Friday, March 18, 2016

A Power Move ...

Let’s face it, career advancement is something we all think about from time to time.  Getting that next promotion, that next pay increase, is a cycle we want to establish and repeat as often as possible.  Some of us actually long for the increase in responsibility or perhaps authority; but setting up a career trajectory that is ever moving upwards seems engrained in our culture.  What citizen rooted in American Idealism, will ever be “content” doing only what they do today, getting paid only what they get paid today, and repeating that - until the grave reaches out for them?  We need challenge to some extent.  We need the thrill of doing more, doing something a little different, and moving up because of it.
What may not cross our minds, is that this condition we all share in the commercial world, is also shared with people who work in ministry.  Since this is more of human thing, than an indication of where you might work, it only makes sense.  Even those in the church, who have an understanding of what it means to serve, can sometimes fall right back into the ideas of “ascent”.  Now few churches offer a multi-layered hierarchy upon which to rise.  If you are the Kindergarten class teacher for example, it is not as if they have 3 layers of teacher to aspire to … (associate teacher, established teacher, and senior teacher).  If your church is large enough to warrant this kind of hierarchy, praise the Lord, as you must have many children across many rooms, and that is the rarity, not the norm.  So for many roles in ministry, there is little ascent to be had, and against a small population of believers, few who will ever make the journey.
So whether the competition for the next spot will be fierce in a commercial job, or in a ministerial position, the aspiring candidate often attempts to distinguish themselves by making … a power move.  For the candidate who is corrupt in heart, this move will undoubtedly reflect a corrupt action.  Examples include taking credit for work you did not do, essentially stabbing someone else in the back in any form, or setting up negative circumstances which leave yourself as the only logical alternative to the opening.  If managers were smart they would see through the methods of the power move, discern the heart of the applicant, and refuse to be a part of it.  But alas this has been done often, because it works often.
If however, the heart of the applicant is not corrupt, the power move can take on a far different nature.  For example, the candidate may attempt to distinguish themselves by taking on unpopular work or projects, and completing them with style, financial acuity, and discipline.  They may as an alternative, “invent” new ways to benefit the organization, and do the work, perhaps off-hours, to attempt to “earn” the advancement or open role by demonstrating how they think, and how they deliver, ahead of their competition by deeds and accomplishments.  No matter how it is conducted, the power move is intended to propel one applicant over another.  And that applicant is usually you.
One of the first power moves recorded, occurred in the Gospel of Mark in chapter ten.  It makes no sense to us, because we know the story from beginning to end.  But for the applicants in question, it seemed like the only way they were ever going to get the roles they wanted.  It seems inconceivable that this story would involve disciples of Christ, but it did.  When our ideas of ministry and career begin to blend, our concepts of service diminish.  Peter transcribes this story to John Mark, picking up in verse 35 saying … “And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.”
There it is, the power move.  James and John (the sons of thunder) have decided to wait no longer.  They intend to ask for the premier positions of power directly from Christ before any of the others get around to it.  They hope their boldness will get them what they want.  If this has been a game of chicken, the other disciples have blinked and it is too late for them.  John Mark continues in verse 36 saying … “And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you?” 
This response warrants a little of our attention.  Keep in mind, Christ already knows their hearts, He knew before they formed the thought what they wanted, and what they would ask.  He could have immediately condemned them before they opened their mouths.  If condemnation was ever a part of the ministry of Christ, here would have been a perfect place to role it out.  He does not.  Instead, He utters what should be heart-breaking words to them and more importantly to us. 
We come to Christ, like those disciples, intent on getting what we want.  We ask, or demand, or plead, that Christ should grant us, some selfish desire of our hearts.  But His piercing question is … “what do you want me to do for you”.  To this question they could have stepped back, rethought about what having God give them a gift could mean.  They could have like Solomon asked for wisdom.  Like Samson they could have asked for strength.  Like Abraham they could have asked for faith.  Or perhaps most valuable of all, they could have asked to be saved, to be purified from their sins, that they might be as Enoch, ready for translation in the here and now.  But they did not.  Nor do we.
