Jesus ‘Lost Years’ far from a teenage wasteland

Approximately 2,000 years ago today, Jesus Christ was alive and walking the earth – and he was becoming a teenager! Wrap your mind around that one.

What must life have been like for, and with, a teenage Jesus? The last thing that we know for sure about him is just before this period, and comes from Luke’s Gospel.

At age 12, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem during the Passover festival. When the festival was over they left, and at some point realized that Jesus was not with their traveling party.

The worried parents returned to the city and searched for three days. Finally they found him, sitting in the courtyards at the Temple, questioning the teachers.

It was at this point, if they didn’t already have an idea, that Mary and Joseph got some sense of what was in store for the family. Jesus was amazing the teachers with both his questions and with his own comments in his understanding.

But while they were themselves impressed to hear their pre-teen son, they were also worried parents. Have you ever lost a child, even for a moment? Remember how frantic those few moments were? How about three days lost?

Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you!” said Mary, his mother. And what was Jesus’ reply? An apology? To run crying into his mommy’s arms? Not even close. “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?

By all accounts, his tone was innocent and matter-of-fact, not wise-cracking. Luke relates that he returned to Nazareth with them, and was obedient to them, and that Mary treasured all she had seen and heard in her heart. So she obviously took it well, not as an incidence of insolence or disobedience or disrespect.

Luke then goes on to tell the only ideas that we know about Jesus from that point until his public ministry begins a decade and a half later: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” What must those years have actually been like? Especially those next few teenage years, with puberty and hormones and body growth for our Lord?

Anything that anyone tries to say, and many have, is purely speculation. But there are some things that we should be able to surmise as being fairly certain, especially in light of Luke’s glowing words about his apparently steady growth as a young man.

Jesus did not grow through those teen years in isolation. His mother and father were with him, of course. His mother for the entirety, and his father for a significant portion of his teenage years. Various accounts of his later life also refer to brothers and sisters. This could, however, mean almost anything.

A respected account written in the years immediately after Mary’s lifespan known as the ‘Protoevangelium of James’ teaches that she was indeed a virgin for life, raised holy by her own mother Anne, to be devoted in service to the upbringing of the Lord. It is not hard to accept that Mary, a teenager herself when Jesus was born, would remain a virgin devoted to raising, educating, and serving him. A real key to his teenage years lies with his earthly ‘father’, Joseph.

So what was Joseph’s role and why was it so vital? James tells that even though Mary was dedicated to her purity, her family still required a guardian, or a chaperone of sorts, to guarantee this reputation of her cleanliness. Joseph was a respected elderly widow in the community who already had children, and was chosen for all these reasons by the family for the role.

So Jesus was raised in a household that included his mother and father, his stepbrothers and sisters, and possibly even more children from extended family such as cousins, as put forth by Jerome in his fourth century scholarly writings. A bustling home where Jesus got to play, work, learn, and otherwise interact with others in a family setting.

It is not too hard to understand how Jesus spent his time in these years either. With Joseph known to have been a carpenter, likely a highly skilled and well-paid one with a strong professional reputation, Jesus would have been taught this craft from his earliest years. He and his male family members would have been raised to be such craftsmen as well, and they would likely have been working regularly.

So for those who need a clearer picture of the teenage Jesus, and then on into his early-mid 20’s during his pre-ministry life, the picture is simple: a young man growing in an active, large family setting, working in his father’s business, and also being trained religiously and spiritually by his mother. It is a decade and a half to be noted for it’s normalcy in the human world of 1st century Palestinian Judaism.

As Jesus emerged into his public ministry, we can also glean another important incident that happened at some point during those ‘missing’ years: the death of Joseph. Such an important event would absolutely have been documented by his followers during the Gospel years. And at his crucifixion, he entrusts Mary’s care to one of them, not to Joseph.

