A Disney tale … and teaching about God

I’m pretty sure no one would accuse The Disney Company of realism in its animated features. (You mean, mines aren’t worked by little guys who all live in a house with a teenage girl as their caregiver? You mean, the plural of “dwarf” is “dwarves”?)

Certainly, there are moral elements, like good triumphing over evil (although that’s usually a case of good magic triumphing over evil magic), virtue as its own reward and the transcendent value of pure love; on the other hand, some features glorify the strong-willed child who rebels against his or her parents and the outlaw ne’er-do-well, who constantly outwits kings and those in authority.

For parents who want to raise their children in Biblical ideals and principles, those are not exactly examples to hold up for them to emulate.

But the movie Moana provides something of a starting point. Moana came out a couple of years ago and is based on the story of Maui. As I understand from the movie, Maui is the  name of a demi-god who created the earth and all the lands and islands, pulling them up from the deep with his magic fish-hook:

maui's hook

However, the movie portrays Maui as an egomaniac who, when we meet him, is in a royal blue funk because his magic fish-hook has been stolen. Without it, he can’t create anything, can’t save what he has created, and turns out to be a bit of a coward.

(Important note: this is the story in the movie. I don’t know if that’s the way Maui is depicted in Hawai’ian/Polynesian tradition. This isn’t about that culture and tradition: it’s about the story in the movie*.)

The movie also describes Maui as a trickster, and incredibly vain. His first big number (it’s a musical) is called “You’re Welcome!”, in which he describes all the things he’s done for everyone and assumes that people should fall down and thank him — so in anticipation of that …

You get the idea.

But here is a golden opportunity to teach kids about God. We can use this to tell them that there really is a Creator, but He’s nothing like Maui. First of all, while the legend has it that Maui pulled the islands out of the sea with his magic fish-hook, the Creator put the sea there in the first place and added the ocean floor long before Maui came along.

But really, our Creator is the one who pulled up the islands and created a whole lot more than just the ocean and the lands, didn’t need any magic fish-hook to do the job: He had an idea, spoke it in words, and it came into existence. No one can “steal” His power, although, like in the movie, there are those who try, and still others who try to prevent Him from doing what He intends to do.

And above all, even though we should be saying “Thank you!” to Him every chance we get, He doesn’t demand that we do. According to Strong’s Concordance, the word “praise” occurs 237 times in the New King James Version — 64% of those instances in the Psalms, either declaring that the Psalmist praises God, or urging others to praise Him.

Only twice, as far as I can see, does God, Himself, call us to praise Him.

For thus says the Lord: “Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘O Lord, save Your people, the remnant of Israel!'”

— Jeremiah 31:7

“Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.
“The beast of the field will honor Me,
The jackals and the ostriches, because I give waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert, to give drink to My people, My chosen.

“This people I have formed for Myself; they shall declare My praise.

But you have not called upon Me, O Jacob; and you have been weary of Me, O Israel.

You have not brought Me the sheep for your burnt offerings,

Nor have you honored Me with your sacrifices.
“I have not caused you to serve with grain offerings,
Nor wearied you with incense. You have bought Me no sweet cane with money,
Nor have you satisfied Me with the fat of your sacrifices; But you have burdened Me with your sins, You have wearied Me with your iniquities.

“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake;

And I will not remember your sins.”
— Isaiah 43:19-25

We shouldn’t need to be told.

But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?

— Matthew 21:15-16

And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, saying “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.”

But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.

— Luke 19:39-40

And (you could continue to the child), rather than chickening out when things got dangerous, our Creator allowed Himself to be killed in order to save us from great danger. Isn’t that a whole lot better than someone who talks big but can’t be relied on when you really need him?

I know: let’s take that hook and add something …

hooked on jesus - 2

 

Much better.

Oh, yes: when we say “Thank you!” to our Creator, He does say “You’re welcome!”, but in a completely different way:

He does more.

And keeps doing more.

And that’s no Disney fantasy.


*Worth remembering that Disney sometimes takes liberties with the facts. Some children (I can think of one, in particular) were absolutely convinced that Pocahontas married John Smith, because that was implied in the Disney film.

Why no human could have written the Bible (another illustration)

The other day, a friend of mine sent a very lovely, thought-provoking and inspirational video, “Interview with God”. It’s worth a look, but it also illustrates the contention that the Bible could not have been written by humans.

