Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Admit it. You're Hopelessly Outmanned.

"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you does not give up everything cannot be my disciple" 
Luke 14:31-33.

To often when I read this passage I focused attention on the last sentence - and winced. I knew it! I was right. God is a killjoy.

God wants everything I have...just because. How I came to this misunderstanding of Him isn't clear. So zeroed in on my erroneous picture of his character and nature, I missed the whole point that Jesus made.

In a conflict with a superior opponent, unless one has a death wish, the wise recourse is to negotiate a settlement that leaves one's head on one's shoulders. Not having to waste time, energy, manpower and resources, the adversary is more inclined to deal kindly, even generously with an opponent. Military leaders know this and do it all the time. If they can't win the battle its more profitable to lay down arms and surrender.

Jesus tells us that opposing God is pointless. We're hopelessly outmanned by Him alone. We are at the disadvantage no matter what angle we view our situation from. Furthermore, there's no need for war. He laid out the plan of salvation before we were even created and believed there was a conflict. We can refuse His terms of surrender, but that a fool's errand. We'll lose everything.

"But," you protest, "Jesus did say that in order to be a disciple it will cost me everything! I lose no matter how you look at it." Yes and no. Define everything.

I still grapple with my old mindset that God gets giddy when He can take my stuff. Why He would want, for example, my collection of Taco Bell Dinky Chihuahuas is one of those great mysteries of life (just kidding). Part of me usually holds back. I can say that I hold everything in the open palm of my hand and not in a clenched fist. However, I repeatedly fight the urge to close my hand and hang on tight.

Sell all to follow Him? I've done that before and it worked out marvelously. Harder to relinquish are my ideas of what He's like and how He should act. These keep me clutching on to my life and not lay it down. And I have bunches of them.

If God would rearrange my mental faculties automatically, things would be simpler. If He'd cut out the "stinkin' thinkin'" portion of my brain and replace it with the mind of Christ I'd be golden. Of course He have to chuck out  what I have now and give me a whole new mass of grey matter.

Discipleship at times may require material sacrifices, but I doubt in God's grand scheme that's what's important. He's more concerned about the condition of my heart than my bank account.

How about you? Have you recognized and accepted the truth that Jesus is already Lord and not when surrendered to Him? If not, you're up against impossible odds. Fortunately, He's not hostile nor bent on your destruction. How can you realistically resist unconditional love and succeed?

If you have surrendered, but struggle with your interpretation of the peace treaty's terms that require your all as I do, don't live in doubt and fear. Talk with Him, One-on-one, Face to face about it. You'll like what you hear.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Politics and Religion

"I tell you No! But unless you repent you will all likewise perish"      Luke 13:5.

Two topics guaranteed to cause contention from minor disagreements to all out war are religion and politics. Jesus knew the volatility that either or both could bring to a situation. When pressed to take a stand, Jesus bypassed the surface issue and dealt with the more serious one at hand.

In context, Jesus was approached by an un-named group bearing unsolicited news. Pilate had killed a group of Galileans. Even worse, this act took place while the individuals were in the process of making an offering.

Now fortunately for us today the rumor mill is dead and buried. We have media sources committed to reporting "the truth, the whole truth and noting but the truth...so help them God." A simple Google search eliminates the possibility of falling for fake news because everything on the internet is the gospel truth.

People in Jesus' time had to rely on word of mouth for news transmissions and we know how inaccurate and biased less than professional sources can be. The incident in question here has no historical basis. Suffice to say an incident of civil unrest is prone to spark creative interpretations of the event. While living in Haiti in the final days of the Duvalier regime, the evening news from Chicago would report demonstrations and instances of violence that never happened.

What motive did the atrocity storytellers have? Was this a sincere attempt to gauge Jesus' nationalistic fervor (very important when some wanted to make Him king by force). Were these individuals on a fishing expedition backed by the Jewish authorities with the goal of catching Jesus making anti-government statements that could be reported to Pilate?

If the former, such a story as reported should have aroused an intense emotional response that could be channeled into retaliatory measures. In that kind of atmosphere it was dangerous for the person who asks, "Have you checked your sources?" Even worse is the fate of the brave soul, like Jesus, who suggests, "Our hands aren't exactly clean you know."

