Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jesus Gives Goodies to Shut You Up -and Down

If Jesus HAS BEEN raised from the dead - and is REALLY alive now - should we follow Him?

I think the obvious answer is yes. The real problem is that having mastered life and conquered death, Jesus sees no need to chase us down and force us to follow Him.

He does, however, admit we may need a nudge or two. And can I tell you the scary and wonderful thing about Jesus Christ, if you have EVER been baptized or professed faith and THEN gave up on Christendom? [You knooooooowww - stopped praying so much, stopped going to church, stopped trying to be 'oh-so-good' -].

He'll let you. For awhile. Maybe even a long time. Decades even. There is NOWHERE in the Bible where Jesus petulantly demands your return to following Him and His ways. No sir.

In fact, just about the opposite.

And even more scary, He will give you what you demand as a permissive parent if you are NOT praying "Lord, keep me close to you." You have to push the 'Please sanctify me daily' button.

The problem is, we tend to revert into self-protecting, judgmental or critical cynics who look to the world going to Hell in a hand basket and moan at all the poverty, injustice, cruelty, crime, warfare and then whine "WHY doesn't a LOVING God DO anything about this??!"

May I tell you God is nearly laughing in heaven when you whine like that?

He did everything at the cross.

You wanted to leave His service, so He let you. Others, the same. Or maybe they just never believed they were created by a Real Designer and paid for by a Real Redeemer? So they never call on Him for help? Well, if you do believe, then telling others is part of your growth as a Christian.

So God makes a public spectacle of Jesus on the cross, it echoes through history and even in Christendom, and STILL less than 1% want to share the Good News that sins are forgiven by God. Why? Because they also know in their hearts that it means facing into Christ, admitting their own rebellion and disbelief and then having to take on a Jew as their King. As the Lord of ALL Creation.

As the Guy Who Owns You and Can Judge You When You Die.

We think we can skirt encountering Jesus. We cannot.

Why do we think so? Is it because He is weak and powerless?

No. Just the opposite.

Because He really does have all power. He knows "where you live" [I mean the emotional metaphor, not location here]. He knows you are quite used to being fearful, being 'like everyone else' and being your own Boss.

All that is a false view - you really are not - yet He will bless you almost as you flee, just to show you He is NOT a stingy, control freak of a God. He is a Sovereign king who can find you anywhere, anytime. Nothing can stop Him. You? Not so much.

Look, it is really simple. When Jesus rose from the dead, and was given the keys of Heaven and Hell - you know, so He can put anyone anywhere He chooses - He gets an opportunity to really pound on His disciples. Really stick it to them, guilt-trip them and make them feel utterly ashamed for implying He was a liar or a loser, by 'giving up' on Him.

He doesn't. He knows He does not need to. He even gives them what they WANT, knowing that by so doing, they cannot refuse His love anymore. They want fish, He gives them fish.

He patiently waits for them at the Sea of Galilee after His resurrection - and I suspect He is sighing to Himself, thinking "Well, O.K. guys, if we have to go all the way back to the beginning..."

They haven't caught any fish. All #$%*%$ night, and no fish.

Jesus asks them about it.

They confess yeah, we ain't doing so hot.

"Throw your net on the other side, and you will get some!"

They do - and they can BARELY haul in the goodies. "Even with so many the net was not torn!" writes John. He even gives a number. Only a poor fisherman would be excited enough to count each and every one.

They wanted fish. They got fish. And that is how Jesus got them.

By the time they eat breakfast with Him, and there is not ONE word of condemnation - nope, Jesus is testing Peter's heart, not busting his chops - Jesus has these men eating out of the palm of His hand. Literally.

He knew it would be tough for them to accept He was alive. He knew it would take decades to understand fully what had happened. He knew they were going to get hurt and killed, but not by Him - by a cruel and unbelieving world that did not even think "truth" existed. ["What is truth?" asked Pilate, remember?]

So He smiles and helps them out and cooks breakfast and asks 'Do you love Me?'

And when Peter says 'Yes!' [and is soooo ashamed of his earlier behavior] Jesus consoles him with a gentle order of business: "Feed my sheep."

Not "conquer new lands for Me", not "Kill the infidels!", not "bring lots of money in or I will bring you home!" just "feed my sheep."

And do you see what is implied by Jesus?

"Like I am feeding you Peter right now: closely, friendly-like, intimately, gently."

Look, if you want to do your own thing, I understand. We humans have been doing that since the Fall of Mankind. It is right there in the Bible. But if you WANT to follow Jesus and you are scared, just keep in mind two things.