You’ve doubtless heard the claim from people who don’t want to believe, that “the Bible was written by men to control others,” but the simple fact is, people don’t think the way God thinks.

At 2:54 of the Interview, we see: “To learn that it is not enough to be forgiven by others, but that [people] must forgive themselves.”

Try as I might – and if you know of anything in Scripture to contradict that, please pass it along – I can’t see anything in the Bible that tells us we have to forgive ourselves for things. Remember how the Pharisees got bent out of shape when Jesus told sick people they were forgiven for their sins (Luke 5:21)? They were partly right: God forgives us. We forgive others. But forgiving ourselves is not part of the equation.

“I can’t forgive myself for doing that,” is a kind of false humility, making ourselves our judge and substituting guilt and shame for remorse and repentance. Like a dog returning to its vomit, trying to forgive ourselves just keeps bringing us back to the initial offense, forcing us to relive something that Jesus wiped off the books by His Sacrifice.

If we try to forgive ourselves, we’re usurping God’s role.

Our role in forgiveness for our own misdeeds is to ask God to forgive us, thank Jesus for making that possible and move forward. Remember Judas Iscariot and Peter, both of whom betrayed Jesus when He was arrested: Judas didn’t realize Jesus had already absolved him of his sin and never “forgave himself”. Peter did – he got over it and got on with it.

But to come back to the Bible, as I’ve said before, you can’t make this stuff up. We humans come up with nice-sounding platitudes like “you must forgive yourself” and “you can’t love others until you love yourself”, rather than saying, “God’s forgiven you – deal with it” or “Jesus already paid the price – praise Him”.

It’s one thing to talk about a Creator or a Higher Power, but quite another to talk about one who actually lets us off the hook for the things we’ve done wrong, doesn’t exact vengeance from us if we humble ourselves and ask Him to forgive, and comes down to our level in order to raise us up to His.

“Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,

And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

— Isaiah 55:7-9

Jesus and The Great Resistance

A couple of months ago, I wrote about my friends from church, who were born and grew up in Nazi-occupied France. My friends use that experience to relate to Jesus: “All that our people wanted was to be FREE,” the wife says. “And that’s what it was like for the Jews under the Romans: they wanted to be FREE.”

A key to freedom for the French was the Resistance, and in the same way, our freedom from oppression is one of the principles of walking with Christ, and involves resistance.

Resistance has three faces, as I see it. All the definitions involve taking an active stance against something.

Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

— James 4:7

But Jesus tells us

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”

— Matthew 5:39

Are those contradictory? No. Rather, they’re our “check” in the Spirit to make sure we’re fighting the right enemy. The person who slaps us on our cheek, punches us in the nose or kicks us in the … you get the idea … is not the one we are supposed to resist – set ourselves against, oppose or withstand. They’re a child of God just like we are, and just as susceptible to moments of anger or to Do The Wrong Thing as (ahem) we. The world would say that it would be quite alright to pop the other person a good one, but Jesus tells us to recognize who the real enemy is.

James gives us a relatively simple battle plan. Just resist – set ourselves against, oppose or withstand – the devil. All we need, really, is to refuse to give in to him, whether it’s the temptation to sin or to fight back against another fleshly person, and he’ll be out of there: he knows the motivation to resist him comes from none other than Jesus Christ – and you know what he thinks of Him.

So those are two faces of resistance: resisting the temptation to resist another human who offends us; and knowing who our real enemy is and resisting him.

Now there’s one more face of “resistance”.

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells within us yearns jealously?”

But He gives more grace. Therefore He says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble”.

— James 4:4-6

This kind of resistance has an even stronger connotation of positive action: it’s a different Greek root that means not just standing firm, but actively working against something or someone.

People who walk in pride – the proud – are people who think and talk and act as if their intellect is paramount. They may love God, they may be well-meaning, (or they may consider God and His Commandments to be a total buzz-kill), but when the rubber meets the road, they’ll take the action they think is appropriate and not take the time to pray it through and listen to the Holy Spirit.

I’ve heard an expression, “Practical Christianity”. I haven’t heard that defined, but it appears to mean that one is Christian – follows Jesus and agrees with things He says – when it’s practical, but in the “real world”, they’ll handle things themselves. “Catch you later, God – so long, and thanks for all the fish!”

