A Cosmic Courtship

 

“Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.”

Right now, in the cosmos, a courtship is underway between two very unlikely lovers. One is the king of all there is. He is literally the King of the Cosmos. The other is a foolish and stubborn individual who is largely unaware of her lover’s interest, or even his existence. She is wandering around trying to make the best of her life in a confusing and dangerous world.

The king who seeks her love has provided a path, a gate, a portal, leading directly to his side. He is ardently hoping that she will pass through that portal and step inside, so that he can woo her and win her love and take her to himself.

He is Jesus, the Son of God.

She is the human race. She is us.

The portal is the Christian gospel.

Opening the gospel, opening the portal, is our prerogative. This cosmic courtship, like any other courtship, must begin with an initial introduction between the parties involved. Otherwise it remains merely a fantasy in the mind of one or the other, and never comes to anything. Once inside, however, the love affair begins in earnest.

The Christian gospel has enormous depth, and levels that humanity will never completely penetrate. But essentially it is a fascinating, emotional, passionate, and still developing love story between Jesus, the undisputed master of the universe, and us, the human race. Jesus is fervently (and almost obsessively) in love with us and has been pursuing us relentlessly for over two thousand years, even to the present day. In the gospel, the unfolding story of his courtship and love is revealed to us.

As a baby, Jesus astonished us. And as an adolescent, we thought him bright and clever. (See the second chapter of Luke’s gospel.) But when he came of age, around 30 years old, we somehow managed to catch his eye and win his heart. Filled with the spirit of love, he began showering us with marvelous and extraordinary gifts in the way of a suitor, and he began talking to us about his family and his father’s kingdom, of which he was heir. We listened, of course, with interest. As time went on he even began to speak of himself as “the bridegroom,” and us as his “pearl.” “A merchant,” he was overheard saying, “went out seeking beautiful pearls. When he found one pearl of great price, he sold all that he had and bought it!” He called us his “vineyard.” He called us his “little flock.” He called us his “treasure.”

Now all this sweet talk eventually found it’s way to the very top echelons of that cosmic realm, where Jesus’ father reigns as king and powerful beings rule in the heavens. The glorious and seraphic members of his father’s court were justifiably taken aback and puzzled at the news of this new love interest. They were quite familiar with Jesus, so there was understandably some shock and wonder and even dismay at this new turn of events. It might be helpful to picture the son of a great king traveling to a poor and remote settlement, and unexpectedly falling in love with an uneducated and very common peasant girl during the course of his visit. Naturally there were other contenders in this love game back home, brilliant, intelligent, well-groomed, and highly qualified, hoping to take their place at Jesus’ side when he became king.

Some of these splendid individuals were genuinely happy for him and wished him nothing but joy and happiness. Others, especially those with exaggerated self-importance, were disturbed and clearly envious, to the point of rage and hostility. One of them, known as Lucifer, decided to intervene directly and see what could be done. (A detailed account of this exchange can be found in the fourth chapter of Matthew’s gospel.) Finding Jesus alone, this gorgeous heavenly luminary showed up and made his pitch, “I can offer you food at the snap of your finger, risk, thrills, and excitement, and unbelievable popularity with the crowds! All you have to do is love me, and me alone!”

This was a tempting offer, to be sure, a wild fling with a dazzling escort. But Jesus thought way too much of his father and his family to run off with that floozy. Besides, he had already fallen in love with us, his treasure, his pearl! Though we were no great prize, we were his choice. He sent that arrogant highborn prince off empty handed with a curt dismissal, and that was that.

It wasn’t too long after this that our relationship with Jesus began to sour. For some unfathomable reason we began to grow alarmed and put up our defenses, questioning his every word and analyzing his motives. Our resistance only seemed to spur him on and strengthen his resolve to win our love. The second chapter of Mark’s gospel records the beginning stages of this angst, which only seemed to gain momentum as time went on.