Instead, we present God with a list of our desires (or demands).  We want temporal healing, when our spiritual suffering is so near death.  We want employment, and riches, when our poverty might drive us to a dependence on Christ, and money will only drive us away from it.  We want love from a girlfriend or boyfriend, when their hearts know not our Lord, nor care to, and will ever pull us away from Him, the source of all love.  God asks us what we want.  And we want the wrong things.  Like James and John, we squander an opportunity of a lifetime, because we hear not His words, bent on presenting a list we already made up.  So like us, James and John respond in verse 37 saying … “They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.”
To understand what they asked, James and John were following the traditions of the day for the courts of power.  The positions nearest the king were the most honored, and the most powerful.  To sit at his right hand, was to be second only to the king in power.  To sit at his left hand was to be most loved by the King, and third most powerful in the kingdom itself.  James and John, had just heard a play-by-play prophecy told by Christ Himself of His coming death and resurrection.  They ignored it.  They pursued their plans of power and ascendency from inside the Kingdom of God.  They abandoned childhood trust, and asked to be adult rulers over all the other children.  They lost insight on what it means to be free to be a child at all.  So do we.
Jesus responds in verse 38 saying … “But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”  In this question James and John naturally assumed Jesus meant a cup of grape juice, or the “wine” of the day.  They may have thought He meant for them to be wine tasters in order to assure He would not be poisoned as was the tradition of many earthly kings.  He did not.  As for baptism, that was done by water, immersed in the rivers of the Jordan.  James and John were ready for these things and thought them relatively easy to complete.  But Jesus was referring to the cup of sorrows foretold by Isaiah.  He was referring to the baptism of fire that would purify His sacrifice.  They had no concept of what that would mean to them.
So the story continues in verse 39 saying … “And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: [verse 40] But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.”  Jesus says to them, very well, you will drink from my cup, and be baptized like I am.  Neither of them understood this, but they would learn.  But as for the original request, Jesus defers to His Father to decide who would sit next to Him, on His left, and on His right.  These positions of honor are left to His Father to determine, not because Jesus was without ideas or preferences perhaps, but because He trusts His Father to make a better decision.  He allows His Father to decide what He wants, just like we should.
Now, this conversation may have been semi-private, in order to keep the power move secret, and perhaps successful.  But since they did not achieve their goals, perhaps they began to speak about it to the others, (you know as a warning, so they did not try the same thing).  And this did not go over well as you can imagine.  The story continues in verse 41 saying … “And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John.”  Perhaps this a polite understatement.  Can you imagine the reaction of Peter alone, Peter the one who is the most bold, the most boisterous, to have heard that these other 2 sneaks, have tried to jump the line and get in front of him.  No, I can imagine the fur was about to fly at this gathering.
Jesus responds in verse 42 saying … “But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. [verse 43] But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: [verse 44] And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”  Jesus begins to explain (again) that the work of ministry is different.  There are no positions of authority in the church.  Perhaps that bears repeating.  There are NO positions of authority in the church.  The goal is not power, it is service.  To have honor in the Kingdom of God is to serve others.  Doing simple things like loving someone, accepting someone despite how hard they make it, pointing someone to Christ by revealing what He has done for you without ever mentioning what “they” need Him to do.  To be a minister in the Kingdom of Christ, is to be a servant, who loves.
Even God Himself performs this role.  He is not telling us to do anything He is not doing Himself.  The story concludes in verse 45 saying … “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  Jesus lays down His very life in service to us.  This is how glory is established in heaven, this is how honor is calculated.  He does not force us, He loves us.  He does not take, He offers.  He gives us our salvation, He does not attempt to sell it to us, or trade it to us.  He just gives it away.  The most precious thing He has to offer, His life, and our salvation, are just given away for free to any who will take it.
