Posts tagged ‘Jesus’

I Know What that Smudge is On Your Forehead

This post may have been more appropriate yesterday, but I needed another day to think about it. Ash Wednesday is not something I encountered growing up in Piggott, Arkansas. I’m sure people observed it there, but I can’t prove it. This tradition has many things to commend it: the acknowledgement of our mortality and broken state, the goal to prompt repentance, a turning away from self and a turning toward Jesus. This I can dig. What troubles me is the triviality of the things some people give up during this time to the outright ridiculous. I had someone tell me they’re going to fast from cussing for Lent. Cussing? The person who can claim this in an unironic way as their Lenten fast needs to get their sniff tester examined.

I was tempted to share the history of Lent and its purpose throughout time but am not going to do that for two reasons.

1. I’m planning to fast from pride and arrogance for the next 40 days, so trying to sound smarter than you has gone right out the window.

2. I already know you know how to get to Wikipedia.

So if your fasting from beets, beat-downs, watching “Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo” or barn dances, and need something more chill, I have a challenging scripture I want to consider for this Ash Wednesday.

“And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:22-26 NIV)

Jesus led a life of sacrifice. His friends resisted. You can see this from his friend Peter in this instance if you go on and read the rest of this passage. His family resisted. His hearers resisted. Even Jesus had to pray in the garden not his will but the father’s will. Everything in us resists sacrifice. In fact, self may be the root of all the ways we find to rebel and break faith with God. Because we can’t find a spiritual law we don’t want to break, Jesus chose to accept the penalties breaking away costs. He describes them here in those first few words of the passage. This is the good news for you and me. This next part gets at the response someone who puts their trust in the gospel will have, and this is when my toes start to feel stepped on.

First off, is this response for the super spiritual, goody goody, got-it-togetherins? “Then he says to them who are pretty good already.” Nope, he says to them all. “If anyone” No, no Jesus could you make it more plain. Who do you mean? “He must” Oh that guy. That’s right, all who want to follow must do what?

1. Deny himself: This is the first step of repentance turning away from ourselves. Turning away from holding on to the right to say I know best. Turning away from our personal, subjective rule book and accepting God as the rule maker. Can I be honest? This is kind of offensive. To say I need to deny myself says there’s something wrong with the way I look at things. It says there’s something fundamentally wrong with the priorities I set when left on my own. If that doesn’t offend you a little, I think it hasn’t sunk in. And if you think he means just deny yourself on the denying yourself holiday, keep reading.

2. Take up your cross daily: What is a cross? Is it a dusty shape on your forehead people keep thinking is a hygiene malfunction? Is it jewelry? Even Ke$ha has Jesus on her necklace. Think for a second about what a cross truly is. It’s an electric chair. What does it do? It executes someone and the someone is you and me. Yes, he says take up “your” cross. Your old way, the self-serving way, is who’s supposed to be on that cross not Jesus. So, am I shooting for 40 some days of this? I think I could do that. What does it say? “Daily.” Not a season of sacrifice but a new paradigm. Try reading it in lots of different translations. Learn Greek and read it like that too. This is what Jesus says to us. But if I lose what I know, lose what comes naturally to me, my priorities, who will I be?

3. Follow me: It’s not just stop living. Become passive. Stop doing bad stuff. Repent is: turn. Turn away from yourself and follow him. Live life to the full, trying our best to keep pace with him. You want to live life to the full. Want to savor every minute. If you try it under self-power alone, you’ll miss it. Stop trying the selfish way. The way of sin. The way where you know best, and you’ll end up saving the time you have here for good. Because following him is an exciting fulfilling adventure, and it’s better than what we would do on our own.

Lots of us are ashamed of this kind of talk. Why? It’s offensive. We want to find a different way to look at it. Make Jesus into someone else. But this is what he says and this is who he is, and this is what a life following him will be like. Not because we already know how to be this way. Quite the opposite. This doesn’t come naturally to you or me.

I’m not against Ash Wednesday. In fact, any excuse to talk about Jesus gets my vote. But I want to be sure I’m clear in my own mind. Jesus isn’t necessarily asking me to give up coffee, chocolate, TV, Facebook, root canals or eyebrow threading for a few weeks. He’s asking me to give up my whole life. He’s asking me to give up my authority. He’s asking me to trade in my priorities for his priorities. He’s asking me to get over myself, get off my path and follow him where he wants to go. And not for a season, he’s asking for it daily for the rest of my life. I’m offended and inspired all at the same time.

