Friday, February 26, 2016

Unmasking a Celebrity [part one] ...

Paparazzi in league with tabloids are constantly bent on one mission, to unmask a celebrity engaged in some nefarious action.  A picture of somebody famous doing something less than ideal will sell magazines and garner great interest from readers.  The general thinking is that if “joe six pack” can see and read about some celebrity taking a tumble from grace, then perhaps he or she can feel better about their own lives by comparison.  This is not a new phenomenon.  People have always attempted to value their own lives and even spiritual well-being, comparatively with others.  Even the paparazzi and tabloid recording of these stories may not be as new as we think.  I believe the first one may have been recorded in the Gospel of Mark in chapter ten.  I submit for your approval the first biblical article of the unmasking of a local celebrity of that time namely one … Lazarus.
Our story begins with an understanding of the context and history of this article.  In the days of Christ, there was one sure way to know you had God’s favor and that was wealth.  Or at least, this is what every Jewish worshipper had been taught from birth.  Every text in scripture written as a promise from God, in which obedience would be blessed, and disobedience would bring about catastrophic consequences had been twisted to mean … good people can be known by their wealth … and … poor or sick people can also be known to be evil.  Those with catastrophic illnesses were also catastrophically evil, thus demon possession, or leprosy, or being lame, or blind.  Everyone understood this concept. Everyone accepted that it came from scripture.  And everyone was wrong.
Next, it only made sense, that the ruling class of Israel, would be made up of rich people.  Since the rich had the means to influence society, and the power and wealth to do so; why not make them part of the leadership of Israel.  Therefore, the Sanhedrin (the ruling council), was nearly singularly composed of rich people who would rule Israel to the extent that Roman tolerance would permit.  Now, there were other ways to get rich, but the primary way, was to be a priest.  As a priest, or more specifically Pharisee or Sadducee, it would be your job to decipher scripture, enforce the law, and insure the offerings flowed in from the people … to you mostly.  Talk about your easy money.  And since people were taught that they too could be rich with the favor of God, they were far likely to disagree with any Pharisee or member of the Sanhedrin.
Now comes our celebrity.  In this story relayed by Peter to John Mark, the name of the celebrity is withheld, I believe on purpose.  The Bible is not like other tabloids that inflict damage without regard.  However, we have in hindsight several pieces of evidence that lean to his identity.  First, Lazarus had means, and was part of the ruling class of Israel.  Jesus (and his crew) were always welcome in his home, where a meal for 16+ could be prepared on short notice with what seems never a thought about the cost.  It is widely known that Jesus “loved” Lazarus (as well as Mary and Martha, his two sisters).  And despite all this love, Lazarus never becomes a disciple.  He surely would have been welcomed as one.  So why did he choose not to be one?  Perhaps that answer lies in the scriptures we will now examine.
Picking up in verse 17 our story begins … “And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”  Aha, here Peter is careful to refer to this celebrity merely as “one” who came running, intentionally leaving out the name.  Later in our day, we will begin to refer to this celebrity only as “the rich young ruler”.  But in this first text is revealed something deeply interesting; and that is a longing and a recognition.  This celebrity, despite all his wealth, feels like there is something more that must be done, some deed he has yet to do, that would bring him peace, and salvation.  How many of us worry about exactly the same question?  What is left for “us to do” that would bring about our salvation.  So we answer our question with lists of do’s and don’ts, and when we find ourselves perpetually short on these lists; we begin to look at others and point out their shortcomings to make us feel comparatively better.
The story continues in verse 18 saying … “And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.”  The answer of Jesus reveals a focus the ruler did not expect.  Jesus takes exception to the flattery used in this man’s question.  The man had used the phrase “Good Master” in his question.  And Jesus does not like the implication.  Jesus asks why the flattery, and then directs the praise of this man off of Himself as a man, and back to God where it belongs.  For no man deserves our praise, only God does.  In this response would end the very practice of celebrity itself.  If we treated all men as we treat ourselves, respecting them equally, honoring them equally, and kept our reverence for God alone, the world would be as it should be.  So before any answer could be given, flattery had to be removed as a possible motivation for the response.
Jesus can now continue in verse 19 saying … “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.”  Jesus now throws back to this man, Moses as a response and what is written in the scriptures.  Moses is the hero of the Jewish people, and his writings have been reviewed and studied since birth by most of them, particularly the rich.  Jesus here is subtly emphasizing to this man, that Moses had no real answer for him.  He is in effect telling those in attendance that the scripture without Christ, lacks meaning and fulfillment.  Now as to which scriptures, Jesus also points out the very ten commandments back to the man as the basic standard of loving others he should live up to.  But in this case, there is one more, Jesus adds a commandment as … “defraud not” … which was never a part of the original list.  Sure this idea is in keeping with the 10 commandments, but it is NOT part of the written word … first proving that motives matter.  But also in this particular case it has specific relevance to the rich.  Defrauding people is an easy way to make one richer, and a great temptation to those engaged in business with the sole aim of making money.  It is as if Jesus is adding this particular commandment just for this man to cut to the heart of the temptations he might face.
It is also interesting the order in which Jesus lists these commandments as they are out of sequence.  It is entirely possible that for this rich young celebrity, as well as the crowd in attendance, they are listed from top to bottom in terms of how often they are broken.  The first is adultery.  Sexual sins, or sins of sexual expression and lust in the heart, bind a great many people.  In the days of Christ and in our own, sexual sins quietly inhabit the church, and its people, trying desperately to keep quiet, and avoid the shame of discovery.  Next is do not kill followed by steal followed by lie.  It is so easy to hate in our day, to follow our hatred with a justified feeling that theft must be OK, and to lie if we are ever caught.  This may actually happen at work, more often than person to person, but the justification of stealing or lying at work in our day is nearly universal.  Then comes the new one to defraud not, I wonder how many of us can look at our employment and claim innocence on this score.  Finally, Jesus includes honoring our parents, perhaps in this application, He simply means spending some quality time with our parents and listening to what they have to say.  If this was His meaning, are we in compliance, or are we simply too busy to really honor them on this score?
