Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Presidential Election, Halloween, and the Real Jesus

My favorite Halloween costume of all time was worn by our neighbor Glenn when I was a boy. We lived on a farm, and our closest neighbors were a family of five—mom, dad, and three girls. Glenn, the dad, was a jovial, 300-pound man, and I’ll never forget his costume as the family parked in our driveway and walked to the door.

Actually his costume was just a mask. He wore his regular farm overalls, but he had donned a small plastic mask that was the face of a rotund, smiling man with a big cigar clamped in his teeth. It looked exactly like the real Glenn. He dressed up as himself! That’s what you call “truth in advertising,”. What you saw was truly what you got.

Most masks are intended to obscure or distort, to conceal the truth. So, because it's Halloween, I have two points of application.

First, here's how I'm praying about the Presidential election--that the real President Obama and the real Governor Romney will be revealed to the voters. Any political campaign tends to distort the other guy--to put a mask on him, so what you see is a caricature. It's also true that the candidates themselves wear masks to appeal to voters. But I'm praying that the masks will be gone, and that people will vote based on seeing the candidates clearly.

Second, about Halloween. When I was a boy I honestly don't remember that Halloween had an evil, supernatural component. Costumes were cowboys and princesses and jolly fat men with cigars in their teeth.

The dark side of Halloween has become prominent, maybe even preeminent, since those simpler days. Sinful people, apart from Christ, are blinded by their own masks. Even worse, they (we) place masks over the face of the Savior. ...the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4).

Let's pray that today, and every day, we may see the real Jesus. When our masks are torn off so we can see the beauty and perfections of our Savior--well, that's the start of everything. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).

Monday, October 29, 2012

Should We Worship Mary?

This blog is about “admiring Christ.” I hope that’s obvious by now. So I’m not usually interested in a negative slant. I simply want to talk about the greatness and glory of our Savior.

But in this post I want to recognize a competing and counterfeit admiration—for Jesus’ own mother. Some people worship Mary. I don’t just mean that she is honored as a godly role model. Some people actually worship her.

I was reading the story of a church planting missionary to Mexico. He and his wife were sight-seeing in a little Mexican town, trying to get acquainted with the culture. They visited a church in the town square, and were shocked to find a huge, 30-foot statue of Mary suspended over the sanctuary. Below Mary stood a much smaller image of Jesus Christ. Literally and figuratively, that church honored Mary above Jesus.

What was Jesus’ attitude toward worship of His mother? There’s no doubt that Christ loved her. Even on the cross, He was concerned for her and entrusted her to the care of His apostle (John 19:27). But what about revering her? What about worshiping her, as a “co-redemptrix?”

The Lord Jesus actually spoke to this question. Once as He was teaching a crowd, a woman who seemed enamored of Mary cried out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed” (Luke 11:27).

If ever there was an opportunity for Jesus to lift up the status of His mother, to exalt her and commend her to worship, this was it. He could easily have agreed with the woman and said, “You’re right! My mother is indeed blessed, and you would do well to worship her just as you worship Me.”

Here’s what He actually said, in a gentle rebuke of the lady who “blessed” Mary: Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it. Luke 11:28.

God will not share His glory (Isaiah 42:8). Worship is reserved for Him alone. And the people Jesus reveres are those who hear and obey God’s holy word.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Demonic Oppression and the Finger of God

I have a pastor friend from West Africa who is an expert on spiritual warfare. He has told me many stories about demonized people he has helped. A few years ago my friend came to America for a conference, and some of us who knew his expertise asked him to do a workshop to equip us to help people oppressed by demons.

It was a good workshop, but the ministry my friend described seemed incredibly demanding, even frightening. After the training, I didn’t feel a great deal better prepared.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I was reading another of Jesus’ face-offs with His critics in Luke chapter 11. Jesus cast out a demon that was rendering a man mute. Christ’s enemies claimed, blasphemously, that He had cast the demon out by the power of Satan (Luke 11:15).

Jesus showed what a spiritual and logical absurdity it would be to try to wield demonic power against demonic power. But then He made this statement: But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Luke 11:20

The finger of God. That phrase goes all the way back to Exodus 8, where God used Moses to deliver Israel from bondage in Egypt. Pharaoh’s fake magicians kept up with Moses’ “signs and wonders” at first. But when Moses struck the earth with his staff and swarms of gnats began to invade the land, the magicians were stymied. Defeated, they told Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19).

God doesn’t even need His whole hand. Just a finger will do. Simply by lifting a finger He can control nature, write His law on stone tablets, heal broken people, and cast out demons. So when our Savior said He cast demons out “by the finger of God,” it was because it’s His finger!

You and I don’t need to be afraid of death or hell or demons or sinful human beings when we are under the protection of such a Savior.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Passive Voice

It hit me the other night that even in dying, Jesus shows us how to live.

I was reading Jesus' words in Luke 9:22: The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

We mustn’t miss the way Jesus said these things. Because they signal His willingness to submit, to cede control of His life and death to others. The “action words” in the sentence—rejected…killed…raised—are spoken in passive voice.

Active voice means that the subject of the sentence performs the action.  Like “John threw the ball.” But passive voice means that the subject is “passive” – it is acted upon. “The ball was thrown.” The actions – rejecting, killing, raising—were done to Jesus.

You and I have a hard time giving up control. Even when we know in our hearts that we are powerless to control anything, still we try to maneuver and manage the process, direct and ordain the outcome, of just about everything.

Imagine what it must have been like for Jesus. He was in control.  by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  Colossians 1:16-17.

Yet He was rejected, killed, and raised. Total submission by Someone totally in control. Total submission comes from total trust. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit! Luke 23:46.

