Friday, January 29, 2016

The Will Not to See ...

Imagine standing in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris France with your significant other, or best friend.  You stand there gazing up the structure and marveling at how high it was built.  You stand in awe of the construction techniques and historical significance of this building, remembering how its iconic form is nearly “the image” associated with Paris, and often with the entire country of France.  For you, the “truth” of what is in front of you, is life altering.  Your significant other or best friend on the other hand, cannot take his/her eyes off the hotdogs in a cart from a nearby street vendor there in front of it.  They have not looked once at the Eiffel Tower, seeming to refuse to while the hotdogs remain in view.  They ask you for money to purchase one, and seem totally disinterested in the magnificence of this structure.  For your friend, they might as well be standing on the street in front of their own home back where you live.  The place does nothing to move them, the events do nothing to move them; the “truth” of what is in front of them … does nothing to move the person, who has decided (for whatever the motives) simply … Not to see.
Most of us, would think this situation is impossible.  How could someone travel thousands of miles to see Paris France, saving up money, sacrificing, and then when they get there, to ignore one the key attractions, only for the sake of common food you could get anywhere.  Who would do that?  Would you?  Are you the one I am talking about?  What if the stakes were higher, what if the “truth” was Jesus Christ, and it was you who simply failed to see?  Imagine the embarrassment of coming back home to say you missed the Eiffel Tower to eat a hot dog.  Or worse, imagine the embarrassment of recalling a gospel for transcription, and admitting that you missed the “truth” of the Messiah, for something worth even less than a common hotdog.  This is where we find Peter (and us), we find him in the presence of Jesus Christ, the long awaited Messiah.  It was for Jesus that Peter had sacrificed so much to see and be with.  More than we would for a vacation to France, Peter had given up his job, his security, and his reputation with the community.  Peter had given up much to be here with Jesus.  But it was Peter, who missed the “truth” that was worth everything, because he would not see, being distracted by something worth less that street food.
The incident is recorded in the Gospel of John Mark in chapter nine, and picks up in verse 30 saying … “And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. [verse 31]  For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. [verse 32] But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him.”  Jesus was moving to Peter’s home once again as later verses will reveal.  But as He travels through Galilee, He moves quietly and avoids the crowds, because He wishes to reveal to His disciples “the most important truth” about the role of the Messiah.  In telling them about His death, there would be no anti-Roman kingdom setup by the Messiah.   He was tearing down the very foundation of their own ideas.  An earthly kingdom, free from Roman tyranny, was the only thing ALL of Israel had dreamed about and attached to the role of Messiah for as long as they could remember.
What Jesus was plainly saying was that He was to be killed, not crowned.  But after His death, on the third day, He would rise from death.  A risen Messiah was worth more to them, than one that had never tasted death, and simply got old like any other king.  But a risen Savior could do more for all of mankind (including the Romans), than they had ever dreamed.  Instead of ending Roman tyranny at the point of the sword (like many Christians today would like to “defend” the gospel), Roman tyranny like all evil, would fall to the power of love it could simply not resist.  Unfailing love conquers evil in ALL of us, not just Jew, Gentile, or Roman, but ALL of us.  Infinite Love that would die for us, to pay our penalty, also contains the power to transform us, so that our motives, and actions come into line with God the Father.  That kind of fundamental change is how evil is vanquished everywhere, by all races, governments, and peoples.
This was the most important truth His disciples could ever learn.  And Jesus did not mask it, or hide it, or speak about it in parables.  When you and I read what He said, we understand it fully.  But then, we have the vision of hindsight.  When the disciples heard these words from the mouth of Jesus Himself, they “did not understand it” and it only frightened them.  They were standing in front of the spiritual Eiffel Tower, and refused to see, refused to even look.  And in the supremacy of embarrassments, they were instead focused on something worth less than a spiritual hotdog.  It takes a great degree of humility for Peter to continue to reveal the ugly truth of where his own mind was with the others that day.  But he continues to tell John Mark what happens next continuing in verse 33 saying … “And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?” 
This was the home of Peter they had traveled to, note Peter simply calls it “being in the house”.  But then comes the ever probing question of Jesus Christ (who already knows the answer).  Jesus wishes to know what was more important to them than the truth He was trying to reveal.  Peter knows the answer and is ashamed like all of them to reveal it.  The events continue in verse 34 saying … “But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.”  After a long quiet reflection, someone (likely Peter) answered that they were arguing among themselves, who would be the greatest person (after Jesus) in His new anti-Roman earthly kingdom.  In short, they were arguing about power over others, and who would have the most of it.  In spiritual terms, power over others, is the domain of Satan.  God does not save us, by forcing us to be saved, even though He has the power to do that.  Instead He chooses to love us freely, and then offers us His love freely, and then offers us an end to the pain we bring ourselves.  We must choose to accept His love, and over time, learn to love Him on our own.  Love is a choice that can never be forced, or it is not love.
