Friday, February 24, 2017

The Death of Justice & Evil ...

There is a difference between the condition of Satan, and the condition of man.  Lucifer (at the time), existed in a state of perfection and made a choice despite his long years, advanced knowledge, and perfect surroundings to break trust with God, to try things his way.  He ignored the warnings of God choosing not to believe them, instead trusting in himself.  This was completely done on his own.  No one led him to these choices, and in fact, many tried to dissuade him from these choices.  But in the end, Lucifer became Satan by using his freedom of choice to focus his love only upon himself.  He degenerated to the point where he cared only about himself, and wanted to be like the Most High, craving His power to compel others and deny them any freedoms at all.  It was Lucifer’s choice to become what he is.
Mankind on the other hand was new to the universe and existence.  We were a young species having just been created out of the nothingness of our rock tumbling through the dark void of space.  We knew nothing but truth, for God only ever speaks truth.  We had every reason to believe that each sentient being in the universe would also speak truth.  But Satan, in the form of a snake, lied to us, in saying that God lied.  We were deceived.  And then Adam made the choice to put himself with Eve, because his love for her was greater than his trust in the salvation of our God.  He chose death because of love, not for himself, but for his wife.
The love of God for every one of His creations is constant and limitless.  Salvation was offered to mankind, not because we deserved it.  But because the circumstances of our fall were different than that of Lucifer.  Eve was seduced by her own vanity, and the deceiving tongue of a talking serpent, something she had never witnessed before.  Adam fell because he chose to, out of his great love for his wife, instead of a greater trust that our God could fix it.  We were offered a second chance.  Lucifer does not see this as fair.  Satan at this point, sees it as unfair, unjust, and a complete hypocrisy to holiness.  To rehabilitate mankind from his fallen state, back to a state of perfection, because of the circumstances of his fall just seems unfair and unjust.  So the rallying cry of Satan has ever been, to give man what is coming to him, what he has earned by his life and his deeds.  Satan cries out for justice.
And Satan seems to have transplanted that cry for justice deep within us.  Even small toddlers on the playground complain when things are “unfair”.  We attribute that “unfairness” to evil, and we are right.  Things are unfair, because one person chooses to love or please himself, at the expense of another, and thus evil is reflected in the world and in the heart.  But the cure for “unfairness” is something none of us could have expected.  It begins with forgiveness.  A trait hard enough to master.  But then it goes beyond that.  It demands that the party who was treated unfairly, offer even more, to the aggressive party.  This is not only more unfair, it seems to make no sense.  Wouldn’t that make the situation even worse for everyone?  Well, therein lies the question.
Jewish society in the time of Christ, just like American society in our day, is built upon a sense of fairness.  The ancient texts of Moses were so often quoted … “an eye for an eye”.  Justice had been defined.  How often has this text been quoted in our day to justify our thirst for vengeance.  You do something to me, you can bet I intend to the same (or worse) to you.  This is our idea of fair play.  This is our idea of justice.  But this does not end the evil that causes unfair acts, it only promotes it.  Because how any of us see what is just, is a matter of subjectivity corrupted by years of bad choices, and a history of loving self.  There is a different way to fix things, a way Jesus Himself lays out.
When Matthew (a former tax collector who had personal experience with the concept of justice or not) heard the words of Christ, he could hardly believe them.  In his gospel, Matthew was attempting to show to his Jewish audience how Jesus was the fulfillment of every Old Testament prophecy.  But in recording what came next, he knew his audience would have a hard time with it.  Many would either reject the words of Christ while choosing to listen to other things, or, they would reject Jesus entirely because of these ideas and words.  Nevertheless, Matthew must record what was said in accurate detail. 
He picks up in his gospel in chapter five, starting in verse 38 saying … “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: [verse 39] But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  Let’s get a few things straight.  Jesus is not excusing the perpetrator of their crime.  He is not in effect saying, we can all go around and start hitting each other when we feel like it.  Instead Jesus is redefining the end of evil, by the beginning of mercy, forgiveness, and grace from the wounded party, to the guilty one.  And what is more, Jesus is not connecting this first scenario to property that can be replaced.  He is making it up close and personal to your very body and conditions of health.
There will be no eye taken for the eye damaged.  There will be no tooth taken for the tooth we lost.  If this is how you measure justice, then mercy has just killed justice.  But love is not content to leave it there.  Love goes farther.  Love for the one who hit you, allows you to extend your other cheek.  The exact words of Jesus were … that ye resist not evil.  Those are hard words to take.  Those words don’t just imply, they empirically state, you are going to have bad things happen to you because of evil.  And when they do, you are to do nothing in return, not even block the punch. 