One, He will take good care of you and your particular neurosis/obsession.

Two, He has never wanted anything but to bring you glory as a son or daughter of God. In other words, you serve Him and people will be talking about YOU.

And YOU will stop talking about them.
"Lord, what about him?"
[sigh] "If I want him to remain ALIVE until I come again, what is that to you? You follow Me!"
Follow Jesus.

Everything else is, frankly my friends, dumb.

Amen.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wolfman Jesus

It's Holy Week, the day before Easter Sunday and I am preaching in the jail this afternoon.

Last night I watched two movies - Resurrection, written by Max Lucado and Wolfman, the 2010 film starring Benicio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins.

Tonight I will watch The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson's dark and powerful vision of the last night of Jesus Christ and his following execution. Mel did a fantastic job of showing the darkness that all men face when standing against the world, but the elements of horror he added opened my eyes to the fierce supernatural battle Jesus was fighting to save our souls when He conquered the great destroyers - Death and the Devil.

I loved werewolves as a child - still do, in fact. I love the eerie and not quite understandable, as long as I am on the safe side of the equation. I love Jesus too, and I've always wondered if it was O.K. to appreciate both. I think it is, for God set us up to love aspects of the truth BEFORE we comprehend it fully.

Did you know that Passover is always held under a full moon? Did you know that the reason the Jews celebrate it is because God sent an Angel of Death to kill all the firstborn [the most precious child] in Egypt IF they did not have the blood of an innocent lamb on their wooden doorposts?

We Christians see that blood on beams as a foreshadowing - God is an EXCELLENT dramatist, BTW - of Christ dying on the cross. Later, Christ's disciples realized it too. Jesus used the Passover meal as a sign to His own bloody death to save us from - well, the 'Angel of Death.'

You may have heard this before, that Christ not only pays for our sins at the cross of Calvary, but those who place their hope, trust and faith in Him will also be resurrected - as He was on Easter Sunday. Corpses will come to life and even our world and universe will be re-made.

But what you may not realize is that you and I are terribly afraid of Jesus, if we see Him as He is.

The last chapters of the Gospels are all horror shows with a surprise ending. Mark's gospel does its best to leave us hanging in the original text. The fear of meeting a man you'd abandoned to evil men under a full moon only to meet his resurrected body at breakfast cannot be less than terrifying.

I mean it. I think we are afraid of Jesus. We trivialize Him casually and think we can get away with re-writing what men shed their blood to write, but God, if He shows us mercy, comes in and MAKES us pay attention.

Wonder and terror are mixed in nearly equal parts in that resurrection Sunday.

And what I realized this past week is that we Gentiles like to put one thing here and another there but God gave the Jews a better perspective of what was going to happen in the yearly ritual of Passover.

You see, we have Thanksgiving, a feast for us to Give Thanks to God for His goodness to us in our lands. We also have Halloween, where we play with spooky things and talk about ghosts and monsters and sit under a full moon, glorying in her beauty while still aware that the numinous could break through our staid reality at any moment.

But the Jews get both concepts in Passover -and thus have a superior chance to see the Lamb who was Slain - if they believe that is.

Think about it. It is a night of a full moon, and we speak of how God sent a Death Angel to slaughter our unbelieving foes. Yes, God was fair - they had their chances and if they had obeyed as the Jews did, they would have been spared too. We are never told the angel of death looked to see if they were Jewish - but rather if they had the blood on the door posts, it would 'pass over' their household.

This makes it a very early hint God was working salvation for EVERYONE, not just His chosen people.

Then, we eat. We have some bitter herbs to remind us of the bitter toil, but we have nice roasted lamb, flatbread with salt, and several cups of Kosher wine as well for the joy of escaping bondage! Pretty awesome fare.

We keep our coats and shoes on, because at MIDNIGHT, we are going to be moving out - like the Israelites did hundreds of years earlier. [Sort of adds New Year's into the mix, doesn't it?]

But I am told in a modern Jewish household, that the door is opened by a child to see if Elijah has come. A place is set for him, and the child runs to back to the table to see if he has sipped from the cup.

So there is still this expectation of a spirit entering and communing with the living. During a full moon. At midnight. Spooky, eh?

Now keep in mind, Jesus does not want to scare you AWAY - He only wants to scare the Hell out of you. Literally. The hellishness of unbelief, found in every man and woman since the Garden of Eden and the Fall. He wants you to KNOW He's real and KNOW there is nothing to fear about death - but fear God and do His will so you will live and keep on living.

