Saturday, April 29, 2017

Killer Instinct ...

American idealism despite its best intentions, still allows for winners and losers.  Generally, for someone to win, someone else, perhaps lots of others, have to lose.  We don’t like thinking about it.  We don’t like recognizing it.  But capitalism is rife with it, and our society seems to be built on it.  In order for democracy to emerge, the former king had to lose.  In order for slavery to stop, half of our country had to be defeated.  In order for you to get that promotion, someone else had to be passed over, perhaps many others.  We like to recognize that good can come from winning.  But we are equally uncomfortable accepting that when others win and we do not, we have “lost”.  We find dozens of other words for our loss, and we work overtime exhausting the dictionary to find an articulation that in no way associates us with losing.  But in games with only a single winner, or very few winners, the rest of the participants are in fact losing, even if they refute the term losers.
So what does it take to succeed?  If you measure success in wealth, all of your role models would tell you the same thing.  It takes a killer instinct.  One does not become a billionaire by being generous.  Time enough for generosity “after” you have made your fortune, not during its acquisition.  Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have time to be magnanimous now.  But while they built their fortune, they did whatever they had to do, to kill the competition and insure they were on the winning side of any equation.  When you listen to then candidate Donald Trump describe the kinds of people he wanted negotiating our deals with foreign countries, the one characteristic he seemed to admire or respect the most was “being a real killer”.  Obviously these people he admires were not actual murderers, but the parallel of “killing” the competition does not leave room for much thought about equity, parity, or win-win scenarios.  These men in their roles as negotiators were charged with winning every penny they could, and leaving the other guy with nothing, or as close to it as they could get.  Real killers, with killer instinct.
Perhaps an unfair comparison emerges with ravening wolves.  A ravening wolf conjures up imagery of a fierce creature with amazing strength, cunning, and hunger that cannot be satiated.  The goal of this creature is to win, and to feast on your carcass, leaving you dead, and eaten, consumed, with only scraps left.  You would think these kinds of folks would be products of our American Idealism.  You would assume that in the commercial world, this kind of vicious personality must thrive, and be rewarded for its tenacity.  But away from commerce, away from the rice bowl of how we survive and how much wealth we accumulate; the very need to be a ravening wolf would dissipate and become neutral.  But then, that would depend on how much control you seek.  The winner in commerce always believes they win because they control the outcome, they control the circumstances, limit the options, steer the direction of the deal, then pounce and close it to their desired goals.  The control is the addiction, that underlies these personality types.  They thrive on it, like a junkie looking for their next fix.  And so the desire to control, spills over into other aspects of our lives.
The “control obsessed” are not looking for partners in marriage, they are looking for servants.  They will take, and think only to give when it suits them, or contributes to the outcome of the bigger, wider deal.  The control obsessed are not just content to have political opinions, they must insure everyone in their inner circle will be swayed to vote as they vote, and believe as they believe.  The unfair comparison to the wolf as a creature who ravens becomes not just an image in commerce, but an image across the life span of those who obsess about being right, and dictating the outcomes of anything they touch.  And then they go to church.  Religion, or to be more precise, the interpretation of doctrine, becomes only the next vehicle upon which control must be established and ruled over with an iron fist.  Once a nugget of truth is uncovered, those with a mind for control, use it as a divining rod, as a wall to segregate believers into one of two camps … theirs and the wrong side.  There are no other options, no compromises allowed, no gray areas.  They are right, backed by God; the other side is wrong, and powered by Satan.  All those who share their beliefs will ultimately be saved; all others condemned to the fires of hell.  A ravening wolf, in a flock of sheep.
Jesus knew these people, and personality types.  He was dealing with them in His day.  They pretty much populated the Sanhedrin entirely.  There were a few exceptions, but a far few minority.  Those charged with the instruction of the people wanted control more than they wanted a one-on-one personal relationship with the author of the religion they taught.  They were willing to kill the author of their religion rather than cede control to Him.  And we look at them and think the problems died with the order of the Pharisees and Sadducees and no one like that could populate our churches today.  Yet if one were to examine the history of any particular church in any particular denomination over a 50 year period; one would likely find a number of times over the years when the membership “split” over a particular issue that came up.  Lurking behind the issue was a person with a strong personality type, a desire for control, and a willingness to split the body of Christ rather than cede control over it.
Jesus knew these people would not just appear as errant members with loud persona’s.  They would appear in important positions within the church, having inserted themselves there over time.  Ever looking to expand their influence and control, over a body that needs not either.  Matthew continues recording the words of Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount in chapter seven of his gospel, picking up in verse 15 saying … “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”  Jesus here uncovers the masterworks of Satan’s deceptions.  The ravening wolf is not so bold as to show his or her true nature in a flock of those striving for sheep-hood.  The wolf must blend in, in order to be effective.  The wolf must appear like any other sheep, but only as one who has “strong” convictions.  In addition, Jesus warns us that key roles within a church are not immune to this phenomenon.  False prophets.  Prophecy is not just some random role, it carries an important one within the body.  Later Jesus will add dimension to this role saying that some healed, cast out demons, and did great works in the name of Jesus.  Yet Jesus does not know them.  The works of miracles remain, performed by the wolves who cover up like sheep.  They are false prophets, not because what they prophesy is necessarily wrong, or that they are unable to truly heal, or cast out demons.  The criterion for false is something else.
