17 December 2010

Jesus Is Serious About Sin

Matthew 18:6-9
Followers of Jesus follow Jesus.  Apprentices of Jesus do what Jesus does.  Disciples of Jesus obey everything that Jesus commanded.

In the 2010 Western World, sin is like Santa Claus or the Boogie Man.  The concept of sin is for superstitious types who use fanciful stories to manipulate others.  Enlightened people don't talk about sin and definitely do not talk about what is right and wrong in relation to a mythical god they do not know or want to know.

Please notice that I did not say that in our time people don't talk about right and wrong.  EVERYONE talks about right and wrong.  EVERYONE discriminates.  Environmentalists don't preach to the masses?  Smokers aren't preached to?  They aren't told where they can smoke and where they can't?  The current American president recently told Americans that taxes aren't about raising revenue, but about fairness.  People who want nothing to do with God preach sermons all the time about what we should eat, how we should regard certain behaviours and who should and should not be worthy of living.

Many philosophers will tell you that we are living in a culture that has abandoned the concept of right and wrong.  This is nonsense if one pays attention to our culture.  What our culture has done is abandon God's definition of right and wrong, as revealed through His Word and His Son.

Jesus certainly was not embarrassed by His Father.  Jesus certainly was serious about the rejection of His Father's ways and why the creation continues to reject their creator.  In this teaching, there is no misunderstanding, Jesus regards sin as a matter of life and death.  Sin is not a human problem.  Sin is THE human problem.

Many of us have rejected God's institution of the family.  As a consequence, many more children have had a stumbling block put in their path to life.  All of us know the devastating effects sexual and physical abuse has on children.  It changes their path profoundly.  It changes how they view sex.  It changes how they trust and love others.  It changes their view of God and the one he sent.  All of us know the devastating effects constantly fighting parents have on children.  It teaches them how to treat others.  It teaches them how the world they live in operates.  All of us know the devastating effects divorce has on children.  The instability and the different people their parents bring into their homes teaches them dispair in regards to any kind of lasting commitment.

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Sin is serious.  Sin is cancerous.  Jesus teaches us that sin must be dealt with immediately and decisively.  Sin is the street a toddler plays on.  Sin is the mole that must be cut out.  Sin is the tumour that must be removed.  Sin is the matches in a child's hands.

I pray that all of us who follow Christ will follow Christ.  I pray that all of us who enjoy living in the Kingdom of God will not be embarrased by our King.

14 December 2010

Jesus Determines Who is Great

Mark 9:38-41

All people long to be great.  That is an in-built longing from our Father in heaven.  As previously discussed, because we have rejected our Father's definition of greatness, we have tried to determine our own definition of greatness.  Therefore, instead of seeking true greatness, we arbitrarily seek what we think is great.

One such definition is to be "in".  From the schoolyard, to our workplace, to our families, to our churches and in all kinds of communities, we long to be "in".  Even when we reject what the majority feels is in, we act as though we are in and it is the majority who is really out. 

What makes this notion of in and out even more complicated is what makes a person in or out is constantly changing.  When I was a boy, a man piercing his ear was a social statement for those who did not like those who are in.  Tattoos used to be a mark of someone of someone who declared themselves as in and others as out.  Piercing all kinds of body parts is even becoming more common. 

Throughout our history, a group of people share things in common and for one reason or another, someone will reject those common things with the desire to find significance.  Usually, it is not enough just to be different.   The group of people who endeavour to seperate themselves justify their seperation by declaring the other as out.  And those who have been rejected by the other will declare themselves as in by arguing how out the other is.

This has been a human issue since Cain and Abel.  The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offereing he did not look with favor.  This made Cain very angry. The Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you , but you must master it."

Cain was not happy with his position in life.  Cain now was faced with a choice.  Either, he could find favour with the Lord by doing what the Lord was asking or he could try elevating himself in the eyes of the Lord by eliminating the one favoured by the Lord. 

In psychological terms, this is called leveling and we do it all the time.  We see those who are blessed, who seem to be happy and doing well and it seems to magnify our own struggles.  This tends to make us angry and/or depressed.  So, we are faced with a choice in making ourselves better.  We can either raise our standard of living to those we try to emulate or we can lower those who are being regarded the way we wish we were.  So, we try to destroy through gossip, slander, unfriendliness, being argumentative, arrogance, ridicule, theft, rape, assault, murder, etc...

What a wonderful time it was to be one of the chosen disciples of Jesus.  The more they came to know who Jesus is, the more pride swelled within them.  The greatest man ever to walk the face of the earth was living with them.  Greater still, he chose them.  He gave them the best teachings.  He constantly worked with them.  They were doing things they could not imagine doing just a short time ago.

They knew what was happening was highly significant.  But this was not enough for them.  We know this because they started arguing with each other about who was the greatest.  Then, John tells Jesus they found a person doing good (casting out demons) in Jesus' name.  But, John and the others tried to stop him...from doing good, in Jesus' name.

Why?  Because "he was not following us". 

Sigh...The church of Christ follows the mistake of John all the time.  We have Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians, Uniting, Salvation Army, Non-Instrumental, Wesleyan, Lutheran, Calvinist, Pentecostal, Seventh-Day Adventist, Methodist, Nazarene, etc...  Being in a denominational church is not wrong as long as the congregation is doing what is right.  As long as that group is doing good in Jesus' name.  But being in a denominational church that separates and/or tries to stop others from doing good in Jesus' name is sinning (rejecting our Father in heaven).

Christians are to follow Christ in all things.  In all things, Christians are to follow Christ.  Wisdom comes from submitting our will to our the King's will.  Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

We do not determine what makes others great.  We do not determine who is great.  We do not determine who is in or who is out.  We are not the judge.  It is foolish for us to follow our own standard of greatness anyway since it changes all the time.  That is building our life on sand and that house will not last. 

Jesus is the judge.  Jesus determines who is great.  Jesus doesn't care who is following him as long as they are following him.  As long as they are doing good in Jesus' name.  That is the standard.  These are the people we should encourage, help, befriend:  the ones who are doing good in Jesus' name.

