Both Sides of The Mountain

leadership-mountain-climbing

I used to love a show on CBS called “Picket Fences”.  It was set in a small town in Wisconsin.  It had drama and comedy with lots of social issues covered that represented the cultural dialogue at that time.  One TV critic at the time referred to the small town of Rome, Wisconsin as a “microcosm” of a larger culture.  One might compare it to a lab except there were real feelings involved.

When people think of church in a small level, for better or worse, they may see it a microcosm of the common culture but lose sight if they see it only as a social gathering.  Church is meant to be a place where heaven and earth meet. Not because it looks nice nor gives the members goosebumps.  A gathering of people in the name of God is always to point to Jesus and his higher purposes including where two or three are gathered in his name.

Gathering for higher purposes in the Old Testament was considered a solemn assembly.  One who said they loved God did not want to miss the event.  It was their everything.  It was the qahal.  When the Old Testament was translated into Greek in 200 BC an assembly was known as ekklesia.  That Greek word was then used again in the New Testament to what we translate now as church.

Which brings us to another theme about church by the time the New Testament events occurred: church was about being called out to something.  The Greeks would refer the a small democratic town leaving the village to a nearby forest for a vote on what we might call a ballot measure.  the “ek” was the out of.  This comes to mind where we read in the Bible where God tells his people to come out and be separate for the world.  The highest point for an assembly is to be consecrated in some way.

As for the aspects of consecration and reason for a group to have the called out characteristics,  one would need to broaden their perspective to know what to look for.   Such a perspective would be informed by how the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New (Augustine).

Below are some of the broader elements of church in God’s eye that are worth considering. Consider it a “Picket Fences” but of the community of God to look for.

 No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect,  and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22).

Mount Zion—  When there is Zion, there is David.  Jesus was called the Son of David because he has a kingdom that is modeled after David and how his dynasty was established and flourished.  His dynasty in the sense ended eventually but where fulfilled in Jesus it does not.

..the living God— God is alive and not an idol.  He is not subject to man’s desire to make him in man’s image.  We know from Adam and Eve that however he did it we are formed unto him.

..the heavenly Jerusalem—– Heaven is where you go to for Jesus the King and Jesus the High Priest.  And going there one does to some extent when they are in prayer with other believers.

countless angels in festal gathering—- Angels are God’s way of delegating heavenly power and authority to those who will inherit salvation.  The are a part of Christian fellowship whether one can seem them with the carnal eye or not.  I can add my own anecdote that my first time as an adult going to mass there was not a doubt in my mind that there were angels there.

the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven— This would be called the communion of the saints.  Those who are in heaven and witness to our running the race of faith and also who intercede for us under the merits of Jesus (Revelation 5:8).  The Church Triumphant is who we are “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).

and God the judge of all— This is not a bad thing.  God is a judge who gives us a chance to reap the benefits of discipline.  This was covered earlier in Hebrews 12 on how much we can submit in discipline to the “father of our spirits and live”.  God is judge and father.  It is a paradox but not a contradiction.

and the spirits of the just made perfect—  This state is referred to as the Church Suffering or Purgatory.  For further scriptures on this I recommend the fire references of 1 Corinthians 3 and 2 Maccabees 12:24.

and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel—-  An important distinction in Greek is that “and” often can be translated as “with”.  I would point out that this description of church ends on the highest note:  pointing to the saving nature and work of Jesus.

Most or all of these characteristics can be found in the scenes I refer to as “micro- church”  or just Church-Church.  The important thing to note is that the advancing kingdom of God has an aspect that transcends what we can measure with our senses but still is true for God. As one looks at the passages of the New Testament before Jesus is fully appreciated for who he was by those who knew him, the traits are there.  This is why for them then and in modern times we need eyes to see and ears to hear.

A prime example for one who could see the kingdom of God for all it is as part of long-term called out community of God was someone who was “full of grace”.  This is why the first “micro-church” I will address is Mary of Nazareth.  For a teenage girl, she had a lot to say because she was “full of grace” and was a daughter of Zion.  I can hardly wait.