At least a hotdog can temporarily relieve hunger, the quest for power over others has no benefits, not even temporary ones.  What they were discussing, even arguing for among themselves is something that DOES NOT EXIST, in the kingdom of God.  How glory is measured in heaven, is not by how many people serve you, but by how many people you serve.  It is the exact opposite of how Satan thinks, and how he teaches us to value power in this world.  Jesus does not chastise His embarrassed crew for what they were doing.  He does not scold them for ignoring the most important truth He could possibly teach them.  I wonder how many Christian ministers would do the same?  Instead He decides, that if it is a lesson about heaven they need, that lesson will be given. 
And so a new lesson begins in verse 35 as Jesus begins to teach saying … “And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.”  So the key to being “the greatest” in the kingdom of God is defined and measured by how many people you can possibly serve.  Evidence would say, that Jesus Christ alone fits this title already.  For our God has given His blood, and His life, to every single person who has ever drawn breath in our world from the beginning of time until the end of how we measure it.  If in our limited human capacity, we want to be great, we must become the greatest servant ever known.  Instead of being first in line, we give that position to someone else in need, and instead take ourselves to the back of the line.  Now logic dictates that if we do this, we will “never” reach the front because there will always be someone else to give our position to.  “Exactly”.  The entire point of service, is that there is no end to it, there is “never” an “enough” when service is the goal.
And you do not need the corruption and evil of this world to provide you with “need” to be served.  When we get to heaven, and in a million years from now, I imagine I will still love my wife, or my daughter, if that makes it easier for you to relate to.  In loving her, I may want to make her happy in some new way.  I may learn that she would like to take up piano playing.  So without anyone asking or prodding, or begging, I may decide to build her a piano.  This action may take only minutes, or it may take decades as I search for exotic materials from around the universe to use in the construction.  When it is complete, I give it to her.  This makes me happy, and possibly her.  But right after she receives it, she hears of another person who would like a piano, since she has this new one, she immediately gives it to them.  Now, am I angry?  My daughter has effective re-gifted a hand-made piano I put years into constructing.  But rather than be upset, I am elated.  In fact, as the piano I created gets passed from one person to another around heaven, my only thought is to make more of them.  At some point, there will be enough piano’s for everyone.  Is my “service” over at the point?  Do I just sit back and do nothing more?  No.  I begin to look for the next way to make someone happy.
Service does not have an end, because it is driven by love that does not have an end.  Our ways to serve in heaven will be constrained only by our imagination and creativity.  This attitude of giving to others without limit, without constraint, and without respect of persons (I love everyone equally much, though perhaps differently) is something this world is the complete opposite of.  The disciples were attempting to argue about their own position, in order to be served.  They reasoned in typical Jewish tradition, that only men of a certain age, were eligible for the respect and power they wanted.  This eliminated slaves, women, and most of all children from even the slightest consideration.  As we know, Peter had a daughter.  Perhaps it was her, or perhaps it was some other child who was just there, sheepishly listening to Jesus in the background.  Perhaps that child was enacting a version of hide and seek, knowing Jesus could see them, but also pretending He could not.  In any case, game over.
John Mark continues in verse 36 as Jesus pulls our sheepish child right into the center of the room saying … “And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, [verse 37] Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.”  You will note, as the child nears the center of the room, Jesus does nothing, until He has hugged the child, and then likely placed her or him upon His own lap.  Forget men of a certain age, Jesus is showing honor, and deep affection, for a child, perhaps even a girl child, as if she is the most important person in the Kingdom of God.  He further states and loves by example, and that if we “receive” which is to honor, value, and deeply love a little child or any child in His name.  We are in so doing, receiving the Father God who sent Jesus to this world to show us how to love.
What an awesome example of how to love!  We do not love children, particularly the little cute ones, the same we do adults.  We are WAY more willing to forgive the little children from being dirty, we actually tend to expect it.  We find the normal routine things they do (like baby speaking his first word, or junior riding his first bicycle, etc.) as worthy of praise and adoration.  We are typically very affectionate with kids holding them in our arms, making physical contact, and showing them by our actions, how we feel about them.  We do not think of them in sexual terms, nor financial terms.  We are not looking at kids for what they can do for us, but rather only to enjoy with them, the things that happen in our lives, or are brought there, like playing.  It is only kids, that can get us to stop what we are doing, and just play.  This is how God thinks about us.
Oh sure, you may look like an adult.  You may think you are one.  But as God looks at you, you are nothing more than a really cute little kid.  You don’t really know much.  You can’t really do much.  You have a diaper of sin, you keep filling up, that seems to always need to be changed to get you cleaned up.  And you are the only living creation in all the universe, capable of getting God the Father to take a weekly time out on Sabbath’s just to hang out and “play” with you.  This is the image of “how to love” Jesus chose when trying to teach His disciples about what it means to love in the kingdom of God.  He hugged a child, held them close, then proceeded to tell these men of a certain age, that to honor this little girl was literally to receive the Father God of the universe.  Nothing about our traditions is captured in that image, but everything about how God loves sure is.