Father, I'm so sorry when I fall into cliquish ways.  I do not know men's hearts.  I don't know jack about what is really going on.  You do.  Help me to trust you.  Help me to see people the way you see people.  Give me wisdom in seeing how I can do good in Your Son's name and how I can help anyone who is doing good in Your Son's name.  Thank you for your grace and allowing me to grow in your grace every day.

09 December 2010

Jesus Wants Us To Be Great

Jesus and Child - MyImmortal
  Mark 9:33-37

Jesus wants us to be great.  That is a phrase not often said, if at all, around many of our churches today.  Jesus came that we would have life and have it more abundantly.  He wants us to live the best life possible.  But, because we wanted to live life apart from the one who made life, we have very different ideas about greatness.

Jesus and his disciples did quite a bit of traveling.  They walked hither and yon.  I know that whenever I travel with people, the most interesting conversations ensue.  This conversation was no different.

Now, the disciples knew they were having a "silly" discussion, because they didn't want to answer Jesus' question about what they were talking about.  Now, did Jesus call their conversation silly?  Did he chastise the disciples for their pride and arrogance?  Did he warn them about pursuing greatness?

No.  He uses the occasion to teach his disciples about greatness.  "'Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.' Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 'Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.'"

Anyone can serve those who will help them.  That is the way the world works; you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. 

But, what can children offer?  Can a child give you a job?  Can a child give you money?  Can a child give you a home?

What's worse, children are high maintenance.  Children need just about everything done for them.  They need to be fed.  They need to be dressed.  They don't have proper social decorum.  Some are quite loud and energetic.  They need to be placed in their beds.  They are dry sponges eager and quick to absorb how the world works and quickly adapt to what they are being taught.

And yet, Jesus says that if we want to be great, if we want to be considered great in our Father's eyes, we must welcome children in the name of Jesus.  Jesus' brother James echoes Jesus' teaching when talking about faultless religion, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

Jesus wants us to be great.  Do we want to be great?  Who are we trying to please?  What do we want out of this life that we have been given?  Are we willing to be a servant to all?  Even those who cannot serve us in return?

07 December 2010

Jesus Knew Which Hill to Die On

Matthew 17:24-27

Many people, lately, have said to me that Jesus never claimed to be anything more than a great prophet or teacher.

Those who make such claims never read through the ministry of Jesus.  I have made this point before, but it is so important that it demands repetition.  Jesus said things that no mere prophet of God would say.  A prophet's task is to speak the words/truths of God to who God wanted to speak them to.  A true prophet never sought glory for himself, a true prophet always directed the glory to God.

Jesus uses this occasion of the temple tax, a tax collected from those in Israel for maintenance of the temple in Jerusalem, to once again explain his place in the Kingdom of God.  (It is interesting to note that the tax collector-disciple is the only gospel writer to relay this occasion to us.)  "Then the children are free."

The temple was the presence of God among his people.  It is where God "lived".  People would come to the temple to remember the Lord their God; to pray and to worship in festivals and holy days as the living God had commanded them.  It was certainly right for the people who used the temple for these good purposes to pay toward the upkeep of the facilities they used.

Jesus went to the temple also.  But, Jesus seemed to treat the temple differently than the others.  For Jesus, it seemed more personal.  As he drove out the businessmen from the Court of the Gentiles, he referred to the temple as "my Father's house".

To Peter, in private, he once again refers to the personal relationship to his Father.  Jesus is the Heavenly Father's son.  Because of this, he is exempt from paying the tax, because it is his Father's house.  Jesus rightly points out through his usual manner of logical questions that children of kings do not pay tax.  The tax is collected from others.  The children are free.  (It is interesting to note that Jesus seems to link the concepts of taxation and freedom, but maybe this would stretch the point.)

Please note, did Jesus use the occasion of the temple tax to exert his rightful authority over the religious class?  Did Jesus use the questioning about the temple tax to overtly proclaim that he was the Son of God?  Did Jesus tightly cling to his right to not pay the tax? 

No.  Jesus explained himself to the one who answered for him, Peter.  And then instructed Peter on how to pay the tax not just for Jesus, but for Peter as well.  Jesus humbly submitted himself to the authorities.  He did what he always does, he humbles himself and stays on the task that his Father sends Him to do.

Jesus didn't feed off a need for everyone to think he was right.  Jesus was mature enough to know what arguments to have and what arguments to ignore.  Too many times, I find myself expending so much energy arguing minutiae that I have little to nothing left for the tasks that truly require my effort.

Oh, Father.  As a follower of your Son Jesus, please help me to know when to argue and when to serve.  Give me your Son's wisdom in dealing with those who do not understand the nature of your kingdom.

29 November 2010

Jesus Ministered in the Shadow of the Cross

Mark 9:30-32

“The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”

How Jesus will die is ugly.  So ugly that it defies comprehension unless one has its eyes wide open to the world we live in.  So ugly that it is uncomfortable to even talk about.  So ugly that some congregations of Christians do not like speaking about it at all.

While I was studying for my B.A. in ministry, we had a seminar taught by this new church who found success in marketing itself on billboards and having "seeker-sensitive" services.  Seekers are classified by the church as people who are curious about Christ, but not ready to commit yet.  It's kind of like they are dating different ways of life to see which they will marry.

Their seeker-sensitive service is different to their "believer's" service in a number of ways including not speaking about how Jesus died and not taking communion since it talked about the ugly subject of Jesus' body and blood.  Now, I was just a young, naive student so I didn't think much about it at the time.  But, that seminar has been echoing in my ears whenever I hear about churches who go out of their way not to offend people.  After all Paul was right when he said, "but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,"

I would much rather speak about how Jesus lived, how Jesus loved, and what Jesus taught.  But while Jesus lived, loved and taught, he knew what was coming.  How could I function knowing that I would be betrayed by one of the people I am serving with right now?  How could I love knowing the hate to be endured?  How could I teach those who would mock, accuse and execute me?

The longer I go in this study of Jesus' ministry, the more amazed I become.  But when I think about how all the incredible ways he served people was all in the shadow of what was to come, I am awe-struck.

Thank you, Lord, for being the strongest man who ever lived.

23 November 2010

Jesus Wants Us To Grow Up

Mark 9:14-29

"I believe; help my unbelief!"

This simple phrase is the statement I resonate the most with.  I find myself praying this to our Father in Heaven all the time.