Advertisements

To Expect The Presence of God

ark of covenant

For people to walk together in the same spirituality is no small thing.  Even more so is to have the spirituality marked with the character and intent of Jesus.

While I do believe in the formal expression of church, Jesus made himself available in less formal circumstances.  For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).

One would think that with such simplicity that fallen people that experience the presence of God would discern what the character and intent of Jesus is and how to build it in his followers.

One way to get at some principles of who Jesus is and how he works in individuals and fellowship through his presence is to look at what I call “micro-church”.  This is Jesus being manifest in his will with the least moving parts of humanity possible.  The anecdotes I look at I believe to applicable since, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  These examples would include people that are not necessarily apostle, could be only a few or if more than a few would have a less formal context to the common eyes and ears.

But if one was a Jew in the time of Jesus, they would interpret the presence of God by a few historical points of reference on the nature and intent of the divine presence.

 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent.  The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent. Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’  If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live. (Exodus 33:10-20).

Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. —-Then and now the tying point for what makes a meeting of God is that His name is invoked and there is the presence of the Holy Spirit.  We know in retrospect that the Holy Spirit is present where Jesus’s presence is because they defer to one another on earth and in eternity.

The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.—- In some way that is a universal wish of anyone in this world even if their intellect does not know it.  But what we see here is in a way a play on words in that God’s face and God’s presence in the Old Testament and the inter testament mishnas make these terms interchangable. This is good to keep in mind because in the gospel of John we see how “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.— That should be the heart of our approach to God whether it is one, three or a full congregation.  To be teachable is essential.  In the words of the wise priest from Rudy, “There is a God.  And I am not him”.  We can be assured that God will teach us what we need when we need it if we do not harden our hearts and get in the way of the process.

I will do the very thing you have asked, [going down with Israel with his presence] because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.

So here we have a simple “formula”, gathering in God’s name, having humility and expressing a need for the distibuishing characteristic of God’s presence makes it a fellowship in the Holy Spirit.

…you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live—  One may see this as a contradiction if Jesus does not change and he is God.  But humanity does change in the context of salvation history.  And God can change the layout because He is merciful that way.  But yet it is true for today, if you behold Jesus for who He is and receive Him fully, you will die in all the right ways and live in all the better ways.

Ready to jump in?  It is a dangerous ride.  That you could lose everything is the least of “logical” warnings.  Now that this is established, what is stopping you?

Actions and Words of Unity

United

“Actions speak louder than words”.  Common phrase when someone is asking for real meat to what someone says.  This is definitely launched toward people of faith because hypocrisy is the first line of attack towards religious people especially if they are “holier than thou”.

So with my premise that the greatest scandal in the Body of Christ is that we are divide by the flesh, what are people of faith in Jesus supposed to do together?

Worship— Jesus said that the day would come that the true worshiper would worship the Father in spirit and truth (John 4).  If the common denominator is based on what is most undisputed it is that Jesus is Lord.  Stirred in common by the hope of the gospel, Christians of different groups can worship God together.

Coming to each other’s defense— The most extreme example is the Coptic Christians that were martyred at the hands of Isis months ago.  Christians of many labels said that this has to stop.

An odder example would be standing up for brethren in Christ for them to live out their convictions even if they do not agree.  For instance, when I was a Protestant I was outraged about the HSS mandate that would require Catholic organizations to provide contraception.  As an individual I prayed against such persecution thought I did not consider myself to be a Catholic at that time.  The Southern Baptist Convention also spoke against that mandate even though they did not share the same conviction.

In the area of misunderstandings of a group of Christians, we should question with critical thinking any stereotypes.  When I see the hate of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church I give the benefit of the doubt that most baptists are not that way.

But as for what Christians can do together of substance in addition to worshipping together we should regard the anointing of God and remember the poor.

“James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along (Galatians 2:9-10).

