"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

I Want To See with Clarity, Not Sit with Authority

There are only two times in the New Testament when Jesus says to someone, "What do you want me to do for you?"

Imagine.

Imagine if the Creator of the universe asks you personally, "What do you want me to do for you?" It reminds me of the old joke of the man walking on the beach and he finds a bottle with a genie inside, and ... well, you know where I'm going. What if God posed this question to you? How do you think you would respond?

It fascinated me to discover that the two occasions where Jesus asks this question are both found in  Mark 10. The first time he asks two of His disciples, James and John, "What do you want me to do for you" (Mark 10:36) and they responded:
"Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory" (Mark 10:37). 
What was it they were wanting? From Jesus response, we gather that James and John wanted the power and authority of Jesus. They wished to "sit with authority" over others in the Kingdom. The way Jesus responded to their request reveals what Jesus thinks about so called "spiritual authority." He says to James and John, "you don't know what you are asking," and then responds with these sharp words:
“You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you. Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:41-45). 
Jesus rebuked James and John for wanting to "exercise authority over others." I've said before, and I'll say it again, the greatest problem in evangelical Christianity today is the desire for pastors, elders, and "spiritual leaders" to exercise spiritual authority or power over God's people. This is not the way it's supposed to be, at least according to Jesus.

The second time Jesus asks the question "What do you want me to do for you" is just a few verses later in in Mark 10. There is a blind man waiting on the side of the road as Jesus walks out of Jericho heading to Jerusalem. His name is Bartimaeus. The blind man responds to Jesus by saying:
"I want to see..."
Jesus then commends Bartimaeus for His faith and heals the blind man. So, in the same chapter we have Jesus asking two times "What do you want me to do for you?"  The first time he asks, his disciples, James and John, answer "We want to sit with authority" and Jesus rebukes them. The second times He asks, the blind man Bartimaeus responds, "I want to see with clarity" and Jesus praises him.

Preachers, we must learn well the lesson of Mark 10.

Desiring bigger influence over people, or wanting more "spiritual authority,' or asking God to give you a church or a group of believers who will recognize your authority and do what you say ("because the preacher is our spiritual authority") is a desire that seems ripe for Divine rebuke.

However, praying that you might "see with clarity" the wisdom of God is a prayer Jesus honors. When we acknowledge our weakness and turn to Jesus for clarity, we are only concerned with our ability to see, never others willingness to follow.

I'd rather be like blind Bartimaeus than James and John. I want to see with clarity and not even think of having any so-called spiritual authority.

The Scars of Law and the Riches of Grace: Josh Duggar and 32 Million Ashley Madison Users

Odysseus by John William Waterhouse
"I have been the biggest hypocrite ever." Those were the first public words from Josh Duggar after hackers released information that Mr. Duggar spent hundreds of dollars at Ashley Madison, a website designed for married people who desire to have extra-marital sexual affairs. Mr. Duggar, the former Vice-President of the Family Research Council, had worked tirelessly in opposition to gay marriage, internet pornography, and other moral and social issues.  All the while, Mr. Duggar lived a secret life of "pornography addiction...and marital infidelity." The public exposure of Mr. Duggar's duplicity - or to use his word, hypocrisy - has set Twitter and social media on fire.

Hackers released the email addresses and credit card usage of 32 million users of Ashley Madison - but the media is focusing like a laser beam on Josh Duggar. Why is there a media and cultural infatuation with a twenty-seven-year old Christian whose singular claim to fame is being the eldest son of a family featured on a second-rate reality television show? The Advocate, an online news organization promoting gay, lesbian and transgender lifestyles writes that the Duggars have "a long history of anti-LGBT" rhetoric and actions. The Duggars have promoted "family values" and have called homosexuality a sin.  It seems that The Advocate and other media have the rationale that, "if readers can see the lies and hypocrisy of Josh Duggar's life, then surely they'll understand the lies and deception of Josh Duggar's words," 

That's why Josh Duggar has been singled out among 32 million Ashley Madison users. Those who don't like the idea that moral law actually comes from our Creator will seize on anything to convince themselves and others that there is actually no moral law from God. Promoting hypocrisy in the life of one who speaks freely of Divine law makes those who despise the concept of moral law feel better about the possibility that God's law doesn't even exist. It's not news when an atheist has an affair.

However, those who have singled out Josh Duggar from among the 32 million Ashley Madison users are probably ignorant of the fact that God's law was only designed to expose the problem within us and never designed to expunge the problem from us. I'm an evangelical preacher of the gospel. I'm not surprised by any moral failure in the life of any Christian who publicly and repeatedly promotes God's laws to the world. Not only am I not surprised; I expect it. No matter how boldly one proclaims that adultery and homosexuality are violations of God's moral law, Divine law has no power to remove desires for adultery or homosexuality from within our hearts. 

God's Law Changes Nobody, It Only Scars

God declares adultery to be a violation of His moral standard. "You shall not commit adultery," God says (Exodus 20:14). Solomon wrote, "the person who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does it destroys his or her own life" (Proverbs 6:32). Likewise God calls homosexuality "an abomination," a violation of His intention for the world (Leviticus 18:22). Paul says those who commit homosexuality have "taken the truth of God and exchanged it for a lie, worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25). 