My head knows that Jesus wants to work through me.  My head knows that through Jesus, I have emmense power just longing to be unleashed.  My head knows that there is a powerful force for good just waiting to be used by those of us who understand this fact.

But, my heart is weak.  I am easily distracted.  I am easily discouraged.  I sometimes so want to do what I want, I ignore what the Father wants me to want.  I easily come up with excuses.  I easily explain away that which can easily be accomplished by that which cannot be seen by temporary eyes.

My growth is so slow.  As soon as I think I have grown, I am confronted with a situation that causes me to look back.  How would I have reacted to the violent convulsing of a child?  Jesus wasn't there.  Jesus knows how to handle these situations.  I don't.

This is the tension for followers of Jesus.  Jesus wants us to know that we can do nothing without him.  But, he wants us to act as though he is with us, because he is.  "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see."  He wants us to allow Him to work through us.  Why?  Because that is how we grow.  And all parents who love their children, want to see their children grow.

We miss out on so much potential because we refuse to grow up.  We are a society of people not "ready" to commit to anything until after 30.  The problem with refusing to grow up is that a fallen world needs mature people to take up the responsibility for cleaning up the mess; for taking care of those who desperately need it. 

You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.”

The sad part is that without faith in Jesus, others suffer.  When there are no people who are willing to allow Jesus to work through us, spirits continue to seize little boys and throw them into the flames.

Jesus' brother James was right, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." 

Too often we read those descriptions as seperate, unrelated categories.  But, they are not.  One cannot exist without the other.  Righteousness, walking humbly with our God, is the foundation of justice and kindness, looking after orphans and widows in their distress, not just a neighbour of justice and kindness.  We cannot do good unless we can see who is good.  We cannot love mercy unless we understand the mercy that has been shown to us.  We cannot seek justice if we do not understand what justice is.  We cannot look after orphans and widows in their distress unless we live with the one who has brought us out of our distress.

What do I want out of life?  What do I want to do?  When seeing a father and a son who desperately need help, do I want to watch helplessly or do I want the ability to help those who truly want help?

"I believe; help my unbelief!"

18 November 2010

Jesus Is The Important One

Carl Bloch, The Transfiguration
 Luke 9:28-36

 “I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

What is important? What is significant? Where is our focus? What do we centre our life on?

This is the Jewish understanding of “glory”. The word “glory” in the Old Testament (Testimony) was understood as weight, significance and importance. When someone was glorified, it was as though everything else stopped as there was no other option but to pay attention to who was being glorified. All other activities, transactions, thoughts, worries, foci paled in insignificance and was brought into proper perspective.

This was the experience of Peter, James and John as they accompanied Jesus up another mountain. They were tired. Peter was probably still smarting from Jesus’ harsh words. They were all probably still absorbing what Jesus told them about his upcoming suffering, rejection, dying, and being raised from the dead. We are told by Luke that they were on the verge of sleep, when suddenly they woke up to a brilliant scene.

Jesus’ appearance became like lightning. And, he was talking to two men, Moses and Elijah. Yes, the Moses and the Elijah. The man in Israel who delivered God’s Law and the man in Israel who many considered the chief Prophet. Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, were there, in the flesh, talking with Jesus. How did Peter, James and John know it was Moses and Elijah? We’re not sure, but the explanation could be as simple as the three addressing one another by name.

This is the Kingdom of God. Isn’t it amazing? Here we have a former murderer, coward and reluctant leader and another man who became discouraged to the point of suicide now talking with the Son of God, Jesus. Christian, our hope is that this uncommon scene will become common. What was the subject of the conversation? It was the impending departure of Jesus in Jerusalem.

Quite often, I find myself easily distracted. I worry about what I will eat, where I will sleep, what I will wear. Did I say the right thing? What job should I pursue? Do these people like me? Etc...

Then, Jesus is glorified and it all snaps back into perspective. What is important? What is significant? Where is our focus? What do we centre our life on?

“This is my Son, my Beloved; listen to Him!”

04 November 2010

Jesus and Sex and Justice - Part 4

8 weeks old - svclcc.org

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.  Romans 1:24–25

The sexual revolution endeavoured to separate what God has joined in His reality. Husbands no longer need wives. Wives no longer needed husbands. Children no longer needed fathers. Life no longer needed intimacy. In other words, sex was separated from reproduction. Sex is now seen by our culture as a recreational exercise. “It’s just sex. No big deal.”

Try as society might, there is one fundamental truth that stubbornly remains, sex makes babies. No matter how far technology advances or how much people wish it not to be so, sex makes babies. Babies are quite the inconvenience to people wishing to engage in the pleasures of seduction, prostitution and sensual licence. So, this inconvenience to a culture longing to be sexually free must be confronted.

Unborn children, just like any group of people culture resents, had their endowed right to life taken from them the way anyone has their endowed human rights taken away, by taking away their humanity. Babies in mother’s womb were exclusively referred to as foetuses. Once society came to accept the notion that unborn children were not really human, then these ‘clump of cells’ could be dealt with in any way that would liberate women oppressed by an unwanted role of motherhood as they were now free to engage in recreational sexual activity.

Through second-wave feminists and their male counterparts who long for orgasm without the responsibility of fatherhood, abortion has been accepted by Western culture as a legitimate form of contraception. Despite numerous safe sex campaigns designed to show us how to have sex without babies, abortion has become an unspoken, underlying factor within culture. Today, over 90000 abortions are executed every year in Australia. (There are approximately 3.9 million Australian women aged from 14-40.)

If the culture’s reasoning is accepted that the unborn are not human, then this should not cause any great concern at all. But, if there is a belief that the unborn are human and that all human life is a precious gift of God, then the millions of abortions performed worldwide should send shockwaves through our collective conscience. Again, are those Christians teaching about biblical sexual ethics ignoring the higher matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness?

Of course, the unborn and the decisions of mothers and fathers on how to deal with this consequence of sex is not the only physically negative outcome that can occur from a sexual liberated lifestyle of prostitution, seduction and sensual licence. There is also disease. In 2008, Western Australia (population 2.1 million) had 14502 newly reported cases of STIs. And that was just in a year. Each year, more people are contracting Chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhoea and hepatitis B. After the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1985, cases of HIV were on the decrease, but it has been slowly on the increase the past few years. Men engaging in homosexual sex put themselves especially in harm’s way as HIV transmission occurs primarily through men having sex with other men. Around 65% of newly reported cases of HIV in 2009 were made by men who have sex with men. Again, are those Christians teaching about biblical sexual ethics ignoring the higher matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness?

