Saturday, April 30, 2016

Rights of Ownership [part two] ...

There are two reason why someone may believe they “own” us; because they can “compel” us to do what they want, or because we have “offered” ourselves to them.  In America’s early history we traded in slaves.  We compelled slaves to do as told.  It took a war to end the practice.  Today, a hooker on the street corner conducts illegal commerce; a young girl traded without her consent, is modern day slavery or a victim of human trafficking.  Yet since Adam & Eve, when a husband pledges himself to his wife, to her only, to be faithful to her alone … he gives himself to her.  She could say that she “owns” him, for it is true she owns the heart he has given, and she owns the body he uses to try to make her happy.  Under compulsion, this would be slavery, when it is volunteered, this is love in action.
Since Adam & Eve, mankind ceded his dominion to the enemy of souls.  Satan became our master as that original choice to sin allowed him to do so.  But Satan has chosen a much more effective way to manage the slaves within his domain; he instills compulsion through addiction.  He offers us the “pleasures” of the love-of-self, and once we indulge, we become slaves to its practices.  The specific expression of loving self hardly matters; whether it is sex, alcohol, drugs, indifference, infidelity, greed, lust, gossip, or gluttony, all that matters is that we indulge in some form of it.  Once we embark on a trail of self-love we become addicted to its practices, unable to cease from it, or in effect … slaves to our sins.  Our desires become warped, into desires that would hurt us, and hurt others.  We are willing to find our “joy” at the expense of others, using a litany of slogans developed by a mind more cunning than our own, things like:  “You only live once”, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins”, “God will understand”, “It’s a dog eat dog world out there”, “If I don’t look out for number one, who will”.
Once our desires are warped, our actions will follow.  But even though our original choice to sin has led to this, even though you and I suffer from 6,000 years of genetic mutation which engrains these tendencies in the very fabric of who we are, there remains hope.  Our God, who is also our original owner and maker, knows how our brains are wired.  He is able to clear through the fog of our evil intentions, and evil natures, to bring us the clarity of mind, to choose.  For His kingdom is not based on compulsion, but upon choice freely made.  He breaks through the maze of our self-love and shows us a glimpse of what His love is all about.  Our original owner and maker does not compel us to choose Him, He frees us to choose Him without the duress of Satan’s slavery.  If we do choose our God, then He begins in us, the process of freeing us from our genetics, from our choices, and from the desires we have cultivated until we met Him.
It would seem then, that you and I exist, in a state of ownership, whether as slaves, or as free men giving ourselves away.  We will not ever be free to govern ourselves.  We will either have our desires corrupted until we see no value in anything other than ourselves.  Or we will be made free from our selfishness, and find joy in loving only others, and find contentment in making others happy.  There is no other middle ground.  There is only the war that exists to influence us one way or the other.  Ownership of our souls, and of our characters here in this world is at stake.  What you choose, or rather “who” you choose will decide the fate of this war for you, perhaps your fate for eternity.  At some point, your death will occur, and ownership will be asserted.  Who or what you have given yourself to, will put a legitimate claim upon you, and the sleep of death will also make you silent in the decisions and actions that follow.
Our previous study the death of figs, was intended to illustrate this.  But our current study about the ownership our God can assert is based upon our choice to give ourselves to Him.  Peter continues his recollection to John Mark in chapter eleven of his gospel, picking up briefly in verse 19 saying … “And when even was come, he went out of the city.”  Jesus spent the day in the Temple at Jerusalem, all of this after turning over the assets of the money changers and those who would try to make profit from His name, or His worship.  He spent all day teaching the people, about the need for prayer.  He told them how constant prayer in His house, would change the reputation of His house throughout the world.  This was a lesson we could learn from as well, if we are willing.
In the next day, before He and His disciples would return to Jerusalem, there was more to be said, more to be taught.  Peter continues talking to Mark in verse 24 again saying … “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.”  This is a promise from Christ Himself.  It appears unqualified.  But let us examine the premise just a bit further.  If our desires remain steeped in selfishness, and our prayers reflect only that selfishness, do we really think our God is supposed to give us that thing that we want?  As an example, I pray to win the mega lottery (and how many of us have); should I expect to win, because I plan to give tithe and offerings.  The lion’s share of the winnings I will use on myself, corrupting my desires even further, making me want God even less, but I quote this text back to Him, and tell Him He has no choice but to give it to me.  Wanting selfish things, and demanding them, was not the intent of this promise.  It would be far better for me, that God consistently says no.  Granting me even one of them, could destroy me forever.
However, unselfish desires that emerge in my prayers as fully unselfish requests, have no qualifier in His response.  God would be happy to grant my petition to heal … others.  He would be delighted to sustain … others.  He would be delighted to move mountains (real or spiritual) for others.  To pray for the salvation of others is to pray a prayer of guaranteed yes.  When our minds are in the right place, when we want the right things for the right reasons, our prayers become more aligned with His will, and our answers from God are more often positive, than negative.  But how to get our minds prepared for the clarity to pray in accordance with His will, to pray with a complete lack of selfishness?
Mark continues in verse 25 saying … “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. [verse 26] But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.”  First, let us be clear this is not a text about the damnation of the soul, it is a text about the effectiveness of our prayers, based on a reflection of the desires of our hearts.  Next, examine what forgiveness does to the 2 people involved in the concept.  For the person being granted forgiveness, it is often because they have done something bad to you.  They have hurt you, like so many of us do, when we love our self at your expense.  So the person in the wrong is the one being forgiven.  But many times, the person who has done the wrong, is not aware they have done so.  Or, they are so bold, they do not want forgiveness, and would never ask for it.  For this person, to be granted forgiveness, (even without the asking or wanting), it may not be accepted or understood.  So it does little for them.  Why would God ask us to do it?
