Losing My Place

On that first Palm Sunday Jesus’ disciples and crowds of fans cheered His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As they raised palm branches and shouted “Hosanna!” to their soon-to-be King, their expectations for a restored Kingdom of David rose in their hearts.

Hoping to hear Jesus say “We’re tired of not winning. From now on we’re going to win, and I mean, win big,” instead the disciples heard Jesus talking about dying and losing. And to make matters worse, He invited them to die and lose with Him.

As I’ve reflected on John’s record of Holy Week, I’ve wondered: What will I have to lose if I submit to King Jesus?  What will have to die if I am to live in the Kingdom He bought for me with His blood? 

Several clues in the context of this story have convinced me that I may have to lose my PLACE, my POWER, and my PRESTIGE. Today we’ll consider what it might mean to lose our place in order to live in Christ’s Kingdom.

If we let him [Jesus] go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:48, ESV)  

The power brokers feared Jesus. If this insurgent irritates the Romans enough, the Jews might lose their current place and nation.  The poor and broken cheered Jesus. These common folk waved palm branches for one they hoped would help them gain a better place and nation. One hoped to guard their “good life” while the other hoped to get one.

Do you ever struggle with the place in which God has put you? Sometimes I do. Not that I don’t love the people in this place, but sometimes I long to live back home closer to my parents and extended family. You see, I grew up in “God’s Country” . . . North Carolina. (Of course it’s God’s Country, why else did He make the sky Carolina Blue?) Sometimes I grumble like those tent dwelling Hebrews, Why did the Lord lead us into this desert (I live in Texas)? (Don’t get me wrong, I’m half Texan. My mom is from Austin.) But Texas has represented some desert-like times in our life, too . . . difficult, dry, draining times.

I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to desire to live close to family, especially when I desire to serve and care for aging parents who invested their lives into me and my little family. But when that desire becomes a demand that God do what I want, when I want it, then something I believe might be ideal might become an idol.

I’m convicted by Psalm 16:6, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” What if God’s Country is not defined by the boundaries I dream to draw but by the inheritance He’s called me to inhabit? Do I believe that the lines He’s drawn for me have fallen in pleasant places? Do I trust Him enough to see beauty in the desert?

The great Master Gardener, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a wonderful providence, with his own hand, planted me here, where by his grace, in this part of his vineyard, I grow; and here I will abide till the great Master of the vineyard think fit to transplant me. – Samuel Rutherford

Psalm 16 goes on to say, You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11, ESV)

Ah, I get it now. God’s Country is wherever God is present, and that’s what makes a place pleasant.  After all, we’re talking about the God who promises to make a way in the wilderness and cause rivers to flow in the desert for the people of His praise (Isaiah 43:19-21).

A Note about Losing our Nation . . .

The Jewish leaders were also concerned that the arrival of King Jesus might cause them to lose their nation. We can relate, can we not? As D. A. Carson noted: “The world still seeks political saviors.”

I wonder how much of my angst over what’s happening in our country is more about losing my comfort than it is about loving my country.   If I loved this country as much as I claim to, wouldn’t I love the people more than I love my political party or persuasion?  Someone recently quipped, “The results of Super Tuesday are nothing compared to the results of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.” What am I going to do with Jesus if I lose the America I’ve come to enjoy?

I love my country, but do I love the people who live here? Perhaps I don’t want my neighbors to seek Jesus any more than the Pharisees wanted their countrymen to seek the true Messiah. How anxious do I get about seeing my neighbors, the nations, and the next generation submit their hearts to the crucified King? Maybe, like the Pharisees, I’m more anxious to preserve what I think is “God’s Country.” Maybe I’m more concerned about my  pursuit of happiness in my country than about joining God in His pursuit of my countrymen for the sake of their full and forever happiness.

Lord, have mercy on my me-first heart.

 

Tomorrow:  “Losing My Power”

 

Not What I Want, But I What I Needed

Shane and Shane (my favorite Christian band) captured perfectly both the attitude of those Palm Sunday Jerusalem crowds and the me-first bent of my own heart in their song “Crucify Him” . . .

“I sing Hosanna when I want it all

Then I crucify the Son of God

‘Cause He isn’t who I always thought

Not what I want but what I needed.

I sing how great and mighty is the King

Just as long as He considers me

High above every other thing

Even His glory . . . 

