Monday, October 26, 2009

Raw Verisimilitude

I’ve been marveling lately over the recoursed voyage the past five/six months (Not to sound as if my vertical climb has evaded the sporadic rocky rumbles).

Truth is the striking reality of my ‘now’ subsists in the fact I can vaguely relate to yore-ish (long-ago) thoughts, feelings, and taxing mentalities I once carried, and with that, I rejoice and exult in this fresh season of elation.

Yes, coming back to Lee had clear, principal value.

However, the sound of a bittersweet symphony has not gone unnoticed either.

For as much as I still treasure the relationships and character/skill-growth opportunities that underscored my Lee ‘term’, eluding the scar-producing memories I still see in the mirror has proven rather grueling, as if trying to pry free from a thorny bush, with no evidence of its former fruit.

Yet, such a veracity has run thick through my veins: the past four days have reminded me how much I’ve moved on.

It’s an alien feeling no doubt, but one that has brought incredible consolation. Past transitional years (i.e. 2004, 2006, 2007) seemed to induce an old ‘self’ that remained overly attached to the 'antecedent world.'

For the first time in my life, I’m not struggling or finding difficulty in pressing onward. It’s one of the greatest emancipations I’ve ever experienced, and a sure-tell sign I've tapped into a higher, more mature lifestyle. Such a sweet settling...

Still I’ve been in a relatively raw zone lately. Perhaps current climatic changes of season have succeeded to arouse altered perspectives in both heart and mind.

However, as my final dish-out of verisimilitude for tonight, I will say inspirational sources have been disembarking from more realms that just the natural.

For now I'll leave the can of suspense open wide and exit with an equation for pondering: Two words. One man. One charge. One mission.

To be continued...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Case of Philemon

A few hours post-Gate men's retreat, I am stirringly convinced that Philemon is the most underrated book in the New Testament.

A thorough analysis of the book is enough to present and pose the argument.

In our group discussion/lecture (led by Pastor Jeff Ling), which included a steady diet of background, content, and application, Paul's appeal to the wealthy slaveowner, Philemon, on behalf of slave, Onesimus, set as the cornerstone of our Scriptural examination.

Two concepts/ideas captured my attention during our pursuit in Philemon:

1) Paul reaffirmed his position as a prisoner of Christ, not once, not twice, but four times in his letter! This is imperative to understand since Paul desired Philemon to understand how both slave and slaveowner are equal before God (see Gal. 3:28). Also, though this epistle classifies primarily as a "personal letter", Paul acknowledges Timothy's presence in part to indicate his want for Philemon's church to receive the message as well. So in other words, the book of Philemon is more than just an exchange between Paul and Philemon - instead, it's a strategic dialogue between laborers and soldiers in Christ with Paul and Philemon serving as primary players of a broader platform. "The church in your house" reference in v. 2 could have been Paul's way of noting Philemon as the pastor of the church that met in his house. Either way, the themes in Paul's letter was to ripple through Philemon's realm of influence.

2) Onesimus risks death by fleeing from Philemon, given the reality of Roman law. But did he have a secondary motive in abandoning his responsibility? Did the idea of future reconciliation cross his mind in his plot of a gallant escape? Paul sheds light on the matter in V. 15, when he states "For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever."

How genius of Paul! Not only does Paul honor Philemon's free will concerning the future of Onesimus, but he furthermore addresses the existence of God's providence in the situation! A chance of a revitalized, renewed relationship was at stake, and Paul sought to drive this point home to Philemon, how in spite of bestowed embarrassment, the best option lied in treating Onesimus with consolation and love (like the thankful father in the prodigal son account).

Note Paul's brilliance in lavishing encouragement on Philemon early in the letter in v. 7 - Paul recognizes Philemon's authentic faith, granting him one of the most honorable phrases saying "the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you." In light of this, Paul beseeches Philemon to apply obedience in forgiving Onesimus of his debt (By doing so, Paul tells Philemon such action would refresh his own heart (v. 20)). Paul even willingly accepts the amount owed to Philemon (based from what Onesimus stole/damaged), a burden symbolic of the Cross. In essence, Paul was paving the way for Philemon to succeed in applying grace and genuine Christian reconciliation from wronged slaveowner to runaway slave.

So why all the hoopla with Philemon? Because it emphatically appeals to a modern-day issue that is just as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago: how to handle broken relationships the right way. Culture and the world screams to retaliate with justice bent on revenge. Paul speaks with a different perspective. No matter how others perceived Onesimus, Philemon's charge was to overlook his prior errors and silence the critics by tending to a cracked bond between slave and slaverowner - a short but sweet representation of our relationship with Christ.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Adamant Fig Tree

A question came to me the other night concerning why Jesus cursed the fig tree post-triumphal entry in Mark 11.

