Friday, April 21, 2017

Wide Butts and Skinny Seats ...

If you were fortunate enough not to be dragged off of a United flight kicking, screaming, and bleeding; perhaps you noticed that over time all the airlines have been steadily decreasing the size of the seats and the leg room from one row to another.  It has gotten so bad recently, that nearly everyone is uncomfortable.  If the person in front of you reclines, you get their head in your lap and your knees buckled to the sides, or thrust into their back.  Given this condition, airlines have opted to offer a new product, the idea of “premium coach”, where they upgrade the seat, and offer slightly more width and legroom once again for an increase in price.  For folks with a smaller frame, the inconvenience of flight is a temporary one they will endure to get from point A to point B.  But for the remainder of the American public, who start out larger, or wind up that way, the inconvenience of flight is nearing pure health risk.  Clots forming in legs due to the uncomfortable positions flight causes; combine this with unhealthy eating, and an increasing size, and it adds up to potential loss of life.  Once the court systems realize this, I suspect airlines will go back to larger seats, more leg room, and higher prices.  For now, First Class, is the only escape.
And when you consider First Class, you find there are only a limited number of seats, not everyone fits.  Not everyone will be allowed in there.  It costs more, so financial wealth is used as in invisible barrier.  And general compliance with airline rules to avoid situations of getting forcibly removed from an airline keeps the majority of patrons from rioting and demanding better accommodations.  Think of it, a smaller number of seats available, using wealth as a general barrier to admittance, and willing compliance from the inconvenienced add up to uncomfortable flights for the masses, and reasonable accommodations for those with deep purses and wallets.  Is there a gospel equivalent?
Matthew records what Jesus was teaching in His Sermon on the Mount in chapter seven of his gospel, picking up in verse 13 Jesus says … “ Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:”  Jesus appears to equate the path to perfection, the path to heaven, as a nearly exact opposite of airline travel.  But isn’t that a scary thought?  The parallels may still be the same, it is easier to be financially wealthy on the wide path (money is still an invisible barrier), general compliance or acquiescence of masses still applies, and the mistaken idea that there is not enough room on the smaller one still exists.  From the perspective of our God, the path or gate on the path, that leads to Christ is a small one, a skinny one, and so few will find and pursue it.  On the other hand, the path, or the gate on the path, that leads to destruction is a big old comfortable, wide easy to pass through gate.  Many will pass through that, because it is easy.
Jesus continues in verse 14 saying … “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”  Jesus describes a model that in airline terms would have the first class passengers, scrambling to get into coach; instead of the entire plane load of passengers having envy and hoping for a spot in the wider first class venue.  From a gospel point of view, the skinny path is the one you want to be on.  The big old highway, is the one you want to avoid.  Jesus takes this analogy just a bit further adding a twist, Jesus says that the path is so skinny “few will find it”.  At least in an airline we know where things are, it is easy to see.  From the gospel analogy, not so.  The easy path is the wide path, and the one folks seem to trip over themselves jumping onto.  The path you want is so skinny, that few even find the thing, let alone decide this is where they want to travel.
Now within this analogy, Jesus never discusses how hard it is to travel the skinny path.  It is skinny only because few find it, and few travel it.  But the life of the ones who do, are not said to be difficult, or tortured, or persecuted.  We conjure all that stuff up in our heads, because we believe it just must be difficult to find Jesus or perfection.   After all we have tried it ourselves, and it has never been easy to achieve any form of perfection, even in a limited venue like a hobby, or interest we have.  Attempting to play the piano perfectly for example, just seems impossible even for the best musicians in the world.  So we come to accept that it is the imperfections, the nuances of where we apply emotion, and where we restrain it, that make us unique, and interesting, and worth listening to.  Technical perfection, does not even equate, to musical perfection.
We come to accept the idea that perfection is not possible because we have never been able to achieve it in ourselves.  Therefore, if perfection is not possible, then God must not require it.  God is forgiving after all.  He forgives whatever we do.  So perhaps where it comes to salvation, God simply “winks” at our sins and intends to save us no matter what we do, or how often we do it.  The wide path emerges within the Christian faith, of nearly every denomination.  History proves out that perfection in humans just does not appear, so history and science seem to support our ideology.  The Bible bears out that even some of the worst sinners are on the to-be-saved list.  David, who carries the distinction, of being a man after God’s own heart, committed some of the worst sins there are.  Perhaps even the scriptures support the notion, that perfection is simply not a requirement God carries, as He knows none of us are capable of it.  And to an extent there is logic in this kind of thinking.  But it is wide path thinking.  It is “easy” to adopt and follow, but it is “harder” to live than one might expect at first glance.