Joseph was much older than Mary. He took on the role as protector of her honor. When she turned up pregnant due to the Incarnation of Jesus, he continued to fight for her honor, and in part thanks to his own spiritual awakening and inspiration he raised Jesus as his own. And then at some point, most likely when Jesus was well-trained, Joseph passed away.

It is not hard to imagine the family, with Jesus around 20 years of age, having been formally trained and working with his father and his ‘brothers’ for years in the surrounding community, suffering the loss of this elderly patriarch. They would have mourned and buried Joseph together, and Jesus would have provided both emotional support for his mother, but also material support in continuing his earthly work.

This was the life of the teenage Jesus of Nazareth: learning the carpentry and artisan craft from Joseph, gaining a familial and spiritual foundation from Mary, interacting with his adoptive brothers and sisters in this setting. He helped support his family during the period around the death of Joseph, and into his early adulthood.

It is here that we formally pick up the story in the Gospels. Jesus’ life will change forever with two primary spiritual events: his baptism at the river Jordan by his cousin, John the Baptist, and his subsequent 40-day and night stay in the Judaean desert where he meditated and where he was tempted by the devil. On emerging from the desert, Jesus will begin his public ministry.

At what price your soul?

We’re all human. We’re all weak. We all yield to sins of the flesh at one time or another in our lives. We all misplace our priorities from time to time.

Some of us live in a perpetual state of yielding to temptation. There are many among us who willingly commit sins, often the same ones over and over, and who believe that we have time to overcome these. We’ll stop. We’ll make amends. We’ll confess, and do penance, and pray, and convert our lives. Just not yet. Not today. Not this moment. I need one more.

When we willfully and repeatedly engage in the same sin, over and over, in full knowledge that this is exactly what we are doing, then we have given over a portion of our lives to the devil. We may as well have sat down across a table from Satan and shook his hand over the deal.

There are many who call themselves Christians who on this very day are living a life of sin. They are carrying on an extra-marital affair, either cheating on their own spouse, or engaging in a relationship with someone who is married, or both. They are stealing from a business, social organization, charity, maybe even a church. They are selling drugs, or taking illicit drugs.

I don’t think that I am over-stating things at all if I make the unverifiable claim that there are literally millions of alleged “Christians” across the globe committing these sins, and many others, on a regular basis. Maybe you have been in the past, maybe you are right at this moment, one of them.

If we do indeed truly believe that Jesus Christ is our personal savior, that he willingly gave up his life on a cross for the very sins that we are committing, then how long can we keep doing so without our conscience overwhelming us and giving us pause?

At some point or another, if we are lucky, every one of us is going to be forced to answer a simple question: how much is our soul worth, exactly? I say “if we are lucky” because, unfortunately, some won’t ever get to answer the question. They will die in that state of perpetual sin, without having made those amends, without having received that gift of forgiveness.

Maybe they will die in a sudden auto accident. Maybe they will be overwhelmed with a sudden serious medical condition. Perhaps they will be suddenly murdered. Trip down a flight of stairs, hit by a bus while riding a bike, struck by lightening. Won’t happen to you? Sure it will. These things happen to real human beings every single day. Something, some day, is going to take your life. Do you know exactly when, where, and how that will happen?

Satan let you have the man you desired. He gave you access to the money you wanted. He is happy to stand in witness to the drug deal in which you are taking part. He will gladly stand watch for you while you swipe the money from the company safe.

He’ll be happy to help you, and be non-judgmental, even encouraging, in doing so. He’ll tell you that you deserve it, that you have it coming to you, that you are worth it all. It’s what Lucifer does. He whispers into our ears every beautiful lie that we ever wanted to hear.

And there are many who simply don’t believe any of it, in the devil or even in God for that matter. They’re the dark one’s favorites. The old saying remains true, that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing people that he didn’t exist.