If the disciples had listened on the road home, to what Jesus was telling them.  If they had heard His truth instead of arguing about power no one should want, they would have seen the Messiah revealed as our Savior, and the Savior of the Romans as well.  If instead of a quest for power and respect, we could see ourselves for the little children we are; perhaps we could begin to love each other like we do cute little kids, with far less expectations, far more forgiveness, and far more imagination.  But we who read these words of Peter, seem bent to follow the same mistakes he humbly admits to us.  We ignore the role of Jesus as our Savior and instead take that mantle upon ourselves.  We seek power.  We seek it even within the church, turning roles like pastor, and elder, into roles that demand respect as we alone are men of a certain age.  Instead of being servant of all, we expect a certain level of service offered up to us.  We do not really see ourselves as children, thus, we cannot see others that way either.  And in the end, we deny the presence of God the Father, in favor of the image in the mirror, which seems to demand all our time, money, and worship.
But these passages were not written to call us out for what we are, and how we have failed.  They were written to offer us hope of what we could be, and how we could love.  As we submit our hearts to Jesus, our reeducation in how to love, might find us thinking different thoughts, having a different perspective about who we are, and how God sees us.  We might actually start loving people differently, and isn’t that what the Gospel is all about …

Friday, January 22, 2016

Belief Underlies It All ...

God can do anything, or He can’t.  There is no middle ground.  Jesus is God, or He is not; again there is no middle ground.  Ultimately one thing will make the distinction about your life, and that is the belief you have one way or the other.  Your own belief will not change facts, but it can change them for you.  What you believe may start with a great degree of uncertainty, but it will not remain in that state.  Over time belief begins to solidify.  You will recognize events that occur (or don’t) that will strengthen and harden the position you have chosen to take; i.e. to believe or not to believe, as for you, that is the only question that matters.  The choice is a grave one, and the path it leads to is graver still, for the consequences impact the entirety of your life, not just the end of it, or its disposition post death.  Salvation is not just about determining your place in the afterlife, it is about determining how great a life you can have in the here and now.
Peter recalled an event that tested the importance of belief, the question he and the others faced, was no different than the one you and I face today.  As a part of the gospel of Jesus, he thought it important that you and I could benefit from the events that transpired, so we have a record of it, as John Mark transcribes in his gospel, in chapter nine, and picking up in verse 14 saying … “And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them.”  It is important to understand the context for this event as in the context we find the problem.  Jesus is approaching His disciples, in the midst of a great multitude of people.  In times past when the phrase “great multitude” was used in this gospel we had 5,000 men, then 4,000 men (plus women and children) as an indicator of how big a crowd this might have been.  The scribes were part of the ruling-class conspiracy to kill Christ, they could better be described as lawyers, who used scripture (which they spent hours transcribing) to prove any theory the Sanhedrin wanted proven.  When directly confronting Jesus, they had been humiliated with zero success, but once again they had decided to confront His disciples.  The disciples had little scriptural education and would be far easier prey, and they were.
What later texts will also reveal in this study, is that as a part of their challenge to the disciples, was the request to cast out a demon from a young man brought to them for this purpose.  The disciples had failed at it.  So the scribes were challenging the identity of Christ mis-using scriptures to prove their point, and the disciples were failing to cast out a demon, in effect proving their own belief in the identity of Jesus was being shaken by what the scribes were saying.  Keep in mind, ALL of this theatre, was being done in the sight and hearing of yet another “great multitude” of onlookers.  To this point, the plan of the scribes and of the Sanhedrin, and the wider conspiracy against Jesus was indeed working. 
John Mark continues recording in verse 15 saying … “And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him.”  Jesus was returning to His disciples, He had likely been alone again praying and fasting in the mountains that He did nearly every night.  Jesus was in close contact with His Father, who sent Him to correct this problem.  His face still glowed.  When the people saw it, they were amazed.  The scribes would recall that Moses glowed too, when He came down from Sinai, as Jesus does now.  The people knew that story.  When they see it, they salute Jesus, or show a sign of deference to His presence, perhaps bowing, or nodding their heads in respect.  Already the situation is turning away from what the scribes were intending to accomplish.
John Mark continues in verse 16 saying … “And he asked the scribes, What question ye with them? [verse 17] And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit;”  The subtlety here is important.  Jesus asks the scribes to know what questions they have been asking His disciples.  He is clearly prepared to answer them.  The scribes know it.  They know that if they pose these questions to Jesus, He will humiliate them once again with the truth, the same way He has done in the past.  So they are silent against His query.  Since they are not speaking up, the father of the possessed young man speaks up.  This father is not there to show that Jesus is not real, He is there only to see his own son be healed.  He had hoped for healing already, but the failure of the disciples was fresh in his mind and heart.  If the disciples could not heal in the name of this man, why should any believe?  Is it any different in our day?  If the lives of Christians look just like the lives of those who do not believe, is there any reason for others to seek a better life, knowing His own disciples have not found one yet?