Does that seem so hard?  Jesus commanded that we love one another and Apostle John said that His commands are not burdensome. But we make the commands to be burdensome, especially on unity because we think we have Jesus all figured out or someone else did for us.

I recall going to a John 17 (ecuminical movement) event where this was addressed well.  A man in his 30’s who had gone to a bastion of fundamentalism, Moody, described how he had been taught to avoid Catholics and Charismatics for any fellowship.  But by the time he was speaking a majority of the people he hung with were exactly one of those two things.  No cooties were caught.  He questioned his paradigm on the issue, brought it to Jesus and good fruit was brought out.

I hope more of that goes around like a good contagion.

Misunderstood At The Family Table

miscommunication

One two sides of opposing points of view try to communicate, there can be difficulties in finding the right rules of the road

Several months ago I had an interesting interchange with a woman at an ecumenical (of the nature of unifying between Christian groups) event.  There were speakers from different faith communities as well as singers.  One of the facilitators of the event asked for all of us to turn to someone we did not come with, introduce yourselves including church background and pray for each other.

The woman I paired with went first and described how she was formerly in my kind of of faith community and now was in a different one.  She described the hand of God in her life as she awakened spiritually when becoming active in the new community.  I responded essentially in turn except it as reverse:  I am a former Protestant who now identifies himself as Catholic.  If I was not speaking to her in an ecumenical event I could describe myself as still evangelical but fulfilled as a Catholic.

But this event was not mean for such wording.  The setting had the emphasis of uniting in common simplicity.  As much as I have zeal about being a Catholic I needed to respect other principles at play.

One thing that helped me from blurting out something not appropriate is that did not want to minimize her testimony that showed the Lord’s fruit.  After some years of not being active as a Catholic she found Jesus in a different setting and was revitalized.  Am I generally biased that she would be better off in the Roman Catholic Church?  Well, yes.  But what Christian is not biased about what faith community you are in?  Generally the ones that have no fuel in their fire staying our of fellowship and following Jesus in a way that is right in their own eyes.  Now that would be a horrible place to be and in some ways I have been there.  So with that nature of Christ in the backdrop we prayed for each other and she shared some words for me that she felt inspired by the Holy Spirit to say that I discerned to be from the Lord.

I have written that a scandal for the Body of Christ is that we are divided though Jesus prayed we be one.  Two people at a time, one family at a time I believe the fire of descandalizing is burning through the earth.  My sister in Christ followed a good rule of thumb by conceding for one day that the other person was right where the Lord wanted them.

But what if there is a bias from one side that there is not a present basis of unity?  In a prig blog post I wrote about the Nicene Creed being a good rallying point for unity or limus test for basic orthodoxy.

For some Christians that is not enough.  For instance, there was a semi-schism in the Catholic Church in the 1940’s that proclaimed that if one who was a non-Catholic Christian was not in full communion with the Catholic Church thus are not in God’s grace.  The pope at that time warned them to repent, they refused and were excommunicated.  On the Protestant side there are respected teachers like John Macarther who proclaim that Catholics have another gospel and only weeks after Pope John Paul II had died joked that he was in hell.  Both of these anecdotes are sad and indefensible.

So where there are growing pains in ecumenical discussion I have some suggestions for rules of the road on perception and communication.

I see dead people

If one wants to they can find martyrs on their side at the hands of the other.  Some of these points of history are facts and some of them due not hold up to scrutiny.  But if they facts of murder, hypocrisy or other sins really happened be humble.  Because among Catholics and Protestants there are plenty of anecdotes to go around.  If one looks through materials that are neutral or from the other side of the debate there will be some inconvenient points found.

Reliable teaching source

Go to the original sources of the other side is teaching as doctrine.  Going by what someone says is their doctrine, especially if it is second or third hand, is not a reliable way to see who teaches heresy.  For my faith community it is The Catechism of The Catholic Church.  If someone says something contradicting it and calls themselves a Catholic they are either poorly formed in Catholicism or are being untruthful in some way.  One person by themselves does not speak for 1,2 billion people unless you count the pope but many catholics are “cafeteria”.