But when you consider “God resists the proud” and the connotation of actively working against something or someone, that means that God is not simply stepping off to the sidelines, but has actually swapped sides and is actively working against the proud. 

The result? Failure. Maybe God will give the grace to let one have an “epic fail”, where one sees right away what they should have done, repents and gets back in line with God (so that God can get back in line with them). But more often, I believe, the failure is subtle. Maybe the result “good enough as it is” or “close enough for rock-and-roll”; maybe there’s a form of success, which leads to more false confidence, which leads to a bit more success, and then one’s “progress” hits a plateau, or shows unintended consequences. Maybe they never know how much better – and glorious – it could have been.

SO …

  • resisting the devil guarantees us victory
  • refusing to “resist” an evil person means our sights are set above the world
  • singing “I’ll Do It My Way” means God is now resisting you.

Is that something you’d want to trifle with?

Is your sin my problem?

In some of my more fanciful moments, I imagine that Jesus, having ascended to heaven, chose His half-brother, James, as His mouthpiece. James’ epistle has a lot of the style and tone that characterize Jesus’ conversations recorded in the Gospels.

So let’s consider this:

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

— James 5:19-20

But also this:

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?

“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?

“Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

— Matthew 7:3-5

Do those messages seem contradictory? We’re supposed to lead people to Jesus and show Him as the One who saves us from our sins. Aren’t we supposed to point out that they’re sinners, give specific examples (often, before they’ve asked “What sins am I committing?”) and tell them that they’re in danger of going to hell if they don’t repent? What’s with this “remove the plank” noise?

Unfortunately, a lot of people approach evangelism by showing what’s wrong with someone. It’s like advertising or a political campaign: pound the message that there’s a problem and “create a demand” for the solution.

But Jesus is not an advertiser or politician, and quite frankly, while people don’t seem to mind being told that they need a machine they can talk to or that their country is no longer “great” (so long as it’s someone else’s fault), people rebel at hearing that there’s a problem with their lifestyle.

What’s more, we don’t know what their sin is: we can only see the tip of the iceberg – we don’t know the root causes of anybody’s “stuff”. Heck, we don’t even know the cause of our own.

So how do you let people know they need to be saved without offending them and pushing them away?

The key is in the expression “cover a multitude of sins”.

Just as Jesus did, James uses oblique references to Old Testament scripture to make his point. Jesus used to say, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear” – in other words, “are you getting the reference?” Jesus doesn’t always spoon-feed us the answers: He makes us drill deeper to get His meaning, which I think of as keeping the conversation going between us and God, thereby building our relationship with Him. Peter also refers to a “multitude of sins”, and in both cases, it’s an echo of

Hatred stirs up strife,

But love covers all sins.

— Proverbs 10:12

The way to draw people onside is to love them; to be a friend and truly be “there for them”, and as you do, tell them about how Jesus plays a role in your life and how He can do the same for them. Let them see that you’ve gone through hard times and that you’ve found answers by turning to Jesus. And never let up, even when they try to change the subject or become distracted.

There’s another key:

“First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

— Matthew 7:5

That does not mean (as the musical Godspell suggests) that only someone who is walking perfectly upright and never sins is qualified to talk to someone else about sin. “Remove the plank” means you have handed your “stuff” over to Jesus and in so doing are walking in love towards others. Then, you can “see clearly” and understand how – or even whether — to talk to someone about their error.*

So, no – your sin is not my problem; helping you get to know Jesus is.


*My favorite example is of a time, in the early days of popular internet use, when I inadvertently visited a porn site. It truly was “inadvertent”: I had naively clicked on a link that was sent anonymously (live and learn) and found this horrendous site. I tried to back out of it, but the more I clicked, the deeper I got pushed into the site. I finally shut off the computer and when I switched it on, everything was back to normal. A few days later, my friend came to visit and crash overnight en route back home, and I left him with access to my computer when I went to work. A couple of days after that, he phoned and said he wanted to talk to me. He started, very gingerly, to tell me he had found the porn site while using my computer (I never did ask how he found it) and of course, I had forgotten all about it. When I finally realized what he was talking about, I burst out laughing and explained. He accepted the explanation and we blessed each other and rang off. But I appreciated the way he approached the matter: probably prayed about it and talked with his wife (who was the first person to encourage me to “keep growing in the Lord” a couple of years before) and waited until hearing from the Lord how to talk to me. It was a textbook example.