To remain docile when you are attacked creates an interesting phenomenon.  Anger feeds on anger in return.  When it gets no fuel, it is nearly impossible to maintain.  To fight, you need someone who fights back.  When they don’t, it makes “you” the schmuck to just keep hitting them.  Most folks lose interest in that pretty fast.  Even the very evil ones.  Why?  Could it be, that the kingdom of Satan is built upon lies, and when truth is illuminated, his kingdom falls apart.  Anger, and fighting, must find some sort of resistance to feed off of, to keep going.  Or it quickly tires, gets bored, and looks for something else to fill the void that only Love could truly fill.
The end of evil does not come from force.  The end of evil does not happen because of the fires of hell.  Those fires cleanse the earth of those who refuse to be transformed.  But the evil that has lived within you for so many years, is not extinguished because you fear hell.  It is extinguished within you, because of the transforming love of Jesus who can literally re-create you from the inside out.  Not just make you pretty on the outside, clearing up all your imperfections, giving you the instant diet, and making your health perfect – all that stuff is the side effect of immortality that Jesus gives you.  The inside.  The places deep within that crave sin, that want to do what we know we should not do.  Those are the places that must be transformed to truly be perfect.  And they are not afraid enough to change from fear.  It takes something more.  It takes more than justice.  It takes the infinite Love of Jesus.
The recipe for ending evil, is that only Love defeats it.  Beyond remaining docile, and humble, while you are attacked … going the extra mile for your attacker, seeing to his needs, even after he has beaten you.  That is a love that changes hearts and minds, and puts evil out to pasture forever.  That is what Jesus has done for you.  That is what He can create in you, so that you can reflect it to others.  But more than just our bodies should be sacrificed if we love enough.  Everything we own should be a cheap price for the redemption of someone else.  Jesus continues in verse 40 saying … “And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. [verse 41] And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. [verse 42] Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.”
Jesus does not ask if these actions against us are fair or just.  They may not be.  He does not ask us if these actions are convenient with us.  He asks something far more.  He asks that we value nothing we own, more than the relationship we could have with one we would bring into His kingdom.  Greed cannot be satiated.  Greed has no limits, no boundaries, no matter how much you have, greed would have you desire more.  It is a bottomless pit.  The antidote to greed is to value your goods merely as tools that could be used to make someone else happy.  To be willing to give everything you own away, and count that as a blessing, is the antidote to greed.  It ends evil within you.  And it has great potential to end evil in others, as you point them to the Source of how you are able to live like you do in Jesus.
Jesus now hits the Israelite right where he takes the most pride, in his religion.  And His words cut to the heart of the American Christian just as deeply.  Jesus continues in verse 43 saying … “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. [verse 44] But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”  The Jew was proud of his religion, and prayed usually for himself, and his family.  The American Christian does the same.  But the recipient of our prayers, asks us for something else, something new.  He asks us to take a genuine interest in the salvation and well-being of our enemies, of the ones who “despitefully use” us, of those who “persecute” us.    
When was the last time your heart broke over the pain your enemy lives in?  When was the last time you were compelled to drop to your knees and lift their names up to heaven, asking God to save them, and save you?  When your heart brakes for your enemy, for the one who lies about you, and tries so hard to destroy you, you have found a transformation ONLY Jesus can bring.  Imagine what our country would be like if all those who hate Trump and everything he stands for, decided to make Trump the object of their sincere prayers.  Imagine what our country would be like, if all those conservative Republicans, and Tea Party members who so hate Obama, or Nancy Pelosi, decided to make them the object of sincere prayer for their well-being, even if it was ahead of their own.  Instead of these prayers, we offer biting criticism, and the language of insults and hate.  And then we claim we are doing God’s work.  Obviously, we have found a new god to take credit for us, because it is clearly not the instructions Jesus left.
Jesus continues in verse 45 saying … “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. [verse 46] For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? [verse 47] And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? [verse 48] Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  Here Jesus defines how love can reach perfection.  By loving not just your family and friends, not just strangers you hardly know, but taking a real interest in the ones you hate, or that hate you.  Our God loved us, while we were still calling Him our enemy.  He loves us even when we do it still.  He is not a fickle God, loving us when we are “good” and hating us when we are “bad”.  He loves us all the time, wishing only that His love is allowed to take us away from the pain our sin causes.
His Love is the medicine we need to stop hurting ourselves with the badness we embrace.  His Love is the motive we need to actually think about wanting to change.  His Love is what will defeat evil forever.  Not just the evil that is washed away in the fires of hell in some distant future, but the evil that once had such a strong hold upon you, your desires, and your actions in the here and now.  That evil must also be washed away.  And the only force strong enough to kill it is His love.  When He is done with you.  Evil will be dead in you.  Dead, because YOU no longer want it.  That is when the death of evil occurs.  It occurs because His mercy killed the justice you deserve, and His love killed the evil you once embraced.