The story continues in verse 20 saying … “And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.”  I call B.S..  I do not believe the rich young ruler was claiming perfection, only that he attempted to keep all of these commandments from his youth, and when he failed, he took advantage of the sacrificial system in place for the forgiving of sins.  That would be more truthful.  But it still misses the point.  He is there to find out what else he needs to do.  Because even if he has been perfect in his keeping of these commandments, he has found it is not enough.  There must be something more.  And in this instance, instead of seeking the answer from the Pharisees who will undoubtedly find it for him in the writings of Moses, the man has come to Christ for the answer.
Peter continues his recollection in verse 21 saying … “Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.”  It is this recognition that instead of doing what he has always done, to find spiritual purity in scriptures without Christ, he has come directly to Christ that Jesus recognizes and loves.  This man has in effect by this question stated, my plan for spirituality it not enough, I need something more, I can only find the real answer in Jesus Christ.  And so as he has sought salvation in Jesus Christ, he will find it there.  Jesus tells him he only lacks one thing.  I wish my own list of errors was so short.  Jesus tells him to go sell whatever wealth he has and give it to the poor.  Notice he is not to take the cash to a safety deposit box, or put it in a CD, or invest in a 401k for his retirement.  What Jesus asks him to do, is to get rid of his wealth, and distribute it to the poor.  This will end the man’s dependence on money to sustain him, and place it ALL on Christ.  But there is more.
In giving to those who have nothing, he will be changing lives.  Those lives he changes may wonder “why” any man of this wealth would do such a thing.  What would cause someone to be so greatly charitable.  They may be haunted by this gesture, until they discern the motive for themselves.  In so doing, they may be brought to Jesus as well by this charity.  They may also find the salvation that is offered by Jesus Christ, and find themselves made free to love this greatly.  They may enter the Kingdom of God now, and his heaven later at the end of all things.  Upon entering heaven, the rich man would find the treasure of his gift returned to him in souls that were saved because of what he did.  There is no greater riches in heaven than the addition of precious souls who are there because of the actions we took to point them to Christ.  This is the treasure Jesus speaks of.  For we will not need CD’s or 401k’s, or gold bullion in heaven, unless perhaps the street gets damaged and we need to repair it with our golden concrete.  The treasure Christ speaks of is infinitely of more value.
Then Jesus offers the most praised gift of His age, an invitation to come and be a disciple.  There was no finer gift Jesus had to offer him.  There was no better place to learn about what it means to love others, and find the salvation this man was looking for.  He could spend night and day with Jesus, who already loved him.  He could hear what Jesus said all the time.  He could be part of the inner circle of followers of Jesus Christ.  The number of 12 disciples was not an absolute, as in this offer Jesus was more than willing to make it thirteen.  If you counted Mary Magdalene as many do, it might make it fourteen.  But in any case, and by any number, this was the ultimate prize offered by Christ.  And the response was the revelation for this man AND for us.
The interaction concludes in verse 22 saying … “And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.”  At the end of the day, this young ruler trusted in his wealth to make him happy, more than he trusted in Jesus Christ.  And EVERY ONE of us make the same response nearly every day of our lives.  For I see none of us, myself included, heading to the alter call to sign over our homes, and cars, and jewels, and clothing … giving 100% to the poor in order to follow Christ in the here and now.  Our response to even the idea of this, is that it is crazy, because Jesus is not here anymore.  Really?  Jesus is no longer here.  Because we cannot see, we cannot give?  And yet we claim to have faith.  What we fail to see, is that exactly like the young ruler, every bit of wealth that we have amassed is because of Jesus Christ.  Our dependence on Jesus is absolute, not partial.  And our Lord is bidding us, to stop trusting in trinkets, and start trusting in the source of them, in Him alone.  Our God is here now, just as much as when He walked this earth.  And what He would so desperately like to teach us, is to free us to love others so fully we would not stop to think twice about giving away our stuff to meet the needs of another.  We do not love like that yet, but we can.
This interaction did not stop Jesus from visiting Lazarus, loving him, and even raising him from the dead an extra time and a little early.  The salvation of Lazarus was not lost due to this decision; it was only delayed.  The rich young ruler could have freed himself from the burden of wealth, and found an entirely new happiness at the feet of Jesus but the man chose not to do it.  It was the not the shame of Christ this decision was made; it was the shame of the rich young ruler.  It is why his name was withheld, even though we suspect he may have been unmasked.  But the true unmasking of this celebrity, was in the mirrors of our homes today.  It is you that responds to the Master in this way, every time you trust to wealth for your happiness instead of trusting to Jesus Christ.  Thou are the one, as the words were spoken to David, so they are spoken to you, and to me.  It is We who are unmasked. 
But there is a better way and more to this story …

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Play Date With God ...

In our day, we have introduced structure into everything.  Consequently, kids do not just spontaneously play anymore.  Instead tiger moms of every variety make appointments with each other to allow kids to meet and play for a designated amount of time, in a designated place, and sometimes in a designated manner.  When the time has elapsed, no matter where junior may be in the journey of play, play is stopped and junior is cleaned up and taken home, or to the next endless appointment in junior’s life.  One could make an argument that the play date may be more about providing some “me” time to mom or dad, than it is about junior getting to play.  Even in our school systems the time for recess is fast becoming entirely extinct, replaced by Gym classes with particular sports in mind.  What this toxic combination achieves is the death of spontaneity in junior.  Instead of finding creativity in play, junior is told what to do, who to do it with, what the rules are, and how long it can last.  Is it any wonder our educational systems produce a wealth of “in the box” thinkers?  But what if we brought God into this mix?