Living as a Christian means living before God in passive voice—trusting and obeying, but ceding control to Him. That’s how Jesus lived and died and rose again.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Carried Across the Finish Line

Ben Baltz is only eleven-years-old, but he's a brave kid. He survived cancer but lost his right leg, got a mechanical knee and prosthetic leg, and now does everything boys his age do. He plays baseball and soccer, rides his bike, and even competes in children's triathlons.

Last weekend he had a little trouble finishing a triathlon in Florida-- a 150-yard swim, a 4-mile bike ride and a 1-mile run. Halfway through the mile run, screws came loose in his prosthetic leg and it literally broke in two.

Some young Marines who were watching the race and cheering the kids on asked him if he needed help. He did. So they did what Marines do: they carried him across the finish line. You can read the whole story by clicking here, and here, and here. (Have some Kleenex handy, though.)

That's what Jesus does for us, right? We've fallen, and we can't get up. We're broken, and we can't fix what's wrong. So our wonderful, strong, Savior picks us up and carries us across the finish line.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What Impresses Jesus?

It's pretty hard to impress Jesus.

You could take Him to the symphony and He'd probably enjoy it. But when you've heard the thunderous glory of heaven's choir, it's hard to be wowed by Beethoven's Fifth. You could read Shakespeare to the Lord, and He might say, "That's really wonderful." But He might be thinking, "Have you read My word?"

Maybe you would show Him the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa, in Dubai. It's 163 floors--over a half mile high. But I have a hunch He'd be thinking, "That reminds me of the Tower of Babel." Or you might drive Him out to the Grand Canyon, and I bet He'd enjoy the view. But still--He made that, after all.

So what does it take to impress Jesus? I've found only one place in the New Testament where Jesus expresses wonderment. It's the story, recorded by both Matthew and Luke, of the centurion with the sick servant. Jesus was on His way to heal the servant, and the centurion sent word to Christ that He need not even come to his home. "Just say the word, and I know my servant will be healed," was his attitude.  

Jesus' reaction? He was impressed. When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9; cf. Matthew 8:10). In Greek that means Jesus was amazed and astonished, that He looked on with wonder.

So what was it that impressed Jesus? The short answer is, He was impressed with the centurion's faith. But that's not really the heart of His wonderment. What really impressed Jesus was that the centurion was impressed with Christ!

The centurion got it. Jesus is great and glorious and all-powerful. He is so great that He doesn't even need to come to my house, or see my poor, sick servant. Christ can just decide, and He can heal this man at a distance. (Which is exactly what happened.)

If you or I were most impressed with people who were impressed with us, we would be considered conceited, egotistical, and arrogant. But Jesus is none of those things. The truth is, He alone is worthy and admirable and glorious. And we are happiest, at our best, when we know this and live in light of His glory. The centurion did. He got it. Which is what Christ wants for all of us.

I hope I can impress Jesus this way.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Heaven Opened

Sometimes when you follow Jesus around in the Gospels, He drops little hints and makes allusions about Himself that, when you ponder them, blow your mind.

I was rereading Jesus’ call to Nathanael, who became one of the Twelve. Nathanael, skeptical that the Messiah could come from Nazareth, met Jesus by Philip’s invitation. And Jesus’ first words to him were, Behold, an Israelite indeed in whom there is no guile (John 1:47). Suddenly more than curious, he replied, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered with another mind-blower: "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you" (v. 48).

Now Nathanael was all in. Faith welled up within him, and he said, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" But Jesus wasn't through. He said, basically, You think that’s something? Following Me means much greater things than the fact that I saw you under the fig tree. Then this: "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (John 1:51).

Heaven opened? Angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man? What in the world is Jesus talking about? He casually drops this image on Nathanael, and on us, and we are amazed. What does He mean? Is He saying He’s a ladder, and the angels are climbing on Him?

Friday, October 5, 2012

From the Pain Clinic Waiting Room

I starting writing this in the pain clinic waiting room at the VA hospital. My son was having a procedure to try to diagnose the source of his constant back pain. I’m pretty sure that lugging 80 pound packs around Afghanistan for over a year has something to do with it.

But explaining it doesn’t fix it. And so I sat there, feeling anxious and unsettled. It seems unfair that a young man should be dealing with chronic back problems, while his old man is in pretty good shape. I wish I could trade places with him.

What helps me is to know that Jesus is Lord of my son’s life, and of mine. Our Jesus said, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). A yoke, of course, is a wooden frame that enables draught animals to pull a load together.

The way you train a young animal to pull a burden is by yoking him with an older, stronger, more experienced animal. The reason Jesus’ yoke is easy and the burden light is that He’s carrying the weight while He teaches us how to walk the right way.

Another thing. Wooden yokes were shaped to the necks of the oxen that bore them. The Greek word translated "easy" can mean "well-fitted." My son's yoke is different from mine, but both were shaped for us by our Savior. The Christian life is about trusting Him to bear the weight and lead the way.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Joy and a Flashmob

Speaking of joy (my last post), my friend Rod, an elder in our church, sent this video to me. It's a flash mob brought together to honor a local bank in the Spanish town of Sabadell. But Someone else is honored, too.

Listen to the whole thing--only six minutes, and watch the faces. Wow.

 Here's what they're singing:

Ode To Joy
Joyful, joyful
We adore Thee
God of glory
Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee
Hail Thee to the sun above
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness
Drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness
Fill us with the light of day

With light
With light

Mortals join the mighty chorus
Which the morning stars began
Father love is reigning o'er us
Brother love binds man to man
Ever singing march we onward
Victors in the midst of strife
Joyful music lifts us Son ward
In the triumph song of life