Saturday, June 25, 2016
We sometimes forget the transitory nature of steel. When blended with concrete and assembled high into the sky, a city emerges housing life and vitality. Cities sometimes look to us like organic creatures. During the day the residents and workers move through its streets hurrying to achieve that next great personal accomplishment. Moving through concrete canyons made of steel and cement, a city looks like a permanent fixture, that has only to grow outwards, or to replace and grow within over time. At night a city lights up with countless eyes illuminating the pathways, and pinpointing those whose work causes them to stay in the office building till well after the day is done. These points of light become dull but still present behind curtains of residences that ascend both upwards and outwards as its people go home, content to continue their journey of accomplishment on the morrow. But the city itself, and everything we accomplish within it, is at best transitory.
We look with admiration on buildings that have stood up to the test of time. Usually large marble structures, where the craftsmanship was so refined, cement was not needed at all for its assembly. We know for certain there are no steel beam backbones that underlie its skeleton. These large structures typically do not ascend so high as our modern marvels, but they remain, sometimes for several centuries in good working order. The marble stone that comprises them, still cut perfectly, placed perfectly, and the adornments added to make them beautiful can often remain intact with them over the centuries of time they stand against. Outside of the ravages of manmade war, no single generation could predict exactly when such a structure might meet its end. These buildings, often dedicated to the worship of God, seem to stand in place beyond the timelines of the residents who visit them. The Temple at Jerusalem was once such as this.
It was not the first Temple to stand this way. Solomon’s original Temple which benefited from a life of preparation from his father David, collecting materials, and laying out plans; was a structure that seemed destined to remain until the end of all things. But its beauty was too much a temptation for a king called Nebuchadnezzar, during a time when the nation of Israel was anything but faithful to the God it had been built to serve. So the original structure fell to war, and then greed (or was it the other way around). Upon returning to their homeland the Temple was to be rebuilt. No longer could it have the elaborate materials for its use, as there was no David to collect them. Only a golden dome was to be its singular mantle piece. And marble found in abundance would be the overwhelming ingredient of its construction. But the craftsmanship was no less talented, and no less dedicated to make the new structure stand the tests of time.
It had lasted nearly 400 years before Christ appeared on the scene. It had withstood the Roman invasion and loss of the homeland and was still relatively intact. From the Jewish mind, if the Temple could withstand 400 years, it could withstand an eternity. After all, we still look with respect to “ruins” that have lasted for millennia made of marble and built of craftsmanship we no longer possess. But to Jews in the time of Christ, this second Temple was destined to last forever. They had no reason to think otherwise. They, like us, believed that some human accomplishments are destined to last the span of all time. They, like us, took pride in what they did, in what they accomplished. And they, like us, forgot the transitory nature of their marble and our steel.
So Peter recalled to John Mark in his gospel in chapter thirteen, the story of something, no Jew could possibly believe. It is likely it had not happened when Peter recalled it, but nonetheless, it had not happened at the time it was first encountered. Jesus, had been teaching in the Temple for days. The Sanhedrin had tried to trap Him in front of the people and failed. Jesus had offered one of His own tests of recursion to them, ironically about the man who first envisioned such a Temple, and they had failed its answer. Jesus had looked deep into the motives of those who put treasure in the offertory in the Temple, and had cut through the motives based in self, even where giving was concerned. Now they were leaving the Temple for Jesus to instruct His disciples before His life’s end was reached (and resurrected). The urgency was higher.
It was in this context that Mark begins recording beginning in verse one saying … “And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” You will note throughout the gospel of Mark, that Peter rarely identifies himself in the stories, instead he commonly obscures “who” did what or said what, when it is him that did so. So in all likelihood it was Peter who made those remarks. As they were leaving the Temple, Peter turns around (much like Lot’s wife) and looks at the grandeur of what Israelites have built. Peter has inadvertently placed his gaze on what is behind him. He is looking backwards at the accomplishments of the past, and is content to rely upon them, and admire them. How like us. We look back at the luminaries who founded our churches, and rest content in what they did to build our various faiths. Instead of standing on their accomplishments and adding those of our own, and of equal weight in the cause of God. We stand infants in his work, with only equal accomplishments, looking backwards and not where we are, or where we could be. Peter looked at a work of stone and called it Temple, instead of to His Lord, the true Temple of our faith, who was right there with him at that very moment.
Lot and his family in the days of Abraham were instructed not to look backwards at the buildings, cities, and accomplishments of men. Instead they were to look forward, to what God could do for them all. The failure of only his wife to do so, led to more ruin within his family, and more descendants who refused the God of Israel or His ways. Peter was now looking backwards at the marble Temple that had stood for 400 years. He was looking at the systems and traditions that were on the verge of becoming irrelevant. But his pride led him to think that none of this would ever reach its end. The bricks, and the worship, such as it was, were sure to last forever. Jesus had other views, and a different perspective.