Was Jesus much more concerned for matters of justice than for who our sexual partners are? It’s the wrong question with a faulty assumption. Truly, the higher matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness include matters of how we relate to one another as men and women. Maybe Jesus was right all along, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

02 November 2010

Jesus and Sex and Justice - Part 3

"Corner Boys" from "The Wire"
 A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.  Proverbs 29:3

“OK,” some of you may be discussing with me, “sexual ethics and justice are related. But, you can’t honestly lecture someone who has an empty stomach about who their sexual partners are. Ultimately, who cares who they are having sex with when they are starving to death.”

On its face, this reads like a sound argument. We are indeed to love kindness by giving generously to those in need. We are to feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless. However, in our attempt to do these things for the billions around the world with such needs, it is fine to give a person a fish that lasts a day but it is much better to teach a person how to get their own fish so they are fed for a lifetime.

Do not misunderstand. I’m not saying don’t feed a person in desperate need. If they need to eat today, feed them today. If they need a home today, share one with them today. But, if we do not provide ways for as many people as possible to feed themselves, then the number of people in need increases while depending on fewer people who can meet that need for them until the day comes when that need cannot possibly be met. As one looks around the Western World, seeing the increased government debt from unsustainable social programmes, the truth of this becomes self-evident. Besides, the path to justice and peace is not paved with the subtle and not-so-subtle messages that those people will never be capable, will always need us, will never be as good as us.

How do people learn how to get their own fish? It starts with learning about what God requires of us. We must be a people who values justice in our dealings with each other, who loves to show kindness to one another, while being inspired by our Father in Heaven who does the same with us. In other words, how we care for one another is not dependant on what we have, but on how we relate to one another. How people learn how to relate well to one another is by embracing all of what the Father has given to people to help all people love and serve each other well. This starts with the basic sexual relationship given by God to those who bear His image, His institution of marriage.

The leaders of the sexual revolution saw marriage and its family as archaic, hypocritical and demeaning to women. The leaders of the sexual revolution sought to destroy the family. And, for the most part, they succeeded. But, when the family weakened, so did strong men. We have few men who have strength of character enough to stand strong for their families, communities and neighbourhoods. If we want to give all communities of this world fruit that will last, we must teach husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church and gave His life up for her. We desperately need husbands, who Jesus gives the strength to earn, trust and respect.

The Marriage Gap
 As Kay Hymowitz writes in her book, “Marriage and Caste in America”, “If you want to discuss why childhood poverty numbers have remained stubbornly high through the years when the nation was aggressively trying to lower them (America’s War on Poverty in the 1960s), begin with the Marriage Gap.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2006-2008, 26.8% of poor families were headed by married parents. This means that the vast majority of poor families, 71.2% (almost three of four) were headed by single, divorced or de facto parents.

The Fruit of the Sexual Revolution
 There are several reasons for this, but in the interest of brevity, here’s one reason. In several studies conducted during the 1990s, they separately concluded that married men earn more money than do single men with similar education and job histories. According to the booklet, “21 Reasons Why Marriage Matters”, “Why do married men earn more? The causes are not entirely understood, but married men appear to have greater work commitment, lower quit rates, and healthier and more stable personal routines (including sleep, diet and alcohol consumption). Husbands also benefit from both the work effort and emotional support they receive from their wives.” In other words, learning to use his strength to serve others helps a man become a better person who is motivated to catch fish and teach others how to catch fish for themselves.

So, yes, in order to lift up all of our Father’s children to be all of whom God has created them to be, we must include Jesus’ teachings about sexual ethics. Otherwise, we are merely putting a band-aid over the melanoma instead of putting in the hard, skilled work of removing the tumour.

01 November 2010

Jesus and Sex and Justice - Part 2

Source: greenberg-art.com
And this you do as well: You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. You ask, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the LORD, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.  Malachi 2:13-16

In light of all this, the author of the original statement may respond, “Yes, I see that Jesus is concerned about who our sexual partners are, but I didn’t deny that. I merely assert that Jesus is much more concerned for matters of justice than for who our sexual partners are.” Again, there would be many Christians who would agree with this assertion.

So, back to the original question that those who act out of a deep concern about family values and sexuality issues neglect the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. Those Christians who follow Jesus under the banner of “social justice” certainly accuse many of their conservative, evangelical, family-oriented brethren of exactly that.

But as one carefully considers the basic meanings of justice and of sexuality quickly discover that these two ideas are not mutually exclusive but symbiotic. What is justice? Justice is the integrity in the dealings of people with each other. As with all important issues in our Creator’s world, justice is about the quality of our relationships. Are our dealings with each other fair? Are our transactions just?

What is sexuality? Sexuality is how we relate to one another as men and women. Sexual integrity denotes a justice and kindness between one another as men and women. Do we value and serve one another as men and women?

We learn about the origins of sexuality as we read about when God created the world. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Christians uniquely understand God to be three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. Because these three persons have a perfect relationship in mutual submission to one another, they are one God. Apparently, humans are uniquely created to share in this kind of relationship through God’s institution of marriage between a husband and wife, “and the two shall become one flesh”. When a husband and a wife have perfect, mutual submission with one another, we can better understand the blessed Trinitarian relationship.

Conversely, when our sexual relationships are taken out of God’s design, our created lives go pear-shaped. We stop looking to serve the other, but look to take pleasure as long as the other can provide it. We start judging one another based on who can bring the most pleasure. The strong use the weak for their own pleasure. The rich humiliate the poor. The beautiful humiliate the unpopular. We do not care what the other has to do or how vulnerable they become or the harms they endure as long as we get the pleasure we will do anything to achieve.

A Profound Cultural Shift
 According to Gertrude Himmelfarb, author of “The De-Moralisation of Society”, in Great Britain from 1800-1960 children born outside of marriage stayed between 5-7%. Then, the sexual revolution of the 60s happened. From 1960 onward, children born outside of marriage have increased steadily to the point where today 40% of U.K. children are born outside of marriage. This mirrors the experience of Australia and the U.S. according to the ABS and the U.S. Census Bureau, respectively. That is a profound cultural shift. When one laments the loss of community and the weakened church, this cultural shift explains quite a bit.