I say this all the time in DuPage County Jail. I say it here:

"Gentlemen, Jesus Christ is not afraid of you. You are afraid of HIM! Think! If you kill a man and he gets back up from the grave, what are you going to do? Kill him again?"

"We are told the disciples were in a locked room. It was, indeed to keep the Romans out. But I wonder sometimes if God smiled, because when His Son appeared, they also, would have a hard time escaping!"


"These men saw Him killed. They saw Him also walk on water and do things not even the old prophets could do. Jesus sees their fear, says "Peace be with you!" and immediately does the most calming, as-you-please thing He can possibly do: He asks for some food, 'cause He sure is hungry!"

"Later on, He helps them catch fish they could not find, but it is only to show them once AGAIN, He's going to care for them and provide for every need if they will just serve Him as evangelists.


"There He is, a dead man broiling tilapia over a bed of coals on the Sea of Galilee, and He says "Hey - bring some of the fish YOU caught!"


"Why is Jesus acting so casual? Because He is terrifying to us mortals."


"Gentlemen, if a big, scary monster puts his right arm around you and says 'We will be friends.' and you are NOT scared, you are either stupid or flatly ignorant."

"I can cure one, not the other... Let us worship this scary God who will kill His own Son to pay for OUR crimes - and then invite us to breakfast!"

Then, following my lead, all ten to fifteen men dressed in orange jumpsuits with PRISONER emblazoned on their backs, get up and sing "I Love You Lord" by Laurie Klein, arms outstretched and voices high.

They sing WONDERFULLY, I must say.

Thank you , Wolfman Jesus.

Happy Easter Everyone!


Amen.


p.s. ...and by the way, Lord, you can eat all the bunnies you find in our backyard.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Man Called NOVA!

[Editor's Note: Having re-read the Nova wiki article, I have discovered he has a lot more power than I knew when I wrote this. Still, if the Nova Force leaves him again, and we want to explain ANOTHER re-boot, I'd like a shot.]

Frankly, I think this one of the most overlooked, underused, under-rated heroes of the Marvel universe. Cut from a similar cloth as DC's Green Lantern mythos, Richard Rider, a self-deprecating teenager is given immense power by an intergalactic soldier of the Nova Corps as he dies.

Trying to work in the same vein as Spider-Man, and even meeting and teaming up with the famous wall-crawler on one occasion, Richard Rider simply never breaks out from being a B character after three decades and as many re-boots.

Now its a crying shame. His powers are not insignificant: he is given a measure of super strength [again like Spidey's - about 5-10 tons], some limited invulnerability [think early Superman - when"nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin!"], life support from his way-cool suit and helmet, and some hella fast flight speed - I mean dude, he covers galactic distances like Silver Age Superman - even GL would be left in the dust! And, incidentally, in later incarnations, he is given blasters on his arms.

Now, this character has never been used to any great dramatic effect by any writer. He's got so much wishy-washiness, he's nearly Charlie Brown . Too many "try, try, oops someone died - try, try, oops a planet is destroyed, try, try - hellwifitIquit - OKies I wish I hadn't - can I come back now? Come back, do some good and fade away" qualities to him.

Sort of like Supergirl in the 70s. Sort of like Hal Jordan in the 90s.

Sort of like Christians who deny the power of God in their lives.

Yeah. You heard me. We have power and authority and the ability to change the world, but we are hamstrung by our self-focus and fears. We are taught to mope and say 'It's God's will..." when it is not.

Like Richard Rider, we've got power to do great good and we're still whining.

If you ARE a believer, check how many times Jesus flatly was shocked at the unbelief of His followers - and how many times He TOLD them they could do miracles if they would simply believe and trust God.

Faith is a muscle, folks. You don't use it - you get weak and easily tired.

God is patient and willing to use us. It is CLEAR the power is HIS not ours - but we HAVE to USE it. "And Jesus did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief..."

Note it is their unbelief - not His power that keeps the miraculous events from occurring.

Now if you are an unbeliever, I expect you to never pray, never worship and bemoan your fate. I expect that. You are stuck in 'Natural' mode. I was, too. No God = no help.

But if you are a believer, how can you say God will NOT work through you or for you? Who's fault is that? I don't mean miraculous healings - that may take some time - but how about little things? How about answering a crisis in a person's life? How about letting God make your schedule - and letting God send you financial gifts when you have none? Why must He be treated as a stingy God? How about YOU doing miracles? Why not?

I know. I know. I have to preach to myself as well - but what small miracles I have seen and been a part of, show me I MUST be missing a lot. And scripture points flatly to this power from a gracious God: "All things are possible for him who believes!"