Bringing God into a play date changes a few ideas.  First, there is no age limit on who can play.  No matter how old you are, or how old you think you are, God is open for play dates with you.  Next, the idea of location is trashed.  You can play nearly anywhere, and in point of fact, playing is more about what happens in the release of your mind and body, than it is about finding a swing-set and monkey-bars before you go crazy.  Finally, there is only one guiding rule, or principle, or set of ideals … to love others more than anything.  Once this concept can be grasped, there ARE NO RULES.  Yes I understand may be making parents very uncomfortable, and likely a good number of church goers, but stick with me for a minute.  There are no limits and no rules in all the Bible about how much you can love somebody else.  Every rule, commandment, or admonition throughout ALL of scripture has only to do with protecting others from you loving you.  Self-love has to be restricted because invariably it infringes on somebody else, hence the birth of sin itself.  But loving others has no limitations, or rules.  You can love God as much as you want.  You can love your kids, your family, your church, your community, and anyone you meet … as much as you want without limitations.  So when you are made free to love, you are truly FREE to love.
All of the sudden creativity is in the mix again.  I can begin to think about new ways to make you happy, that might take imagination, and paying attention to achieve.  Instead of buying your wife a dozen roses, and a box of chocolates for a holiday like Valentine’s and thinking you have done your “job”; what if you listened to your wife, really listened, and found out what she needs the most right now, and gave her that?  And what if instead of doing that only on a pre-ordained commercial holiday, you did it every morning, and every evening, to the point where you knew her better than anyone else on planet earth ever could.  What would that mean to her, in comparison with an annual duty and no heart in it?  To begin the journey into finding imaginative and creating ways about how to make someone else happy, and love them more than you will ever love yourself … is to begin to enter the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God is NOT found beyond the gates of pearl near the throne of the Father God in a place called heaven.  It is rather a state of being, a state of salvation, where you have been saved from the slavery and addiction of self-love.  No one can enter the Kingdom of God on their own, only Jesus can bring you to this state.  Only Jesus can change what you want, and only as you let Him.  Only Jesus can teach you what it really means to love, and how that works with loving others.  Only Jesus can change the core of who you are, your desires, your actions, and your motives.  This is the nature of salvation.  We are NOT being saved from hell fires, we are being saved from me loving me, more than I love you.  We are being saved from “wanting” to commit sin, instead wanting something else, something better, something that benefits the life of another.  That is the Kingdom of God, and why Jesus announced it was here, all the way back in His first coming.  But to reach this state of being, this state of salvation, we must learn to rely upon Jesus to do it for us.  And childhood is the perfect analogy for how that works.
Peter recalled just such an analogy to John Mark in chapter ten and picking up in verse 13 saying … “And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them.”  These were parents bringing their healthy children to be blessed by Jesus.  These children did not have diseases that needed healing, the disciples would not have rebuked them for that.  The disciples were unpleased, because the children were healthy, and they figured this was a waste of Jesus’ time.  But in truth, the disease impacting these children was beyond the human eye to see.  The parents were seeking the blessing of the Messiah, and in so doing were on target to receive the greatest blessing of all, the blessing of salvation.
John Mark continues in verse 14 saying … “But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”  Here was our God announcing that the Kingdom of God was made up only of little children.  Little children depend TOTALLY on their parents to care for them, love them, feed them, protect them.  If we are to be part of the Kingdom of God, we must look at Jesus as if WE are little children, totally in need from Him to do everything FOR us.  Little children do not get jobs, and pay bills, and fix food, in partnership with their parents.  Only when they are older can the begin to assume these roles.  We simply do not expect it from the 2-3 year olds, as their job is entirely being a toddler.  That is how our God looks at us, as a collective bunch of toddlers.  Asking a toddler to get a job, pay bills, and fix food, in order to “partner” with our God for our salvation is only going to mess it up more than staying out of it would have.  We keep holding on to the idea that “we” have some role to play about being saved from our sins, instead of just letting Christ do it for us.  In our efforts to partner with God, we only make a bigger mess of it.
But Jesus makes this even more important in verse 15 saying … “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”  For those of you who think you are mature Christians, think again.  For those of you who consider yourself, the Adult in the room, where it comes to life and church and mission; think again.  You are no more than a toddler, or you are nowhere in the Kingdom.  Notice Christ makes the imagery clear when He uses the words “little child”.  He does not say teenager, or pre-adolescent, or grown up.  He says little child.  The most key aspect of this is being fully dependent, fully trusting, and therefore FREE to play. 
These words of Jesus were not meant to inspire fear in us from doing it the wrong way.  They were meant to take the burden OFF of us so that we can have a play date with God.  The number one thing little kids want to do when they are awake and fed is PLAY.  The Kingdom of God is not composed of old fuddy-duddies who sit around looking to maintain the standards of the church body.  It is composed rather of little kids who get dirty, and play, and learn to love each other to heights no one has dreamed of before.  Kids trust God to maintain His own standards.  Kids would rather spend time with God, than sit around complaining the complaints of adults.  For as Jesus says plainly here, there are NOTHING but kids in His Kingdom, those who have been made FREE to love others.