On my Ash Wednesday evening, I spent some time at home with a small group of believers who shared some food and discussed the need to say no in our lives. Here and here are a couple of other perspectives on Lent that may get you thinking. They also link to the poem by T. S. Eliot “Ash Wednesday.”

Were you ashy? Does observing Lent connect with you in a deep spiritual way? Don’t care? Developers threatening your community center and you’re trying to get the local break dancers to try to stop it? Tell me about it.

Locked Door Mystery

I’m a sucker for detective stories. Whether Monk, Magnum P.I. or Sherlock Holmes, I’m there. I like mystery. I like figuring it out. A special kind of detective story is known as the

Marketing, Mice and the Light of Truth

In my professional life, I work in marketing and public relations. The job is to share your message in a positive way with your audience and do it so well they accept it and, hopefully, act on it. Marketing goes after building customers for a product, service or idea. Isn’t this the same thing we do as Christians? Aren’t we supposed to make Jesus seem appealing to the world around us? Isn’t it our job to tell the story of Jesus in such a way that unbelievers see the positive side and want to become loyal customers?

“After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him. Therefore Jesus told them, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.” (John 7:1-7 NIV)

I think Jesus answers our questions in the snapshot above, and the answer is surprising. The first thing that jumps out from this passage is that Jesus’ brothers want to consult him on how to market himself as a celebrity. They tell him to go where the people are, show yourself to the world, let them see what’s special about you, dazzle them with your miracles, give the fans what they want. (Paraphrasing, of course) It sounds like good advice for anyone seeking followers. And from their perspective, they may know better. Verse one says people wanted to kill him. It also says “after this.” After what, you might ask? That’s referring back to John 6. At the end of that chapter many people turned away from Jesus and stopped following him. Does any of this sound right? Aren’t we supposed to get more and more people to follow Jesus? I think the answer from scripture is “yes,” but not always in the way we think.

Jesus, when confronted with the advice of his brothers, answers, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.”

Why can’t the world hate his brothers? First things first, they are in the world. The scripture says that they, at this time, are unbelievers. Praise God that we see in later parts of the Bible that some, if not all of his brothers become followers. But at this time, they are giving him the advice of the world.

I think this is a serious temptation for all of us who are believers. We want to make Jesus attractive to the world. We follow Jesus, and we want everyone else to follow him. We can be tempted to want to be Jesus’ publicist. We want to apologize for the uncomfortable places he puts people and point out his best features to the world. But what does Jesus want?

In Luke 19:10, Jesus states that his purpose is to “seek and save what is lost.” But part of that plan is testifying that what the world does is evil.
Like me, before Jesus sought me and save me from my self, I was in the audience for the gospel, and that audience was “lost!” We aren’t looking for a tune-up we don’t need to hear the right spin to get us to join a church and get on God’s team. We need saving, not a life coach.

Let’s listen to more of what Jesus tells us on this topic reported in John 3, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

Listen to the authority in Jesus’ words “this is the verdict,” you and I hate the light. We don’t want it shining on the hearts we make for ourselves when we follow our own desires. We don’t want our deeds exposed. I was sitting in my kitchen one night and could hear a mouse doing his best to make a nest under my kitchen sink. It was disgusting hearing him shredding things under there and wriggling in the darkness that is the world under my sink. When I started to walk toward the cabnet door to throw it open and shed some light on his work, he got really quiet. Because when the door opens and the light is shining, there are only two directions: into the light or scurrying back to his dark little hole. Friends, we’re that mouse.

So what do we do with this? If you are in God today, we know this to be true, “whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” God has gotten the credit for saving you. He has shined his light of truth spoken in love into your lives, the sin in your life has been confronted, you have and continue to repent of your sins and by faith in Jesus have been baptized, trusting in the blood of Jesus to cover over your sin and now you follow him. Following means for us that we must shine that light into the darkness all around us. God’s word must be shared with love and conviction with those in your path that are in darkness. If people are simply acquainted or comfortable with an image of Jesus that isn’t filled with the light of truth, it hasn’t saved them because that’s not the true Jesus who lives. Further more, that doesn’t give God the glory he deserves. We must proclaim truth. This isn’t letting your little light shine. It’s Jesus shining through you his blinding white-hot light that transforms or sends them scurrying. We can’t be afraid of what this might mean we must stand for truth with no compromise. Yes, it convicts me as I write it. But it’s true, so let’s not waste our time fighting it.

