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An Easter Reading

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Keep your lamps burning.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbors stay far away.
I have become like a man who does not hear, whose mouth can offer no reply.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!
Yet I am silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face.

God did not give us a spirit of timidity.
We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.

Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.

What is truth?

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of God. 
You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, and became obedient to death — even death on a cross.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through his body, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.

Listen, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.

I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Ps. 130:1, 6
Lk. 12:35
Jn. 14:27
Ps. 38:11, 14
Mt. 5:4
Heb. 12:3
Jb. 23:3, 17
2 Tim. 1:7
1 Thes. 5:5
Eph. 5:14
1 Jn. 1:6
Jn. 18:38
1 Cor. 15:50
Ex. 33:20
Jn. 3:16
Phil. 2:5-8
1 Cor. 15:20
Rom. 8:32
Heb. 10:19-22
1 Cor. 15:51
Mk. 9:24

Within the prophetic utterances and visions of Zechariah are found several phrases familiar to those who’ve read the New Testament accounts of Jesus:

• “I am coming, and I will live among you” (2:10)
• “Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord” (6:12)
• “See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey” (9:9)
• “From Judah will come the cornerstone” (10:4)
• “So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter’” (11:12-13)

• “They will look on me, the one they have pierced” (12:10)
• “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity” (13:1)
• “On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem” (14:8)

The Lord spoke these words through Zechariah 500 years before Jesus fulfilled their significance. How is this possible? And what knowledge can we gain about the nature of God? As I meditated on this, two possibilities came to mind:

1)  God knows the future absolutely. Every detail of every second of every individual’s life is foreknown. Imagine looking at a large bubble you just blew, suspended in the air before you. The content of that bubble is the dimension of time; the plane of existence where something is preceded and followed by another something. The creative birth of our universe to its last surviving atom – all within the bubble, for you to observe, because you exist outside of that dimension. This assumption doesn’t necessarily negate free will; it merely acknowledges that God allows us to do whatever we want, all the while knowing everything we’ll do. 

If you think consider this idea of God at bit too laisser-faire (“let them do as they will”), you’re not alone. And there are scriptures to support your concern:
•  “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentence.” (2 Peter 3:9)
•  “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
•  “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
•  “They will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God.” (Zechariah 8:8)

At this point in my walk, I’m not ready to believe that when the Lord spoke to Zechariah, He (God) foreknew which 12 disciples would see Jesus riding a donkey, which Judean governor would have Him pierced, and which Samaritan woman would hear Him speak of “living water”.

2)  God’s Word accomplishes its Purpose. Because human beings possess an innate sin nature, God’s holiness cannot fellowship intimately with our every thought. As a result, sinners can “surprise” God, causing His Spirit to grieve and patiently intercede for their wellbeing. However, the Words God speaks have a life of their own. Issued from Eternity, they filter through the sieve of time, the constraints of a cursed creation and the flesh-spirit battles of mortal souls. One piece may fall into play immediately; another, two thousand years later. The knowledge of certain details is antithetic to His Nature and Name, yet He knows the future of His Word.

The Lord spoke to Isaiah, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (55:9) And a few verses later, God reveals that the words going forth out of His mouth “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (55:11) We must remember what the overall purpose of God’s Word to the age of men is:

“For God was please to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20)

The reconciliation of all things to Himself.
The peace which must be established.
The blood which justifies such a divine undertaking.

A Christian who has not studied and meditated on these 3 teachings is of no use to the Kingdom as a witness. You cannot understand the mission of Jesus apart from its role in reconciliation. You cannot even understand why the heavens and earth were created apart from their role in reconciliation. Everything within that big bubble – the dimension of time – is part of a WORD sent out from Eternity for the purpose of reconciling Creation back into Eternity. The formation of galaxies, the ages and eras of various lifeforms on earth, the fall of Satan, the call of Abraham, Moses & David, the atoning sacrifice of Christ and the latest inspiration you received while reading your Bible … all are evidences of the ongoing, living, active Word of God. And the more you seek, the more you discover how “pieces” of His Word have fit into history, and even into your own life. This should be a source of great comfort to you; that our Creator came to live among us, that He has the power to cleanse away all sin and impurity, and that He patiently cares for all who seek Him as Father.

