Saturday, November 28, 2015

Secret Missions [part one] ...

Imagine having a true political mandate from the people.  In our day, politicians on both sides of the aisle, always like to claim to have had a political mandate that got them elected.  “The people have spoken” is an oft cited phrase, even though our country is split nearly equally down the middle with nearly as many people voting against something, as voting for it.  A true consensus that crosses ideological, religious, ethnic, and cultural boundaries is something as rare as seeing a falling star.  It is possible, but rare indeed.  But can you imagine the absolute boundless joy that would occur in the heart of Donald Trump, or Hilary Clinton, if the next polls showed literally 100% of the people favoring one of them for president?  They (like us) would be almost certain to question the validity of the poll.  It has never happened in American politics.  We have never reached a unanimous consensus on who should be our next president.  It would be unprecedented (and given current polls, impossible in this election once again).  Imagine the heart failure in the losing party headquarters if 100% of the people voted for only one candidate.  Imagine the vanity in the headquarters of the winning party.  They would eat it up.  They would long for their coronation, or rather inauguration.
Do you think the winner, in a landslide like this, might be tempted to propose amendments to our constitution in order to end term-limits?  After all, wouldn’t something like a 100% victory be the political mandate someone needs to go from a limit of 8 years, to a limit of a lifetime?  How tempting would it be, with 100% support of the common people, to become king?  What if they wanted you to be king?  What if they demanded that you become king, even if you did not really want the position?  This … was the “problem” Jesus faced.  Despite how Trump, or Clinton might react, our God, our Lord, our Savior has a different mission.  Jesus could have easily become an earthly king in Israel, in point of fact, the people were constantly trying to force Him into it.  Jesus had the biggest political mandate since creation, by the nation He had come to bear witness to of the Father’s love, to become its next king.  Everyone would have followed Him.  In the minds of the people, this was supposed to be the ultimate goal of the Messiah in the first place.  They were less interested in the Father’s love, and more interested in political dominance, and breaking the yoke of pagan Roman oppression.  It made sense religiously, to replace paganism with Judaism.  It made sense to stop human sacrifice for sport in the arenas, or on crosses along the highways to inspire fear, and only sacrifice sheep instead.
There was nothing Godly about the Roman empire, how it ruled, or how it oppressed the world.  It was a pagan empire, who worshipped sex, greed, and control.  It was the most powerful kingdom to ever rule the world, albeit not the most wealthy.  It ruled with an iron fist.  To have another David, another Joshua, another Solomon, all wrapped into a package with superhuman powers lead Israel to conquer and rule the earth, with a religious system that valued all life, made sense to everyone.  It was the dream of every Israelite.  It was the hope of a nation.  Jesus was supposed to be this hope.  Jesus was supposed to do all of this.  Or Jesus would become “just another wanna-be”.  When the people saw what Jesus could do in healing people, they did not think of the Father’s love that directed His works.  They thought only of dead Romans along the same roads they erected crosses on now.  They thought only of taking Roman gold, and melting Roman idols to make their own homes better instead.  They thought of what the power of Jesus could mean to them.  No more work.  No more sickness.  No more torture.  Only ease, comfort, and happiness forever more.
That my friends is a political mandate like we have never seen before.  Trump or Clinton would never be able to deliver it, and thus the reason why neither would ever garner 100% of anything.  Jesus however was capable of delivering it, but He chose not to.  In fact, He came to a point in His ministry, where trying to reveal the Father’s love, was getting harder because of the fame of what He was doing, and the deep desires of the people to make Him King, whether He wanted it or not.  So in order, to do the will of the Father, Jesus did what no politician has ever done in the history of campaigning in this country … He attempted to stop getting press coverage.  He attempted to continue revealing the Father’s love quietly and without any fanfare.
It is no small irony that Jesus could have been king any time He wanted, He could have done what every Israelite believed the Messiah would do.  But He did not.  He chose not to.  He chose to avoid politics and power entirely.  He did nothing to break the pagan Roman rule, instead He submitted to it, even when it killed Him without cause.  What Trump or Clinton would likely kill for, our Lord discarded with deep disdain.  Jesus had other priorities, other interests, another mission He was here to perform.  If Christians are to follow His example, perhaps they should abandon a quest for political power, and the ability to dominate the actions and conscience of others, and instead pursue the course of their Lord, revealing only the love of the Father to others.  But alas, this is something no Christian seems willing to emulate in either political party.  Instead candidates tout their faith, and demand more power for themselves.  And believers claim it is their duty to elect someone who will “protect” Christianity and legislate its values “for the benefit of others”.  It is the revelation of the Father’s love to someone in need, that would truly benefit others.  That action is devoid of politics, and mirrors the true mission of Christ.  To do this without credit or fame, is even closer to the actions of Christ.
Peter recalled what was fast degenerating into secret missions of the Father’s love to John Mark in his gospel in chapter seven, and beginning in verse 24 saying … “And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid.”  Jesus was traveling far and wide in the land of Palestine.  He had gone to the very borders of the nation near Tyre and Sidon and planned to conduct some revelations of the Father’s love quietly and in secret.  But there would be no opportunity to quietly reach those in need.  The devil would see to that.  Jesus did not seek publicity at this point.  In fact He was always asking those He healed not to reveal what had been done for them now.  The crowds that would gather were no longer as needy as they were determined to make Him King whether He wanted it or not.  John’s gospel includes many references to times when Jesus had to “disappear” in a crowd in order to avoid it making Him king.  In this instance, despite the distance from Galilee and Jerusalem, there was a reason why His fame had reached this region.  It stemmed from an incident where Christ tested the faith of a supplicant.
