"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Monday, March 31, 2014

Supreme Matters

I remember riding shotgun in a buddy's Cutlass Supreme back in the late 70's. We were young and free from responsibilities, and this was a first taste of luxury. To us, it was a supreme experience--a chance to savor the best life had to offer.
Some words have lost their power through overuse. We love everything from our family to cookouts. Everything we approve of is awesome and, we apply the word supreme to everything from courts to tacos. We love comparison so we desire to know what is the best--cruise, restaurant,  baseball team, American singer or place to live. It seems to matter a great deal to most of us, that we get our share of the best the world has to offer.
So, it seems extremely ironic to me that when the best of the best is right in front of us, we want to make it less than supreme.  Take Jesus. Ask the average person what they think of him and, what do you think you will hear? "Get away from me with that fanatical stuff!" "Oh what a good man and great teacher!" "I love what he did, he changed the world!" "I think he's one of many who taught us a way to enlightenment." " I have no problem with Jesus, he was a gentle spirit." Even the most generous of these comments express a weak view of the biblical Jesus:
"15 The Son (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him." Colossians 1:15-16, parenthesis mine.
Why would we want to diminish him? I mean, God came to us in the form of a scandalous babe.  Both God and man, he grew before us as a tender plant. He was tempted in all ways and yet never sinned. He gave us words of life, and then offered his life as a sacrifice for sin so that we can approach God as sons and daughters. That should be nothing but good news--supreme news! So why would we not enthusiastically embrace him and worship him?
I fear the answer to that "why" has a lot to do with our desire to be the masters of our own fates. If another is master over us, we might not like what he asks us to do--and not to do. This goes against our independence and what we imagine to be our freedom. How can we worship another when, truthfully, we are the gods of our own lives?

Real worship is more than a one time intellectual acceptance of who he is. The apostle Paul, in the twelfth chapter of the book of Romans, says that our spiritual act of worship is to give our bodies (our lives and everything in them) to God in sacrificial living. This is a result of growing, loving relationship with God through Jesus. As a favorite writer puts it, "Everything" is what you give up and what you gain to really follow Jesus.  
After delivering a particularly tough message, the crowd turned away from Jesus. He looked at his motley posse and asked if they would leave him too. One of the more outspoken responded that they had nowhere else to go because Jesus had THE words of life.
And that is what it's like to live in the light of the supreme One. No one else can satisfy. Nothing else will do. Now I see those cars in period movies of the 70's and I am surprised how funny they look to me. The things of  this world, including tastes in cars, fashions and kitchen appliances, change to the point the once-supreme is now laughable.

One stands heads and shoulders above it all--eternally supreme. Why would we put our faith in anything or anyone but the best?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Greater than Angels

Twice I have been stranded on the road, in two different states (Oklahoma and Colorado). Though these circumstances occurred about 10 years apart, they share a common outcome. Both times I was picked up by an ordinary looking man, white shirt and tie, driving a green Jaguar with tan leather interior. Both times the conversation went about the same. The man said, " I normally don't pick up strangers but you didn't look too dangerous."

The first time, I thought little of it. On the highway between Dallas and Oklahoma City, it was not that unusual to see a nice car and a well dressed driver. I paid little attention to his appearance beyond that, being mainly concerned with getting a tow to a repair shop.

The second time, I was in a company car making a steep climb from the plains to West Cliff Colorado. I was struck by the similarity of the cars, thinking, are you kidding me? I really could not say that it was the same driver, having paid so little attention the first time. My best guess is that is was the same man, though he did not look any older. My only explanation for this is that this was an angel sent from God to help me in times of need, and that the similarities were intentional. God wanted me to know for sure that he had his hand on me.

The Bible talks of angels (Greek word: messenger) as presenting themselves to people in various forms. Often they appear to be so ordinary as to go unnoticed. Many have spent time with them without even knowing it. Contrary to popular ideas stemming from old movies, angels of the Bible are not dead people who appear here for some purpose, or who follow us around keeping us from harm. Angels are servants and messenger from God, created for that purpose, who worship God in heaven and carry his "messages" to people who need them. (Hebrews 1:14)

When angels let the glory of heaven shine through, they are radiant enough to cause people to fall on their knees. However, heavenly angels refuse to be worshipped. If an angelic being presents himself to you and you worship him and he is okay with that, he is probably an angel (fallen messenger) from another place entirely.

When the writer of Hebrews speaks of Christ as being greater than the angels, he was saying that even in the heavenly realm of angels, Jesus was worthy of worship. He elaborates that, unlike mere messengers from heaven, Jesus Christ is worthy of: being called God's own Son; worship by the angels; being anointed as King for ever and ever; being called Creator of the heavens and the earth: and to be seated at the right hand of God the Father to rule. (Hebrews 1: 4-13)

More than a good man, a mere prophet or a great moral teacher, Jesus Christ is exalted as Creator, heir of all things, the radiance of God, the exact representation God's nature, sustainer of all things by his powerful word, Savior and High Priest, King, Son of God, and above the angels. This is the Jesus of Scripture. Not just a humble carpenter turned itinerate preacher, Jesus first came here as a servant that he might rise as a King. We enter into relationship with this real Jesus by trusting him, by taking him at his word when he says:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16

True followers of Jesus grow in relationship with him, trusting him more through trials and blessing, and seek to hear his "Well done" above all else. He is above the angels and so high above anything and everyone on earth, it all fades away in the radiance of his glory. If you don't know him these words seem strange and unreal to you. If you have an ear to hear, you already know what I am writing about here. We all need to be reminded from time to time.