The Father continues describing his problem in verse 18 saying … “And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.”  This demon is actively destroying the life of this man’s son.  The demon cuts him, makes him foam at the mouth and gnash his teeth.  The demon throws him down involuntarily.  The demon, it would seem, has proven his own identity as a supernatural force in league with Satan.  The demon is real.  But your disciples, after listening to the questions of the lawyers and scribes, have fallen short.  The disciples were unable to answer the scriptures word for word, and text for text.  That, after all, was not the training they were receiving from Jesus.  Jesus did not spend countless hours with them teaching them to be scribes, or for that matter Pharisees.  Jesus spent all that time teaching them what it means to love others.  In that quest, He hoped to make them experts.  Jesus hoped to make the faith of His own disciples unshakeable because of how He loved.  Scriptures would always prove the truth Jesus already knew.  But a physical demonstration of love was supposed to have meant more, and offered more to them, and despite everything, it did not.  Belief had been shaken by a twisting of the word.
Jesus is dismayed by what He sees.  He has proven the truth from scripture many times, and yet it seems to be forgotten on this day.  He has proven His identity many time in the miracles of the love of the Father God for those here on earth, yet it has been forgotten on this day.  He responds in verse 19 saying … “He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.”  There is enough evidence based on the teachings, and actions of Jesus for this Father to know who he was dealing with.  Yet his own faith and belief is nearly gone.  If even in the presence of Christ, and with Him there in person, people refuse to believe, how will they believe later when He is gone, when He has returned to heaven.  Like in our day.  But despite the frustration of Christ, there is still one in need.  So Jesus asks that the demon possessed young man be brought to Him.
John Mark records the events in verse 20 saying … “And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.”  This demon did not ask for mercy, or loosen the tongue of this boy to say anything.  The demon was intent on showing his own power and staying put right where he was.  The demon intended to maintain the people’s belief in his own identity and cause doubt in the identity of Christ.  Jesus asks the father more about the boy in verse 21 saying … “And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. [verse 22] And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.”  The father explains this condition occurred when the young man was just a child.  He explains that the demon has tried a few times to kill the son by throwing him into fire or water.  Then the father poses a question to Jesus saying … “if” thou canst do anything … have compassion on us and help us.  The father is not at all certain Jesus is capable.  The father is not at all certain of who Jesus is.  The father knows the demon is real, but not Christ.
Keep in mind this is all continuing to play out in front of a great multitude of people.  So Jesus addresses the core problem that has taken hold at this event, not only for the father’s sake, but for all who are listening, and all who are reading this story as it continues in verse 23 saying … “Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”  First and once again, you will note Jesus does not ask for belief from the demon possessed boy; at this point, the boy is incapable of true belief.  How many drug addicted children fall into this category?  How many mentally ill people fall into it?  How many drunks, and how many addicted to sin, and need healing fall in there as well?  Jesus asks for faith from the father, not the son.  If the father believes, the son can be saved.  If the disciples had not had their faith in the identity of Christ shaken by the scribes twisting the scriptures they too might have been successful.  If we, the modern disciples of Christ, were not so uncertain in our own belief, what might we accomplish? 
Next notice the promise of Jesus, He does not say that those who believe can do “some” things, “sometimes”, in some limited fashion.  He promises the believer that ALL things are possible to him that believeth.  No restrictions, no limitations, no small quantities or limited revelations, but literally ALL things possible.  God is either God or He is not.  Jesus either speaks the truth or He does not.  Have we gotten so comfortable in our lack of testing our own belief and His power, that we dare not even ask any more in our prayers, lest the lack of faith we have be publicly displayed?  If we believe, why do we not do more with it?  How can we sit still knowing we can make a difference, yet do nothing?  Under the model of this story, a believing parent could pray for a child, and see that child’s life find Jesus and turn around, no matter the hold of drugs, or alcohol, or sin of any kind.  Not even full on demon possession is a match for belief in Christ, and a simple prayer in His name. 
The father sees in himself what too many of us fail to see in ourselves.  The father responds in verse 24 saying … “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”  Even our unbelief can be restored by Jesus Christ if we simply submit our will to His.  It is in this that Christ is both author and finisher of our faith itself.  This father has made the choice to believe, but he also knows that to save his son, he will need so much more belief that what he has.  So he cried out to Jesus in tears with a recognition of how great the task is to save anyone, to help his own unbelief.  That is us folks.  To save us will be a monumental task, we are addicted to sin, full of doubt, and slave to loving only ourselves.  To save us will be a huge undertaking at which we have failed repeatedly.  Only Jesus can do for us, what we will never be able to do for us, to bring our motives in line with His and His Fathers.  Our salvation is not just about having the self-will to restrict our actions, it is about having our motives overcome the need for restrictive self-will.
Having begun the salvation of the father, Jesus now turns His attention to the son as the story continues in verse 25 saying … “When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. [verse 26] And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead.”  The people came to see what would happen now, as the disciples had only failed recently, and they wondered if Jesus could do what they could not.  Jesus calls out the evil spirit and tells him he can never re-enter this young man.  Our salvation is not just a temporary thing, when we submit to Jesus He can change our desires and our lives forever.  The demon has no choice but to comply.  He cuts the young man once more, and leaves him.  The trauma of demon has left the young man nearly lifeless, it appears so bad that the observers begin to think he is dead.  But Jesus knows better.