And the sermon was far from over …

Friday, February 17, 2017

Promises Worth Spit ...

How do you value a promise?  A promise is an expression of intent.  But it is more than that, it implies a commitment that “should” be “enforceable”.  If I promise to buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks, you can determine whether this event will ever occur, based on your assessment of me as a person.  If I have proven reliable, in that I do what I say.  If I have proven consistent, in that you cannot think of a time when I did anything other than what I say.  It is a pretty safe bet, you are getting that overpriced cup of coffee.  But then, enter the winds of fate.  If I make that promise and subsequently am struck by a car in an accident that puts me in and out of the hospital for years to come while in recovery.  The value of that promise may be forgotten by both of us.  I forget, because I am preoccupied with so much more weighty things.  And you forget, or perhaps forgive, in that you would not dare bring it up, as you see me struggle with things that used to be so easy for both of us, and now remain so only for you.  In the end, how do we value a promise?
And what if our promise is more contractual in nature, what if it represents a commitment of our lives, of what should be our entire lives.  That kind of promise is more like a vow, maybe even a solemn vow.  For the most part we treat these kinds of promises differently.  They are far more rare, and far more personal.  These kinds of promises are meant to transcend the tragedies of life, and endure till we no longer have breath.  We stake our honor upon them.  Honor being comprised of our reputations, and of what we think of ourselves.  So this is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime promise that only gets spoken that often.  But does it?  We commit this way (at least in traditional wedding vows) at our marriage.  No matter what the specific language, we intend a forever kind of bond with our spouse, and are committing, indeed vowing, to make that so.  Yet our divorce rate makes liars of more than half of us.  Our repetitive divorce rate makes our vow somewhat the joke.  After all, can the sixth wife truly expect that “this” is the marriage that is meant for eternity?  At what point does our words “forever”, become “for the foreseeable future”?
And what about our promise to God?  When we choose our God, when we choose Jesus Christ as our vehicle of salvation and reconciliation, we are in effect making an eternal commitment.  That promise is decidedly about lasting longer than just the boundaries of this lifetime.  Do we shred it as we sin?  Do we cast it aside as our hearts harden in the sins we choose over the sacrifice of self His way and His Law demand of us?  It would seem the variable in any of our promises is our own commitment to see them through.  For the strong willed, I could buy you that cup of coffee from my hospital bed if needs be, or from my wheelchair once I am able.  For those who do what they say no matter what, I could stay in that marriage no matter how bad it is, and what kind of damage it does to the kids, because I refuse to lose.  I refuse to admit I am less than perfect.  Do I treat my promises to God the same way?  Do I keep those ten commandments no matter how hard it is, keeping up with the strict letter of the law, while my desires buried deep within me present the constant struggle to let go and have fun.  How sad, when all we have is our word, with a heart so terribly misaligned.
Jesus knew about these struggles.  Jesus knew the value of human promises.  He has seen so many of them broken to Him.  It is because Jesus knows the human condition, that His first mission for us, is to change the nature of the human condition, to save us from ourselves.  To reconcile us to God, is to change how we think, what we want, who we love.  It is only through transformation to bring us into alignment with the motives and thinking of our God, that we can truly obey Him from a joyful and willing heart.  It is only post-transformation, that we can truly know what it means to honor a marriage or love a spouse and children the way they long to be loved, and the way we should long to love them.
In contrast, at the heart of a vow, is the ego of the person who makes it.  It is a universe-be-damned, I will do “x” or “y” or “z”.  That commitment is based on the power of self, no matter what fate has in store.  And without regard that “we” control nearly nothing.  A vow is a statement of defiance against the reality of the near certainty of breaking it.  Humanity proves that even our most sacred institutions are no match, for the changing of the mind or heart.  We walk away from marriages without second thoughts.  Some even find a way to reject Jesus long enough to die in that line of thinking.  It would seem our vows are our least reliable vehicle.
And Jesus knows it.  So what does He say on the matter?  Matthew records it in a section of the Sermon on the Mount.  It is found in his gospel in chapter five, picking up in verse 33 saying … “Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:”  This was the tradition of the day.  Don’t commit yourself ahead of knowing the conditions.  That was a lesson learned from the tribe of Benjamin who was the smallest tribe of Israel, not by accident, but by the carrying out of a vow that nearly got it wiped out completely.  The second bit of advice, only vow to God, and carry out what you vow to Him, or using His name or references about His creations.  Swearing by God, or by heaven, for example was supposed to add meat, or add depth, to the promise you were making.  It didn’t.  But perhaps it felt good.