The problem with our wide path thinking is that it leads to destruction, not the destination we had in mind.  The problem with our wide path thinking, is that the premise is upside down.  To accept imperfection in a spiritual context, is to accept some sin we commit, and are powerless to stop.  That sin however, is not really a source of joy, and fulfillment.  That sin, no matter what it is, provides a momentary distraction from the decades of pain and self-destruction that come with it.  We have blindly accepted the devil’s marketing campaign that sin is good, and being good is boring.  Wrong.  Sin is pain.  Sin is not fun, or cool, or exciting.  Sin is pain, pain that leads to death.  It always has been.  Sin sits on one side of the cause and effect equation, pain and death sit on the other.  They are inextricably linked.  Sin leads us to hurt those we love, those who love us, and our God.  The waves of pain we start with even a single sin, expand out across the water, until nearly everyone is encompassed by them is some form or fashion.  It is sin, that our Lord is trying to provide us a way of escape from.
Our God does not offer us forgiveness from sin, so we have a get out of jail card to keep sinning.  He offers us forgiveness in the same hand He offers us reformation, and re-creation.  His goal is not to see us keep sinning, because He wants us to get away from the pain and death it causes.  Our God is trying to get us off the path to destruction, not pour gasoline in the engine to make us go faster on it.  There is a different road.  There is a more narrow road, because it is less popular, and fewer believe it exists.  Fewer travel it, because they place the real ideas of perfection within themselves, instead of trusting to Jesus to see it happen within them.   Jesus can work out perfection in you, you can’t.  You need to be saved from you.  That is not work you can do.  That is work you must watch happen, because you let Jesus do it.  Narrow path thinking.  Less popular thinking.  Less traveled, because few are willing to believe it.
The road to perfection is not a difficult one of struggle, failure, and disappointment.  It is one of joy, of relief, and heads to a destination where everything is perfect.  There will be no sinners in heaven.  Think about that for a moment.  God does not wink at sin.  He cannot.  He knows the pain and death sin brings.  God wants it exterminated for all time going forward.  And God is not looking to exterminate you to achieve that goal, only the sin within you.  That is work only Jesus knows how to do, but is only able to do it, if you surrender and let Him do it.  If there is a fight to be had, it will be the fight to forsake our former ideas about perfection, and allow Jesus to work His work within us, unimpeded by our attempts to save ourselves.  The narrow road is not really hard, it is only less traveled.  Think about that for a moment.  It was never supposed to be our responsibility to save and perfect ourselves, only to truly turn over our salvation to Christ, and let Him save us from us.
If the narrow path is not hard; if it is easy; if it leads to our salvation, and our perfection, why not jump on that one right away?  The love of our Lord was not meant as an excuse to sin, it was meant as an escape from our sin.  Jesus did not come to earth to leave you in the conditions of pain and death He found you in.  He came to take you out of your conditions, to re-create you from the inside out, to remove from you the diseases that cause you pain.  The entirety of the New Testament show Jesus doing exactly this.  Not just the physical healings which were miraculous in themselves.  But the much deeper miracles of changing who people were, of putting them on the path to perfection, and bringing them along on that path away from the former things, and on path to the better things.  The distance you move on this path is not the important thing.  The fact that you are on the path is the important thing.  Going through the gate of Jesus Christ, getting Him to be responsible for making you perfect, as you learn to perfectly surrender to Him.  This is what salvation and the love of God is all about.
This can only occur, between you and Jesus.  The relationships around you, between those you love and God, are not the same as the relationship you hold between you and God.  You do not get credit for having a parent who really seems to understand the narrow path.  Nor do you get credit for having a spouse, or a child, who has it down.  Where you are with Jesus.  What you understand about Jesus.  How much you trust Jesus to do this, to see your salvation happen, to be the author of your perfection.  This is all that matters.  It is a one-on-one between you and Jesus Christ.  Nothing in between, nothing in the middle.  There is no intercessor between you and Jesus Christ.  Not your minister, or your family, you stand one-on-one with Jesus with nobody else in the way.  He bids you to enter through His gate, and let Him take from you the pain and death sin causes.  He bids you to taste and see how good He is, how easy the narrow road can be with Him in charge, carrying you across the finish line.   He bids you to let go your burdens, and enter the Kingdom of God that has already come.  To play with Daddy, until Daddy bids you entrance to our final home in a place where only perfection exists.
And the Sermon was not over yet …

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