Monday, July 24, 2017

Impolite

There's one little word missing from the Gospels that ought to change the way that we, as Christians pray. That little word is "please." Of all the men and women who came to Jesus, begging for His healing, longing for His touch, aching for His forgiveness, perhaps only once did any of them say, "Please." (And then only perhaps because the details on that particular story differ between tellings and only one telling includes the politeness of the asker.)

Even in the Psalms, known for their deep, heartfelt prayers to God, "please" is conspicuously absent. David, who boldly asked for whatever he wanted in the name of God, who asked for redemption and for the persecution of his enemies, who confessed his sins and pleaded for forgiveness, did not insert a "please." 

So why do so many of our own prayers begin this way?

"Lord, I just ask you to please...." "God, please...." "Jesus, I know it feels like a lot to ask, but if you would please...." 

Dear demons, please get out of my life. Thank you in advance. Sincerely, me. 

I get it. Most of us were raised to be polite. We were raised to treat others with this kind of respect, knowing that whatever anyone does for us is essentially a grace because we should never expect favors, never count our chickens before they hatch. We should always say please and thank you because we're essentially putting others out, and it shows that we recognize this and respect both their time and their free will. 

But that is not at all how we're called to relate to God. Not in the slightest bit. Bold faith doesn't have time to be polite. It's too busy believing. 

And God wants a lot of things from us, but respect isn't one of them. At least, not in the way that we often want to give it. God wants our honor. God wants our faith. God wants our trust. He wants us to believe in Him, to know Him, to love Him. Can you imagine what the church would be if an unbeliever walked through our doors and asked, "What's this all about?" and we said, "Oh, we respect God very much." 

Respect is idol worship; it's not the deeply relational bond that God desires to have with His people. 

But here we are in a Christianity where most of us can't seem to pray at all without this measure of respect, where we buffer our requests with "please" and think that that's doing something for our faith. It is. ...it's killing it. What would happen if we would stand on the sides of the road and cry out to Jesus the way that the blind men did? Not "please give us our eyesight back," but "have mercy on me!" 

What would happen if we pushed our way through the crowd and reached out and touched Him? Not pushed our way through to ask permission to please for just a second touch Him, but just pushed through and touched Him? What would happen if we prayed the way Jesus prayed to His Father - "if it be Your will" instead of "please, God..."? 

What would happen if we prayed like it was a promise and not an inconvenience? What would happen if we prayed like we believed instead of wished? What would happen if we prayed like we were children of a loving God rather than a bother? 

It would change the way we pray. And it would change the way we encounter Him when we do.

This is not the time to polite. It's the time to be bold. Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Weapons of This World

Jesus turns away the sword; the Rock of Ages has no need of the weapons of this world. David refused Saul's armor; the weapons of this world made the mighty warrior clumsy. And it's not just these two. All throughout God's story, He demonstrates again and again that His battles are not won with the weapons of this world.

It's how Gideon brings down Midian with a bunch of clay pots. It's how Samson kills the Philistines with a jawbone and flaming foxes. It's why the walls of Jericho fall to a shout. Over and over and over again, God shows that it's not the world's weapons that win battles.

But here we are, and most of us buy into the idea that we have to fight the way the world fights if we ever hope to win them over. It's why we have churches with business plans, Christians who won't stop until they reach the corner office, the faithful falling into traps of cynicism, sarcasm, and passive-aggressiveness. 

It's...ugly. It's unbecoming of a people of God. And it makes us just as clumsy as a young David wielding a far-too-big sword. We just can't fight this way.

We'll never win.

We'll never win if we go running head-first into hard walls, thinking that by sheer power and strategy, they will fall. We'll never win if we hold both hands on the sword without a light to see by. We'll never win if we buy into the myth that the dullest sword is a danger to the sharpest faith.

The world will never see who God is if His people profess to be nothing more than the best swordsmen. Who is this God of yours that He makes you no more than any other soldier of this world?

Who is this God of yours who speaks love but who makes you speak only the best cynicism? Who is this God of yours who proclaims so-called truth, though your passive-aggressiveness makes the world have to dig for it? Who is this God of yours who has given you the victory, though you continue to fight so hard? Who is this God of yours who has made you somebody, but you refuse to believe it until your name is on the desk? Who is this God of yours....