Through empirical and anecdotal evidence, we know at our core that everyone is profoundly affected by their family. We live in an era where men are only seen as necessary sperm donors and child support cheques, children of all men derive who they are from their fathers and how they regard their mothers. Fathers are indeed the spiritual leaders of the household, whether they acknowledge it or not, whether they are good spiritual leaders or not.

Sons and daughters derive their self-image, learn how genders should relate to one another, and what love looks like from both mothers and fathers. Broken sons and daughters become broken men and women who become broken fathers and mothers and the cycle continues... Knowing this, it is clear that those who aspire toward biblical sexual ethics are speaking to the Kingdom of God’s higher matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.

30 October 2010

Jesus and Sex and Justice - Part 1

This is the first post of a four part series.  I will resume my systematic study through the ministry and teachings of Jesus shortly after this series.

Mark 7:14-23

"I think Jesus was much more concerned for matters of justice than for who our sexual partners are.", a Christian pastor on why he voted for the Greens Party.

He’s not alone. There are many within the church who believe the Kingdom of Heaven is not interested in sexual ethics. Are they right?

Micah declares in his word from God what the King requires of us. “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to seek kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” Jesus confirms this when he is listing his woes to the religious leaders of Israel, “But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.

Sign of the Times
Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, our culture seems to be obsessed with sex. We use sex to sell everything from bottled water to automobiles to peri-peri chicken. Magazine racks are filled with images and headlines about who’s having sex with who and how to have better sex with whoever you want. The sex trade pulls in billions of dollars every year. We even have a sexual orientation category on our census forms and more than two choices listed under gender.
So for those who speak and live against the sexualised tide of our culture, are they just like the religious leaders in Jesus’ time? Are they so concerned about family values and sexuality issues that they neglect the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness?

What does God require of us?

Disciples of liberation/progressive theology are very quick to speak about justice and mercy. They talk about a developed world that grows rich at the expense of the poor. They are also quite fluent in pointing fingers at any church that they consider judgmental. They often preach about Jesus’ mercy, quoting, “You who are without sin, throw the first stone.” But, they sadly ignore, like most of us do with our particular emphases, the passages in the Bible that challenge their ideology of a loving, pacifist, non-judgemental Son of God.

Micah tells us that God requires three things, not just two. In fact, as with most things from God, unless we seek to understand all three aspects, we will not truly understand any of them. In other words, justice and mercy can never be understood without walking humbly with our God. This means surrendering our worldly reason before the wisdom of God.

N.T. Wright puts this well in his book Surprised by Hope, “The heirs of that liberal theology are today keen to marginalize the Bible, because they don't like what it says on other topics such as sexual ethics. But if you push the Bible off the table, you are merely colluding with pagan empire, denying yourself the sourcebook for your kingdom critique of oppression.” Without taking in the whole counsel of God, we will fail in his desire for us to live life to the full. Without doing everything that Jesus commanded, we will not come to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Without carefully considering and acting upon all of God’s written and Incarnate Word, we will only represent a counterfeit version of justice and mercy.

What does Jesus say make us unclean?

In a favourite passage of liberal theologians is Jesus responding to the religious leader’s rebuke of Jesus’ disciples not washing their hands before eating. As previously discussed on this blog, Jesus responds to the criticisms that they have set aside the commands of God in order to observe the traditions of men. This was certainly the case for Pharisaic hand washing. Not only that, but Jesus then declared that what we eat has nothing to do with what makes us clean. Now, many teachers stop there and rightfully chastise empty religious practices that have nothing to do with the kingdom of heaven. But, they do not acknowledge what Jesus then says what makes people unclean:

“It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Notice in this list of twelve evil things, there are three things Jesus lists that are related to sexual ethics. First, Jesus says fornication. This is a funny word in today’s vernacular. The word comes from the Greek word “porneia” (look familiar?) and the people in Jesus’ time would have understood it to mean prostitution or more to the point, unfaithfulness. The second sexual ethics evil Jesus lists is adultery. We still understand what this word means, but it comes from the Greek word “moicheia” which can be understood as to seduce or be seduced. The third sexual ethics evil Jesus lists is licentiousness, another funny word in today’s English. The word comes from the Greek word “aselgeia” which was understood as self-abandonment or licence as it relates to sensual conduct.

And Jesus’ concern for sexual ethics is not exclusive to this passage. In the same teaching Jesus speaks about anger and loving those who persecute us, he teaches about the harms of lust, adultery and divorce. He identifies a Samaritan woman by her many sexual partners. He commands a woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more”. He gives strict teaching few churches teach in relation to divorce and remarriage. Finally, and more pointedly, the one Jesus called the greatest of those born to women, John the Baptist, was executed because he was publicly critical of King Herod’s choice of sexual partner.

Was Jesus more concerned with matters of justice than who are sexual partners are? Hmmmm... To be continued...

18 August 2010

Jesus Trusts Walking On His Father's Path

Matthew 16:21-28

Jesus knew he had to undergo great suffering.  Jesus knew he had to be killed.  Jesus knew that on the third day he would be raised.

How would I live knowing this would be my fate?  How would I live knowing that I will undergo great suffering and die at the hands of the religious ruling class?  Would I walk down a path that had been laid out for me knowing that the path would lead to being given over to be judged by the very same men I was meant to save?

In the back of the disciple's minds, from the time they joined Jesus in his ministry, they must have been wondering, "Is Jesus the one?  Is Jesus the Messiah?  Is he the one promised by the Living God to restore our people?"  When Peter confirms that yes they have discovered what their Father in heaven has revealed to them that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, Jesus goes on to the next teaching.  Now that they know who he is, they must now know where he must go and what he must do.

This must have rocked them to their core.  Jesus is the one.  Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus is the Son of the Living God.  Jesus has come to restore our people.  What?!?  He's going to undergo great suffering?  He's going to be killed?  This is not what happens to our Messiah.  He's supposed to go to Jerusalem and restore the kingdom of Israel.  We will be his royal court as Jesus establishes his rule over the earth.  Surely, Jesus is testing us somehow?  This makes no sense.