But this lesson was not over yet.  John Mark continues in verse 16 saying … “And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.”  In the Jewish tradition Jesus does not forget to bless the children He has been talking about, and making a lesson out of.  He holds them, hugs them, and then blesses them.  But what did Jesus have to offer these kids?  The blessing of Isaac on Jacob and Esau was thought to convey great wealth, and the continued ability to make great wealth.  But it was not.  Since that tradition was handed down, what was REALLY being contained in the blessing of a father upon his children starting at the firstborn was the “favor” of God.  In this instance Jesus is a pauper in material things.  He will have no estate to hand down or wealth to transfer.  But His blessing of “favor” with God, is eagerly received by the children, and their parents.  He is in effect guaranteeing the salvation of the child who comes to Him looking for it.  It is no different for us today.  He will guarantee what we have failed at for so long.  He will save what we could not save.  He will change in us what we could not change.  And in so doing He will FREE us into having play dates with God.
The beauty of having a play date with God, is that He is always ready to have one.  He will play with us anytime we want to play, and God does not get tired like normal parents do.  We can come alone, or bring anyone else we want to, to include them in our play date, all are welcome.  We can play anywhere we want to.  And once a week, for an entire 24 hours, on a special time He calls the Sabbath; the play time is amped up to unspeakable levels.  God puts aside His work, and focuses His attention solely on playing with us.  Think of it, for an entire day we get His undivided attention.  That is some major playtime folks, and He has a plan to continue giving us that focused attention for the remainder of time and space.  When God makes something, He makes it for eternity.  Loving others to heights you cannot even imagine, does not just happen here, it happens in that city we call heaven, and throughout the universe, forever and ever.  That action, that play date, is eternal.  For the Kingdom of God is eternal, even though it begins here it is a Kingdom without end.  A Kingdom made up of little children who love to play.  This is not language about a city, or of a far-off state of being, it is about the here and now.
This language is about freeing us to love others, taking the burdens of parenthood and placing them on God.  It is about giving us the freedom to enjoy His company, unburdened by our sins, for He takes our sins away.  Not just the record of what we have done, but the desire to do them again.  He frees us to not worry about sins we no longer commit, and no longer desire to commit.  This is His work, His freeing, enabling work, so that we are free to play with Him as often as we want.  If that is a play date, then sign me up …

Friday, February 12, 2016

Perfected Marriage ...

Who will win the next SuperBowl is an annual topic of conversation in early January.  The answer of course is … “advertisers”.  It is said as many people tune in to see the game, as to watch the commercials presented during it.  It is one of the last “live” events on television where folks prefer NOT to use the DVR to avoid the ads, instead they want to enjoy it “live” with friends and family.  But to have a SuperBowl there has to be a fundamental understanding of the game, and how the game works.  Each team will attempt to win the game within the rules, using strategies they have practiced with each other within the rules.  Without this shared fundamental understanding of how the game of football is supposed to work, the SuperBowl looks a lot more like the PuppyBowl.  Imagine if the players entered the field, and when the ball was snapped, everybody just took off running in every direction both offense and defense into the stands, leaving the ball dropped where it was, and emptying the field completely.  This kind of nonsense would destroy the game of football pretty quick, in fact it would destroy any team sport.  And after 6,000 years of practicing marriage, that is precisely where we find ourselves, lacking a complete understanding of the fundamentals of the game.  We have left the ball on the field, and are running in every direction.  But this is something we could correct, if we could just listen to what marriage was all about … this time from its Author.
As it turns out, problems in marriage is not a new phenomenon to our day in age.  They date back quite a while (husbands might joke to the advent of women).  But Peter and the folks who lived in his day, had just as many questions, and appeared to lack knowledge just as much as us, about the fundamentals of the game.  So of course, the Pharisees decided this was a topic they could question Christ about, and “prove” He was not really the Messiah.  You see if Jesus got just one answer wrong, He would lose the game, and the people would stop listening to Him.  So periodically throughout His ministry, the Pharisees and Scribes would attempt to pick one of those “no win” questions to ask Christ.  No matter which choice He would pick, the answer could be proven wrong by them.  They continually setup choices for Jesus, either A or B, and whichever one He would pick, He would lose.  The problem for them of course, was that Jesus continued to answer in a way that expanded their knowledge of the law, and was neither A or B, but something entirely better.  And it was the Pharisees who would lose.
Peter begins relaying just such an incident to John Mark who transcribes it in his Gospel of Mark picking up in the tenth chapter in verse one saying … “And he arose from thence, and cometh into the coasts of Judaea by the farther side of Jordan: and the people resort unto him again; and, as he was wont, he taught them again.”  Jesus had moved very close to the territory of the Temple headquarters.  He had brought His visiting team on to home field of the Pharisees.  And as usual, the people came to see Him in droves.  It was no small irony that Jesus picked the place on the far side of the Jordan, where not too long ago, John the Baptist’s voice could be heard there bellowing to repent.  John the Baptist was considered no friend of the Pharisees either, calling them out publicly for their hypocrisy.  So this affront of Jesus “stealing” the attention of the people could not go unanswered.
Mark continues in verse 2 saying … “And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.”  The games had begun.  The Pharisees had asked Jesus a Yes or No question, they were not looking for a sermon, or to give Him a chance to expound upon an answer.  This is the reason why Peter specifically told John Mark this was a way for the Pharisees to be “tempting Him”.  If Jesus said yes, then the Pharisees could decry Jesus as being the “destroyer” of the family unit, and could persuade the people to listen no longer.  If Jesus said no, then the Pharisees could decry Jesus as not being practical, or in alignment with their traditions and laws.  Either way, they were set to pounce.  But Jesus would not so easily be drawn into this trap, instead He had in mind to teach them, and all in attendance something much deeper about marriage itself.  First, Jesus must examine them to determine where the state of marriage was in this time.