Now, consider for a moment what forgiveness does for you.  It is you who has been wronged.  It is you who is hanging on to the pain and bitterness this incident has caused you.  No one is arguing that you have been hurt.  God is only asking that in spite of your pain, and your bitterness, that you … let it go … as you forgive the one who did it to you.  Granting forgiveness, even to those who do not want it, frees YOU from the pain and bitterness it caused.  It may do nothing for them, but it does everything for you, it sets you free.  You are now free to love others, as you should love them, without doubt, or hesitation, or precondition, or limits.  Forgiveness frees your mind, and your heart.  If by chance, the person who has wronged you, would like forgiveness, because they have repented of their deeds, your forgiveness will flood over them, like the love of God Himself.  They will not deserve it, but this is not about what we all deserve, it is about what Love can do in spite of what we deserve.  Even if the offender does not want your forgiveness now, when someday he does, and he realizes you already gave it to him, it will break his heart as only the love of God can do.
God has already demonstrated to us what He is able to forgive.  But to get our minds in line with His, to put our motives in alignment with God, we cannot hold on to the pains that have been done to us.  When we do, it changes what we pray for.  Our bitterness from past wrongs done to us, alters how we love others, it diminishes it.  The warning about our God in heaven being unable to forgive us while we hold to the wrongs of the past, is an object lesson about how salvation works at all.  God forgave Adam before he asked.  God forgave you before you asked.  If God held on to the pains you cause Him, and would not let them go, you could never be saved.  But this is not how love works.  Love forgives even when it is wounded by the deeds of others, whether by those close to us, or those who hate our guts.  Forgiving them, forgiving any, who had wounded us, frees our minds, and our hearts, to love rightly once again.  It is liberating to us, even if not to the forgiven.
Our owner and maker knows what must be made free within us, to truly be free.  It is our desires that have been warped.  As we give ourselves to Him, He begins the work of asserting His ownership in our lives, changing every single part of us, that we will allow Him to change.  As He brings our motives and our hearts into alignment with His own, our prayers will change.  We will stop focusing on “me” in our prayers, and begin to focus on “you” in our prayers.  Doing so, will yield a new crop of response, as the power of God is set free to do its work.  As we forgive others, we are made free to love others, we are unburdened from our pain, and God is finally allowed to heal it in us once and for all.  While we hold on to our pain, we suffer from it, as God is not allowed to take it from us.  Forgiveness changes all that.  Forgiveness makes us free again.  Forgiveness lets us love again, fully.  Our owner knows all of this, and it is why He offers it to us.
But the authority that comes from ownership was not to go without challenge, and more was to come …

Friday, April 22, 2016

Rights of Ownership [part one] ...

Americans are keen on the idea of our rights.  We often revert back to quoting from our famous “Bill of Rights”.  We assert that our “rights” are God given, though I am not certain that scripture would back us up on that.  But today I would like to focus in on rights we associate with ownership.  If you “own” something, it is only natural to make certain assumptions about the item you own.  You can move it from here to there.  You can alter it.  You can sell or transfer it to someone else.  You could even consume or destroy it.  All these actions presume that you are the item’s owner, and that in doing them, you do not present a risk to the safety of the public in doing so.  The item you own, is of course, your property.  But what happens when people are considered property?  Or beyond our bodies, what happens when the soul is considered property?
Slavery comes to mind when we discuss people being considered as property, and rightly so.  For this word is a good description of the condition of the property when others think it so.  Would we extend this terminology into a marriage however, when one spouse considers the other, as his/her property?  In that context, it might depend on how they are treated, before we would resort to such a word as slavery.  Perhaps in the context of marriage, ownership is more about belonging, and home, than it is about a condition of being forced to do anything.  So if we extended the idea of an intimate relationship just a bit further … what if we are “owned” by God.  What if we have given ourselves to God?  Does this make us His slaves?  To answer that one need only examine how God has treated even His enemies.  God never treats His property like anything other than royal, honored, guests and treasure.  God values the gift of our ownership more than anything else we could offer.  And He treats us accordingly.
Where it comes to the soul, our minds quickly picture a battle, between the supernatural forces of good and of evil.  For what is unseen, can only be obtained by those forces that are unseen.  This one is a battle of influence.  The forces of the enemy of souls, do everything in their power, to seduce us.  They battle to change our desires away from God, and only to self, that we may indulge ourselves with abandon.  They settle for only partial indulging, for partial victory keeps God from getting the whole of us.  In contrast, God shows us His love for us.  His love is unending, without limits, without preconditions.  He loves His creations and wants to free them from the downward spirals the enemy would ensnare them in.  God defends His children with fierce tenacity that no other being could offer.  For the souls who have given themselves to God, are in the palm of His hand, under His eagle’s wings, and will NOT be plucked asunder.
The difference between slavery, and belonging, comes from the perspective of the item, of the property, of you.  No one can make you believe slavery is not slavery, if that is how you see it for yourself.  No one can take away the idea of belonging and home from you, if that is what you believe.  Therefore, who you give yourself to, who you want to be a part of, must be a gift if it is not to be slavery.  But once God is given your heart, He is going to fight to keep it.  He does not fight you.  But He will fight the enemy of souls.  The incident Peter recalls to John Mark nestled in chapter eleven between the verses of the death of figs (our last study) is traditionally called the Cleansing of the Temple.  We have all read the story, we all know the basics.  But what if, in our second look, we re-examine this story in the context of ownership.  For if ownership is being asserted, then the authority that comes with it is also being asserted.  The rights of ownership by our King are also being demonstrated, the question remains, why.
