Friday, September 30, 2016

Extreme Courage ...

There are stories of extreme courage when despite heavy risks, and personal danger, a person does what seems like the impossible.  When we hear of these stories, we picture men, in excellent shape, of a young age, able to perform at the peak of their fitness.  Sometimes the stories surprise us, when it is someone older who steps into the breach.  Children can only do so much, so few stories exist here other than heroic fights against disease, or the courage to stop a bully.  But what few of us imagine when the words extreme courage are uttered; is a mom, and a prostitute.  These two are hard to associate with the ideas of extreme courage.  Add to their pair, a servant girl, and then another.  Add to that group a cook, a maid, and a daughter with a famous name.  How could a band of women be associated with terminology we reserve for our military in action, and yet have no military association at all?
Courage begins with standing against the popular.  In a time when reputation is everything, and particularly so for a woman, courage begins with risking it to do what is right, instead of what is popular.  Religious association, being a student of the Word, is one way to help maintain both spirituality and reputation.  Being cut off from religious association for what you do, or what you say, is a recipe for ruin, and ruin on a public scale.  Could you face this, to do what is right?  To face it not boldly in arrogance of your beliefs, but in humility, seeking truth, unsure you have found it.  Courage for a woman in the time of Christ was to ignore the threats of the Sanhedrin to be cast out of the Temple forever, and serve at the feet of Jesus.  Courage was not defined as railing accusations against those still in the wrong, but humble service in the ministry of Jesus.  It was feeding them.  It was washing what needed to be washed.  It was caring, without arrogance and confrontation, all the while suffering the greatest loss a woman could suffer, her reputation damaged beyond repair, in a time when that was all she had.
Courage remains by loving those we should not love.  This was not a group of the holy, it was a group of the injured, the sinful, the untouchables.  Hookers are not often welcomed by women of any church.  Demon possessed hookers even less so.  But Jesus repairs a life, sometimes more than once, and those women never acquainted with such pain, are expected to accept, embrace, and love the reclaimed without limit or reproach.  Hookers, now former, are to love housewives, and vice versa, without a word of condemnation from either.  Hookers who know the hypocrisy of families where husbands cheat in secret.  And housewives who fear the unbridled sexuality of a prostitute will lure away that which should not be lured.  Now intermixed by a Rabbi who loves everyone, in a society that does not.  But not just the hookers are of ill repute.
The woman was alone at the well in Samaria because of who she was, and what she had done.  Her lack of commitment in marriage, her trivial treatment of the forever, had landed her many husbands, and now only a live-in lover.  She too was destined to join this band of women.  She too was to be reclaimed, and after the evangelism in her region which converted so many, would become yet another servant, of no reputation whose name we do not even know.  She too would be listed as only part of “many women” who served and ministered to Jesus and His disciples … as if this was all she did in the furtherance of the gospel, and the redemption of souls.  But acceptance into the collective of other women required forgiveness in the hearts of them all, not just in the heart of Jesus.
These women, one and all, sacrificed their reputations, whether by their deeds in a former life, or by their association with each other in the spirit of forgiveness and love.  And now they were willing, to a woman, to risk their lives in a display of courage the world had never seen.  An act so great, the Holy Spirit will not let Peter forget it.  In the brevity of Peter’s telling of the gospel at its end, Peter takes time to recall what women did.  When the courage of men failed, the courage of women did not.  When the followers of Jesus, His disciples, were scattered to the wind; the assembly of women began.  These women gathered themselves, and presented themselves in growing numbers at His trial.  It was not their voices calling for death in tones of hate.  It was their voices calling for mercy, as it had always been given to them.  But they were drowned out by the screams of evicted demons now bent on revenge.
But women of no repute, continued to assemble, and without fear, or perhaps without concern that it should cost them their very lives.  You cannot stamp out the message of Christ, until you kill all of His followers.  While men hid themselves in upper rooms afraid to see what would transpire, women were out in the places they needed to be.  They followed His procession up the hill of Golgotha in tears, and in association for all to see.  Peter recalls it to John Mark in his gospel in chapter fifteen picking up in verse 40 saying … “There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome;” 
Notice Peter first points out that in this group of women is Mary Magdalene.  The Hooker is listed first.  The demon possessed former hooker is listed first, above all other women there.  Why?  Could it be that for whom much is forgiven, much is expected?  Could it be that the woman with the most corrupted idea of love had been reclaimed the farthest in what love is now.  Chief among sinners is listed first.  Reputations of those who follow her, of those who dare to be with her, are done.  Next Peter lists Mary the mother of Jesus, but in an unusual way.  Peter lists her by the names of the siblings of Christ.  So much for the idea of a perpetual virgin.  Mary was a normal wife and mother after the birth of Jesus.  James, Joses, and Salome (whose name was also given to the daughter of Herod Phillipi living with Antipas at the execution of John the Baptist).  These were the names of Jesus’ family at the recollection of Peter.  He would know.  The hooker and the housewife lead this assembly.
Mark continues in verse 41 saying … “(Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.”  These women ministered to Jesus, to each other, and to assemblies so large they were hard to number.  They did this at the cost of their reputations, shunned by the religious leadership for association with Jesus.  Shunned by the public, for association with women of ill repute, hookers, divorcees, and such.  They lost what could not be replaced, and without a word of discontent.  For they had found something of far greater value, a vision of love and what love should be, that does not look for credit or disdain, only to serve. 