John Mark continues recording it in verse 25 saying … “For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: [verse 26] The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.”  This incident has many interesting truths buried subtly within it.  First, the person coming to Jesus was not actually the one possessed.  So the victim appears to be unable or unwilling to seek help directly.  If ANY healing is going to come, it will be because a mother is praying for mercy for her daughter, no matter what the daughter wants.  Anyone fall into this category now?  Second, the woman was NOT a Jew, she was a Greek.  Even after Jesus ascends into heaven it takes years before the disciples of Christ are “willing” to take the gospel to people other than Jews.  Oh sure, they would travel to the far ends of the earth to find Jews to teach His message to, but spend no time attempting to share it with pagans of any kind along the way.  But this woman is a Greek.  In the Jewish mind, she is a pagan, and rightfully has earned the demon that inhabits her for worshipping demons in the first place.  It is no accident her daughter is possessed, it is simple cause and effect.
Jesus is aware of the mindset of those who follow Him, and those who are witnessing this encounter.  So He does something unusual.  He does something along the lines of how God tested Abraham of old (the first hero and father of the Jewish nation).  Mark records the response of Christ in verse 27 saying … “But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.”  This was to be a test of faith for the mother.  But it was also a test of faith for His disciples and for us.  The disciples should have had empathy for this mother.  They should have had their hearts broken for her, and joined with her in wanting her daughter’s pain removed.  But they did not.  Nor do we.  We see those who have sinned, and not only do we blame them for their sins, we judge that the punishments they are receiving are the ones they have earned.  Our hearts are unmoved.  Pagans of old earned their pain as do sinners who refuse Christianity today.  We look upon Islamic refugees of war, rape, and starvation, and judge that they worship our God yet deny His Son, therefore are worthy of the pain they endure.  If they were Christian, perhaps, they deserve aid.  But as Muslims, or atheists, or Hindu, or pagan, they deserve nothing but their pain.  They too are “dogs” in our minds.  They are not human, not worthy of our empathy, not worthy of our love.  This was the mindset of the Jews in His day, it had even infected the minds of His disciples.  It is the mindset of Christianity today, in far too wide a circle.
But the faith of a mother, can withstand the insult of being called a bitch, or a dog.  The faith of a mother who knows the love of God cannot be hardened against her, and will persevere no matter what.  The faith of a mother availeth much.  She responds in verse 28 saying … “And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs.”  This woman lacks no humility, she is composed of it.  She is not looking to be made equal in the “status” of the Jews, she will satisfy herself with being a “dog” if she can but lick crumbs of love from the floor.  Her faith is unparalleled.  She does not retreat after insult.  She does not abandon her cause.  She humbles herself even more, and will beg for the mercy of a love she knows cannot resist this plea.  The heart of Christ is broken for her.  He can no longer maintain the charade of pretending to think like His companions think, or talk and treat her as they would have done.  He must reveal the truth of love to her.  So in tender love He now tells her what she had come to hear saying in verse 29 … “And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. [verse 30] And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.”
Jesus calls attention to her saying, her response.  He does this for the benefit of His disciples and for us.  Not all Greeks, pagans, and those steeped in sin, really want to remain in that condition.  Some of who we judge as unworthy are actually trying to find Jesus, but it is our judgment that gets in their way.  Despite His harsh words to her, to reveal the thinking of His companions, she does not flinch or desert her cause.  Her faith is so great she is willing to eat crumbs of love from off the floor.  His disciples are yet completely unwilling to humble themselves in this way.  They lack even the empathy for her that should have touched their hearts.  Jesus is making a comparison of the great faith of this woman who is NOT a Jew, with those who “should” have had greater faith from the scriptures they studied.  A seemingly completely uneducated woman (in Jewish scripture at least), only knows one thing, that Jesus Christ is God on earth, and can heal her daughter.  And a mother’s faith is rewarded with what she asked, no matter how her daughter felt about it.  The faith of a mother, interceding for her child, was rewarded.  Are there any mothers today, who doubt their prayers will be heard?  Look to the faith of this woman, and find hope.  What is asked in secret can be rewarded openly.
The disciples should have learned right here that pagans were worthy of the gospel.  They should have learned right here that the love of God is poured out on ALL people.  They should have been humbled by what Christ said, to echo the feelings in their own hearts.  But people see what they want to see, and their blindness was a choice.  The lesson is more than just for them.  Jesus travels with an attempt at secrecy to avoid being forced to take power.  We seek power every chance we find.  Jesus’ mission is instead to reveal the love of His Father to those in need, despite the fact that they do not worship in the right religion, understand the Bible, or continue to make decisions that lead to the conditions they are in today.  In spite of all of that, Jesus reveals the Father’s love to them.  We judge those not like us, and condemn them for the sins they commit.  We should be humbled.  We should be touched in our hearts for the pain they endure, even though they bring it upon themselves.  We should ache to see their sins removed, and pain healed.  We should long to show them how love saved us, and why we are able to love them in spite of who they are, or what they do, or what they believe.  It is love that provides the motivation to change.
We do not need to look for publicity for how we minister or love.  We do not need to seek to change the laws of our nation to reach someone in need today.  We need only to reach out, and find that His love is sufficient for their needs, even if only reflected poorly through us.  The secrecy Christ sought, and the missions of revealing His Father’s love had only just begun …

Saturday, November 21, 2015

So I Have a Brain Aneurism ...

And I could use your prayers.  It is kind of nerve racking to think there is something defective in your head, a kind of time-bomb that if it goes off, so do you.  I discovered this problem while in the shower about 2 months ago washing my face.  All of the sudden it felt like some monster had dug their claws into the right side of my face and was tearing it off of my skull.  The pain was extreme, so bad I thought I was going to pass out.  It seemed to center around my eye so I first went to the Ophthalmologist to seek treatment.  The Ophthalmologist did find a viral infection (non-contagious) in my eye and prescribed drops to treat it.  But every week I kept returning to the eye doctor because the pain was increasing in frequency, and intensity.  The least little thing would trigger it.  If I touched anything on the right side of my face in a downwards direction, the pain would start up.  I could push my face upwards to try to relieve the pain, but down is a no-go.  If I blow my nose, or even touch the right side of my nose, the pain monster returns.