Jesus responds in verse 2 saying … “And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” This was heresy in the Jewish mind and heart. They had already lost the original Temple of Solomon and had only the stories of the pain of that loss to remember it by. Now, Christ was foretelling the loss of this second Temple, to the point of losing each stone, so that none were left. A destruction all the way down to the very ground upon which this second Temple was built. When the Romans re-took Jerusalem in 70 AD, they had orders not to burn the Temple, but a soldier made that mistake anyway. The catastrophe melted the golden dome that had capped the Temple’s highest peak, melting the precious metal in between the very stones of its construction. Roman’s not wishing to waste wealth, took every stone one by one apart to reclaim the gold and discard the marble. But no Jew could have possibly foretold this calamity, especially when Jesus did.
None, of the traditions of animal sacrifice, of the day of atonement, of the blood of sheep or goats were to be needed anymore. And shortly, there would be no place to perform them within. Everything this second Temple was based upon, its entire structures pointing to Christ, were to meet their fulfillment in Christ, and this building was to be destroyed down to its base to insure Israel could no longer look backwards with pride, but forwards with wonder. The people had grown up a pride in the building of the Temple itself, instead of in the author of the religion itself. In the Jewish mind, the Temple at Jerusalem was as ornate as St. Peters in Rome, or St. Paul’s in London. The same condition existed, as human minds were drawn to the building, but not to the God it was dedicated to serve. The pride was the same both then and now in what “we” could accomplish.
And we sit here reading the same words, guilty of the same acts, but apply them only to the Jews of His day, instead of to our own hearts. We take pride in the accomplishments we complete in our work, in our world. Looking at our cities as if they will last forever, only increasing in size and glory over time. But knowing when Christ returns there will not be one stone left upon another. The lesson of the transitory nature of steel will be brought home to us in 3D, and in living color, as what we have built will pass away in an instant. So with this knowledge, why do we prioritize its construction so highly in our own lives? Why do we let career, and accomplishment, become the priority we serve, when at the end of all things it will pass into oblivion? What will remain in that day is our children, our parents, our spouse, our family, friends, community, and church peers. The people will continue to stand then, despite the total destruction of steel and concrete. The business projects will be gone, but the business co-workers will remain. So can we not adjust our focus, and our priority, to reflect His love to what will stand past the destruction we know is coming?
And were it only our secular thinking infected, perhaps our sin would not be as great. But instead, we have allowed this same kind of Peter’s boast, to infect our spiritual thinking as well. Always looking backwards at the accomplishments of our past, of our forefathers, even of what God has already done for us; never looking at where we are, or where we could be with Jesus. We take pride in our various churches, in our various denominations, stating that what we have accomplished in our faiths, is something to be proud of. It is not. If your toddler took only one step, and then sat down, content that they had walked enough, would you as parent be equally happy? The joy of continued walking will lead your child to places they have yet to imagine. The joy of running will do so even more. Mobility is a gift, your child has only to embrace by a choice to move forward. We, in spiritual matters, are also the toddlers content that one step was enough. There is so much more for us to discover. There is so much more joy in the world, in places we have yet to imagine, in impacting lives while reflecting His love. These are gifts of participation in His work, we could be honored to receive. Or not, as we sit back down, look backwards, and think we have walked enough.
Remember the lesson of the transitory nature of steel, in both what you do in the world, and in the church. Look forwards to Jesus, who is right here with you, just like He was standing in front of Peter. Christ had made a stunning prediction, which perhaps is still relevant in our day. Christ predicted that the superficial, the traditions, and even the buildings of the past would be torn down to the very ground upon which they were built. Perhaps now, in our last days, the same will be true again. Perhaps it will be not only your faith, or my faith, but perhaps every Christian faith, may lose the buildings, and meaningless man-made traditions – destroyed to the very root – so that we replace them with a one-on-one look to Jesus for our salvation and our future.
But when a prediction that is so bold is offered, our human nature cries out to know … “when?”. This will be the subject of our next study as Jesus had much more to say.
Friday, June 17, 2016
Ever had anyone offer you “their two cents worth”? They offer you nothing more than their opinion, with the caveat that it may not be worth much. On the other hand, a soldier who dies in combat defending his country is said to have given his last ounce of courage or his last measure of devotion. This sacrifice is the most any one could ever offer, and none of us would dare equate it to only the value of two pennies. But what if everything you had to offer, your entire last measure of devotion, was literally only worth two pennies? If that was the case, our first response would be to judge you as extremely poor. If everything you owned, and everything you earned, had only amounted to two pennies, you would truly be the poorest of the poor. If we encountered such a person, meaning if any of “us”, encountered such a person, we should all of us, be able to help them out somehow. No matter how much any of “us” are in need financially ourselves, all of us can muster more than two pennies. And yet this paradox is only just beginning.