John Mark continues transcribing in verse 3 saying … “And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you?”  Moses was the defacto “hero” of the Pharisees.  They used and misused everything Moses had ever said or done or written, to their own benefit.  So in asking them a question rooted in their hero, Jesus gets them to commit to where their own hearts were in this day, and the answer they would prefer it were up to them.  The Pharisees answer in verse 4 saying … “And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.”  Moses had indeed established this ability for the dissolution of marriage.  But in the days of Moses, or in the days of the Pharisees, or in ours, this was never supposed to be first option executed the first time 2 people discovered they did not agree on something.  However, that is what it had degenerated to in the time of the Pharisees and in ours.  There was no stigma in obtaining a divorce in the time of the Pharisees or in ours, it was rather a simple legal matter than anyone to seek and obtain with minimal personal inconvenience.  It was and is as easy as buying or selling property.  No one gave it a second thought.  If you wanted one you got one, period.  But this state of marriage reveals a fundamental lack of knowledge of what marriage really is. 
Jesus responds in verse 5 saying … “And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.”  Divorce, as it turns out, is NOT a pre-creation or before-the-fall concept.  It was NOT considered pre-sin, only post-sin.  Divorce is a recognition of the effect of sin on and within a marriage, it was a necessity because of the damage sin can cause, from abuse, to infidelity, to a lack of commitment, to disagreements we have not the patience to resolve with self-sacrifice.  This is why Moses recognized the “need” for an escape clause in marriage.  Women were not meant to be killed in the name of preserving their marriages.  And there are a host of legitimate reasons why divorce may be needed in our age, or in any age, but ALL of them fundamentally begin with either one party or the other, engaged in a sin of some sort.  Unrepentant sin is the hardest of all to endure in a marriage.  And each party has to decide how much they can endure, before separation through divorce simply makes more sense.  But if the hard-truth of Divorce is that it is a post-sin reality, that means Marriage is a pre-sin reality with no thought of divorce.
Thus Jesus begins His lesson about the fundamentals of marriage we have all forgotten in verse 6 saying … “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.”  This is our Creator talking.  This is our God talking.  It was His choice to make not only our species, but nearly every species into the categories of male and female.  He did NOT have to do this, He chose to do this, by design.  He chose to do this with an eye to eternity.  This was NOT a result of our sin, unlike Divorce which recognizes the reality of the impact of sin upon us, our original structural design was “created” both male and female.  We were none of us meant to be alone.  We were all of us meant to have a companion that is not exactly like us, but like a jigsaw puzzle, compliments us, supports us, becomes the better half of who we are.  This entire phenomenon was established in our creation and in our design.  It was done this way prior to sin, not as a result of it.
Jesus continues in verse 7 saying … “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;”  Family units of old tended to stay together for nearly every reason.  Oh sure, in our age, children may go away to school, and strike out on their own in new jobs, but even so, they remain our babies.  But for ONE reason alone, do the children eventually really leave the nest since creation; for the sake of Marriage, which forms the fundamental basis of creating a NEW family unit.  I am my father’s son, and my mother’s son, UNTIL I am starting a family unit of my own, the point at which I am committing to be my wife’s husband.  At this point, my wife and the commitment we will share supersedes all other commitments even other familial ones.  At this point there is no such thing as momma’s boy or daddy’s girl, only husband and wife.  This is our Creator talking again.  It is our Creator, who is stating, that for the sake of marriage, we would leave behind our families, and “cleave” to our spouse.  Even the word cleave, implies a cutting away of the older heartstrings, to establish the newer ones.  This is our Creator establishing the priority of who we love in our lives.  Our spouse becomes THE most important person we will ever love, even more than we will love our own children.  The reason then must be something we have missed.
Jesus continues in verse 8 saying … “And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.”  There is something more here than the mechanics of sexual expression.  There is something far deeper and something that speaks to the fundamentals of the game.  In the ultimate act of intimacy between husband and wife is formed the physical manifestation of becoming “one”.  In this, we lose our identity of self, willingly joining it, to the identity of us as one unit.  I am no longer me, a half of who I used to be.  I am now only complete when I am we, established, rooted, and grounded as a whole, only when you consider my wife who comprises my better half.  When you look at her, you should see me there as well, bound to her, part of her.  Each of us inseparable to the other because we no longer think in terms of one being, but of two joined to be one.  To hurt her, is to destroy me.  To injure me, is to wound her.  We react as one, we unite as one, we have the same goals.  Our individual strengths are lent to the unit of one who we become.  Our individual weaknesses are covered by the one who has chosen to join with us.  One flesh, is not something that happens a few times a week, late at night, when both of you can find the time.  It is something that changes who you are, to the core of you.  It is a commitment to change who you are, by accepting your other half and integrating it into your very soul.
In the physical act or the singular union, where two consent to become one, is ONLY where the act of pro-creation can occur.  We are created in the image of our God, with imaginations of our own, with creativity of our own, with artistry.  We can make great contributions to our world and our society unleashing the gifts we have been given alone throughout our lives.  But our very existence can only occur, when two have consented to become one.  The act of bringing another new life into the universe was meant for us to share with our God.  We pro-create and borrow the elements needed from two humans to form a new one.  The formation of that new life will take time, and care, and sometimes may not reach its true human potential (either before birth or after it).  But it cannot begin, it cannot be instantiated without the materials required from the union of two becoming one.  In the process of a union this close, is born the joyful act of pro-creating a new life.  It was intended to be a three-way partnership with our God.  It was meant to draw our eyes back to Him, and to teach us the love of a parent, so much like the love He has for each of us.
Marriage is about as much a contract about property rights, as the library of Congress is about a single book.  This is the part of the fundamentals we have lost, an understanding about just how deep our choice will go into who we are.  The kind of intimacy our Creator is talking about is where two individuals become one family unit, just like He is with His Father.  They are One, yet separate and distinct entities. They choose to be One, of like mind, and of like goals, yet different.  They form our One God, yet we know them to be three entities.  In our marriage we are two entities, separate and distinct, but in our choice to wed, we are giving up half of ourselves to make room for our new half.  We are no longer referring to ourselves in a singular reference, because we are no longer singular, but plural.  In this context, there is no such thing as my money, or her money, there is only our money; which should be used for the benefit of the one I love most.  In this context, there is no such thing as a decision over which I should exert authority because of my preference.  I have no preference, but that which is ours.  In this context, there is no disunion between mom and dad where junior is concerned, her word is my word, and my word is her word.