Eventually the eye doctor realized my pain was not from the infection, and thought I might have “tic deleraux” [sp], a rare nerve condition that exhibits symptoms like I describe.  He sent me to a Neurologist for further treatment.  After an MRI, MRA, MRV, and CT Scan to confirm, it appears as though I have a 3.2mm aneurism along the carotid artery in my brain.  I have been given medicine to try to reduce pain incidents and it has worked sometimes very well, sometimes not so much.  The next step is to see the Neuro Surgeon to find out what is the plan will be.  I imagine treatment will be meds to try to reduce it, or surgery to try to fix it.  Either way, the risk remains in my head.  That risk could be fatal in an instant, or it could sit there for a while and do nothing.  Since the pain monster keeps attacking, I have to assume the risk is not a very good one.
So what do you do?  There is not much the patient can do.  I chase doctors to call me back, and testers to schedule me sooner, and produce results faster.  These are things I can do, ironic that I need to do them, considering healing me is supposed to be a top priority for these folks.  But then, I am only one patient in a storm of patients who all have similar needs, some with higher priorities, so really, who am I.  Ultimately you wait.  You wait to hear what is next.  You wait for people to call you back, who promise they will, but somehow never seem to.  You wait with a personal urgency and impatience that health care providers seem not to share.  Thus far, I cannot be too disappointed with my wife’s insurance carrier at Florida Hospital.  They have approved my tests, and doctor’s visits consistently.  The medical staff has all been very courteous, and pleasant.  But when the time-bomb sits in your head, and when periodic pain reminds you it is there.  Waiting is tough.
What do you want?  Seems like an obvious answer, you want to live, much longer, and without pain.  But even as I write this, that outcome could be sadly different.  If for some reason, what I want, is not going to be something I get.  It forces me to ask, what else do I want?  The first thing that comes to my mind, is that I want my wife Laura, to continue her journey of spiritual submission to Jesus Christ, and I want to meet her in that Kingdom that is just beyond our sight.  But this is a bit presumptuous really.  It assumes I will be there, and to date there is no evidence I have earned that fate.  It also wants to avoid the idea that once I am gone, human nature and the need for companionship will kick in, and my wife will find a happiness with another man who may also make it to the heaven we all seek.  What then?  My bomb goes off now and I sleep not having a concept of time.  For me it is one second writing, the next second being escorted to heaven (because I trust Jesus’ ability to fix me spiritually even though I cannot).  I will still love my wife like I did a second ago.  I will be looking for her to resume a life in eternity with her.  But I may find her with someone else, and happy in that situation.  It will take God to fix my heart if that occurs, but I trust Him that much.  Only God can change a heart.
So if eternal intimacy is another outcome that may not go my way, what else can I want?  My next biggest desire is to see my son Alex, find (or perhaps re-connect with) Jesus, and remain with Him until He comes.  My daughter Sabrina find Jesus, and stick with Him.  And my daughter Jennifer remain in the path she already walks.  Again a presumptuous desire on my part.  My parenting skills, and human failures, have left deep scars in the children I lift up to God.  My mistakes have twisted the beauty of having children into something all of my children avoid and do not see a value in.  The grandchildren I would have expected from a marriage I now prize above all else, are absent.  The environment I was a part of in their upbringing seems to have taught them only the lesson of keeping self-sufficient, not to take the risk of loving a little one, who knows only you.  There is no way to avoid responsibility when all of your children share that philosophy.  It has to be my fault in some way or another.  For 2 of 3 of my children to appear to value Jesus much less than I would prefer, or perhaps can see, must also be my fault in some way or another.  My failures must remain keen in their minds and hearts, and His mercy must yet be elusive in their eyes.  How do I plead for the salvation of the children that I damaged (without His forgiveness to even ask anyway)?
I think my parents know I love them.  I think my family does too.  My friends, whether the ones I am connected to on Facebook who I went to elementary school, or high school, or college, or work associates, or just those who accepted a friend request, or sent one themselves … all of you may not know I really feel about you.  It would be easy for me to say I love each of you, particularly in the medical condition I find myself in.  But that might be pushing it a little.  How do you really define love, if you are going to make that statement?  Is love a periodic message to those you knew forever ago?  Is love, reading the posts and status changes of those you want to stay in contact with?  Or does love require something more, something more personal, something more kinetic?  What I can say with certainty, is that I cannot remember a single negative incident or feeling with anyone in my life up till now.  If I ever wronged you, I hope you can forgive me.  If anyone has wronged me, they were forgiven so long ago, I cannot remember the wrong.  I do not feel anything bad towards anyone here.  In fact, I have a great fondness and affection, for so many who peruse Facebook to stay in touch.  I actually like seeing your pics, and watching the your grow, and families spend time together.  My love it appears is lazy.  But today more poignant than days when pain and risk were not so prevalent. 
If this experience is teaching me anything, it is teaching me something I already knew, just not something I did enough of.  It teaches me to love others in a more tangible way, every chance you get.  It teaches me to be a little more inconvenienced in order to meet a need and share a love a little more often.  It should not take a life-threatening issue in your life, to give you the clarity to dispel all the negative thoughts and feelings you hold on to.  It should not take a real risk that any second you could be sleeping in Jesus, for you to find the freedom forgiveness offers.  Spending your time worried about politics, or power, about prominence or wealth, is spending your time on trivia.  None of that matters in the end.  God forbid something like this ever happens to you, but if it does, trust me, what you want, what you really want, will not be to know who wins the election.  It will not be the myriad of things you focus on now.  It will be more personal, much more personal.  When you cannot mandate your own fate, when the illusion of control is finally busted in your own life and mind, what you want is much more about who you love, and how you love them.