We all know the story. We have all been embarrassed by it. We all measure ourselves by comparison and find that our own last measure of devotion has yet to ever be offered. We call ourselves Christians, but few have ever faced the ultimate test, are we willing to give our lives for our beliefs. Yet one poor widow, tucked away at the end of an eventful chapter in the Gospel of Mark, gave hers. Peter could easily have skipped this story. If he had, it would simply have gone down as one of the countless things Christ did or said that were never recorded in scriptures. None of us would ever know anything about the poor widow. None of us would feel cheated from this omission, from our lack of knowledge. In fact, most of us might feel better about ourselves, at least about what we have given for His cause. But Peter remembered the story. Perhaps because the Holy Spirit, who inspires us all, remembered the story, and did not wish to see this widow disappear into oblivion unnoticed.
So it would be recorded. Perhaps it is worthy of our second look, as John Mark records, picking up in verse 41 saying … “And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.” Motives matter. But talk about a high pressure sale. Jesus moved within the Temple where He had been teaching and preaching over against the treasury. This was the offertory box, or safe, or collection mechanism of His day. In short, people brought what they intended to give, and cast it into the box. Money falling in on money, silver and gold, falling on silver and gold, would make noise. But then, that is the point of public giving, to make noise, to be noticed as you give. What other purpose to giving in public, where it can be noticed, where it is to be sure it is noticed.
Add to this spectacle, that Jesus moves near the box. Ever had the preacher, also pass the plate for offerings, directly to you? Kinda hard to avoid giving something, when the leader of your church passes you the plate, one on one. This may have been an inadvertent pressure caused by having Christ, right next to the collection box. People like the Sanhedrin, would want to publicly embarrass Jesus, by putting large sums of money in the box. By comparison Jesus had nothing to give, He was not rich. So the Sanhedrin members could put huge sums of money in the box, they would simply redistribute the funds later anyway, so it was for nothing but show. The Sanhedrin were declaring by their rich gifts, that the favor of God was obviously upon them. If Christ had nothing to give, and was so poor, perhaps He was not favored or loved by God.
Others, those who followed Christ, might have felt compelled to put something in, while Jesus watched. This was their way of “showing” Jesus that they were His followers. Once Jesus saw them throw in money, they could rest, and relax, knowing that Jesus saw their one good deed. That one good financial act, might actually “buy” them enough good will to last the rest of their lives. A one-and-done version of buying salvation, and if you think about it, no price was too high for that one. So while they were not trying to embarrass Christ by comparison, they were in fact embarrassing themselves, by withholding their hearts and attempting only to pacify their Lord with coin He did not want. Their hearts that Jesus truly wanted, would go nowhere near the collection plate.
Commerce continued. And Peter continues his recollection in verse 42 saying … “And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.” I am unfamiliar with exactly how the currency exchange would work out between this widow in the day of Christ, and our current American dollars. Therefore, I imagine her gift to be two pennies. But I do believe her gift to be miniscule by comparison with the other patrons of the Temple. The reaction of the disciples bears this out. But here is where the paradox begins. Motives matter. She did not give to impress; the lack of quantity would see to that. She did not give to garner the attention of her Lord, in order to buy His goodwill. Her lack of funds would surely have prevented that; it was simply too little. So instead, she gave seeking anonymity. And Peter through the Holy Spirit continued to grant her some. Even now we do not know her name, or anything about her story after this. She could have been someone famous in the church later, or someone who never joined the faith. We do not know. We do have insight into her motives, and they were nothing like the others around her.
John Mark records the response of Jesus in verse 43 saying … “And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:” Jesus does not make a spectacle. He quietly calls over His disciples to Him, and with a lowered voice He points out the widow and her gift. He then proclaims something that makes no sense at first. Monetarily it will never make any sense. Bookkeepers and Accountants do not value two pennies as much as they do two hundred dollars. So the facts of what she gave can never be more than her contemporaries. She was poor after all. In fact, she was extremely poor. The other donors in the Temple might have done better to help her out, as nearly everyone had more money than her. But Jesus takes care not to call unwanted attention to disrupt her anonymity. He handles this quietly, but purposely.
Jesus continues in verse 44 saying … “For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.” The paradox explodes. Her entire living, all that she had in this world was the two pennies. She was poor, extremely poor. But she gave it all to God. Every chance she had to trade this world’s money for the food she needed to eat, or the rent she must pay to stay in whatever hovel she could find; she threw it all in the box. You can always argue two pennies will not accomplish anything in God’s ministry. You can always argue that she would have been better off keeping it, even Tithing only requires 10 percent of her increase. She clearly has no increase, or miniscule increase at best. But she gave it all to God instead of using it on her great need.