Jesus continues to set the record straight in verse 34 saying … “But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: [verse 35] Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. [verse 36] Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.”  That bears repeating.  Jesus says and I quote … swear not at all.  This is not a reference to foul language, this is a reference to making vows OF ANY KIND.  It changes the nature of what we then “commit” to God.  It changes the nature then of what we commit to our spouse.  It does not destroy our intent to pledge ourselves to them, it only changes the vehicle of how we express it.  We pledge ourselves in our actions, and our motives, and our words.  Not just words, no matter how flowery they may be.  Truth does not need flowers, only a lie needs them to cover the stench of it.  Swear not at all.  God does not need another worthless promise you cannot keep.  He needs a daily permission to keep digging in to your life to change it how He sees fit. 
Your spouse does not need a one-time-only statement that you will honor him/her.  They need a daily embodiment of what love looks like as you reflect it to them over and over and over again.  That is commitment of a meaningful type, that is not hard to do, or damaging to the kids.  It is renewing for the entire family, and a source every member can bath in, absorb, and in turn reflect.  Jesus does not just tell us what not to do, He then follows with what we should do instead (just like He does in every point of transformation your life will go through).  Jesus concludes this section in verse 37 saying … “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”  When you are asked a question, speak the truth.  Do not lie.  Simply say yes, or no, depending on what your answer is, ignoring perhaps even what it should be.  Truth in communication is the first step towards understanding each other.  Understanding cannot be based on error, or misleading, or it will not be true understanding.
Simplicity in our communication.  The simple yes, or no, response.  It is all that is needed.  I will take you as my wife.  My actions will speak from then on whether I intend to meet them, or not.  My fidelity will be witnessed or it will be hidden.  My actions will speak from that moment on, I need no once-in-a-lifetime declaration to seal it.  Rather, I need a daily renewal that is based in the strength of Jesus Christ, not in this erring weak sin-prone body of mine.  You can count on the faithfulness of Jesus.  Me, not so much.  But if we together are committing daily to make Jesus the center of our marriage and our love for each other, then we are opening up an infinite source of love and devotion we will hardly be able to contain.  That kind of basis works.  All the human stuff, does not.  Divorce simply proves it.
As for our commitment to God.  The worst thing in the world we could do to hinder our salvation is to consider our Baptism’s or dedication’s or leadership events in the church as being the “most” important moments in our spiritual journey.  They are NOT!  They are only moments.  The next one will be as important as the current one, and as the one that just slipped through your fingers.  It is right now, when Jesus can make a difference in your life.  There is no waiting.  You are at the front of the line.  He is ready to work on you right now.  What else do you have to do that is more important than that?  What difference does it make how long ago you got baptized, Jesus is here right here and right now.  If you let Him, He will change the core of who you are.  It’s great that you got baptized, but that was not the end of your journey, that was barely the beginning of it.  We cannot think of God in terms of thinking we are done now, or done for now.  God is an every-minute opportunity.  God cares more about what you let Him do in you this moment, than He does any promise you made to Him so many years ago.  The moments count.  Let Him work.  That is what saying yes is all about.  Not yes for now, but yes right now.  Then repeating it over and over and over again, till His work in you is complete and perfected.
And the sermon was not over yet …

Friday, February 10, 2017

Boobies, PeePee's, and Other Unspeakable Things ...

Most folks, particularly of the Christian variety, would like to think, that the scriptures say nothing about porn.  But they might.  Oh sure, in the time of Christ, there was no internet stocked full of free porn sites designed to lure the viewer into finding the kinds of things that might arouse interest; and stay, and deepen the interest by indulging in it with such regularity that perhaps new and even more unusual images might peak the interest on the next visit.  The foundational idea of porn is that variety is the core of arousal, monotony is the death of it.  So while in the time of Christ there was not this vast established infrastructure to support porn from a distribution point of view; there was still one constant, the mind and imagination of the men and women who fostered indulgent thinking behind a mask of upright and conscientious external appearances.  After all the imagination of a person can hide a great many thoughts, inappropriate ideas, and downright lusts, from our friends, family, and neighbors … but not from Jesus.