Perhaps our mortality has always been that nagging reminder to prioritize our lives better.  Perhaps we were always supposed to love deeper, and find peace in the loving.  If you are reading this, you cannot legitimately say that no-one cares about you, because I actually do.  I hope to see you again, ideally in this world, but if not, then in the next one.  But I continue to believe in the power of prayer.  I would ask that you pray for me, but not just me.  I would ask that you pray for the salvation of my family, and your own.  I would ask that you pray for the salvation of those you are connected here on Facebook with as well.  I would ask that we create a prayer circle like never before.  For there is power in prayer, and I would not wish to be well, and be unsaved.  Nor would anyone I think.  It is us reaching out to each other in love, that is the mission and reflection of our God.  It is that kind of love that melts hearts, changes lives, and makes the world a better place.  Be a part of it, help me be a part of it, help those you love be a part of it.  If there is any further clarity that comes from an experience like the one I am having it is the same old tired mantra that loving others is all that matters.  While that is nothing new, or unique, or profound wisdom from me … it is still the only thing that really matters.  I ask, what do you want?
Your friend in any world,

Friday, November 20, 2015

Vomit, Poo, Sin, and other Excrements ...

Perhaps only a parent can know how for love, we can overcome our distaste of bodily fluids and horrific smells and clean the baby that needs cleaning.  People outside of the nursing profession, who otherwise have no medical training or discipline, can bring themselves to clean that soiled diaper, or wipe away that puke from your shoulder and baby’s mouth.  Strong men who melt at the sight of these scenes in others, somehow find themselves able to face them, when it is their child in need, their child who is crying.  It is the love of a parent that brings a person who before could never imagine it, to face these dilemmas and meet the needs of the child, no matter how distasteful.  No parent wants to do these things, no parent finds the cleaning enjoyable, but we do recognize the need for it.  After all, a baby simply cannot do it for themselves.  A helpless person, needs help from someone.  Ultimately it is love, that will cause us to do what we would normally like to avoid.  Our child cannot pay us for it, they have no money we did not give them already.  Our child cannot earn it, our love is free of charge and deep within us.  And for a long time, our child will repeat the need, unable to prevent the dirt, soil, poo, and vomit from re-occurring time after time.
It is perhaps this most distasteful work, that is such an excellent example of what our God does for us in the mission to see us redeemed, re-created, and restored to His side.  We are the dirty baby.  We are the child who has soiled themselves, thrown up, dove into the dirt, and now appears in front of our Parent, with a need to be made clean, and a complete inability to make it so.  And with tender care, beyond the capacity of a human parent to even begin to know, our Heavenly Father reaches down to us, and begins to clean away from us, the most distasteful substances He can imagine … namely our sins.  The analogy is perhaps only flawed, in that our sin is more horrific than our poo, more dangerous to us and those we love, and more difficult to be rid of.  The baby makes himself dirty because he is unable to avoid it.  We sin from similar reasoning, but we could choose to submit to Christ, and find potty-training in the realm of sin, is actually possible through Jesus.
Humanity has a nature to focus on the externals.  We focus on cleaning the vomit up, because of the smell and discomfort it causes us to see it on our child.  Having a “clean” baby is much more tolerable and enjoyable.  But what if instead of focusing on the dirt on the outside, we were able to affect a change on the inside that made throwing-up a thing of the past.  It is not as much the pool of mud our child dives into that makes him really dirty.  It is the desire to jump in, that is the real culprit.  It is likewise not so much the individual sin we commit that makes us so dirty.  It is the desire to do it again and again that accomplishes that feat.  Sin, is never a one-and-done phenomenon.  The devil may present it that way.  He may lie to us, and tell us that we need only commit this sin, just this one time, and only under just these circumstances.  He may tell us, no one will know.  He may rightly tell us, we will not get caught for it.  And that may even be the truth.   But the devil is not trying to sell us a single incident, he is actually trying to sell us a habit disguised as a one-time-only event.  Once we drop our guard, and lower our resistance to any particular sin, we find ourselves so much more inclined to repeat it.  Once virginity is lost for example, how often is the logic cited that “it is no big deal now” to repeat our error.  And so habits are formed, addictions fostered, and before you know it, you are way beyond the ability to be clean again.  You must be made clean to see that ever happen.
To keep us from finding cleanliness once again, the devil simply focuses our attention on the externals.  Look at the dirt.  Look at the poo.  Look at the nasty train wreck you have made of your life.  Look at all the pain you have caused.  Look anywhere, just don’t look at Jesus, because looking at Him may actually change the direction of your life.   Perhaps the more sinister lie the devil tells us, is that if we can clean up some of the dirt we have on our hands, we could actually make ourselves clean.  So we spend endless hours, washing ourselves using disinfectants, and trying to make some little part of our filthiness, just a bit better … but to no real effect.  Trying to conquer our own desires, is akin to focusing on the externals, and has the same success as a baby attempting to change their own soiled diaper, it makes only a bigger mess.  This was a lesson we needed to learn.  The idea that cleanliness is next to Godliness needed to be debunked, because our understanding of what real cleanliness is, is the problem.
Peter continued the lesson for us in the gospel transcribed by John Mark in chapter seven, and picking up in verse 14 as Jesus speaks saying … “And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: [verse 15] There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. [verse 16] If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.”  The Pharisees had tried to make the argument that without washing our hands before we eat, we are bound to get contaminated with the food we consume.  Their argument is logical and truthful.  But it is missing the greater point.  Washing our hands, and washing our food, may help to eliminate germs, and bacteria we would have otherwise missed.  But it is not what we eat, or the cleanliness of our food, that is the greater concern for what can and will defile us.  A perfectly clean peach is better than a perfectly clean pork chop as an example.  And perhaps dirty hands eating clean foods, is better than clean hands eating unclean dangerous foods.  A focus on the externals always leads to this kind of superficial thinking and comparisons.