The extent to which you obtain honor, is correlated exactly with how many people you serve, and how many services you do for them.  So if you want to make a power move, you should start by loving the unloved.  If you want to make your move effective, then be there for someone in pain, without ever opening your mouth to condemn the sins that brought them to this condition.  Only reveal to them how your own sins brought you there many times, and only Jesus ever made it better.  If this is not true for you, then keep your mouth closed and look for Jesus yourself until it is.  Jesus had ample opportunity to criticize and condemn the disciples throughout this entire story if that is what He wanted to do, or wanted you to do.  Notice, He does NOT. 
Throughout this entire story, where the disciples are motivated by greed, and power, Jesus NEVER condemns.  Instead He teaches about what it really means to have honor.  He offers an alternative without ever saying a word about them, how bad they are, how stupid they are, or how sinful they are.  He offers hope without ever focusing on their sins.  He offers love without ever mentioning how bad they are right now, or how difficult they are to love.  These greedy, stubborn, power hungry disciples, refuse to hear Him about His death.  They are ready to fight over who gets to be most in charge of the Romans, when that role does not even exist.  They are doing everything wrong.  And they like us continue to want the wrong things.  Yet He never offers a condemning word, not one.
Instead, His version of love, is to teach the truth about what honor really means.   He keeps speaking words of love that focus on what is possible, NOT, on what is going on in their heads and hearts.  To focus on sin, is to make sin the winner.  To focus on what Christ says, is to look away from sin, and towards the Kingdom of God.  Jesus is not spanking the 2-year-olds for being crying, nasty, grumpy children who are disrupting the peace of His Kingdom.  He is instead tenderly holding them in His arms, and distracting them with the bright shiny Kingdom of Heaven.  And we babies stop being so nasty, and are awestruck by the shiny purity He is dangling in front of us, offering us, and letting us play with.
This story is not unique.  It may be one of the few focused on power moves by a disciple, but there are many where man comes to God with mistaken, if not downright sinful requests or ideas.  God does not condemn them for their chosen ignorance and sin.  He leads them away from it.  He leads them to truth without saying how bad they are, or reminding them how bad they were.  The point is redemption, not guilt.  The point is freedom to play like children, without the burden of judgment and condemnation that only adults must bear.  We are being made free to love others, free to play like kids with our God.  The methods of how He frees us are important to witness, so that as we try to share what we learn, we do it in similar ways.  Ignore the sin, and lead the person to the alternative, in Jesus Christ.  He will free them from the things they want today, which are not the right things to want.  Just like He does it for you and me.  Jesus will reset the improper thinking in them … and in you.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Unmasking a Celebrity [part three] ...

Our study began as we examined evidence and a theory that perhaps Lazarus was the rich young ruler who chose wealth rather than discipleship with Christ.  Our second study examined the effects of that choice and what hope there may be for all of us to become children again that are free to play in His Kingdom.  We examined the “who” and found it to be ourselves.  We examined the “threat” and found it to be a reliance on our means to make us happy or save us.  But that “threat” was from outside the church, the faith, or the Kingdom.  As it turns out, there is one more “threat” we must examine that can emerge from inside the church, or the faith.  Peter was not shy in recording the whole of this story.  He was careful in reciting it to John Mark in his gospel in chapter ten, not to name the rich young ruler directly.  Peter (unlike the tabloids of our day) had no interest in causing this person harm, even if only by reputation.  But Peter was also introspective about these events.  For this gospel was meant to help any who read it, whether in his own day, or in ours.
Our story continues picking up in verse 28 saying … “Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.”  Ahh, there it is at last, what Peter had voiced was what all of them were thinking.  Comparative Salvation.  Only moments before the rich young ruler had departed in sadness for being unable to leave his great wealth to become a disciple.  So Peter here compares himself and his companions and by contrast states unequivocally that they have left “all” to follow Christ.  This was part boast, and part comparison.  From the point of view of Peter, since they had all done this, they “deserved” to be part of the Kingdom of God.  And since none of the disciples were ready to abandon the idea that the Kingdom of God might also include an anti-Roman ascendency, they all “deserved” to be at the top of the pyramid where it came to power and authority.  Here Peter, though inside the Kingdom, failed to recognize what being in the Kingdom meant.  The goal of being free, is not to compare your own state of freedom with another person who you perceive to be less free.  It is simply for you to be free.  Assuming the mantle of judge, does not make you free, it burdens you with a role you were not intended for.  It ends the childhood, and shows you the door away from the Kingdom.
