extent a riddle, or saying, that carries meaning, but is not quite as blunt.  It would give His followers time to process what He was saying, and a memory of when He said it.  Its full meaning would become clear later, while the timing of what He said would carry more weight because of when He said it.  Note that John is recording all these words of communion with Christ between the time of the Last Supper and the time of His final betrayal in the Garden they were likely already within.  Jesus now tells them in verse 16 … “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.”  With the benefit of hindsight, we know Christ was referring to His impending death, when in just a little while they would not see Him.  Then after His resurrection they would seem him again.  Then He would go to His Father.  One might also surmise He meant that His time with them on earth was to be short, but it would only be a little while of separation before they would spend eternity with Him in Heaven with His Father.  But the use of this phrasing was by intent, to offer them and us something to ponder.
In verses 17 to 19, the disciples try to determine what He means, but cannot and need Him to help them out a bit more.  So Jesus elects to use the analogy of a pregnancy.  Labor is hard, difficult, painful, but what it results in, is so joyful, that the memory of the pain quickly fades for the joy of what has been born.  Our separation from Christ is hard, difficult, and painful.  Our process for salvation may appear that way to us as well at first, as we cling to the notions of accomplishing it ourselves.  But what is born within us brings us great joy.  The things the world rejoices in, we will find, cause us sorrow.  But our sorrow will be short lived, as what God does for us, in transforming us, bears a result that makes us forget the pain we once endured from the world.  In verse 22, Jesus affirms once again, that the final results of will happen to us, and for us, will bring a joy that can never be taken from us again.
But communion was not over yet …

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Only Thing Evil Knows - Communion (part eight) ...

When once you turn away from the light, the only alternative left to you is darkness.  When once you turn away from love, hate is the destiny you embrace.  Lucifer was created in the perfection of service and love to others.  His position was once third highest in all of creation, he stood at the left hand of the Father.  He was unaware of a distinction between himself and Christ, because the love of God towards others so was full there had never been a reason to measure it before.  But within this perfection, Lucifer reasoned that perhaps existence did not require this method to maintain perfection.  Perhaps an alternative was possible that would simply result in a “different” perfection than the one God setup.  He broke trust with God, and put his trust in the power of his own intellect and will.  He continued on his path, until the point where he could not be saved, because he would not be saved.  And there was war in heaven.  When once he knew only love and harmony, he would now be willing to introduce war and death into heaven itself.  Love had turned to hate, as trust was irrevocably broken.  Evil was born into the universe, and the opposite of love was defined for all sentient life to witness in horror; hate had come.
Lucifer became Satan.  The archangel became the devil.  A universe of perfect love to others, had been corrupted into a self-absorbed, self-focused, acquire-at-all-costs emptiness that could never be filled.  To look back at the perfect peace unfallen beings maintained, and witness the perfect love of service the unfallen beings lived, elicits only one response in the fallen – hate.  It is torture to live in self-inflicted pain while witnessing the unbridled joy of another.  Their peace only fuels the passionate hatred of the one who will not let his own misery go.  That impossible focus on self, only deepens the hatred for everything, when seen against the perfection of love and service and joy that is unavoidable from living as God ordained.  So when evil encounters love, its response must be one of two – submit to love and embrace it, or resist love and respond in hate.  As love is more powerful than hate, it requires more determination to hate, more anger to maintain, more energy to resist.  It requires an unrelenting choice to keep up the hate.  But for one who will not trust to anyone other than self, it is the only choice to be made despite its difficulty.
This was the reaction of the religious leadership of the day, to the Messiah they had waited for so long to see.  This was the response of the wicked and fallen angels to the arrival of Christ, who lived His life in perfect service and love.  The only thing evil knows to do when confronted with love, is to hate.  If one lets go of hate even momentarily one may be drawn to a love that would not let you go, one that would free you from hate, so as never to return to the power of its embrace.  That kind of redemptive love is what Christ introduced into our reality.  And the Pharisees hated Him for it.  The very redemptive love He offered to all, even to them, was refused because it required submission, it required an acceptance that indeed they did not know it all.  They were not the final arbiters of truth, they were witness to truth incarnate in the humble life of this servant of all.  This they could not, and would not accept.  So they responded to love with hate.  The learned elders of the one true religion, became the biggest proponents of hate in the very name of that religion.  The Pharisees would seek to kill the author of love, rather than be remade by that love.  Are we any different?  Do we prefer ourselves the way we are, than to be remade by Him and perhaps lose parts of ourselves we hold dear?  Do we carry placards that espouse love that transforms or hate that condemns?