Jesus was plainly saying, it is not the outsides that can do you harm, or what you need to try to clean.  “Nothing from without a man that entering into him can defile him”.   That phrase alone was heresy to the Jews.  Daniel had made a reputation for avoiding unclean foods in the days of Nebuchadnezzar.  All the way back to Noah, there was a distinction made between clean and unclean animals.  The unclean animals entered the ark 2-by-2, the clean entered 7 at a time (a distinction Hollywood always avoids when making movies of this story).  And going back all the way to Adam, there was only a certain type of sacrifice considered acceptable to God as Cain quickly learned.  So when Jesus blows away all the conventional thinking of stating nothing we can consume causes us to be defiled, He appears to be speaking in direct contrast to centuries of Jewish tradition.  But Jesus was not trying to undo His own council on what is good and bad for us to consume.  He was instead, as usual, talking about something deeper.  What we eat does not save us, or cause us to be lost.  It only impacts our health.  We can become stronger or weaker physically by what we consume in food, but our salvation remains neutral.  Disobeying the guidelines set out by our Maker, will inevitably cause us WAY more pain, than obedience would have resulted in.  But food is not a salvation issue, neither is how often we wash our hands in a given day.
But this seeming contradiction between clean and unclean was a mystery His disciples just could not get their heads around.  They needed further clarification, so they pursued it later in private.  John Mark records the events beginning in verse 17 saying … “And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. [verse 18] And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him;”  Keep in mind the questions raised here were in reference to his “parable”.  Even in this Peter understands that Jesus is not speaking in strictly literal terms, but in story form, or in analogy form.  This is a good first step towards understanding.  But Jesus seems a bit taken back that His meaning is still not understood by even His own disciples, so he questions them a bit.
Mark continues in verse 19 … “Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?”  Eventually everything we eat will be processed by our digestive system and excreted from our bodies.  Whether our food choices were good or not, they end up in the same place.  To somehow equate food to salvation is a mistake.  This false equivocation is what the Pharisees had built an empire upon.  Temple sacrifices were butchered and the meat resold in shops owned by the priests.  The animals used in sacrifices were provided by priests who owned farms on the side.   Worshippers who traveled to Jerusalem from great distances did not usually bring animals with them on the journey, instead they bought the sacrificial beasts when they arrived.  So the priests sold the live animals for sacrifice, then they resold the meat later for food.  Restricting the entire process, and claiming that salvation was only possible by adhering to their restrictions, had made killing animals more important than ending sins; eating kosher, more important than loving others.  Instead of focusing on the heart, and how we could reflect the love of God to those in need, the Pharisees had turned the focus to the hands and stomach, to clean and unclean things, not clean and unclean hearts.
Jesus continues his explanation in verse 20 saying … “And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. [verse 21] For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, [verse 22] Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: [verse 23] All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”  You will notice in the response of Christ, that He immediately follows verse 20 with verse 21 so that we are clear he is not talking about our bowels, or the excrements of human anatomy.  It is not what we throw up, or excrete that has the power to make us defiled.  However, what exists in the core of who we are, in our desires is what makes us defiled.  It is our very desires that will require reform, re-creation, and restoration to make us clean.  Christ explains this in priority order.  He begins with stating it is heart that is at the source of this.  The heart is associated with what we love, with what we desire, with what we want.  The “yearning” of our hearts tells the story of who we are, defined by what we want.  So to use the heart, is to say this is the deepest definition of who we are.  In essence, we want the wrong things.
Next, Christ continues with the very FIRST thing that defiles us … namely evil thoughts.  Way before we actually commit a single sin in actions, we commit it in our minds.  Our motives matter.  Our very thoughts matter.  It is our desires that drive us to first think about sin, to entertain the idea of sin, to want sin.  We want it, before we do it.  We desire the WRONG things.  This is not a problem in just “some” areas of our lives, it is problem in every area.  It is bigger than just our sexual expressions, it is our everything - from our greed, to our gluttony.  It encompasses our apathy for the poor, and our desire for expediency over service.  It encompasses our pride, our arrogance, our desire to always be right, and the other guy to always be wrong.  It encompasses our need to gossip and sway public opinion to our side of any issue.  To think our problems are isolated to chemical addictions, and sexual expression, is to vastly reduce the field of battle on which our sins find great expression.  It is our thoughts that occur in sin, that defile us, a long time before our bodies and hands take the actions that cement what we already want.
Next up, Jesus hits the most frequently committed sins, in His day, and in ours.  Adulteries and fornications top the list.  This says that more married people cheat on their spouses (even if only in the lust of their minds) than do unmarried people who wish sex without commitment.  It is no accident that sexual sins occur at the top of the list, for our biology can easily be corrupted in this way.  We have inherent biological needs, that are meant to be paired with the intimacy of the confines of marriage.  To avoid treating people like meat, marriage offers us the focus to serve only one, in a triangular relationship with God at its center.  But Satan tries to sell us the idea, that variety is better than intimacy.  He tries to sell us that risk makes sex exciting.  He tries to sell us that the forbidden is the only fruit worth eating.  And like sheep, we wander right into sin.  It is also interesting to note here, that the first sexual sin cited is adultery, then fornication, not homosexuality.  That does not mean Jesus is endorsing homosexuality by omission, however, it does tend to highlight where MOST of the sin exists in His day and in ours.  Rather than trying to remove the splinter from the eye of our gay friends, perhaps we should be removing the log from our heterosexual eyes first.
Next up in the list of sins is murder.  Then like now, murder rates were not so exorbitant, but keep in view that sin begins in the mind.  Murder may be less frequent, but hate is certainly not.  To hate in the mind, is to murder in the hands.  Murder does not usually occur to those we love, but to those we disdain, or those we care nothing about, it does.  Greed then tops the list with thefts, covetousness, wickedness, and deceit.  We steal, and we lie about it.  We want what others have, and we are pretty much willing to do anything to get it.  It may not be outright theft, but it may be sabotaging the promotion of a coworker in order to get the promotion ourselves.  It may be a host of secondary “questionable” activities that enable our greed, and give us the “things” we want.  Lasciviousness, and an evil eye, then appear on the radar of our Lord.  Our lust, our constant viewing of what otherwise might be innocent with an evil eye, or evil intention, becomes the problems we most suffer from.  These problems are universal, but absolutely only known to our hearts, and to God.  No one knows what we think when we see that beautiful girl, or handsome guy, or shiny new car.  But God does.  He knows what we would do, to get that thing we want.  He knows how far our sin would lead us into destruction, and how much pain we would cause others while engage in our sin.
