Monday, October 29, 2012

True Value

Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

According to the United Methodist Book of Disciple (which is our "official" position), every human person is of "sacred worth".  By "sacred", then, we do not imply nor do we suggest: we emphatically insist that in the eyes of our Holy Father, every human being is of infinite value to Him without even trying.  Each of us.  Sinners all.  Without exception.  No matter how young.  No matter how old.  No matter how white.  No matter how black.  No matter how "saved" or not, the Scripture is clear: "God is love"

In our eyes, however, and according to our own system by which we assign value, how we value others is more often than not relative to their usefulness to us.  Yet in the Lord's eyes and according to His own desires, the value of the human person is inherent to that person's very being even before the moment of conception and regardless of how we are conceived; "Before you were formed in the womb, I knew you ...", says the Lord.

Sometimes the language of religion, particularly among certain Protestant traditions, can be a little over the top.  We speak of the merits and righteousness of Christ by which we are justified before the Lord our God, and we should.  It is unfortunate that some assign value to the human person based on an impossible standard; "For such a worm as I" comes to mind.  This works well when we become consciously aware of the sin in our lives in that moment of confession and conviction, but it must not be taken as a literal theological or biblical expression of human value because the Bible simply does not back it up. 

There are those who assign value according to this misguided theology, and come to the conclusion that apart from Christ Jesus we have no value in the sight of our Holy Father.  One "arm chair theologian" (and I use even that term loosely) insists our Holy Father can see only Jesus; so one must proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior because apart from Him we are "worthless" and, thus, unseen.  This "arm chair theologian" insists we have no value apart from Christ and only demands that we "say the magic words" and all is well; he makes no mention of discipleship and even seems to go to great lengths to disavow the Holy Church altogether, referring to churches and church members as "apostates" and "anti-christs". 

I do not see this scripturally; and I think if we were to read and study the Scriptures more carefully and contextually rather than sentence-by-sentence and line-by-line, picking and choosing only those parts we like, it would be hard to come to such a conclusion - especially since the Lord proclaimed to Israel through the prophet Isaiah that "I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands" (49:16 NKJV).  Worthless?  I think not.  Israel did not "do" anything to earn this kind of divine love; in fact, quite the opposite can be said.  So we can see "value" inherent in the divinely created being - that's us - no matter how we were conceived!  We become a life worth loving.  Can we say Christians or Jews are of greater value than others?  I don't see how we can without defying the essence of Mark's witness in the story of Bartimaeus, the blind man.

This poor guy was sitting by the side of the road.  It has been said that taking a blind or lame person to a "begging point" was a common practice.  Place these poor souls near high-traffic areas, and thus give them a reasonable chance to encounter a generous soul.  Matthew (20:29) says there were two men, and Luke (18:35) only mentions a "certain" blind man but does not assign him a name.  Nevertheless we are looking at someone who is clearly "outside" the favored circle, the "multitude" Luke says was following Jesus, the "large crowd" described by Mark

In all three accounts, this entourage tried to silence the blind man when he became aware that Jesus was nearby and he began shouting for Jesus' attention.  Get it?  The "in" crowd tried to silence the man who only wanted to regain his sight.  It is clear by the crowd's reaction and attempt to silence this poor man that his "value" to them was virtually non-existent; he was just a poor, blind beggar with no real social value.  They seemed to assume Jesus would feel the same way.  Yet it was Jesus who heard the same cries the crowd heard, but He instructed His followers to call the man over.  THEN their attitude seemed to change!  "Take heart!  Get up, He's calling you!" 

Clearly before this man was even aware, he had "sacred" value; he was of "sacred worth" to our Lord.  Our Wesleyan Methodist theology calls this "prevenient grace", evidence of the Lord's love before we are even aware.  It was the crowd of followers who not only failed to see this but seemed determined to hide this man from our Lord.  Even after Jesus called to him his worth to the entourage may have been questionable except for the way Mark's account is written.  The blind man was granted the sight he asked for, and he "immediately ... followed [Jesus] on the way."  Bartimaeus became a disciple.

There are a couple of things we should note in this passage.  The first is that which glared up at me from the pages in the way Jesus addressed the blind man.  "What do you want Me to do for you?"  This may not sound like such a big deal except in the way we may address those who call to us: what do you want?  Notice the difference in implication, perhaps tone?  The way we answer - and especially the way in which Jesus answers - the "value" of the person asking is immediately assigned.  Jesus asked, "What may I do for you?"  Jesus affirms the inherent "sacred" value of this man's being by making it clear He is prepared to serve the blind man before the favor is even asked.  If we answer simply, what do you want?, we are assigning relative value - but denying "sacred worth" - by suggesting the person doing the asking is not genuinely needy, only bothersome; and our willingness to respond is conditional ... and so is our love. 

The second thing we must take note of is Jesus' "commandment": "Call him here".  It is not often that we refer to Jesus' words as "commandment", but maybe we should be more aware of Jesus' words in such a context - that is, IF He is truly our "Lord", our "Master", our "Teacher".  John Wesley referred to Jesus' "commandment" in the observation of the Lord's Supper: "Do this" as a spiritual necessity to those who should understand our genuine need to be fed, to be nourished, to be humbled in the face of such a colossal gift, and to be reminded - constantly reminded - of our "sacred worth" in the Lord's eyes and in His blessed heart. 

In the Letter to the Hebrews it is written, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  It is in the light of faith by which we can see and appreciate Divine Love for what it truly is, but what happens when that faith is shaky?  What happens when we encounter the "real world" and our faith is shaken to the core?  Where is the "evidence" we need to persevere when things get rough?  It is in the liturgy of the Holy Eucharist, the Lord's Supper.  In this liturgy we "tell the story" just as Moses commanded the children of Israel to "tell the story" of the Passover, why it happened, and what came as a result.  We are reminded in the liturgy of the Holy Eucharist of the great pains the Lord took to affirm our "sacred worth" in His eyes; "affirm", not "assign".  When all apparent evidence seems contrary, when we have become "blinded" as Bartimaeus by the harsh reality that is sometimes life, when the heartless world - and yes, sometimes the heartless Church - tries to tell us to "sit down and shut up", we are reminded that we have not been forsaken; that we have not been forgotten.