The offense of love – and the Great Transitive Property

Do you remember your high school math? The “Transitive Property”?

if A > B

and B > C

therefore A > C

Hold that thought. We’ll come back to it.

So yesterday, we talked about the Great Heads-Up – the increasing signs that Jesus’ Return is just around the corner. We don’t know when or where it will happen, but the signs that He said would precede it are all around us and our duty is to point as many people towards the Gospel as we can.

And of course, people will be offended by it. Jesus also told us …

“You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.

“But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.

“Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.”

— Matthew 10:18-22

Paul writes of “the offense of the Cross” (Galatians 5:11). On one level, he’s writing about the Cross – the crucifixion and resurrection – as being an offensive weapon against Satan; but that also reflects the reality that people will be offended by the Gospel.

Let’s remember that Paul also tells us: “We give no offense in any thing, that our ministry may not be blamed” (2 Corinthians 6:3).

So we can expect that people will be offended, but we have to be careful not to give offense, ourselves. The Cross does enough offending, on Its own. How? Because people don’t like to be told they’ve done something wrong – even if finding out what they’ve been doing wrong is left for them to figure out. Imagine a child caught with his hand in a cookie jar, blaming his parents for not hiding the cookies. Or consider Adam, on being called out for eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, who blamed first Eve and then God (“The woman whom You gave to me to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I ate.” – Genesis 3:12 (my emphasis)).

In both cases, the child and Adam were offended because they were confronted with the truth, and the truth got in the way of their doing something tangible that comforted them.

That’s what we’re up against. The enemy – the god of this world – has made it appear that the only things worth treasuring are the things we can see around us, the creature comforts and physical appearances. Our job, therefore, is not to tell people how they’ve erred – remember: we’re not their judge – but to show how we erred and are always in danger of erring, and how, Jesus, we set our sights on something different; we need to show that setting our sights that way has led to greater comfort and joy in this world – and it’s available to others, too.

And then people will be offended, because we “know all the answers”.

Don’t expect to win this discussion, on any account.

But expect this: you’ve planted a seed, and part of the seed-planting process is to expect that it will take root, regardless of whether you’re around to see it. It could take years for them to realize the Truth, and all we can do in this case is never stop praying for them and never stop living and walking and speaking the Truth. The initial resistance you’ll encounter is the enemy’s clumsy way to shut you up. If you do shut up, people will wonder if you were really serious about your faith.

Remember: you’re not the one who’s talking: it’s the Holy Spirit who will give you the words you need.

Just open your mouth, and let love do the talking, which brings us to the Transitive Property of Evangelism:

… he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

— James 5:20

 and

And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”

— 1 Peter 4:8

Which brings us to the greatest, non-offensive point of all: love covers a multitude of sins; and turning an unsaved person from their old way will cover a multitude of sins; therefore, Love is the key to turning someone from their old way.

The great “Heads Up”

It’s been a while since I subscribed to Sports Illustrated, so I don’t know if they still do this; but when I did, they had a section called “Scorecard”. It was a collection of sports news clips, which usually ended with one headlined “This Week’s Sign That the Apocalypse is Upon Us”. That would be what newscasters would call a “kicker” – a humorous bit, usually about something that would make you slap your forehead or chuckle sardonically at what fools these mortals be.

The signs continue to build around us these days, and as it is with so many sources of humor these days, the signs aren’t funny anymore. Consider:

  • A man drives a van down a crowded sidewalk in Toronto Monday afternoon, killing nine people and injuring 16, then dares police to shoot him.
  • A guy walks into a Waffle House in Nashville and opens fire with an assault rifle, killing four people and wounding seven before an unarmed man wrests the gun away from him as he’s reloading. Shooter was arrested Monday afternoon, after being on the run for nearly a day and a half.
  • Two sheriff’s deputies were shot dead over the weekend in a restaurant in Florida.

Look at all the school shootings this year, and when anyone tries to discuss what to do about gun violence, things invariably degenerate into a shouting match over gun control, while the victims – the dead and those living on – are ignored.