The level of intimacy described here is a joining of minds far deeper than one we have ever considered before.  It is a sacrifice of self, far deeper than we have ever pondered before.  It is a union much closer than we have ever pondered before.  If what our Creator describes was the union Adam and Eve experienced before sin, and though scarred even after sin; do we imagine for a moment that Adam would have considered wanting a Divorce from Eve because life was hard?  He gave up perfection for Eve.  He broke trust with God over Eve, because she was so much a part of who he was.  When she died, he would look for no other replacement “spouse” because in his thinking death was not a get out of jail free card, it was a momentary delay before they could be reunited again.  The marriage of Adam and Eve was meant to be eternal.  The institution of marriage was meant to be eternal.  Divorce will one day pass away, as will all sin, but marriage was pre-sin, and will stand.  Consider what our Creator has to say about it …
Jesus continues in verse 9 saying … “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”  Marriage or the joining of two into one was something God established, what our Creator did for us, as evidenced by our very design, in male and female entities.  Let not man put asunder, or in other words, let not man think he is able to so casually mess it up.  There is no time constraint on this.  If marriage were an obsolete concept Jesus could have told us that.  If marriage too, were only valid in this world, and needed due to sin, Jesus could have told us that too.  He did not.  He did not lump in marriage with the need for divorce.  Instead, He puts the eternal stamp of God on it.  Marriage or the joining of two people into a single unit, was meant to be something that lasts beyond sin, beyond this world.  In that case, the death of my better half, is not a valid reason to seek another replacement unit.  The weakness of mankind may necessitate this, but the intent of marriage did not.  Death is a momentary interruption from my proximity to the half of me that was torn away, it is NOT the dissolution of my marriage.
What man has put asunder is staggering.  Because we treat marriage so casually as only a sex partner, and equity partner, we divorce and remarry like breathing.  But in so doing, we have never really married.  We have agreed to share some portions of our lives, but never agreed to let go the half of who we are, to become blended with someone else.  To adopt their likes and preferences, to share who we are to the point of blending souls, thinking as one, loving as one, living as one.  Instead our society (and the enemy who fosters it), teaches us to maintain our identity, never sacrificing it for ANYONE, not husband or wife.  Our society would have us leave our families and go on journeys to find out who we are.  Our society would have us destroy intimacy in the name of self-reliance.  But to sacrifice to another person so wholly that nothing is withheld, to love so deeply that another is always first in our eyes, to think of another person as the part of ourselves that makes us better, makes us complete – this is the ideas of marriage our Creator had in mind.  And He had them in mind on an eternal basis, not just a temporary one.  It is our weakness that introduced the need for replacements.  It is because we do not truly become one flesh in the core of who we are, that we maintain the idea of 2 people with 2 distinct persona’s sharing only for a while what is convenient to share.
But this lesson was not quite over.  John Mark continues in verse 10 saying … “And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. [verse 11] And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. [verse 12] And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.”  The laws in the days of the Pharisees were treating something so intimate as something very casual (sound familiar).  What Jesus explains to his disciples later on this topic, is that one cannot make this kind of commitment and just later casually change your mind about it.  One who has known this level of intimacy cannot walk away from it and just find another partner.  Whether woman or man, the mechanics of sex with someone else, forms the basis for adultery.  The intimacy that marriage intends is not a casual, multiple choice kind of scenario.  It is a one time, no room for anybody else scenario.  It is a reformation of who we are to become blended with another, that is not something easily redone.
When we reach heaven our Creator will have put right, the scenarios our sin and our weakness have put asunder.  Our Creator will have to heal the hearts of those that are split, and broken, and betrayed.  The establishment of marriage, though wounded by man, has not been destroyed entirely by us, or our sin.  It simply needs a restoration that our Creator is capable of both here, and in the world to come.  Those who believe they love more than one love, can find joy in loving only the one our Creator would have us love.  Our design is not being altered upon going to heaven.  We were created as man and woman and will remain so.  The institution of marriage is not being obliterated by our sins, but it will need repair.  But if we were to see our marriages become perfected here we must follow the same path we follow to see our characters become perfect.  We must learn to submit ourselves to Jesus, and allow Him to change the core of who we are, to want different things, to love in a different way.  The married ones of us, will find a deeper love and a deeper intimacy with our spouses in this process.  We may even learn to have perfected marriages in this world ahead of the one to come.  We may find our goals too become eternal, and not just for the brief time we occupy this world.  We may even find the unity of the One God in the one person we become, sharing that level of unity and love for others, so that when other see either of us, they see both of us perfectly blending into one flesh.  And His love shining through that perfect blend.

Friday, February 5, 2016

You Cannot Be Replaced ...

Imagine owning a Faberge Egg or the original Mona Lisa painting that now hangs in the Louvre.  These works of art are rare and beautiful, and therefore worth much to those who admire and collect art.  But what happens if an electrical fire breaks out in your home, and they are both accidentally destroyed before the fire can be put out?  If that happened, you would have suffered a great loss.  In fact, the art community around the world would have suffered a great loss.  The simple reason, is that neither of these items could ever be fully replaced.  Oh there is more than one Faberge Egg in the world, and there are more renaissance paintings of women’s portraits in the world, but none are precisely the same.  Because these works of art are considered to be “one-of-a-kind”, they are irreplaceable.  It is their uniqueness that makes them so.