If the latter, Jesus provided no evidence to use against Him with the Roman authorities. On the other hand, He wasn't silent. Space doesn't permit a full overview of this scenario but, Jesus took a story designed to elicit condemnation of the political system and turned it into a religious discussion of sin, suffering and repentance. Politically charged individuals with firm convictions of justice don't take kindly to such talk.

Equating the fate of the alleged slaughtered Galileans with the victims killed in the Siloam tower collapse took great courage. This also helped pave the way for Jesus' ultimate rejection by the Jewish community. Why He wasn't physically attacked on the spot is remarkable.

Why? Political persecution (real or imagined) clouds one's judgment and can lead to the erroneous belief that this type of suffering trumps all others. Consequently, a total disregard to the plight of others, especially if their situation differs can develop.

Those convinced they're oppressed can slip into an us vs. them mentality - angels vs. devils. The oft made mistake is the belief that the struggle for one's cause makes one righteous. The more intense the conflict, the more entrenched the feelings of superiority and self-righteousness become. This heightened sense of self-importance can express itself in an arrogant refusal of any criticism.

Jesus didn't suggest that Pilate was innocent of any wrong doing. He wasn't acquiescing to Roman oppression. He did express deep concern for those who'd ultimately be destroyed if they didn't repent. He knew the danger of being so focused on the perceived evil in Pilate's heart would blind people to real deal lodged in their own. Any movement willing to heed a courageous voice of correction that reminds them that there's angels in the opposition and devils in their own camp is blessed.

The shooting at the ball field last week highlighted the polarity our nation's experiencing. Unless all are willing to take a step back, tone down the rhetoric and do some genuine self examination, things will only get worse. And the real problems that need to be solved, they'll go untouched.

The only thing the shooter accomplished was to increase fear and animosity. Going down in a blaze of glory didn't enhance his cause one iota. It produced no significant change toward his positions in the hearts of the opposition. His actions did, however, leave in their wake a lot of innocent victims wondering, "Why?" These are left to pick up the pieces and attempt to rebuild shattered lives, just because someone took the righteousness of their cause to the extreme.

How about you? How, if at all, has the last presidential election impacted you? Did it strengthen your resolve that all those on the other side are wrong, even evil? How may of your relationships have devolved into an us vs. them standoff? Are your heart, mind and ears closed to the possibility that there are angels who disagree wholeheartedly with you and devils whose positions you'd applaud? If so, without a change of mind, which is what repentance means, you might wind up losing everything that really matters.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

99 out of 100 Got It Wrong

"Celebrate with me! I've found my lost sheep! Count on it-there's more joy in heaven over one sinner's rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue" Luke 15:7.

In a crowd composed of the religious authorities and their supposed counterparts the riff-raff, Jesus launched into story telling mode. First up, the Parable of the Lost Sheep.

Unlike the rest of the flock, graduates of The School of Excellent Sheep Behavior, this little nitwit was in trouble. Determined to go its own way, the scofflaw lamb wandered off into dangerous territory. The other ninety-nine played by the rules and never colored outside the lines. So confident in their ability to hold down the fort alone none of them flinched when the shepherd, their only protection, took off after the woolly rascal. "Who needs a shepherd?' they mused. "We're graduates. We've got the sheepskins to prove it. We can handle this on our own."

Now, what shepherd in his right mind endangers the life of ninety-nine line-towing, law-abiding, sheep in order to track down one willfully disobedient renegade? Grazed in open country, sheep are susceptible to predators who can quickly disseminate the flock. What was the shepherd thinking?

How did the shepherd react when he'd found his lost charge? Did he give it a stern talking to or brow beat it for its reckless behavior? Did he apply some corporal punishment to knock some sense into its head and teach it a lesson? No. Overjoyed to find the wanderer, he hoisted it up on his shoulders and gave it a ride home. Once there he threw a party in the lost lamb's honor and invited all to come celebrate. So much for teaching the renegade a lesson.

On it's part the lost lamb did nothing. Zero. Nada. No apology, penance or promise to never do that again. Nothing. He's Ubered home via the shepherd personally and then feted. Life was grand.