And it’s more than just guns:

  • A man was charged over the weekend with extortion, after people who were rescued from devastating floods and storm damage on the island of Kaua’i in Hawai’i were charged a fee: apparently, they weren’t told about the fee until the boat they were in was 200 yards offshore.
  • Chemical weapons have been used on civilians in Syria. At least one commentator claims the reporting on the attacks has blown them out of proportion to support some “narrative”; again, the victims are ignored or even denied.
  • Some European countries are reportedly hiring outside “contractors” to stop refugees at sea and turn them back. This appears to be treated in the media as a “good thing”.
  • Anti-immigrant sentiment around the world is not letting up.

What does this have to do with “Two Minutes for Cross-Checking!”?

Because these are the signs that the Apocalypse is near.

Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.

— Matthew 24:11-12

Look at how the “love of many” is absent in so many ways. Gun violence is not about guns so much as about Love growing ice-cold. The lack of love is the root both in the violent incident and in the perpetrator him- or herself, in their backgrounds and the way others treated them.

Jesus “called it”. He told us we’d see days like these.

Peter called it, too:

… your adversary, the devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

— 1 Peter 5:8

We need to see this for what it is: Satan, on the move, looking for anyone and everyone he can bring down with him. He knows his time is short – he knows it better than we do, that’s for sure: he doesn’t care about gun control advocates or about preserving the Second Amendment; he doesn’t care about the safety of refugees or the security of the countries they’re trying to escape to; he doesn’t care about the victims of chemical weapons or about those who deploy them. All he wants is to keep people at one another’s throats so they’re so concerned about their personal interests that they don’t prepare for what comes next, which is …

Jesus’ Return.

As followers of Jesus and believers in the Bible, we have a distinct advantage: we’ve read the Book, and we know what comes next and what we’re expected to do about it.

Others don’t know that, so it’s up to us to point them towards Jesus Christ and help them to “endure to the end” (Matthew 24:13).

All of you be submissive to one another and be clothed with humility, for

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34)

Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

Resist him, steadfast n the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.

— 1 Peter 5:5-9

We have our heads-up; we have our marching orders; and we have one another. We know what to do: let’s do it.

Bodily resurrection – and our just dessert

Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.”

But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.

When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?

So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence.

— Luke 24:36-43

A friend of mine recently told me what she said was a joke. “Did you hear that Easter has been cancelled? They found the body.”

She prefaced and followed it by apologizing if I found it offensive. Truth to tell, I wasn’t offended; I’m not sure what I felt, because the fact that Jesus’ Body has not been, and never will be, found is the reason I’m alive today. It’s the reason billions of people, for the past 2,000 years, have survived some incredible, life-threatening trials and risen up, stronger than before. The faith, the strength to push forward in spite of the odds, the motivation to do things that are “inconvenient” to the person him- or herself, all come from the belief – the knowledge – that Jesus walked out of that grave, whole, except for the holes in His hands, feet and side.

Why do I believe it? And what does it matter if He walked out bodily, or if people just saw a ghost?

There’s a simple answer to the first question: no one has proven that it didn’t happen. But we have plenty of witnesses on the record who say that it did. Since they have not shown themselves to be liars in other areas, why would they lie about this?

(Interesting thought: I’ve often thought that if Judas Iscariot had only known that Jesus had absolved him for his betrayal – and had done so before the fact – maybe he wouldn’t have hanged himself. Maybe he would have gone on to be one of the greatest of the Apostles. But since he had a reputation for being a liar and a thief, who would have believed him about the Resurrection? “Sure, Judas: you sold Him out in the first place, and now you’re telling us He’s still alive? Why don’t you pull the other one, then?”)

As far as the second question is concerned, His bodily resurrection is the confirmation that something no one had ever seen or heard of before was going on. It makes the difference between Jesus’ being Just Another Prophet, or a Nice Guy Who Said Some Nice Things And Was Martyred For It, and Jesus’ being the Son of God.

More importantly, I don’t need to see it to believe it.

 “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

— John 20:39

Or as Paul (or whoever wrote Hebrews) says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please {God}, for he who comes to God must first believe that He is, and that He is a rewarded of those who diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

People have been raised from the dead, certainly: the Bible records it in the Old Testament (Elijah and the widow’s son) and Jesus revived more than a few people, as we know. What’s more, people have died and been resuscitated — it’s not unusual. But eventually, they’ve all died, for good. But the same witnesses who met Jesus in the flesh after He had died and fed Him the fish and honeycomb also report that He was taken up into Heaven (Acts 1:9). Again, I believe it because they said so — and because no one has proven that it didn’t happen.