But this was no book club, knitting circle, or potluck.  They were assembled in the place of a skull.  They had no weapons, or skills to use them.  They were sheep.  They were witnesses to a fallen Lord now dead upon the cross.  They had no one to protect them, or give care should they be raped or killed without mercy from soldiers who paid no mind to the virtue of a woman.  They were Jews in front of Romans.  They were apostates in front of priests and rabbis who governed in absolute control over religious matters.   And their Lord was dead, unable to hear their cries, or offer assistance or love.  Everything they had hoped for was dead on that cross.  Everything they had dreamed of for the Jewish nation was lifeless on that cross.  Jesus hung naked before them, without a shred of dignity.  And they were there assembled as sitting ducks for a raging temple system, and Roman military to do with as they pleased.
Their lives, their reclaimed virtue, their reputations were as vulnerable as it gets, and all of this was by choice.  For the women in this assembly could be in no other place.  They MUST be with their Lord, even if He dies.  Even if He is dead, these women cannot tear themselves away from their Lord.  That is faith.  That is a courage in spite of death or worse, that knows NO fear at all.  This is where a maid, and a cook, and a mother, and a hooker defy the entire Roman empire with steadfast steel in their bones.  This is where Truth stands against the corruption in hearts of religious leaders who wish to kill it.  This is where a housewife comforts a hooker, who reaches back to comfort her.  Jews are amazed by this.  Even in death these women do not flee, they remain.  Even when there is nothing more to gain for any of them, they do not flee, they remain, and they still love each other.  When hope is gone, the extreme courage of a woman is revealed.
This confounds the Roman soldiers in attendance.  Romans have seen families of victims come out to a crucifixion before.  But never does a mother welcome a prostitute in comfort.  Never does such an assembly of women seem to genuinely care for each other in love that defies explanation.  This is not some wailing performed by those hired to wail.  This is silent crying by those who love so deeply no sound can emerge from it.  This is not the noise of grief; it is a grief so profound it lacks all noise.  Where Romans who hate Jews would have been prone to move sin from the crucified to his entourage, no such inclination is present today.  The darkness, the earthquake, the plea of forgiveness from the cross itself, has dampened further ideas of evil in the soldiers at the cross.  These women represent only another marvel the Romans cannot understand.
It is not their perfection that defines this moment, it is their imperfection.  Mary Magdalene is still known for her former life, a hooker, with multiple demons.  She is present, but still imperfect.  She has not transcended as Enoch did, to a life ready for heaven.  She is in its process, but not at its conclusion.  But despite her imperfections, she is here, where she must be.  This is why it is courage.  Because risk is still present, perfection is not.  Damage is still present, immunity is not.  But despite the reality of this situation, a demonstration of true ministry occurs.  Love for each other in full display, even when Jesus is dead.  Love for each other, even when reputations are in the mud, and death is at the doorway, and Jesus will not be here to save them.  This is the moment Peter must recall to John Mark.  And by contrast, to further deepen his own shame.
Peter must faithfully recount the deeds of women, when his own stand in contrast as abject failures.  When our churches stand, and debate the roles of women in the gospel, we forget that in times like these, men fail, and women deliver.  Those who are in tune to the Holy Spirit, who become a vessel of the love of God, are those destined to preach the word.  This assembly was not preaching in word, but the lesson in deed has survived 2000 years, and will live on in infinity, because even when Jesus was dead, love lived on in His followers.  This love was not done in secret, or in a place of convenience, or in denial of who they served.  It was there when He was dead.  It was there when Hope was dead.  It was a courage that could never be mimicked again. 
To be embarrassed to be associated with Jesus in our day … is such a thing possible?  In our modern age when a co-worker, or associate, asks us if we are a Christian; is hesitation still possible from a thought to what our answer will mean to our reputation?  If the answer was not already apparent, the need for the question, is what will break my heart.  If my actions, my words, and my motives are not already in such tight alignment with His, that those who casually know me, must ask if I follow Christ, I still have far to go in my journey.  I want that answer brazenly self-evident.  I want a measure of love from God, to mimic the love of mothers, hookers, servants, and housewives in an age where extreme courage was defined.  To love like that before He had arisen, was proof, that His Father remained.  It was proof that Jesus provides us a connection to His Father.  We are not connected to only Jesus, but to the Holy Spirit, and to His Father.  This was reconciliation His death was to accomplish for us, and we need only do the simplest of things: to accept it.
Then watch what a reclaimed life looks like.  Watch how extreme courage becomes so common it can no longer be thought of as courage, but just as nature.  Witness how the love for a hooker becomes transcendent.  Love that is no longer a filthy thing, but a holy thing, able to flow from husbands and housewives alike without a moment of condemnation from anyone.  Watch how a risen Lord, who reclaims lives, can change how you love so profoundly that words lose their ability to describe it …

Friday, September 23, 2016

To Stain Reputation ...

There is a reason why a lie is an abomination.  A lie is the tool to slander, and malign truth, especially The Truth.  Innocence had been convicted in the courts of pride, by men, by religious leaders who would not cede control to it.  For 2000 years the tactics have not changed.  Threats to power, threats to those who believe themselves to be in control, must first be destroyed in reputation, before in body.  The Sanhedrin in the days of Christ, is little different than the halls of power that exist today.  The pretenses may be different, but the tactics employed, and the results to the innocent are identical.  The Sanhedrin wanted more than the blood of Christ at His death, they wanted Him to be seen as guilty.  They wanted the common people to look upon innocence and call it guilt.  Yet another abomination to add to the rap sheet of religious men and their satanic master.