This is why John Wesley insisted we partake of the Lord's Supper as often as we can, as often as is possible; because the world is a rough place and we often take such a beating in our day-to-day living, it is easy to forget we are loved - truly and deeply loved.  Wesley's words come near to suggesting we "do this" only because the Lord says so, but that context is not consistent with Wesleyan or biblical theology.  There is a reason why the Lord said, "Do this"; and that reason has everything to do with our "sacred worth" in the eyes of our Lord and our Lord's need for us to always know this.  And this, my dear friends, is the sole mission of the Holy Church; to proclaim this Eternal Truth.

There is no more fitting way to approach our Lord humbly by the evidence of the perfect sacrifice "He did once for all when He offered Himself".  He is our "high priest; holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens" (Hebrews 7:26-27).  Therefore "He is able for all time to save those who approach God through Him, since He lives always to make intercession for [us]. 

Not because we "earned" it.  Only because He loves us.  AMEN.

A Thought

“There will be a tabernacle for shade in the daytime from the heat, for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storm and rain.”  Isaiah 4:6

The prophet is obviously not talking about literal covering from the elements when he is referring to the Lord’s protection for a nation called to repentance, just as Jesus Himself reminds us that the Lord sends “rain on the just and the unjust”.  Storms will come as we face adversity almost daily, some more than others. 

The compelling question is whether the Church (that is, the body of believers) is waiting for literal covering to come for its own sake, or is willing to provide covering for those who endure adversity not of their own making.  This is the difference between a “private club” mentality and the true Body of Christ on a mission to “make disciples”.

Either way, the promise the Lord makes through the prophet is certain; the “shade”, the “place of refuge”, the “shelter from the storm” will come for those who turn to the Lord.  The “compelling question” asks whether we as the Church are willing to be the Lord’s instruments to make this happen – or – if we will be the barrier the Lord will have to work around.

Let us be instruments of grace today and each day the Lord gives us breath.  There will never be a better time than the present to be the Body of Christ.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Thought

“You younger people, submit yourselves to your elders.  Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble’.  Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:5-7

Our duty to one another is clear according to St. Peter.  We are to serve one another intentionally and deliberately, not incidentally or according to what we may or may not feel like doing.  To be “submissive” is not to be misunderstood (as is often the case) as “strict obedience” but rather as “humble service” in the name of our Lord.  We do for others in order to glorify our Lord, to show that we believe Jesus’ lessons in humility and service to one another and embrace the reality that, like Jesus, we will be “exalted in due time”; that is, in our Holy Father’s time.  We wait our turn, trusting that “casting our care upon Him” will reap plenty for us as we have genuine need and as the Lord sees fit.

Imagine a world in which we look after one another above pursuing our own desires, believing that “as we sow, so shall we reap”.  Investing in one another is investing in the might of the Holy Church, the Body of Christ; for this is where Eternal Life is found.  We are kingdom-builders.  So let us build.


Monday, October 22, 2012

A Thought

“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”  1 Peter 4:12-13

Bad things happen to good people every single day, but we are often tempted to question the Lord’s loyalty and protection when we endure such sufferings.  We don’t think we “deserve” such things so when things do not go our way, we sometimes get angry with the Lord or we question His existence at all.  It all happened during Peter’s time, and it continues to happen even today.  The problem within the Christian community can be linked to the so-called “prosperity gospel” by which we have been convinced that being “prosperous” in the Lord means what we think it should mean according to this world’s standard of prosperity (material wealth) or exceeding good health – or at least no problems.  Truly, though, if Christ Himself did not escape the sufferings this world produces, how have we come to believe we can … or should?

We hope to share in Christ’s glory (as we should), but where is it written that we will not have to endure what Jesus Himself endured if we want to also share in His Resurrection?  We must not reduce our faith to a series of “magic spells” by which we think we can summon our Lord to take away our pain and misery.  Jesus prayed to be relieved of His impending pain and suffering, but the Holy Father called Him beyond that worldly moment to something much greater.  This also is our hope; that we “partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, [we] may also be glad”.  Beyond the moment and surely beyond this world.


Sunday, October 21, 2012


Exodus 20:1-17
Acts 15:1-2, 6-11
Matthew 19:16-26

"Religion" can best be described as a system of beliefs and practices relative to those beliefs; "dogma" is the $20 word for it.  "Philosophy" is a little harder to define as a "system", but the best way to summarize philosophy is as a "rational investigation of truth".  So when we think of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or even Hinduism in general terms, we think of "religion" because each has a "system" of expression to its "god" or "gods" (Hinduism).  Buddhism, on the other hand, can best be described as a "philosophy" because there is no central "god" to worship, thus no "system" toward that expression. 

But in order to adequately "worship", do we not first need to "know" a god rather than to simply "know of" one - or several?  Given my limited knowledge of Buddhism, they do not "worship" as we understand worship.  Rather they "seek".  Should we Christians not be better, though not always accurately, described as "seeking"?  Of course we "should" be!  Though we do have our "rules" as such, Methodist theology encourages us toward "sanctification"; that is, the active (and not incidental) pursuit of spiritual perfection, growing in faith and in love to the point that we could honestly look upon the worst of humanity and feel pity rather than disdain. 

Tall order, I know, but we also have those "means of grace" which we have come to believe to be the intentional and disciplined pursuit of something greater than self.  Spiritual perfection must be our pursuit because we cannot honestly say we really "know" Christ - let alone "love Christ" if we do not have the same heart of Christ - that heart set toward the salvation of "all".  And we cannot share this attribute with Christ if we do not earnestly pursue it.  Our spiritual gifts are granted to us toward this pursuit (1 Peter 4:10).

I thought of this when a pastor friend and I were recently discussing religious beliefs and practices (dogma) as they pertain to biblical and interpretive authority.  She made a good point against a rigid dogma when she was speaking of the so-called "Nones" (n-o-n-e-s, not n-u-n-s), typically young, typically white people who profess little to no religious or church affiliation; in fact, they reject religion.  She asked whether we as the Church expect "seekers" to "believe [first] and then become accepted into community, OR [will we allow them to] join the community and then explore belief"?  Do we have a community that is conducive to this "investigation of truth" - OR - are we more inclined toward "imposing" what we think we know and demanding they agree? 