A Matter of Language

Christians in the same language may speak very different dialects of “Christianese”.  So if one is alarmed by the wording of the other side, they should seek out the definition of that alarming wording in the mind of the speaker.  For example, thousands of times per day police officers “pray” to the judge.  Do they worship him?  No, they petition the judge with a old style wording of prayer.  So do the Catholics who ask for the intercession.  But in the Protestant dialect, of which I am fluent, it sounds like Mary is a goddess. There were indeed some in the 4th century who offered sacrifices to Mary but they were excommunicated by the Catholic Church.

Benefit of the doubt

This next part may cut very close to home for some readers. If one is an ex-Catholic turn Protestant or vice-versa, you may have friends and relatives who see you as “fallen away” and with that may seem overbearing.  Be patient.  There can be assumed to be some to great sincere belief on their part that if you are no in their exact kind of Christian fellowship that you are missing something. Remember that their bias is sincere and they must love you a lot or they would not be concerned.  Thank them for their concern and ask that they pray for you to discern God’s will for your life continually.

Yes, unity among Christians is a work in progress.  I believe however that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and all will be well.  Let us all, whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant listen to the Master’s voice.

Suggested link

http://www.john17movement.com

Nicea? Nice To See Ya!

string-broken-hutong-walls

I guess I need to start off with an apology for a scandal.  My scandal and many others’ scandal who call themselves Christians is that we are divided.  This has been a subject of criticism from many who do not participate in Christian community.  I word it as “who do not participate” because there are Christians out there who do not participate in Christian community thinking that the basic bread and butter is something complex and man made.

What I hope to do in these three blogs is add some thoughts to de-scandalize the readers and afflict the comfortable. Maybe even comfort the afflicted that feel weighed down by that which is dry tradition and/or very complex regarding the kingdom of God.

Some years ago I was speaking with my 19-year old daughter about her schedule that coming week and she bashfully disclosed a new term to me called RCIA.  She slowly elaborated when I asked that this was Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.  She and I were both Protestants and I was not disturbed but other people in her life had.  I assured her that it was fine and brought to her attention the Council of Nicea.

So now its time to bring to mind what the Council of Nicea and what it means.  In 325 tree was an end to a theological civil war.  One side of bishops saw Jesus as both divine, consubstantial with the Father (of the same essence), and eternal.  The other side, the Arians, said “There was a time where He was not”.  Long story short the former won out and the other side was greatly reduced and eventually died out.   The winning side, in unity with the Bishop of Rome, had a creed ratified called The Nicean Creed.

For some readers you may have heard this. For those that have not, here it is.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Simple enough?  This can always be read and reflected upon by Christians of good conscience among Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox believers. Protestants can read this fervently if it is interpreted in the most basic senses.   Catholic comes from kata and holos meaning “with respect to the whole”.  When I went to a Protestant church in Portland called Imago Dei the apt phrase they used was “taking the whole gospel to the whole world to the whole person”.  That is very much the spiritual and universal health plan of God.  All who embrace the Nicene Creed embrace a practical and holy Jesus along with the members of the Body.  This is the picture of Orthodox thinking (orthos-doxa) as Jesus wants.

But Christians are called to be Evangelical.  This is a walk in grace that is not dependent on coming from a Protestant tradition.  Evangelical comes from evangelion which was not only good news but the announcement of the coming Roman emperor.  The news for the world, especially from a united Body, is that Jesus is Lord, He loves them and wants to reign in their hearts.  What is stopping us?  Pride?  Juicy tidbits about how one side silted the other?  Maybe true, false or in between?

Ultimately the scandal is that there is one prayer of Jesus that is not currently being fulfilled.  “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,  so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:20-21).

Now again I address the prodigals out there.  Sinners in the universal church of Jesus, I being one of them, may have betrayed you. Being the prodigal who comes home may not be appealing.  It may be scary.  But I encourage you despite the confusion that you have a place at the table of Jesus by which is shown the Father.  Come and listen for Jesus through the fallible people preaching or sitting next to you.  You may even be used to being listened to.  The point is that salvation is an individual and big picture process.  The bringing together of people in Jesus happens by His hand but in cooperation with the believers in different levels.