The angels are great from where I sit. They have been in the throne room of God. That they spend time with us is nothing short of miraculous. But they bow to another--King Jesus.

"He became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs." Hebrews 1:4

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Greatest Name in the World

Arguably among the best violinists in the world, Joshua Bell was involved in an experiment a few years ago. He stood in a Washington subway tunnel and played his heart out for hours. Here's the thing--nobody noticed him! The same player who commands standing ovations from the most discriminating musical ears on earth barely turned a head. The subway masses came and went, eyes on the turnstiles and doors, minds occupied with the mundane cares of life. They failed to recognize the fact that, for a moment, they were in the company of greatness. They just were not expecting to find it there.
Similarly, when Jesus walked among men, there was nothing in his appearance to draw him any special attention. Those who knew him while he was growing up found any claims that he was great to be preposterous. They were astonished that he eventually drew multitudes to himself for healing, teaching and saving. So accustomed to the boy with dirty feet and splinters in his fingers from working in his father's carpentry shop, they missed the greatness in their midst.
Today, too,  we have forgotten much of his greatness. Even with the benefit of hindsight, we tend to boil him down to more comfortable, manageable dimensions--a gentle spirit, a humble servant, a great moral teacher, a lover of people. While there is truth in these descriptors, they are, in and of themselves, extremely misleading.
You see, we want Jesus to be our buddy, our tolerant older brother, or just our friend. We want that guy who slaps us on the back and beams at us with his unrelenting smile. We prefer the friendly Jesus who will never tell us we are wrong and will never use the "S" word, instead framing our transgressions as mere mistakes, human errors to be overlooked because, we are, after all, good people. Who would not want to hang out with such a relentless encourager?
One problem with this, revamped, user-friendly, politically correct Jesus is that he is not the Jesus of the New Testament. Gentle with the broken, harsh with the proud, impatient with the self-centered, the Jesus of the Bible commanded wind and waves and forgave--here it comes--SIN. His claims about himself were impossible (unless of course they are true). And the things the apostles later wrote about him stretch the limits of theological and scientific understanding. Creator, Savior, Son of God, the one and only Way to the Father, Jesus may be your friend, but not because you are good people. He chose to dwell among us in grace and truth so that he could restore relationship between a holy God and a fallen world (including us).
In one of his more astounding statements about himself Jesus said that if you want to see God you should look at him! While this is not our usual idea of humility, he was, nevertheless, the very epitome of humility--leaving the throne room of heaven in obedience to the Father to walk among the sweaty, sinful, and unwashed--out of nothing but the pure, unadulterated love of God. The love he has for us is not based on our worthiness, rather on the quality and unlimited quantity of God's love for people. It says little about us, and everything about him, Jesus, the greatest name in the world.


Hebrews 1:3

New International Version (NIV)
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Most Controversial Name in the World

News headlines  rivet our attention to controversy. Think of the kaleidoscope of controversial names and personalities we have been subjected to in recent days, weeks, months and years. There is something about controversy that arouses our attention, whether we are drawn to or repelled by the controversial person.

In my lifetime, I have seen a remarkable thing come to pass. The Jesus of my youth, loved or at least tolerated by almost everyone in our culture, has become the most controversial person in the world. Let me explain.

When you think of socially acceptable topics of conversation, in a wide variety of settings, think about what can be, and what cannot be discussed without stirring dissention. Depending on the setting, today one can openly talk about hobbies, interests, politics, current events, sexual preferences of all types, and up to a point, religion. Religion can be talked about in general terms. One who appreciates beauty in nature or people is considered "spiritual." If one is a self-described Buddhist, people will nod in admiration of the person's supposed detachment from the things of the world...often at odds with the person's lifestyle. Someone might even speak of their love for God, and how they feel close to him in nature, in the embrace of an infant, or in the quiet hours of their own home. The common religion of the day is one that blends agnosticism (you can't really know) and Unitarianism (all paths lead to God).

Speak the name of Jesus, however, and you are likely to hear a couple of very different responses. Many will say something condescending indicating the have no problem with Jesus, because he was a great teacher, a gentle spirit, a great lover of people, etc. Others will deny that he even existed, in spite of the fact that we have more evidence of his existence than most historical figures whom no one questions. The problem with the last is resolved by open minded research of the facts. For a true seeker, I would recommend "The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel. Mr. Strobel is a former editor of the Chicago Tribune who set out to disprove the existence and significance of Jesus, and became convinced the evidence demanded the opposite conclusion.

The seemingly kind, condescending response is one that Jesus himself does not allow. What mere man, great teacher or not, claims to be God and promises to return to judge the earth? As C.S. Lewis puts it, Jesus own teachings allow us only two options. Either we must conclude that he is a lunatic or a demon from hell set out to deceive the world, or we must decide that he is who he claimed to be, the son of God, creator of the universe, the one true Lord who will soon return.

And that is the very core of the controversy. If Jesus was right about his self-proclamations, we owe him a response of gratitude and obedience. Obedience to another does not settle well with the human nature--we want what we want, when we want it. I believe this is at the heart of both off-target responses to the question of "Who is Jesus?" People just want to keep doing whatever they want, believing that there will be no consequences.

The Jesus of modern myth, relentlessly placid and politically correct, is a recent invention. If you would know him as he really is, check out what the Bible really says about him. He rebuked, confronted, and even threw some furniture around to make a point. He humbly submitted to the Father, but unflinchingly described himself as the only way salvation. Your response to him is your choice, but it does not change who he is. To deny him is to delay the inevitable, when every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2).

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times in various ways, but in these last days he as spoken to us by his son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe." Hebrews 1:1-2