If we demand a certain rigid dogma to be adhered to before we will accept someone, we are expressing our understanding of "religion" and its expectations.  That is, we require of someone to buy into, or at least respect, the tenets of our faith before they can legitimately be considered "one of us".  It is ironic, however, that we do not seem to impose these same expectations on those who are already "in".  That is, we shy away from holding one another accountable to the demands of discipleship because we don't want to appear judgmental or overbearing toward someone we "like" - OR - we don't want to "run them off", failing to realize how "off" they may already have "run".  Can we say we understand the pursuit of truth if we are looking into the face of a lie and calling it "ok" because we do not wish to offend a friend?

If we have a broader understanding of what it means to be a disciple, however (a student, a follower), we might be more inclined toward a more philosophical understanding of "investigating truth"; that is, earnestly "seeking" by way of "sanctification" through those means of grace; i.e., Scripture study, fasting, prayer, worship, Sacraments, etc.  Whether or not this search for truth can be considered "rational" might be up for further debate, and then it would become - if "rational" - more rigidly defined as a "system" quite simply because faith is not rational.

To be sure, Jesus is affirming an ordered "system" "if you want to enter into life", He says (Mt 19:17) when He affirms the Moral Law as expressed in Exodus (the Ten Commandments), but that same Moral Law takes on a new perspective when He quotes the commandment from Leviticus ("Love your neighbor as yourself").  As we have been challenged before, this passage commanding earnest and genuine expressions of "love" toward one's neighbor as defined by Jesus (Luke 10:29-37, "The Good Samaritan") can hardly be systemized if we do not have a good, biblical concept of "love" in the first place. 

We may also notice how the "don'ts" can be absolute within a rigid system, but showing "honor" to our parents and "loving" our neighbor as Jesus affirms these commandments cannot always be so "systemized" especially when it is sometimes difficult to "honor" abusive parents or love a mean neighbor.  Enter the concept of "philosophy".  These commandments need to make sense to us so that we may fulfill these commandments according to our Lord's desire.  We must not simply side-step them only because we do not "get it".  We must have a desire to pursue "truth", not fact.

Christians can be rather defensive when our faith is challenged within a concept of philosophy because philosophy lacks "absolutes"; that is, qualitative and quantitative "facts".  Many believe if Christianity cannot be pinned down as "fact", as "absolutely" necessary to Eternal Life, then our "religion" has lost its meaning as "truth".  And too often, we have reduced Christianity to a single moment when we have declared ourselves "saved" and thus "done", leaving the necessary work of the Church to others, perhaps "professional vocationalists".  These "one-and-done" Christians are those who call themselves "Christian" but know little about Christ Himself.  They have come to believe themselves to be "in" Christ, but they give no discernable time to prayer, to fasting, to Scripture study, to worship, to the Sacraments of the Church, convinced as they have become that they don't "have to".

Jesus did say, "You will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free" (John 8:32), but just prior to this Jesus did also say to "those who believed Him", "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed."  Jesus never suggested this "truth" would just fall into our laps.  How can "truth" be imparted to those who just don't care one way or the other?      

I fail to see the difference between these "one-and-done" Christians and the so-called "Nones" who actively disavow any religious affiliation because they both share this common attribute: they have stopped "seeking".  They likely think they "know" all they care or need to know (the one-and-done's) or they have "seen" enough (the "Nones" and their accusations against hypocritical Christians).  Either way, these have removed themselves from the "religion" of faith with its beliefs and practices of discipleship, or they have distanced themselves from any "rational investigation of truth" because their minds seem already made up.  Is it not scary that these "one-and-done" Christians have so much in common with professed ATHEISTS??

It must not be overlooked that Jesus ramps up the expectations and demands of systemized religion when He calls upon the rich man - IF the rich man wants to be "perfect" - to "sell what you have and give to the poor" (Mt 19:21a).  It must also be noted that the benevolence of giving is in addition to - not instead of - the Moral and Divine Law.  Even many young, mission-minded Christians have lost a sense of any sort of religious system (organized religion) in favor of working for a better world in the name of social justice, working to further the Gospel of our Lord in everyday life. 

It's hard to find fault with these "workers" and they should actually be applauded and encouraged, but we must not overlook a more holistic approach to faith in understanding its relational value not only with those whom we serve but also with our Holy Father - because the Gospel of our Lord, the reason we "work" in the first place, can actually get lost in the "busyness" of work.  One expression of "identity" (worship or service) is not more highly valued than the other, according to Jesus.  Christianity is not an either/or; we are called to both/and because worship of our Lord and service to our neighbor are two sides of the same coin.

Abiding in Christ, that is, in the "Word made flesh", is all-encompassing.  If we reduce discipleship to a set of rules, then it becomes a burden too great to carry with too many "rules" to remember and no room for "grace".  However, if we embrace discipleship for what it truly is - a "search" for students and followers - we will find not burdens or even legalistic obstacles; we will instead find opportunities.  And in those opportunities, we will discover Truth who is Christ our Lord who absolutely rejected "one-and-done" practices more aligned with "superstition" than with genuine, "pure and undefiled religion" as defined by St. James: "to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).

This is the Journey.  This is Christ our Lord.  If we abide in Him, it is our "identity".

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Thought

Jesus said, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”  Matthew 19:29-30 NKJV

Jesus is clear in this passage, and in the context of the passage, that following Him means much more than simply knowing His name.  To follow Him is to devote oneself to the path of righteousness; that is, doing right things as He showed us in His ministry.  If we allow Him to be “first” rather than ourselves and our ways and our own desires (that is, if we put ourselves “last” on our to-do list), then those who devote themselves to Him will be “first” when the Day of the Lord is upon us.

This path is not easy.  It was not easy during His time on this earth, and it is no easier today.  We have duties and responsibilities to which we must attend, and these things take a lot of time and effort and resources; and very few of these things are directly related to our missional responsibilities and opportunities.  This is why we need the Church and, more importantly, why we need to be the Church in a world gone mad.  We need the encouragement of the Word proclaimed (even if it sometimes stings a little, and even when we do not always agree with the proclamation!), we need to attend to the Sacraments of the Church, and we need the encouragement and the fellowship of our fellow disciples; for when we “leave” everything (and I do not think “leaving” means “abandonment” in this context) within the community of faith, we entrust to the community the care of those things just as others entrust to us – thus we actually gain so much more!

