The Sheep Door

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Sheep are often used as the metaphor for people. Despite our attempts to individuate from everyone else, we are very much a herd animal. Whereas Matthew 18:13 focuses on the individual lost sheep when the Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to find it, todays parable focuses on the rest of the herd.

This story occurs in John 10 following the discourse with religious leaders about the healing of the blind man. Jesus is still speaking to religious leaders trying to help them see beyond their religious framework that has divided people into innies and outies. Like many parables, the audience fails to understand it (v.6). They didn’t recognize that Jesus was calling the religious elite thieves and robbers (v.1-5).

Jesus uses the metaphor of the Good Shepherd and the Door of the Sheep to reveal a truth about himself and compare it to the religious system’s design for access to God. Jesus has been claiming to be God (John 8:58) and proving it by miracles, and the religious leaders want to kill him for it (v.59). The issue is that religion, which was supposed to be a means of bringing people close to God, has instead divided and plundered the people.

This parable is about access to God. (Door)

Sheep are prone to follow. Once they recognize the voice of their shepherd they will follow it (v.4). Sheep know the voice of their shepherd. Jesus is saying, “When it comes to God, people can spot the imitation. It tries to be the shepherd but sheep won’t follow the voice.” At the time, religious law had become so burdensome and tedious that religion had become focused on compliance.  Do you think it’s happening again today? Have we exchanged the voice of God for a message of compliance, obedience, and attendance?

“All that came before me are thieves and robbers (v. 8)”  A second time Jesus charges the religious leadership with plundering the flock. Institutional religion was not serving people, but requiring people to serve it. Religious compliance didn’t bring people to a place of thriving, but instead became burdens too hard to bear. “They preach but don’t practice” (Matthew 23:4). By contrast, Jesus says “I am the Sheep Door and those that go through me (relate to God through an alternative to religion) are saved (rescued/healed/delivered from the plunderer) and go “in and out” (safety and pasture) (John 10:9).

It’s important not insert into this passage the modern evangelical notion of salvation which sees Christianity as an alternative religion. For Jesus, salvation was healing from religious oppression and freedom to go “in and out” between safety and pasture (v.9). He’s offering liberation. This wasn’t a statement about ones eternity, although it can be implied.

By now we know who the thief is (v.1, v.8), it’s organized religion. By contrasting the freedom to go in and out of pasture, Jesus again says the thief only steals, kills and destroys our life (v.10).  This begs the question as to how much of our lives are stolen by thieves. (Career, religion, addictions, unprofitable relationships, etc…) Jesus purpose was the opposite, to show us not only how to live our life, but live it to the fullest (v.10). How to “in” but not “of.

Thieves take. The Shepherd gives.

Of course you can’t subvert religion without paying a price. You can’t offer a disruption to the status quo without the establishment rising against you. This is why Jesus says the Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He contrasts yet again with the “hired hand” (v.12).

The hired hand is the paid clergy. Those who profited from running the temple. They are supposed to do the work of the Shepherd, but instead look out for their own interests. So when the “Wolf” comes the hired hand dodges all the bullets to protect himself or his position. The Good Shepherd stands between the wolf and the flock- lays down his life (v.11).

The Good Shepherd has your back.

What does it mean to lay down your life? For Jesus, he already knew his audience wanted to kill him. He had already escaped their grasp a few times. Laying down his life meant there would come a time when he would not escape because he would no longer even try. There would be a moment when he’d submit to the will of institutional evil, but only to subvert it once and for all. Religion tries to get everyone to God, but the Shepherds death means God has come to everyone in an unexpected way.

God comes (The Door opens) in diverse ways.

When Jesus says, “I have sheep that are not of this fold”, I must bring them also and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (v.16), he’s expanding our consideration of what the flock actually is. Every world religion tries to control and ratify access to God and create uniformity through compliance. Jesus seems to indicate that we may be surprised by who is a part of the flock. His flock has unity as well as diversity.

So what is the path to God?

Jesus connects all these dots by charting the course. He’s the door (the archetype of what it will look like for you) (thlebo-constricted).  First, it’s a downward path, “I lay down my life” and then it’s a turn upward “I have authority to take it up again.” This is the path given by God the Father (v.18). This is clearly a foreshadow of Jesus death and resurrection, but in a cosmic sense it’s the outline for the Christoform pattern which is: life, death, burial, and renewal. Everything from stars to smoothies follows this course. The path to God is not the ascent offered by any religion, but the descent, (death of the self, ego, pride) that leads to renewal (a new life, abundant life), that leads to a new humanity (green pastures) that is marked by humility, unity and peace.

How much of your life has been stolen by thieves? Does the idea that religion is stealing your life offend you? Have you traded an experience with God for religious practice?