Finally, Blasphemy, pride, and foolishness are cited.  Here are the sins of the church.  Here are the sins of the faith.  The religion in the day of Christ, was His own religion.  He was not there to denounce the Jewish faith, the Law, or the prophets.  Instead He was fulfilling all of it, to the letter.  The Christian faith of today is not the “wrong” belief system.  But as Judaism was corrupted in the days of Christ, so Christianity can easily be corrupted in our own day.  The blasphemy inspired by pride, and the foolishness of men, in the days of Christ lead the religious leadership to believe they could save themselves.  They were babies believing they could change their own diapers.  Just like us.  We too have decided we can through the strength of our will, and the dedication to our spiritual routines, clean our own soiled diapers and save ourselves.  But we are equally blasphemous, proud, and foolish.  Babies must be made clean by Dad, they cannot do it themselves.  After all, Jesus keeps focusing on the heart, on the core of who we are, of what we want, as the core of where our defilement comes from.  Who but Jesus can change the heart of a man or woman?
Christ concludes by stating that all these evil things come from our hearts, not our food, our clean or dirty hands, or any other external.  Our sin is worse than our poo.  Our poo is confined to us.  Our sin impacts the lives of others.  Those who we claim to love are hurt by the sins we commit.  Those who truly love us are hurt when we are hurt.  Our sin is more than distasteful, it is a circle of pain, like a rock tossed into calm waters.  Our sins have ripple effects that send pain in every direction, impacting everyone and everything they encounter.  What seems like harmless sins are anything but.  They are the excrement of our lives.  They are the vomit, the poo, and the unclean bodily fluids.  We can be made clean by Christ.  But more than that, we can find a way through submission to Jesus, to never want to be dirty again.  It is only then, that we can understand what it means to be made clean, or to stand next to God.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Cleanliness is NOT next to Godliness ...

There are many traditions and popular sayings that over time get equated with scripture, or are said to derive directly from scripture, but they don’t.  Being physically clean seems to be sensible, and doing so can preclude or prevent a great many health maladies.  Being clean spiritually, would appear to be our highest aspiration.  So a saying like “cleanliness is next to Godliness” generally attributed to John Wesley a great pastor of the past, would just seem to be a truism.  If this truism is not directly found in scripture, at least the sentiments behind it surely must be.  After all the symbolism of having white robes that have been washed clean by the blood of Christ and given to us, is in our scriptures.  The Old Testament contains many admonitions to purify, or clean one’s self after encountering dirty things.  Before standing in front of God the Israelites spent three days in cleaning and preparation.  So a saying like this one appears to have scriptural backing and almost no scholars attempt to take or defend an opposite position … that is, except Christ.
The issue in question was not so much directly related to cleanliness itself, as it is to the influence of man’s interpretation of scripture that corrupts religion.  Ironic that advocating cleanliness can lead to the pollution of scripture, but then inserting self into religion always has the corrupting influence.  Ultimately it is the ego of men that drives them to want to be influential, or important, even in matters of religion.  This need to be recognized as superior, or a resource others should seek counsel from, has the corrupting influence that allows a saying, to become a truism, to be associated with the Bible.  I would imagine when John Wesley coined this phrase he was not seeking to have it entered into scripture, nor considered on par with scriptural texts, he was simply trying to make a point.  But as it happens, his sentiment was not something new or original, it had authors dating all the way back to before the time of Christ.  The “tradition of the elders” had already been established before Jesus enters the scene.  In addition to ceremonial washings that had become excessive, if not impractical, a number of other modern-ifications, or upgrades to the law, had been implemented as well.
Over time, these “wise” guidelines by the leaders and elders in Israel had become a defacto part of society and the law.  In aggregate, the “enhanced” restrictions made attempts at worshipping God much harder than they ever should have been.  While our temptation is to examine any one of these onerous traditions and decry it based on our common sense, it is much harder to examine our own traditions and decry what we have become accustomed to in the worship of our God.  If you doubt this phenomenon, just try to change the time of day, and order of service perhaps omitting an offering call, or children’s story in your church services and see what happens next J.   
Once tradition becomes generational it becomes so entrenched in our thinking it is nearly heresy to discard it.  The introduction of simple hymns to replace Gregorian chants and classical arias in worship services was at one time considered heresy.  A later introduction of the church organ was tantamount to allowing rock-and-roll in the church.  A more recent transition from hymns to worship music and wider electric instrumentation has not occurred without even further controversy.  Nearly everyone has a concrete opinion about what kind of music is appropriate or not in church services.  None of it is biblically based (though advocates on either side will swear otherwise), rather, ALL of it is based in the values, preferences, and traditions that have influenced us over time.  The simple point being, that our own traditions and values are entrenched in our hearts and minds as much as ceremonial washings were entrenched in the minds of Israelites in the time of Christ.
But Jesus did not come to earth, to affirm the traditions of men, He came to obliterate them.  It is our very thinking that must be changed.  It is “how” we see and interpret scripture itself that must learn to submit to the viewpoint of Christ first, and not our own.  To think differently, to provide us a means to do so, was the ultimate goal of Christ.  It is this kind of redemption Jesus had come to put in place.  A rubber stamp of generational traditions was simply not going to be had by Christ.  No matter how passionately we may feel about the time, order, and content of worship services; Jesus has completely other ideas.  It was uncomfortable to the religious leaders of His day.  It will be no less uncomfortable to us.  It alienated the religious leaders of His day, because their ego would not allow them to submit their collective wisdom to Christ.  Will it alienate us as well, as we realize our wisdom and interpretations have been as corrupted as our spiritual forefathers?
