Strange title today. I tend to be drawn to the strange ones. I don't label them for the benefit of the reader, I do it for myself. Not so I can relish the thought of someone else thinking how clever I am. They are markers for me alone. Like landmarks on the landscape of my life, they denote specifics that stand out that I can readily recognize. This path of words lengthens with every entry and I am a visually oriented person.
Today studying and meditating on some readings I've been doing on a book by John Bevere, God powerfully brought together several things he's gradually been teaching me over the course of the last year as I seek him. So much like our Father to have the complete picture of where he is taking us and not be limited by the fragmented view that we are as we view from the "here and now" only. The concepts I am referring to seemed to me to be good in and of themselves, but seemed completely disjointed truths; like reading that adultry is bad (and typically led to being stoned in the Old Testiment) and that honoring your parents leads to long life on this earth. OK, cool to know, right? Good word. Thanks God. I'll certainly try to live these out - easy enough. Take it up a notch. If you are a liar you go to hell and also you are to love your neighbor as yourself - again, not so much related truths, a bit tougher to live out, but sure, I'll do my best to make sure I love other people and tell the truth. "Thanks again God, I can really feel you growing me!" How many of us have left Sunday services with these morsels of moral direction, contented that we've somehow satisfied some listening or growth requirement by our Heavenly Father? Is this the "good news" that Jesus instructed us to go out and preach to the world that would change it, revolutionize it, save it from hell, death, damnation?
Towards the begining of this year I completed a fairly in depth personal study in Galatians. I decided about a year ago I was going to go through all of the Epistles, the letters of the New Testament. About the same time, I also began to pray that God would soften my heart, help me to become a more compassionate human, draw me closer. I knew love was central to God's core being and that He desires that each of us walk it out towards each other. After all, Jesus said the entire Law and Prophets (essentially the whole Old Testament) was summed up in love your God completely and love your neighbor selflessly. I think we mentally acknowledge this and we strive for this, but it truly doesn't reach the heart of most of us, particularly that last part. This is what I was wrestling with. I knew that I too easily dismissed my neighbor. Remember when the crowds asked Jesus "who is my neighbor"? We too easily refuse to engage the hurt, the lack, and the shortcomings of those who surround us every single day. To be honest, I don't have it within me. I knew it then and I know it now. It was that realization that caused me to begin to pray thus. I realized that if I didn't have it, if I couldn't muster it on my own then it must be something that God had to do within me, something that I had to seek out in Him.
As I've been reading through John Bevere's book "A Heart Ablaze", he essentially contrasts the passion that Moses had for God and the manner in which the nation of Israel withdrew from God even when they were simultaneously being provided for and led by Him. They all experienced the same miracles, were all delivered from the same annihilation, were all invited to the same mountain top to meet God in the same way. God delivered the entire nation and being no respector of persons, God's plan wasn't to single out Moses to bring only Moses to the pinnacle of communion with himself. God longed for an entire nation of priests, not a designated clan. But the people of Israel couldn't let go of Egypt, couldn't put away the "benefits" of their old lives, though those lives were marked by slavery. We constantly read where hardship brings forth statements like "Why did you lead us out here to die out here in this waste? We were better off in Egypt." What hit me was that of any of them, Moses should have been the one who had trouble leaving Egypt behind. He never knew hardship in Egypt, he knew only privilege, authority, comfort and wealth. What was the difference? What's the shift in mentality?
Simultaneous to this, I am really being impacted by a series called Radical (link at the bottom) by a young pastor named David Platt in which he is peeling down what it means to truly be a disciple of Christ; and most of us comfortable "christians" won't like the answers. Jesus turned away a lot of people, people who were enthusiastic followers, excited about the miracles, caught up in the rumors of a "messiah" a true prophet from God. They knew he was something, because he was shaking up the entire religious order of things, but very often, and usually at the most inopportune moments (at least from a recruitment standpoint) he'd turn on the crowd and say things like "If you want to be my disciple you have to pick up an instrument of death that convicted felons carry in shame to their own executions and follow me, and hate your parents. If you really want to pursue me, then you'll have to eat my flesh and drink my blood." Can you picture what the twelve were thinking? "Uh, Jesus, you just lost them at 'Hello'. "
This past Sunday at church, our pastor began teaching on Galatians 5:16-25. He mentioned the Fruit of the Spirit and how first among these was Love. He compared love to the curtain rod upon which all the rest of the others hung. Towards the end of that passage it speaks of crucifying the sin nature and it's desires and that's when God struck. A year's worth of gentle nuturing, soft whispers to my spirit and quiet insights hit me like a wall in a high speed crash, the ramifications I am still dazed by and trying to comprehend. All I know is that I don't want to let go. David in Psalms speaks of deep calling out to deep and there are depths of revelation, life, and holiness that most of us will never scratch the surface of because we are unwilling to pursue God in the manner that he pursues us. I'm catching just a glimpse of this "depth" and I want it. Back to the Word.