Yikes!  To think that Jesus is privy to our most intimate thoughts, and fully aware of every sexual idea that has crossed our minds from an age too young to consider it, to an age too old to act on it (minus perhaps a little blue pill), is embarrassing to say the least.  Generally, we think of our sexuality as private, as personal, a kind of no-one-else’s business perhaps including God.  Well more accurately, especially excluding God given the thoughts that float through our heads from time-to-time.  To think we are not living in as private a condition as our sin demands is un-nerving.  To consider the idea of openly including God in our sexuality is not something even most Christians are comfortable with.  But then, God created it, He understands it better than we ever will, so why exclude Him?  The idea that our sense of privacy inherently excludes God should give us an indication that our ideas are not lining up with His, or at least with what we have been taught about His ideas.
But before we can talk about where things went wrong we might consider the template of when things were first perfect.  Before sin.  Before the apple tasting when both of our original parents chose to break trust with God, there was the concept of male and female, and the partnership we refer to as marriage.  The original template however was something much deeper and more intimate, and more vulnerable, than the casual use we make of the word marriage in our modern day.  Eve was not just Adam’s helper, she was his everything, he was willing to let go of Eden and die rather than lose her.  He held nothing back from her.  Not thoughts, ideas, dreams … everything that could enter the mind of Adam was shared in perfection with the flesh of his flesh.  They both existed naked and unashamed, clothing was a by-product of sin.  Their physique’s were not a source of pride, or of lust, but of the beauty of the finger of God, and what He was able to sculpt from the dirt of our earth.
This was a relationship meant to last, meant to last forever, something eternal.  It was not time based, as other than the weekly practice of Sabbath time with our God (something they both looked forward to in a special way, also created before sin), marriage was an eternal construct.  This marriage was literally the anti-matter of porn.  Variety is not God’s idea of what is needed for sexual expression, rather continuity is, intimacy is.  Sexual expression was meant to be so personal, so intense, that only one other person could ever come to know you as deeply across every facet of your life, as to understand you in this way this well.  Security in knowing you belonged to a partner who was literally the other half of your life, brought a foundation to how you lived, that words could scarcely summarize into the term marriage or monogamy. 
Unity to nearly the point of sharing molecules, was the idea that went into a marriage meant to last in forever kinds of terms.  There would be no boredom.  For how could boredom dare survive the imagination of minds not encumbered with self-love, or the limits we place upon ourselves.  A pure service to others, in this case our spouse, was an effort that would occupy the imagination and the senses.  Creating joy for another was the full-time dedication of our existence, that would have neither end, nor limitations in its expression.  Purity, and complete dedication, innocence, and no plans to change it.   This is how marriage began, and how it was intended to last.  Never even a thought of having it end, or distracting it with something else.  No need.  Once perfection is attained, anything else is by definition, less. 
Had sin never emerged, there would be no divorce.  When sin is put to an end, divorce will be consumed with it, but marriage will not.  It will return to the state it was intended to be in, it’s original purist form between those who God heals for it.  Perhaps not all of us, perhaps so.  But what sin can damage, our Lord can remake, and repair.  This is the entire point of salvation itself.  Transformation is more than what happens within us, it is what happens to return institutions created before sin, to their original state, and perhaps us with them on an eternal basis.
Comparing that, to what we call marriage, is comparing brilliant light, to shadows in darkness.  We hardly have even the reflection of what was originally intended.  But we try.  And over time our ideas about marriage come to include a multiplicity that by definition must spoil the intimacy that God intended.  Multiplicity entertained by ancient Israel, fed only the self-love of men, at the expense of women, and to the detriment of what they still called marriage.  And over time our ideas then included the notion, of a do-over, of making a different decision about what forever means as we apply it to spouses.  Enter divorce.  Divorce too, was most often employed by men to cast aside women they no longer loved or wanted, in favor of something else.  The idea of starting over was never meant to be cast in this context, but self-love and selfishness can find a way to rationalize a great many things.  So it did.  Over time, our ideas about marriage had made it more contractual, subject to the tools of legal application, than a level of intimacy that would wish no deterrent. 
And Jesus enters the stage.  How sad He must of have been to witness the institution He created for the joy of mankind, twisted until it was a tool of Satan to destroy the entire creation of mankind.  Porn is only the external manifestation of what can exist within the heart of men and women, who do not understand why the continuity of intimacy is so much better.  Jesus sees what we have done to marriage, and how we butcher the term, and the application.  So He is driven to speak out.  Matthew records what Jesus had to say about our ideas of sexual expression in his gospel in chapter five and picking up in verse 27 he quotes Jesus saying … “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: [verse 28] But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
At this point not only are our motives made equal to our actions in the sight of God, now we can add “how” we look and think about a woman (or man if you are a woman).  To entertain the idea of what any form of sexual expression might be like with another person, even if only in the mind’s eye, has become the definition of lust.  It does not matter if the woman has contributed to this problem, by removing her clothing, taking an alluring pose, and offering a receptive look on the pages of a porn site; or whether she is appropriately modest and attempting no such ideas.  The state of the woman is not in question.  The reaction of the man is.  That the man would seek out women to visualize in this manner, has only to warp his imagination, and further promote the idea that women are mere biological objects, not people to be cherished.