Peter begins the recollection picking right up in verse 15 saying … “And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;”  First understand the context, only a day earlier, the triumphant procession entered Jerusalem with Jesus on a colt who had never been ridden.  The crowd was intent on making Him king.  Jesus avoided this fate.  He went all the way to the Temple, then disappeared back out to Bethany for the evening, no doubt with Lazarus and his family.  Today is the very next day.  Today it is only Him and His disciples traveling alone into Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the Pharisees and Sadducees who rule the Sanhedrin, are beyond furious.  Jesus took that procession all the way to the Temple yesterday, and if the people had not been there in numbers, they would have taken Jesus and killed Him as was their plan.  But Jesus escaped, and so their plans were thwarted once again.  But to have Jesus return the very next day was in the words of the Princess Bride … inconceivable.  To have Jesus volunteer to return, this time without the crowds of people to protect Him, was just beyond the realm of their imagination.  If Jesus had entered quietly, if He had kept His head down (in reverence), and kept it covered (in reverence), He might have gone unnoticed by those bent on killing Him.  But Jesus’ idea of reverence was different from that of the Sanhedrin.  And Jesus was not attempting to keep quiet or go unnoticed, He was there to worship, and something stood in His way.
This Temple belonged to God.  Notice, this Temple was not taken in conquest, forced to act in its current capacity by a conquered people of another nation who once used it for something else (i.e. slavery).  Instead this Temple was built by a people who were offering it to God, to be used only as a Temple, and who unfortunately had developed quite a sense of pride in having done so.  None the less, this Temple belonged to God.  The person entering it on that day, was God.  This was no ordinary worshipper, or pilgrim from the outer regions.  Jesus Christ was in fact, the God who the Israelites had offered this Temple to.  It was Jesus on that mountain top of Sinai those many years ago with Moses, as it was Jesus who traveled with 2 angels through the camp of Abraham on the way to rescue Lot from Sodom.  The heritage of their very bloodline (in which they took so much pride), combined with the laws of Moses (another source of pride) had been witnessed by the God who now entered the Temple they had offered to God.
And in His first act of entering the Temple He owned, was to destroy commerce and profit.  What an object lesson for the countless number of Christian churches and faiths of our day.  The goal of organized religion, is NOT to produce commerce and profit, it is to have NONE.  Jesus did not make this lesson to insure our organizations are considered non-profits on the IRS tax forms we file every year.  The lesson was to tear at the very core of owning assets, investment funds, priceless art, and the trappings of this world, built off the commerce of Christian religion.  The Sanhedrin would gladly have argued they needed this source of income to maintain the Temple, and its many ministries for the poor.  I have heard so many modern members of the Sanhedrin argue just the same thing.  But Jesus, the owner of our faith, and of our structures dedicated to His worship, has definitively other ideas.  To have no commerce in association with His name, or His worship, was what our owner demonstrated on this day.
Jesus, did not simply ask these hardened business people to leave, he began overthrowing the tables on which they counted their profits.  He began disrupting and destroying the assets they used to make money.  The sin was not just being in the wrong place on the wrong day, it was in making His religion a thing of profit for ministry at all.  This Temple, owned by God as it was given to Him for this purpose, was to be a place where one could come and find God, no matter his socio-economic status.  Drunks were welcome here, as were the homeless, as were the widows or the prostitutes.  Bill Gates was intended to worship right next to the homeless man from down the street, both united in the glad joy of finding freedom that God alone offers for free.
It did not stop there.  Peter continues recalling to John Mark in verse 16 saying … “And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.”  Jesus not only strongly encouraged the money changers to exit the premises, anyone carrying any assets or supplies, or additional money to be used in these endeavors, was also encouraged to leave the building as well; to come back when they had left their burdens outside, or freed themselves of them altogether.  There would be no supply line for commerce still allowed to run uninterrupted in the Temple God owned.  But Jesus was not just there to remove what should have never been in His Temple.  He was there to counsel the people as to what should be there.
John Mark continues in verse 17 saying … “And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.”  Ouch!  The Temple we gave to God, the one in Israel, and the one we attend services in each weekend (yes that one); is supposed to be known “of all nations” as “the house of prayer”.  Wow!  The whole program of weekly services just got turned on its head.  Instead of a 2-3 hour block of routines that have become so rigorous that church memberships argue and split up over a proposed change in just one of them; His idea of worship was a house known for nothing but prayer.  We don’t go to church for the children’s story.  The children’s story is something our kids should be getting every night and day at home from their parents about the Bible’ many lessons of love.  We don’t go to church for the sermon.  The sermon is something we get when small groups of believers meet in His name, and share what is going on with the faith among them.
And what is more, we do NOT go to church for a few hours once a week.  Instead we go to church as often as we would like to pray throughout the week.  Anytime, open to anyone.  This turns our ideas of worship services on their heads.  But it also turns our ideas of our faith on its head.  We reserve our worship for the Sabbath, and intend the other 6 days for me.  If I pray, I do it in the car, or at the dinner table, or right before bedtime, or right as I get up.  I do not make time to drive down to church, go inside, and take my burdens to the Lord there.  That is not worship to us, that is crazy to us.  We only go to church when it is organized after all church is a huge structure with massive overhead to maintain, that requires a great deal of commerce to support it.  Yup.  And that is why the buildings we pick, and dedicate, are perhaps too large for the job, or too ornate.  Perhaps we should pick more modest structures, in the middle of a strip center where lots of foot traffic walks by, where a few staff could take shifts to really make a ministry where the poor are fed, clothed, and prayer occurs at all times of the day.  Perhaps our missions should become our churches.