You are human, so it is very likely that you are sinning regularly in your life. What are you doing, or not doing? What is your sin? Coveting your neighbor’s goods? Perhaps his wife, maybe even to the point of committing adultery? Bringing dishonor to your parents? Not keeping the Sabbath holy by attending church services? Do you place work, or school, or some club ahead of your relationship with God? Have you lied? Have you killed, including participating in the death of an unborn child?

In any of these circumstances, you have broken one of the Ten Commandments, the most basic laws for man as handed down by God. Beyond that, have you shown love for your neighbor, or turned your back when you had an opportunity to help someone in need? Have you loved God as best as you possibly could? These were the commandments that Jesus added to us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

We all need to recognize that there is a price to pay for our sins. Jesus willingly gave up his life for us, he paid the price for our sins already. That is a truth. However, it doesn’t mean that we can now just do whatever we please. Hey, I’m going to go out and drink, do drugs, curse, fight, swear, and fornicate. And thank you, Jesus! I won’t have to pay with my soul!

No, that’s not how it works. You have to believe in Him. Jesus also said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father except through me.” When you sin willfully, you are turning your back on Christ’s gift. You are telling him that you don’t care – you are going to do what you want any way. You are choosing to sin and choosing to be separate from him and his grace.

What price is worth you giving up your soul? What moment of physical gratification, what amount of money, what time in the public spotlight, what adulation from humans, what excess of revelry and debauchery is enough? You will indeed die one day. We all do. You might get 15 years, or 50 years, or 100 years, but your time will come. How much for your place in eternity?

Stop every once in awhile to think about that concept: eternity. We generally live to about 80 years of age, if we are lucky. What is 80 years compared to 800? What would 800 be compared to 8,000. What are those 8,000 years against 8 million? You think existing for 8 million years would be long? Well, that doesn’t even measure as a speck of dust compared with all eternity.

You need to stop sinning now. Free yourself from whatever deal you made with the devil. He does not have ultimate power over you. There is no such thing as an unbreakable deal for your soul, as long as you are alive still. Renounce him, and embrace the truth of Jesus Christ and the price he paid already for you. Give up the person, or the action, or the things of your sin.

The honest answer is that there is no price whatsoever that is worth your eternal soul. You should be ashamed that you are sinning at all, if you just remember the ridicule, torture, agony, and ultimate horrifying death that Christ suffered for you. He did it because God loves you. Still, in your sin, God loves you.

Turn away, and turn back to God. The price of sin is not worth an eternity in the soulless agony of hell that is the miserable separation from your Creator. The joy, peace, and love found in God’s embrace now and ultimately for an eternity in heaven will dwarf anything found in your sin.

Will Freedom of the Press Fall in Winter?

I like to consider myself a “Constitutionalist” – I’m a big fan of the United States Constitution. I believe it to be one of the most inspired governmental documents that mankind has ever conceived.

I believe that in court rulings it should be interpreted narrowly by modern jurists.

I also believe that the Constitution as originally conceived by our nation’s Founding Fathers was inspired by God Almighty, and that America has received blessings over our history because of a continued striving towards what we stated from the very beginning when we declared ourselves free: that men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The U.S. Constitution has built into it an ‘amendment’ process, a means of altering, adding to, or taking away from the freedoms guaranteed to “We the People” by our nation and it’s laws.

This amendment process has been successfully utilized to do just that in the past. There have been 27 amendments to the Constitution which have been ‘ratified’, or passed into law by the states.

The first ten of these amendments came almost immediately. Within a couple of years of the original Constitution being ratified, the first ten amendments had been proposed and added.

They became collectively known as the “Bill of Rights“, and contain protections to freedoms that we all as Americans have come to take for granted. Included among them was this very first amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

There is divinely inspired genius right there in the body of the First Amendment. It encapsulates in a few sentences our basic freedoms of religion (not from religion, by the way), our freedom of speech, our free press, and our right to gather in protest of the government itself when we have legitimate grievances.