Our older brother Paul once wrote, "...we walk by faith, not by sight."  In other words, we follow a path that was not of our design, but the design of the one we put our confidence and hope.  This means we do not know where the path leads because we have never been there.  Paul often uses walking to describe the Christian life.  It really is a journey.  When we believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, we begin a journey on a path not built by our hands into strange lands we have never laid eyes upon.  

Even though we have never laid eyes on the path, Jesus tells us that it is not a path of nomads.  We will not wander aimlessly.  This path leads home.  This path leads to our Father in heaven.  Jesus reveals that way for us.  All of us were born into, raised among and living in a world of futility, suffering, darkness and death.  None of us have seen absolute meaning, joy, light and life.  How can we get to a place we have never been and don't know where it is?

That's why Jesus was sent.  He came to show us the way from death to life.  And that means we follow him.  We are to walk down the same path he has walked.  We will see this healer be beaten.  We will see this teacher be mocked.  We will see this exorcist be cursed.  We will see this one who raises people from the dead be killed.

How?  Why?  Because that is the way of where we live.  What do we expect when we reject the one who gives life?  Can we expect anything less than death?  What do we expect when we reject the one who is light?  Should we expect anything other than darkness?

If we want to move from a place of death to our home of life, we need to follow our Messiah and not lose sight of where he is going.  We must not lose heart when our neighbours feel rejected that we are moving away.  Hopefully, we can convince them to move with us.  But some will not be convinced.  Some do not see Jesus as the Way or our Father in Heaven as loving, but see them both as something other than who they have revealed themselves to be. 

Instead, they will react with their heart language.  They will hate us.  They will mock us.  They will beat us.  They will do whatever it takes to show what a mistake we are making even if that means killing us.  They did that to Jesus.  What did he do to deserve his execution at the hands of Jewish and Roman authorities?  If they did that to our Lord, what will they do to his servants?  But even if our wildest dreams come true in rejecting the Kingdom of God, even if we become the ruler of this world of death and suffering, what have we gained?

But, no man is the giver of life, our Father in heaven gives life.  It must be His way, not our way.  He is the author of life.  He is the creator of life.  He is love.  He is light.  If we cannot be with Him, where else should we go?

Hear the words of our older brother Paul in his second letter to the Corinthian church:

"For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling—if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything."

16 August 2010

Jesus Is The Messiah, The Son of the Living God

Matthew 16:13-20

"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"

What distinguishes Jesus' assembled people from every other group in the world?  Jesus' assembled people (or church as it is translated here) is distinguished by our belief that Jesus is the anointed one, the very Son of God, sent by the Living God in order to save His people.  Anyone who believes this in their heart, soul and mind and naturally exhibits this belief through their strength is a member of Christ's body, His church.  Anyone who believes that Jesus is something other than the anointed one, the very Son of God, sent by the Living God in order to save His people are not members of Christ's body, His church.

Since Jesus began his ministry, people have always debated the identity of Christ.  This man's authoritative teachings and his miraculous power lent itself to that ultimate question.  How important is this question?  Apparently, Jesus thinks it's the ultimate question.  It is the Kingdom of God citizenship test.

What crazy answers people discussed.  The recently beheaded John the Baptist (as Herod believed)?  A prophet that lived over 700 years prior like Elijah or Jeremiah?  There are many wise sounding people who proclaim their belief in Jesus as a prophet or a good teacher alongside Confucius, Buddha, Moses, Muhammad, etc...  To classify Jesus in this way is to believe that Jesus offers sound teaching and advice, but you can easily find this kind of wisdom elsewhere.  

To believe that Jesus is the anointed one is to believe that our Creator had a real purpose in sending Him.  To believe that Jesus is the anointed one sent by the Living God to save His people is to believe that we need rescuing and Jesus is the one sent to do the rescuing.  To believe that Jesus is the Son of the Living God is to believe that we can come to know our Father in heaven through this anointed, sent Son who has a unique relationship to His Father in heaven.

He is not a zombie prophet.  He is not just a teacher.  He is not just a healer.  He is THE teacher.  He is THE healer.  He is THE messiah, the anointed one sent by the living God to save His people.

When Peter says this, Jesus uses the term translated church for the first time.  He acknowledges that Peter is blessed.  He acknowledges Peter's earthly father, but says that this knowledge was revealed to him by his Father in heaven.  Jesus worked tirelessly in revealing who he was to his disciples.  He taught.  He healed.  He blessed.  He forgave.  But, he never said to his disciples, "I am the messiah, the Son of the Living God."  Apparently, they had to come to that conclusion by their heavenly Father as they witnessed his Son's work.  And, his instructions to his disciples suggest that their friends and neighbours had to come to believe he is the messiah in the same way as well.

 So how much of what we believe is God's revelation and how much is our own free will?  I don't know.  To me, it's like asking how do we know when to breathe or how does our body know what to do with the food we eat?  It's not important to know how exactly it works.  Sometimes, we just need to rejoice that it works.  Because coming to the belief of who Jesus is is everything.  That belief is the seed in our hearts that changes us from the inside out.

"This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

What about you?  Who do you say I am?

13 August 2010

Jesus Continues to Work Patiently

Mark 8:22-26

This is the only recording of Jesus progressively healing anyone.  The man who could heal from a distance, drive out demons quickly, heal all manner of diseases and deformities instantly apparently had a bit of trouble healing this man's blindness.  Why?

The four recorders of Jesus' ministry did so with care and purpose.  They not only wanted us to know what Jesus did, but the teachings Jesus would give not only through his words but through his actions as well.  Jesus did many things that we do not know about.  But we do know about these that we may be able to understand what being a disciple of Jesus entails.

The gospel of Mark is essentially the gospel of Peter.  Mark wrote down what this fisherman turned disciple told him.  One of the reasons why Peter is often portrayed as Disciple Foot-In-Mouth is because an older Peter is looking back on his days with Jesus with great humility and remembering how much he had to learn and grow in order to be who Jesus wanted him to be.  Through Peter, we see a group of disciples struggling to grasp what Jesus was trying to teach them.  They would have moments of brilliance followed by moments of shame and vice versa.