Events continue in verse 27 saying … “But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.”  What the world thinks is dead, is alive in the hands of Christ.  Our old lives may pass away, and it is what we will want when once we have been transformed by Jesus, but our new lives in Christ are possible when He takes our hand in His.  Imagine the gratitude of the father when now his son is healed.  Imagine the shame of the scribes when now their plans have failed again in front of the great multitude.  Imagine the chagrin of the disciples as they realize they failed at something Jesus could do.  They needed an answer about this as verse 28 continues saying … “And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? [verse 29] And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”  Jesus had likely just come from His nightly routine of praying and fasting with His Father.  He knew the disciples would face tougher foes in the supernatural world, and He wishes for them to see the value and know the strength that comes from seeking the presence of God the Father even above the physical needs our bodies have.
Belief underpins the entire process of our salvation.  We choose to believe in something greater than ourselves when we accept the idea that a God could exist.  We choose to believe that if a God exists He must surely be one of love that longs to restore His proximity and relationship with us.  We choose to believe that if we are ever to be made pure and in alignment with a love like His, it must be by His power through the transforming love of Jesus Christ.  We choose to believe that even though we have failed at changing ourselves, He will succeed where we have failed.  We choose to have Him help, even our doubts and lingering unbelief.  And ultimately He does what He has promised and saves us beyond all doubt.  When our belief is established there is nothing we cannot do through His power.  Are we willing to test this promise? …

Friday, January 15, 2016

A Preview of His Kingdom and Power ...

A preview is not the same thing as the main event.  In our world, we use “warm up” acts in live musical concerts, or stand-up comedian acts to get the audience in the mood for what will come next.  In boxing, there is such a thing as the “under-card” which is usually a series of fights that take place before the main event bout.  Obviously these previews are not what we paid to see or were most looking forward to, but there have been a fair number of musicians, comedians, and fighters who transitioned from being the warm-up act to being the main act because of the exposure they got during their entertainment previews.  And the previews themselves do serve to get the audience properly prepared for what comes next, in order to heighten the experience of the main event.  No one knows how far back this practice dates, but given that Jesus had one, we can say at least 2,000 years.
Peter records how it all started as he recited it to John Mark to transcribe beginning in the gospel of Mark chapter nine, and verse 1 saying … “And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.”  In these words, Jesus is talking to His disciples.  He has just given them a sort-of salvation tutorial in the previous verses.  That was a detailed explanation of what it means to be able to be like Christ is, to follow Jesus where He was going.  Now Jesus is taking that idea a bit further, He is telling them, that at least some of them will not die until they have seen Him as God, and His Kingdom coming here with power.  Of course our human minds, which live nearly 2,000 years since those words were spoken, immediately “wants” to interpret them as being a promise of a quick second return by Christ to take us all home.  But as 2,000 years has passed since then, we know that is not the case.  Further, since the laws of aging were not suspended for the disciples (allowing them to live until now without getting old), we can further conclude that the “main event” of His return was also NOT what He was talking about.
So what was Jesus referring to?  The answer can be found in the texts immediately following these remarks and continuing this story.  Mark continues writing in verse 2 saying … “And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them.”  Note this is the very next verse following the lead-in written above.  You don’t need to search through scriptures to find an event that may somehow fulfill the words of Christ, it is the very next thought.  What happens in only six days, is that Jesus takes Himself, Peter, James, and John up into a high mountain in order to be alone with them (out of the reach of the crowds).  He then “transfigures” Himself before them, or in other words, He reveals the “God” portion of who He is.  He takes the mask of humanity off for a few moments and reveals the God side, the infinite side, of who He really is.  Up to now, this has never happened.  Up to now, and since His birth, there have only been a few incidents where God the Father’s voice was heard acknowledging Jesus as His son.  Even when Jesus performs miracles for us, it is always with Jesus cloaked in humanity, never showing anyone what is under the veil.
Imagine the brilliant light that emerges from Jesus when Peter sees more God than man standing before him.  Imagine the purity of Christ’s love and brilliance of the Creator now shining through in this lonely place high on a remote mountain top.  I can imagine that even here, Jesus must hold back the fullness of who He is, or the disciples would perish at the sight.  But I can also imagine that for these 3 men, who will ever be only human, the plain sight of His divinity would have overwhelmed them.  They may well have prostrated themselves on the ground at His first revealing.  This was no small event, and it was not one that would be repeated often or with casual regard.  This was an epic event.  This was the true revelation of God underneath the human form.  The power that emanated from that purity was beyond our words to relate.  But yet here it was.  None of us could ever do this.  No other wanna-be Messiah could come close to doing such a thing.  This distinction between man and God was forevermore marked here.
Peter tries to describe what he saw to John Mark in verse 3 saying … “And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them.”  Perhaps doing his best to look at Jesus once the God identity has been unveiled, Peter can only see his robe which up to now, has been a home spun garment, full of the dirt and sweat that comes from climbing a high mountain.  Up to now, the robe of Jesus was not especially different from Peter, or James, or John.  But look at it now.  It is a brilliant white, a white more white than anything Peter has ever seen.  It shines.  The robe now gives off a light Peter cannot explain.  This brilliance is not something mankind is possible of duplicating or making.  Peter takes special note to call out that no “fuller” (a profession of clothing cleaner) could ever make a robe as white as this one is.  Indeed the beginnings of the Kingdom of God are being revealed, for this is clearly a picture of God being revealed to His three disciples.