John records the words of Christ now in chapter 15, as they near or perhaps enter the garden of Gethsemane.  Judas is not with them as he is already leading those who intend to kill love to their target.  Time is very short.  So Christ tries to explain the mystery of iniquity and hate to His followers so that they will not be surprised by what they encounter.  In verse 18 He explains … “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. [verse 19] If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”  Evil hates love.  When we reflect the love of Christ to others, we should not expect to see love returned as it would be in perfection.  Rather we should expect to see hatred, for evil struggles to the death to hold on and resist the love of God.  When we find ourselves in disfavor with society, when we are punished for the acts of love we do on behalf of another, when our reputations are mud for the sake of our relentless love in action – it is because evil resists the power of God who loves. 
However, when the world seems to have no problem with us; when we present no threat to it; when we are every bit as angry, and hostile, and judgmental as our accuser is; we can and will be loved by the world.  Satan has no problem with our hateful speech, couched in the name of God – that is a technique he pioneered for us.  Our Pharisee forefathers killed God in an effort to keep religion pure.  So when we hold our signs and placards that condemn the world for its sins, we join with Satan in persecuting those in the deepest need of His love; so pushing them farther from it, while carrying and maligning the name of Christ, and of Christians.  This activity brings little condemnation from the world, because the world is steeped in evil and loves the hypocrisy of accusing others while being every bit as guilty in our own hearts and desires.  But, by contrast, when we love unconditionally and without reservation, to those who no-one else would dare to love – we present a real and present threat to the kingdom of evil and hate.  It is then that we are out of harmony with the kingdom of evil and hate, and must be “dealt with”.  For if left unchecked, a love without reservation or limitation, that is only consumed with the benefit of another, has the power to change lives, hearts, minds, and wills and could make converts to the kingdom of Christ.  When these converts discover the freeing power of love, the salvation Christ does to liberate and change them from their former selves into servants equipped with the power of transformative love – the kingdom of evil loses a soul forever to the power of God’s love.  Thus when we love like Christ loved, we become hated quickly by the world.
Jesus continues in verse 20 … “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.”  When we serve God we encounter those who have refused Him, and thus will refuse us as well.  Be they church leaders at the highest levels, or desperate sinners at the lowest rungs of society, those who refuse God and His love, will not accept our own any better.  But those who hear the voice of the Lord, will make themselves humble enough to hear His voice through His servants in whatever form that comes.  It is not only through a preacher that the word of God is offered.  It is offered through the mouth of the child, who can barely grasp the depth of the words they speak.  It is offered through the mouth of the downs-syndrome-afflicted who understands love so well, but intellect so little.  It is offered through the mouth of the sick and the dying as they face what we all fear, and now understand what is truly important.  If we are humble enough to hear it, we can ignore the faults and imperfections of the vessel, and instead hear only the pure word of God spoken in love regardless of its source.  It is not the denomination, or age, or gender, or sexual orientation, or known history of sin that either qualifies or disqualifies a person from speaking the truth of our God – it is instead only the content of what they say, and the love in which they say it, that either offers us the word of God, or the folly of men.  It is instead our arrogance that predetermines “who” is qualified to speak for God, and our standards lead us to miss His words, in favor of those that please our own ears.