Then one day Jesus met privately with his father’s legal team. Recorded in the ninth chapter of Mark and known as the “Transfiguration”, it was here that the facts were evidently all laid out on the table: We, the human race, as desirable as we might be, were in fact a convicted race of criminals and outlaws with a rap sheet that included thousands of years of treachery, deceit, murder, rape, war, pillage, carnage, and wholesale wickedness of every imaginable sort. The question begging to be answered was: How was Jesus going to reign over his father’s kingdom of justice, with us at his side as his future bride? Something drastic needed to be done to rectify our legal status, and it was going to be expensive and painful.

Immediately after this meeting we saw Jesus resolutely marching off to Jerusalem, the local seat of government, and declaring his intention of paying off our debt. We learn the rest of the story from the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of Mark. Jesus was brutally crucified and put to death. But the gospel writers were careful to point out that he did it “for our sake.”

And now that the debt was paid and we were cleared of all charges at the price of his blood, Jesus was free to take his beloved bride to himself and carry her home, no?

The tragedy of the story, the cruel twist, is that the bride-to-be, on the eve of her wedding, declined his offer. Remember that poor peasant girl, the one that he fell in love with? That was us. That continues to be us. What were we thinking? We positively rejected him! If the truth were known, we flew in his face in a rage. We told him all the terrible things we imagined he had done. We vowed we wouldn’t marry him if he were the last person on earth.

At this, Jesus went away stung to the heart. And we, the human race, the intended bride-to-be, have spent the last two thousand years trying to justify our behavior. We go over and over the facts as we see them. We argue that he is distant and aloof. Our friends all agree that he is only out to enslave simple-minded people. He has endless rules that he expects us to follow, we contend, and for him enough is never enough. We presume that if we take one step out of line we are cast off forever. He says he loves us, we declare, but we are left to suffer and die…and on and on we go as the years go by.

Then one day quite unexpectedly we find ourselves in his house, perhaps at a wedding, or a funeral. In his house we discover that he is deeply loved and honored by the people who know him and work with him and follow him. They can’t stop talking about him and praising him. As we marvel at this, suddenly someone throws open the gospel door and begins to read, and we are confronted with him face-to-face! There he is, holding out his hand and beckoning us once more to join him!

Deeply embarrassed and covered with confusion at this sudden encounter, we find we have nothing to say. We take flight. We run for the nearest door, jump in our car, and drive far, far away as quickly as possible.

But reflecting on this chance meeting leads us to a more realistic and healthy appraisal of the situation:

  • After all this time he does still appear to have feelings for us.
  • He is, in fact, very rich, which is a consideration.
  • We are older now, we have been pushed around a bit, and we have to admit that we have no other offers on the table, no other prospects for a happy future.
  • The fact is, if truth be told, we are running out of resources, and may be on the verge of some serious hard times.
  • His offer, when seen in this light, does seem quite generous, after all.
  • And he did, a long time ago, pay the price for our freedom.
  • He seems like the kind of person we could learn to love.
  • Perhaps we were too hasty in turning him down?

These new thoughts begin to move about in our brain, and we begin to feel something tender stir in our heart.

And then comes another chance encounter like the one before. Or perhaps we intentionally open that gospel door for another look. Once more, Jesus immediately appears and invites us in. We are still flustered from our earlier meeting, but we are somewhat more prepared, and we feel as though a simple acknowledgement, a thank-you, might be a good way to break the ice. We start to speak, but then it all spills out, “I am so sorry for the way I treated you, for the terrible things I said, for being so thoughtless and cruel. I can scarcely think of my behavior without pain and embarrassment. Is there any way that you could possibly forgive me, give me another chance?…”

Says he, without a moment’s hesitation “I will espouse you to me forever!“ (Hosea 2)

Now that’s direct talk! There’s no mistaking his intentions now! Most of us feel a wave of emotional ecstasy when we realize the implications of what we are being given. A fabulous future at the side of this joyous and generous king, with no legal fine print to dash our hopes!

It may be peculiar to imagine, but all of the ecstasy and disappointment and bliss and sorrow and joy that describe human love and marriage in our world is merely a faint reflection of this central and supreme cosmic drama between us, the human race, and Jesus, the king. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, describes human marriage as “A great mystery. I mean it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32) We are the single object of this divine invitation, and if we have a beating human heart we can respond enthusiastically in the affirmative.