Then comes the fullness of a kingdom’s description as John Mark continues in verse 4 saying … “And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.”  And thus the remainder of the kingdom appeared: mankind with God.  That is what the Kingdom of God was all about, reconciling mankind with God.  Here were both groups of mankind represented in this first preview of the coming of Christ in His second return to earth.  Elias or Elijah had never died but was fully transformed in character before his earthly death and taken to heaven by angels pleased to carry out that job.  Moses had died, and was raised from the earth fully transformed in character, ready to greet his Lord in the air, carried to heaven by angels glad to have been assigned that task.  Mankind was here now, in the form of both of these saved groups, talking plainly with Jesus.  These were not ghosts, or disembodied spirits, they were men like you and I.  They were there right now, united with their Savior.  This was the first preview of the Kingdom of God, beheld in power as was promised by Christ only six days earlier.
As usual Peter is not quite sure what to do, or say, but as usual Peter has to say something.  That boisterous personality cannot just keep still at the sight of something that overwhelms the others.  So he recalls to John Mark his best efforts at the time picking up in verse 5 saying … “And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. [verse 6] For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.”  No human had ever experienced what was going on at this moment, nobody, ever.  There was no basis in scripture to have studied.  There were no stories handed down from father to son.  In the 4,000+ years of earth’s history, nothing like this had ever occurred.  So Peter tries to make conversation by offering to build 3 tabernacles on that ground one for Jesus, Moses, and Elias.  A normally flattering offer, but none of them are interested in the attempted flattery of Peter.  There are no ego’s here to stroke, only a continued united mission to redeem mankind from itself.  But there was still one thing missing from the definition of His Kingdom, a unity between God and man.
John Mark continues transcribing in verse 7 saying … “And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. [verse 8] And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves.”  God the Father had come, He masked Himself in a cloud, for even here in this preview event, He could not reveal His glory to those who were still marked by sin lest He destroy the object of His love.  But God the Father had a message for those three disciples, that Jesus was indeed His only Son, and that they should hear Him.  Almost as quickly as these events began, they were ended.  As the disciples looked around they saw only themselves, and Jesus as He had been before.  His robe was as dirty and sweaty as theirs.  No Moses, or Elias, just the four of them.  At this point, each disciple must have wondered if they were hallucinating.  But then how could all 3 of them have seen exactly the same thing at the same time in their respective hallucinations.  No, it had to have been real.  It was after all the preview event Jesus had promised that some of them would see.
In the aftermath of this event Jesus charges them with a familiar charge.  John Mark records in verse 9 saying … “And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. [verse 10] And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean.”  Jesus again asks for secrecy, but this time only until He is risen from the dead.  This is a new condition, and the disciples have no idea what it means.  They still cling to a false idea of the role of the Messiah.  Having seen Him transfigure and get the support of Elijah and Moses, only deepens the false idea they cling to.  If Jesus has access to all this power in heaven, surely He will use it to accomplish creating His kingdom here on earth.  The preview they just got, must be a prelude to an anti-Roman paradise, what else could it be?  So they decide to change the subject slightly and see if they can get more information out of Him.  They ask a different question.
John Mark continues writing in verse 11 saying … “And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? [verse 12] And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. [verse 13] But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him.”  The disciples ask why the Pharisee leadership and scribes think that Elijah must come before the Messiah fulfills His role.  Jesus answers that again they have a mistaken interpretation (how like us), but if you examine it … Elias just did come in the flesh, and in the message of John the Baptist.  Both in person and in truth has Elias come ahead of the fulfillment of the Messiah’s role, albeit, not the role the disciples wanted Jesus to fulfill. 
When we read scripture, we do what the disciples did.  We read it from a preconceived set of traditions, and personal hopes.  We read the scriptures that support our ideas, and ignore the texts that do not fit them well.  We, like the disciples, cling to our ideas and views of the role of Christ, despite what He directly tells us that we simply do not understand.  This is all because like our Pharisee forefathers, we do not seek Christ to lead us to truth, we instead attempt to tell Jesus what our truth is and expect Him to conform to it.  If we are even to read rightly, we must learn to submit ALL our ideas to Jesus first.  We must read through the lens of Jesus where loving others is the primary concern.  Only after full submission, and being led by Christ, can we begin to understand what was written, and what it means to each of us.  To distinguish between previews and main events, and to understand what Jesus asks of us, we must read through the lens of Jesus Christ and after submitting our will to His.  And there will be far more Peter has to say to us …

Friday, January 1, 2016

Salvation Tutorial 101 ...