So come home to the simplicity of devotion to Jesus in the Catholic Church, Orthodox Church or Protestant Church (presented alphabetically by design).  But just come home.  Even if you are a long standing sitter in a pew.  Jesus and the family need you.

Recommended links.

Tony Palmer and Pope Francis.  The first several minutes have a charismatic feel but then it gets meaty very fast.

The next link is for John 17 the Phoenix based movement.  This includes Baptists, Catholics, Charismatics praising and teaching together on the essentials of Christianity.  There are differing views represented but they leave those to the theologians.

http://www.john17movement.com

Integrity Versus Despair

LighthouseI heard a story once about what I might call “The Worst Sermon Ever Told”.  Abraham Lincoln went to a church one time where the preacher went on for a while with fancy language and flowery illustrations.  After it was over he was asked what he thought of it.  He said, “That was the worst sermon I ever heard….it did not call me to action.”  As we know from history he indeed went and did action motivated by his Christian faith.  Ipso facto that solid words lend to solid actions for short term and long term.

A psychoanalyst named Erick Erickson laid out in his theory that there are several conflicts in a person through life depending on the stage they are in.  The last one for someone’s life according to his theory is integrity versus despair.  One way I could sum up the “integrity” is this:  on ones deathbed they feel that their values and choices were generally not in contradiction from one another.  If not they feel “dis-integrated” with an overwhelming sense that they are out of do-overs.

As Jesus comes to a close on the Sermon on The Mount, the words that had been shared were highlighted with the fine point of application with the understanding that all have values and actions.  Looking from the outside I would say that is a morally neutral and universal statement about anyone with a formed conscience.  What Jesus does here is contrast the foundation and results between one who builds on the values of true wisdom and those who do not.  Then what is implied on some subtle wording is that one can be tied to a continued living authority on what right values are for real life.

 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law (Matthew 7:24-29).

Jesus in all His teachings is not some used car salesman trying to speak in a material realm for getting rich quick or any other empty pursuit.  Jesus wants to build each individual into a saint who lives a holy life despite the fact that there are hardships to live through.  With hardships being a morally neutral but universal certainty Jesus talks about rain coming, streams rising, winds blowing and a house falling. With Jesus meaning soul preservation in place of house maintenance the application is on where someone has their hope and how they live it out.  The foundations of a persons life will be things like prayer, favor of people, sexuality, forgiveness, discerning good spiritual leaders and many other things that Jesus addresses on the mountainside.    If you hear the words of Jesus and put the words into practice then your values will be both correct, internalized, lived out and preserve the integrity as described above.  If one hears those words, chalks them up to a cafeteria run through on truth at best and walks away then despair is bound to come.  And not just at the deathbed but with any storms of life does the “wind” hit and so goes the crash.

But as much as Jesus wants to build the individual listening on the mountainside, He wants to break ground for a long standing assembly.  Hearing Jesus teach, sitting down, reflects a crowd hearing a rabbi.  “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them” (Matthew 5:1-2).  But by referring to Himself a moment ago as Lord on Judgment Day, the kingship of Jesus is implied.  The crowd sits down to hear just another rabbi and get surprised by the manner that the teaching comes out.

Jesus indeed challenged them to action with kingly overtones.  Jesus speaks of wisdom and building  a house.  God built what was understood at the time as the divine house with the temple on a rock.  Jesus had the goal to build His Church.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law—- But this day Jesus was just breaking ground for three prisms of truth that would be in that Church: Tradition, Magisterium and Scripture.  Jesus was speaking with the authority not of the scribes.  This was obvious because Jesus spoke with a different method and emphasis.  Repeatedly Jesus says, “You have heard this but I say to you….”.  Jesus was the beginning of a new tradition that Christians of today can see now as Sacred Tradition.  The authority of Jesus can be inferred to be delegated by God the Father as seen from Strong’s Concordance.