At every turn, when we try to fight with the weapons of this world, we show our God to be false. Plain and simple. We show that our God is nothing more than we are able to make of Him by the world's standards, by the world's definitions. And the world isn't stupid - they see this more clearly than we do. 

But show up with clay pots. Show up with jawbones. Show up with trumpets, with buckets of water, with vegetables. Show up with a Cross bearing down on your shoulders. Show up with the weapons that are not of this world and all of a sudden, this world sees what God is really made of. Not because we showed up to fight.

But because He did. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Giants Fall

It should come as no surprise to us that the warrior Jesus need not fight with swords; God's been setting that story up since way back in the Old Testament.

It's the story of David and Goliath all over again. Except this time, it is God who fights like David.

Remember this story? David is the small little shepherd boy who comes to check on his brothers on the front lines of fighting against the Philistines. While there, he discovers that there's actually not much fighting going on. The Philistine champion, a Goliath of a man, steps forward every morning and challenges any man of Israel to a one-on-one battle for victory, but there are no takers, which means the two armies have essentially been staring at each other from opposite sides of the trenches for weeks. 

David, who has essentially zero experience fighting men, but has a bit of a background in wildlife extermination services (he has killed a bear and a lion in defense of his sheep), steps forward and says, basically, "I'll go." So Saul outfits him with a shield and a sword, which are too big and make the courageous David clumsy. So he casts them off, picks up a couple of smooth stones and says, "These'll do." He stands against the giant with rocks, and he wins.

Fast forward to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who comes to check on His people on the front lines of fighting. They're struggling against a Roman occupation that doesn't know what to do with them and a Pharisaical leadership whose burden is far too heavy for Israel to bear. Every day, Israel does her best to be the people God has called her to be, but in the face of such opposition and obstacle, she's not really gaining any ground. 

Jesus, who spends His time loving men, not fighting them, steps forward and declares, "I'll go." And come He did. And the men of this world who were so long waiting for a warrior do their best to outfit Him with the weapons of this world. They try to give Him a sword. Again and again and again, they try to convince Him that this is what He needs. But the sword is not what Jesus wants. This is not a battle to be won by the sword. So He pushes them away.

And then the Rock stands against the giants, and He wins.

Right? It's the same old story, just recast into a different light. We start with a shepherd, end with a Rock, and giants fall because of it. We wouldn't dare say that David wasn't a warrior, so how could we possibly conclude that Jesus wasn't? He's simply another one who does not fight with the weapons of this world.

He doesn't need to.

And that, too, is a good reminder for the rest of us who stand on this side of the trench and call ourselves warriors. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Touch of Humility

The authority that Jesus used to fight for those whom God had given Him is the same authority that He gave to the disciples when He sent them out to heal the sick and cast out demons. And it is the same authority He's given to us to fight for the "least of these" in the name of His love. But the disciples learned an important lesson when they went out with His authority, and it draws us back into the very heart of Jesus Himself. 

It's not hard to think that the disciples were like many of us would be - arrogant. Given all authority on heaven and on earth, given the power to heal the sick and to cast out demons, given the very power that Christ Himself wielded so awesomely, it's easy to assume that this authority went quickly to their heads. Not only were they part of the inner circle, but now they were part of the power play, and the people who had been coming to Jesus were now coming to them. While they had heard so many call out the name of Jesus from the sides of the road, now, those voices were calling out their names as they traveled through the land Jesus had sent them to.

Hey, maybe some friends were even dropping persons through their roofs. We just don't know. We aren't told what those journeys looked like, what the disciples did or how they did it while they were out on their own. 

But we are given one recap of the disciples' adventures when a man comes to Jesus and begs for a demon to be cast out. "Your disciples tried," the man says, "But they were unsuccessful." And after Jesus speaks what may have been similar to the disciples' own words and the demon is finally cast out, the disciples gather around Him. How'd you do that? How come we couldn't?

And Jesus says, "This type of demon can only be cast out by prayer and fasting."

What Jesus is really saying is that the disciples seemed to have forgotten one key component to wielding authority: humility. They had forgotten that the authority and the power that they had did not come from themselves, that it was dependent upon the One who had given it to them (prayer is the relationship with this One), and they had forgotten that even if they had all authority in heaven and on earth and all the power that came with that, there was still something in them that would not be satisfied by that (fasting reminds us of what we truly ache for, something which cannot be fulfilled by anything but God). 

