Monday, April 18, 2016

The Voice of Reason - NOT!

Acts 9:36-43                                                                                                                              Revelation 7:9-17                                                                                                                                       John 10:22-30

“The choice we face is not, as many imagine, between heaven and hell.  Rather, the choice is between heaven and this world.  Even a fool would exchange hell for heaven, but only the wise will exchange this world for heaven.”  - Dave Hunt

I would also add to Mr. Hunt’s observation that we must remember the time for choosing is present and constant.  I also think if we were to connect the reading from John’s Gospel directly to the reading from The Revelation, we may come to understand the context of the “Great Tribulation” or “great ordeal” - that which these who are before the Throne in St. John’s vision had faced and overcome, not succumbed to.

The passage from John’s Gospel beckons disciples into a relationship we do not always understand or fully appreciate.  That is, we have convinced ourselves we need only to identify as “Christian” or as members of a church we offer only lukewarm support to, if even that.  Yet when the full context is understood, we may discover that what Jesus is calling us into may not be as comfortable or even as appealing as we may imagine. 

We will have discovered the so-called “prosperity gospel” at the hands of wealthy TV preachers to be a big, fat lie, and yet it is a lie we have bought into at a base level.  We will have discovered there is a profound difference between discipleship in pursuing things of the Kingdom - and being merely believers (i.e., “cultural Christians”) more fully invested in and devoted to the so-called “American Dream”.

UMC elder JD Walt put it this way when he wrote: “I would have to put myself in the category of those who take Jesus seriously … at the conceptual level, but in reality ... not so much.  So how is it [we] can excuse [ourselves] so readily?  Here’s my theory.  [We] can excuse [ourselves] for inward activity (evil thoughts) that does not lead to outward reality (evil deeds) because [we are] deceived into believing it’s only about me; that [evil thoughts] do not hurt anyone else.  [Our] big problem is [we] think sin is more about [individual] failure than [the injury of others].  [We] think purity [and holiness] are personal issues rather than relational ones.”

It is like the Jewish idea that the “blood crying from the ground” at Abel’s murder may not have been strictly Abel’s own blood as much as it may have been the blood of his line – and The Lord’s own creation - which the world has been denied, entirely obliterated by the will of only one jealous man. 

One cannot help but to think about the “blood” of the tens of millions of unborn children who never saw the light of day, the “blood” which also cries out to The Lord and has entirely “polluted” and “desecrated” this nation (Numbers 35:33; Psalm 106:38). 

The connection is made at a fundamental understanding of the “great ordeal” or the “Great Tribulation” as the life we currently live rather than an obscure concept of a restricted time in the distant future in which the antichrist is active – and we think we will know the antichrist on sight, all evidence to the contrary.

I am more and more convinced we have managed to fool ourselves into believing everything we will face – such as the “great ordeal” – is some future, cataclysmic event we need not prepare ourselves for since it will all be outside our control.  We have managed to convince ourselves that justification without sanctification is entirely our option.  As one preacher (not United Methodist!) put it: we can choose to be seated at the Great Banquet Table – OR – we can settle for merely being a doorkeeper to the Great Banquet Hall. 

Either way, we’re not in hell.  But this goes back to Mr. Hunt’s observation.  No one – not even the demons of hell themselves (Mark 5:10) – would choose hell!  Yet when we are constantly challenged to choose the things of the Kingdom or the creature comforts of this world, we have fully convinced ourselves we can somehow have both despite Jesus’ direct words to the contrary (Luke 16:13).  As JD pointed out, we believe Jesus conceptually … but not really.

It is not always an easy thing to be compared to “sheep” – or the more derogatory term of “sheeple”; alluding to the mindless, reason-free animals who follow Jesus without question in total submission.  We can easily argue we still are in complete control of our faculties and that we are not “mindless” when we follow Jesus, but we are compelled by the Scripture to ask ourselves: Who are these who are before the Throne in The Revelation?  Who are these who devote themselves fully to worship of The Lord in St. John’s vision? 

Are they mere “believers” who once got “saved” or baptized or confirmed but refused afterward the accountability of the Church?  Are they the ones who convinced themselves one does not need to attend worship and be active in the Body of Christ in acts of justice and mercy to be a Christian?  Are they the ones who convinced themselves that salvation/justification precludes a genuine and earnest love for “strangers”, “foreigners/outsiders”, and even one’s enemies? 

Are they among those “believers” who managed to convince themselves Jesus did away with the “old law”, despite Jesus’ direct words to the contrary (Matthew 5:17-18)?  Are these whom St. John sees in his vision the ones who gladly and joyously worship The Lord in the “New Jerusalem” but were entirely indifferent and completely detached in this life?

There is a lot more to Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel than being culturally identified as “Christian”.  The reference to “sheep” is entirely about following Jesus constantly, pursuing only that which the Great Shepherd will lead us to, and foregoing the opportunities we often have to stray from the path and the pasture for what we may believe is greener grass which turns out to be only a septic tank.  Discipleship trusts that what the Great Shepherd leads us to is more than we will ever need and involves desires that flow from the very Heart of Christ Himself … always toward others.

Divine Wisdom defies and confounds human reason (1 Corinthians 1:18), and I think Mr. Hunt takes that into account when he observes that it is the “wise” who will always choose Heaven over this world because it is the “wise” who can discern between that which the world deems good but which the Kingdom of Heaven deems to be spiritual poison

What Jesus is teaching in the Gospel of John and what The Lord reveals in The Revelation is intimately connected in such a way that we very often cannot begin to conceive of.  We reason – only to ourselves because “outsiders” clearly do not believe our shallow witness – and hope there is a measure of truth to the so-called “prosperity Gospel” that we can “name it and claim it” of our heart’s deepest desires without offending The Lord – but failing to realize our deepest desire is to see Heaven’s Gate … but only after we are dead.

Nothing less than the soul of The Holy Church is at stake, but it has nothing to do with the national election; for if our earnest and most profound hope for the future is invested in one candidate or the other, then it may be said we have already strayed completely out of The Great Shepherd’s pasture and are in mortal, spiritual danger. 

Above all else, we must consider whether the Voice of the Great Shepherd drowns out the human “voice of reason” that somehow manages to convince us that where we currently are spiritually is “good enough”.  Our Savior did not settle for anything less than His entire Self given fully in love.  That is the Voice which beckons.  It is the Voice which saves.  Amen.

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