Jesus continues in verse 16 saying … “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? [verse 17] Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. [verse 18] A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. [verse 19] Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. [verse 20] Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”  Jesus puts a criterion for our determining who are wolves and who are sheep by their fruits.  Not by their results, but by their fruits.  A ravening wolf can still prophecy in the name of Jesus, heal, and cast out demons in the name of Jesus; those are all results.  Fruit is different.  The splitting of the body, the idea that control must be maintained, standards upheld, and people excluded is the fruit, is the legacy, of a cunning wolf.  Wolves are not truly interested in loving others, more than they love themselves.  Wolves love only themselves, others they put up with.
The ministry of the wolf is about expanding the church, in that it is about expanding the control and influence they have over the church.  Disguised just like every other sheep, their priorities do not center on bringing genuine acts of kindness, care, and love into the lives of those who so desperately need it.  Wolves make their love and affection come with price tag.  You must believe as they do.  You must submit to their authority.  Then and only then will acts of kindness be bestowed.  Conditional love.  Conditional admittance to the body of Christ.  Conditional standards for continued admittance.  All of which based in an authoritative model where the influence of the wolf truly drives the decisions being made.  The wolf will happily split the church rather than submit, or compromise, or surrender.  Surrender itself is a curse word in the mind of wolf.  They do not like that word used in any context.  It is foreign to them.  And so surrender to Christ is also completely foreign to them.  Control, personal accountability, are the terms they understand and they prefer in the context of religion.
The fruit we produce, the legacy we leave behind tells a story about our lives, even in the church.  When we love our brother so little we would rather exclude his company, than tolerate views different than our own; we have lost sight of the author of our religion, who alone can change the heart of anyone in error, whether that be our brother, or frankly, whether it be we ourselves who are in need of the change.  Tools and thoughts of exclusion are tools and thoughts of the wolf, not the Shepherd.  The Shepherd gathers sheep no matter what each sheep may be thinking that is still incorrect.  The Shepherd works to teach the sheep what is right, sheep do not do that for each other.  Sheep are not qualified to know who is right or wrong, only the Shepherd knows, and only the wolf would make it an issue to separate part of the flock from each other.  The wolf wins in division, and loses control when unity abounds.  So the wolf is constantly seeking division, looking for any occasion to initiate it.  A prophet, who heals, who casts out demons is capable of doing this, all to be recognized for the credit they deserve, and the control they would implement.
Jesus continues in verse 21 saying … “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”  Knowing who Jesus is, is not the same as experiencing what Jesus can do for you.  Jesus while on earth, only ever did the will of His Father.  Though divine, He did not trust to His own wisdom.  Instead He surrendered His will to the will of the Father every single day, every single minute.  His example remains for us today.  Doing the will of the Father in heaven, participating in the mission, is about bringing reconciliation through simple humble love that cares more for others; and is absent of self, and self-interests.  We reconcile people to God by demonstrating the love of God to them here and now.  Not just the pretty people.  Not just the clean people who already think like we do.  But the dirty ones, the filthy ones, the ones steeped in the poo we would hope to never smell again.  The ones who hate us now, and don’t want to understand us, have no intentions of ever submitting to us, or thinking like we do.  It is not our job to change their hearts or minds, only to love them in spite any way they treat us.
Reflecting the love of the Father has no room for thoughts of winning and losing.  The Father always wins.  Love is not measured in units of wins and losses, love is a continuum whose upper limit can never be reached.  No matter how much you love today, you will find that connected to the Father, to the source of love, you will be able to love even more tomorrow.  That is the fruit you should seek.  That is the trail of seeds and fruit skins that should mark the trail of your life and its fruits.  A trail of acts of love, of unity, of forgiveness, of tolerance, of patience.  Those fruit come from a tree who not only knows of Jesus, but has experienced the transformation of Jesus personally.  A transformation where Jesus takes whatever tree you are now, and turns you into a good one, that leaves a trail of love in its wake.  Surrender marks the beginning, surrender marks the end of it.  Control, exclusion, segregation, arbitrary standards, have no room or place in a tree that Jesus makes.
Jesus concludes this section with a hard truth.  He states plainly that our actions in His name are not enough.  Our motives matter.  Our surrender matters.  Our trail of love matters, perhaps that love being the only thing that counts.  Picking up in verse 22 Jesus says … “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? [verse 23] And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”  Reconciliation over segregation.  Love over prophecy.  Humility over casting out devils.  A heart that breaks from the weight of God’s love, over a fine series of wonderful works done for the credit, or the sense of duty that comes from the acceptance of doctrine, but not the author of doctrine.  The wolf has the arrogance to call for Jesus as Lord and believes he deserves a place in the Kingdom of God.  But he is mistaken.  The sheep knows full well they deserve no such honor.  To be given it, is to be given yet another gift of God that demonstrates just how great the love of God truly is.  Eternity given to us, is His mercy on display.  We can never earn it.  We can never even possibly hope to control it. 
So perhaps the call of Christ is to those wolves, and emerging wolves, that still attempt to sit in the congregation of sheep.  Perhaps the warning of Christ is to you and me, that it is not too late as yet.  There is still time to let go, to surrender, and to experience the peace only surrender can bring.  To abandon the work of iniquity even if done under the banner of Christianity.  To find the author of doctrine, rather than the form and fashion of doctrine.  The call of reconciliation echoes on even today, even for the “control obsessed”, even for the wolves.  It is still not too late.
And the Sermon was nearing an End …

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