Jesus continued in verse 21 … “But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me.”  In the days of Christ as well as in ours, there will be those who refuse to accept Jesus as Lord.  To identify Christ as the Son of God, is to invite persecution – either from within the church as we transfer the attention away from traditions and self-reliance and on to Christ – or outside of the church as we identify the real meaning of love and not  the perversion of self-service the devils offers as its poor substitute.  Those who do not know God, do not know love, and evil has only one response to love.  Jesus further states in verse 22 … “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin.”  In the days of the Pharisees Christ had spoken in their presence, they bore witness to His love, and therefore had no excuse to cloke their sin.  In our day, the love of the Lord is no less present.  We do not casually live our lives in blissful ignorance of the love of God, instead the love of God to redeem us is constantly offered, and we must by conscious choice ignore and disregard it.  So what was true for our Pharisee forefathers will be no less true for ourselves.
Jesus states in verse 23 … “He that hateth me hateth my Father also.”  There is no subdividing God.  There are not many pathways to God.  There are not many deities that can legitimately claim to be God.  There is only one God.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – three who are united in purpose and one.  To hate one of them, is to hate all of them.  You cannot hate one third of God, but love another third.  To love God, is to accept God as He is.  We do not get the choice of picking and choosing which parts of God we think are real and worth loving or not.  For if Christ always did the will of His Father, who is it we truly hate – the God who performed the miracles, or the God who ordained them to be performed?  Those who offer Buddha, or Krishna, or Mohammed, or any other purported deity to augment the place of God, offer only false ideologies that cannot find truth in the reality of who God is.  The Father cannot be separated from the Son.  To deny the divinity of the Son, is to deny the divinity of the Father, for it was the Father’s own voice who proclaimed Christ as His own Son, and who empowered Christ to bend the rules of physics to heal and create, and restore all the countless broken ones he encountered during His life here on earth.  It is both Father AND Son who are united in the plans for our redemption and salvation.
Jesus offers evidence again in verse 24 … “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.”  The miracles of Christ should have been enough to prove His divinity.  He created food where there was none.  He healed diseases and birth defects and the demon possessed.   He woke Lazarus from the grave after 4 days of decomposition.  Every act of love for another should have been more than ample evidence of His divinity.  To require more “proof” is empty words, proof and truth were already there for those who did not refuse to see.  Jesus continues in verse 25 … “But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.”  The rejection of Christ had been foretold.  It was even sadder still though, that this prophecy found fulfillment in the leadership of His own religion and faith, instead of merely in the government of Rome and the world.  I wonder if our modern Christian churches are any different.  Do we too reject Christ as the author and finisher of our salvation, choosing like Lucifer to put our trust in our own wisdom, logic, interpretation, and will power to save us from our sins?
Jesus then tells His followers, that for them even more evidence will be received in verse 26 He continues … “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: [verse 27] And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.”  The Holy Spirit will come to His followers and continue to declare in the Truth of the Father, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and source of our salvation.  The Holy Spirit does not disagree with the accounts of scripture, rather He verifies them.  The miracles the disciples would perform were not of their own strength, but done in the name of Jesus Christ, by the power of God.  If the life of Christ were a lie, if He were not our God, His name would have no effect.  We could not break the rules of physics and modern medicine by the power of our own names, or the random name of some mere historical figure, even if that figure was a “good man” or known to be a “prophet”.  But the name of Christ, and the power of love of God that He embodies, has seen the impossible become possible.  To be made free from the addiction of sin and self is in itself a miracle we will never fully understand, for it is His work in us, and none of our own, that sees it accomplished.
Jesus continues and wraps up this part of His communion on the responses the disciples should expect in chapter 16 starting in verse one … “These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. [verse 2] They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.”  The worst irony, the saddest expectation, would be that the center of persecution would not be in the world, but within the church.  It would be those who favor religious zealotry, over actual love for others, who would be most willing and eager to kill in the name of God.  The Romans would hardly care less which God you worship as long as you paid your taxes and did not attempt rebellion.  In this, Christians were wholly compliant.  But the Jews believed the introduction of the doctrine of the Messiah having been fulfilled was the destruction of their faith, traditions, and powerbase, thus to kill to end this “heresy” would become a top priority within the faith.  Christ explains all of this to his disciples in advance.  He explains why they will do this in verse 3 … “And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.”