But this idea is too radical.  I must be nuts.  Jesus could not mean that really.  So what is the response of the Sanhedrin (both then and now) … Mark continues in verse 18 saying … “And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.”  Kill the messenger.  Kill the owner.  Kill what is too radical for us to adopt.  Kill what would destroy our commerce, and ruin our profit.  Modern churches are ready to hate the person who suggests they move services up by an hour, or omit some long standing part of what they do. 
Today there is a quiet war between worship houses that offer long stents of modern worship music with modern instruments who repeat religious slogans ad nauseam; and those who sing hymns like traditional dirges with the passion of a turnip.  They each believe each other to be the death of modern Christianity; one because it will bring the church down by introducing the techniques of Satan, the other because it will not adapt to reach the masses of the future.  Both are focused on the wrong thing.  It is not our music that is the core of our worship, it is our prayer.  Why are we not passionate about our prayer?  Why is it prayer is only offered for minutes in our services, lest any longer we will all fall asleep.  Our worship houses are rightly defined by what kind of music we offer in them, because this is the only real distinction. 
We both pray the same; briefly.  What would it take to turn our reputations around, to have a place that is open to prayer anytime?  What would it take to turn our reputations around, to be a people who are known for their prayers, instead of their music, or their doctrines?  To give away the wealth of our church, and find a systemic way to continue to do that, just sounds too communistic, or too socialistic.  To have faith in Christ to provide, because we have given our all to Him, sounds too presumptuous.  So we focus on filling our pews, and let our hearts remained unburdened from His ideas.  We offer Him instead, a pre-planned worship program He is welcome to attend … or not.  But when to comes to ownership, there would be more to say …

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Death of Figs ...

Does anyone know what death is?  Can anyone truly tell you what it means to experience death?  Jesus said He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  While perhaps I cannot tell you what death is, I can certainly tell you, you will know more about it, the farther you are from the source of Life, the farther you are from Jesus.  In fact, this is my definition of hell, to be living, but to be far from Jesus.  Those who would say that Satan is in hell may have a point.  You don’t need perpetual fire to have hell, you only need to be alive, but as far from Jesus as you can choose to be.  It only makes logical sense.  Jesus is the source of Love, the source of Life.  The farther we get from Him, the farther we are from the source of those two things.  It is not a beating heart, and normal brain waves, that constitute life.  It is experiencing what it means to truly live in Jesus.
But despite this truth, there are many who think Jesus is optional.  Some consider Him a last resort.  The idea goes something like this.  You live your life, “your way”, then when all the “fun” is over, and you are old ready to die, you go ahead and find Jesus just in case.  The flaw in the logic of course, is that this premise believes sin is fun, and obedience is boring (if not impossible).  When the truth is just the opposite.  Imagine any sin, then consider the consequences.  No, not just the going to hell thing, instead how about the being in hell thing.  No matter which sin you consider, what might seem like fun to you, inevitably hurts someone else.  Most of the time, it hurts the people you claim to love most.  Sin is built on the idea of “you loving you” most often, at the expense of someone else.  Sin therefore does have a cause and effect.  We commit it, thinking we risk a punishment from God.  When in reality, we commit it, and find it is we who are punishing ourselves, and everyone who loves us, and everyone we love.  It is behavior that ultimately only hurts us.  Like cutting ourselves with a knife, over and over again.
But how do you illustrate something like this?  How do you get people who are stubborn in their beliefs to see what the ultimate cause and effect of sin really is?  How about a test case?  How about making a physical illustration of what the choice to leave Jesus could really do in the here and now.  Perhaps this was the motive that lies behind the murder of figs, or more accurately the suicide of figs.  Peter recalls the object lesson to John Mark in his gospel in chapter eleven picking up in verse 12 saying … “And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: [verse 13] And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. [verse 14] And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.”
The story begins with a need.  Jesus was hungry.  It is a hunger in all of us, that drives us to look for something more, for something better.  When our lives are not what they could be, when despite our best efforts tragedy takes hold, when everything is great, but not great enough:  it is a hunger that drives us to look, to seek for something to fill this need.  The story is not about Jesus being hungry, this is the same Jesus that spent 40 days in the wilderness without food.  The story is about hunger itself, a need, a longing for something more.  Jesus begins His search and finds a fig tree.  But it is not the season for figs.  It is the time for leaves, not for fruit.  This is the nature of all of us who live apart from Jesus, we are full of leaves, but not fruit.  We offer a pleasing appearance.  From a distance it may look like we can meet the needs of the seeking, but on close inspection, we are full of leaves, and nothing else.
It is impossible to grow fruit, in or out of season, if not connected to Jesus Christ.  For He is the source of Life and Love.  We do originate these things, we reflect them.  There was nothing special about this tree.  It was an ordinary tree doing ordinary things, living an ordinary life.  The point was in the illustration, that this tree could be any one of us.  We too are ordinary, living ordinary lives, and when disconnected from Christ, producing an illusion of beauty, but unable to meet anyone else’s real needs.  After all, the leaves of the tree are intended to nourish the tree alone, not to feed others.  Bugs may steal them, but if left alone and unmolested, the leaves do nothing but sustain the tree.  They make the tree appear appealing, but that is all.  When not connected to Christ, we cannot obey.  We can perform actions that look like obedience, but our motives, and our hearts remain unchanged.
What happens next to this tree is something that Jesus does not say to us, hence the use of a tree to illustrate his point.  Jesus curses the fig tree and proclaims that from that day forward, no man will ever eat fruit from the tree ever again.  This is the same thing we say to Jesus, when we treat the freedom He offers as if we can delay getting it for some other day.  Where it comes to humanity, Jesus is always hoping we will accept His gift.  But some of us don’t.  We make another choice.  But before you know it, our choice becomes the last one we ever make.  Before you know it, we come to a point where we do not want to choose Christ, and our choice is permanent.  The deception of the enemy of souls takes hold in our eyes, and we delay and delay, until we die before we plan to.  At our death, our lives and our choices become unalterable.  There is a permanence to rejection.  Jesus needed to show us this.  So He rejects this tree Himself, to show us what would happen next.