 . . . . It’s packaged differently than Pharisees

Wrapped in sing-a-longs and Christianese

Empty alleluia’s to the King

When my heart is loving idols . . . “

Again, Jesus came to be the Messiah, but I try to turn Him into a ME-ssiah who will serve my me-first agendas. Look again at John 12:23-26 . . .

Jesus: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified . . . “

Disciples: Here we go guys! It’s time! Let’s get ready to rumble, ’cause the King is about to bring it right here, right now. We can finally show Rome who’s boss. It’s time to make Israel great again! It’s time for a new Hebrew century!

Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life . . . “

Disciples: Wait, hold on a second. What’s Jesus talking about? Die? Hate my life? Lose my life? No, we don’t get delivered by dying. We don’t win by losing. Do we?  He’s talked like this before. Remember He said something about going to Jerusalem to die? I’m not sure I like where this is going.

Jesus: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

Disciples: Follow Him where? He means follow Him to victory, right? Follow Him to the throne? He’s talking about the honor of getting our place, our power, and our prestige back . . . isn’t He?

Jesus’ mission was not what they wanted, but what they needed. Jesus came to be crucified so that He might rise again, to fall dead into the ground like a grain of wheat so that He might bear fruit, to lose His life in order that sinners might gain eternal life, to serve in humility in order to secure honor from His Father.

And He calls all of His disciples, including us, to follow Him in this self-denying life of submission and service . . . If anyone serves me, he must follow me.” He is calling me to stop trying to customize Him and civilize Him, to stop demanding that He be the King I want Him to be, and to submit to Him as the King He is, to stop complaining that He’s not ruling and running my life the way I want Him to and begin trusting that He’s ruling and running my life the way I need Him to.

Again, Shane and Shane capture the heart of the Jerusalem crowds and my heart, too, with these words . . .

“A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief

He had no form, He had no majesty

How could He have the audacity

To ask me to give Him my tomorrows?”

In his short book What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said Follow Me, David Platt explains . . .

“We pick and choose what we like and don’t like from Jesus’ teachings. In the end, we create a nice, non-offensive, politically correct, middle-class, American Jesus who looks just like us and thinks just like us. But Jesus is not customizable. He has not left himself open to interpretation, adaptation, innovation, or alteration. He has revealed himself clearly through his Word, and we have no right to personalize him. Instead, he revolutionizes us. As we follow Jesus, we believe Jesus, even when his Word confronts (and often contradicts) the deeply held assumptions, beliefs, and convictions of our lives, our families, our friends, our culture, and sometimes even our churches. And such belief in Jesus transforms everything about what we desire and how we live (pp. 26-27)

Someone has said, “If your Jesus never corrects you, never challenges what you say, think, do, or desire . . . then he’s probably not the real Jesus, but one you’ve made in your own image.”

And so I find myself confronted by the Jesus in John’s gospel, the Jesus who says that living in His Kingdom, under His rule and blessing, means I will have to bury my life to see it bear fruit, to stop pursuing a life bound to earth in order to live a life bound for eternity, to humbly serve rather than seek honor from others.

To serve this King, I will have to follow Him through loss to life, through the cross to the crown.

What will those losses be? We’ll look at 3 of them in the days to come.

 

Clash of Kingdoms

Like me, the crowds on the first Palm Sunday wanted Christ customized or Christ civilized, but like me, they needed Christ crucified.

They wanted a customized Christ. The word “customize” first started being used in the 1930s in America (surprise!). To customize means “to make something to a customer’s specifications.” They wanted a Christ and a King who would serve their consumer wants and wishes. Me too.

They wanted a civilized Christ. The word “civilize” means to ‘citify’ someone, to bring them out of a barbaric, backwoods state and to refine, educate, and enlighten them, to “suburbanize” them. They wanted a Christ and a King who fit their norms and wouldn’t cramp their style.  Jesus was too wild and they wanted Him tamed.  Me too.

This was a classic case of a clash of kingdoms.

“The king has come for his kingdom and has issued a clear and direct challenge to the reigning structures of political, economic, and religious power.  The drama can only end in one of two ways.  Either Jesus will topple the reigning powers and establish his messianic kingdom — or he will be killed.” (Justin Taylor and Andreas Kostenberger, page 44).