To see, to imagine, to entertain the notion of variety, is to embrace porn and destroy marriage or our ability to enjoy it, through the corruption of sin.  We warp our thinking until intimacy is a long-lost casualty, and aggression is a close ally.  In those where intimacy has been decimated, a hunt begins, to find the next object we can perform our acts of biology upon.  The object of our expression becomes nothing more to us than a sack of meat.  What kind of meat begins to matter less and less, only that variety is maintained, and emotional attachment is never considered from the acts we perform.  There is no limit to what derangement may follow.  “Normal” is truly a subjective concept absent an external point of morality, such as the original template of marriage, or the Law of God that would sustain it, by reflecting back to us “who” we truly love.
The idea that these thoughts lead nowhere was put to rest immediately by Jesus as He continues in verse 29 saying … “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. [verse 30] And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”  As men we are prone to visualization, though this is not completely in the province of men.  As humans, what we see influences what we think.  And most men take action (very often with their right hands) when considering what they have seen with their eyes, and have come to imagine in their minds.  Jesus points out here that choosing to focus on these things, and enact our lust, even if only on a “personal” basis, leads to a point where humans are sacks of meat, and God is an inhibitor of me making me happy.  Forget salvation, give me the here and now in a lust that has no abandon.  That degenerative path begins in the mind, and finds action in the hands.  And you thought porn was not mentioned in scripture.
Jesus continues in verse 31 saying … “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: [verse 32] But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”  What Jesus describes here is a sequence of events, not a justification for divorce.  The sins listed are fornication and adultery, which both are effectively sex outside the confines of marriage.  Divorcing your wife, because you changed your mind, does not break the marriage vow from heaven’s point of view.  It takes greater sin to do that.  Abuse would do it.  Sexual promiscuity would do it.  But because you have changed your mind over time, is not enough to get it done.  So, just handing her a paper of divorce, makes the next man who attempts to marry her, an effective adulterer with her as the first bond still holds in the eyes of heaven.  By the way, it does not free the man to remarry either, he and his new wife also become nothing more than adulterers, not truly husband and wife.
This is not meant to be a legal clinic on divorce by Jesus Christ.  It is meant to reset our thinking on just what vowing forever means.  It is not something we should treat so lightly.  God can mend hearts, and put love there, when no love exists.  It is rather His specialty.  So marriages that might otherwise seem to have gone dead can be resurrected, when we are willing to put Jesus Christ back into them.  Even back into an otherwise dead sex life.  The true author of sex knows how to revive and remake a sex life that would stand the test of eternity.  He just needs your permission to do it.  It may involve re-teaching you everything you thought you knew.  From how you think about people generally, to how to make someone else happy during sex, never for a moment thinking about “your” needs.  Consider for a moment, in marriages following the original template, neither person is thinking about self, both are only obsessed with thinking of the other partner.  And the let fireworks begin to fly.
While we have twisted horribly the idea of marriage in our world, allowing Jesus to transform us, allows Jesus to transform what our marriages can be like.  They too, can begin to see radical improvement in the here and now.  What once seemed dead on the vine, can be resurrected and become so important to the two participants that life itself could not be imagined without the blessing of the marriage they have after Jesus.  It is long past due for porn to die in our thinking.  Not just our incessant visitation of sites on the internet when we think no one will catch us; but instead the notion that variety itself is better than the continuity of intimacy. 
Variety is not the spice of life where it comes to sex, it is the death of happiness.  Variety, and our quest to achieve it, births only pain to those we love, those who love us, and the circles of lives it reverberates through.  That is not increasing our fun, that is killing it.  But true transformation, where we submit even our sexual expression and desires to Jesus Christ, does not result in the death of sex.  But instead in a re-vitalization of a sex life that is based on self-less-ness and singularity.  It puts our sex life on a path ever upward, ever more interesting, ever more a gift to the singular partner who means more than life to us.  Only then does our imagination begin to consider what else could bring true joy to a partner we cherish.  Only when we allow Jesus to remain a part of our marriage and of our sex life, can we keep it free from sin, and on the course heaven would wish for us both.
And this same sermon was not over yet …

Friday, February 3, 2017

Freedom From Rage ...