Here the message of Christ is powerful both then and now.  Those who would hate or kill in the name of God DO NOT KNOW GOD at all.  They neither know God the Father, or God the Son.  Those who respond to love with evil and hate, know only evil and hate.  God does not kill those who disagree with Him.  If that were true Satan would simply have never existed.  Instead God creates all with freedom to choose to trust and love or not.  God does not change who He is, instead He attempts to lure us back to Him with the power of His so great love.  He does not kill us all because we sin, or have sinned.  Instead He looks to free us from our sin, and offer us love and joy in its place.  He takes pain and death away from us, and offers us life and love instead.  Those who offer death for disobedience follow the doctrines of Satan alone, not of our God.  It is Satan who kills those who disagree with him, or disobey him, or fall away from his cause.  God attempts to redeem the lost.  Satan would kill any who stray from his cause of evil.  The religious zealots of the time of Christ who kill in the name of God, were doing so at the express desire of Satan himself.  The religious zealots of today who espouse hate to those still caught in sin, follow the same path of Satan, and do nothing to advance the cause of God or the redemption those sin-sick souls are in such desperate need of.  Only love will ever reach them, hate and death will accomplish nothing.
Jesus concludes his predictions by stating one last time in verse 4 … “But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you.”  Everything He was telling them was prophetic, and true, and would help prepare them for the future they faced.  The message is every bit as relevant for us today as it was then.  When we are transformed by the love of Christ, we will become different people than what we were.  We will value different things, love differently, want different things.  When we begin to reflect the love of Christ through us more perfectly, we will draw the ire of the world around us.  Satan will not leave us free to love as Christ loved without making every attempt to draw us away from Christ.  He will tell us that “we” have accomplished our spiritual awakening by our own great power and intellect.  He will do everything he can to convince us that even our religious life is about us, our salvation attributable to our works and will power and understanding of scripture.  He will do anything he can to keep us from focusing on Christ.  We cannot expect a life of ease as a servant of love.  Instead we can expect a life of hardship, and of perfect peace, contentment, fulfillment, and joy.  For it is not our conditions that define our responses, it is the power of His love within us.  We will find perfection from the work He does.  We will find peace in KNOWING that it is He who saves us from the people we once were.  Our salvation is His gift to us, and the way we love is also the result of His gifts.  Nothing can take that away, whether from within our churches, or outside of them.
And communion was not over yet …

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Long Walk - Communion (part seven) ...

How does creation work?  Perhaps of more interest, how does re-creation work?  When once I have made such a wreck of my life; how can my life ever become something else, something better, something worth living?   This is the essence of the question, how does salvation work.  Despite our repeated attempts at making ourselves “better”, trying to “do good”, trying “not to sin”, we find ourselves back on our knees again, defeated not by the devil, but by our own desires we are unable to change, diminish, or overcome.  If this pattern is ever to change, it must come from a source outside of ourselves, as we have demonstrated again and again our own ineptitude at accomplishing it.  So perhaps the most important question the lost must find an answer to, is “how can we be truly saved, truly transformed, truly remade?”  Jesus knew our need in this regard.  With time winding down, He takes a slow pace with His disciples walking to the Garden of Gethsemane.  He must answer this question for His disciples, and for us.  Time was so short by then; it may be the outskirts of the Garden were already near enough to see.
John remembers in great detail the words of Christ on the long walk to the Garden.  There was so little time left.  But in chapter 15 he remembers the words of Christ, the answer to the question, “how” do we become remade as in verse one Jesus continues … “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. [verse 2] Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”  First Jesus identifies Himself as the “true vine”.  In this analogy Jesus would be the source of life.  Nothing would live without a connection with Him.  To reject the source of life is to find that bearing fruit is simply not possible.  But perhaps the next most interesting concept is that in this analogy Jesus identifies His Father as the Gardener.  In times past Jesus has said that it is His Father who brings people to Him, draws people to Him, gives people to Him.  It is the will of His Father that ALL mankind would choose to accept the vine and the life that it brings and be saved.  But for those who refuse to accept the source of their salvation is Christ, for those who believe it can be done through their own power, or through some other way that is not founded on a connection with the vine, the Father removes those branches.  But then an even more interesting phenomenon occurs, for those who do accept that salvation comes not from themselves but from Christ alone, the Father prunes them.