It so happens another “art collector” exists.  The community that follows His work is large, consisting of nearly 2/3 of the angelic host, and a wide variety of other collected works He has made around the known universe.  As it turns out, His latest creations reside in our world.  And He is desperately trying to return them to the gallery He had intended for them.  But humanity is not valued as a group.  Instead each person is distinct, unique, and has a unique purpose in a mosaic we refer to as humanity.  Consider for a moment that since the creation of Adam, there is only ONE version of you.  You are not a copy, that existed over and over again throughout the ages of history.  If one had a time machine (as God does), and could examine humanity from Adam to now, they would not find a single copy of you.  You are it.  You are the only copy to exist whether backwards or forwards in time.  This is due to the nature of the Artist. 
As such, your particular worth to our God and Sculptor becomes of infinite value, because He has chosen to only ever make one of you.  This also means, He had and has a unique purpose for you that NO other person can ever fully fulfill.  Oh sure, there are other humans, just like there are other renaissance paintings, but to lose even one of such a precious treasure is a loss that would be felt in the heart of the Artist, and throughout the entire heavenly community that knows the value of each of His works and how much He loves each one.  As you sit, you are not perfect.  Time, genetics, and choices, have marred and buried the potential of your greatness.  But our Artist, our Creator, knows how to remove the dirt that has accumulated.  He knows how to restore the fullness of what He intended for You as the work-of-art, that He has never stopped loving.  As you sit, you may not have yet fulfilled your purposes in this world, nor in the one to come.  But our Creating Artist, knows how to restore you to the position in His gallery, that He intended (and you would crave if you knew it).
Because a critic exists, does not devalue art of an infinite price.  But alas critics do exist.  They do not perceive the greatness of a completely unique work-of-art, neither in themselves, nor in others.  They see only the dirt that has accumulated, not the potential of what lies beneath in the structure and design.  They refuse to believe that the Artist could ever restore the art, because they have refused to let Him do it to them.  So critics are born, and persist.  You would think no such critic could ever exist within the church.  After all, the church is normally the place where the restoration work begins.  But then, it is not the building that makes the art of value.  A Faberge Egg in your home is worth just as much as a Faberge Egg in a museum.  So the walls of the church do not preclude the heart of a critic.  Often, critics simply do not like anything that does not resemble themselves.
Peter recalled just such a revelation to John Mark in his gospel, in chapter nine, and picking up in verse 38 saying … “And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.”  John, a beloved disciple of Christ, has in this instance, decided to take on the role of critic.  John describes the problem to Christ, that is simply, that another work-of-art is casting out devils in the name of Jesus Christ.  This action is beneficial to those afflicted, and frankly is not something many of us try in today’s age.  It would appear, that another disciple has been formed, even without the daily contact with Jesus that John and his compatriots had.  BUT, and there was a big BUT, in the mind of John the critic on this day; the newly formed worshipper of Jesus, “DID NOT FOLLOW US.”  You will note John uses the word “us” in this reference. 
Only a few verses earlier, we find the disciples arguing about who would be the greatest.  This other person casting out devils was not showing the proper deference to the existing disciples yet.  Obviously the person casting out devils believed in the identity of Jesus Christ, or he would not have been using His name to do it.  But the person had the audacity to be conducting this work, without the sacrifice, of knowing his place in the church.  In the mind of John and the others, they were the “first” disciples, and therefore they should command the respect of the entire community.  If this man refused to follow “us”, then the community should forbid this man from casting out devils.  After all, the standards of the church must be maintained right?  You need to control the message right?  Only men of a certain age (and lineage) could ever be disciples, right?
Mark continues in verse 39 saying … “But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.”  The man is long gone, or at least out of the area of where they are now.  John had been telling Jesus of something that took place, likely earlier that day.  Yet the first words of Jesus are to “Forbid him not”.  Those words were to strike a chord in the heart of the critics, not the heart of the person casting out devils.  Because someone does not resemble us, or respect our “seniority” in the church, is NOT a reason to forbid them from helping those in need, with miracles performed in the name of Jesus Christ.  Jesus explains that anyone able to perform miracles in His name, is not likely to be casting doubt on His identity, or speaking badly about Christ.  They are instead most likely saying good things about Jesus.  And you can imagine the victims, who are now healed, are saying even greater things about Jesus Christ in whose name they are made free.
Jesus continues in verse 40 saying … “For he that is not against us is on our part.”  Wow!  This would seem to completely disrupt the entire denominational structure that has arisen within the Christian Church.  There was ZERO test of doctrinal beliefs this man would have to go through.  There was no background check of “what kind of man” he was.  This other work-of-art might still have dirt on it; or in other words, he may still have sin in his life, even public sin.  But Jesus considers him on their side.  Talk about sheep of another pasture.  You see, we begin to think it is the “church” that saves us, or the collection of works-of-art all getting together once a week in a particular building, that makes us saved, or restores us to our intended condition and potential.  But the building does nothing to accomplish that goal.  And getting together with other wounded souls, some of them elders, some of them teachers, and one of them a pastor … does not do it either.  ALL of them are still needing restoration from the same singular Artist, as we do ourselves.
The “church” should not consider it has the power to forbid others, but only to welcome them, and point them to Jesus Christ our only Artist.  Consider that each of us must be restored to our true potential, and true beauty only by Jesus Christ, not by other critics, or by ourselves.  If anything, our “job” is simply to love art, that is, to love and appreciate the infinite value of the unique works-of-art we find in the humanity that surrounds us.  How many times have we started meetings in the church board without a member present, reasoning to ourselves, that “it doesn’t matter if they are here”?  How many times have we greeted people in church and find a missing soul, but think to ourselves, “it does not matter if they are with us this week”?   We have become critics learning to disregard the value of others, because we see church members in a group, rather than unique, infinitely valued, people who WE should not be able to be without.  It is easy to disregard the value of any person, when we lump them into groups that have only pronouns, or collective designations, not unique names.