If you don’t have a temper, you may not understand.  If you don’t hold a grudge, you just may not get it.  But there are anchors that show up in your personality from time to time, that make a mark.  They hold you back.  They keep the enjoyment of life, just a few yards out of reach.  And nothing.  And nobody seems to be able to change it.  But what they reflect is something even darker, something even more insidious, something you likely would not have connected with the boat anchors of rage or resentment that creep into your emotional constitution.  They reflect a horrible misalignment of values and priorities.  Indeed “I” become the hero, and the center, of “my” story; and in no small measure distinctly more important than the other cast of characters who may intersect with me over the course of my life.  This recipe is one well suited for rage, and almost perfectly aligned for resentment.
And it happens inside the “church” just as often as outside of it.  But this begs the question, are Christians merely responding to “righteous” anger, or is the term “righteous” a matter of convenient perspective.  Ask yourself, does God get angry?  He sure seems to.  And the devil works hard to paint Him that way.  The devil thrives on a picture of an angry, and wait for it … vengeful … God.  The devil conflates the punishment of the wicked with an expression of anger.  Because how else, could you inflict horrific pain and death, without it being simply an expression of deep seated rage?  God sure seemed angry during the flood, and again with Sodom and Gomorrah.  The Egyptians may have experienced it, and the Assyrians as well.  But what is it that makes God mad?
Pain does.  Imagine how you would feel, if some bully began inflicting pain on your child.  And what if that bully, just knew what they were doing, had no excuse, and did not intend to stop no matter what the consequences.  What if your child did nothing to deserve it?  What if your child did everything to avoid it, but the bullying would not stop.  What if the bullying only escalated?  Parents begin to get indignant when faced with a situation like this.  We instinctively want to protect our child.  We’re not looking for revenge as much as we are a simple resolution.  We just want it to stop.  We want somebody to do something about it.  What about the bus driver who sees it, and could do something, shouldn’t they?  The same for the teachers at school, or even the friends of our child.  If other “righteous” people just acted, perhaps the bullying of our child would end.  But what if nobody does?  It’s going to get under your skin.
Being unable to solve a problem this substantial for your child tends to make one angry.  At some point, you want to hurt the bully.  Can you imagine this is where God might be sometimes?  And we could equate as parents, but it is more complicated than this.  Take our bullying scenario of our precious child, and add a new factor, add in the idea that the bully, is his brother or sister.  Add in the idea that both the bully and the victim are OUR kids, both born into our family, both provided equally with love and affection, both cared for equally.  The bully remains with no excuse for his activities.  But now we are forced to confront a situation within our own family, within the doors of our home, within the confines of our love.  At that point, we NO longer want to hurt the bully, we just want the behavior to stop, all the more desperately.  We do not understand it.  The terms mystery of iniquity come to mind.  How does one child become victim, and the other become psychopathic perpetrator when our love has been consistent to both of them?  It makes no sense.  But then sin never makes sense.
The quandary remains, what do we do about it?  And what if we simply cannot “make” our child stop embracing evil towards their sibling?  At some point, if we do nothing, the innocent child may die at the hands of the punishing one.  We have to take action, that will “seem” like punishment to the bully.  We have to separate them, perhaps isolate them, perhaps remove them from the home.  We will send them to counselors.  We will get all the best psychiatric help we can find for our bully.  We don’t just send our bullying child straight to the electric chair for what they do.  We try to fix it first.  We try to get them to see that what they do is wrong, it hurts other people, ultimately it hurts them, it keeps them away from the joy of life they might otherwise be having.  But the bully sometimes just refuses to see, refuses help, and gets even more aggressive, now likely blaming you for what they continue to do.
This is how God gets mad.  He is not mad at the bully half so much, as He is mad at the behavior, the disease, the choice to embrace pain.  This is NOT what He wants for His child.  But He cannot “make” His child choose something different, He can only try to coax, enlighten, and love His child, hoping they will choose to make another choice on their own.  The alternative is robots not humans.  God gets mad that one of His children must suffer, and His anger is mixed with pain, that another of His children is causing the problem.  They are both His kids, He loves them both equally.  He hurts for both of them, just like we would if faced with the same situation, except that, we are ALL His kids.
At the end of the day, it is the choice to love-self, and forego the loving of others that underlies the problem behavior.   For when we love self, we can justify a great many actions and behaviors that result in pain for someone else.  And often we don’t care.  And often we know better.  We are both victim and perpetrator, and “righteous” anger is directed at the sin itself, while redemption is directed at the person who suffers from, or is inflicting it.  When they are both your kids, you want to find a way to fix the problem, for both of them.  You want to save both of them.
