Friday, April 18, 2014

The Freedom of the Cross

image used under Creative Commons license,
photo by Samuel Li
Slaves of righteousness are free people who have been forever granted the perfection of Jesus so they no longer have to fend for themselves. -- Pastor Tullian Tchividjian

The picture to the right is the cross from the memorial for the first responders of the 9/11 catastrophe. Atheists are angry that it may remain as part of the 9/11 memorial.  The quote is a recent tweet. The two highlight something we've started to look at in our previous new post and this week's rewind.

The overall theme that came about was really brought into focus when I was thinking about some recent online happenings.  I had been quite pleased that my public postings on multiple social media hadn't attracted the usual gathering of atheistic commenters to harass and argue.  It seemed as if no sooner did I think that than there were several atheists and a pagan commenting on a graphic I reshared.  

What started out as an attack ended as a pretty interesting discussion between myself and one of the other people.  Which led to my being invited into another similar conversation where I was the only Christian.  That was on a Friday and I left when it was time to get ready to have some real life fun.  But God kept me from arguing in that discussion, too.  Those conversations gave me a couple of insights in understanding Easter time from a brand new viewpoint.

We discussed in Monday's post that uncontrolled emotions were the cause of the crowd changing from cheering Jesus on Palm Sunday to selecting Barabbas for freedom, just days later.  Their emotions colored their comprehension instead of their understanding directing the emotions.  For some, that might mean not really having any connection to Jesus beyond what their emotions did for them.  Others were so wrapped up in the Pharisees' legalism that they totally missed the reality of why Christ was on earth.  And still others had so little understanding of Scripture that they were looking for a political leader to free them from the Romans.

That all took us to this week's rewind post from September of 2011.  The post was "Perspective Does Make a Difference.", about viewpoint directing focus.  Lotus Carroll allowed us to use her picture titled "I Think We're Alone Now" to illustrate the post.  That picture actually was the inspiration for the post.  It was taken from a second floor balcony, down the length of the room. There are two veranda-like balcony levels that surround the room, above the main floor.  There are arches, domes, and arched windows and doorways that contrast with the straight lines of the balcony railings.  Despite or maybe because of those contrasts, the viewers focus is taken to three doors at the opposite end of the hall, one on each floor.  The perspective directs the focus.  That's something that we can't control.  It's an automatic subconscious response.

Those thoughts brought me back to those online conversations.  And the comparison to Easter week.  We can even go further back, to the garden of Eden.

Genesis 3:1-5 (KJV)  Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?  And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.  And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

Satan uses demonic marketing to play on Eve's emotions and the way they can distort memory. Initially, he doesn't accuse God.  Instead he asks Eve if God really said they couldn't eat, but asks if God forbade every tree.  And we see Eve's emotions take her in a direction that invests in Satan's plan to distort what God really said.  She proceeds to include touching the tree as a restriction, even though God hadn't said it.  That was when Satan knew he'd won Eve over and starts accusing God of being self serving in His restriction.  And Eve buys into the lie.

We get no such detail for Adam, when Eve "gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.". But it's pretty easy to picture a similar form of deception, this time from Eve.  Or, perhaps, her threatening the stability of their relationship in any of a number of ways, eventually giving Adam a choice between God and her.

Move ahead to the original Easter period.  We see a people cowed by the spiritual bullying of the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and Scribes, each with its own agenda for controlling the rest of Israel.  And all of Israel adding political savior as primary to the job description of the Messiah.  The entire population was ready to be rid of yet another period of subjection to outsiders.  We don't know what arguments the chief priests used, but we see Mark 15:11 (KJV) say, "But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.".  Sound familiar?

Fast forward to today.  And, if you're on social media, think of the angry, offended reactions of atheists to any mention of God.  And how often the arguments are something like, "There is no God, but if there is, how could He allow...?"?  But that also ignores that there are as many atrocities by those who deny God as by those who do them, supposedly in His name.  

There are two things that are evident.  Once again, the emotions are in play.  It's certainly not logical to argue that something doesn't exist and, at the same time, argue that if it exists, it's wrong.  That's like some of the old schoolyard arguments, where one person isn't really so sure they're right, but want to be.  So, they hone arguments to deal with the expected loss in their primary argument.

The other part is that it elevates our own understanding as being sufficient to comprehend and control everything around us.  Deep down, we all know we have no control over most of what goes on in the universe.  We can point to all the scientific strides we want, but we know, deep down, that we control almost nothing beyond this planet.  And what we control here isn't all that much, either.  We may point to future possibilities, but we really don't know those won't be failures, do we?

There's one other way that whole emotional thing comes into play.  We all, somewhere in our thinking about almost anything, have that small niggling doubt.  There's a quote that, in some variation has been attributed to Marcus Aurelius and Mark Twain, among others.  It basically states that if there's a god and we act accordingly, we're good to go.  But, if there's no god, we haven't lost anything by acting as if there is.  That thought creates an interesting comparison.  

A normal Christian wondering if they're right still has some comfort that the worst that can happen is going off into nothingness.  In contrast, anyone creating a "Christianity" apart from the Bible and those denying there's a god have an interesting set of options.  The best they can expect is nothingness after life.  But the niggling doubt has to bring in thoughts of "I could be in deep trouble if I'm wrong.". So, they have to deny not only Christianity, but their own subconscious doubts of their own stance.  That's a tough place to be.

So, where does that leave us, as Christians?  We need to be in the Word, have good Bible teachers, and love others as Christ would have us to.  The more we truly understand what we do and should believe, we replace those niggling doubts with Truth.  And loving others is all encompassing.  We recall Luke 10:27 (KJV) telling us, "And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.".  But we can't forget that we are an extension of God's love and Romans 5:8 (KJV) describes it as "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.".

That, in itself creates its own contrast.  No matter how poorly taught we are, if we really have a relationship with God, we have some understanding that the image of an angry Old Testament God needs to be filtered through the love in the New Testament.  Everyone else first sees that angry God and may never have the filter applied unless our words, actions and responses to them give a clear picture of that filter.  Jesus wasn't angry at the Pharisees and the money changers because they were sinners.  It was because their thinking had already made themselves "like the Most High" (Isaiah 14:4).

We need to avoid the emotional marketing of unbelievers.  At the same time, we need to love them as Jesus did, while yet sinners. That includes adulterers, thieves, murderers, homosexuals....  If we can say "I am not my sin.", how can we think that others are.  God loves them, too, while hating their sin.  Can we do any less and still call ourselves Christian?  Can we evangelize someone by arguing with them?  Will they listen?  We have to remember that we may be the only Jesus they ever see.  We need to act like it.

At Easter, we often say "He is risen.".  How are we going to display that reality to others by our own lives, this Easter?  And every day?

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