Jesus begins by saying “she of her want”. He identifies that she had wants. Not silly wants like we do, looking for the latest iPhone, or finding the organically grown Goji berries from Nepal. No her wants came from a wholly empty stomach. Her wants were magnified, perhaps driven, by pain and discomfort her life was made of. What a small pittance she had earned, and without savings, and she gave it all to God. He had no need of it. Why ask her to give at all. The best use they could have made of that collection box, was to empty it in her living room, and help her get her life on track. But that didn’t happen. She had given her all, her last ounce of courage, her last measure of devotion, and sum total value was two pennies.
But was it courage? Could it be we have this story ALL wrong? Could it be that a widow who had so much faith as to give God everything she had, was not a widow born of desperation, but one born of the surety of the love of our God? Jesus called her out to His disciples. But perhaps God had been meeting her needs and sustaining her life, even if not one of wealth and ease, every day she had lived it. Perhaps our God had done this so often for her, as He has done for so many countless servants in scripture, that there was no doubt in her heart that food would find its way to her stomach. That shelter would find its way over her head. Perhaps her certainty of God’s love, backed by years of history, had dulled the need for courage entirely in her. She was certain He loved her. She was willing to bet her life on it, because she already knew He saved her life every day.
When she went hungry, it was not because God was unaware. A missed meal was not a death sentence. Nor was a night outside. But to hold back from a God who had sustained her thus far, to deny Him the life He kept giving to her, was beyond inconceivable to this widow. She had all the wealth in the world, for it was all the wealth God had given her. To return it, was nothing more than recycling. She had that much trust. Lived day to day in His care, putting her everything in His hands, and knowing His love would not fail her. Abraham put Isaac on the altar only once, I would wager this widow was in the custom of putting her all in the collection box. Not to be noticed. Not to achieve salvation, or the goodwill of God. But because the love of God was all she would ever need.
Now who is the poor one, and who is the rich one in this story. It turns out, the widow has more real wealth than all of us combined. For she lives in a way of complete dependence none of us are yet willing to emulate or acknowledge. She could help each of us out. As we blindly attempt to give her money, she could teach us that our money is our prison. It binds us to routines to keep it. It tempts us to buy what we do not need, and hoard what we have not used in years. It is an albatross around our necks, weighing us down into a world that values coin over humanity. Its ethics are self driven. Its principles scream only for more. Yet we bind ourselves to it, for fear that without earning a living, we would starve on the street and die. We never trust our God completely; we only ask for assistance in finding more money to keep us alive. In money we trust, in God we only ask for help from time to time.
Would that we had the lion’s faith of this widow in the love of our God. Would that our certainty of His care was as strong. It has been there all along. We refuse to recognize it. We take credit for it. We are not grateful, because we do not believe He did it for us, we believe we earned it. We believe He setup of a system of earning it for ourselves, not one of total dependence on Him. Yet here stands the widow’s story in scripture in stark contrast to our convenient beliefs. We ask for wealth and blessing in our prayers, never once thinking it may be our poverty that is our greatest gift from Him. Teaching us dependence may be His greatest lesson for us. Because it is only through our weakness that He can be made strong. While we cling to the illusion of strength, we do nothing but hold off His blessings, and suffer from anemic faith, and selfish prayers, that accomplish little. For it is little we ascribe to Him, and much we ascribe to the power of our careers.
Again I ask, who is the poor one, and who is rich, in the story of this widow? Her two pennies were her last full measure of devotion to our God, a gift I cannot equal until it is my all cast onto that altar. What is your two cents worth?
Friday, June 10, 2016
One of the harder concepts to master in the field of computer programming is the idea of recursion. What it represents is the ability for a sub-routine (or collection of statements) to call itself during execution until some condition is met. The easiest non-computer-geek way to illustrate this is to stand in front of a mirror, with another mirror behind you. All of the sudden the mirror in front reflects your image in the mirror behind you, which in turn reflects the image of you in the front mirror and in the rear mirror, which in turn … you get the idea. Programmers face the same dilemma you do when standing in between a front and rear mirror; how do I get useful information without the danger of creating an infinite loop.
Another type of recursive example might involve time travel. If you could travel back in time to witness an event, but because you did so, you changed that event; then why would you have traveled back in the first place? The event you went back to witness never existed, so your motivation to see it would never have existed. Even assuming you could travel through time, you would have likely picked a different event to witness … but then if witnessing changed that event … you begin to get the idea of a recursive sort of outcome. The only way to avoid it, is to travel through time on a linear basis always moving forward. But what if your perspective on time (and space) is not linear at all? Imagine for a brief moment, how our God sees time (and space). If God is everywhere at once, or omni-present, it stands to reason He sees all of time at once. The author of space / time is likely not bound by our perspective of space / time. He transcends it as He wishes, since after all, He is its creator.