There is an interlude that occurs in scripture we will focus on in our next study.  For now, we will skip down to the results of this incident in Mark, picking up in verse 20 saying … “And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.”  The result of permanent separation from the source of Life and Love is death.  The same tree who only one day earlier was full of leaves that nourish the tree, looking for all intents and purposes as if it were a healthy tree, is now dead from the roots up.  Normally it would take years for this to occur, and only under punishing circumstances.  But a lack of hope, when there is no more chance to be connected to Christ, can produce this result far faster.  The cursed tree is fully dead.  It is not just colored leaves falling, or a branch that has decayed.  It is a full on death from bottom to top, nothing left of it.  It is only useful for firewood now.  What is left can be burned up and consumed, and it will be gone forever.
How like us.  Peter recalls pointing this out to Jesus in verse 21 saying … “And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.”  This stark object lesson has caught the eye of Peter.  It is a miracle in itself, but not a good one.  It may be the only miracle with a dark outcome in all of scripture.  Especially a miracle, that was performed by Christ, that resulted in a death of something that looked alive.  All the other miracles Jesus performed were happy-stories.  All the other miracles ended in someone being brought back to life, being restored to life.  This one ends in death, death from a curse.  Jesus had used a fig tree to symbolize what life disconnected from Himself was really like.  This was truth.  It was unpleasant truth, but truth.
This tree was living its own life.  We, like the tree in this vignette, might consider we have all the time in the world, and the complete freedom to live as we choose.  This is only partially correct.  We have the time of today, but to choose to live away from Jesus carries with it consequences.  The punishments do not come from Christ, they come from us.  But the effects are real, eventually the death is real.  And it does not have to be this way.  Christ used a fig tree because He does not curse humans.  Even Judas could have been redeemed, Peter was.  Jesus even interceded with His Father for the Romans and Pharisees that were putting Him to death.  No human would ever be beyond the love of God.  So Jesus used a tree to show us what happens when we put ourselves in that place.  This is what happens when we refuse the love of God, and cling to our own wisdom and common sense.
But the object lesson was not over.  Jesus responds in verse 22 to this sight saying … “And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.”  The response of Christ to this tragedy is not to focus on the suicide of figs, but to look upwards instead and to have faith in God.  What is impossible in us, is child’s play in our God.  The fig tree was not in season, not expected to bear fruit, but God can do the unexpected in us.  He can save us from loving only ourselves, and reflect a great harvest of fruit through us, no matter the time of our lives.  Then Jesus takes the object lesson up to an entirely new dimension, He expands our thinking way out of the box as He continues in verse 23 saying … “For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.”
We are no longer talking about a single tree folks, we have moved up to an entire mountain that may have many trees on it.  Those mountains that stand in our way, be they physical (that’s right real physical mountains), or be they spiritual (that’s right sin’s the size of Everest that we have never been able to beat) can be moved into the sea, just through a single prayer to God to make it so.  Jesus asks us to have faith in God, we are not trusting to our own power, wisdom, or common sense.  Common sense says history will repeat itself.  If we have been beaten before, we will be beaten again.  But faith says, forget your history, focus on Christ, and let Him write you a new history.  Let Him move the mountain you cannot move.  Be careful moving the physical ones folks, because many hikers might be at risk, plus all the animals, you get the idea.  But those spiritual mountains, you can move those out of your life, by praying to God as many as you want, as often as you want.  The sky is the limit on those buggars.
The remainder of these texts we will focus on in our next study.  The response of this illustration with the fig tree is as important as what happened to the fig tree.  Ordinary lives are just not good enough, nor should they be.  What God has planned for you is not a death from the roots up.  It is an explosion of life from the roots up.  What God wants for you in your life is not a sacrifice of fun on the altar of obedience, but rather an explosion of joy that comes within the protective bounds of obedience.  You have lived too long already with the pretense of leaves that nourish only yourself.  Be free from them.  Be free from the pretenses of your life, and make joy a reality of your life.  As you connect to Jesus Christ you do not find gloom and despair, if that is what you are finding, you need to look for Jesus somewhere else.  Jesus is not about gloom and restriction.  He is about the unbridled freedom to love others, with imagination, and without limits.  Don’t get caught up in the deceit of Satan, our enemy of souls, who would drag your life down in the ordinary under the guise of a freedom he cannot offer.  Instead look up.  Instead cast aside the ordinary, and find the extraordinary.  Find Jesus now.  Why would you live in misery another second by a choice you can easily change?  Find Jesus now, and find an explosion of life you can barely contain in the limits of your imagination.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Jesus & the Trump Train 2016 ...

Many Christians may wonder what Donald Trump’s candidacy for the 2016 Republican Primary has anything to do with the Gospel of Mark.  After all Donald’s recent gaff in the pronunciation of two Corinthians (rather than second), and his brash manner, do not seem to affiliate him as a strong Christian.  But then, all of us have done things, that on closer examination would not affiliate us as strong Christians either, so who are we to judge.  A relationship between a man and his Savior is a deeply personal one, and frankly the less said about it, the more authentic it is likely to be.  At its core, submission to Jesus reveals a knowledge about ourselves, and about our weaknesses, and need of a savior – that is difficult to talk about in public if it is real.  It can be deeply humiliating.  But this is not the reason for my comparison.  Rather it is forged in the response of the enemies of both Jesus and Donald, to the “train” that is a jugging.