Pieces of the branches that do accept the vine and are bearing fruit are STILL pruned.  Parts of them are removed, but the parts that are removed, cause them to grow even more and bear even more fruit.  Remember it is Christ who “is” the true vine.  Our ability to bear fruit at all comes from a submission to the vine, not because we try to take root on our own.  But even when we do accept and bear fruit, the work of perfecting us, is STILL not our own.  It is the work of God the Father.  And for us to reach the perfection He intends, there are pieces of ourselves that NEED to be removed.  Most of us as plants would be perfectly contented to be bearing fruit at all, and believe we need the parts we have in order to do so.  But here is Christ teaching us we are mistaken.  To be perfected, we must trust the Gardener.  We must allow the Gardener to remove even the parts we thought we needed or wanted or liked, and let the Gardener decide those things.  Here is the world’s anthem of “be true to yourself” turned on its head.  It is not “self” we must be true to, for “self” is to be wholly remade into something else.  It is the “vine” and the connection to the Vine we need to be true to; and to the Gardener who alone knows how we must be remade.  It becomes our goal to see the destruction of the “self” we have made, and watch as the Gardener creates a new “self” He intended us to be.
With the garden ever closer Jesus continues in verse 3 … “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. [verse 4] Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.”  We are clean, ONLY when we abide in Christ.  It is our connection to the source of life, that brings life to us.  It is our connection only to Christ that can see us transformed from who we were.  Branches without a connection to the vine simply do not bear fruit, they are not alive, they are dead.  Branches who try to do it themselves produce nothing.  This is something even the Christian community is reluctant to accept: That we do nothing in this process, except maintain a connection to the Vine, and even that work is done by the Gardener (God the Father) on our behalf.  Our only function is to choose to allow it occur; not to facilitate its occurrence.  Christ provides the life, the Father removes and prunes from us what must be taken, and the fruit that grows is a result of our transformation, not a prerequisite to it, or a result of anything we have done.  The work is simply not our own.
Jesus continues in verse 5 … “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. [verse 6] If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”  When we seek to abide in Christ, when we look not to ourselves and instead trust in Him to save us from ourselves, we bear much fruit.  It is the natural consequence of embracing Christ and the salvation He offers.  But when we look away from Christ, trusting to ourselves, our own ideas about salvation and the interpretation of scripture and doctrine, when we replace Christ with self-reliance, we die.  Our spiritual strength is not determined by self, or any actions we take.  It is determined by how much we embrace the Vine of Christ, the life He offers, and the salvation His Father the Gardener is allowed to perform upon us.  We can “try” to do good works on our own, we can “try” to control our actions, but we do not change who we are inside, and without a connection to the source of life we dry up and die; all of our self-efforts amounting to nothing.  At that point we are only good for kindling.  Our vitality, our spiritual vitality, is determined by being connected to Christ, and allowing our Gardener to do His work within us.
Jesus continues the analogy in verse 7 … “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. [verse 8] Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.”  When we are transformed by the love and power of Christ, we become someone else, someone new, someone different than who we were.  We want different things.  We love others differently than we did.  We value different things.  What we ask for is now different than it was before, because we are no longer as interested in winning the PowerBall lottery and having a life of ease, as we are in winning one single precious soul into the kingdom of heaven.  That one life will be worth more to us than the hundreds of millions of dollars we once put so much value in.  The illusions of doing good with our wealth, are replaced with the reality of doing good for another of an eternal variety.  Pointing a soul to Christ, to the connection to the Vine, and KNOWING that Christ will save that soul no matter what it looks like to you and me; is worth more than winning every lottery since the history of lotteries were invented.  This is how God values people.  We are priceless to Him.  Money is meaningless to Him.  That kind of abandonment of self-interest is not natural to us in our carnal state.  It can only be achieved when we allow Him to prune our lives and hearts and minds and replace our self-focus, with a focus on loving others.  When we allow Him this work, we begin to bear REAL fruit.  We lose interest in great wealth of financial means, and find great wealth in the salvation of even a single soul.  It is not just all of us who are precious to Him, but each of us.