This is the promise of the Covenant.  This is the Promise of Christ.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Thought

“Mary stood outside the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb.  And she say two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.  Then they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’  She answered, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.’”  John 20:11-13

This passage always makes me think about what we should anticipate when we prepare for our day, but especially when we are preparing ourselves for worship on Sunday.  But I also think that often we anticipate finding our Lord where we need Him rather than Him finding us where He needs us to be, not just physically but spiritually as well.  And we allow the work-a-day to dictate to us what we will do and where we will be, not always acknowledging that the Lord needs us to be at our very best even in our secular jobs, and certainly not always expecting Him to be there with us.

Imagine how our days may go if we were to approach each day expecting an encounter with the Lord rather than, like Mary, just going through the motions in a sort of mournful way, somehow thinking the best has already come and gone and that there is no much more to expect, no longer any real hope for much better than what already is.

We have the assurance of the Resurrection that, for people of faith, should be sufficient to get us through each day not as a mere mark on a calendar of “one more day” but as an opportunity for a divine encounter.  Mary did not have this in the beginning; we do.  So let us live as Resurrection People, as having seen with our hearts and through our faith the realization that each day is a day of praise, a day of anticipation, a day of rejoicing, a day filled with opportunities to do something wonderful – and even something rather routine – in His Blessed Name! 

Let us lift up our heads, we people of the New Covenant!  “Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again!”  Don’t believe it?  “Ask, and you will receive.”


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Thought

“Peter came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  Up to seven times?’  Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times but up to seventy times seven.’”  Matthew 18:21-22

Can we forgive someone who never seeks forgiveness?  Peter’s question to Jesus does not seem to indicate that his theoretical “brother” ever asks to be forgiven, so the question becomes more about our place in this dynamic and how forgiveness plays a role in our own faith.  When we are wronged, we expect – or demand – that the wrong be made right.  It’s what we would do … right?  Or is it what we might be willing to say only if we are called on our “sin” against someone else?  And when we do apologize and ask to be forgiven, are we really trying to make things right – OR – are we just trying to settle things down?

There is a big difference between apologizing and earnestly seeking forgiveness.  When John the Baptist is confronted by the Pharisees, he says one must “bear fruit worthy of repentance”.  This means our actions of sorrow in knowing we have wronged someone must necessarily move toward not only correcting the error but showing in a tangible way our genuine repentance for the wrongful or hurtful act.  Otherwise we toss out a few cheap words that are ultimately meaningless because we will do nothing more than to say whatever we must say just to get the other person off our backs!  Then the act is only about “us”; not the one who has been harmed.

The same must be said of our acts of repentance when we know we have sinned against our Lord or when we profess faith in the Lord.  As is so often said, “talk is cheap”.  True righteousness is not defined by what we say; it is proved and attested to by what we do not only in making something right but also in the wrong we do.  This is what people know about us, and this is what people come to know about our Lord; for if “you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15).


Monday, October 15, 2012

A thought

“Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven; for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Matthew 5:11-12

I think one of the biggest mistakes made by the evangelical church (those who are rather aggressive in their attempts to reach out and convert others in the name of Christ) is the notion that we can somehow convince or otherwise manipulate others to believe and act as we think they should believe and act.  This concept then spills over into our daily lives, in our marriages and in other relationships.  Because we have a clear sense of what is right, we are convinced others must act as we do and think as we do (you know, “common sense” and all that). 

We forget, however, that this is not possible by our own works just as loving unconditionally is impossible apart from the Lord (John 15:1-11).  Sometimes marriages fail because our partners will not offer the same effort to the union.  Sometimes friendships fail because those we considered our “besties” are not willing to give as freely of themselves as we.  No matter how much we pray and humble ourselves and refuse to get drawn into senseless political arguments, others will simply never agree; we often cannot even “agree to disagree”. 

Human relationships fail every single day, and it is impossible to assign blame fairly just as it is unfair to always take blame personally.  Jesus calls us to first and foremost be faithful to Him.  He is not promising that the world or our friends or spouses will suddenly see the light; He is promising that the rewards for acting faithfully according to His terms will exceed anything we can imagine.

Let us remember that we are first called to do our best for Him.  This is the mark and measure of our own faith, when we act and live and love “for My sake”.  Let us find the courage and the strength to let the Lord take care of the others.


Making the Impossible Possible

Isaiah 55:1-9
Ephesians 3:14-21
John  15:1-11

At first glance I was knocked off balance by Love Dare© #19 which states "Love is impossible" because there is much we do earnestly "love" - at least in the way we understand love.  So calling "love" an impossible feat had the sour taste of a political campaign ad: somewhere in the pile of manure is a speck of truth, stretched or spun though it may be; yet if we really want to know what that "truth" is, we will have to dig deeper.  It will require effort on our part because it will not fall in our laps.  So reading further, I was reminded that the entire context of the book is within the marriage covenant, and its purpose is to restore and/or strengthen marriages. So being able - and willing - to love within the context of marriage can sometimes seem impossible especially when real life starts creeping in after the honeymoon, when once-cute attributes become annoying habits, and .... well, simply put, when love becomes more a challenge than a practice and a chosen way of life.

In the context of the Church, we have found it easy to "love" our Lord but withhold our tithe, other offerings, or our service, our attendance, and our prayers for the Church.  We have come to believe we can "love" our Lord but still hate someone and feel perfectly justified and unapologetic in doing so.  We have been convinced through a careless pop-culture theology of "cheap grace" and the material prosperity of the so-called "American Dream" that we can love our Lord outside the context of earnest and genuine sacrificial discipleship of service to our Lord with one another.  We believe we can "love" the Lord our God and say nasty things about ol' so-and-so who is seated only a few pews away, failing to understand that "ol' so-and-so" is also of the Lord's beloved - and that by our nastiness we are bringing judgment upon ourselves! 

We have learned over time that abiding love, lasting love cannot come to us or from within us without conditions, without strings.  On our own terms, it makes no sense to bother with loving those who seem intent on harming us or are in no real way any good to us, using that ol' secular humanist "common sense" measurement we often fall back on.  We just cannot justify a reason to waste such incredible effort (and love is often incredible effort!) on anyone who does not somehow benefit us or come around to our way of thinking.  In other words, if these persons do not act the way we think they should, the "condition" of our love is violated and we withdraw our willingness to love. 

Once that standard of unworthiness has been met, these persons become useless to us.  On a practical and personal level (according to our own standards of measure) they may well be, but there is something greater beyond our own personal and practical purposes; something for which the Holy Covenant (within the marriage covenant and the church membership covenant) is designed to accomplish: to make the impossible possible - that is, to love without strings, without conditions; to become completely freed from the encumbrances of this world that hold us back from being all we are created and set apart to be! 