And the reward Peter thought he deserved needed to be addressed.  John Mark continues transcribing in verse 29 saying … “And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, [verse 30] But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”  In the answer of Christ are several truths unmasked.  Jesus begins with a short list of things His followers may have to give up for the sake of the gospel.  Notice He first starts with house or home.  I do not believe this to be an admonition to universally take on homelessness, but then again my heart may still be too hard to see it rightly.  In any case, it is no small thing to leave home behind.  Whether to be a missionary and go to the far corners of the world to reach the unreached; or to go into the workplace holding firm to values that are in conflict with company goals and risk unemployment for the sake of your beliefs, it is no small thing to lose the home you know.
Next Jesus lists perhaps the most precious things to us, namely our families.  For the sake of belief in Jesus, or adherence to the gospel, we may indeed lose brothers or sisters who simply cannot understand what we are doing.  Imagine the condemnation of siblings while we give away wealth, and seem to abandon the responsibility for caring for our own family.  Imagine the condemnation of siblings who do not understand why we would rather lose employment than violate the beliefs we hold true about Jesus.  But the problems could be worse.  Imagine how hard it is for a child to disobey his parents to hold true to Jesus and the gospel.  In that instance the child is wholly dependent on their parents and yet risk survival to remain true to Jesus and the salvation He offers.
But the problems could be worse.  Imagine risking what Adam could not bear to risk.  Imagine risking the loss of husband or wife to remain true to Jesus and the gospel.  It is not the true Christian who makes ultimatums to a spouse, but often the Christian faces them from a spouse.  To have intimacy ripped away for a steadfast belief in Christ is the hardest of all challenges we may face.  To add our children to the list of things we risk losing in this scenario makes it nearly unbearable.  But while we may be learning to love others, our relationships are personal and are our own.  We cannot enforce them on our spouse, nor on our children.  We can point them to Jesus, but not compel them to follow.  And those who refuse to follow, become accustomed to rejecting love, and focusing on self.  When they realize you will not accommodate them ahead of your love for Christ, they may be much more willing to cast you away for it.  Whether for greed, or expediency, or simply a wish not to see what real love looks like reflected in your relationship with Christ, Christians may face the loss of family in this world.
These losses make the loss of lands or wealth look small by comparison.  It is far easier to lose money than to lose those who we really love.  Our Christianity itself longs to reach our family first, it longs to be shared with those we are most familiar with, and love the most.  And yet Christ lists our families as part of the things we may lose for the sake of the gospel, and a belief in Him.  When Peter says they have left “all” for Jesus, he does not yet know what that list could entail.  But if like Adam, we would rather hold on to our spouse, our child, our parents, or our siblings ahead of a belief in Jesus, or participation in the salvation He offers; we are no different than the rich young ruler.  Comparative salvation is not real.  It is an illusion to make us feel better about the choices we have made when they go against Christ.  If I can give more than that guy, then at least I can feel better that I am not him.  If I sin less than the pastor, perhaps I am a holier person.  But I am not.  For if I withhold all, I embrace the pain of my choice, and the delay I need not experience.
Jesus then speaks of the rewards for our willingness to sacrifice.  He says we shall receive “an hundredfold” now in this time … the same list of things we gave up.  How is that possible you might ask?  It can happen when your perspective on how to love changes and is transformed.  When I learn to love others like Christ loves others, I begin to love children more and more, and not just my own.  The families in the church become my family.  The terms brothers, and sisters, are not just meaningless cliché’s but actual terms of how deeply I feel.  I begin to adopt in my mind the families I minister to, and begin to share a deep empathy with what they go through.  I look to solve the needs they may have.  I share their triumphs and their grief.  And thus the phrase “with persecutions” is added to the rewards I experience.  For you cannot love others this deeply and be unaffected when they experience pain.  My reward is an hundredfold what I may have lost, but it is also an hundredfold more subject to the persecutions this world has to offer on those I now love.