There will come a time when Jesus will have to move ahead with this marriage. He will be forced to dismiss those who have persistently refused his offer. That event, found in Matthew’s gospel chapter 25, will be known as the “Final Judgment” and it will be a very sad time indeed. It is true that many people will turn at the last minute and come back, especially those who have been kind and generous and humanitarian during their lifetime. “Come’” he will say. “Come and receive the inheritance that has been prepared for you, since the foundation of the world!”

Those others, however, who never thought of anyone but themselves, will have to go. With enormous sadness and a breaking heart, Jesus will watch as a sizeable portion of humanity walks away in one final act of senseless defiance. Where will they go? What will they do? Who will take care of them?

It is far from certain that Jesus will ever get over this bitter and tragic disappointment. Nor is it certain that we will soon forget that awful day. The only thing we do know for certain is that the choice is entirely up to us. Happiness and joy (and a complete make-over!) as the bride-to-be, or loneliness and desolation in a dark and terrifying void.

The gospel comes to a close at this point, and we can imagine Jesus saying, “Please end my heart’s torment and say yes to my love.“

The Christian scripture concludes with a book known as “Revelation”, and that book describes the day of our future happiness, our wedding day. It’s not possible to even imagine what that day will be like, except that we will somehow be prepared and adorned, as a bride is adorned for her husband. (Rev. 19)

A 1970s love song from the Carpenters might describe our new life:

“We’ve only just begun, to live, white lace and promises. A kiss for luck and we’re on our way, we’ve only begun!”

Christianity is not a philosophy. It is certainly not a set of rules and regulations. Nor is it irrelevant or outdated or stale or boring. Those things describe what will be left if we pass up this incredible opportunity.

What inexpressible joy awaits us if we simply step through the gospel door and say yes!

 

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Mixing Metaphors

Jean-François_Millet_-_The Sower“The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.”

I have become fixated on the concept of treating Christian evangelism as if it were a political campaign, featuring Jesus as the dominant and exalted candidate for the highest office in the land, and his gospel as the perfect campaign brochure. The idea has taken hold of me.

I am equally fascinated by Jesus’ many remarks, found in the gospels, concerning the topic of agriculture. There are many parallels between his treatment of farming and our understanding of politics. Most Christians would agree that when Jesus spoke of seedtime and harvest, sowing and reaping, weeding, watering, and pruning, he was referring to what he saw as his universal appeal to all the nations of the world.

So what is this “seed” that he often referred to? Jesus, the master gardener, said, “Once there was a man who went out to sow seed…”(Luke 8:5). When his friends questioned him about this story, his answer was, “The seed is the word of God.” (Luke 8:11) I take that to mean the actual words that he himself spoke, as well as the record of his actions while he lived in Palestine, i.e. the gospel.

Seeds are plain and ordinary, right? You pick them up at the garden center in the spring and plant them in your garden. Or you re-seed the bare patches in your lawn. No big deal.

But some seeds are more valuable, and they come with a history. They are called heirloom or heritage seeds, and they have been developed over hundreds of years, perhaps by a single family who has guarded and propagated this particular variety because of its inherent value.

So for the purposes of this article, I want to compare the Christian Bible to a seed catalog:

  • The Old Testament as a record of the history and development of one particular seed.
  • The New Testament (Acts of the Apostles and Letters) as a “how-to” manual for planting and caring for this seed.
  • The Book of Revelation as an analogy to the full-grown plant.
  • The Four Gospels as the actual seeds that need to be planted.

One hundred percent of Christian literature, without exception, is about the seed, but it is not the seed. Apologetics, Christian history, Holy Encyclicals, the lives of the saints, instruction in ministry, books on how-to-live-the-Christian-life, conversion stories, exciting fiction, the coming apocalypse; these are all great and inspiring books, and thank God for them, but they are not the seed. (And nobody said they were.) This noble body of literature is entirely directed towards people who are intent on nourishing the seed that has already been planted in their lives.