In the time of Christ, there was an active conspiracy of the establishment to silence Him, once and for all.  The message of Jesus had accomplished one singular uniting principle in the Sanhedrin, it had challenged their authority with the people.  Enemies who used to spend more time arguing with each other about doctrines and truth; were now united in the purpose of destroying Christ.  The people’s sympathies were moving to Jesus and the resentment of the leadership had responded in a hate campaign the likes of which had never been seen until then.  The Donald’s candidacy does not benefit from the artful, selfless, and loving rhetoric of Christ; one would rightly argue Donald (like us) is a long way from that.  Instead, it is the persona of Donald Trump, that has struck a chord in the voters of our nation.  So much so, that the “Trump Train” is a legitimate phenomenon.  Trump has won the majority of primaries in this election.  In any other year, the Republicans would have long ago closed ranks beyond the front runner, and created an air of eventuality that accentuated all of his good points up to the convention and after it in the general election.
But this has not happened this year.  Instead, people who cling to and vote for Trump, have caused the establishment to reach ever deepening levels of hatred and resistance.  The establishment itself has begun and intensified its own campaign of “never Trump”.  The media appears to have fallen in lock step.  CNN is normally more observatory and less participatory in politics, yet it is hard not to notice that for 2-3 days prior to each primary, their coverage of Donald is wall-to-wall negativity.  They predict an upcoming loss for him that should doom his candidacy, and a win for his competitors that should seal his fate.  When that does not occur, they immediately begin looking at the next contest, to repeat the same pattern.  Why should the Republican party continue a campaign against the clear will of its own people, and membership?  Why should PAC’s spend millions of dollars not praising the value of other candidates but instead tearing down Donald in ad after ad?  Because the leadership fears the challenge of Donald to their authority over the party and over the people?
This is very similar to what was happening to Jesus Christ so many years ago.  They are widely different figures, and the reasons for the reaction are also widely different.  But the reaction itself is eerily similar.  Peter recalls to John Mark in chapter eleven of his Gospel, what was the first Jesus “Train” that would enter Jerusalem the nation’s capital.  The momentum of the people was clearly towards Christ and away from the traditional established religion, ruled over by the Sanhedrin.  They had lost control.  They had lost the hearts and minds.  And they believed only the death of Christ would ever get them back.  But just when they perceived a measure of control, just when they believed Jesus would not dare enter their capital city of Jerusalem or their sacrosanct temple building.  Jesus was going to do both.  Trump might have said “in your face”.  Jesus would not.
Peter begins recalling the story to John Mark in his gospel in chapter eleven beginning in verse 1 saying … “And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples,”  Peter sets the story by stating that while Jesus had traveled to many parts of the nation and around Galilee, this time He was definitely headed home, to the heart of the nation.  They were getting close.  They were near the Mount of Olives where so often He enjoyed praying, and where soon in the garden near there, He would be pouring out His heart to God; asking in agony if it be possible to escape this fate, to let it be so, but not if it was against the will of His Father.  For now though, the procession had already begun.  On this day, the train was already starting to chug.
Mark continues in verse 2 saying … “And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him. [verse 3] And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither.”  One need only examine this prophecy to know the Lord of Truth.  First, Jesus is predicting where His disciples will find a colt.  One He had not seen as yet.  But not only precisely where the colt will be, but the condition of the colt; a virgin colt, one that had never been ridden.  This was to be the fulfillment of the prophesies of Isaiah.  But not because Jesus conveniently found these items in His path, but because Jesus (our God) could see them even though they were far out of any human sight or knowledge.  Then, add to all of this, Jesus predicts that His disciples will be questioned, and provides the words they are to speak when it occurs, as well as the outcome of all of this.
Peter continues his recollections in verse 4 saying … “And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him. [verse 5] And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt? [verse 6] And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go.”  Everything occurs just as Jesus said it would.  That thought bears repeating … everything occurs just as Jesus says it will.  Consider the gravity of this.  Jesus predicted He would return again to take us home to the places He was preparing for us.  And it will occur just as He said.  Jesus also said, that loving Him and the gospel of freedom found only in Him, was more important than anything else.  Families would be torn up over this, nations as well.  These things will also occur as Jesus said they would.  But He is greater than our need, and greater than our weakness.  We can trust in the words of Jesus, for as this colt incident occurred, so will every other prediction occur, just as Jesus said it would.
Mark continues in verse 7 saying … “And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him. [verse 8] And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way.”  Now the Holy Spirit brings to their minds the words of John the Baptist crying in the wilderness … make straight the way of the Lord, prepare the way of the Lord.  The people act as if in one mind, and in one accord.  They spontaneously begin to shed what little clothing they have on their poor bodies, to honor their king as best they can.  They spread clothes out on the colt for their King.  Then they spread their clothing out on the road the colt will travel.  When they run out of clothing they spread palm branches to try to honor their king.  These were not random acts of joy and praise, they were orchestrated by the impressions of the Holy Spirit.  The fulfillment of Isaiah in hearts as much as in actions.
The bliss that entered in to human hearts could not be contained.  It must break free in shouts of praise and triumph.  The people were ready to recognize Jesus as their Messiah despite the resistance of the Sanhedrin and His enemies.  Dis-fellowship from the Temple was not enough to keep them silent, they were publicly displaying their unity with Jesus the Messiah.  The train was picking up momentum, and nothing of earthly design would silence it.  Mark continues in verse 9 saying … “And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: [verse 10] Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.”  These were the words and praises that traced all the way back to David.  They were directly linking Jesus to the house of David, the lineage of David, and the kingship of David.  The establishment was furious.