Why was a freedom “of the press” deemed to be so important? It is my position that it was of basic, fundamental importance back then in colonial times, and remains just as important today. This freedom, like many others in that beautiful document, is under attack from a government that increasingly does not like being restricted by such constitutional principles.

Let me preface this particular discussion also with the fact that my choice of professions has been in law enforcement. I have been an American law enforcement officer for more than 23 years. Between myself and other members of my family, we have served our municipality in this role for more than a half century.

I make that preface in admittance of the fact that there has always been and will continue to be a tension at times between the two professions of law enforcement and the media. We recognize the importance and necessity of their role, but we always strive to ensure our first priority of protecting evidence and preserving certain facts and knowledge as we pursue justice for victims of criminal acts.

The media simply should not have the absolute final say in releasing all the details to the public of the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of every crime.

I think we can all agree on the common sense of wanting to protect certain aspects of an investigation for public safety and/or prosecutorial reasons. Sometimes we disagree with the media on the particulars, and these circumstances are often decided by judges in the specific court cases.

We have to try to ensure that people do indeed receive a fair trial, which would be pretty difficult if the media presented all of the evidence and testimony on public news broadcasts before and during such legal proceedings, that much is obvious to anyone. Cases simply cannot be tried through television presentations by TV anchors and reporters.

The role of the media is to keep the public informed. They also have an investigative role: to ensure that the public is indeed receiving truthful information from not only law enforcement, but the government as a whole. This is the vital import of the purpose of including a “Freedom of the Press” within the First Amendment: to ensure that a corrupt government, or individual corrupt officials, or specific corrupt instances do not occur without the knowledge of the American people.

All of this prefaces the current case of Fox News reporter Jana Winter, who is under attack from the state of Colorado in relation to her reporting on the sensational case of mass murderer James Holmes. He is the man who went on a shooting rampage inside an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, killing 12 and injuring dozens more during a premier showing of the film “Batman, The Dark Knight Rises” in July 2012.

Less than a week after the shooting, Winter reported that Holmes had sent a notebook which supposedly contains written descriptions, drawings and other illustrations of the attack he was then planning to a University of Colorado psychiatrist prior to the shooting. Winter claimed that she had received the information regarding the notebook from unidentified “law enforcement sources.” There is a belief that this notebook sat unopened in the university mail room for as much as a week prior to the shooting.

Defense attorneys were disturbed by Winter’s reporting, claiming that it violated a judge’s gag order, and that it denied Holmes a fair trial by leaking potentially incriminating information. Various law enforcement officers were interviewed, and all denied being the source. The judge in the case then ordered Winters to turn over all of her relevant materials by this coming January.

On her side, Winter has denied the court’s request. She has traveled to Colorado from her New York home base four times in relation to the case. She claims that the right to protect her sources is guaranteed by the First Amendment, and even additionally by New York’s media shield laws which give reporters in the Empire State absolute protections in confidential newsgathering, including a right to keep sources private.

Colorado has similar media shield laws, but they are far less protective for reporters, and include that members of the media can be jailed for refusal to name sources, which cannot happen in New York. In short, if ultimately forced to travel to Colorado in January and turn over the materials, and on refusal of same, she could be jailed until such times as she complies with the judge’s order.

Winter has been fighting against being forced to turn over the information. In New York, she narrowly lost a 3-2 decision in a lower court back in March. One of the dissenting judge’s noted the importance of her stand when he commented that she “relies upon confidential sources for her livelihood” further stating that “her sources would not speak to her if she divulged their identities.” The judge also correctly pointed out that forcing her to release these sources would be “nothing short of undermining her career, the very means of her livelihood.

This coming Tuesday, Jana Winter will return to court, this time in Albany in front of the highest court in the state. There the New York State Court of Appeals will hear her plea to reverse that lower court ruling. It may be her last chance to lawfully avoid that January trip to Colorado where her credibility or her freedom will be put on the stand.