Mikey opens the front door, runs into the kitchen and yells, “Mom! Jon just got a puppy!”
Without providing any more details, consider how many memories are involved in those brief seconds of Mikey’s life:
1) What kind of animal Jon got
2) What Jon’s name is
3) Which house Mikey lives in
4) How to open a door
5) How to run
6) Where the kitchen is
7) Who his mother is, and how to address her
8) What words, in what order, to communicate his message

WHAT IS A MEMORY?   …  How can you define it without using the word “remember”?
Is it a visual imprint, so that you’re able to describe it? No, because what was imprinted involved all the boy’s senses: sounds the puppy made, how its fur felt when stroked, the smell of grass around them, even the taste of Mikey’s saliva as he swallowed. Every sensation in every second was being accessed for him to communicate the memory to his mother. And yet, subjective qualities were there, too: fascination, endearment, joy, the relational bond to both Jon and his own mother. And deeper, more rudimentary concepts were attached: negotiating a solid door, balancing to run, recalling vocabulary, sentence structure & inflection. All occuring spontaneously, instantaneously.

Think about it. You look down and see a puppy. Then you turn away. Now you’re looking at something else; a completely different reality from what existed behind you. Nothing you now see has any connection to what you did see. Yet you know there is a connection. You know you’re in the same location, and there is a puppy behind you. Because you can hear it and smell it?   No.   There is no overt indication that any part of the world behind you ever existed at all. But, fortunately, God created us with the capacity to remember [from the Latin re (again) - memor (mindful); lit., "to have mind again"]

The apostle James imagined the opposite in his epistle when he writes of “a man who looks at his face in the mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” -James 1:23b-24
In that instance, though, the man’s forgetfulness isn’t the result of an inability to remember, but rather a conscious disregardance; a negating of practical value, thus assigning what he sees as no more substantial than a single breath’s vapor.

I “had a memory” the other day while driving to work, which devastated my peace.
To my knowledge, nothing I was looking at, listening to or thinking about caused it – by analogy – to form. It was a memory of an immoral action I performed perhaps 40 years ago (I equivocate because my mind has great difficulty placing events on a linear timeline). And as I felt the shadow of guilt overtake me, I became angry. Angry that my mind exerted the energy to retrieve such a self-destructive thought. Angry beause I didn’t deserve its recollection; it made no sense! In my spirit I asked God, “Did You do this? Do we have unfinished business on this matter? You know I’ve confessed this offense several times, asking You to remove the stain of its poison from my heart. And I know You have the power to either eliminate its influence or empower me to reckon it dead and gone. Help me understand why this just happened.”

“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worst than the first.”  - Luke 11:24-26

In Genesis, the  Father counsels Cain that something is “crouching at your door, desiring to have you“. God names this presence “sin” (“chattath“, which elsewhere translates “punishment“). In Job, we find an “accuser”  (“satan“) who tells God how (he?) is “roaming through the earth, going back and forth in it.” To read the dialogue bewteen the two is to discover that this roaming accuser is obsessed with punishing an innocent, blessed man.

I must confess, when my miserable memory surfaced, and guilt once again dragged away my peace as its plunder, I felt punished. And my angry line of address to God boiled over from feeling abused; manipulated by an utterly capricious will that wasn’t mine. “Why, Lord?!,” I spirited, “Why must the memory of our every sin be constrained by the most thin, fragile netting as to be jostled so easily, falling into consciousness with no discernable objective but to punish one who seeks your blessing?

“Yes, I am well familiar with what lay behind me; what reflection and time have turned me away from. I know those sins once lived and breathed through me; did color and conform me into who now speaks to You. I also know that, should I again turn, their desire for me would roar into the house of my flesh, seven times greater than before. But why make the offence so easily accomplished? Why allow guilt, temptation and anger such freedom of persuasion, that they catch me without warning? Without guard? Without reason? And so plow under the fruit You’ve patiently nurtured within?

(selah)

To remember is to “have the mind again” that, while not the mind you have now, can unexpextedly drop in like food coloring into water. Memories were given us (by Christ) to work for our good (for Christ).
“Guide me, Father, to adopt the mind of Christ, that no other minds can punish me.”