While I succeeded in providing an adequate answer on the spot, I knew further research was in store to suffice my mental impatience/eagerness.

So today at work I managed to uncover a few fresh nuggets of insight…

Like several other instances in the Bible, the account of Jesus scolding the fig tree appears rather random, maybe not ‘Prayer of Jabez’ random, but haphazard nonetheless…at least at first glance.

But boy, how sweet and simple it is to perform a quick front and backcheck when reading the Scriptures.

A frontcheck reveals Jesus was on his way to cleaning out the ‘temple rats.’

A backcheck shows Jesus had just entered Jerusalem on a ‘virgin colt’ (had never been ridden before) on route to the temple for what would be his final week of life/mission on earth.

Before Jesus approaches the temple, the Bible says in v. 12, that Jesus was hungry and noticed a fig tree in leaf. He searched for fruit, but could not find any, thus prompting Him to curse the tree: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”

Now while this may seem harsh, after digging a little, I’m finding Jesus’ purpose for His ‘outburst’ was nothing short of brilliant.

Jesus was and is the Master of symbolism. He most likely cursed the tree, not so much for not baring fruit as compared to not recognizing His identity. Jesus was with God when the tree was made, correct? So regardless if the right conditions were in place for that tree to bear fruit, the fact is the tree should have had something to provide the King of Kings and Lord of Lords as He made His way to clearing the temple.

Think about it. God made the tree for His glory, in likeness to everything else created by His hand. Nature gives glory to God, so we can deduce that the tree was created to give pleasure to God. Sorry, for the ‘duh’ moment, but ‘bear’ with me (pun intended)…

In the case of the fruit-bearing tree, its mission was to...what? That’s right! BEAR FRUIT!!!

Now I know what you’re hummin’ to yourself: The Bible says in v. 13 that “it was not the season for figs.”

But that’s besides the point.

The fact is Jesus needed strength and fulfillment at that particular moment in time, not from just any tree, but from 'that' tree. The Bible bluntly states: Jesus was hungry. Not mildly famished, but ravenous!

Quickly flashing back again to Creation, we find Jesus involved in the very making of the tree. So it's safe to say that no matter what the circumstances were for that tree, no matter what had happened to the tree in the past, the fact is it did not serve or please Jesus when the opportunity presented itself. It did not acknowledge Him. It did not register nor connect with Him. And perhaps most critically, it did not provide Him with what it was created for (i.e. it forsook its original design).

Now it’s interesting to note the correlation between the adamant tree and the people of Israel - particularly the ones who cried out “Hosanna” during the triumphal entry. So many people failed to recognize and identify the true nature of the Messiah when He was right under their nose. Tragically, most were more concerned with their own sense of liberty and freedom from tyranny, that they completely missed a golden opportunity to know the full reason why Christ had arrived!

So on a symbolic level, we can see the cursed fig tree and the people of Israel in the same light in the sense both failed to recognize/acknowledge the identity of Jesus as Savior and Son of God - the very reason Christ came to earth.

But this is only part one.

Upon making his presence known in the temple, the Bible tells us Jesus and His disciples made a return run back to the stubborn fig tree. Peter observes and points out the remarkable transformation of the tree as having withered to the root.

Jesus, seizing the moment, then gives his disciples what would be one of His final faith lessons. He charges them to not just believe, but believe BIG - having the faith of 'anything is possible in Jesus' name.'

V. 23- "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him."

Jesus then interweaves the power of prayer with the illustration, reminding the disciples whatever is asked in His name shall be given.

V. 25 - "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

So what began as a curse eventually metamorphosed into a blessing. Pretty cool, eh?

In short, there's much to take away when we consider the adamant fig tree. For instance, if we forsake the faith and pursue a lifestyle we weren't made for (whether it's some form of debauchery, intentionally walking in unforgiveness, idolatry...whatever)  we will fade away and wither...like the fig tree.  Of course, there are other examples we could elaborate on, but bottom line: if we live a life cut off from the root of faith, we deprive ourselves of bearing fruit. And isn't that why God made us? To glorify and worship Him with what He has given us (i.e. our existence = identity, purpose, calling, mission, character, etc.)? To offer Him our fruit?

In closing, ask yourself: if Jesus spontaneously approached you, would you respond like the tree, and those who cried "Hosanna"....or would you respond with real, radical faith and give Him your everything?

I know for me...if I'm a fig tree, I want to bear as many figs as I can for the glory of God...and while I'm at it, provide others with food for thought...