Peter recalls an incident on these topics in splendid detail to John Mark beginning in chapter seven of his transcribed gospel and verse 1 saying … “Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. [verse 2] And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault.”  Because Jesus had defied the Sanhedrin and leaders of the faith in “how” He kept the Sabbath, they had already determined as a group to kill Him.  In truth, this intent was less about the law, and more about maintaining authority over the interpretation of the law.  And it points to the irony of how far inserting self can corrupt religion.  Now, a group of Pharisees brought scribes (or lawyers of the day, who spent countless hours transcribing old parchments on to new scrolls and parchments) along with them to see if there was a way to legally trap Christ and prove He was not the Messiah, or the Son of God.  Since His followers had been preaching this message, and been performing miracles in the name of Jesus, they too needed to be discredited.
It would seem to be child’s play to discredit an uneducated fisherman, compared to the wealth, privilege, education, and refinement of a Pharisee.  The mere appearance of a Pharisee was significantly more elevated than any common fisherman.  And the wealth amassed through onerous and systemic offerings taken and further profited by the religious leadership during the temple services, gave the Pharisee the “air” of being blessed of God.  The Old Testament, after all, was replete with promises of blessings to those who obeyed the will of God.  It was also full of “curses” (or consequences, thinking cause and effect) of those who deliberately disobeyed the will of God.  So to be wealthy was supposed to be an indicator of adhering to the will of God; to be poor, was to be sinful.  Of course this thinking completely omits the idea that Satan too can assist one in becoming wealthy.  The Romans in general lived far more wealthy lives than any in Israel, yet they had no interest in the God of Jacob.  Common sense, might reveal the wealth of the Pharisees might be equally based in corruption of religion than of strict adherence to it.  But one never likes to look in the mirror when it comes to judging.
So upon arriving at Christ’s location, it takes only moments to “catch” the disciples doing something that breaks with tradition and “the law”.  Simple logic dictates that God would not break His own laws, therefore neither Jesus nor these dirty followers of His could be truly from God.  That was easy.  Case closed.  All they need to do now, is to publicly alert the people as to the sins these men were obviously committing and it should be game-over for this notion of Christ being the Messiah, let alone the Son of God.  John Mark transcribes the logic and reasons for this fault continuing in verse 3 saying … “For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. [verse 4] And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.” 
It would appear the true authors were the “elders” who had inspired a “tradition”, that cleanliness is next to Godliness.  Ceremonial hand washing had been extended to cover other more practical applications.  The marketplace of the day was not nearly as pristine as a Safeway or Publix.  It was an open-air dirty place without ice, where fresh meat might still have blood on it and not be packaged in cellophane.  Fruit and vegetables were plucked from the earth, unwashed, and suffered from flies and other insects still attempting to make a meal.  So on returning from any kind of grocery run, it would make sense to wash your food, your hands, your cups, your tables, and anywhere you intended to eat.  This has the practical benefit of eliminating bugs, and insuring you carry less germs (though germs are still undiscovered for them), and get sick from eating, less often.  The tradition is sensible, as is the saying it inspires.  But the “wisdom” of men, even if based in practicality, does not equate to a mandate from God.  None the less the leaders brought their accusation to Christ as Mark records in verse 5 saying … “Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?”
This accusation had a clear motive.  It was not so much about cleanliness as it was about discrediting the Disciples of Christ.  It was a public accusation meant to turn the people away from these “sinners”.  It might have elicited a different response from Jesus, if instead of attempting to destroy the reputation of the disciples, the priests had genuinely been concerned for their spiritual wellbeing.  They were wrong about their restrictions regardless, but the motives they had were not about redemption, they were about condemnation.  And are we any different?  How often do we use scriptures, or rather our own interpretation of them, to attempt to condemn others for what they do?  Instead of taking our concerns for the spiritual wellbeing of another to God in secret prayer for them; we publicly address and rebuke them using scriptures to prove our correctness and their error.  Instead of breaking our hearts for what we perceive as a spiritual danger to our brother, such that we would pray without ceasing, we have no time for prayer.  But we have ample time to discuss their error with everyone who will listen.  We gossip incessantly, and attempt to incite others to our point of view.  We condemn them for their refusal to see scriptures as we see them.  We condemn them, because they will not submit to our authority.  And while we have time for only 30 second prayers, if that, on their behalf, we have endless hours to repeat our accusations about them to any who will listen.
None of this is redemptive, none of this is aligned with Christ.  It is entirely aligned with his enemy of souls.  It is the work of Satan we proudly do in the name of Christ.  Had we actually undergone any kind of transformation, our first and only motive would be love for our brother.  When we see him in error, our first and only priority would be to hit our knees and pray until God fixes in our brother, what we will never be able to fix.  And in the process, we might learn it is our own perceptions that need fixing.  If in humility we never judged our brother, but instead prayed for him and kept our mouths shut, we would accomplish more, and do less damage in the name of Christ. 
The poison of condemnation that might have otherwise infected everyone who listened to our hate, would be restrained, and replaced by a love and deep care for our brother that would never utter a disparaging word against him.  We would guard our brother’s reputation, even though in error, as if it were the reputation of our Lord Himself.  We would protect our brother from the condemnation of others, and instead plead for time for him, so that our God could instill the change in our brother he so desperately needs.  We would solicit his accusers to abandon their methods, and join us in prayer on his behalf, rather than join their cause.  We would not insist on immediate perfection, but instead be patient with the process of submission, as it is in our own spiritual growth.  But alas, the transformed heart in our age, is a more rare thing that it should be.  We are more akin to our spiritual forefathers who care nothing for the redemption of the Disciples or our brothers; instead we remain interested only in their public rebuke, and our comparative “holiness”.
It is this lack of concern for the very ones who need spiritual care that inspires the response of Christ.  Peter recalls the answer of Jesus for John Mark to record in verse 6 saying … “He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. [verse 7] Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. [verse 8] For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.”  Ouch!  The truth of the state of spiritualty of the leaders of the faith was stunning.  Or rather, is stunning.  For the revelation of where the Pharisees are, is the identical revelation of where we are in modern Christianity.  The truth of both of our conditions begins with the revelation of Jesus saying … we honor God with our lips but our hearts are far from Him.  Those who would use scripture and religion as a means to condemn others, reveal a complete lack of understanding of who Jesus is, and what redemption means.  We give lip service about the errors of our brothers, and care NOTHING for their true spiritual state.  Instead we are using their error as a way of making us feel comparatively better about ourselves.  After all, at least we don’t commit the sins we see them committing.  And thus the work of Satan proceeds, and the work of redemption is halted.
