Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Man on the Donkey

Nicolae Ceausescu grabbed power in Romania in 1974 and became one of the most brutal dictators in history. He was so self-serving, showing no care whatsoever for the people. His arrogance knew no limits. The country’s economy floundered while he chose for himself the best of the land and stored away money in foreign bank accounts. All the while he and his wife lived lavish lifestyles while demanding austerity from the people. She insisted on being flown to Paris each week to have her hair done, and he had his dog driven by police escort.

Never was there a greater contrast to human pride and arrogance as there was on the first Palm Sunday. Early that morning Jesus told two of his disciples to go ahead to Jerusalem with instructions to get a colt of a donkey and bring it to him. They found the colt and brought it to Jesus.

Jesus was about to make his triumphant entry into Jerusalem as Messiah and King, and he chose to ride on a donkey. Not just any donkey, but as Zechariah the prophet predicted 500 years before, the colt of a donkey. Kings and emperors rode gallant horses but not Jesus. He came gentle and riding on a donkey. The animal had never been ridden, but Jesus who calmed the sea calmed the animal (Zech 9:9).

As Jesus rode the two miles toward Jerusalem, the people carpeted the road ahead him with palm leaves and cloaks. It was a gesture of reverence for the Messiah (Mark 11:7). Mark says that those who went ahead shouted “Hosanna,” and the group that followed responded with "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"  Hosanna is Hebrew for “God save us.” How beautiful the sound of that is to those who know they need a savior.

When Jesus arrived at the temple, he confronted the hypocrisy of the people. God still condemns the actions of people who profess to be godly, but who live ungodly lives. Jesus expects our lives to be consistent when we go to church and when we are with our families (Matt 21:10-13).

No sooner had Jesus done this then the blind and the lame came to him and asked him to heal them, and he did. Just like that, he did it, and then children began to shout with joy and worship Jesus. The Pharisees objected to this praise that Jesus received, but Jesus said they were only doing what God had put in their hearts to do (Matt 21:14-16).

A powerful stallion would have frightened these little children but not this donkey, and not this man. We need a fresh view of this man on a donkey—this Jesus who is gentle and yet so powerful. The simple carpenter from Nazareth who came to save us. When he rode the donkey, he exemplified who he was—the one who won’t barge into our lives, but waits for us to open our hearts to him. This story is real. There really was a man on a donkey who eventually went on to carry a cross to Golgotha. He died on that cross to save us from our sins.

We have so much of Ceausescu in every one of us, and we are far more demanding and self-serving than we want to admit. We need the man on the donkey to transform us and teach us how to live with humility. Only Jesus can really show us how to live in a way that brings glory to God and meets the deepest emotional needs of our lives.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Difference Christ Makes

When children are toddlers they sometimes see themselves in an omnipotent way, believing they can do anything. I remember when our son Ryan was little, he told his mom that he was going to be a pastor like his dad, but during the week he would be Zorro. He also said that would have to be kept secret of course. We love it when kids use their imagination, especially in their play. However, as people get older they begin to realize there are limitations and there are things that they cannot do. Sometimes people come face to face with impossible situations where they feel completely powerless.

That’s what happened the day that Jesus and three of his disciples descended a mountain to find a boy who was demon possessed. The scene was desperate. The disciples had attempted to cast the demon out of the boy, but to no avail because it remained in control. The father had seen his only son brutalized by this ferocious demon over the years. It would seize the boy causing him to scream in agony. He would go into convulsions, foaming at the mouth. The demon would try to hurt him by driving him into fire or water. He was covered with the scars to prove it. In addition, the evil spirit had made him deaf and dumb (Luke 9:39-40). On top of this, an argument had broken out between the disciples and some teachers because the disciples had failed to cast out the demons.

The father felt helpless as the disciples were powerless to help. How many times do we also feel helpless when we are facing our own personal crisis? Can we admit that many of our own dysfunctional habits and patterns that we inherited in the homes we grew up in have caused such havoc in our families? Can we acknowledge that we have made a mess out of our lives and we need Jesus to intervene?

When Jesus arrived and saw what the demon was doing to the boy and his father, he said, “Bring your son here.” Even though the demon made one last attempt to destroy the boy, Jesus rebuked the Spirit, healed the boy and presented him to his father. Everyone was amazed at the greatness of God (Luke 9:41-43).

What a difference Jesus made in that boy’s life. That difference is seen every time a child opens their little heart and receives Christ and begins a life-long journey with Jesus. It is seen every time a man and woman invite Christ into their marriage and acknowledge their need of his help. It is seen every time a mother and father acknowledge their need of his help to parent their children. It is seen every time a man acknowledges an addiction and asks Christ to help him get free. It is seen every time a woman turns to Christ and asks him to lead her out of her depression.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Appreciating Silence

We live in a world that doesn’t appreciate silence. Everywhere you go there is noise. If you go to the grocery store, there is music, or in the mall you will be serenaded by some tune. People listen to the radio in their cars or to some kind of device when they are walking or running. Most of us don’t know what to do with silence. There are moments, however, when words are inadequate and any kind of music or noise would be inappropriate. Such a moment came for Peter when he was on the Mountain and he witnessed Jesus’ glory revealed. It was as if the spiritual curtain were drawn back and Jesus’ glory shown forth. His glorified body radiated his clothing, and Matthew says, “His face shown like the sun” (17:2). It was only a small glimpse of Jesus’ glory before Bethlehem and what his future glory will be like, but what a glimpse it was. Peter later wrote about what he saw that day, and he never forgot it (1 Peter 1:7).

At one point Moses and Elijah also appeared in splendor and talked with Jesus about his impending death and resurrection. Though both men had been gone from the earth for nearly a 1000 years, there they were before Peter’s eyes talking with Jesus. Peter hardly knew how to contain himself, so he said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah" (Luke 9:33). Luke adds that Peter really didn’t know what he was saying. Jesus never answered Peter, and I’m sure Peter realized this was a moment that would have been better without any words. It was a moment to stop and contemplate what he was experiencing and not comment on it.

I think there are times that present themselves which are sacred moments, and they don’t need any comment. What we really need is to be quiet and take in as much as we can, especially when it comes to God. Many years later Peter did some thinking about what he experienced that day, and he says that he, John and James were eyewitnesses of his majesty. Here is what he said, “For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."  We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

I encourage you this week to sit in contemplation of who Jesus is. He said he is the bread of life, the living water, the light, the way and the truth. He is the rest we long for and the peace we search for. Sit in quietness and let the awe of God’s presence overwhelm you so that you are speechless.