Consider the factory worker in Flint, Michigan, who is trying hard to be a good Muslim. Or think about the computer programmer in Seattle who was told by her parents to avoid western philosophies like the plague. How about the successful businessman from South Philadelphia, who meets his family and friends regularly in the Hindu Temple? Christian literature finds no home within them. What bears repeating is that there are over 5 billion of these good people in the world, and they constitute seventy percent of the earth’s population. For them, Christianity is a non-subject. There is an impenetrable spiritual barrier in place that not many humans can cross.

Not many can cross this divide, that is, with the notable exception of the humble postal worker, who can easily step over the barrier and plant a gospel seed as easily as dropping an envelope through the mail slot in the front door or the mailbox at the curb.

The four gospels are the very seeds that Jesus came to deliver, and they were intended for planting. Sending any other Christian literature to our secular world is like sending pictures of corn to a farmer. He doesn’t need pictures. He needs corn seed.

I am of the belief that mailing out single, intact, copies of the gospel is a crucial step in the education and transformation of the world, one that could have a lasting impact on our civilization. I have created a small personal program to do just that. And I would argue that large-scale gospel mailing programs could be successfully carried out in almost every nation on earth where postal services are available. In my opinion nothing else will do. Gospel tracts won’t do. Great Christian literature won’t do. How-to books won’t do. I would like to be a sower of real seed, seed that will take root and grow.

There is a question looming in my mind: Is sending out copies of the gospel a waste of my time? I don’t really know the answer to that question, but I’ve decided to go ahead with my program despite my own doubts, based solely on some old scripture passages that I have admittedly interpreted to suit my own purposes:

  • “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

This passage is most reassuring and would seem to indicate that my program cannot fail. Lord, help my unbelief!

  • The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-9)

The Parable of the Sower is so important in the gospels that it is repeated six times (twice in Matthew, twice in Mark, and twice in Luke). In the story, Jesus throws his seed out indiscriminately and stands back to see what might happen. Some of the seed takes hold and produces prodigiously, while some of the seed does not fare so well. Interestingly, Jesus seems to expect 100% germination, while allowing that only about 25% of the seed will mature.

And paraphrasing some other encouraging words of Jesus:

  • “Don’t bother to weed.” (Matt. 13:24-30)
  • “Don’t fret over your crop. Just leave it alone.” (Mark 4:26-29)
  • “That tiny little seed you are planting will be the biggest crop in your field.” (Mark 4:30-32)

Finally, Jesus’ concept of farming includes the possibility for exponential growth. Jesus predicted that some of those seeds could produce as much as 30, or 60, or 100 fold return. Best to wait and see before getting carried away! But I am eager to observe the outcome of my small gospel-planting project. My hope is that at least some of those who read the actual gospel will modify their way of thinking about Jesus, and believe in the possibility of a world completely immersed in his divine and passionate love.

To mix my metaphors once again, I would like to see many people cast their vote in favor of Jesus, and cultivate his love in their hearts.

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Political Baby Steps

babyanduniverse

“Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.”

 

I am a complete novice when it comes to politics and the process of running a political campaign. I have never been involved in politics at any level, with the exception of helping my friend become president of our senior class at college. Our main strategy at that time was to plaster campaign fliers on every tree and lamppost across campus. It actually worked surprisingly well.

Thinking I would test the concept of running a political campaign for Jesus, I printed up some business cards with His picture on the front, and my website on the back, and got myself into Times Square, New York City. My plan was to distribute the cards to random pedestrians, and assess their reactions. I discovered three things:

Not a single person would take a card from me, or even make eye contact.

When I placed the cards on public benches and tables, they were immediately removed and discarded by custodians working in the area.

If I placed a card on a table that was occupied, the reaction was often ridicule or outright hostility.

I somehow managed to place about 250 cards on public seating locations in Times Square before I lost my nerve and hurried home.

Over the next couple of months I got “hits” on my website from the following countries: United States, Brazil, Canada, India, Italy, Argentina, Portugal, Australia, Philippines, United Kingdom, Chile, Mexico, Albania, and Sri Lanka.