And this is where the power of the Covenant comes into play, whether we are talking about the marriage covenant or the church membership covenant.  When we enter into such covenants - and especially when we are baptized into the Lord's Holy Covenant - it stops being about "me" or "my" personal decisions.  Real meaning transcends "personal", and nothing seems any longer "practical" when we are working and living outside of our own practical and personal will! 

Entering into a holy covenant is not unlike John the Baptist's understanding of his own role after Messiah Jesus came onto the scene: "A person can receive nothing unless it has been given from heaven.  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said 'I am not the Christ' but [have said] 'I have been sent before Him'.  He who has the Bride is the Bridegroom, but the friend of the Bridegroom, who stands and hears Him, rejoices greatly because of the Bridegroom's voice.  Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.  [Messiah] must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:27-31).

And willingly so, John the Baptist (representing the "friend of the Bridegroom" in our behalf) must decrease because Messiah cannot be all He is called to be in the life of any covenant if we hold onto and try to maintain that which is "personal" and "practical" within our own particular circumstances and desires.  It is often that when we make a decision to join a church, we do so with the understanding that a particular congregation suits us on a personal level.  We do so because we feel welcome in that congregation, because we seem to fit in, and we feel we can somehow benefit from such membership.  We believe we are compatible.  Just like marriage. 

There is nothing wrong with any of this - UNTIL - things begin to change.  We discover that perhaps the "church faces" of those who made us feel so welcome in the beginning are not their true "faces".  We often find out soon enough that the preacher is not much better and then - like the honeymoon - the magic begins to fade and the sparkle diminishes.  What we are often NOT willing to admit is that these once-perfect folks are just like us.  They still have all the bells and whistles that attracted us in the beginning, but they also have the same warts and blemishes we have. 

In other words, they are human ... just like we are human; subject to the same frailties and imperfections and frustrations we have to deal with each day of our lives.  Short of admitting this, however, we go in search of another church, a "better" church.  We go in search of another "honeymoon" in a vain attempt to recapture the "magic" that once was.  This is why so many marriages fail, when couples notice the "fade" and somehow come to believe "love" no longer exists.  "We've just fallen out of love", they say, believing as they do that love should come easily, effortlessly, "magically".  And when it doesn't - and it never does - we think it's over; that the relationship (if there ever really was one!) has run its course.

In both cases, one of the necessary elements of the covenant - our own effort and devotion and participation - is missing or has been put aside because we laid the entire burden on the other person (our spouse or other church members) without considering our own part in the covenant.  We sometimes even blame "fate" without realizing that, by our own willingness to walk away when the covenantal relationship becomes a challenge, we disprove the very notion "fate" even exists in the first place.  We have also denied the very essence of what it means to live in covenant with others; the essence who is Messiah Jesus. 

It is in both contexts of the marriage covenant and the church membership covenant Jesus is speaking of in reminding us that "as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you [bear fruit] unless you abide in Me" (John 15:4).  We should perhaps also note that Jesus refers to the "dead branch" that is cut away as "useless".  When we are connected to Messiah in such an intimate way, allowing Him to feed us and sustain us and nurture us, it is more and more that our own thoughts and our own ways become aligned with the Holy Father's thoughts and ways; hence Jesus' promise of fulfilled prayer requests by those who "abide in Me".  The prayer requests by their very nature seek to INCREASE the Lord while we DECREASE. 

So it is in an almost imperceptible way, we as individuals begin to "decrease" while our Lord begins to "increase".  This process is what our Wesleyan Methodist heritage understands as "sanctifying grace", "going on to perfection" ... for we can never hope to reasonably or even spiritually expect to come near to "perfection" apart from Messiah Jesus whose perfect sacrifice, whose life without sin becomes our "way", our "truth" ... our very "life".

There will always be those who will seem to make life harder than it has to be, and there will always be those who seem focused on making life miserable for themselves and for those around them.  Then we have two choices to make: we can be like the sports "defense" forced to live on their terms and respond only to their efforts - OR - we can become in Christ the "offense" in working within the Covenant and within Messiah and learn to work around these "spirit poachers" on Messiah's (and the Covenant's) terms - and not our own. 

To think of it another way, we can get stuck in the present and hung up by the past - OR - we can keep our eyes on the "cover of cloud by day" and the "pillar of fire by night" and continue the Journey toward the Promised Land with our Lord leading the way.  And we must understand the consequences of a careless and not-very-well-thought-out choice of choosing to go it alone or continue the vain search for the BBD (bigger, better deal) in which case THE Journey will continue and we will be left behind while trying to hitch our wagon to something or someone more pleasing to our own personal and/or practical purposes - discovering for ourselves that ultimate truth: apart from Messiah Jesus, the impossible remains impossible.

For those who have yet to enter into the New Covenant by way of baptism, young and old alike, I invite you to enter into the journey of discipleship.  It is the Lord's Sacrament and Covenant; not ours.  For those of you who are considering joining a church to share in the journey that is faith and discipleship in and for one another, the time is now.  For those of you who believe it is time to rededicate yourselves to the Journey that is faith in YHWH through Messiah Jesus, there is no better time than now.  It is time to move beyond "impossible" and embrace the Eternal Truth: with the Lord our God nothing is impossible in His Holy Covenant.  Nothing.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Thought - and a Lament

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own but will speak whatever He hears, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.”  John 16:12-13

“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to ruin, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”  Matthew 12:25

“They speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error.”  2 Peter 2:18

Even while so many celebrate “diversity”, it is still a strange thing that those who consider themselves devout Christians can be so radically different in their beliefs and practices from others who also believe and act completely differently; especially when John records Jesus as teaching that the “Spirit … will guide you into all the truth”.  One cannot help but to wonder exactly what “truth” Jesus (or John) is referring to. 