Peter omits the demand of the Pharisees to have Jesus quiet the crowd.  He omits the response of Christ that if the people were made to be silent the very rocks would cry out instead.  The Pharisees know that Jesus is not bluffing.  They know that while it seems impossible, it would happen just as He says.  So they run back to the Temple in furious anger, unable to quiet the crowd, turn away the praise, or do anything to dampen the mood.  The establishment has lost.  But they do not recognize this fact.  They only increase their hatred for something they cannot control, and resume plotting though they do not know what to do next.  For the people are speaking loudly, and against them.  While Peter does not recall this part of the story, he does go on to mention what happens at the end of this procession.
Mark concludes this vignette in verse 11 saying … “And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve.”  Jesus enters the sacrosanct Temple as if there is no threat against Him.  He looks around as if He owns the place (for He does).  And at sunset, He withdraws with His disciples out to Bethany, no doubt with Lazarus and his sisters.  It sounds anticlimactic.  The Jesus Train does not actually result in His kingship, or presidency.  It just arrives at its destination, then withdraws to the countryside.  But it is deeper than that.  Jesus has waltzed right in to the heart of the plots against Him.  He has dared to do, what no other human would ever dare to do.  He means this gesture not only to fulfill prophecy, but to speak to the hearts of His enemies.  Who but God would do this?  Who but God could fulfill everything in spite of the plots against Him?  Some of His enemies are reached, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Gamimael who would later quiet the plots against His disciples.  There are now cracks in the establishment, even if they are not public yet.
Donald Trump is not out to convert his enemies.  He is not out to share the gospel with them.  And it remains to be seen, if his run for the Presidency will reach fruition.  But the reaction of his enemies bears striking resemblance to the enemies of Christ.  An establishment always hates anyone who could sway the people away from its power.  This is true today in any Christian denomination.  “Radical” pastors are generally cast out as heretics if they challenge the establishment, history demonstrates this.  What Donald reveals to us is that political parties, and large corporations are just as intent today on this course, as were the enemies of Christ in His day. 
The striking difference is in the men.  Jesus spoke incessantly about loving others, particularly loving our enemies which is still hard for American Christians to digest.  Jesus never sought governmental power, He never rebelled against a pagan Roman Empire despite its hatred for our God.  Jesus was not interested in who ran the world in His day, He was solely interested in who runs your heart.  To be free, is not something a government can truly give you, or take away from you.  To be free, can only come from Jesus or not at all.  To be in control, one must cede it to Christ.  For the idea that we can be in control, is only a myth perpetuated by the enemy of souls.  To see evil vanquished, we do not fight it away, we can only ever love it away.  These doctrines run counter to our American idealism, and to the platforms of all political parties.  So our politicians put on the face of Christianity, but cannot reconcile the teachings of Christ, with the “realities” of governing.  To expect flawed men to be better than flawed men, is a mistake we make, not the media, or the leaders themselves.  But to hope in Christ, and to pray for our leaders, does not diminish any of us.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Raving Lunatics & Ancestry ...

Does anyone else have that “crazy” uncle or aunt, or distant relation, who is certainly the life of the party; at least from the police department’s view as they are often called to keep the noise down?  Many of us have this relation in our family tree, the person who can begin a rant on a moment’s notice.  The person who believes the neighbors, and the nation, have slept long enough.  The relative who thinks we should all “cry out” until the authorities listen.  The family member who is a one-man or one-woman parade, even without the benefit of intoxication, ready to “march” down there and set a few things straight.  The chilling thought is the DNA proximity.  It makes us wonder, if this raving-lunatic-gene could inhabit our DNA, just lurking for age or environment to coax it out of us.  Could we be the raving lunatic in waiting?  And what if this gene exists in our family tree up the line a bit, just beyond our sight.  Could a distant ancestor have passed this characteristic down, maybe repeating it several times, till it reaches the poor family victim we know about today.
“Lunacy” is certainly in the eye of the beholder.  And the surest way to get a lunatic to become louder is to attempt to silence them, or ask them to be quiet.  It would seem, that one sign our so far dormant lunatic gene still lurks within us; is if we believe our opinions must not be kept quiet or to ourselves.  If we feel the burning need to share our opinions, with others, even if they did not ask, or do not want them, then perhaps the gene is no longer dormant, and we are the family member others worry about at family gatherings.  But sometimes, what others see as lunacy, might actually be genius in disguise.  Sometimes the delta between lunacy and inspiration is too close to measure.  On those occasions, do we let popular opinion silence the inspiration, or do we cling to what must be said, and what must be heard.  Is it worth the perception of being seen as a lunatic, if it is the Spirit that truly motivates us, and not the random conspiracy theories we invent on the fly?
There was a man in Peter’s recollection of the Gospel who faced just this dilemma.  He was not the life of the party to that point in time.  Rather, he was a beggar who sat quietly outside of Jericho, incapacitated by his blindness.  Through his life, he had never seen, so he wandered in absolute darkness.  The sun would press heat upon his skin at noontime, but this heat came in the darkest of night for him.  It was heat and blackness.  At night the cool breeze pressed cold upon his skin, but it did not come with gentle starlight and the spotlight of the moon.  It was cold and blackness.  He spent his life, where his friends had taken him, along the highway that people must pass to enter and exit the city.  This was his life.  Quietly, humbly, asking for wages he could not earn.  His pride broken, by years of repetition, of asking money from strangers.  His heart broken, by the so often cold response he received in return.  Most of them, wondering out loud, what sin he had committed to reduce him to this state.  This was his life.
But while blindness had stopped his eyes, his hearing still functioned.  As he sat in darkness, he heard the passers by talking about Jesus of Nazareth.  He had heard the stories about his miraculous birth in the city of Bethlehem, his flight to Egypt, his teaching at the temple at 12, his baptism by John.  He had heard about Jesus healing all manner of illness, deformity, and even possession.  So perhaps if it were sin, that kept this blind man blind, with Jesus, this too might be swept away.  Other Israelites debated whether Jesus was the real Messiah.  They reasoned that since Jesus had not taken up the sword against the Romans, perhaps He was not the one.  But the blind man saw in his darkness what others did not see.  Jesus had taken up the sword against evil, against slavery to sin, against the enemy of souls.  Only the Messiah could ever do that.  Temporal victory would never be greater or more needed than spiritual victory.  So he sat, he waited, and he learned.