And through all of this will be the perfecting of my character.  Until my character has reached the point of perfection perhaps in this world like Enoch, or Elijah, or perhaps in the next world to come as those who will taste death before He arrives again.  This process of perfection begins here as we enter the Kingdom of God, and reaches completion over time, or ultimately as we arise into His eternal Kingdom.  If Peter or the others were still harboring a different idea of what the reward was, or how it worked.  Jesus needed to transform their thinking from being served, to doing the serving. 
He continues in verse 31 saying … “But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.”  If Peter thought he was to have a place of power and position in the Kingdom, his goals were facing the reality of being last.  For positions of honor in His Kingdom resided at the last of the line.  People who were last in line were honored to serve all those in front of them.  People at the start of the line had no opportunity to serve anyone.  Servants and ministers who served a great many people were honored in His Kingdom, the more they could serve, the more honored they were.  Those who sought to be the powerful, to be on the top of the pyramid, were to be those with the least honor.  This runs contrary to Jewish tradition, and scriptural interpretation, just as much as it does American idealism.  The reason why Jesus is most honored in heaven, is because He has been servant of us all.
The concepts of comparative salvation needed to be unmasked and discarded.  The concepts of spiritual pride, or spiritual greatness as well, needed to be unmasked and discarded.  Jesus needed to once again remind His disciples of what His mission was to serve us all, to save us all, to be our sacrifice not our earthly king.  John Mark continues transcribing in verse 32 saying … “And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, [verse 33] Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: [verse 34] And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.”
Jesus outlines a play for play prophecy of what is shortly to come.  He tries again to destroy the ideas and misconceptions of an anti-Roman earthly Kingdom.  He gives both them and us, what we need to know about our salvation and how it works.  There is no comparison needed.  There is only the embrace of Jesus to transform how we love.  Our trust in our means needed to be unmasked, so that we can let go the lie of wealth, and embrace the truth of Jesus Christ.  Our self-reliance needed to be unmasked so that we can let go the burden of adulthood, and embrace the freedom of childhood.  Our concept of treasure needed to be unmasked so that we can let go of clinging to gold, begin to cling to loving others.  Our reward is to be the people we love, in the here and now, multiplied an hundred fold.  Scriptures amplified through the lens of the love of Christ, have more meaning than we have uncovered so far.  Let us see what more they have to offer.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Unmasking a Celebrity [part two] ...

In our previous study, we reviewed the possible evidence that could unmask Lazarus as being the rich young ruler who refused to be a disciple, trusting rather to his own great wealth to make him happy.  In our quest to unmask Lazarus, we found an eerie similarity to the Christians in our own day.  For it is “we” too, who are unmasked by a dependence on our means rather than on our Lord.  Jesus asked the rich young ruler to give away ALL of his wealth and join the other disciples, and he refused.  Is Jesus extending the same offer to us now, and we reciting the same response?  Oh sure, it is easy to give some of our means to the poor; you know, the part of our incomes we can part with, with only minimal sacrifice.  But to give all, is another story.  To give everything away to those less fortunate has no income evaluation in the ask.  Bill Gates would have much to give away, and perhaps Bill is already on that journey.  But the poorest church goer, even though he has little, is also called to give that which he has, to those who have less.  And let’s face it, there are always those who have less.
And if, like the rich young ruler who we believe might be Lazarus, we refuse this offer; what will happen to us?  What is the fate of one who cannot bring themselves to give all that they have?  The answer to this question was recorded for our benefit as well.  Peter recited the aftermath of this exchange to John Mark in his gospel in chapter ten and picking up in verse 23 it says … “And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!”  It is important to note 2 things in this declaration.  First, Jesus does not limit the audience to strictly those who are “rich”.  Instead He expands the audience more broadly by saying “they that have riches”.  This is done by intent to eliminate the relativism of wealth when examining self.  I may not for example, consider myself rich.  My income is not as high as I would like.  My cars not as nice.  But under this definition, if I own jewels of any kind, if I own any clothes said to be finery (perhaps like the suits I wear on Sabbath); if I own a home, or a car.  I do in fact have riches.  So Jesus cuts through 2000 years of time, and directs this passage straight at me.