So really: the Body won’t be found, because anyone looking isn’t looking in the right place. And if you do look in the right place, you don’t need to look, anyway.

One more thing: if you want further indication that Jesus was appeared, in the flesh, to the disciples, there’s a subtle hint in the fact that He asked for food. “So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence.” Not only did He eat, but He ate what my mother used to call “solemn food” – the fish – and dessert.

Fully God, resurrected; and fully human – because what human doesn’t want dessert?

A little bit of humor, there …

The piece on Grace a couple of days ago initially started in response to another article on quite a different theme. The writer was analyzing a sermon at a conference attended by a number of young people. Apparently, the day before, a speaker had given a lighter, humorous sermon, that had the kids laughing loud and long, and when he gave an altar call, they flooded down to the front to receive Jesus. Earlier, a worship band had them all dancing and jumping with the music.

So the next day, another speaker got up and preached about hell and eternal damnation. He cited this passage from the Sermon on the Mount:

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your Name, cast out demons in Your name and done many wonders in Your name?’ 

“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you: depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!‘”

— Matthew 7:21-22

He went on to talk about the need for genuine remorse and repentance as part of the process of accepting Christ — the idea being that tickling people’s ears with hot music, jokes and funny anecdotes won’t save people, but the sobering thought of spending eternity in a place with eternal torment, wailing and gnashing of teeth will.

The writer analyzing this then noted that hardly anyone responded to the altar call, and, if I read his tone correctly, suggested this was a sad commentary.

But a couple of questions come out of that. First, how do we know those kids, in the twenty-some years since that conference, haven’t gone through the remorse-and-repentance phase — perhaps spurred on by the Still, Small Voice reminding them that they had received Jesus, so why were they still behaving that way?

Heaven knows, that’s how my salvation has played out and I don’t think I’m atypical. Peter’s was a classic case: going from the heady time of being told “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah” after declaring Jesus was the Christ – Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16-17), to the despair of denying Jesus, to receiving his redemption on the shore after the Resurrection (John 21:15-17).

Another, similar question: how do we know those kids weren’t brought to repentance on the spot? They wouldn’t need to respond to the altar call, since they’d already done so.

We need to be careful with our assessments.

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. 

— 1 Corinthians 4:5

But what’s wrong with injecting humor into our messages? The name of the game is relating the Gospel to people’s lives, reaching them with language they understand. People have a hard enough time relating to the Kingdom of heaven, which they can’t see and where everything is glorious; much less relating to eternal damnation, which they can’t see either and where everything is torment. But giving people something to laugh about, or at least some light humor, puts you on their level — just as Jesus humbled Himself to reach out to us.

Jesus wasn’t exactly a laugh-a-minute, but He had some moments. Do you think people would have invited Jesus to dinner if He were a total downer? And how about this:

The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.
“For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
 

“But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries* broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’

— Matthew 23:2-7

I often imagine Jesus’ listeners laughing as His caution about the scribes and Pharisees gradually turns to ridicule. As He often does, He slips in an oblique Old Testament reference — in this case, to the prayer of Jabez, who asked God to enlarge his territory — his borders — (1 Chronicles 4:10) and indicated he was prepared to govern and care for the people living in that territory. I imagine a slight “pause for effect” when He says, “and enlarge the borders … of their garments“. 

Remember, too, that Jesus warns about people who do things in His Name after He’s talked about who is blessed and how important each and every person is to God. His point isn’t about who doesn’t get into the Kingdom, as it is about how the priorities are different.

Humor? Music? We’re supposed to show people how important they are to God and how making Him part of our everyday lives is not only possible, it’s the best thing ever, and to reach them with that message by any means necessary. 

 


* Phylactery: a small leather box containing Hebrew texts on vellum, worn by Jewish men at morning prayer as a reminder to keep the law. (from Merriam-Webster)

Grace – the heavenly salvage job

I’ve been thinking a lot about the message of Grace lately.

I’m big on Grace, largely because it’s the knowledge of God’s Grace towards me that kept me alive through the tough time of confronting the way I had been living for much of my life and keeps me from slipping back.