Jesus now reveals the core of who He is, and who the Father is in verse 9 He continues … “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.”  The essence of who God the Father is, is love.  It is the continuation of love, the expression of love, the connection to love, the abounding of love that defines the life of Christ, and the will of God His Father.  God reveals to us that He does not love Himself, but rather He loves others.  God the Father loves His Son and us, not Himself.  He does not spend His energy trying to please Himself, but instead spends His energy saving us.  Jesus while walking to the Garden, with the full knowledge He will be betrayed there by one He loved, does not think to love Himself, but only still to love us.  It is a love that seeks the best interests of its objects, not of itself that Christ has so clearly defined by His life, actions, words, motives, and example to us.  Christ and God the Father are love incarnate, and love defined.  It is then love above all else, that Christ wishes for us to participate and continue in.
Jesus continues in verse 10 … “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.”  Love is what commandments are all about.  Love is what salvation is all about.  Love is what God is all about.  Love for others is how we connect with God.  It is impossible to truly love someone else and then seek to do them harm.  It is impossible to love others greater than yourself and then choose to take actions to please yourself while knowing those actions will displease another.  When you love someone else with all your heart and mind, you seek their best interests ahead of your own no matter what the personal consequences.  Sacrifice is not even deemed sacrifice when it is done for the object of your love.  This was the mind of Christ, and heart of God.  Love for others was the embodiment of His life’s example, and was supposed to be defined in His commandments to us.  Somehow it has become easier for Christians to focus on a list of do’s and don’ts and attempt to prescribe detailed behaviors that can comply with the letter of the law, than to embrace the love behind the law that would radically alter not just what we do, but how we think.
Jesus tells us then why love is so important to us in verse 11 … “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”  When a life is based on love for others, not for self, that life becomes one of great joy.  This is why the life of God is one worth living, He finds His own joy in loving us.  We find His joy within us, as we love others.  Lucifer’s perversion of turning love inwards and focusing on self, turned love into evil, and life into death.  If we are to escape evil, pain, and death, we must learn what it really means to love, and love is not defined inwardly, but only as it is expressed outwardly to another, to someone else.  It is that kind of power love has, to turn an enemy into the closest of friends.  It is that kind of power love has, to redeem and forgive we who were lost, because He loved us all just that much.
Jesus then re-summarizes all of scripture, all commandments, the point of all the stories, the point of life itself and expresses again to His disciples in verse 12 … “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”  Notice the absolute absence of doctrine in this summarization of what Christ asks of us.  Notice the absolute lack of judgment on His part, or required of us on each other, in what Christ asks of us.  He does not specify the conditions under which we should love each other, i.e. only after we are pure, forgiven, living under a certain set of expectations, with a pure doctrinal understanding of scripture.  These men before Him were still under the misguided belief that He was there to setup an anti-Roman earthly kingdom that would never die.  They were all still mistaken about the most fundamental doctrine of the Jewish faith, and still planning to profit personally from Jesus fulfilling the misguided expectations.  Their lack of doctrinal understanding was mind-blowing, and yet fully unimportant to Christ with respect to what was truly important – that they love each other.  He did not give them a list of things to do or not do.  But instead He gave them a principle, or a value, or an action that would exceed any list of do’s or don’ts.  There would be no limit to how much we could love each other.