1849 eksousía (from 1537 /ek, “out from,” which intensifies 1510 /eimí, “to be, being as a right or privilege”) – authority, conferred power; delegated empowerment (“authorization”), operating in a designated jurisdiction.

In the NT, 1849 /eksousía (“delegated power”) refers to the authority God gives to His saints – authorizing them to act to the extent they are guided by faith (His revealed word).

So Sacred Tradition needs The Magisterium.  This would be a governing teaching authority on faith and morals.  This was a an integral part of salvation history since Moses.  The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3).

Jesus left room in the gospels to be ones “personal Lord and Savior”.  This is a beautiful aspect of conversion.  But instead of being left to be a disciple of Jesus according to ones personal interpretation Jesus has a display for the crowd and us if one looks to the verses preceding the words of the Sermon On The Mount.

“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them” (Matthew 5:1-2).  Yes Jesus is very personal but the delegated authority goes on to His disciples of the apostolic context. Jesus does not present to us a Gospel of Nice but a Gospel of the The Kingdom.  My hope and prayer for myself and the reader is that the follow through of Jesus words will help us all to hold together in the form of His making and even thrive.

But we ought to give thanks to God for you always, brothers loved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in truth. To this end he has [also] called you through our gospel to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.” (2 Thesolonians 2:13-15).

Mirror Image? Or Mirror Mirage?

God Allows U-Turns

I remember a few years ago how there was a lot of excitement in the first few weeks after Pope Francis was elected based on many things he said and did.  One anecdote that I recall today which did not get as much notice as it deserved was that all believers in Jesus Christ are continually called to conversion and that included the Pope himself. This statement went well with what he later answered on who is Jorge Mario Bergolio (his given name), “A sinner”.

For one to say that they are a sinner and converting may seem like two self-contradicting statements but really this is a paradox of two co-existing truths.  To be honest about ones faults and their constant need of holiness in the person of Jesus is true freedom in that the condemnation is not on you and you don’t have to expend energy on lying to yourself and/ or others on how you have it all together.

In the second to last passage in the Sermon On The Mount Jesus addresses those with a fake relationship with Jesus.  I would add that it was to those with a very convincing facade of conversation to the less discerning.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’  Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Matthew 7:21-23).

Notice that Jesus did not disagree with the facts of their case.  We could safely assume they could have given true prophesies.  So did King Saul when he took a break from trying to kill David.  So did Caiphas weeks before being party to the crucifixion of Jesus.  Judas likely drove out demons yet he was the great traitor.  To some points of view in their day they could have been called “the Lord’s announced”.  But that does not mean that they were what I would call “the Lord’s favored”.

For the people that are unconverted and have a formed enough conscience, they can compensate by lying to themselves.  In this modern age where it seems everybody is a psychologist there are excuses for being so self-absorbed and not changing to be as one is meant to be.  So if ones conscience is informed on the need to more than moral absolutes but an absolute Lord in Jesus, then there does not have to be a false prophet from outside when the one in the mirror will do just fine.

Where the false prophet of convenience will say “I’m okay, you’re okay”, one with a hardened heart will say just, “I’m okay”.  This was addressed with bad news and good news by Apostle John in his later years.

“If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” (1 John 1:8-9).

But what if we say that we are with sin?  Then the truth is in us but not just by pulling ourselves into a Judeo-Christian moral paradigm.  If we say the opposite and the truth is in us in the meaning of the New Testament then we have Jesus in our hearts.  Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6).

What does Jesus mean then about doing “the will of my Father in heaven”?

Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” (John 6:29).

Jesus does not call us to demonstrate a flashy life.  Nor does he call us to live a miraculous life for miracles sake.  Jesus calls us to honesty in our need for Him.

But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’  I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14).

On a personal note.  I have been there.  I hesitate to admit it, but I may be there again.  And that is how a transformed life must be: Jesus in our hearts, renewed, so He can be more fully in our lives.