Man’s instrument of death is uniquely his; no other creature has need of a gun. Every animal has the ability to bring death to another, but only man makes tools to kill. Tools allow men to exert greater force with less labor. And a gun is the ultimate extension of that idea: extinguishing the Force of Life with the contraction of a single, trigger finger. Only disintegration by telepathy would be easier. Yes, easier but – probably – less satisfying, for a gun not only kills, it punishes what it kills. There is sudden, horiffic damage & disfigurement. And then there is the body, vacant and still, from the absolute authority of this wondrous device.

Indeed, wonder is the chief factor behind the alarming rise of gun permit applications and purchases. A fascination-fueled pack mentality is spreading like a virus across the post-Newtown landscape (after the Connecticut town where 20 first-grade children were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14). Six days ofter the shooting, Minnesota’s Olmsted County reported a tripling of gun permit applications. Nearly 400 were issued there in January alone. On the surface, the engine motivating such urgent acquisition of weaponry is a perpetual stream of media voices prophesying a federally-mandated prohibition of guns, as well as the implementation of a marshalled taskforce to seize legally-obtained firearms from the citzenry. These voices cite the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment as their protector and justifier, and are sounding a clarion call for all “patriots” to arm themselves for the next Revolution. But beneath the surface, it’s neither the fear of criminals nor distrust of government bringing the vast majority of buyers into the gun shops. What’s occuring is a phenomenon as old as human nature.

“Indeed I would not have know what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.”  - Romans 7:7b-8a

The phrase “sin, seizing the opportunity afforded” speaks such inspired insight on the battle between flesh and spirit. Not all knowledge fits neatly into our mind’s grid. Some comes at a price; a conflict to be reckoned with. And if not wrestled down & mastered, becomes a tenacious vine producing myriad strains of dark fruit. “Everything is permissible for me”, Paul wrote, quoting the entitlement theology of the Corinthian congregation, “but not everything is beneficial” - 1 Corinthians 6:12. The media voices encourage us to protect our “freedoms”. But “freedom” is a code word for ” personal immunity”; a license to create and enforce our own boundaries. For the Christian, such a principle conjures a great deception; namely, it ascribes as “beneficial” knowledge that is anything but!

Unlike the non-Christian, the believer is called to lay down the urgings of his/her will in submission to the authority of Jesus’ active, daily influence. This requires great discipline, as the new knowledge we’re constantly receiving must be responsibly assimilated; otherwise, an opportunity will be afforded for sin to begin producing desires. Currently, a confluence of events and media messages have elevated a single idea to an irresistable status: “I need a gun.” The power of this idea transcends all social strata; seducing every race, gender, socio-economic class, political party and faith group. It’s authority comes from the authority of the gun itself. The power to end Life. The power to punish with violent, absolute Justice. And best of all, it’s permissible. With a credit card and some paperwork, you can join the rest of your fellow citizens in owning a tool made for killing another human being. There’s just one wrinkle in this fabric:

“You shall not murder.” - Exodus 20:13

“But there are predators and criminals assaulting us daily. Our government is plotting against us. Terrorists file through our airports. The wicked far outnumber the good. We are sheep waiting to be slaughtered. Everyone’s getting themselves a gun. This might be my last chance to own one.  . . ….. I need a gun.

But my intent here is not to argue for stricter gun control. It is to encourage fellow Christians to guard their minds (reason) and hearts (emotion) against letting media voices plant an irresistible idea; a seed of knowledge that enslaves you, obsesses you, deceives you into thinking that just because it’s permissible, you are free to deem it beneficial. It is that yielding of allegiance to human nature that affords sin an opportunity to lead you further and further away from love, peace and joy, and closer to the realm of Death. A gun’s purpose is to bring death. And everyone who owns a gun possesses the knowledge that they can now murder someone, if need be. But needs change based on circumstances, don’t they. How often have you had a need so great that you considered yourself justified in satisfying it? How often have you shaken your head in self-disgust or wept over giving in to sin’s hateful strategies? Such are the power of ideas; they become laws unto themselves, and we become disoriented in the blackness of their death song.