So when Matthew records this part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount in chapter five of his gospel, he was taking an in-depth look at anger, rage, resentment, and perhaps how we might find freedom from it, at least within the “church”.  He begins with the words of Jesus picking up in verse 21 saying … “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: [verse 22] But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: … “  To equate anger itself with the action of killing is something the Jewish audience, and frankly our Christian one, had rarely considered.  To equate internal personal motives, thoughts, and feelings with the deeds they would otherwise inspire as being “equal” to God seems new.  It means our motives matter as much as our deeds.  They count as much.  They must be transformed as much.
Refraining from actually killing my brother is not as life affirming as not hating him, but rather loving him in the first place.  If I am angry at him all the time, my life is being spent needlessly suffering from the chains of rage and resentment.  Any who judged my life spent in anger, would see that it was far less than it could have been, even if, I had never harmed a hair on my brother’s head in actions.  The thoughts of anger, become the motives of my life, and constrict it to a life of pain I inflict needlessly on myself.  But what if my anger against my brother is “with cause” you ask?  I ask, what is your cause, and what are you angry with?  If you are angry as God would be, just wanting an end to the sin that infects our lives, directing redemption towards your brother, and anger towards Satan who keeps him ensnared, then perhaps you do have cause, and perhaps your anger is righteous after all.  But if your anger with your brother leads you to care less about his redemption, and much more about inflicting justice upon him, you are living back in the land of problems.
Jesus completes verse 22 this way “… and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”  The word “Raca” has no immediate definition in the English language.  The current thinking is that it is an Aramaic word meaning foolish or empty headed.  The minority opinion is that it could mean effeminate or some derogatory term against homosexuals although that seems less likely given the comparator used in the remainder of the verse.  What is clear is that Raca was a gentler form of insult, than the word Fool at the time.  It is akin to making fun of a person in gentle terms, and making fun of them in harsh terms … either way you look at it, you are making fun of a person, tearing them down, attempting to make them feel less about themselves through what you say.  And apparently, this is a big deal for Jesus, as hell fire is seldom used as the outcome to our actions, but it is plainly stated for this one.
Hurting someone else because of what we say, reflects the same motives, and mis-aligned priorities that our rage filled counterparts carry.  Our hurtful language testifies that we care more about what we think, and what we feel, than the object of our speech.  In the process, our words become weapons, and we leave someone else on the floor, stabbed with our tongue, or shot with our prose.  The damage can be just as real and far less clean to recover from.  The idea that we could so casually hurt someone else, in effect without thinking about it, is a revelation of how little we have been transformed.  It demonstrates how little we love others, how much we still love ourselves, and that our submission to Christ has yet to begin in earnest. 
And lest Christians think they are immune from these kinds of thoughts and feelings Jesus continues in verse 23 saying … “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; [verse 24] Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”  The interesting twist here is that Jesus is not asking the angry person to go apologize.  He is asking the calm person, to go find the one who is upset with him, and find a way to make peace.  In monetary terms, to find the guy he owes money to, and pay him, to make sure everything is up to date, before completing the action of offering in the church.  Jesus does not stipulate that the debt is legitimate, or that the dispute is equitable.  Instead He asks, that we find a way to make peace with those who make claim upon us, whether legitimate, or equitable, or not – before we complete the transaction of our offering in church.  In other words, our relationships with our brothers and sisters is more important than what we give in the offering plate.
In case we missed that point Jesus continues in verse 25 saying … “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. [verse 26] Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.”  The money this world is obsessed with is not supposed to be equally interesting to us.  Jesus asks us to agree with our adversary.  It is hard to continue an argument when we agree with the other side.  If this means we wind up giving away money we think we should be able to keep, then so be it.  Jesus does not say, make an effort.  He says find a way.  If that means you lose money, then lose it.  Better being broke and free, than rich and in debtors prison.  We don’t have debtors prisons anymore in our world, unless you count student loans, credit cards, and home mortgages that will keep you cash poor forever.  But perhaps these too, reveal to us, how much of our lives are spent in the service of debt repayment, for expected financial gains, that rarely if ever come.  Jesus repeats the point, our money is not as important as our ability to part with it.
The freedom from rage and resentment begin when we value something else.  When a Christian can learn to part with their money, and hold tight the people they love, something wonderful happens.  When I let Jesus get in and dig into my life, making whatever changes He wants, an awesome journey begins.  I become different, because He makes me different.  I begin to stop loving me, and start loving others.  I begin to get passionate about it.  The passion that used to be a hallmark of my temper, now becomes a hallmark of how much I care about someone other than me.  And the time and energy it takes to get mad, and stay mad, float away replaced by an infinite source of energy invested in loving someone other than me.  My life gets better.  Anyone who looked at it after Jesus begins to see that, to judge that.  And more importantly I see it, I feel it, I experience it.  A new-found freedom that only Jesus can bring.
And the sermon was not over yet …