We live in a culture that has completely redefined “morality”, and we witness far too many churches actually following that lead and offering its own stamp of approval ostensibly in the name of that same Truth.  Adultery has completely redefined the marriage covenant, abortion has been virtually celebrated as a basic human right, and homosexuality is lifted up as a way of living (yet we typically blame them for attempting to redefine marriage).  Withholding the tithe from the Church has been deemed “ok” by the many who have bought into a false notion of prosperity, and even attendance of and participation in worship has been declared unnecessary by the many who claim to be “spiritual but not religious” (whatever that means).  We blaspheme the Holy Name in the name of “divine grace” because it suits our personal purposes and individual desires; and when we do not get our own way, we “blame” the Lord for ignoring us, for not being our personal genie, for not popping out of the bottle whenever we summon Him.  Ultimately we reject the authority of Scripture and the Church when these do not go along with what we desire for ourselves.  And when we don’t like “this” preacher’s truth, we seek “that” preacher whose truth aligns with our own.  In other words, we do not seek to learn; we only want to affirm what we think we already know.

I do think we all seek “truth”, but I also think we confuse “relative truth” with “fact”; that is, what we can physically see.  In this, then, we have forgotten that the Truth to which our Lord refers is not “truth” (or fact) which can be seen with our eyes or even understood with human minds.  We pit the Truth of the Old Testament against the Truth of the New Testament by way of “old truth” vs. “new truth”; and in so doing, we create for ourselves a new “god” whose name is Jesus and whom we lift above the One whom Jesus Himself calls “Father”.

The “Truth” to which Jesus refers is not something that pops into our heads as we are driving down the road.  This “Truth” cannot be imparted to us while we are “multi-tasking” our many burdens and responsibilities and are essentially distracted.  The Eternal Truth to which Jesus refers will come only to those who “diligently” seek by casting aside all else.  This does not mean we walk away from our responsibilities, but it does mean selfishly making time to spend only with our Lord in solitude just as we should set aside regular  “date nights” for our spouses to reconnect in that necessary, intimate relationship.  Sometimes when we are too busy with life, we are distracted from that which really matters and which has enduring value beyond the moment.

Let us make time for our Lord in solitude.  Let us rediscover and reclaim what “Sabbath” really means.  In this, then, let us discover Truth.  His Truth … and no other.


Monday, October 08, 2012

A Thought

“We have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”  2 Peter 1:19-20 NKJV

“If you desire to read the scripture in such a manner as may most effectually answer this end, would it not be advisable,
1. To set apart a little time, if you can, every morning and evening for that purpose? 
2. At each time if you have leisure, to read a chapter out of the Old, and one out of the New Testament: if you cannot do this, to take a single chapter, or a part of one? 
3. To read this with a single eye, to know the whole will of God, and a fixt resolution to do it? In order to know his will, you should, 
4. Have a constant eye to the analogy of faith; the connexion and harmony there is between those grand, fundamental doctrines, Original Sin, Justification by Faith, the New Birth, Inward and Outward Holiness. 
5. Serious and earnest prayer should be constantly used, before we consult the oracles of God, seeing "scripture can only be understood thro' the same Spirit whereby it was given." Our reading should likewise be closed with prayer, that what we read may be written on our hearts. 
6. It might also be of use, if while we read, we were frequently to pause, and examine ourselves by what we read, both with regard to our hearts, and lives. This would furnish us with matter of praise
(or a moment of humility, says me!), where we found God had enabled us to conform to his blessed will, and matter of humiliation and prayer, where we were conscious of having fallen short.
And whatever light you then receive, should be used to the uttermost, and that immediately. Let there be no delay. Whatever you resolve, begin to execute the first moment you can. So shall you find this word to be indeed the power of God unto present and eternal salvation.” – John Wesley

Wesley understood what Peter was referring to as we are reminded by these men of God that Holy Scripture as the revealed Word of the Lord cannot be read apart from the Lord.  I think of the many “pop culture” Bible teachers who are making tons of money selling their own interpretation series and tools, and people are eating these resources up!  Why?  Because these are, by and large, “bible-lite”; that is, they “taste great [but] are less filling”.  There is a potential danger in these Bible study “tools” that are designed not exclusively to teach or to convey the Scriptural truth of the Lord’s will; they are designed primarily to sell … period.  Worse still is that we tend to gravitate toward those persons whose works align with our already-made-up minds.  We are not looking to learn anything; we are looking to have what we think we already know affirmed, much in the same way many “shop” for a church.  They claim they are looking for a preacher who will “tell the truth”, but often that “truth” is relative only to what these “shoppers” already believe.
Let us learn to look more deeply into Scripture.  Let us remember our Lord’s words to His prophet Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways; for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (55:8-9).
Pray with an open heart, and read with an open mind.  I think we might all be surprised by what the Lord truly has to say to His beloved Church.

Sunday, October 07, 2012


Proverb 1:1-7
Letter of Jude

The early Church Father, Origen, once wrote of The Letter of Jude: "If we wish to preserve unchanged the good things once given to the saints and will not adapt (or "change") the events of the historical account, we will by such action appear to do something like what the heretics do, by not preserving the harmony of the narrative of the Scriptures from beginning to end" (Commentary on John 10:290).  In other words, the NT must not be taught as contradictory to the OT lest we create for ourselves two "gods" with two very different standards - OR - one God who cannot make up His own mind!

We might also consider that as Jude is remarkably similar in tone to 2 Peter, hear what Peter wrote: "So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters.  There are some things in them [Paul's letters] hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures" (2 Peter 3:15-16).  So not only must we consider the seeming inconsistencies between OT and NT, we must also seriously consider those points St. Paul makes which seem to contradict even what Jesus teaches in the gospel narratives!

I've shared before that the Council of Nicaea was convened early in the 4th century because of a heresy the Church found necessary to address.  Referred to by some as the "Arian Controversy" after the Egyptian priest Arius, the heresy he taught essentially called into question the "oneness" of Christ the Son with the Holy Father by questioning the divine nature of Jesus the Christ.  This heresy did not seem to deny Jesus as Messiah, but it emphasized Jesus' human nature apart from His divinity as "created" rather than "begotten".

It would be hard to say some remnants of this controversy do not still exist today within the contemporary Church at least in our individual interpretations of Scripture especially after the Reformation when the teaching authority of the Roman Church was challenged. Perhaps such a challenge had become necessary, but what came from that division cannot be ignored. 

Our faith requires serious thought, serious study of Scripture, and serious prayer.  We are required to "know" who our Holy Father is, and we are required to "know" who Jesus is in relation to the Holy Father because in knowing these things, we can then safely navigate the difficult biblical passages.  "Knowing" the Holy Father and Christ the Son, however, is not a simple intellectual acknowledgment of their existence; rather "knowing" is a lifetime commitment to the Journey of Faith which leads to a total transformation of heart and mind.  That is, we ourselves become "one" with the Father through Christ; that is, through the Word which IS Christ.