What would begin, was a long and calculated effort to make the name of Jesus of none effect.  Emmanuel, Yeshua, the Messiah, the Christ; all titles associated with Jesus from Nazareth must be taken from Him, or dragged through so much mud, no one could recognize them again.  The Truth was convicted of blasphemy against God; or in other words, God was convicted of speaking against God.  There was no sense in it.  There was no logic in it.  There was only an abundance of hate in it.  Love was nowhere to be found; hate was dripping in the air itself.  First, Jesus would be taken to the place where the lowest of criminals were taken.  This would be no place of honor, but instead to a place of ignominy, reserved for the scum of the earth.  Jesus would not meet His final hours in apathy, but in a rage against His name, against who He was, calculated to make Him guilty, by the association of guilty things all around Him.
Peter recalls the horror of how men would treat His Lord to John Mark in his gospel in chapter fifteen and picking up in verse 22 saying … “And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull.”  Death was to be by intent.  Torture to precede death was to be by intent.  This place was the place dedicated to just such a thing, to just such a mission.  No one landed here who had any hope of living or lasting.  They bring Jesus nowhere near the Temple, or any place of mercy, they bring Him to the place of a skull.  This act alone could help them heap insult upon the reputation of Jesus.  They could not understand how Jesus could see this place as a place of redemption.  For in their eyes, this place was only a place of death, of horrific death.
Mark continues in verse 23 saying … “And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.”  Grape juice mingled with myrrh to dull pain, prolong torture, and make the horror of His death last longer.  But Jesus would not take it.  With a back and body still bleeding like a civ, from a lashing one lash short of death itself.  The whip laced with shards of glass, and the crown of thorns pressed deep in His head from the blows by the reed doled out by the Romans while they mocked Him.  The pain to the body and heart of Jesus had to be as extreme as it gets.  But He refuses the drink designed to dull that very pain.  He prefers to keep His mind sharp, even though it keeps the pain at its level.
Mark continues in verse 24 saying … “And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take. [verse 25] And it was the third hour, and they crucified him. [verse 26] And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS.”  Peter was not there.  He knows what happened but at best he was far away when he witnessed it.  So Peter omits the nails pounded into the hands and feet of Jesus.  But Peter knows about the removal of the clothing of Jesus, the humiliation of hanging naked for all to see.  In front of the tortured Lord, they part the homespun cloth as a dead Man will have no need of this anymore.  But Romans enjoy irony.  So above the head of this Jew lies the inscription THE KING OF THE JEWS.  This is meant as a testament to all other Jews who would rise up against Rome, that this was their fate.
Mark continues in verse 27 saying … “And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left. [verse 28] And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.”  Criminals die together.  Jesus would not die alone, but would die with others who were clearly guilty of their crimes.  Guilt by association.  Guilt by proximity.  Jesus does not see these men as criminals doomed to a fate they well deserve.  He sees men who have endured and inflicted such pain by their choices to embrace sin.  This is a pain Jesus would take from them, and free them from.  While their fate on the cross will not change, their fate beyond it could be made free, and eternal, no longer bound to the desire to serve self.  To be no longer destined to repeat a life of similar choices was why Jesus was hanging in between them in the first place.  Jesus must pay their ultimate cost, so He can free them and restore them to a life without such pain ever again.  But what the world sees, what men see, what too often you and I see; is only three criminals.
Mark continues in verse 29 saying … “And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, [verse 30] Save thyself, and come down from the cross.”  And the plan works.  Passers-by, travelers on the way to Jerusalem, remember the words and teachings of Jesus.  But now, given where He is, given who He is with, use these words as a taunt to prove to themselves, that Jesus must really not be the Messiah after all.  Had Jesus come down from the cross, these men would not have been converted, only surprised.  Faith does not originate from fear.  Faith does not originate from insult and challenge.  Faith originates in a love that recognizes what Jesus does to transform who we are.  It comes from submission, not control.  These men had no intentions to believe no matter what the challenge.  They were already convicted of the Savior’s guilt, by where He was, who He was with, and what was happening to Him.
Mark continues in verse 31 saying … “Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save. [verse 32] Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.”  Let there be no doubt as to where the religious leaders stand on the issue of Jesus, and His innocence or guilt.  The Sanhedrin joins in the mocking, and challenges.  They ask Jesus to do, what Satan desperately wants Jesus to do.  Satan wants Jesus to take the easy way out.  To stop all this redemptive work and decide very logically that “we” are simply not worth it.  “We” have earned the destruction we face, if Jesus does not pay this penalty for us.  So stop.  Just stop dying.  Go back to your Father, and leave these pathetic creatures to me.  Satan’s thoughts, his temptation, comes to voice in the taunts of the religious leadership of the true church of God.
At this point, even the criminals beside Jesus join in, in taunting Him.  But worse than this.  The plan is succeeding wonderfully, as scripture reads, they “reviled” Him.  This means they looked upon Jesus as having a reputation lower than their own.  Both of them did this.  Peter does not hear the repentance of one of them before it is too late.  Peter is too far away.  He only hears the jeering, the taunting, the mockery.  Peter misses the redemption and sees only the guilt.  How often do we too, continue to see only three criminals?  We miss repentance because it is quiet.  We are ashamed of our misdeeds, and so are not inclined to shout about them while repenting of them.  Instead we whisper our sorrow over what we have done, and beg in humility to be forgiven which we do not deserve.  How often are accusations hurled loudly against our brothers in church, but apologies said only quietly and in private later on.  Crowds seldom see an apology.  Reputations are damaged in public, and never repaired in quiet lonely places of humility.  There only guilt is assuaged.