God's law was given to expose corruption in the heart and to restrain actions by the sinner; but it was never designed to expunge corruption from the heart or to reverse actions by the sinner. The law is powerless to change us.
"But we know that the law is good, if one uses it the way it was intended, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching” (1 Timothy 1:8–11).
The law scars. It might restrain, but the person restrained by law is scarred by the battle to throw it off. Sadness, unhappiness, despair, depression and all other emotions that bubble up when being held or restrained from obtaining the very thing the heart wants will lead the sinner to fight against God's restraints (the law). Let me illustrate this principle.

Odysseus, the great captain of the seas in ancient Greece, knew that the island of the Sirens was an island to be avoided. The beautiful half-naked, woman-like creatures who inhabited the island would sing their beautiful songs to entice sailors to enter their port. The Sirens would then attack the sailors, maiming and killing them before consuming their bodies. To avoid this sensuous but deadly island, Odysseus ordered his men to bind him with ropes, to put wax in their own ears, and then ordered the sailors to tighten the ropes when they saw their captain fighting against them. As Odysseus and his men sailed by the island of the Sirens, Odysseus heard the beautiful music and wanted with all his might to swim to the Sirens. He fought against the ropes. The sailors, with wax in their ears, tightened the ropes. Odysseus fought harder. He would later say,
"I became desperate to plunge into the sea." 
The sailors used the ropes to restrain Odysseus, and the ship eventually sailed by the island of the Sirens, avoiding certain destruction and death of Odysseus and his men.

But Odysseus was scarred for life. The ropes couldn't change his desires; they only prevented him from obtaining them. The legacy of fighting against the restraints could be seen on the physical scars he bore. 

God's law is like the ropes that constrained Odysseus.  It may be used to bind others, as a civil society may choose restraints in the form of laws that prohibit adultery and homosexuality (as America once did), but those others will fight against those laws until they are thrown off, because law cannot change the heart.  

This is why it should never be surprising to any of us when those who advocate tightening the ropes wind up falling into the sea themselves. 

God's Riches in Christ Is Beautiful Music Indeed

So how do we actually change? How do we avoid the Ashley Madison websites of this world? How do we say no to our addictions? How do we sail by the island of the Sirens? What has the power to change us? 

According to the New Testament, the only thing powerful enough to change us from the inside/out is the riches of God's grace toward us in Jesus Christ. It's never the law of God that convinces a man to change his life; it's the grace and goodness of God in Christ that has the power to change the human heart. 

We must become captivated by a sweeter, more beautiful song. 

Going back to Greek mythology, Jason was another captain who sailed the Aegean sea. He and his men, the Argonauts, had also heard that the island of the Sirens was beautiful but deadly. Unlike Odysseus, Jason didn't sail by the island bound by ropes and with wax in his men's ears. Jason asked Orpheus, the greatest musician in the world, to sail with him and his men. When they came near to the island of the Sirens, Orpheus began playing his music. Jason and his men were so captivated by what they heard from Orpheus that when the Sirens began singing their songs, they sailed right on by because their hearts were captured by more beautiful music. 

This is what the message of God's grace in Jesus Christ does for us. It's a sweeter song. The problem is that many who name Christ as Lord often seemed more concerned with tightening the ropes than creating beautiful music.

Yesterday I performed a funeral service for an elderly woman who died of Alzheimer's disease. I chose as my text God's incredible promise to those who trust His Son: "I will remember your sins and iniquities no more" (Hebrews 8:12). I explained that God's forgetfulness, unlike Alzheimer's, is intentional, personal, and eternal. When you begin to live in the knowledge of God's forgetfulness of all those times you "missed the mark" (sin) as a spouse, person, parent, etc... then you can relate to God not out of fear nor "obedience to any law," but in the knowledge of His great grace for you in Jesus Christ.  After the message, a couple unfamiliar with true Christianity, told me that the message had "changed their lives." God's grace is the only thing powerful enough to change lives

Life lived to its fullest comes from listening to the beautiful music that is struck by the chords of God's riches in Christ. Even when we screw up intentionally and wickedly (i.e.. "iniquity"), God forgets it because Jesus died for it. That's rich grace; and it alone will change our hearts,  The music of grace causes us to lose desire for the lesser pleasures of sin and iniquity. Our lives change when we begin to feel that God's grace for us is more beautiful, more pleasurable, more captivating, and more enticing than our sin. 

When I come to realize that I can jump into the sea and He'll never hold it against me, and when I come to understand that if I jump for a lesser pleasure I'm acting senselessly by abandoning my only real Treasure, and when I find myself swimming to a lesser pleasure that will ultimately only destroy me, then maybe it's time for me to ask why I'm not being captivated by the beautiful music of God's grace in Jesus Christ?

If, however,  I hear the beautiful music of grace, and if I begin to walk in the deep and unconditional love of God for me, then I indeed discover that I need no illicit love to fill my heart. And if I come to revel in the sweetness of God's intentional and personal forgiveness of me, then I find the power to throw off any addiction that helped me deal with the pain and guilt of my failures. And  if  I come to understand that God, who spared not His own Son for me, will freely, daily and cheerfully give me everything I need, then I will be unable to find any reason to spend time worrying about tomorrow. 

I have Him.

The Beautiful Music of God's Grace in Christ Changes the Heart

Ephesians 2:7 ... God sent His Son so "that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

Romans 9:23... God gave us His Son "make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy..."

Ephesians 1:7... "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace."

I Timothy 1:14... "and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus."

John 10:10...Jesus said, "the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life, and that you might have life at its fullest."

If you've understood what I've written above, you understand my life's message. I'm not sure if it's clear to you or not, but after reading about Josh Duggar this morning, I felt compelled to write for those Duggars out there not yet caught. 

Real change comes from rich grace.