Try following the voice of the Shepherd through the Sheep Door rather than your religion. Have faith that God is your ultimate caretaker. Trust that God has your back.

The pattern is set. The price has been paid. We know we are free when we can surrender the outcome of our life.


Day Labor and Justice for All

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Of the more than fifty thousand people that will hear this broadcast this week, many will think my cheese has slid right off the cracker. The topic of justice is so central to our framework of ultimate reality (God) that it’s nearly impossible for us to see beyond it. As an online pastor, I’m not paid to pander to my core base and I don’t receive a single dime for this ministry, I’m free to teach this parable how it was intended. Do I have your attention?

In case you think I’ve misinterpreted this passage, I have prepared a list of 132 verses throughout scripture where you can read for yourself that God’s goal of justice NOT about getting even, but about making all things whole.

Last week I explained why truth is always disappointing at first. We pridefully assume we posses the truth and thus we immediately disregard alternative perspectives due to our binary framework of thinking. Will you be a student (disciple) and remain humble enough to receive this? If so, your life is about to change.

The only justice most of us have is retribution. Retribution is the idea that justice is about evening the score (eye for an eye). Retributive justice is the lens through which nearly everyone we know has understood God and the bible. Retribution is the basis of Religion’s power plays and fear tactics. It’s a tribal and mythological way to understand and thus fear deities. In the bible, there are countless texts that reflect this human bias, however if we keep reading, an alternative form of justice (restoration) always emerges (included in link above).

Retribution means God will do something severe to “those people” who aren’t as good as us, or who don’t believe like us, or who aren’t as smart, clever or lucky as us. In fact many religious people are strangely comforted by believing God will get even with those not like us. Our core belief says; “I’m on God’s side, and they aren’t.” Like Esau, we comfort ourself with the death of our brother (Genesis 27:42)

Jesus told a story about the Justice of Heaven and it destroyed the expectations of his audience and if I tell it correctly it will do the same to much of mine. How do you understand the justice of heaven? Do only a few get to go? Among most religions, God fails to save most of humanity. The story line is theologically untenable, but for lack of an alternative we hold on to it.

It was the same in Jesus day. Historical Judaism was the elite religion that had the one true God. The temple and its leaders then ran roughshod with ethical violence to gain compliance from the masses and appease their angry God. Like all of Jesus teachings, he subverts these ideas by reframing reality, I hope to do this for you today.

The parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) eradicates retributive justice. The story tells of a manager of field who hires workers at the beginning of the day and each worker agrees to work for a denarius (a days wage). Every couple of hours the manager goes out to the city and finds more people to come and join the work, offering each a day’s wage. He does this up to the very last hour of work.

When it’s time for payment, those hired last are given a full-days wage. This continues down the line to those who bore the work in the heat of the day (v.12), each getting a denarius. Those hired first are furious. “It’s unfair” they say (v.12). That is precisely how we know Jesus is teaching about justice. We latch on to retribution when we perceive life as unfair.

The hiring manager responds unexpectedly (v.14). He scolds those hired first for trying to begrudge the manager for his generosity. This is our clue to Heaven and why some people will not accept heaven on its terms. For them, an “unfair” Heaven is not heaven. Many hate how unfair heaven actually is (both now and later).

The manager (God) is not dividing us up into good, better and best, that’s what religion does. The goal is to make everyone whole (thus the symbolism of the denarius). Each person receives enough. Heaven is not a meritocracy. We don’t earn it. Regardless of our proximity to it, first or last, (19:30, 20:16) wholeness is given to all.

Restoration for everyone are the terms of heaven, we all must agree to those terms (v.13). That easier for those who haven’t labored much. Those with the most skin in the game (entrenched in religion) prefer retribution and merit over restoration and wholeness.  Imagine a roller coaster that everyone gets to ride, but our place in line has no bearing on when. Heaven is not “First come, first serve,” it’s “all come, all served.”

Hell then, is hating the justice of heaven and clinging to what is fair. Does this message disappoint you too? I think this is why the gates of heaven are always open and the river of life flows out of the city to heal the disappointed (Revelations 22:2).

The justice of heaven is not based on the merit of some. It’s based in love for all. Restoration is justice because it makes all things whole, complete and justified.  Restoration understands we all fall short (Romans 3:23). Small or large it’s still an uncrossable gap. So at the right time God makes us whole for no other reason than love and desire. Restoration, not retribution most optimally glorifies God. The athlete who never drops a ball has more glory than the one who only catches perfect throws.

Jesus concludes with the famous words: “ The first will be last and the last will be first.” It’s paradoxical that those who think they are closest to Heaven are actually farthest from it, while hose who can’t even describe themselves as insiders are so much closer because they understand that it wasn’t them that put them there. Prostitutes and sinners will enter before the religious (Matthew 21:31).