Being able to see everything as it occurs, because you witness it, would allow you to “know” everything from shear witnessing if nothing else. Being participatory in events however, intending to change their outcome for the better, would provide the best hope to positively affect them as is possible. This may well be the state that our God exists within (being described from a human perspective). This may also be but a glimmer of the potential of the state our God exists within. But why mention it? If just the examination of recursion, time paradox, and infinite perspective that might boggle the brain of even our best quantum physicists just gives us all a headache; why bring it up? Because if in our vanity, we ever assume, we “know” more about science than our God, we may want to dial back the arrogance, or find ourselves coming to an all-too-late realization, that our tiny perspective limited God’s potential impact in our own lives.
Jesus, had a test of His own like this. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes who made up the Sanhedrin or ruling body of His day, had just been testing Him on 3 different subjects, all designed to trap Him in front of the people. They had all tried and failed, to embarrass Him, expose His limited knowledge, and get the people to abandon this fraud; but He was not a fraud. They did not succeed, instead they exposed their own lack of knowledge, and hypocrisy. They walked away from their encounters with Christ, angrier with Him, because they had tried and failed to prove Him wrong. Not all did, there were a few, who may have allowed their own minds to be opened by the Truth of the responses of Jesus Christ. But most, emerged humiliated, angrier, and more determined to expose or kill this upstart from Galilee, for after all, what good had ever come out such a place as Galilee?
But Jesus was not done with them yet. When an enemy declares their intentions against you and I, we tend to respond in kind. If our enemy strikes at us, we try to strike back. We even use scripture to justify our actions declaring the admonitions of Moses and the Law stating … “an eye for an eye”. We found our quest for revenge, or justice depending on the perspective, based on this idea we believe is deeply rooted in the Old Testament. Yet for the stories where punishment, or the ends of justice was meted out in the Old Testament, each one was accompanied by repeated attempts at mercy. We ignore the facts that our God’s first response to our hate, our attempts to strike at Him, our vanity is mercy, forgiveness, and love. He wants us back, not dead. He wants us home with Him, not out wandering hurting ourselves and those we claim to love. But our view of even scripture has been warped to suit our blood lust against those who would dare to declare themselves our enemy, or worse take action to prove it.
But Jesus is not done with us yet. To the vain leaders of His own day, who were so sure they knew scriptures better than the Author of Scriptures, Jesus had a test for them. To the vain leaders of our own day, who are so sure they have a full grasp of everything within scripture, Jesus’ test of recursion, still endures. The point Jesus was trying to make with those who declared themselves to be His enemy, whether then or now, was that there is more in scripture than meets the eye, and more in science than we still can understand fully. Peter recalled the incident that followed the failed tests of men to John Mark in his gospel in chapter 12. Perhaps when Peter recalled it, even he did not fully understand it. Perhaps when John Mark wrote down the words of Peter, perhaps he did not even fully understand the very words he wrote. But then, this may have been the point of Jesus for them and for us.
Picking up in verse 35 it begins … “And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David?” Jesus begins with the premise. The view of the Messiah that was to come out of the Sanhedrin would be the point upon which Jesus focused. Jesus did not wish to focus on some random minority opinion about a characteristic of the Messiah. Instead Jesus wanted to keep the focus on a main point, something the great majority of scribes would be in agreement with. Scribes were the transcriptionists of the day. It was their job to record scriptures over and over each day from old to newer parchments, preserving the accuracy exactly to maintain truth from one generation to the next. They prided themselves on this feat, and on this responsibility. And for all their accumulated knowledge that comes from writing and re-writing the words of the Bible, they had yet to absorb the love contained in its pages. None the less, Jesus would question and thereby draw attention to, a chief characteristic of the Messiah, as agreed upon by the Scribes.
Jesus continues in verse 36 saying … “For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.” Jesus now outlines the scripture to sustain His point made above. A few things are worth note. Notice that Jesus quotes David directly about this assertion. Jesus says that “David himself” said these following things. This was not written by a scribe in David’s day about David. This was written by a scribe in David’s day quoting David. Then notice that Jesus immediately follows that David did not write these words of his own volition. David was being prompted and guided by the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit. It would appear from this citation of Jesus, that the Holy Spirit has been in charge of our scriptures since way before Pentecost occurred. The Holy Spirit has been with us much longer. It may be we were not looking for Him until Pentecost, but He was indeed here. Lastly then, Jesus lays out the recursion with “the LORD said to my Lord”.
Jesus continues in verse 37 saying … “David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.” Jesus explains the dilemma for the all-knowing Scribes of His day; how can David call himself Lord, and also be His son? We examine this scripture with hindsight, answering that since Jesus created the world, David is His son. And since Jesus had established David as the King of Israel, David was also Lord. And since Jesus was to descend from the lineage of David, Jesus was also the son of David. So looking back at history, the answer comes by broadening the perspective of this textual question, to include the passage of time that our God would not be subject to, even if David was. In short, our God is immune to the passage of time, He is not bound to its linear perspective. Sounds easy for us right?