Next, the passage does not restrict entry entirely from the Kingdom of God.  But it does say that entry will be difficult and rare.  In understanding this, we must make a distinction between salvation at the end of all things, and entry into the Kingdom of God where we are freed from our sins slowly in the here and now, and where we are freed from our slavery and addiction to self-love.  Christ had already said, the Kingdom of God had arrived in His first mission, in His day.  It is in that Kingdom where we learn how to love, or more precisely where we learn how to love others.  The freedom from loving self, is not a discovery that happens without submission to Christ.  We must submit our will to Him, and in this instance, more importantly, our very desires to Him.  We must learn to want different things.  When Jesus frees us from loving self, the concept of “ownership” no longer governs our lives.  We realize that God owns everything, we merely use some of His gifts for a time.  When that kind of thinking infects our brains, we are no longer as adamant about protecting the wealth we borrow, and are more likely to let it go.  We realize our “ownership” is really more like “custodial oversight” and the mission has ever been to see it given away, not retained.
For those who refuse to accept discipleship and immediate entry into the Kingdom of God, all hope is not lost, but the journey will be delayed … painfully.  For trusting in riches for happiness, or for salvation, is a fool’s game, where we are the fool.  Riches can neither make us really happy and fulfilled, nor can they save us, freeing us to love others.  Instead they distract us from both.  It has always ever been this way.  But the disciples were amazed at His response as John Mark continues in verse 24 saying … “And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!”  The Jewish society and religious system had always enforced the idea that wealth equated to the favor of God, which equated to being a good person.  Sinners then, were poor, sick, and evil.  This is what they knew from birth.  And in one sentence Jesus had blown away their scripturally based teachings.  This was hard to digest.  So Jesus repeated it once again.
But there is a difference now, in the second repetition of the words of Christ.  He begins with the declaration of “Children”.  We must all unlearn what we have learned.  The Kingdom of God requires the adoption of the persona of Children before entry will be granted.  There are no “adults” in there.  For it is kids who do not care about money.  Toddlers care about love, eating, sleeping (which they resist), and playing.  Toddlers care about time with Dad, not time counting their golden coins.  Toddlers throw coins around and dip them in the mud for fun.  They share them with other kids in order to make the play more interesting.  In the persona of children, we cannot use the excuse of working to support our families to provide for them, as a reason to hoard our wealth.  Because if all of us are kids, our heavenly Father is the only one with a job, and He takes care of us all, He meets all of our needs.  That is the whole point of being a kid in the Kingdom of God, it frees us to play with Dad.  So Jesus here reminds His disciples and those who are listening, you do not NEED wealth in the Kingdom of God.  You actually need trust.
And again, Jesus does not condemn those who remain with their trust in riches forever and ever, He merely states how “hard” it is for them to let go, become kids, and be freed from their wealth, and the addiction to get more of it.  But the disciples do not yet understand how hard this is.  So Jesus must make an analogy that will help get them to see.  Jesus continues in verse 25 saying … “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”  Ut-oh.  There are laws of physics that come into play on this one.  There are no micron sized camels anyone has ever seen, nor are there giant needles many feet high used in the production of cloth.  So then, Jesus has just declared that it is in fact impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom.  And is He wrong?  Even within the walls of any Christian church today, how many are willing to give ALL to become kids, and enter His Kingdom?  How many are able to trust this much, believe this much, and “know” they are freed from the burden of their wealth.