What struck me was the concept of crucifying the sin nature and its passions. Jesus also spoke of taking up the cross in Luke 14:27. He was referring to crucifying your flesh, your passions, your sinful desires. This is what separated Moses from the entire nation of Israel, including his own brother Aaron. Moses crucfied his sinful nature, desires, and passions. Do you know what the greek for crucify translates? It literally means to stake down, to make something stay in place by completely destroying the power of the flesh through intense pain. This is what the crowd heard when Jesus said take up a cross. They didn't hear "you can purchase your golden cross as a reminder of your committment". They heard death, pain. We are to put down and stake in place our flesh, this is the "working out of our salvation" that is spoken of in the New Testament. It gets better. The greek for flesh is the word "sarx" which not only implies one's physical body but the totality of our earthly being apart from the divine. At what point do we start to dispair here? Does any of us have this within us? The short answer is "no".
What I'm realizing in all of these studies is that in my insuffieciency, it is God who is sufficient. If I could have authored my own salvation, I would figure out a way to do it without God and short cut the whole process. That's the way we people operate. We seek the short cuts, the easy way, the check list to mark off. I did numbers one through three so now I'm ready! But God is so infinitely beyond this method of limitation, this finite brand of human thinking. "In my weakness he is strong". In the Galatians passage we see the phrase "against such there is no law". The whole reason we dispair in the struggle to overcome our flesh in our own strength is the same reason the cross and the blood were necessary; because the law and the prophets were not enough by themselves. The law, the Old Testament Law defined sin, put a stamped label on it, brought it into the light of God's judgement and justice, but did nothing to redeem. Look at it.
The Law identified what was right, what was wrong. Today secular society very often epitomizes the Ten Commandments with the statement "Thou Shalt Not". The law was unbreakable, unyielding and final, but continually, people were broken upon it. They were stoned to death, executed, cast out. Punishment was harsh. Atonement was expensive and always involved the life blood of living creatures. Death was continually present and people were continually required to soak their hands in blood. Jesus' once-for-all at the cross was so overwhelmingly sufficient that it not only bought his own salvation from such fate (remember, he was 100% man) or just a few of his close friends and relatives. It paid for all mankind for all time. Every last one of us. No matter what you've done, it's been paid for, you could say, "over-paid" for. This ushers us into the Spirit and in Galatians, we are told to live by the Spirit for against the Fruit of the Spirit there is no law. It was at the cross that God moved us from the curse of the flesh and its works listed in Galatians to the Fruit of the Spirit.
It's because of this love for us, the love of a perfect being towards an entirely unworthy race of offenders, that Jesus can make the demands in Luke 14 of what is required of us if we are to be true followers of him. If taken literally, they sound harsh. Hate your parents, hate your wife and kids, your family, carry your cross. Because it's harsh we "translate" it. "Jesus didn't really want you to hate your family, what he was saying was...". Jesus wants nothing short of everything, total commitment, all of you. That's it. Everything. In comparison to your total affection, devotion, and love for him, your love for everything and everyone else around you will look like hate. But He brings it full circle. "Husbands love your wives as Chist loved the Church".
God wanted nothing less of the nation of Israel when he freed them from four centuries of slavery. He orchestrated the removal of a nation of people from the geo-political powerbase of the world who had been there for 20 generations so that he could bring them to himself and fellowship intimately with every single one of them. When they left there was not one of them sick or weary or disabled. That is impossible in a what is estimated to be a nation of two and a half million people. He gave them absolutely everything they would need to make the journey to himself, all he required was all of them and only one man in a nation of two and a half million people was willing to answer that calling. One man ascended the mountain and saw God. The rest of the nation cowered at the feet of the mountain, unwilling and afraid. They knew their hearts weren't ready to meet this Most Holy One. Egypt still had part of their heart, part of their desire and devotion. After all God did for them and the invitation He laid before them, they hid and fled - how that must have crushed his heart. The picture is one of sadness as he had Moses tell them to go back to their tents and it is after that we read he instituted the order of the priests and the regulations of how they were to enter his presence only annually. His desire was for a people of priests, a people of communion and fellowship. One man heeded the call.
This is why Jesus tells the crowd pick up your cross, count the cost. We're so used to the notion of alter calls where people raise their hands if they want to know Jesus and we feel good because we've led them to the Lord. Then we wonder why this country is gripped by shallow Christianity that is nothing but a facade and thin veneer of religion that is inneffective at best. We've missed the idea of asking people to count the cost, missed the notion of asking them to think about what it means to pick up the cross. When Jesus did this, he turned people away. One minute the crowd would be enthusiastic and when he laid out his invitation, people left irritated and upset. Jesus was saying to those people what God was saying to the Israelites: "you've got to get the world out of your system to follow me". He's not interested in half-hearted followers. Hot or cold. Get off the fence. He loves us all incomparably more than we know how to love him or each other, the proof is in the lengths he went to redeem us. The invitation is timeless. It's the same invitiation given to the children of Israel, the same one Jesus was giving to the crowds who were attracted to his miracles and teachings, it's the same to you and I. It's an invitation to love like no love we've ever known. "Will you follow me recklessly - as recklessly as I pursued you, considering nothing else in this life, willing to give everything for me as I did for you? Will you put nothing in front of me in value including family, possession or goals? Will you purge Egypt?"