Peter is suddenly cognizant of the time.  The crucifixion began in the third hour of the day.  Mark continues in verse 33 saying … “And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. [verse 34] And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  Three hours into the crucifixion, a strange darkness covers the entire land.  The plague that hit Egypt before seems to hit Israel now.  Everyone knows it is daytime.  This is the reason Peter is reciting the time precisely for us.  But the sun refuses to shine, the stars will not yield their light, nor the moon.  There is nothing but fire to provide light as torches must be lit.  On the day of atonement in the year of Jubilee this miracle begins to happen.  The priests and Sanhedrin have left the scene to attend to their duties in the ceremonies at the Temple.  But they know the reason for the darkness.  The darkness is within them.  And fire may be its only cure.  It is a harbinger of where refusal leads.
But then, a language of heaven is revealed to us.  Peter remembers the story of the bloodless hand that wrote on the walls of Babylon in a language no one could interpret but Daniel.  It foretold of death and doom nearly upon them all for the blasphemy they had engaged in.  Now while on the cross, the language again appears to us.  This time spoken by Jesus, and interpreted by Peter to Mark.  Jesus cries out in agony as to why He must be alone to face this punishment.  But then hell, is the absence of God.  So Jesus must endure a separation He has never known in His life, across space and time.  It is the thing that will kill Him.  It is not all the physical pain, as that has become nothing to Him.  His mind can only focus and detect and absence of His Father’s presence.  He is truly alone.  He is more alone that we will ever be.  For this is the real punishment He is living on our behalf.  And we see with only base eyes, not comprehending what He did then, nor 2000+ years later.
Mark continues in verse 35 saying … “And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias. [verse 36] And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down.”  Those still standing around hear this outcry, but do not understand.  They know the darkness.  The Romans know it too.  Everyone is nervous, nothing like this has ever happened before.  The Jews believe Jesus must be calling to Elisha or Elijah to come and rescue Him.  They offer Jesus vinegar as a stimulant to make sure He is awake for whatever, or whoever, comes next. 
Mark continues in verse 37 saying … “And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. [verse 38] And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. [verse 39] And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.”  Many things to unpack in this scripture.  First, it is the separation from God, the unanswered prayer, that kills Jesus.  In effect, Jesus gives up the ghost.  It was not the pain that did it.  It was not the spear that would do it.  It was the keen effect of losing contact with His Father God.  The torture of separation from God preempts the Roman plans for days and hours in agony.  If only we too would feel that deeply about keeping distant from God, instead of treating it so casually.  The earth is shaken when Jesus dies.  I imagine the energy wave is sent into space into the farthest corner of the universe.  Satan thinks briefly perhaps he has won.  But a risen crop of first fruit quickly shatter that idea.
Darkness still covers the earth.  For the first time, the day of atonement ceremonies feel as though they are being done at night, instead of in daylight as tradition and the law demand.  As the blade is raised above the sheep, Jesus dies instead.  It is Abraham’s experience in reverse.  And simultaneously the Temple curtain that separates the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place is torn from top to bottom, rent in two.  Common worshippers and Temple servants stand awestruck staring into the Most Holy Place directly at the Ark of the Covenant.  The Mercy seat is empty.  There is no presence of God there any longer.  There is no more reason to wear bells on the hem of the robe and a rope around the ankle to drag out a high priest unworthy of this sacrificial presentation.  It is finished.  It is history.  What will come now, is something new.  The sacrificial lamb slips away amid the chaos and the fulfillment of scripture.
The Romans fear for their lives.  They have their own worship system, consisting of many gods.  They actually think it superior to the Jewish idea of one supreme, all powerful God.  They laugh at that idea; until today.  When the darkness appears, when the death of Jesus occurs, when the earth is shaken, the Roman guard there is left with only one conclusion.  Surely and truly this man was the Son of God.  Notice he does NOT say the King of the Jews.  This is a divine event, not a manmade one.  This is creation weeping at the loss of its maker.  The Roman feels it, as much as he knows it.  He is convicted by the power of the Holy Spirit even while standing here at the foot of the cross, at the moment of the death of Jesus Christ.  The Roman’s words echo.  This is not some quarrel between warring factions of gods with limited power; this is a tangible demonstration in the nature of the universe of a singular power, and its depth of sorrow over the death of Jesus Christ.
And so the remorse must begin.  Did I nail Him down to this cross?  Did I lash His body with the whip of leather and glass?  Did I push the crown of thorns upon His head deeper while hitting it with a reed?  Did I spit on Him, in His face?  What sins have I done to this Lord of Lords and King of Kings?  What sins have we done to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings?  Every time we choose to embrace sin knowing this cost, are we not Romans of old?  Our sin guides our hands to pick up the hammer and spikes.  Our sin guides our mouth to spit in the face of God.  Our sin guides our greedy hearts to leave the Lord naked, and part His clothing for a greed that can never be satisfied.  We looked and saw only three criminals.  But now we see two men, and the Savior of all mankind.  But we treated them all the same, all ruthlessly, all without mercy.  This is the cost of our self-love.
Only when it is too late does a reputation reveal itself.  Only after we have tried to kill it, do we recognize what we do.  When we see each other through the eye-glasses of hate, we do the bidding of Satan himself.  When instead of three criminals, we see instead three family members where the loss of them would break our hearts, we begin to understand how God sees us, and how we should see each other.  There is not judgment in that kind of love, there is only redemption in it.  If there is judgment to come upon us, it will be brought by us, as we gaze awestruck at how far love would go to save us, while we refused it.  We should guard the reputations of those we love.  We should love even those the world sees as just another three criminals …

Friday, September 16, 2016

Racial Hatred Unrestrained ...