It’s a shame that things have reached this stage in the United States of America. Jana Winter didn’t kill anyone, James Holmes did, and that is where all of the focus and effort should be in this case. Winter is simply a reporter who was given interesting information in a high-profile case by a member of law enforcement. She then reported on the information, which was indeed interesting at the time, under the belief that reporting from New York she had certain protections.

The information released by Winter was no more sensational than what Holmes actually did, in fact it was far less. Holmes walked into a movie theater and in front of hundreds of witnesses he blasted away at the heart of a Colorado community. There is tons of evidence against James Holmes. The simple revelation of the existence of the journal and drawings does nothing to change what Holmes did that night, and nothing that alters his guilt.

There are legitimate issues raised by the presence of the journal and the drawings. Did someone know about the intentions of James Holmes before the shooting took place? Was someone informed who then chose to ignore or lessen the importance of the information? Did the university or any of it’s employees, even law enforcement itself have any knowledge of the danger posed by Holmes prior to the shooting?

Even if none of them knew, could they or should they have known? The public has a legitimate right to know whether Holmes attack could have been avoided.

From where I sit, seeing both sides of the issue, this is simply an attack against the First Amendment itself. Yes, the media has responsibilities. A responsibility to respect the criminal case. A responsibility to not release vital evidence of importance to the successful defense or prosecution of a criminal case. I fail to see how that responsibility was abridged in this case.

The media also has a responsibility to the public, and it also has Constitutional rights in pursuing and ensuring that it meets that responsibility. That right to truthfully and completely report a story on behalf of the American public is what Jana Winter did on Fox News. Let’s hope the higher court makes the right decision in the coming week, for her, and for all of us.

The Fall

Here on earth, it’s the “Fall” season, and last night we were reminded of that fact with the now-annual modern rite of the “Fall Back” act of turning clocks back one hour in a return to standard time from daylight savings time.

But those are not what we’re going to talk about here in reference to the Fall. We’re going to take a look back at mankind’s fall from grace, and even further back, to the fall from heaven which led to that one in Eden.

Most people are aware of the name “Lucifer”, and in Christian tradition the name has been assigned to the principal angel with glory as bright as the morning star who led a revolt in heaven against God.

The term Lucifer should not, however, be understood to be a proper name of “the Devil” or “Satan”, merely a reference to that state from which he has fallen, that place in the glory of heaven itself.

The devil is but one of what were originally angelic creatures created by God as spiritual beings in a state of innocence. They ultimately became evil as a result of their own willful act, and when this act saw them cast out in the first ‘Fall from Heaven’, they turned their gaze towards God’s human creation, leading us to sin and to our own separation, or the ‘Fall of Man’ from paradise.

That first fall of the angels came when, as Isaiah told in reference to the King of Babylon in his own day, and as is applied originally to Lucifer “Thou said in thy heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit in the mountain of the covenant, in the sides of the north, I will ascend above the height of the clouds, I will be like the most High.

The angel known as Lucifer led a rebellion of angels in heaven, seeking a place above God. The result was a war like none ever seen here on earth. As described in “Revelation” or the “Apocalypse“: “there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon (Lucifer), and the dragon fought and his angels, and they prevailed not…”

The result of this rebellion, and the victory by Michael and the angels of heaven, was the ‘Fall from Heaven’ referred to earlier: “..neither was their place found anymore in heaven. And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduces the whole world; and he was cast unto the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”

Lucifer/Satan had ultimately committed the first sin of “pride”, or the excessive love of one’s own excellence. Through the love of his own worth, he attempted to withdraw himself from subjection to Almighty God. He was able to get the angels opposed to the Divine Incarnation to follow him.

These angels were jealous at the very thought of a lesser being, a human, being raised above them. That is how they saw Jesus, a man who would be raised above them.

So cast out of heaven, and free to roam the earth, full of hate and anger, Satan looked around at the beauty of God’s creation. This earth was a place of natural beauty and wonder, and to populate it the Lord had created mankind in his own image and likeness, a creature of perfect innocence and integrity.