Woe to our hearts of unbelief.

Especially since we ARE 'new creatures' in Christ!

Back To NOVA
Nova, as you may know, is Latin for 'new.'

So Nova could be implying not just the power of an exploding star, but also being re-made into a New Man. Sure, there are ranks within the Nova Corps, but I think it would be a cool retro-fit to have a Nova Corps Centurion reveal this particular truth [in a full re-boot of the series, natch]: 

"The Nova Corps has ALWAYS chosen the least of their species to be the most powerful - we find they do not abuse their power as often."

Richard Rider would be flabbergasted. "You chose me because I suck?"

The Centurion's grim visage lightened perceptively. "Or perceive that they are the least of their kind. Therein the star-spanning powers are held with natural humility."

"But I was never as powerful as THAT..."


Sighing, the Centurion replied, "YOU were - and are - your greatest enemy, Richard Rider. You limit yourself to what you can imagine.

"Be rational, for once. Consider your hyperflight capabilities - only permitted by your mind because you could not comprehend nor conceive of the power you were unleashing. Did this not awaken you to strange inequities?"

"You can travel across the galaxy at a thousand trillion times the speed of light, yet can only lift a tank?! You can casually override the laws of physics, escape being converted to energy by impacting trillions of hydrogen atoms a second, yet can only 'survive' in space for fifteen minutes?!"


The Centurion shook his head again and compassionately placed a hand on Rider's shoulder.
"When the Worldmind let you go home, telling you had been stripped of all your abilities, what happened to them?"

"Night Thrasher revealed they were hidden inside of me..."


"Exactly. Once a member of the Nova Corps, ALWAYS a member of the Nova Corps, Richard Rider.
It is time you accepted your destiny, and realized the full power of NOVA!"

The Centurion stood back, his eyes bright with authority and purpose, and as he spoke, the walls shook:
"You are a NEW man, Richard Rider - welcome to the Corps!"

And the three circles of rank appeared on Richard's chest as the uniform began to coalesce over his body, clearing away all the stink of beer and stale cigarettes...


If Frank Miller can make Daredevil interesting and if Hal Jordan can come back to kick major butt in seven years, I think Nova could be re-born to do what every hero should do - inspire, encourage, and increase hope - that there ARE men and women who can make a difference -

- and they, dear children born of the Spirit of God, are us.

Amen.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Giving Trees [or The Human Heart in a Nutshell]

As is our usual practice, we had a Bible study fellowship on Tuesday night, and I, being a bit burned-out emotionally, decided to pull back and only cover three verses. They were solid verses and worthy of instruction, but I usually only take five minutes to cover such for believers.

Well, God is smarter than I am, and He knows how we like to blow past small but vital information in our daily lives. Afterwards one of the attendees said, "I think this has been one of the better Bible studies. I liked the fact we did not cover too much material."

And he was right. Profound things need time to simmer in our brains. We are deceived by their simplicity unless experience and wisdom make us say "Hold up, hold up! WHAT did you just say?"

It is a child who believes many words equate wisdom; fools LOVE to babble. But if you can sum up an argument or a solution or any complex issue succinctly in a few words, you are a wise person indeed. You are looking past the leaves of the tree to the trunk, and then to the root of the issue.

And that tree metaphor? It is EXACTLY what the Lord of Creation used to describe our actions and our deepest inner selves.

The evidence of who we really are can be found on the branches of our lives - and to produce what is good, you've got to have it inside you first. We are all "Giving Trees" - giving out [or dishing out] what has been growing in our hearts.

No wonder we have to be transformed by being 'born again' if this is true. No wonder we are to avoid quarrelsome people - they want a fight, not a 'heart transplant.'

Well, I'm getting too busy applying these verses before you have read them yourself.

Read - and tell me what you think of Jesus' analysis of human behavior.

_____________________________

Luke 6:43-45

Jesus Tells Us How to Know a Person’s Heart

”Better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt!”

That verse of common wisdom does indeed warn us how opening our mouths sets us up for judgment – rightly or wrongly – from others. Especially today an information age, every word is carefully scrutinized – especially by your opponents – to reveal your faults and failures as a human being. Many wise people in a wicked world do chose to be silent to avoid such attention.

However, the focus of this passage in Luke is for the saint, not the unbeliever, to be discerning.

Not everyone who calls himself a Christian is truly a follower of Christ. They may mean only that they have a fondness for social justice, or that they like the messages of Jesus but deny His divinity and lordship in their personal lives.