Blue lives matter, or at least they should.  When you utter a slogan like that, you are stating that the lives of cops, our military, our first responders should matter to us all.  By stating “blue”, you reflect an absence of skin color, and a support for law-and-order regardless of which race a cop, first responder, or military member is descended from – only that they serve us all today – that they put on a uniform (often blue) each morning and go out to serve.  So why does an NFL quarterback wear socks with pictures of pigs wearing those same uniforms?  Why does he sit down during the national anthem specifically to protest “social injustice” and his own perception that blue hates black, and can kill with impunity? 
And how does his protest begin to grow in a sport of pure privilege, in a league whose first letter “N” stands for National?  The NFL exists because of our “Nation’s” interest in sport.  To show such disrespect to the Nation that affords him personally such wealth and opportunity seems the greatest of insults to us all.  Pick a different venue for protest.  Pick a different method.  Or watch as the “Nation” in the NFL begins to vote with its dollars and ratings; our interest in sport diminish, until you become just another crazy, carrying a sandwich board on a street corner bemoaning the woes of the world.  While you make exorbitant salary, and carry a ball on a field where no social inequity exists, do not insult the citizens of the Nation who afford you this opportunity.
But does this errant quarterback have a point?  Do the “mothers of the movement” have a point?  Is there social injustice in the world … seems as though there would have to be.  Does blue sometimes kill black with impunity … seems as though there are occasions of it, statistics must bear that out.  So where does the perception of oppression come from?  Do singular incidents, widely publicized of what should be private pain, exploited on our screens for ratings, create a perception of oppression?  No, it takes repetition, to create that perception.  It takes a shared or common experience to create it.  When many of us have seen something, when we have witnessed injustice, we begin to jointly conclude that oppression is real and that inspires within us a need for retribution, for revenge, for what we believe is justice for the oppressed.
When this phenomenon occurs along racial or religious lines, those lines begin to run deep.  In ancient Palestine, Jews hated Romans.  This was white on white racial hatred, but the hatred ran deep.  And there was a reason for it.  Unlike Nebuchadnezzar who did his damage in one invasion, and then left the countryside of Israel alone as long as it did not rebel, the Roman conquerors invaded and stayed put in the land.  They wanted tribute (or taxes), and they would have it, if not in coin, then in human trafficking.  The Romans had given the Jews motive to hate them.  People hate losing their things, their wealth, their family members, and their lives.  It inspires a hatred that runs deep.  Even those Romans who did nothing to the Jews, were hated because they were Romans.  And the feelings were mutual.
Romans detested Jews.  It had nothing to do with religion.  It had nothing to do with skin color.  Romans had elected themselves as the world’s policemen, the world’s first responders, and the world’s military.  Anyone standing in opposition had to be put down.  Opposition was not tolerated.  It is little different in our day; those who resist arrest risk the loss of life.  Our society demands compliance during the process of arrest; any non-compliance risks death.  And our society is OK with this loss of life under these circumstances.  Threats, even perceived threats, to those who enforce arrest can end in death for the citizen.  The Roman’s version of it was more arbitrary, more final, and not restricted to the guilty.  If the guilty got away, their families and things would surely suffer.  This happens when compliance is valued so high, when order is praised so much, that dissention means death to avoid a future recurrence.  In our day, dissent is only tolerated in the court system, under legal jurisdiction.
Romans detested Jews because Jews were constantly in a state of opposition.  Jews committed crimes to make the lives of Romans more difficult.  Jews committed murder, not just of Romans, but often of them.  When Romans witnessed crimes of opposition committed by Jews over and over again, their own racial hatred began to develop.  No other conquered people were this resistant, this disrespectful to Roman law and Roman rule.  When our blue must by necessity, encounter crimes over and over each day, it also has an impact upon them.  Blue begins to hate criminals. 
Criminals come in all shapes, sizes, races, and religions; but most often poverty drives crime.  Desperation drives it.  So our Blue begins to see those in poverty with suspicion; especially after listening to criminals lie again and again about what they have done to escape prosecution.  As the distaste for criminals develops, as cops witness other cops die from criminals who decided to shoot their way out of being caught or prosecuted, Blue begins to think differently and react quicker.  And sometimes mistakes are made.  It is better in our day, but it is not perfect in our day.  The human tragedy of fighting crime and exposure to crime, can make some Blue harder on crime, or the risk of crime, until oppression emerges, and common experience is too common.
The Romans prided themselves on their law, they had taken it to the world.  Roman justice might have been a true world wonder, if Roman power were not so absolute.  Instead, resistance became opposition at any cost; and the drive for order became indiscriminate murder, and two factions developed a racial hatred that deepened to the point of extinction.  This is the world Jesus lived within.  This is the nation Jesus came to witness to, to not only lose the hate for Romans, but to love them.  The Jews would have no part in this.  The Jews thought their birthright and proper religion gave them the favor of God, and that they needed no love for Rome to keep that favor.  Jews had gotten to a point where killing a Roman was not considered sin, it was considered heroism.  And the Romans knew this, lived with this, and detested Jews for this.
So Peter bears witness to what unrestrained racial hatred can do.  Perhaps Peter had removed himself far away from the trial proceedings to see from a distance.  Perhaps Peter was only told these things by a witness who was still there to see it.  Perhaps most striking of all possibilities, perhaps it was a Roman who did these things, and was later converted and told it to Peter.  But in any case, John Mark continues recording the story for us in his gospel in chapter fifteen, picking up in verse 16 saying … “And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.”
This facility was no accident.  The Praetor in Rome (or Consul of Rome), usually had a war room or facility in which strategy was created and battles were conceived.  It was a place of honor.  It was not the place for any simple Jew.  But for a Jew who had been labeled the King of the Jews, this would be an especially ironic place.  It would be a place for Jesus to understand as He was condemned to travel to His death, that Rome would remain in power, able to craft strategy, and develop battle plans to win any war of attrition with the Jews, Jesus would be leaving behind.