That's how I think we can be reasonably sure that at some point, the power went to the disciples' heads. Because in this moment when authority failed them, Jesus says the problem was not authority, but humility.

It's also an invitation to go back over the way that Jesus wields authority through the Gospels and to see the absolute humility in His own actions. Quite often, Jesus is asked (usually by Pharisees), "And just who do you think you are?" You know, forgiving sins and all that. And every time, Jesus responds with a quiet display of power that shows humility, not arrogance. He doesn't say, "I'm the Son of God, for crying out loud!" He never says, "Hey, watch this: I'm the man." He never brags, "I am the stuff" (fill in your own less-Christianed word here, if you so choose). He always says, "I am the Father's Son, doing the Father's will, in the way that the Father chooses because it is the Father who sent me." Not exactly in those words, but that is the tone of His reply.

And He backs that up with prayer and fasting. He's always sneaking away to pray, always taking time to talk to God. He's always bringing the relationship that He has with the One who sent Him to the forefront, always making sure He stays in His proper place here. And He consistently reminds everyone, disciples included, that nothing in this world satisfies Him. He doesn't rely on this world to fulfill Him. His satisfaction comes from somewhere else. So we often see Him turning away what the world would give Him and seeking the Lord (fasting).

It's important for us to be able to trace this humility through Jesus's ministry, particularly through His authority and to see how important it is for these things to be held in balance with one another, especially as we attempt to fulfill our own ministry to "go and do likewise." The authority, He has given us, and it exalts us over the demons of this world. The humility, we must bring on our own, that we never forget that God is still over us. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

All Authority

The reason it's difficult for most of us to think of Jesus as a warrior is because the battles He won don't look like much of a fight. Blindness is lifted, lameness is healed, demons are cast out, and it doesn't look like He's really done much of anything - no blood, no gore, no sweat, no swords. Just...words.

Some warrior....

But that's the beauty about who Jesus is. He doesn't have to get into all of that. His war paint is the very flesh that covers His holy countenance. And the weapon He wields is absolute authority. (Or what the Scriptures often call "all authority," as in "all authority on heaven and on earth.") 

The very concept of such authority blows our minds. The very idea that such an authority even exists is difficult for us to grasp. Because authority is an idea that has suffered severely in our culture (and perhaps for a very long time, but we'll get to that tomorrow.) 

Our culture says that you only have as much authority as others are willing to give you. You might be the boss, but if the employees don't listen to what you say, you have no authority. You might be the parent, but if your children don't heed your words, you have no authority. You might be an expert in your field, but if the masses don't care what you have to say, then you have no authority in saying it. In today's world, authority has become subjective - it's a deference we pay to one another when we feel like it, but it's nothing on its own.

That's why it's so easy for this world to look at Jesus, even to look at Him speaking with such authority, and think it's got little, if anything at all, to do with Him. Whatever Jesus was able to do, it was because the people in His time let Him do it, not because He had the authority to do it. And that may have been all well and good for them, but we - today's people - aren't so blind, so sheepish, so gullible. This Jesus, He has to prove Himself to us. 

Which He can only do if we let Him.

It's not just modern persons who have this problem with Jesus; the Pharisees are showing signs of it even as His contemporaries. Every time Jesus forgives sins, the Pharisees gasp and say, Who does this man think He is? In other words, what authority does He have to do such a thing?

It's the same question we're asking today, this question about authority, but here's what we have to notice: unlike the earthly authority that we sometimes afford one another, an authority that is limited by our willingness to submit to it, Jesus's authority does not depend upon what men think of it. 

He forgives sinners whether the Pharisees think He can or not. 

And everywhere we turn in the Gospels, that's the kind of battle we see Jesus fighting. That's the warrior side of Him coming out. On every page, in every story, on every street, Jesus is wielding His absolute authority for the sake of those who believe in Him. He forgives sins, casts out demons, heals ills, washes wounds, and all by a simple word. He fights for the sake of every single one that He meets, but He needn't draw a single drop of blood. 

Which makes it all the more remarkable that He would spill it.