But take a deeper look at what Jesus was saying. If our God is not bound by the same perspective we are as it comes to time / space. Then when it comes to our salvation, does it not stand to reason, every attempt that could be made to save us, would be made to save us? Our God is not just silently witnessing time beyond the bounds of linear passage, He is actively engaged with each of us, attempting to change the outcomes from bad to good. But He cannot force us to love Him or accept His love, and still call it love. Love must be a choice, or it is not love at all. The only thing then that matters to a God of infinite love, is that He proves to us He loves us, and hopefully receives our love in return. Going back only a few verses earlier, Jesus declares the most important summation of the entire Old Testament, is to love God. Here, He reveals wisdom beyond the normal, a glimpse into capabilities of our God we seldom consider, to show us that loving God because He loves us, is the ONLY thing that matters. This is told to us by a God who sees time differently than we do. This is told to us by a God who participates in events, who does not just witness them.
It is we who attempt to put God in our own box. We try to constrain what cannot be constrained into thinking and ideas that make us happy, but are not true. Since our perspective on time is only linear, we believe that God’s must be too. If we die, we meet our end, any future beyond the grave is in jeopardy due to a vengeful God who we believe has a history of striking down His enemies with fire and justice. Yet it is our God who uses time and our passage through it; to perfect in us what we could not perfect. He uses our passage through time to give us better perspective on Himself, but also as a teaser that infinity will never be dull, we will ever be learning more about love and its power. Our God uses our time to offer us His love, His redemption, and His forgiveness. He does not just post a sign, or billboard, or document on Facebook. He gets active with us, involved in our lives, in our needs, and in the messes we make, that He alone can clean up. Our God is interactive, in real life, with a passionate love for us that not even time / space can restrain.
Our danger is only our arrogance, a trait we inherit, but nurture from our spiritual forefathers. Jesus continues in verse 38 outlining the dangers saying … “And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, [verse 39] And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts:” The list Jesus describes here reflect character. They reflect the lack of a transformation of the heart. Even in spiritual matters. This list is not about being wealthy, or even famous per se, it is about loving how we look to others. The danger of the Scribes of His day, were that they enjoyed their position in the church, and wanted others to recognize them for it. They wanted respect in spiritual matters. Sound familiar? How many of us also want to be recognized and respected as leaders in the faith? How many of us simply want deference? We long to be sought out as the resource to answer a question, and it is our longing, that is our downfall. Only Christ has the wisdom to answer any question. If He does not provide us the answer, we have NONE of our own worth dust.
A lack of real transformation leaves us loving only ourselves. Jesus concludes in verse 40 saying … “Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.” Ouch! The Scribes of His day, the religious leaders, were willing to devour the home of widow. They were willing to take the money from the poor, to destroy what little they had, to swindle them. To maintain their own lifestyle, the Scribes or leaders of the church, would happily accept offerings and tithes from those who could scarcely afford to give them. We who offer ministry to the church, or to the world, do we do the same? Do we take our gifts of preaching, teaching, healing, singing, or just caring … and make them trades in exchange for wealth our audience is ill able to provide? Taking from those who cannot afford to give, to sustain more than we need, is to follow in the footsteps of the Scribes of old.
But the Scribes of His day were not content to steal and remain quiet. They had to cover up their deeds, draw attention away from what they did. So they made long prayers in the Temple. Or rather, they pretended to pray. Observing the posture of prayer, the stance of prayer, is not the same as engaging the mind and heart in prayer. Casually saying we will pray for someone, usually only when asked to do so, is not the same thing as praying with our hearts near breaking for their pain. We do not feel their affliction, because we do not feel any affliction but our own. The heart of stone feels nothing but for itself, and so feels nothing at all. But a pretend religion, a pretend relationship, is worse than none at all. Spending all the time pretending to love God, prevents us from actually loving God. Avoiding His transformation of our hearts, leaves us offering weak prayers, selfishly focused, and looking for credit from other believers every chance we get.
The greater damnation is not greater flames in hell. It goes back to our linear view of time. Each moment that passes for us is gone, and gone for good. We will not relive it, ever. Our salvation is not up to us, it is God’s work in us, as we submit to Him. But the time we waste delaying Him, putting Him off, asking to be transformed, but later … these are the moments we will never get back. The time we could have used for something other than me loving me, is a resource that will not return. I will damn myself for my selfishness. My transformed heart will break at my own stubbornness and refusal to let go to God sooner. The greater damnation will be a self-examination of my life and its potential, through transformed eyes. So much time to lose. So many opportunities squandered. So many souls who needed love from me, who had to endure without it. Oh the pain, of love lost, of love hidden. This is the greater damnation, that surely comes from a pretend religion, and a pretend relationship with Christ.