Consider the extent to which this culture embraces death. How often death is glorified and celebrated in movies, books and TV and gaming. How murderers are made famous, even heroic. Hollywood pumps out unending reels of torture, pain, horror, gore, rage, insanity and sadness. And now the voices are saying its time for you to follow. You need a gun. You really need a gun. It’s your freedom, your constitutional right.

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.” -James 4:1-2a

Don’t let the world tell you what you need. Every worldly voice has their own agenda. They feed off of your fears and desires. Incline your ear to the voice of the Lord. His words are altogether beneficial, for in Him is no darkness at all. In Him is Life in all its strength and beauty, as well as a love for every living creature.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love you neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” -Matthew 5:43-45a

The Cruel Sword

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” – Matthew 19:16

So begins the account of the “rich, young ruler”, from which we were all instructed in the following conclusions:
a)  Don’t let your love of material possessions hinder your service to God.
b)  You cannot earn eternal life through faithfully keeping religious traditions.
c)  Great wealth is not a sign of divine blessing.
d)  Only Christ can identify someone as “righteous”; our sin nature exempts us from possessing that discernment.

Yet, a further lesson appeared in my mind the other day; one whose utter simplicity camoflauged it from the rest of the interpretative pack.

In the passage, the young man presents to Jesus what he feels is a flawless resumé. He has lived a God-fearing life, kept the Mosaic Law and achieved both civic and religious respect among men. Upon hearing Jesus speak of “eternal life”, the man asks if he can rest in the assurance of a place in the Kingdom. And Jesus responds with a directive so disruptive and irrational that the young man’s heart was broken and his spiritual journey abruptly stopped dead in its tracks.

Was Christ being cruel? Yes. A sword cuts with cruelty, yet it’s nature is to do just that, and do it perfectly. The entire dialogue (v. 16-22) is a 3-part drama: before the blade strikes, the strike, and the victim’s reaction to being struck. “Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor … then, come follow Me” was the blade strike; purposeful and cruel. (If you don’t understand the cruelty of God’s love for mankind, I encourage you to study the nature of the Atonement). Perhaps it was to draw attention to the rich man’s devotion to possessions. Perhaps it was to instruct him on the vanity of religion based on human effort. Or perhaps … it was Jesus simply saying, “Will you obey Me?”

The young man had lived his entire life beneath an umbrella of knowledge concerning God. He was convinced he knew who God was, and that God knew who he was. He was convinced God approved of him and blessed his knowledge as “sufficient”. But now, standing before the very Son of God, Him through Whom and for Whom all things were created, and by Whom all of creation would be reconciled back to the Father, the young man was given his first assignment; his first task of a new lifestyle as a follower of Jesus. And he found he couldn’t do it. He refused the very first request Jesus asked of him. It just hurt too much.

Be careful, my friends, when you consider yourselves “righteous”. When you count yourselves friends of Christ. Co-laborers with Him. Worshippers of Him. Be careful that you do not confuse a well-intentioned intimation for a Word from His mouth. For Christ does not give to us as the world gives. His questions are not milk and honey. John the Baptist considered himself unworthy to loose Jesus’ sandal strap, yet we think we’re deserving of His Paradise. Has Christ made a request of you? One that you felt pierce your flesh and break your heart? Take comfort, brothers & sisters, for the Lord is patient. Draw near to Him, and he will draw near to you.

Blessed is the one whom Jesus questions with the sword of His Word.

As of this writing, six states plus the District of Columbia issue marriage liscenses to same-sex couples. Five additional states allow civil unions which provide spousal rights to same-sex couples. In Washington state this month, the governor & state legislature approved legislation establishing same-sex marriage, which will take effect this summer, barring any successful opposition-based referendum.

All of this is unfolding in the shadow of Congress’ 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows states to do the same. Thirty-seven states currently have statutory Defense of Marriage Acts, all but three having done so in the wake of DOMA.

From H.R.3396, “An Act to Define and Protect the Institution of Marriage” (DOMA): “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word `marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word `spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 83% of American adults profess membership in a world religion that views homosexuality as unacceptable and/or sinful. If any in the other “non-religious” 17% think likewise, the former percentage climbs even higher. All but four members of our 535-seat Congress specify themselves as belonging to a religion whose tenets condemn homosexual behavior. Within my own, personal belief system, I regard the homosexual lifestyle as being no different from any other lifestyle which willfully pursues the gratification & glorification of our humanity, as opposed to the self-sacrificing character & humility Jesus calls us to embrace as creations before our Creator. Yet my government is not chartered with dispensing Christ’s teachings to the citizenry; it is constitutionally bound to neither proclaim Jesus as Savior nor prohibit any citizen or citizen group from denying Him as Savior. It is a non-Christian, non-religious body.