As the days passed, one after another, the blind man sat, asking less often for money, and listening as attentively as he could … to stories, to miracles, to hope.  This where we find him, as Peter relays his life to John Mark in chapter ten, picking up in verse 46 saying … “And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging.”  A procession was beginning this was to be the start of something great, of something Israel had not seen since David had moved the ark to its final resting place.  But Bartimaeus did not know this.  He was only in the middle of his day, in the middle of his routine.  He sat begging.  Something was different on this day though, Bartimaeus could feel it.  The chills upon his skin were not from the heat, or from the cold, but from something that transcended them both.
John Mark continues in verse 47 saying … “And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.”  When Bartimaeus heard his wildest hopes confirmed, he knew the chills upon his skin were from the Spirit’s influence.  Though he sat in darkness he began to proclaim the great Light that had arisen this day.  Bartimaeus the beggar had for the moment become Bartimaeus the prophet.  The words he spoke to Jesus were not just a plea for healing, they were a recognition of His lineage from the house of David.  This tie to David was the biggest link to revealing that Jesus was indeed the true Messiah.  Israel must hear him.  Jesus must hear him.  But he did not know how far away Jesus might be, so his words must be clear, and loud.
Mark continues in verse 48 saying … “And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.”  His friends and family began trying to shut him up.  They did not want to be embarrassed by this obviously destitute man screaming in the streets.  They had never heard him behave like this.  His words were clear, confident, assertive, and loud.  He was not just speaking, he was testifying.  What is more, his words are worth further examination.  His cry was now beyond a request to heal his infirmed body, but to wipe away his sins, from the Mercy only “thou Son of David” could do.  He wanted to see, but wanted to see himself forgiven and set free as well.  Instead of complying with his family and friends to quiet down, the Spirit had moved him to speak louder, and to ask for more.
John Mark continues in verse 49 saying … “And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee.”  His cries had been heard, but the significance of what was occurring was lost on him.  Jesus had stood still.  The procession had been halted.  This procession as we will later read and find out, was the great procession of the Messiah into Jerusalem, where the praise of an entire nation would greet our Lord.  It was the one time, He would accept our praise openly, and not ask for quiet.  It would fulfill prophecy.  Yet for the moment, it had been halted.  Because the cries of Bartimaeus and his needs had been heard.  Our God is the God of the Universe.  He has important work to do.  He has prophecies to fulfill.  But He will stand still to hear what you have to say, and meet your needs even if it delays His for the moment.
Peter continues his recollection in verse 50 saying … “And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus.”  In full cold chills running from head to toe now, Bartimaeus emulates king David before him, and casts off his garment.  He will meet His Lord in absolute humility as David did and danced before the ark so many years before.  It was Israel who did not comprehend this significance on this day, but Jesus did, for it was He who sat on the Mercy seat of that same ark and witnessed David’s dance all those years ago.
John Mark continues in verse 51 saying … “And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight.”  Again the words of Jesus should give us pause.  Our God asks Bartimaeus, just as He asks us in every prayer we pray, and every church service we attend … what will you have me do unto you?  This is not constricted to our pressing physical needs.  And our request could be so much bigger than that.  But Bartimaeus has been blind forever, and he wished more than anything to see His Lord.  Even if only short lived that sight would be one for the ages.  So Bartimaeus asks only for his sight.
Mark continues in verse 52 saying … “And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.”  Jesus heals him.  Then Jesus offers him a test.  His faith has made him whole, he will see immediately.  He has waited a lifetime for this.  Perhaps he has many things he needs to do.  Perhaps he wants to see his parents or other family members to celebrate what Christ has done for him.  Perhaps he has money to earn, or people to feed.  You know, all the excuses we make, when Christ has done something for us, and we rush away to do … those things we believe we need to do.  Not him.  Not Bartimaeus.  He joins the procession.  Whatever else he may believe he has to do, or wants to celebrate.  Bartimaeus will wait until he is done following His Lord.
If instead of leaving our Lord, after He works miracles on our behalf, we stayed with Him – perhaps we too could become part of the procession.  Perhaps we could become part of something historic, if we were willing to postpone our plans, and seek to follow Him becoming part of His plans.  Our celebrations can wait.  Our responsibilities can wait.  Our loved ones can wait.  Our opportunities to follow are often the things that cannot wait or be delayed, they are time sensitive from Jesus’ perspective.  We are not lost because we do not pursue them, but we lose the privilege of helping save others because we miss out, we are not there, we are too busy doing our thing, instead of following to do His thing.
Bartimaeus spoke out like a crazy man.  He was prophesying even though he was not a prophet up to then.  But he allowed the Spirit to use him, and through him was the formal identification of the Son of David.  Through the symbolism he employed, he reminded Israel of David’s humility before the Mercy seat on the ark.  The same Mercy seat on which Christ sat invisible to our eyes, He was now fully visible to all eyes.  Bartimaeus reminded us of petition in humility casting away his pride in his garment, and revealing who he was to all who could see.  David had done that too.  There was not erotic intentions or thoughts in these gestures, only to be vulnerable to God in front of all of Israel.  Bartimaeus could have been “put away” for his behavior, but instead he became part of the greatest procession in the history of Israel.  What might we witness, if we put away our pride, and cried out as the Spirit leads, even if we look like a lunatic in the process?