New Year’s is a perfect time to consider the basics of how salvation works.  New Year’s Resolutions in particular are a perfect target for consideration in how salvation works.  Each new year typically on January first, we announce to our family and friends, a set of goals or ideals we wish to accomplish in the new year.  It is completely arbitrary why the ticking of the clock from one second to another, and the movement of the calendar from one year to another should provide “the motivation” we need to accomplish these goals but so be it.  But no matter what we announce, or what we set out to accomplish, it just does not seem to get done.  Logic dictates that if we were actually going to reach these goals, they would already be done and historical.  The fact that they remain open is a pretty good revelation they are going to stay that way.  But none the less, many Americans repeat this tradition year after year never seeming to account for an audit of how good they did against previous goals, nor coming up with a new way of attacking the new ones that might lead to a more successful outcome.  The problem in a nut-shell … is you and me.
Call it higher priorities, insufficient funding, circumstantial prohibitions, or just good old “lack of will power”, it is nearly certain that all the declarations we set for the new year are likely to come up short.  The one constant in any new year’s resolution … you and me.  At the base of every declarative, is the person who declares it.  That person cannot control fate, cannot control his environment, ultimately has little control over his or her own health (given the pollution we are all subject to).  So given a complete lack of control over all the factors one would need in order to accomplish a particular goal, how could we possibly think we would do it?  Shifting priorities might be a kind way of saying our species shares the attention span and discipline of a nat.  We move from one obsession to another with the frivolity of ancient Romans (and with the same destiny as well).  Even if control over environment and circumstance could be fully achieved, control over the discipline-of-self is an even greater mountain to climb.  So why bother?  The best resolution I ever made, was to quit making them.  It seems that one, I have had the “discipline” to maintain.
But where it comes to salvation, often the same approach is taken, with ultimately the same result ensuing.  We pursue a path to perfection powered by our own declarations.  When reality sets in, and we realize how far from perfect we are, we determine “perfection” is not worth pursuing, and resign that however, and whoever we are today is simply “good enough”.  We rationalize that perfection must not be required by God, and that the love He extends for us in our sinful condition is big enough to leave us there.  The problem at the base of this form of salvation is no different than the culprit at the base of our New Year’s Resolutions … it is you and me.  Declaring we are perfect is not the same as actually being so.  And performing the actions of a perfect person without the underlying motivation of a perfect person is not really any better.  If you don’t sin, but you want to sin, you lose.  But people who are truly free from sin, are hard to find, and the path to get there must be to quote Oliver Stone … “a mystery, wrapped in an enigma”.  If it were easy, seems to me everyone would be perfect already, so since there are few, it must be hard.  This is sound logic, but wrong logic all the same.
It really only took Christ 5 verses in the whole Bible to explain the entire process.  But like dolts with the IQ and attention span of Homer Simpson, we skim over these passages and write them off as being “too hard”.  But perhaps you and me could take just one more look, and find it might be easier than we thought.  The revelation is mostly quoted directly from Jesus Christ, as remembered by Peter, and transcribed by John Mark in the gospel with Mark’s name, chapter eight, and picking up near the end of the chapter in verse 34 saying … “And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”  Spoiler Alert … everything you really need to know is completely contained in this verse alone, the remaining four verses are only added for further clarification of what He said right here.
Let’s begin by looking at the context.  Jesus calls the people to Him as well as His disciples also.  What Jesus plans to reveal is the most important thing we could ever know and so He wants as wide an audience as possible for this one.  He opens with the declarative, then with the goal … “Whosoever will come after me”.  Whosoever might be the most hopeful word ever uttered because it lacks any kind of qualifications.  In essence, this offer is open to everyone, to anyone.  It does not matter what state of sin you find yourself in when you hear it, you can come too.  It does not matter how old you are from as young as it gets to hear Him, or so old you can barely still hear Him.  There are no boundaries around race or skin color.  It does not matter what culture you come from.  It does not matter what sex you are, or for that matter what sex you prefer; in fact it covers single people, married people, or divorced people (good thing for all us heterosexuals).  Jesus could have qualified His offer.  He could have said, everybody but these kinds of people.  He could have said, that you had to believe these particular doctrines first, but you will note, he does not.  This offer is for everyone, and it is not pre-qualified by any condition at all.
Next, is the goal … to come after Him.  If we would like to be like Him, live like Him, serve like Him, go where He goes, do what He does, be like He is.  That is the goal.  To be a different person, that is more like Jesus, than the person we are right now.  If that sounds appealing, it should.  Imagine having no addictions to pleasing self, and in its place, having a burning passion for loving others, and a sense of fulfillment and purpose that no one else can barely understand let alone attempt to take away from you.  Imagine having a relationship so close with God the Father, that health concerns are gone cause you simply heal everything (no exceptions).  Imagine hearing God the Father’s voice audibly in your ears, and knowing His will, and being overwhelmed in how pleased you are to carry it out, finding that one person in need, and meeting that need.  Imagine having no desire to sin anymore, and so spending no time thinking about sin anymore, instead free to think about things you never had time to consider before.  This is the goal Jesus is laying out without a single precondition, doctrinal study, conversion kit, or monetary donation in order to achieve.