I have found Jesus never speaks casually, and if He gave a way to be wise, we must use it. Those who love Jesus ask Him to take over their lives, their hearts, their minds. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, to be sure, and if THAT has been done, you will find the saint has a beatific view of even the worst situations. They perceive everyday circumstances differently and store up what is good so they can encourage and be encouraged. This leads to great anger from those who see evil and store it up in their hearts. They think the saint is akin to an ostrich with its head in the sand.

However, it is not a ‘positive thinking’ form of denial.

It is a refusal to cherish cruelty and curse God for being alive. Our heart controls everything else we do. Be careful what you store in it: it WILL grow. Proverbs 4:23-24 says it this way “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Amen.


Read in the round

Luke 6:43-45
43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.

44 “Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.

45 “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

1) What common sense measurement is found in the first verse here? If it is ‘common sense’, why did Jesus feel the need to say it to His disciples?

2) What have you learned from what people say out loud? Is it fair to use their own words to judge their thoughts – or is that too critical? [cf. Luke 19:21-23, Matthew 12:33-37]

3) When we say something mean or exclaim in anger, what are we really saying? Have you ever known something was wrong with a person because of their tone of voice?

Benediction
Ephesians 5:1-12, 19, 20


__________________________________________________

Various Thinkers and Leaders on “What We Should Say”
  • A hot-headed woman told John Wesley, "My talent is to speak my mind!" Replied Wesley, "Woman, God wouldn't care a bit if you would bury that talent." – attributed to evangelist John Wesley
  • Human conversation is largely an endless attempt to convince others that we are more assertive or clever or generous or successful than they might think if we did not carefully educate them. –John Ortberg
  • Kind words do not cost much. They never blister the tongue or lips. They make other people good-natured. They also produce their own image on men's souls, and a beautiful image it is. –Blaise Pascal
  • Great minds talk about ideas, Average minds talk about things, Small minds talk about other people. –Unknown
  • Learn to say no. It will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin. —Charles Spurgeon
  • Never argue with an idiot; they'll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience. –Anonymous
___________________________

Amen.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Revivification -the power we REALLY need

I'm back, and my Dad is doing much better. [Thanks everyone for your prayers and well-wishes!]

In fact, he seemed to come alive as I appeared. His blood sugar dropped 100 points [it was insanely high]. I was able to wheel him outside into the early Spring weather and round a few blocks with him. He had been cooped-up so long, he'd forgotten how good it was just to be outside. He really enjoyed it and thanked me.

His biggest disappointment was that I was not going to be moving to be near him. I had to cite my responsibility to God first, and frankly, it was lightly received.

But he was revived by my visit and got back to his grumpy old curmudgeonly self before I left.

The Road Less Traveled
While I was out there, contemplating my dad's health and the state of my relationship with him, a lot of things about the cost of true discipleship came to mind. Especially those parts where Jesus says to follow Him is to 'hate' your own kindred.

Not to be hateful to them, but rather, by choosing to obey God's wishes and not your own personal sympathies, your love for God and His kingdom seems like hatred to your family and friends.

You are divorcing yourself from them for Another. That can't feel good. Killing a relationship so you can build another hurts like hell.

And so Jesus paints it wisely when He says "If any man wishes to be MY disciple, he must take up his cross and follow Me."

What those who do find out - that is, those who leave behind friends and family and lands for the sake of Christ find out - is that Christ revives them. They 'die' only to be revived.

He walks closely with them. They can perceive so many more things than before.

He revives them with Himself.

God's Wink as I Roll
This came to me in a strange way. As I was sitting in my stepmom's apartment, bored out of my mind, I decided to randomly roll-up a brand new character for me to play in Villains and Vigilantes. It'd been awhile so I was hoping I would roll a PC who'd sort of, I dunno, 'speak' to where I was at, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Sort of a role I could easily play - an alternate version of me [as V&V encourages you to make].

I rolled Revivification. I thought about how many times I would drop that power for something more useful in combat. This time I kept it. I went and rolled the rest of my powers and came up with a pretty nifty PC, who could alter density and travel not only through walls, but by shrinking down, travel vast distances near light speed 'for free'!

I stopped, looked at the character sheet and laughed.

I had been 'reviving' my Dad. I had been traveling by means 'mysterious', getting last-minute seats on flights taking me to places and people to minister unto, with next to NO planning.

God winked as we created together. I saw a hint of divine humor and irony at work.

My dad was revived so I could tell him I loved him. He said the same.

One day, my dad will die, and Another will revive him. Permanently.

All I can say is, I look forward to it.

Amen.