But the lesson of salvation was to be even more profound as Jesus continues in verse 41 saying … “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.”  Here Jesus says that even a person (who may or may not actually believe in Christ themselves), offers you a cup of water, because you do believe in Christ, will not lose his reward.  A simple act of charity, a simple act of love, done just because you believe is enough to start the restoration process of that work-of-art, and see it completed.  I can think of a Muslim believer, who recently acted to spare the Christians riding with him on his bus, when stopped by terrorists in the Middle East recently.  He acted to save them, because they were Christians, even though He was a Muslim.  If just offering water would have done something great for him, what will acting to see their lives spared do?
The problem we face in our “church” thinking is that we have reduced people into a “membership”, rather than a praised collection of individual works-of-art, not a single one of which can be done without.  It is easier to care less for a group of people, than it is for a single one, whose pain we are familiar with, and whose individual need we know we could meet.  But if we recognized that we are ALL individually under the care of the Artist, who is restoring us in a painstaking work (our doing), that takes longer than it should (again our doing), we might realize that “you” cannot be replaced.  In fact, your value was so high, that Jesus wanted to make sure you were never driven away from Him by some critic, inside or outside the church, who thought they knew better, how someone is saved and restored.  For those who believe themselves to be the “standards-bearer” of our churches, for those who think it is their “job” to point out sin and condemn it, pay special attention.
Jesus continues in verse 42 saying … “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”  And with this saying “critics” and “criticism” should come to an end.  How sad it has not.  Jesus points to a child (lest we think we only need to pay attention to the value of an adult), and declares the value of that child, by saying, we should not even “offend” one of them.  We should not hurt their feelings.  We should not make them feel bad.  We should do nothing, that does not include a love that saves.  Condemnation, criticism, and judgment form the very basis of offending others.  If you think that your job in the church, start shopping for a millstone, and book that cruise on the Titanic.  It is not the intent of Jesus to cease from the restoration of critics, only to point out to them, how much pain their criticism can cause.  And to understand there is no-one immune to the pain of being criticized, even little children are affected.  In point of fact, the transformed heart that knows the joy of loving others, could not imagine criticizing, and bringing pain to a child; doing that even by accident would bring on thoughts of millstones and this like.
Jesus then continues his example of how much we should want to avoid hurting others, even a little child in verse 43 saying … “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: [verse 44] Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. [verse 45] And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: [verse 46] Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. [verse 47] And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: [verse 48] Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”  It is important to study these examples in the context of what Jesus was saying.
In this Christ uses three examples.  First, if our “hand” offend thee.  Second if our “feet” offend thee.  Lastly if our “eye” offend thee.  Our hands represent what we do, and in the context of little children (whether physically or just spiritually young), what we do “to” them.  What we teach them, what we say to them, our actions brought upon on another that could offend them.  It would be better for us to have one less hand in heaven, than to suffer the eternal consequences of hell, that is separation from God, and a fire that cannot be put out until it has consumed even death.  Our feet then represent where we go, where we take ourselves, and the children we influence.  In this example, better for us to be lame in heaven, that is unable to move away from heaven; than move freely in the highways of hell.  Note that in the second and third examples, Jesus repeats the consequences of hell to be eternal, the worm that does not die, and the fire that we cannot put out.  Finally, our eyes represent what we see, and what we want.  Even if we control our actions, and bring children (or the spiritually young) only to places where they should be, if what we see causes us to want what we should not want, our blindness is preferred.  It would appear that lust of the eyes and heart is no less a problem, than what the hands or feet do.
Beginning with the millstone, and ending with the deformed bodies and eternal fires, these are NOT intended to be statements of exclusion from restoration and salvation our Savior can alone bring.  They are intended to show the severity of what we do and say to others.  How we interact with others, not showing them the love of Christ, has this severe an impact on them and us.  In the end, when our vision of love has perfect clarity, we will judge ourselves this harshly for the offenses we have given to others.  That “Schindler’s List” moment of clarity when we understand only now, that we could have done more, and that in so doing more lives would have been saved, will one day come upon all of us.  Treating our membership in the church as a license to become a critic, and regularly offer our “much needed criticism” is in fact having exactly this effect on others.  We are damaging them, even the children, in ways we would never wish to, if we could see through the lens of perfect loving eyes.
Instead of being an art critic, our Lord would have us become an art aficionado.  Jesus continues in verse 49 saying … “For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. [verse 50] Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.”  The process of our restoration will sometimes seem like fire.  It is hard to give up what we have treasured most, to value others, to give without ceasing, to hold nothing back.  And Jesus says everyone will be restored or salted in this way.  But He also says that every sacrifice will be healed with salt.  Ideally, we are supposed to heal, or salt each other.  We are supposed to be the vehicles through which God works to show us what it means to love.  But if we lose that love for each other, if we have no ability to heal the wounds of another, how can God use us for this purpose?  Instead of being an art critic, become someone with a strong appreciation for art.
For it is our uniqueness, that declares our value.  It is our restoration that will see us finally fully perform the function and work He has set for us to do.  Know that if we choose to never be restored, there will be hole in the mosaic that will never be filled.  For truly, YOU cannot be replaced.  If we come to treat each other and see each other as our Artist and Creator does, perhaps we can learn to love as we should.  There is no age barrier to this.  There is no racial barrier.  There was no doctrinal test established by Christ, other than do they believe in Jesus, and will they love others.  The process of restoration is unique to the piece of art in question, but all are restored over time.  The timelines may be different.  But we are NOT to be critics of the art, or how the Artist restores His works, we are to be people who appreciate and love the art and that can be used for His greater purposes, to heal, support, and to love.