Satan immediately saw the weakness in this creation: man was in the image and likeness of God, but was, of course, not God. Man was made of flesh, and in that flesh lay the very weakness that Satan would exploit. His goal? To separate man from God forever. Why? To hurt God, of course. A victory in heaven denied, Satan would now seek victory on and dominion over the earth.

When God created man, who we know as ‘Adam’, he did not intend for us to have dominion over the entire earth. That right was reserved to God alone. But man was given great freedom and responsibility to care for the earth, the ‘Garden of Eden’ where that first man Adam was set, and he was permitted to eat of all the fruit of the garden, with the exception that man was specifically told to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

A helpmate was created in ‘Eve’, or woman, and they continued as innocent creatures until Satan realized and hatched his great plan. He sidled up to the woman one day while she was alone, and the great deceiver whispered into her ear that first great lie. He told Eve that of course God didn’t want man to eat from a tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because then man would know everything and be like God.

Eve speaks this lie to Adam, they both fall for the devil’s deception, eat of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and immediately have their eyes open to their disobedience. They wanted to know good and evil? Now they know it, and they know that they have committed that evil. They have disobeyed God. They try to hide from Him, willfully separating themselves from God. Of course their sin is found out, and they are banished from paradise.

The consequence of that sin by our first parents seems to be a victory for the devil. Satan has separated man from God by sin. Man has fallen from grace, and the ‘Fall of Man’ signals a sinister joy for Satan. This evil habit of sin now spreads down through history. Cain murders Abel, and the depths of sin are revealed. Man, originally created to be free from corruption, or death, is no longer immortal.

For the angels cast out of heaven, and of course for Satan himself, there can be no redemption. They are spiritual beings, and once cast from heaven they are out for good, relegated to the hell marked by being separated from God and paradise forever. For man, death without redemption from our sins is the same. Death in sin is isolation in that hell marked by permanent separation from God, separated from paradise forever.

This apparent, at least to himself, victory for Satan was not to be, as we now know. What Satan never saw coming, what he could not conceive, was just how far God was willing to go in order to provide an ultimate victory in salvation from sin. God became man in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, and allowed himself to be persecuted, tortured, and crucified for our sins.

Satan never saw this level of love and commitment, could never conceive of such love in his own selfish nature. God allowed His Son to suffer death and lie in the tomb. Then, on the third day following that crucifixion and death, He rose in victory. Satan was defeated again, this time by Christ. There would be no ultimate victory for evil over good.

For their original ‘Fall from Heaven’, Satan and his fellow demons, the fallen angels, are left separated forever from God and the paradise of heaven. They are left with just one outlet for their ongoing hatred: separate as many human souls as possible from God. How do they accomplish these small victories? Tempt men to sin, keep them in sin, and have them die in that sin.

In the ‘Fall of Man’ we were cast out of what was meant to be the perpetual, eternal paradise of Eden. But we were so beloved by God that He gave us a path back to the glory of heaven. It takes only one thing on our parts: embrace the gift of salvation that we received on the cross from Jesus Christ.

All men need to do is recognize and accept that Jesus Christ did indeed suffer and die for our sins, each of us individually. God wants one thing from us, to give up that willfulness of sin, to recognize and acknowledge Him as our creator, as our Father. He demands that one thing from us, as in the beginning: know and acknowledge that He is God, and that we were created by Him for His purposes.

Give up your selfishness. Swallow your pride. Overcome your fear and embarrassment. Turn from your sin. No, you are not worthy. None of us are, but that is not the point, what we think of ourselves. What is important is that God thinks you are worthy. He feels that you are worthy enough that he was mocked, whipped, and nailed to a cross for you. Accept this love, and rise from the Fall!

THIS IS THE continuation of the “Sunday Sermon” series, all article of which can be reached by simply clicking on that ‘Label’ below.