I won’t even try to correlate the hits on my website with the distribution of business cards, but I must say I was encouraged by the apparent interest in Jesus shown by people across the globe.

So how do modern political campaigns get their message out to the masses? One technique that is familiar to many of us is the use of mailing campaigns. Postcards and flyers arrive in the mail describing a candidate’s qualifications, (and the opponent’s shortcomings), in the hopes of educating the electorate. Sometimes these campaigns target specific people at specific addresses, but at other times they are simply addressed to “Local Postal Customer.”

Every Door Direct Mail, or EDDM, is a service of the U.S. Postal Service developed to make mass mailing both easy and inexpensive. No postage permit is required, and no mailing lists are needed. Using their mapping tool, I can hover over an area that I am interested in, select an entire postal route, (typically around 300 households) and arrange for my campaign literature to be delivered to the “local postal customer “at the low cost of $0.18 per mail piece.

Let me repeat that: I can deliver my campaign literature (in this case the Gospel of Mark) to an entire postal route of 300 households, for about $50.00 postage (plus the cost of the printed material). Since each household typically consists of at least 4 people, I will be effectively reaching 1200 people with my candidate’s message every time I conduct an EDDM mailing to an individual postal route.

Unless I’m mistaken, delivering an up-beat message through the mail to prospective voters is probably the most efficient and successful tactic that a politician can employ to win votes during an election. Likewise, a short and pithy biography of the candidate may be just the ticket to a successful campaign. I’m certainly hoping that is the case in this most crucial of all elections. I will keep you up to date on my progress.

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The Power To Govern

Scan

“The Lord is King, the Most High over all the earth”

Our country has just been through a bruising presidential election(in 2016), and for better or for worse, the winner clearly walked away with the power to govern. The loser was given no such power, and really had no recourse but to return to the private sector. You all know what I am talking about.

So winning an election isn’t incidental. When it comes to governing, at least in a democracy, winning an election is everything.

In the history of the world, absolutely nothing ever got done in the absence of a clearly defined leader or head of state. Sometimes a leader would come into power by conquering and subduing a people, and sometimes a long established monarchy was able to hold on to power. But the best kind of rulers, in many cases, were the ones who had been intentionally chosen by the very people seeking to be governed.

As Christians we know that Jesus Christ is High King of Heaven. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega.

But on earth, sad to say, he only has 30% of the vote. And that is just not enough to rule on earth. We Christians want him to govern, and He wants to govern, but until he wins some sort of election, some sort of universal popular acclaim, He has to work behind the scenes in the private sector. (Of course, He could easily conquer and subdue the earth, but He doesn’t seem inclined that way.)

I believe that Jesus is fully aware of this reality. When He set up his special little kingdom among His tiny group of original followers, he basically told them to do two things:

  1. Live your lives as if I were your king.
  2. Spread my gospel (which includes my governing principals) over the entire earth.

To me, that sounds a lot like a political party campaigning for it’s favorite candidate. I don’t mean to be crass, but why should we continue to lose ground when we could be gaining ground just as easily?

I don’t know too much about running a political campaign, but I know that one of the first things, and probably the most important thing, is to get the word out. Print up the campaign literature and pass it out everywhere, particularly where the candidate is not well known. Take his case directly to the people. Let them decide by a simple vote whether or not they want him as their leader.

This question constitutes the main theme of this blog. How is Jesus going to get seven billion people to come to him and ask him to be their ruler?

It is my small uninformed humble opinion that the world’s Christians should begin focusing more energy into printing and shipping individual copies of single gospels (possibly through the mail) to virtually every country on earth, especially to those countries where Christianity has no vital presence. I am not talking about gospel tracts, or how-to books. I am talking about printing the entire gospel of Mark, for instance. Or Luke or John or Matthew, printed in the language of the country of destination. These small booklets are no more than 50 or 60 pages in length and are easily read and understood by normal intelligent people.

I know this is not a new idea, and it is certainly being carried out by lots of individuals and groups all over the place. I’ve made up my mind to join in the effort in my own small way.

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Treating Christian Evangelism like a Political Campaign