What Christ is pointing out here is a painful fact, too few Christians will admit.  We CANNOT change our own hearts, minds, desires, or actions.  We CANNOT bring our motives into alignment with God.  We simply cannot save ourselves, though we seem determined to try.  We make lists.  We read our Bible.  We sing in church.  We listen to praise music on the radio.  We try to refrain from cursing.  We confront sinners whenever we find them (particularly in church).  And somehow we believe, that if we just do enough of these things … we will be saved.  Exactly like the rich young ruler who came to Christ, when he asked “what more” do I need to do?  There is no more action.  There is no more self-sacrifice that “you” can do.  What is needed is to let go, to return to Childhood, with a childlike trust.  What is needed is to allow Christ to change what you want, and therefore what you do.  A human response to this will fail.  This is the fact Jesus is pointing out, as plainly as He could state it.
And the disciples then ask the same question as Christians do today as John Mark continues in verse 26 saying … “ And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?”  The disciples were blown away.  The disciples had done the math.  If I own riches (which could be defined as anything), and I cannot fit through the eye of a needle (me being smaller than a camel) … I am unlikely to ever enter the Kingdom of God.  In effect, if I am unable to save myself even after a life of “trying” to keep the commandments, how can anyone be saved.  It is the right question to ask.  Even if this question ran against every Jewish teaching and tradition, and scriptural interpretation.  It remains the right question to ask, even if it runs against every recent Christian tradition, and scriptural interpretation.
And Jesus had the answer, both then and now, as He answers in verse 27 saying … “And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.”  It was as if He had to say it again … you cannot save yourselves, you cannot let go your wealth, you cannot become a child again, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God on your own.  I don’t know how else to say it people … you cannot save yourselves.  But where it is impossible with man … get that, impossible with man.  All things are possible with God.  It is God who can save you.  In fact, it is Jesus Christ who can save you and Him alone.  He can change your heart.  He can transform you until you want other things.  He can make you small enough to fit through the eye of a needle (or at least reduce your ego to this size, replacing it with humility).  Or He can make the needle large enough for you to walk through (performing miracles that you simply cannot do).  In either case, the rules of physics are not applicable to the Author of physics. 
Whether we have unmasked Lazarus, as the rich young ruler, or whether we have only discovered it is we who are unmasked; the important lesson is that there is hope to become a child, and be freed from our wealth, from the same One who saves us entirely.  We learn through these passages that it was never supposed to be a burden we carry; our salvation was ever in the hands of God.  When we attempt to save ourselves we only delay the process and increase the misery we need not experience.  There is a reason Jesus keeps going back to calling us children … we were meant to be free like children.  We were supposed to be playing with Dad, enjoying His time, sitting on His lap, curling up to sleep under His chair.  There is no pre-requisite to all of this, there is only acceptance of it.  To rather trust in our means is to embrace the pain of trusting in a false solution.  It is NOT Jesus punishing us for choosing wealth over Him, it is US punishing US for doing something so stupid.  Jesus is here to free us from the pain we otherwise would choose.  This is the whole nature of salvation, to free us from the pain we cause ourselves.
God does not have to administer the spankings, the “sin” is the spankings (and worse), that He is trying to free us from.  Gold cannot change the soul for the better, only for the worse.  Love can change the world for the better, and place the appreciation for gold in its rightful place … as concrete.  It is for the Love of God that we were made.  It is for the Love of God, that He set aside one day in seven to hang out, stop His work, and make time to play with us.  It is for the Love of God, that even though we rejected Him, He would not abandon us, but provide a way to reconcile us.  He would offer us His love, even when we spit on Him, cursed Him, and eventually killed Him.  But for the Love of God, He would take on our punishment, to free us to be kids in His Kingdom.  We were supposed to be free, like toddlers, able to trust, and play till our hearts are content with our Dad.  Wealth only distracts from that.  Wealth only delays our time with Dad, and chance to play with Him.  It is a hollow solution, a false solution.  Let us come to Jesus and finally be rid of it, and anything else that would burden us.  Let us shed the burdens of adults, and take on the freedom of children that shelter under the Father’s wing.
But even when we unmask the problems we face outside of the church, there can still enter problems to be unmasked within the church as we will continue to examine in our next study …