In contrast to lists that can barely scratch at the surface of what it means to love another Christ offers a scale by which love could be measured in verse 13 … “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  Christ is telling them that even life itself is not so precious as love for others.  If it comes down to a choice of life or of love, Christ will choose love.  This is the measure by which love for us was measured out.  And even with the conscious choice that Christ will lay down His life for them, He is still ceaselessly looking to their interests, their comfort, their concerns, despite the long walk to the Garden of Gethsemane.  It is perhaps ironic that the first temptation and test of trust was made in a garden, and now the last one, the last struggle will occur in a garden as well.  But even in this dire situation, with time running out, Christ is still focused on the needs of his faithful few.  He now begins to break with rabbinical traditions, and societal expectations.  As he continues with them in verse 14 … “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. [verse 15] Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”
Even though He is our Lord, and rightfully so, He elevates us from the status of servants to the status of friends.  “Friends” implies community, equality, and peer participation.  Though we will never be equal to Christ in any way, shape, or form, in spite of this fact, He still thinks of us in the manner of being His friends.  When we allow His love to bear fruit within us, when we become part of the vine, He does not just consider us branches that bear fruit, but instead, friends that are united in purpose with the vine itself.  Christ is still the source of life in the vine, yet now, He thinks of us as His friends; for while we love others as greatly as He loves us, we are more than we used to be.  We are more than mere servants who follow blindly, instead He reveals to us our shared goals, the secrets of how our goals will be achieved, the truths of motives of our Father God.  Christ offers us, His friends, the full revelation of WHO we serve, and what it means to participate in service, and why service is joy.  The revelation He offers us is stunning.  And the status with which He thinks of us is more stunning.  To be thought of as friends of God, despite who we really are, is yet another measure of the power of love, His love.
But communion was not over just yet …

Saturday, May 4, 2013

To Find Peace - Communion (part six) ...

Imagine the stress of knowing that only in just an hour or two, you are to be tortured, extensively.  Many prisoners break, just under the very threat of imminent torture.  Imagine it even worse, that you have absolute assurance that at the end of this torture, there is no hope; you will for certain be killed.  Those who you love will be stripped away from you.  Your life may be unappreciated.  Your legacy unfulfilled.  No certainty that anything you have ever done, will matter.  Now with this weight upon your mind, with the stress of this certainty impacting you as much as perhaps any stress, ever could … John records the words of Christ is this situation as he continues in chapter 14 and verse 27 Jesus says to those few who have been with him so long … “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Under the maximum stress possible here is Christ speaking of peace.  Not only is He speaking of peace, He is offering it to His disciples as yet another gift.  A gift, not the like world gives, with preconditions, or on a temporary basis, or something that flees in the face of torture and death, but something that exists despite those realities.  Peace.  Peace that can keep the stress in our hearts from causing us fear.  And here is the transcendent beauty of His peace, the reasons we might fear are real, but His peace is GREATER than our reality.  So often when confronted with our own mortality, with health problems, or accidents, or the evil actions of others that take from us so much – our first question is to ask why “bad” things happen to “good” people?  We may go so far as to blame God for permitting tragedy to come our way.  But this thinking does not bring us peace, it only adds to our stress.  Blaming God, and focusing on the reality of our trauma, does nothing to make us “feel” better, it can only deepen our misery.  For the reality of our mortality is not in dispute – we ALL die.  We ALL suffer.  We ALL face a world that is not in harmony with our Lord, and will often demonstrate just how far out of harmony it is with love, by showing us the pain of its hatred.
So how is it that Christ facing just such injustice and pain and the certainty of death was not asking “why me?” but instead was focused on “peace”?  Not only did He exhibit no visible signs of fear, He was actually focused on comforting His disciples, none of which was facing the real threat He was.  It was Jesus who would soon feel the shards of glass embedded in the Roman whip across his back and flesh tearing bits of it away from him as the lash recoiled.  It was Jesus who was to feel the incredible pain as a woven crown of thorns several inches in length and razor sharp was pushed into his head, piercing his flesh on all sides and adding to the pain of His body.  It was Jesus who would be faint from the loss of blood.  This level of torture was certain.  The pain was real.  It was nothing to look forward to, and would cause most of us to shudder in terror.  Yet He was unafraid facing this reality, and instead able to discuss peace with His disciples.
Herein is the key.  It is not our reality that must change in order for us to have peace.  It is our connection with Christ no matter what our reality is, that can establish peace within us.  We are human.  We do suffer, and we do die.  But the pain evil has brought with it into the universe, and into us, is not the ruler of our greater destiny.  Our death will not be eternal.  Our suffering will not last forever.  For through the power of His so great love, His sacrifice pays the eternal penalties we should have earned, and with his stripes, we are healed.  Peace is possible when seen through the eyes of the more important.  The 70-90 years we spend on this earth are nothing, next to the millions of years, we will spend in a place where pain lives no more.  The child of this earth who is taken too early, and misses the life he might have had here, will find growing up at the side of Christ, and in the company of generations of family he never met, a much more pleasing situation than anything he would have faced here on this sin-diseased world.