Do you realize that both the humble and the proud are shocked at Ultimate Reality?  This means none of us got it right? How could we? None of us possess all the truth.  Restoration is far better than meeting our expectations. Those who expected ruin find new life, those who expect congratulations find disappointment.

Only when all comers lay down our “right” to complain,  do we create the space for restoration and gain the eyes to see the Kingdom of Heaven.  The question before us today is: are you ok with the managers generosity? If you insist on fairness, then heaven will be your greatest disappointment.

Seeing and NOT seeing…

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In children’s movies there are jokes intended only for parents. Children don’t possess the necessary categories to understand a parents grasp of reality. It’s another way of saying that reality (as it is for kids) is not reality as it actually is. There is an innocence to this.

The same principal applies to adults. Like children, we only live at the height of our conscious awareness and never beyond it. As we gain wider aspects of truth, the bigger picture emerges which displaces our previous (smaller) version of reality. We call this maturity, spiritual growth, enlightenment, or salvation. Most people don’t realize this to be a deeply spiritual process especially when viewed in everyday frameworks. Gaining truth is always a spiritual process.

Spiritual blindness then is the inability or unwillingness to see beyond one’s reality. It’s a blindspot and we need help from the outside in order to see it. Blindness is when we lack the necessary light (help) in order to see.

The story of Jesus healing the man born blind (John 9:1-41) is more about spiritual sight than physical sight. The healing illuminates some who witnessed it (v.17), but casts a shadow on those who reject an alternative reality to their own (v.18). The entire story is a debate over the mechanism of healing with religious leaders who reject that mechanism. Many times in scripture, a physical healing is a means to new levels of spiritual seeing.

This story (like last weeks) is embedded within a larger discourse. John 8:12-9:41 explains Jesus’ claim to be the Light of the World.  Light is what makes sight possible. World here is the Greek term “cosmos” referring to “all people.This means it isn’t limited to a particular religion, tribe or strata of humanity.  Spiritual light is all moments of seeing truth, whether the subject is drywall or God. Everybody gets this.

Religion’s main commodity is it’s exclusive claim to know the truth. It has created competitive religions. This fallacy is seen in this story as well as our modern age. If your church, temple, or mosque claims it has the only valid cinnamon roll recipe, then it sees about as well as the pharisees in the story (not very well). Jesus seemed to be pretty convinced of two things: First, that those who think they can see actually can’t (v.41), and second, that if anybody, anywhere has any spiritual sight at all, it was because he provided the light (John 8:12). Following the light (John 9:12) doesn’t produce the seeing (as religion claims), but vice-versa.

Jesus is revealing a cosmic dimension of himself. “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).    This proves Jesus is not establishing a new religion, rather that if anyone ever has a transcendent moment with their creator, it was possible only by the cosmic work of Christ. All experiences with truth are valid, they are all Christ experiences.

Surgeons use bright lights. Light produces good judgement (John 7:24, 8:16, 26, 9:39), which is not only the backbone this entire discourse, but the entire purpose of Jesus coming into the world. The light of the world allows all of us into a bigger reality once we (who were also born blind) gain eyes to see.

One of the most famous verses in the bible is: “The Truth will set you free…” (John 8:32). Like the surgeon, truth is the by-product of bright light. Truth discerns shadow from the real shape of reality.  What most people don’t realize is that this passage is directed toward the religious who started to relax their rigid interpretations of reality. The promise of freedom is offered to those who stay the course (“abide” meno v.31) “of relaxing” and remain students (“disciple” mathetai v.31) of the truth (“word” logos v.31).  This is a much wider, inclusive message than “Only Christians will be set free.Freedom comes when we see the light of God shining within every perspective.

What if the surgeon sees cancer but doesn’t cut it out? What if we ignore the weight limit on our bridge? Truth, like bright light, exposes aspects of reality we would prefer didn’t exist. Dim light makes us all appear better than we are. Once a blind spot is illuminated, we are no longer blind to it. Light then, also makes us responsible and accountable to the truth it reveals. What light have you rejected today?

What would Islam say to a prophet arising who was not Muslim? What would science say to a theory of the cosmos that undermines evolution? What do Republicans say about reform that comes from Democrats? And vice-versa? What do the proud and elite say to those who promote humility and equality?

These questions prove the point within this passage. We often choose our blindspots. “People love darkness rather than the light, because their works were evil” (John 3:19). When we hide from the light (like a cockroach) we prove that we don’t really want the truth like we say we do. If we can reject the truth by undermining the messenger, then we don’t have to undergo its transformation process.  As someone who should know better (the church), our rejection of the truth is an enormous indictment. ” If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘we see,’ your guilt remains.” (John 9:10).