In summation, 83% of adult Americans and 99% of our federal lawmakers claim religious affiliations whose teachings are at odds with the burgeoning acceptance of homosexuality, yet are constitutionally prohibited from utilizing religious teachings in formulating legislative barriers to its legitimacy. This is both the reason DOMA was enacted, and the reason it is being systematically disassembled.

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were amazed at Him.” – Mark 12:17

In our Lord’s response to the Pharisees’ (and Herodians’; hence, a religio-political partnership) entrapment experiment, the Divine Intelligence advances our understanding on how to live “in the world” while simutaneously being “separated” from it.

• What things belong to Caesar (the governing authority), that they should be rendered (given) to him? 

In Georgia, a couple wishing to be married must apply for and obtain a license. Application requirements include being at least 16 years old, of sound mind, having no existing spouse, showing two forms of ID and a check for $60. An officiant of the state then files the license as a document in the permanent records of the county. No common law marriages, no proxy marriages, no same sex-marriages. Marrying your cousin is permitted. These are the “things that are Caesar’s” and, as such, should be rendered to him. So when two men ask the state of Georgia to issue them a marriage license, the State points to the law which declares them legally unqualified. But what is illegal in Georgia is perfectly legal in Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut and four other nearby states.

Why? Because America is a democratic republic whereby, as Massachusetts’ constitution states, “Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family or class of men: Therefore the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity and happiness require it.”  – Article 7

In a democratic republic, the “things that are Caesar’s” are determined by those who elect Caesar, et al, into their offices. Massachusetts issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples because enough tax-paying, voting citizens exercised their right to reform existing state law. The lawmakers concluded that ignoring their demands would mean the end of their political futures. State governments bend whichever way the winds of money and votes blow. And gay-rights advocates have grown into an unavoidable, influential demographic.

• Why would a same-sex couple even WANT a marriage license?

Currently, there are about 1,400 legal benefits which cater to married couples, both at the state and federal level. Our government is pro-marriage, viewing it as the optimal vehicle toward a healthy, productive, self-sustaining citizenry. Incentives include filing joint income tax returns, estate inheritance claims & exemptions, Social Security, Medicaid, and disability benefits for spouses, obtaining insurance through a spouse’s employer, and receiving “family rates” with most types of insurance. Of course, DOMA presently precludes same-sex couples from any benefits at the federal level (SS death benefits, COBRA), regardless of the designation their particular state might confer on them. And DOMA – to a monogamous gay couple desiring equal recognition under law as their heterosexual, married counterpart – seems to have its rationale based not on any quantifiable threat to national security or prosperity, but on prejudices based in religious teachings. With each passing month, DOMA’s grip on the legal definition of marriage becomes weaker in the stronger counter-grip of those venerable old documents, our Constitution & Bill of Rights. Their genius lay in their flexibility, a concept most religions disdain as a manifestation of indiscipline.

• What things belong to God?

Even a cursory meditation on this question brings the following to mind:
1)  The highest, purest & most faithful LOVE your being is capable of expressing.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”  – Luke 10:27
2)  OBEDIENCE to the manifestations of His Word.
“Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”  – John 14:23-24
3)  Your SOUL.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  – Matthew 10:28
4)  Recognition and GLORIFICATION of His majesty.
“If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”  – 1 Peter 4:11
4)  BELIEF in the Sonship and Lordship of JESUS.
“Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.”  – Luke 9:35

At this point, the Christian must conclude that allegience to any authority other than the Lord God is an act of foolishness, because men and their institutions develop rules from an imperfect foundation. Even the cooperation of human will with Divine Wisdom produces an outcome of disharmony among the masses. (“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”  – John 15:18). There is “the world” and there is God. There is a United States of America – a self-fashioned democratic republic wherein citizens have an incontestable right to institute, reform and alter their government – and there is God. There is an evolving, popular recognition among voting, election-funding citizens that the legal rights afforded by the term “married” should be accessible by both separate-sex AND same-sex couples. And there is God.           —–( selah )—–