I will love you in heaven, but your need of that love will not be same. It is here at our worst, where His love is needed the most, His love reflected through me. Delaying that, is losing the opportunity for that, and I will never get it back. It is lost forever. The punishment is not meted out by God in flame and fire, it is realized by me through the lens of linear time I will not recover. To end it, submit. To end it, no matter how long it has taken you, how many years or moments you have wasted thus far, submit to Christ now. Let Him make an end to it now. Let Him change in you what could not be changed. Let Him transform the heart from stone to flesh, from apathy to passion. Let not the greater damnation continue to accrue, for the curse of it will only get heavier.
One day, when your heart has finally been transformed by the power of His Love, you will feel this weight for what it is, an irreversible damnation of your own regret. It is not a question of your salvation, or “if” it will occur. Believing in Jesus assures that. His great love assures that. It is a question of “when” that salvation will occur within you, whether sooner or later. It is a question of self-examination through more perfected eyes, and more perfected heart, that will feel the weight of moments forever lost to delay. When through perfected eyes we really see the value of treasure only found in others, how we treated them in this life, when they were in the most pain and needed us the most, will forever weigh on our minds.
I believe it will require our God to remove these tears from our eyes lest we never cease from weeping, even in the heaven He prepared for us. The contrast though is striking. By submission to Christ now, every moment spent from now till we are home with Him again, can be spent in the service of loving others. Perhaps that love will be just the thing they needed to look for Christ. Perhaps eternity will be enhanced by only one soul who sees His love reflected through you, because your heart was transformed. And your greater damnation will cease from expanding, and by His mercy, become something He helps you someday forget.
Friday, June 3, 2016
When there is much to do, knowing what should be first, or what is the most important, is the only way to succeed. You can mistake the order of things to do, but if you mistake the priority or the importance of which things should be done at all, you are doomed to failure. Imagine transcribing a court case has been assigned to you. The only way to insure justice is done, is to faithfully transcribe every word, just as it occurred in the court case. This might take a while, but it insures every question that can be answered will be answered. The accuracy is the thing that gives the wisdom to anyone who comes looking for what happened. But what if, after transcribing it all, you were asked to summarize what occurred in only 3 sentences. This new task changes the equation. Being accurate and detailed is not possible if constricted to only 3 sentences. The entire book, the entire volume of what you originally wrote down, must now be summarized in extreme brevity, yet still convey what took place, and really, what is most important.
Court transcriptionists are asked for accuracy in every word, even every gesture. Inaudible answers must be clarified with precision by the attorneys before the witnesses can continue with their testimony, so that the words can be preserved. Court reporters on the other hand, have no ability to preserve everything, they must summarize details into a story, then present the story in a way that catches our attention. Court reporters are used to leaving out things that are uninteresting, or do not follow the narrative they wish to report. But there is not a profession, where a person who knows all the details, is then asked to summarize for us what happened in only 3 sentences. That task would be daunting, nearly impossible. And whatever the summary was, it could always be debated by others who have a different take on the details they are aware of.
But this is what Jesus was asked to do. And He was asked by no less, than the court transcriptionists of His day. Scribes were the third leg of the Sanhedrin ruling class. Their jobs were to transcribe scriptures from older parchments on to newer ones to preserve the text exactly as it was written before. It was and remains, the accuracy that makes their work important, and what offers wisdom to the seeker. Scribes could be asked for clarification on scriptural quotes. It was more likely they would be able to recite the texts word for word. It was their job to write these texts over and over with precision every day. If you wanted to debate scriptures, you were highly unlikely to pick a scribe to argue with. And so, after the Pharisees had failed to entrap Christ on the role of the Messiah to eliminate Roman rule and its taxes; and the Sadducees had failed to entrap Christ about the Resurrection and the impracticalities of our marriage practices in heaven; the Scribes were now set to entrap Christ about the summary of the Law.
This was to be their best efforts. The audience here still had members who sat listening to a twelve-year-old Jesus teach them all for 3 days many years ago in this same Temple. Despite His humble parents and upbringing, the carpenter’s son recited scripture and its meaning with the authority of an author of the text. His memory was absolute. He did not miss details. He did not forget sections of the stories, nor what they meant in detail. The 12-year-old was beyond an apprentice, beyond a savant, He was a miracle in their ears. So the effort to entrap Him could not be based in memory, or in details. It had to be based in priorities, and a summation of what is truly important across all scriptures and the Law. They would ask Jesus to summarize the entire Bible in 2 or 3 sentences. But make no mistake, this was another trap, no less calculated to destroy the reputation of Jesus in front of the people, exactly like the other two should have done.