Next Jesus lays out the mechanism for how to get this goal … now careful cause this is the part we usually get wrong.  Jesus says … “let him (or her) deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me”  So there are three parts to this, and everybody zooms in on #2, but slow the train down, and let’s look at #1 first.  The way this offer is achieved BEGINs by denying that “you” can give it to “you”.  So instead of every tradition in the world you know about; Jesus.  Instead of studying the Bible till you memorize it, and can quote it backwards; Jesus.  Instead of adhering to a particular set of doctrines, in a particular denomination, and in a particular local church; Jesus.  Instead of being celibate, single, married, divorced, or just confused; Jesus.  The problem with every competing religion is that they ALL teach you that salvation, or nirvana, or enlightenment, or perfection, are achieved by what “you” do or don’t do.  The problem with most Christians, is that they take this philosophy and bring it right into our churches and believe that “you” are responsible for your salvation.  Whether in partnership with Christ, or in full on your own, either way does not “deny” yourself, and instead look ONLY to Jesus.
If your perfection relies upon you to achieve it, it might as well be one of those New Year’s Resolutions that you will never achieve.  The only way your motives will ever match your actions, and be in complete harmony with God the Father, is if Jesus MAKES you that way.  If He recreates and restores in you, a new creation He intended you to be.  It will be Jesus that MAKES you free from sin, not you who finds some way of doing it on your own.  If you do not understand the #1 thing Jesus says must be done to obtain His free offer, nothing else is going to make sense either.  But if you understand that you submitting your will, your desires, your actions, and your decisions to Jesus Christ is going to result in Him making you a new creation, then what follows makes much more sense as well.
Once the process of salvation begins (that is, Jesus saving “you” from “you”) you will quickly realize that the life you were living before is not the one you want.  “Who” you are today, is nothing next to “who” you can be after Jesus makes you a new person.  What you want today, will change completely after Jesus gets a hold of your life.  How you love will change, who you love will change from only you loving you, to you loving others completely.  You will love more passionately after Jesus.  You will sympathize and love more people than you ever thought possible after Jesus.  Your desires to sin will fade away, until you cannot believe you ever had them at all.  In short, the life you have today, will come to be a life you no longer want, or could ever imagine wanting again.  The new life Jesus creates for you will be the one you want.  At that point, only after that realization, will you be able to “take up your cross”.  The cross is the symbol of death, in this case, the death of who you were.  We take it up freely, because we no longer want the old life, but the new one.  That becomes our testimony, our witness.  This is not some sort of death cult, but it is a gospel of new birth, of re-birth, of recreation. 
Once we realize that Jesus alone saves us, and we are letting Him do that replacing our life with His new one, we begin to follow Him as the easiest road we ever walked.  Sure sin, and Satan are going to try to bring us pain while we remain on this side of heaven, but the intimacy with God the Father, can overcome anything this world can throw at us.  Following Jesus, is easy once the process He laid out is the one we are following.  Trying to follow Jesus, or pick up your own cross, without denying yourself; is the hardest thing a man or woman could ever attempt to do, and is doomed to failure.  What Jesus says beginning in verse 35 is … “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. [verse 36] For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? [verse 37] Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”  These verses are meant for someone who still thinks that his current life is better than something Jesus could give him.
For the sinner who is still firmly in the grasp of Satan, he is not so sure he wants to be a different person altogether.  He might have to leave his significant other, or stop having that affair, or quit cheating and becoming rich by it.  The temporary “pleasures” of this world might have a hold on the heart deceived by Satan.  Everything he invested in his current life looks like a lot, and the rewards might actually be significant; but Jesus is saying its entire value is nothing next to what He is offering.  Losing someone we “love” might be the result of submitting fully to Christ.  But learning how to really love others, will make the right union be all the richer in the future.  Losing the wealth of this world will cause hardship here, but abject poverty here for a short time is nothing next to the ability to give everything to others and find purpose and fulfillment we have never known before.  The cement is gold in heaven for a reason, it is worthless.  The people on the other hand are priceless.
Some sinners have a hard time when they consider what their “friends” and family might think of them if they pursue this course.  Jesus has council for them as well in verse 38 saying … “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  Those sinners who remains ashamed of changing into who Jesus would make them, will embarrass Jesus when He returns, for He will be unable to take them home with Him.  Jesus does not force you to accept Him.  He does not take control over you, unless you give it to Him.  Jesus can take you from whatever state of sin you are in today, and make you an entirely different person.  But if you choose to stay where you are, He cannot make you change.  Love does not force its will on another.
In these texts are the secret to perfection.  Where you have always failed at changing yourself, Jesus can change everything about you that needs it.  Where you might define yourself as the chief among sinners today, Jesus can turn your life around so you do not even recognize who you used to be.  This is why doctrine does not matter.  This is why sexual orientation does not matter.  Because Jesus will fix, what needs to be fixed, in His time, and in His manner, and no one else has the right to judge.  It is not who you are today that matters at all, only that you are willing to let Jesus’s love fully transform your life.  When He is done with you, you will not regret it, you will dive into it, embrace it, and be so thankful for it.  The process might be long.  The people who are supposed to be supporting you along the way, may throw rocks instead.  But the end product is so worth the journey.  To have your motives and actions aligned with God the Father is the ultimate prize for humanity, and that is what is offered freely, and is achievable in our reality.  This is way different than every New Year’s Resolution you have ever heard about, and way better, cause it works.  What do you want?  Who do you want to be?