John Mark continues in verse 17 saying … “And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head,”  Romans detested Jews.  Having the King of the Jews in their presence, under their control, gave them a chance to begin to express just how much Romans detested Jews.  They remove the clothing of Jesus, likely leaving Him naked.  Then they replace them with purple garments reserved for royalty (or perhaps the missing Roman Praetor at the moment).  The body of Jesus would be bleeding severely, nearly ripped apart from the lashing He had only just finished receiving at the hands of one of the Roman soldiers there in attendance.  They add to this robe, a crown, platted of thorns deep and long and place it upon his brow.
John Mark continues in verse 18 saying … “And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! [verse 19] And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him.”  Let the mocking commence, let the racial hatred be completely unleashed.  It did not matter to the world’s policemen that this Jew was particularly innocent.  Others were not.  Most were guilty, at least most of the ones the Romans had to chase down for crimes against Rome.  The nation of Israel hated Rome, so why would this one single Jew be different?  But He was.  The guards did not care.  They began to strike His head with reed, in order to avoid the prick of the thorns on their own hands.  Hitting Jesus with a stick causing the thorns to bury deeper into His flesh, and the blood to rush out all the more.
But pain was not enough.  They must mock the King as a king is due.  They spit in His face, but He does not react, or change His love for any of them.  The soldiers bowed their knees and offered fake words of worship to the bleeding innocent lamb standing before them.  There is almost not enough life left in Jesus to mock.  This is just not as much fun if He should drop dead in front of them, especially if caused by their hijinks.  This Man is to be tortured on the cross for His death.  Nothing quick is allowed for Him.  So John Mark continues in verse 20 saying … “And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him.”
The death Jesus had been sentenced to, was the worst one Romans could think of or devise.  Drowning or burning to death was much faster.  Beheading, or spearing to death was faster still.  A quick death was a mercy from Rome.  A slow death was much worse for the victim, and for the family of the victim.  So what they intended to do to Jesus was the worst death they could think of.  And yet, they took the time to lead Him away privately into the Praetorium, to further torture and mock the Son of God.  This was completely unnecessary.  Yet Romans did this.  The world’s policemen did this.  They were angry about opposition in their land.  They did not care if this criminal was not a criminal at all.  They were not interested in guilt or innocence, only in releasing hatred pent up inside of them.
In perhaps the last epilogue of Roman hatred, John Mark completes this section in verse 21 saying … “And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.”  Romans have no problem creating instant slaves.  Simon of Cyrene would do this act, or possibly join the procession as its next victim.  Simon would do this act, or watch his sons be murdered in the hateful rage the guards had for Jesus, or any Jew.  Simon complied.  He left the Romans no pretense of legitimacy to further injure himself or his two sons.
Compliance is not surrender, it is de-escalation.  Injustice will not be cured by compliance, but it will avoid any pretense of legitimacy for the escalation of violence.  Questions of innocence or guilt will be determined later, by people who do not carry guns, or are forced to make shoot/no shoot decisions every day.  Avoiding even the appearance of a threat, de-escalates situations with Blue, that might otherwise wind up in death we want to avoid.  It is not fair.  It is not right perhaps.  But it is common sense, and it is in the self-interest of anyone who must endure that kind of encounter.  So how do we change it?
Protests of injustice are such a weak response.  It is easier to protest than to mimic our Lord, and reach out in love to those who may mean us harm.  Satan would have us take a course of action that deepens the hatred on both sides.  Jesus would have us rethink who our enemy truly is.  In response to the Roman aggression and oppression described above Jesus makes no angry retribution.  Instead He asks His Father to forgive these men because they do not understand what they are doing.  He pleads for the redemption of these men.  He has performed miracles for men of Rome like these.  He loves them without limit, or precondition.  He does not hold their race, or choice of job, or past misdeeds against His love.  He does not even hold their actions of violence and hate against them.  He offers them love, and a better way to see the world.
And this is the real victory.  To see the world in a better light, in the light of the love that only Jesus Christ can put in our hearts and minds.  Jesus carried no sign stating … no Justice, no Peace.  The sign of Jesus says Come ALL ye that are labored and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  It is love that truly affects things, and changes things.  Everything else tends to prolong them.  Love would prevent the criminal from doing acts of crime.  Love would prevent abuse from one person to another.  If we REALLY want to change or impact the social injustice of this world, we do not need to make statements to the press, or disrespect the citizens of a Nation at NFL games.  We could instead offer quiet love, consistently, and impact the world that we interact with.  If enough of us did this, the world would truly change.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Union of Church and State ...

Is freedom for real, if I cannot pray, where and when I want to?  Prayer after all, is deeply personal, it is a private, often silent, conversation between myself and my God.  I do not ask others to join, and I do not compel them to.  So if I am unable to pray a blessing over my food, simply because I am in a restaurant in public, am I really still free?  There is no law preventing my expression of prayer in this public place as yet, at least here in the U.S..  Am I still free to pray in my office at work, behind a closed door, and perhaps only with others of like mind – has praying in the workplace taken a step too far?  Why then, if in my home life, at meals, and even at work, if I am free to pray; that I am restricted from praying in buildings and at events where my tax dollar is hard at work?  Why am I not free to pray in schools, or universities, particularly if I do not compel others to do so?