Peter recalls its beginning to John Mark in his gospel in chapter 12 picking up in verse 28 saying … “And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?” A scribe had seen the failure of the Pharisees, and then of the Sadducees, and now it was his own turn at bat. But his trap was better. To ask which commandment was more important than the others, implied there is a pecking order in all 10 commandments in the law. This further implied that as long as I keep the important ones, the less important ones may not be such a burden to my soul, and my eternal status. Comparative salvation did not start in our day; it has been a popular fallacy for a long time. The notion that my sins are not as bad as your sins, and so by comparison, I am holier is an old lie. No matter which commandment Jesus selected, an argument could be made that a different one was somehow better.
So Jesus answered saying in verse 29 … “ And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: [verse 30] And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” The answer of Christ, was that our love of the Father was more important than any other law, tradition, doctrine, or religious practice. Jesus grabs our attention with His declaration to “Hear”. He then points our attention upwards identifying the real God from all the other claimants. Loving God is more important than the Sabbath. Loving God is more important than avoiding murder, or adultery, or lying, or lust. Loving God was the number one thing to strive for, even if at the exclusion of everything else. But why? Why is this the first priority of the entirety of the Bible according to our God?
Consider the mechanics of our salvation. When we love our God, we trust our God. It is natural to do so. When God promises us He will do something for us, we can trust Him, because we love Him, and we know He loves us. It is love that motivates us to do anything, to change who we are. So when our God tells us, He will change us, from the inside out, we know He will do it. Having this love based relationship, becomes the fundamental building block, of changing me from who I am now, to who He wants to be. I start wanting different things because He changes what I want. I start loving different ways, more passionately, and for others, instead of myself. When the new me thinks differently, wants different things, and loves others with a burning passion … I start acting differently, my life begins to reflect the changes His Holy Spirit brings.
I think about ways to love you more, to find ways to make you happy. I would not consider stealing from you, I am looking to give you stuff, not take it. I would not lie to you, because the truth about how much I love you is something you really will want and need to hear. I do not lust after others because using someone does not lift them up, it degrades them. And I would not consider hating that which I love, let alone killing it. All of the sudden, the new me, is in harmony with every other commandment naturally. It is no longer a struggle. As for how I behave with God; if God wants to take one day off each week to be with me, sign me up. I honor His name, and reverence it. For it is the name that transforms me into His image, saving me from the old me. There are no other gods, only my God. So harmony with Gods entire law, begins with choosing to love Him.
Jesus continues in verse 31 saying … “And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” Extremely important how the mechanics of your salvation work here. First we love God, we trust Him, we submit to Him. Then He changes us into the person that loves our neighbor. God first, change first, THEN comes obedience. You CANNOT do this the other way around. Loving our neighbor can ONLY happen when we love our God with everything that we are. Otherwise, if we still love ourselves, instead of God, we will treat our neighbor like an opportunity to make us happier. We will use our neighbor, despise our neighbor, cast aside our neighbor (if he is lucky). We will go so far as to kill our neighbor if there is something in it for us. For absent the love of God, there can be no real love for anyone other than me loving me.
The scribe concurred with Jesus, to his own surprise. He responds in verse 32 saying … “And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: [verse 33] And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” The scribe can hardly believe his own mouth, but then the wisdom of Christ is irrefutable. His voice has dropped its accusatory tone, it has softened. He is now responding almost like a collaborator in a worship study group; than an arrogant prosecutor in the court of public opinion. He does not understand what is happening. His confusion is evident.
Jesus responds in verse 34 saying … “And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.” The scribe accepted the truth of what Christ had said. In so doing, He was near to entering the Kingdom of God. It is only in our humility that we can accept the truth of what Christ says, instead of what we are so certain about. The Pharisees after their encounter with Christ did not change their views in one iota, they were committed more than ever that Jesus was still wrong. It was the same for the Sadducees, but for this scribe, there was a glimmer of hope. The scribe was willing to change. The scribe was willing to accept truth in humility. And Jesus looked to claim this scribe for His own kingdom.
The Sanhedrin could not risk the defection of an entire third of its base. There would be no more tests of Christ in front of any one. They would close ranks, and spew hatred among themselves, never letting the truth of Christ enter their ears if they could. We do not know, if this particular scribe defected from his original intentions, and joined the followers of Christ. It is likely. The power of the love of Jesus is a lure no evil can withstand. For those scribes who refused His wisdom Jesus would pose a few questions of His own. But for this one, for the redemption of this man, who answered Him “discreetly” there was a hope that could not be extinguished. As it is for us. When we are ready to love God, and trust God, putting aside the wisdom we think we have and learning to just listen. We can follow instead of lead. And in our deference is our elevation. In our weakness we find His strength. And in our submission to Him, is our Salvation perfected.