Jesus reveals universal reality (God) as synonymous with Truth. With every expansion of truth, there is a corresponding lift and benefit to humanity. Conversely, with the truth that we fail to apprehend or apply, there is a corresponding decline and increase of human suffering.  Spiritual sight reveals that every problem is ultimately a truth (theological) problem.

We all have some truth, yet none possesses all truth. Thus we are only partial believers (followers) of the truth. The antidote is to humbly exchange our truth (not debate) and learn from one another (disciple/student).

The worst thing we can do to ourselves and this world is to reject the truth and close our eyes to the light of the world. Rejecting Truth is easy, just insist that the truth you possess is all there is.

Arguing our truth, rather than exchanging it, is the most godless thing we can do.




Arguments, adultery, and dirt…

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I’m retelling familiar stories so that we can hear them again for the very first time. Anyone with a little bible knowledge is likely familiar with the woman caught in the act of adultery. The context of the story is easily missed, but enlarges its message from the story of forgiveness we’ve all been given.

Early manuscripts of the bible don’t contain John 7:53-8:11, (the woman caught in the act of adultery). This passage was added later during the transcription process. It’s inclusion doesn’t diminish it’s historical accuracy, if anything it bolsters it because greater consensus is required for later additions.

It’s important to recognize that it’s an insertion. The content is obviously vital to the context. The story as inserted, is essentially sandwiched amidst a big argument between Jesus and the religious leaders.

Jesus miracles and teachings, as I’ve shown, are square in the face of religious practice. He is not rebelling, nor ignoring, nor diminishing the religious law, rather he is reorienting people from the letter to the heart of the law so that God is not lost in abstraction. Jesus is fulfilling the law by reorienting it within the flow of life.

The big argument is whether Jesus is the promised messiah of Jewish prophesy. The crowds were saying he was. The religious, who should know better, were trapped in their history and books. Jesus main contention was that religious people were judging based on appearance instead of right judgment (John 7:24).  They couldn’t recognize their own Messiah because he didn’t fit into their box. God’s message and work are beyond expectations or religious predictions.

Back to the inserted story.

On the last day of the feast, when everyone except the religious had concluded that Jesus must be the promised Messiah (v.31), Jesus stands up and cries out to everyone that “if they are thirsty, they should come to him so their hearts will flow rivers of living water (v.37-38). According to Jewish prophets, God is Living Water. Jesus is saying; “I am lasting refreshment to everyone (not just Jews) in this godless desert.” This just incites the religious mind, so much so that they are determined to test him (John 8:6).

The next morning (the feast is over and the lamps of the festival are now put out) Jesus is back in the temple teaching. The religious leaders bring a woman whom they caught in the act of adultery to see if he will obey the religious law or not.

Jesus immediately recognizes that these religious leaders are not obeying their own law. If they had, they would have brought both the man and the woman (Leviticus 20:10). If you’ve ever seen this story as a bit one-sided, then you were right.

Jesus pauses quietly and writes something in the dirt. Then he says those without sin may throw the first stone at her (v.7) and goes back to writing in the dirt. As the accusers each drop their stones (older to younger) Jesus graces the woman with equal treatment that the Pharisees had already given to the man.

So what is with all the writing in the dirt?

While we can’t be certain, some scholars believe Jesus was actually writing their names in the dirt. This makes sense to me and here is why:

“O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.” -Jeremiah 17:13

Sound familiar? Do you see the meta-narrative emerging between the lines?

The central argument that started with John the baptist is that the promised Messiah has come into the world. Jesus teaching and miracles validated him  as the chosen one sent by God (John 7:29), and everyone but the most religious were able to believe it. Those most knowledgeable about the Messiah cannot get beyond their rigid framework.

Forgiving the adulterer introduced people to a new kingdom that runs on the principals of the law (love, justice, equality, humanity) but which had been lost within the system of compliance and measurement. The river of life flows from those who trust in the flow of the head waters and not the reservoir. The flow for this woman and for all of us is that there is no one who condemns us. Can you get into that flow or do you have a religious framework that refuses to believe that is true for everyone?

Religion and personal faith are intended to serve the person, NOT imprison the person into servitude of the faith (Mark 2:27- “The Sabbath was made for man…”) This is one of the reasons why I moved my ministry online.  I could no longer invite people into a system of captivity that sells itself as an evacuation strategy from a suffering world.  Like the woman, the river of living water puts us back into our life with a new awareness that WE ARE NOT CONDEMNED. Like Jesus, I discovered, everyone can see this except the religious. Unbelief does not bring condemnation, it is the condemning of oneself that births unbelief.

The story continues along with the argument after this woman leaves. Without blinking an eye Jesus again subverts the religious power plays with love and grace. With the festival lamps now extinguished, Jesus takes the opportunity to announce that he is the “Light of the World” (John 8:12).  He is the bread of life, the river of living water and the light of the world. Now who in the right mind would rather have their religion in stead of that?