This is comforting for me to know since my life is filled with moments of brilliance followed by moments of shame.  Don't misunderstand, I would like the moments of shame to be eliminated, but it is good to know that many people go through such ebbs and flows even people who spent all their time with Jesus.

If we want to know what the Spirit is reminding us through this unique healing, we must look at what all good Bible students look at:  context.  The disciples are not fully grasping the meaning of not one, but two miraculous feedings.  The religious leaders are still asking for a sign from Jesus even though he is giving them signs all the time.  Jesus is about to ask THE question of his disciples when they would pass with flying colours only to forget who he is a moment later.  They are about to see something truly incredible and react to it with old religious thinking.

My brother and sister in Christ, come over here, sit down and look me in the eye for what I am about to tell you.  Are you sitting?  Is your heart and mind prepared?  

When it comes to living life to the full, Jesus is the standard, not us.  When we decide to follow Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, it is not an instant transformation.  We do not become perfect.  Do you want to know why the church is full of hypocrites?  It's because we are.  The church is full of hypocrites, but the Head of the Church is not a hypocrite.

This is why we are saved by grace.  This is why we are to grow in grace.  We cannot save ourselves.  We cannot grow on our own.  We need him.  We need his patient working with us so that we can all learn to live life to the full.  I am so grateful for His patience with me.  I know that my children are maturing and learning how to live a life of love, joy, strength, beauty and peace.  I am so grateful that my Father in Heaven wants the same for each of us.

Listen to the wise words of our dear older brother Peter:

Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

10 August 2010

Jesus Resources The Help...Really!

Mark 8:1-21

“Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?"

I am fairly thick.  My Father in Heaven has helped me time and again whenever I have taken a step of faith and left my family exposed.  And yet, I still worry.  Maybe I don't worry about my well-being as much as being dissatisfied with where I am and wonder why He has brought me to this point in my life.

So I can empathise with the disciple's lack of memory.  It is comforting and disturbing at the same time that these men who were eye-witnesses to some of the most amazing events in human history still fumbled around with what Jesus was attempting to teach them.  Wouldn't I remember that wonderful day when Jesus fed a larger crowd with five loaves and two small fish?  Wouldn't it be the natural reaction to a similar situation to expect a similar solution?  "Teacher, here are seven loaves of bread, which is more than the five we had before and a few small fishes.  This crowd, which is smaller than the crowd before, has been here for a few days.  Can you please help us feed the crowd with this food?"

Alas, Jesus' Jewish disciples ask, "How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?”  Not only had they forgotten distant history when their ancestors were fed with manna from heaven, but recent history as well.  Maybe some events are so miraculous, it is only natural to assume they can only happen once.

When it comes to following Jesus, when it comes to immersing each other in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, when it comes to doing everything that Jesus commanded, when it comes to loving our neighbour as ourselves, the problem is never, never ever, never never ever lack of resources.  

The only thing that prevents us from loving our neighbour as ourselves is not loving our Father in heaven with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  The only thing that prevents us from loving our neighbour as ourselves is not knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.

Fact of the matter is that the Spirit of God is actively working all the time.  The problem isn't God.  The problem is us.  Our minds are dull.  Our perception is limited.  Our hearts are hard.  Our eyes have glaucoma.  We are hard of hearing.  Our memories fail us.  The reason we think our Father in heaven isn't working, isn't blessing, is an absentee father is not because he is distant.  He has always been there, all along.

From a worldly point of view, God's active, loving blessings to us make no sense.  Why would he care?  I certainly wouldn't care if I were him.  So, we "logically" explain him away.  All of us at one time or another have decided that we can live better without him.  Maybe to acknowledge his providence is to acknowledge his will for us.  And, we stubbornly refuse.  We live in a world of pain and death and it is difficult to see any other way.

"Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand."

Father, I don't want to be ignorant.  I don't want to be hard or stubborn or blind or deaf.  I want to see your glory at work.  I want to remember how you have loved and blessed me so that I can run to where you want me to be.  The future is bleak without you and is eagerly anticipated with you.  Thank you for always working.  How can I help?

08 August 2010

Jesus Causes All Kinds of Talk

Mark 7:31-37

Jesus is His Father's Son.  Jesus listens to His Father and His Father alone.  Jesus does not follow the foolish, ignorant whims of men.  He knows who He is and He knows who His Father is.  This is noted time and again as I read through the recordings of Jesus.  In fact, I was about to title this post "Jesus is His Father's Son", but was lead to a different title since Mark seems to make a different point about people talking in this short account unique to Mark.

But it is noteworthy that the deaf man's friends, who are from the same region as the naked demoniac Jesus helped, wanted Jesus specifically to lay his hand on him to heal him.  Instead, Jesus takes the man aside (I normally don't choose cartoon pictures for my posts, but this one from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints website is the only one I found that was away from crowds.) and performs his own method.  We sometimes get so hung up on method that we forget to who we are worshiping or praying to.

Our Father is not so concerned about our methods as he is looking for hearts who know and love Him.  That's what He prescribes.  That is what brings answers to prayers.  "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."   Let us not be so hung up on how we do things that we forget about who really answers prayer and gives blessings freely.

"Be opened."  How wonderful and simple a command.  Sin has so marred God's creation.  It seems to be tangled up in our own mess.  And the more we struggle to escape on our own, the tighter it grips us.  This man couldn't hear and he couldn't communicate clearly.  How wonderful that this man who couldn't hear the stories about Jesus was brought by his friends to Jesus.

I am sure the man knew he was being taken to be healed.  I am sure he could feel the hope of his friends as they took him on this journeyHe could surely see people being healed by this man.  And then Jesus took him aside, away from his friends and the crowd.  I wonder if "Ephphatha" was the first word he heard that day?  Jesus caused him to hear and to speak clearly.

Curiously, in the same region where Jesus tells the reformed demoniac to tell people what God has done for him, he tells the deaf man's friends to tell no one.  Why?  I'm not sure.  Could it be that Jesus wants the focus of his healings to be on His Father?  Maybe.  Was it because his fame would make his larger mission harder?  Maybe.

But while Jesus could give sight to the blind, sounds to the deaf and speech to the dumb, even he could not control the reactions of people to his actions.  I can't be that hard on the friends.  What would I do in that circumstance?  Could I keep silent on the most wonderful thing I had ever experienced?  I doubt it.  Yes, Jesus is Lord and we need to listen carefully to his instructions since he is Lord and we are not.  But, I can certainly understand why the more Jesus insisted on silence, the more people would proclaim the news anyway.