If you aren’t a believer by Jesus’ standard: your real self known, your real deeds uncovered, living in the light and forgiven, not seeing him just as your savior but your Lord, pray you will let God shine his light into your life. Open up the Bible with someone who is living in the light. Don’t hide in the dark any longer. We all were with you in that dark place and only by His powerful grace have we found a life in the light. Whether you’re in the light or dark, make a decision to follow Jesus’ example today. Let’s stop marketing and mousing around and let God use us to have an impact that echoes in eternity to his glory.

Speaking of marketing and spiritual things, check out

“Fools for Christ?”

Well, April Fools’ Day is upon us. Has anyone got you yet? Google tells us it’s renaming itself Topeka. My wife also announced to the world we’re moving again. She got a few takers on that one. I have to admit, I needed an AED to restart my heart there for a few seconds.

But actually, tomorrow, April 2, is the real AFD. No this isn’t another feeble attempt to trick you. But from a lot of people’s perspective, what Jesus did on the cross is absolutely foolish. Before you make a move to stone me, hear me out.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) Perishing or the power of God? Two positions where you can be, related to the cross. Bottom line: What makes it so foolish?

Do you think it’s idiotic to put others before yourself? It is! “Look out for number one,” our instincts tell us, right? How about “deny yourself” or say “no to sin?” This is crazy talk. My way or the highway, right? I want to affirm whatever I feel with a capital “Y” Yes! From Jesus’ perspective, what is he thinking, dying for people who set themselves up as his enemies? For just a second, don’t go all super phony spiritual on me. Don’t start saying “In my three hour quiet time this morning. I was reflecting on just how foolish the perishing really are, and I just couldn’t understand. (Shrug)” All of us should be able to relate to how foolish this all is. All of us say no to crucifying the sinful nature with its passions and desires. All of us accept Jesus. April Fools’ Day is a great day to remember that.

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). If we didn’t get it in verse 18, it says it here again for those who may be still a little foolish. Fortunately, getting saved doesn’t rely on being smart (collective sigh of relief). Trust that the cross did it all: forgiving the fools. Trust him by listening to what the message of the cross teaches us about living. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 4:10, refers to he and his partners as “fools for Christ.” Is there any better reason to think about April Fools’ Day, than to figure out how to be a fool for Christ?

First thing to make it Fools for Christ Day is make it opposite day. Listen to what Jesus says in Mark 7 about what comes naturally to us. “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” Yes Jesus, in all my experience with people and as a witness to my own heart, you have us pegged. Now enter opposite day. Jesus calls the fools to say, instead of all these things that come naturally, I’m going to start wanting the opposite. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23) Fortunately, fools for Christ are given the Holy Spirit to strengthen us to live each day as opposite day. These are qualities God wants to give to those who sign up to be a fool for Christ. If your experience is like mine, you would agree it would take something supernatural to get you to want to be this way all the time. You’re right! This is in contrast to the world’s standard issue variety of fool. They don’t believe God wants to help you be able to play in the sandbox with others.

Enter the common, garden variety fool. “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no-one who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no-one who does good, not even one. Will evildoers never learn—those who devour my people as men eat bread and who do not call on the LORD? There they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous.” (Psalms 14:1-5) This was written by King David, a man who tried being both kinds of fools with gusto. Once again God gets it perfect on all accounts. If we try to make ourselves the center of the universe and squeeze out God, we end up being complete jerks on most occasions. We spend our time trying to figure out how we can make a situation work in our favor. But God is with the righteous. And who are the righteous? Are these the super nice people who naturally know how to love their neighbor? Ehhhh, wrong answer! No one is like that. The righteous are the ones who believe in God and put their trust in him instead of their own way. Romans chapter 4 explains that this is not something to boast about, but is only available because God offers it. Thank God there are not some naturally good folks out there, right?

But David got this. He understood it’s better to be the fool that puts his trust in God than continue to be the fool that did it his own way. He understood it so much that he danced like a fool. Don’t believe me, look: “David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.” (2 Samuel 6:14-16) By the way, his wife that despised him for looking foolish, she never had kids again, just saying.

So what am I saying? It’s inevitable; we’re going to be fools. I’m sorry to be the one to tell. The decision we have is to pick which kind. I want to be a fool for Christ with God’s help. How about you?

Also, in honor of April Fools’ Day, I want to point you to a free audio book download. “Stuff Christians Like” is a blog of funny observations about the flawed people who humorously try to keep up with God on our best day. He’s written a book that holds some of the funny from his site. If you act quickly, you can get a free download of the audio book. Click