It is as if common sense has been a casualty of modern life.  I pray in my car all the time.  I find it actually an awesome place for prayer as I am usually alone, alert, and able to hold down a conversation (or request session as they too often are) with my God.  “How” I pray is altered, to accommodate the situation driving presents.  My eyes are wide open.  I pay attention to what I am doing.  Just as if I had a passenger sitting beside me.  I easily hold conversations with a human passenger.  I see no distinction with holding a conversation with God.  But, if using common sense, I become too distracted from talking in my car, then as the lives of others are equally at risk, I need to stop talking.  It doesn’t matter whether the person I am talking with is sitting beside me, at the other end of a cell phone, or in heaven above me.  We don’t need a law that forbids me to pray in my car.  Common sense should govern that decision.  And as it happens, very little distracts me while driving (and I drive like a typical old man, at or below the speed limit, and in no particular hurry to get anywhere).
So if we could simply rely upon common sense, I am certain there is a way to accommodate the beliefs of everyone in our schools, not forcing any participation, or denying it either.  Our freedoms should not tolerate the denial of our religious beliefs; BUT and this is a bit BUT; they should not compel them either.  My Atheist friends have just as much right to avoid participation in my prayers, as I do to offer them on their behalf.  My Muslim, Buddhist, or Jewish friends have just as much right to pray in the matter that suits them, with or without my choice to participate, as I do, to pray to Jesus Christ (again on their behalf, J and my own).  Common sense could find a way to make this work, and keep everybody happy.  But where common sense fails, is when any one group asserts dominance over another.  When followers of Jesus begin to think their prayers, and beliefs, are more important than those of other citizens, we get into all sorts of problems (and vice versa).
So instead of using common sense, and courtesy, to govern how we interact in public, we run amok in extremes.  Atheists declare no one can pray anywhere near them, in places where government tax dollars are hard at work.  This is an assertion of dominance.  But is it also an assertion of fear?  What has happened when instead of common sense, the church, that is to say the “right” church has unified with political or legal purpose?  And further what happens when that union represents the majority opinion?  You do not need to look back at the conditions that sparked religious pilgrims to run to our nation to see what religious oppression does.  Nor do you need to look at what history calls the “dark ages” when Catholicism elected to burn what it could not control.  There was a far worse time, a far worse event.  It was something Peter witnessed personally, and transcribed to John Mark in his gospel in chapter fifteen.
Picking up in verse 1 saying … “And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.”  The traditions of the feast frown on stoning this week.  And should the Sanhedrin have stoned Jesus, they would have had to take the sole responsibility for both trying Jesus in their kangaroo court, and killing Him personally with His blood on their stones.  Stoning Jesus, which was in their rights to do as permitted by the Roman Empire, might also spark an upheaval by the people at large.  Should the common people find them doing this horrific deed, the Sanhedrin itself might have gotten the stones.  So guilt, must find a way to kill Truth, and not be seen doing it. 
The Jews did then, what was unthinkable to do.  They delivered a Rabbi, The Rabbi, over to the Romans for Him to be killed.  Imagine how far their hypocrisy had taken them.  They hated Jesus because He did not conform to their authority.  Their version of scripture, demanded that the Messiah, conquer the Roman world, and setup a permanent Jewish Kingdom that would never fall again.  Jesus clearly had no intentions of doing this.  Jesus would not feed the hatred of Jews against the Romans.  Jesus never did a single act that would support rebellion, even against a pagan government, that was horrifically oppressive to His own people.  But then Jesus saw Romans with the same love He was Jews.  And this was unthinkable to the children of Abraham.  They had long lost any love for those who oppressed them, or those who did not believe like them, or those who simply had the misfortune of being born of different nations.  In short, they had universal hate, and very narrow love – but they were in the right religion, using the right Bible, and worshipping the right God (just not His Son).
Being in the right religion is no defense against a hateful heart.  Only transformation of hearts is a defense against hate, and only Jesus offers to do this work for us, for all of us, or each of us.  It is the transformed heart that loves its enemy, not seeks power over its enemy.  The Jews had decided that they must unite with Rome, even if only briefly, in order to kill Christ.  The Jews sought (and would find), the power of the Roman state, to end the life of the Messiah everyone had so long waited for.  But then, being the right religion is no defense against union with the power of the state.  Having the right Bible is no defense.  The only defense against union with the state, is a heart that loves.  This they lacked.  So history records, what it always records when Christians seek the power of politics – namely their downfall and failure.  And it begins with Jesus, and what a united Religion and State did to Him.
John Mark continues in verse 2 saying … “And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto him, Thou sayest it.”  Pilate begins his examination of Jesus from an entirely different angle than the religious zealots who delivered Him there.  Pilate is concerned with only one thing; will Jesus oppose the authority of the Roman Empire.  He asks Jesus about His Kingship, but how Jesus acts, how He speaks, and what He says, gives no indication that He is any kind of threat to Rome.  In point of fact, His entire ministry has never been a threat to Rome, not once, not ever.  Conversely, when Roman officers sought the miracles of Jesus for their own families, they found them.  Jesus did not restrict His love for the Roman people, He flooded them with it, even soldiers of Rome, with Jewish blood upon their hands.  And financially, Jesus did not disrupt Roman taxes, He turned crooked tax collectors into honest ones.  Jesus publicly declared that Roman silver belonged to Caesar, that the hearts of men was what He was looking for, not their wallets, or wealth, which mattered not at all.
Pilate immediately senses what this is all about.  Julius Caesar, whose namesake had been preserved in Roman culture, was also betrayed by those who were jealous of his power and popularity with the common people.  John Mark continues in verse 3 saying … “And the chief priests accused him of many things: but he answered nothing. [verse 4] And Pilate asked him again, saying, Answerest thou nothing? behold how many things they witness against thee. [verse 5] But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marvelled.”  The Sanhedrin, the chief among them, then hurl every accusation against Jesus they think will anger Pilate, complete lies designed to make Pilate want the blood of Jesus.  For the church is never honest with the state, it lies to accomplish its goals.  It exaggerates, it omits, it manipulates truth, in order to kill The Truth, and nothing has changed in 2000 years.  Those in whose hearts are found hate, still hate today, for love does not seek power.