If the story's about shepherding, our boy's a blooming idiot. But it isn't. The religious leaders were put off, offended by the low-lifers Jesus attracted. Even worse, He welcomed and embraced them instead of demanding they either clean up their acts or worse, enroll in The School of Excellent Sheep Behavior that the leaders just happened to run. Jesus knew this was the last thing needed.

The message of His story wasn't lost to the Pharisees and scholars. It hit the mark and stung. Heaven is more ecstatic over some loser who knows it and gets found than ninety-nine others who are as lost as a ball in high grass and are convinced they're just fine.

Despite attempts to save themselves via the Law, the other 99 sheep were in need of the Good Shepherd as much as the lamb who purposely went off track. They were blind to the Law's true purpose of being their schoolmaster (Gal. 3:24) whose bar was set so high no one would measure up. That was the point. The religious leaders, however, opted for repeated attempts of reaching that goal than accepting their need of a Savior. Jesus, like the shepherd in the story, pursued the lost. He loved the religious folks just the same, but you can't save a drowning man who won't relax and trust his rescuer but fights him.

How about you? Are you the sheep in need of a rescue operation? Does the idea that the lost lamb didn't contribute one iota to its salvation bother you? If so, why? Are you enrolled in or a graduate of The School of Excellent Sheep Behavior? Can you handle life on your own without a shepherd? If you're part of the flock, are you content to let the stragglers fend for themselves, because after all it is their choice? We all need the Shepherd, all of the time. Let's celebrate with Heaven when a lost one is found.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Good Cop Bad Cop

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" James 1:17.

Recently a friend described a commonly held church view concerning Jesus, God the Father and their dealings with humanity as "Good Cop, Bad Cop."

Jesus is the "Good Cop". He runs interference between us and the mercurial Father ("Bad Cop") Who loves us... but is prone to angry outbursts of rage and wrath. Without Jesus as the buffer we'd all be toast. Is that how it really is?

Jesus made some theologically shaking statements while He was here. First, He called God his Father. No Jew ever made that claim before. Next, while teaching His disciples how to pray, He instructed them to address God as "Abba" (our equivalent of Dada). So much for rigid formality.

Jesus unashamedly confessed the truth that "I and the father are one" John 14:9. He claimed to be the exact representation of the Father (John 14:9) so, where is "Bad Cop Jesus"?

One might quickly point to Christ's encounter with the money-changers in the temple.

"Of all the places in the world that should have stood witness to grace and truth, the temple was that place; but the world had infected it, and there is nothing to be done with such a ship of fools but to pronounce upon it the judgment it deserves."[1]

It was after all His Father's house, and they had camped out there turning in to a commercial venue. At the most He interrupted business for part of a day. Jesus didn't call down fire from Heaven or have the earth swallow the vendors and bankers up. That would have really sent a clear message. He probably no sooner left the area that the crew righted their tables, rearranged their stock, conducted business as usual while grumbling about the audacity of that young man. If that's the extent of God's wrath, it's pretty tame.

To define God as a fickle, capricious figure with a short fuse invalidates James 1:17 and as the Lord's half-brother, James knew Jesus better than most. For his assessment of the character and nature of God, and Jesus' pronouncement of being the Father's mirror image to be true (and it is) there can only be: "Good Cop, Good Cop," or "Bad Cop, Bad Cop" but never "Good Cop, Bad Cop." They have to be identical.

The model of "Good Cop, Bad Cop" when applied to Jesus and God the Father is flat out wrong. God is good all the time. I do believe that God and Jesus do get angry at the things that destroy our lives or that distort our image of Who He really is. Those I believe He goes after with a vengeance, and I welcome His wrath in that respect. He looks to eliminate anything that's incongruent with His destiny for us as mature sons of God.

How about you? How would you describe God? Is He more Mr. Hyde than Dr. Jekyll or some combination of the two? Is He so unstable and unpredictable that you never know Whom you'll encounter, so staying away is safer? If the Father doesn't look just like Jesus to you, where did you get your image of Him? Can you live with a Father who is always in a good mood?

[1] Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus, pg.436