When we see our own lives through the lens of eternity, peace is able to take hold, where only pain lived before.  When though we face a tragedy that will be very real to us, and likely cause our mortal death, we can look beyond it – and focus on the needs of others even while under imminent threat, we find a peace that love brings that nothing can shake.  Christ was not focused on fear for the things that were to happen to Him; because He was so focused on the comfort of those who He knew would miss Him so much.  His whole concern and the communion He was engaged in, was designed only to bring them peace and assuage their fears.  He was not thinking of Himself, even though He was the one about to die.  For Love can beat death.  It is why He thought to save us, and how He thought to save us.  His sacrifice was merely a love in action that would bring about the redemption of the child He had lost by the will of that child’s choice.  Love would prove greater than evil.  Love would prove greater than even justice.  For love would offer us something that we would never deserve.  And love thinks not of itself.  This is why under the worst conditions we could possibly imagine, He is not focused on the fear He might feel for Himself, and is instead fully focused on the objects of His love.   Jesus did not love Himself, He loved us.
That is a peace our carnal minds can hardly comprehend.  A peace that comes from the complete ignoring of our own needs and realities, and maintains fully focused on the objects of our love despite what is about to happen to us.  This gift is nothing like what the world is capable of giving, because the world is obsessed only with itself.  When my carnal needs and perceptions of what I want become my focus, I care less about how they impact you.  At some point, I lose complete interest in your needs, and pursue only what I believe I want or need; and the consequences to others becomes irrelevant.  I rationalize to myself that my own need is greater, and so sin is born into the universe again within me.  The world has no concept of peace under this direction.  “Peace” the world offers can only be defined as not getting caught for long enough to enjoy the things I have taken at the expense of another.  But there is no real peace, and no real enjoyment, and no real satisfaction, only the pursuit of even more things.  It is an empty cycle that has no end until death relieves it.  Whereas the peace Christ offers is not founded on what brings Him comfort, but on making us comfortable instead.  His peace is not looking inwards to the reality of what He faces, but outwards to the impacts His own suffering will have on those He loves.  He is ever looking away from Himself and His own suffering, and always on the needs of those He loves, even when torture and death itself are upon Him.
When you love this much, when this is “who” you are, there is nothing the world can do to take the peace of Christ from you.  This is the gift He offers us through the power of His transformative love.  He can change us from the creatures who focus only on the guy in the mirror, into creations that focus on reflecting His so great love to everyone we encounter.  That transition takes from us our self-inflicted-stress, and replaces it with divinely-gifted-peace and a sense of fulfillment no matter what comes.  Our reality will always be our reality.  But our reality does not control or govern our ability to accept His peace.  This was the Peace He offered to those who sat in that room.  He tells them they have no need to be afraid, or to allow their hearts to be troubled (perplexed, stressed, overwhelmed, pick your synonym).  His peace will be their gift.
Jesus continues in verse 28 … “Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.”  Jesus recognizes that His departure from those He loves, will be something that in our human perspective will cause us sadness.  But again He is looking at the greater good, again He is looking at the bigger picture.  Yes, He will depart from them after His death, but it is because He will be ascending to His Father to see if the sacrifice He has made will be sufficient to redeem our punishment.  And He has faith that it will.  He continues in verse 29 … “And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.”  Jesus is using His prophetic foretelling of these events to help build surety in the minds of the disciples, as when they occur, they could remember His words, and know that He must be speaking the truth.
Jesus closes out the dinner setting with the words of verse 30 … “Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. [verse 31] But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence.”  Satan would be coming to accuse Christ of all manner of crimes but would have no basis for any of them.  Time was growing even shorter now, so Christ asks His disciples to rise and leave with Him.  They begin a walk towards the garden of Gethsemane.  But even while they are walking there is still some important things that must be conveyed.  The most important message Christ and His Father God have in mind for them to hear and understand.  So on the long walk to a place of prayer and struggling, Christ would continue His communion with them, for it was not over yet …