We are saved by Grace (Ephesians 2:5, 8). That is, the only thing we need to do is thank Jesus that we can stop living the way we’d lived in the past and draw closer to Him. He does the heavy lifting from there on (think lifting a Cross, for example). Interestingly, the word that’s usually rendered as “saved” actually means “made whole” — I’d suggest “by Grace you are salvaged” might be a better concept.

Thing is, people need to be aware that they need to be salvaged. Somehow, people need to understand that a lifestyle without Jesus is eternally dangerous and that placing their desires and priorities on the Lord — even if they can’t see Him — is infinitely better than striving for something they can see.

In this “post-Christian” environment, people are constantly told that there are no absolutes, “right and wrong” depends on their personal point of view, the idea of God is fluid and there may not be an Eternity, anyway. That’s a lot to overcome, but we have an advantage.

The advantage we have as followers of Jesus is that those post-Christian concepts all lead to confusion, and confusion is not of God. What’s more, people don’t want to be confused: being told “you can choose your own way” only leads to depression when people realize they have no idea which way to go, or when they see that the way they chose did not turn out to be a great idea, after all. People are “scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36), and that’s exactly where Jesus comes in. He had compassion for the scattered sheep.

That compassion is there for anyone: it blows away the confusion by leading people to God’s Word, which tells us plainly what is right and what isn’t. His Word then comforts those who are afraid that they’ve been doing wrong all this time, by telling them they’re forgiven if they’ll just come back.

The best way we can get that message across is to fall back on our personal stories, telling people how confused and frustrated we were until we accepted that God knows best, after all. He’s given us His word, so that there is no confusion, and our lives are infinitely better, as a result.

AND … He leaves the door open for us to draw nearer to Him — simply because He loves us individually and doesn’t want to lose us.

It comes back to personal testimony doesn’t it? We can’t hammer at people that they need Grace: but we can tell them that we do.

His agony for our ecstasy

The other day, I wrote about my Big Idea for altering the end of Jesus Christ, Superstar and Godspell, so that they close on the hope of the Resurrection, rather than the “downer” of the Crucifixion. My mother, who in 1953 risked jail rather than alter the work of the author of Tobacco Road*, would have been appalled.

But “on further review”, it could be that the authors’ intention wasn’t to portray the Resurrection, but to make us take a hard look at ourselves. Once we get past the good news and the healings and the “Ho-sanna! Hey-sanna-sanna-sanna-Ho!”, how do we really feel about Jesus? When our question, “When do we ride into Jerusalem?” doesn’t bring the answer we want, do we stand with Jesus or fall before the Pharisees?

When we’re faced with the Truth, even though everything points to it, we suppress it, even beat it to an unrecognizable pulp, rather than let it get in the way of our pursuit of happiness. It happens today: look at the lengths so many groups and individuals go, to deny Him and cling to their own understanding. (That includes myself.)

There are times when we need to be reminded of Jesus’ death, and the part that people just like us played in it — and still play. Consider what Jesus was doing, so that we, everyone who came before us and everyone who would come after us, could walk free from sin. As The Passion of the Christ showed graphically and John Legend in JC Superstar portrayed brilliantly, Jesus death wasn’t a simple “judicial killing”. It wasn’t “quick”, like beheading, firing squad, or the neat slitting of the throat in the case of an animal sacrifice.

It was probably the most brutal form of execution our cruel species has ever devised and demonstrates how much sin was laid on the one sinless Man and how His blood had to be beaten and practically wrung out of Him to atone for it.

The closest thing I can imagine is an old documentary film I saw of a bullfight. Watching the poor animal taunted, pricked mercilessly and eventually sagging, helpless, to the ground as the crowd cheered made me nauseated and disconsolate at the same time. Now, imagine a man in the place of the bull; and imagine that that man is going through that, willingly, as punishment for wrongs that we had done.

Sometimes, we need that image to remind us what Jesus is all about.

So Tim and Sir Andrew, let’s let the ending stay as it is.

I’m sure you’ll be pleased that I approve.


*Hugh Pickett, an impresario of some repute, was called at the “Tobacco Road” trial as an expert witness. Through the ages, this courtroom exchange has become legend.

JUDGE: Mr Pickett, do you consider “Tobacco Road” to be lewd and filthy?

PICKETT: I consider these proceedings to be lewd and filthy.

JUDGE: Another remark like that will cost you $75 for contempt of court.

PICKETT: $75 wouldn’t begin to cover my contempt for this court.