The footprints of a Lord, the evidence of a kingdom that is at hand is changed lives.  As Christians, we marvel at how our Father through His Son has changed our hearts from stone to flesh, has changed our lives from futile to meaningful and has changed the way we relate to each other from loathing to loving and we proclaim to all we come in contact with that we are all witnesses to someone who has the power to even turn death around.  

I really do love being a follower of Jesus!


06 August 2010

Jesus Challenges Seekers

Matthew 15:21-28

In this account, Jesus is not seeker sensitive.  First, Jesus ignores her.  Then, Jesus says she's the wrong nationality.  Finally, Jesus calls her a dog.

Wow.  What happened to all that love and compassion?  Maybe Jesus is just tired and is letting his guard down?  I don't think so.  As we have seen, Jesus does and says everything with purpose not just for the one he addresses but for his disciples as well.

Whether we acknowledge them or not, everyone has needs.  Everyone.  Everyone comes to Jesus because they want their needs met.  This is why people seek Jesus.  They want Jesus to solve their problems.

The problem is that some people see gods as good luck charms.  This was certainly the Gentile (non-Jewish) understanding of deities.  If I sacrifice this, if I do this, if I pray these words, then my god HAS TO do this, this goddess MUST bless me.  But if a god is controlled by the actions of the people who worship him/her, then who is the god and who is the worshiper?

The Israelite understanding of God is quite different.  It is God who created the heavens and the earth.  It is God who commanded Abraham to move to a foreign land.  It was God who promised land, nation and eternal blessing through Abraham.  It was God who delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  It was God who gave them the commandments.  And it is God who will send a deliverer who will establish his kingdom on earth.  We compel God to do none of this.  God loves us and freely gives us his wonderful blessings of his own accord.

Jesus does solve our problem.  Jesus solves our real problem.  He restores our relationship to our Father in heaven, the One, True, Living God who gives us lovingly gives everything we need from his rich grace.  When that happens, everything else gains proper perspective.  "Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand."  "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well."

Jesus is constantly looking for people who understand this perspective.  For Jesus to truly heal us, we must see that it is his way not our way.  He is Lord.  We are his servants.  He does indeed serve us in a wonderful way.  But, he serves us on his terms, not our terms.  Do we believe this to be true?  Is this what we put our faith into?

Despite the fact that Jesus ignores her, says she's from the wrong place and calls her a dog.  She keeps coming.  She keeps seeking.  Where else is she going to go?  To who or what else will she turn?  Her daughter is being tormented by a demon.  Jesus can set her free.  She sees Jesus as her only hope.

Does she turn away in disgust for this insensitive, heartless Jew?  No.  Instead, she acknowledges his words as true.  Yes, I am a dog.  And you are my master.  And even if I am not a child in your house, I am still in your house.  And, being in your house is where I want to be.  Outside of your house, there is despair.  Inside your house, there is hope.  I would rather be in your house and get scraps than be outside your house and have nothing.

“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Our Father in heaven, may we all have the faith of this Canaanite woman.

01 August 2010

Jesus Prescribes Life Under God Not Man

Mark 7:1-23

Each of us is made in God's image.  We are not to try to create a god in our image. 

Why do we try to fashion God in our image?  For those who can convince others that their image of god is the true God, then they can control them.  For those who put their hearts into a created image of god, it may be easier and make them feel better about themselves if they are able to choose any course of religious actions instead of follow the God they are not in control of.  For many, it is much easier to assume a "proper" posture of the body when praying to a deity than come to know the one, true God and the one that He has sent.

Several years ago, I went to Montreal.  In Montreal, I went to a place called St. Joseph's Oratory.  Inside this shrine was a preserved heart of a saint who performed miracles long ago.  All kinds of people would line up to light a candle, pray, and be blessed by the heart.  For the truly devoted, they would climb up many stone steps that led up to this shrine perched on the side of a hill on their knees.  Then they would truly prove to God that they were worthy of whatever blessings they wished for Him to bestow upon them.

But, what have they truly proven?  Nothing has changed except their knees.  This ritual hasn't helped them know God more or love him more.  This ritual hasn't led them to love their neighbour as themselves.  Ultimately, the ritual results in scraped knees and little else.  And there are countless, empty rituals around the world where people are showing their devotion to a god made in our image.

Here, we see Jesus sternly warning against such empty religion.  Jesus' disciples did not wash their hands before eating.  These young men, who worked with their hands in their professions (since they were not picked to be teachers) did not wash their hands before eating.  This caused consternation within the religious community.  Jesus was one religious teacher among many.  They all had disciples (students).  Religious teachers would discipline their students into following all kinds of rituals so that they would know God better.  But, there was no external evidence that Jesus' disciples had any religious discipline.  What kind of a religious teacher would have such undisciplined disciples?  Especially one with the growing reputation of Jesus?

Jesus, however, makes it very clear to the religious critics and to his disciples, that he has no regard for any form of foolish, empty, external religious shows.  Jesus is not interested in scraped knees or washed hands, he's interested in clean hearts.  Jesus replied,  “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.

How crazy is it to devote our lives to practices that are in vain?  How foolish is it to extend time and energy on any religion that is in vain?  "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  For people who want to leave behind mindless, foolish religion this is indeed good news.  We can now spend our energies on our Father in heaven who loves us and desperately wants us to know and love Him.

How can we know Him?  He has carefully crafted His Word over thousands of years through several different authors inspired by God's Spirit.  He has given to us His Son, who has lived among us in order to show us who His Father is.  He has given to us His Spirit who works in concert with His Word and His Son in order that we may live the life that He has given to us to the absolute fullest.

Jesus is not interested in the contents of our stomach or the scars on our body or the cleanliness of our hands.  He is deeply concerned about the cleanliness of our hearts.  "It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Father in heaven, thank you for freeing me from vain religion and worship.  Thank you for helping me to truly know you and love you through the gift of your Son, Jesus.  It would be foolish of me to try and craft you in my own image.  Thank you for continuing to transform my heart into one that truly honours you and loves all others.