The Truth needs no defense.  It needs no defender.  God is self-evident.  Pilate looks at what is going on, he sees through the baseless and contradictory accusations designed to make him want the blood of Christ, but no such desire is found in him.  What develops instead is a state of marveling, as Jesus remains silent at the lies told about Him.  He does not counter the arguments of those bent on His destruction.  He does not yell back at them.  He does not try to hit back at them.  He does not use His vastly superior intellect to reveal to all “who” they truly are, as opposed to who He is.  Humans invariably do this.  Humans do this particularly when their life is on the line, and Jesus’ life was in the hands of Pilate.  Jesus should have been yelling.  He was not.  He said nothing.
How often modern Christians feel the need to defend God, and their own doctrines, at the point of the sword.  They have missed the lesson of redemption, of love that would remain gentle unto death.  Instead they use every story of violence in scripture (taking them out of context), and add a phrase, an eye for an eye, and feel justified in hating or killing what must naturally hate and kill them.  Satan was never going to change; it is why he is Satan.  The world was never going to love Christians; the world by definition does not know Christ.  The defense against the world, and against Satan, is not the sword, but a heart that loves unto death.  The martyrs of the past did more to spread the gospel than the wars to defend it.  Wars and killing in the name of God, only destroy the name and image of God, giving no one a reason to serve Him.  But a God who is willing to die so that I may live, a God (and His people) who love that much, give even that hardest enemy a reason to think twice, look again, and find what those people have.  Pilate is completely convinced.
John Mark continues in verse 6 saying … “Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. [verse 7] And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection. [verse 8] And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them.”  Pilate has now decided to change tactics.  He is going to play some legal trickery of his own.  Pilate selects the most heinous criminal that the Jews are likely to hate.  Barabbas not only attempted insurrection against Rome, he murdered Jews in the process.  The idea of “no witnesses” is not a new one.  And what is more, the people of Jerusalem were aware of his crimes.  Pilate reasons that if Barabbas is made free his killing spree will resume.  Any witnesses against Barabbas (of which certain of the Sanhedrin were bound to be guilty) would have their own lives at risk.  Comparing Jesus, who does not kill or hate, against Barabbas who is sure to kill and hate, even Jews, perhaps particularly certain Jews who aided in his capture or trial – would be an easy choice.
Mark continues in verse 9 saying … “But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews? [verse 10] For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy. [verse 11] But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.”   Even at the risk of their own lives, or at the risk of the lives of their people, the Sanhedrin wanted Jesus dead over Barabbas.  They inspire the people to ask for Barabbas.  But they are not alone in their work.  Satan is in attendance, as he often is when hatred is triumphing over love.  Demons come as well.  They move through the crowd delighted at the spectacle of hate on display.  They revel in the irony of having Jesus, the Son of God, standing in a mob of His own creations, bent on killing Him.  They add their screams to the mix, making the noise deafening, but decided.
John Mark continues in verse 12 saying … “And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews? [verse 13] And they cried out again, Crucify him. [verse 14] Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him.”  Pilate offers the nation of Israel 3 chances to avoid what is done to Christ.  He offers Jesus as an alternative to Barabbas.  He asks what should be done to Jesus after that, which is an opportunity to release Him outright yet again.  He then challenges the mob asking why, what evil has He done.  Three times the right religion could have changed its mind, regarding the killing of The Truth, but it did not.  It cried for blood all the louder.  The cries for blood that come from hate only get louder, in His day, or in ours.  Yet even still Jesus makes no defense, or does not try to out yell the mob.
This section concludes in verse 15 saying … “And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.”  Pilate makes one last effort, as distasteful as it is to him.  He has Jesus scourged unto death, one lash short of death.  In this act, he hopes to inspire sympathy in the eyes of the mob, in the eyes of the Sanhedrin.  But they will not be denied.  They see the pain, the suffering, but they are un-moved.  Instead of a release from the final punishment, this calculated risk fails, and only adds to the punishment.  When later unions of church and state arise, the pain is seen by all, and ignored by all.  People of conscience who believe differently than the majority are tortured and killed in front of many witnesses, and no compassion prevents it.  Compassion becomes yet another casualty of this union, for it thrives on hate alone, hate at the darkest purposes of its heart, hate where only Satan sees.
It seems a long way from my ability to pray at a school or university event, and a driving hate that would kill my Lord.  Christians do not see the path, or connect the dots.  Instead the mantra of our day, is that Christianity is under attack.  As if Captain Obvious had nothing better to say.  Of course Christianity is under attack; it will always be under attack, but it is under attack from within more than it will ever be from outside.  The temptation to crave power, and seek it as a defense, is not a relief from attack, it is a magnification of attack.  The only true defense is love, a love without limits, or preconditions.  A love that is not an excuse for sin, but an escape from sin.  The transforming power of the Love of Jesus on the heart, is the only antidote for a world filled with hate, that would do its best to inspire the same within us.
If perhaps we can resurrect common sense, and learn the lost art of courtesy, then let our love drive us to pray when and where and how it is needed.  Perhaps our love will allow us to be more tolerant.  Perhaps our love will inspire us to look first to the redemptive needs of our neighbors, and we will find a way to be seen for what we are … the followers of Jesus, who are known for extreme love, and a constant quiet connection with Him.