Those who would argue that Jesus never condemned the homosexual lifestyle fatally misunderstand His position as both the eternal Word of God and the Voice of His Holy Spirit throughout scripture. Yet our lawmakers cannot cite Jesus’s teachings as the wisdom behind the creation of any bill. In fact, any admission of Jesus’ Sovereignty by any federal employee (or recipient of federal funding) constitutes a criminal offense. This is the present will of the people. Jump back to 17th century America, and you’ll find a different will and law existed:

“John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts Bay, assumed that he could transfer the principles of nationhood found in ancient Israel to the Massachusetts Bay Company with no need for explanation. This led the Puritans to interpret Scripture in an ultimately pretentious way that gave their own state and society the exalted status of a New Israel. Old Testament law was directly, if not exclusively, incorporated into the legal systems of New England. The Massachusetts “Body of Liberties” of 1641 stated that “if any man after legal conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.” Death was also prescribed for witchcraft, blasphemy, murder, sodomy, homosexuality, adultery, and kidnapping. Old Testament texts were copied directly into the New England law books. The most notorious cases of major miscarriage of justice in New England were the Salem witchcraft executions.”  - Source

CONCLUSION
I believe my Savior and my God can mold me, according to His great love and mercy, regardless of the environment I exist in. I believe that men and women who develop profound, sexual attractions for same-sex partners are enslaved to a delusion, thinking it to be truth. In such a state, these oppressed souls are the very candidates Jesus would pay a housecall to, as he did Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9). I believe there’s a reason the scripture gives no evidence that Jesus issued a legal decree, shouted a condemnation, or intimidated Zacchaeus because of his lifestyle choices. The tax collector’s heart was changed, his eyes were opened, and his own mind became persuaded … simply by being in His presence. What causes one to hate Christ’s calling and another to leave everything and follow is a mystery of free will and divine providence.

My government defines “marriage” as a legal classification entailing legal rights that are defensible in a legal court. It isn’t interested in degrees of quality. In the government’s eyes, the faithful, compassionate husband should receive the same entitlements as the violent, philandering husband. Statistically, the percentage of wedded Americans who divorce is 41% for first marriages, 60% for second marriages, and 73% for third marriages. Couples identifying as “Christian” divorce at higher rates than “Atheists/Agnostics”  – Source.   Clearly, marriage is a very fluid, tenuous, insubstantial relationship for the majority of couples who acquire a license for it. Add to those statistics the number of married spouses who silently suffer unchanging sadnesses without divorcing and a picture emerges of a vast multitude of both those who govern and those who are governed floating aimlessly in the Ocean of Whatever. Whatever I need to stay happy. Whatever I need to feel loved. Whatever keeps me or my political party in office. Whatever brings in more contributions.

In this system – with its constitutional boundaries and relational relativity – I see no reason why the legal term “married” should be confined to couples practicing the Bible-based pattern of heterosexual monogamy. Gay marriage is an offense to God and a perversion of the simplicity and wisdom in His Creation. But is my marriage unfalteringly on His path? Is yours? No. Then what is the difference? How can I truthfully claim entitlement to legal benefits I don’t absolutely deserve, while denying them to others who don’t deserve? I’m an American. Yet, I’m a Christian. Yet, I’m an American. Yet …

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were amazed at Him.”

Christians gather together in churches. We call our churches “houses of worship”. We call our services “worship services”. Our preachers often begin such services with the words, “Come, let us worship”. Yet the actual,  intimate blessing of spirit-to-spirit worship is an almost unwelcome visitor. Why? The answers are as varied as there are churches, but one common cause is that there just isn’t a desire on the part of ministers to assist in its occurance. A Baptist preacher knows his congregation only wants a one-hour service. And they only want it once a week. He’s got one hour to give them …”something”… that’ll make them want to return next week, hopefully with an offering check to help pay the bills & salaries.