The second cutting revelation of Christ to us is … howbeit, in vain, we do worship Him; because we teach for doctrines the commandments of men.  When we dictate preference and tradition and mandate what is appropriate in the worship of our God, instead of freeing the heart to offer gratitude according to the dictates of the Holy Spirit, we are teaching the commandments of men over God.  To repress the culture of others because of the traditions of our own, and teach this as God’s will, is arrogance.  Because I do not understand your music, or appreciate your style, does not make your sincere offering to God any kind of sin.  What is sin, is to restrict you from praising God, until it complies with what I like.  What is sin, is for me to dictate who is fit to be ordained in ministry, rather than submit to who the Holy Spirit would ordain.  What is sin, is to assume that only my culture knows what is best, or could possibly be accepted as “right” in the eyes of God.  What happened at Babel was not the preservation of white culture as holy, and the condemnation of every other culture as inherently sinful.  It was simply the installation of variety across all cultures in the languages and preferences of how people will see, respond, and worship God.  A cornucopia of variety, music, inspiration, and cultures who love and honor God will emerge from every nation, tongue and people.  It is not intended for us to judge any of this, nor any thing.  It is intended for us to enjoy the variety and relax the idea of being the only ones who can possibly be “right”.
The third revelation of Christ to us details what happens when we insert self into religion, and how self becomes the most important thing in religion, even more important than God.  While it is hard to imagine this to be true, it is Jesus who demonstrated to us, that it is true.  For He points out to us that … we have laid aside the commandments of God.  Jesus Christ commanded us to love one another as He loved us.  Regardless of how you keep Sabbath, tithe, or conduct worship services, if we do not love each other this way, we have laid aside the commandment of God Himself.  Christ continues … instead we hold to the traditions of men.  We make our doctrines the condition of baptism, and singular admission to the body of Christ.  Our varied and unique understanding of scripture become the barrier we erect before admittance to the love of Christ is offered.  Forsaking love of each other as our primary way of living, we embrace a unique set of scriptural interpretations that preclude entrance until formal public acceptance is declared.
The writing of John Mark, transcribing the incident Peter recalls, are not intended as a history lesson.  They are intended as a wake-up call to you and I.  Peter continues recording the response of Christ for John Mark in verse 9 saying … “And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. [verse 10] For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: [verse 11] But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. [verse 12] And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; [verse 13] Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.”  At this point Jesus broadens the discussion past mere physical cleanliness, into the law of God itself.  The Pharisees after all cite the law of God given to Moses as their most highly prized and valued tradition.  They bank everything in this.  Even if Jesus can undo the tradition of elders about ceremonial washings that have been taken to excess, He could not possibly undo the 10 Commandments offered to Moses.
So it is in their most prized understanding, that Jesus again reveals how far self has corrupted even the very law of God in their traditions.  The Pharisees needed some tangible examples so Jesus gave them only one of many they were guilty of.  God commanded that children are to honor their parents for the entirety of their lives.  This honor included love, respect, care, and obedience.  It included the beauty, the gift, of seeking wisdom from those who have seen more than ourselves, and have lived the same battles we fight today.  This gift of honor was to be a blessing to those who could grasp it in the keeping.  It is not a burden to love those who loved you enough to bring you in to this world, and then keep you safe within it.  It is a gift to love them so.  But, when our own ego, our own self-love exceeds every other need, we begin to see love for others as a burden.  Children longing to please themselves, discard the wisdom of their parents that would have otherwise kept them from pain.  In short sighted desires for immediate gratification, we want to abandon the guidance of our parents and do what we see fit.  It is a reflection of how we treat God our Father as well.  The tradition of elders had gone as far, as to invent a ceremony that would allow a self-indulgent child to pronounce “It is Corban” upon his parents and abandon them completely.  This pronunciation was meant to even eliminate any guilt in casting parents to the wind, in their older age.  Today we call the pronunciation “Social Security and Medicare”.  We expect the government to care for our parents and feel no remorse as to how they are doing.  Are the words of Christ any less poignant now than they were then?
Perhaps the most stunning result of teaching our doctrines and traditions over Jesus Christ is revealed in His own words … we are making the word of God of none effect.  We are literally killing the transformation of our own hearts into what He intended because we seek our own wisdom, instead of submission to Him.  The Gospel or good news of Jesus, is of none effect, if it does not change how you love others in the here-and-now.  When our focus is on our interpretations and traditions, it is not on Jesus Christ.  When we study doctrine more than submission, we get caught up in the words, but lose all the meaning.  Our first and only priority was ever to love.  It is love that is supposed to be our guiding principle.  It is love for others that would see their redemption as our first and only priority, NOT their condemnation and/or public humiliation.
Servants, representatives, ambassadors for Christ, should reflect the love of Christ.  The Pharisees should have been most concerned for the spiritual wellbeing of the disciples than of their public discrediting.  Had this been their motive, the response of Christ would have been more gentle, as their distance from Him would have been much closer.  But it was not.  Then, like now, comparative holiness was the name of game.  I can feel better about my own level of sins, because I can point to others who have more.  I can feel better about how I continue in sins, because I see others continuing as well, and doing worse things, and they are “Christians” too. 
The transformed heart, on the other hand, sees the love of Christ changing in us what we could not change.  The transformed heart, sees in others, a precious gift that we are to love.  When we see the object of our affection in error and pain, we PRAY for them secretly, keep our recognition of their errors to ourselves and in private.  We care for their reputations ahead of our own, and look for reform for them from the only source who can bring it about in them and in us, through Jesus Christ alone.  In private, and on our knees, we work to effect salvation and redemption and quietly further His cause.  In this way, the mission of the devil to condemn is thwarted, and we are made participants in the plan of redemption from God Himself.
But to know what truly makes us clean was still to come …