This is part of the heresy Jude was addressing which scholars and theologians later came to refer to as "antinomianism" which, from the Greek, is translated "against the law".  This heresy states that "Christians are freed by grace from the necessity of obeying the Mosaic Law". Taking this idea a step further, early heretics in Jude's time came to believe "that freedom from law meant license" to pretty much do as they pleased in the name of grace (Merriam Webster Encyclopedia of World Religions, 62).

The doctrine of "antinomianism" was attributed to Martin Luther's side-kick as the Reformation began to take off.  Luther opposed the doctrine but after Luther had returned from his necessary exile (he had been forced to flee for his own safety), he found a movement gone much further than he had ever intended or envisioned.  Luther stood against the Roman Church on a certain doctrine, so once that mold of challenging the hierarchy of the Church had been broken it is safe to say others felt free to take their own ideas and run with them.  Christianity then became pretty much an "every man for himself" proposition; a "priesthood of [individual] believers" free to do as they pleased and teach as they pleased without fear of persecution from Rome.  It might even be said that once the reverence due the Church was compromised, so also was the reverence due the Holy Father.  And this, my dear friends, is a huge problem even, perhaps especially, today.

Peter wrote, "You must understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20).  It makes me think of a Bible that was given to me as a gift (English Standard Version).  The language of this particular interpretation is rather strange, but I was not too concerned until recently as I was reading Jude and came across verse 5 in which this strange Bible states specifically "Jesus" delivered the Israelites from Egypt, and "Jesus" destroyed those who did not believe. 

Now if Jesus and YHWH are eternally One and the Same, this is not a problem.  However, if Jesus came "not to condemn but to save" as the New Covenant sealed with His own blood, this could become problematic for the Sinai Covenant which was revealed to Moses, that Covenant with "rules" or "terms".  It could be even more problematic for the initial encounter on the Holy Mountain in which YHWH "introduced" Himself to Moses not as "Jesus" but as "I am that I am".

Still, it is not a matter of whether "Jesus" is an appropriate expression in Jude's point and context.  It is a matter of what Jude is addressing as a great concern for the still-infant Church filled with still-infant (and vulnerable) believers.  It is the same concern which seemed to be exacerbated during the Reformation and which is still alive and well today: that individual interpretation of Scripture in the name of grace and independent of the Church can be dangerous - especially with the various English translations available to us, many of which take extreme "license" with interpretation!  To paraphrase John Wesley, it is not a matter of personal opinion because the prophecy of Scripture is not revealed by man's own opinion.  It is the danger of believing Scripture can mean different things to different people. 

Such a concept is not in itself completely false because each of us is at our own level of spiritual maturity, but such a statement is incredibly misleading for "new" Christians or those still immature in the faith.  It is like suggesting that adultery in "your case" is different from adultery in "my case".  We must understand that Scripture can mean only one thing since it is the revelation of the One True and Living God, and Galatians must be read through the same theological lens as Deuteronomy.  This is the consistency and the constancy of the Holy Scripture; the revelation of the One True God who "does not change".

One may ask how any of this matters to Jude, or to us today.  The matter is stated early in Jude's letter: "Certain intruders have stolen in among you ... who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness [immorality, lustfulness] (vs 4)Jude is defending and promoting the unity and the consistency of the Law as expressed by and perfected in Christ - all having come from the One and Same Holy God and Father.  In other words, "grace" was always an expression of the nature of our Holy Father, but "grace" was never intended as an "excuse".  If we believe "grace" is little more than an "excuse" or a "license" to do as we please when we please and teach as we please as "truth", then we have ultimately redefined Christ the Covenant AND the Holy Father into completely natural - that is, "created" - images more to our own liking.

This is the One and Same Lord who "saved [an entire people] out of the land of Egypt [and] afterward destroyed those who did not believe" (that is, did not obey).  And we're talking about a "grace" period that extended over 40 years!  The Lord "saved" and then "destroyed" those same "saved" people who refused to become an "active" part of His Covenant by refusing to live according to the terms of that Covenant.  Only Joshua and Caleb - out of millions of Israelites once "saved" - survived the Journey and entered into the Promised Land.

Now it would be easy to say Jude's letter condemns only those "who pervert the grace of our God", but we would be wrong.  Jude reminds us these "perverts, these "scoffers" and "grumblers" are already condemned; Jude's letter is directed toward those who are in danger of being influenced by these spiritual poachers.  He was preparing to write about "the salvation we share" but found it necessary to warn those same "saved" people that destruction is upon them if they turn away from that salvation and fall into this "cheap grace" notion that was being sold and preached to them.  Jude was warning them that the salvation once so freely given through Christ can be as easily taken by the One and Same God who gave so freely.

It is a mistake to believe obedience to Divine Law is not a necessary element of the spiritual journey, and Jude is reminding us that in order to have a part in that Eternal Covenant we must be involved in that Eternal Covenant.  "You, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, and look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.  Have mercy on some who are wavering, and save others by snatching them out of the fire ..." (20-23).

Jude is advocating for the necessity of the Holy Church as the teaching "Body" we must all be an active part of, infuriating though the Church can sometimes be.  St. Peter and John Wesley both warned of such "individualism" that Martin Luther witnessed for himself that is more destructive in its nature as "every man for himself" as to individual interpretation of Scripture independent of thousands of years of traditional teachings.

There will always be for us passages of Scripture difficult to comprehend, and St. Paul's letters are no exception!  The point of Scripture study, however, is not about what we "think" it means; discipleship, rather, seeks to "know" what the Lord is conveying to His people.  And part of "knowing" is in "knowing" that what was good for the people of Israel then is still good for the people of the Church now.  It is the Gospel of our Lord - that is, the Good News of the Lord's Covenant ... for now AND for all eternity!

Monday, October 01, 2012

Our Safe Place

James 5:13-20
Mark 9:42-50

"Intimacy" is, for me, a polite word to use in mixed company that infers something intensely private and personal especially within the marriage covenant.  It is unfortunate that the word is not used more often because the word conveys something much more expressive and endearing and profound than any physical act or three-letter-word can.  And for those who immediately associate the word "intimacy" with that "three-letter-word", well, bless your hearts because our culture - and too often even the Church - is entirely too obsessed with that "three-letter-word" as the end-all, be-all to human relationships.  It need not be so even as it is an important component of the intimate, married relationship, but that single act is not what intimacy hinges on.