Consider all the planning, rehearsing, cleaning & personnel involved in your last worship service. Consider the costs for air & heating, water, gas, electricity. Consider the payroll, janitorial, security, accounting, office supplies & printed materials for all ages. The more layers you peel away from the institution of a church, the more you realize how difficult it must be for a preacher to not be constantly worried about debt. The larger a church grows, the more dependant it becomes on the acquisition of money. If the money stops, the church dies.

So if the acquisition of money is the chief determinant of what a church offers, where do you suppose “worshiping God in spirit and truth” might fall on the priority scale? The Christian rock band, Youth Minister, Children’s Minister & church orchestra all request time. There’s the offering and the soloist and the choir anthem. And the Minister of Music must get his requisite 5 or 6 congregational hymns. Wedge in the sermon, and (snap!) your hour is up!

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…”  (Hebrews 10:25a)
The Christian Church was created with purpose in mind; righteous, inspired purpose. Continuing in that same verse:
“…but let us encourage one another — all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
What do you suppose it means to “encourage one another”? What manner of encouragement? Why would members need encouraging?
“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  (v. 24)
And what should be our motivation for such efforts?
“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same dilligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.”  (Heb. 6:10-12)

In these passages can be found such a beautiful & excellent encapsulation of the role (function, identity) of the local church:
Individuals meeting together → Encouraging one another →
Evincing love and good deeds → Proving love for God → Developing faith & patience → Inheriting God’s promise.
And what promise might that be? Well, there are so many declarations throughout scripture. Here’s a personal favorite from John’s gospel. Jesus is praying to His Father on behalf of all believers, both contemporary and future; all peoples who would accept the good news of a Savior’s love:
“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”  (John 17:22-24)

What is the promise to be inherited? Complete unity. Body, soul & spirit. Not only that, we would be where He is, enjoying this oneness with Him in the un-mortalized, magestic glory of His true being. Where Jesus is, there is no hunger or thirst. Where Jesus is, there is no sickness or disease. Where Jesus is, there is no ungodly sorrow, no mill stone of guilt, no unwashable taint of sin. But joy is there! Profound, confident, inner peace is there! Power is there! And the realization of all that our miraculous design of you was created to become!

There’s just one thing that stands proudly in the way … human nature.
Human nature will always seek to melt down God’s model and re-cast it in man’s image (like the golden calf). The scenarios below illustrate three possible fates of a house of worship.

The House of Self-Satisfaction
“For the time will comewhen men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”  (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Can you think of present-day examples of churches that have replaced sound doctrine for “myths”?
• Prosperity Gospel         
• “Name It And Claim It” faith heresy
• Rejection of Spiritual Gifts not easily attained         
• Forsaking feasts & memorials that Christ practiced
• Intercessory saints, virgin deification, papal authority        
• Obsession with fashion, comfort, entertainment

The House of Desecration
“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”  (1 Corinthians 11:26-30)
What contemporary examples come to mind, with regard to the offense of disrespect and apathy? How do you feel about the following:
• Proliferation of American flags on church property  
• Easter egg hunts, Halloween costume parties, Super Bowl viewings, lock-ins, all on church property 
• Game rooms, gyms, sports fields, aerobics classes  
• Plunging necklines, rising hemlines; having to frequently adjust some part of clothing to appear sufficiently “covered”

The House of Executive Privilege
“…Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds not take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when thet were scattered they bacame food for all the wild animals.”  (Ezekiel 34:2b-5)
I have concluded from accumulated scriptural insights that – insofar as God’s hand is involved – wealth is not a reward; it is a test. It may be the most difficult of all earthly tests that the Lord gives. Why else would the Tempter even bring it up to Jesus (Matthew 4:8-9), unless it carried tremendous weight in the human psyche as an object of desire?

Human nature is a massive stumbling block on the path toward becoming a church after God’s own heart. One of man’s most basic drives is the desire to subdue. To govern our realm. “…fill the earth and subdue it”, God instructed his first man (Genesis 1:28). But to subdue is a form of control, and it has always been God’s will that we should control in wisdom, not reason (“wisdom”, meaning in cooperation with the mind of our Creator).

Yes, “the Sabbath was made for man..” (Mark 2:27a). Church (as an institution) is an opportunity; a gift. But it becomes all too easy for us to subdue church for our pleasure.
And “pleasure” does not cede room to “worship” without a lot of cosmetic surgery.

 

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