When we are able or enabled to be intimate, it means we have been given or have found a "safe place" where we do not have to hide but where we are also safe in hiding from a judgmental, demanding world.  This "safe place" is where we can be who we truly are, our complete selves without fear of judgment or ridicule.  It is where we can fully express not only what is on our minds but in our hearts and souls.  It is the place where fear simply does not exist.  It is the sanctuary of the soul.  And I dare say, where the Church should be that ultimate "safe place" in our culture, we still live in a society woefully short of honest-to-goodness "safe places" even though there seems to be a church on virtually every street corner.  Such is the shame of a judgmental Church that seems more concerned about what happens behind closed doors than what is happening right under its own nose ... and more is the pity because I think we miss out on a lot by being so narrowly focused.

It must be said, however, that the intimacy of the "safe place" is not a physical location, and it is not a place where we are alone.  There are safe locations, of course, and we can choose to be alone anytime we wish for any reason, but these do not constitute intimacy.  Intimacy involves closeness, fellowship, communion, friendship, mutual trust, and confidentiality to name only a few.  To be intimate, then, one must have someone with whom to BE intimate.  So in the married relationship, the very core must be by its nature intimate, private, safe; but the physical connection must necessarily be secondary for this very reason: we as humans will diminish in our physical capacity as we get older - and also for a variety of other reasons such as health issues or injuries - but our capacity to listen and comfort and care and protect and love will never diminish regardless of our physical capabilities.  So these are the attributes upon which a lasting relationship must be developed because these are the things which will last.

Love Dare© #17 says "Love promotes intimacy", but this Love Dare© challenge has nothing to do with the physical relationship.  There are many things that must take place before that physical relationship can ever be considered totally "safe".  I think about some of these ridiculous celebrities who have allowed themselves to be filmed or photographed in what they mistakenly believed to be "intimate" settings (or so they later claimed), but discovered soon enough that there was nothing "intimate" - nothing "safe" or "private" or "confidential" - about what took place.  It was purely physical, and the one holding the camera had ulterior motives with complete and utter disregard for the safety and well-being of the other.  But because our culture has turned us - and our young people - completely inside-out and upside-down about defining relationships and embracing intimacy for what it truly is, we have lost our sense of connectedness and community; the two things that define "relationship" AND the Church!

This, I think, is what James is trying to convey to the Church.  And I also think this may have been the model John Wesley had in mind when he established his "classes", those gatherings of the faithful, the small groups that were designed and intended for spiritual "intimacy" - and ultimately spiritual growth.  It was the place where the faithful were not only expected to confess their sins; it was also the place where transgressors were supposed to feel "safe" enough to confess.  It was the place where they could depend on their brethren to pray for them AND keep their sins "confidential" - never be used for gossip fodder ... and NEVER to be used against them for any reason!   The very fact that such an atmosphere no longer seems to exist in the Church may say more about the overall decline of the Church than anything else.

It is not always a matter of "whether" we actually confess our sins to one another (though we seem willing and EAGER to confess the sins of others!!); it is a matter of whether we feel "safe" enough to do so.  Even for Catholics who practice the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession), that practice is not nearly as widespread as it once was even though it is still preached as a necessary discipline of the Church AND as an essential component of spiritual growth. 

Think about it.  If there is some burden buried so deeply within us that we always have a "secret" we hope will never be discovered, would we not be more inclined to withdraw as a matter of self-preservation than to come forward and risk being exposed?  I think of my fascination with Mafia-themed movies.  It is incomprehensible to me that anyone would choose a life in which no one can be trusted, a life in which one can never sit with one's back to the door, a life in which one must learn to sleep with one eye open.  What sort of life is this??  From what I can see, they seem "dead" already because "their" life has already been taken from them.

It must also be noted that Jesus seems to mandate this "safe place" especially for the "little ones"; not only actual children but also those who are "little" in the faith, lacking sufficient spiritual maturity to stand against the temptations that surround us all.  Yet we can easily remove ourselves from this admonishment because Jesus clearly indicates we must not be the "cause" of someone stumbling; that is, actively and directly engaging in the sins of the weaker among us, actually encouraging their walk in darkness by our actions.  However, if we were to look a little closer and especially in terms of John Wesley's "class societies" and their intended purposes of spiritual "intimacy", can we say we are actively protecting the "little ones" if we ignore their plights, if we neglect them in their struggles?

A much broader application of what Jesus is talking about would indicate our obligation to notice who among us is the weaker; who the "little ones" are among us whom we are charged to protect.  The context seems disconnected at first glance, but I cannot help but to see a close connection between Jesus' admonishment and warning regarding the "little ones" - and the knowledge of what leads us (and those around us) into a state of sin; i.e., the "hand", the "foot", or the "eye".  I think maybe there is a direct correlation between what we might consider our "personal" or "private" sin - AND - the sins of others because it is rarely, if ever, that we can commit sin and not involve others on some level ... especially if we are known by others as "Christians"!

It seems to me we are necessarily "intimately" connected to one another in Christ - OR - the Church simply does not exist.  Our Lord has given each of us our "safe place" in the Covenant by which we confess our sins, repent of the old life which encouraged that sin, and find new life in and with one another as the community of faith, the Body of Christ.  Would the "hand" betray the "foot" as members of the same Body?   Of course not; nor should we betray one another and violate that necessary component of "intimacy" by which relationships only become stronger and much more able to withstand the challenges of life.

It is a colossal mistake to believe we can go it alone.  In this journey we share in Christ as the Head of the Church, we must learn to depend on one another and learn to trust one another; secrets, warts, and all!  If we cannot or will not, the Sacraments of the Church are meaningless.  We cannot receive a new soul by baptism if that soul is unwilling or unable to trust us with their spiritual growth, with their troubles.  And if this remarkable degree of separation exists in which we each seek our own without real concern for one another, Holy Communion is reduced to little more than a snack ... and not much of one at that!

As our Lord has taught - and commanded us: "Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."  There is no peace without mutual trust, and there is no mutual trust apart from the intimacy of our faith in the Lord our God who came to us in the Person of Christ who taught us about the "safe place"; the Covenant.  Let us as the Body of Christ Himself recover and restore that "safe place", and let us become all the Lord has called us to be; the Church, the Covenant, the ultimate "safe place".