In his convicting book A Quest for More, Paul Tripp describes the clash of kingdoms this way . . .

We are all kingdom builders. The issue is whose kingdom are we building?

Let me take you back to the garden one more time. In that devious conversation with Eve, the Serpent was selling her a “better” kingdom. In this kingdom she would be the one on the throne. This kingdom would be about her will and her way. What Satan said he was offering Eve was something bigger and better, but what he really offered her was much less and infinitely smaller. Ever since that fateful day, human life and history has been shaped by kingdoms in conflict.

The little kingdom wars with the big kingdom, the kingdom of this world wars with the kingdom of heaven, and the kingdom of man wars with the kingdom of God. This war goes on behind every human intention, decision, thought, word, desire, and deed. Everything everyone ever does is done in pursuit of the success of one of these kingdoms. This war is unceasing and inescapable because it is fought on the turf of each of our hearts.”

It’s the same ol’ clash of kingdoms we saw in the throne room of Heaven when “that ancient serpent, the devil” led a coup against Almighty God and got himself kicked out of God’s presence.

It’s the same clash of kingdoms we saw in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve decided that living as God’s Kingdom of Priests wasn’t good enough, so they rebelled “Um, listen God, thanks for all this cool stuff you’ve given me, but why can’t I have THAT one!”

It’s the same clash of kingdoms we saw in the wilderness after God saved His people out of slavery. While Moses was on the mountain receiving instructions from God, the people were at the foot of the mountain, frustrated that he was taking so long, so they worshipped a golden calf they had just made with their own hands, saying, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” “Hurry up, God, or we’ll take our business elsewhere!”

It’s the same clash of kingdoms we saw in the Promised Land when Israel rejected God as their King and demanded He give them a human king, a handsome warrior-king like the other nations had. “Why won’t you let US have a king, God?  Everyone else has one!”

And here we are again, the King has finally come, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, but they’re NOT the kind of King and Kingdom the people were expecting.

“The multitude waved palm-branches in token of rejoicing and of triumph. Now at last victory (prosperity, “salvation,” conceived along earthly lines) seemed assured, for if this Jesus was able to raise from the dead a man who had been in the tomb four days, where were the limits to his power? Under such a leader one could even shake off the yoke of the Romans! . . . at that time palm-branches were considered to be an emblem not only of rejoicing but also of victory and prosperity . . . Or, we might say, combining the two concepts, “The waving of the palm-branch was the manifestation of the joy of victory, of the feeling: everything is going to be better from now on.”  (William Hendriksen, Baker NT Commentary: John)

And I’m afraid that is exactly what I believed for many years after I became a disciple of Jesus.  I had “accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior” but apparently I believed that meant He would be my personal-IZED Lord and Savior, a customized Christ, a civilized Savior . . . a ME-ssiah who put ME first.

So, you can understand why, can’t you, when Jesus didn’t meet my expectations . . . when He doesn’t do what I want when I want it . . . when instead He gives me not what I want but what I need . . . you can see why I would start posting those nasty rants on His Facebook page, can’t you?

Tomorrow: “Not What I Want, But I What I Needed”

Palm Sunday and Facebook Rants

Start your Palm Sunday with this Facebook face-palm story. Stick with me, there’s a point to all of this . . .

There are problems. And then THERE ARE FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS.

Like these real comments left . . . on Disney’s Facebook page by irate mothers who can’t find Frozen [the Disney movie] merchandise for their children (source):

“I have been staying up late every night checking the site. I didn’t think the site would refresh during the day. SO irritated! My girl has been waiting for a classic Elsa doll since Christmas. She can’t understand why Santa didn’t get her one since it was what she wanted most. Now she is hoping that the Easter Bunny will put one in her basket. She has been so patient. I really think this might be what stops her believing in Santa and the Easter Bunny. I can’t afford to spend over $100 on eBay for a $16 doll. This whole situation makes me so sad and angry. Thank you Disney for killing the magic for my 6 year old.”

And there’s this gem:

“WHAT IN [blanket-blank] IS THE HOLD UP, DISNEY? ARE YOU STAFFED ENTIRELY BY SOULLESS. DREAM-CRUSHING MONSTERS?? […] UGH. I AM FURIOUS. HENCE ALL THESE CAPITAL LETTERS. […] UNACCEPTABLE, DISNEY. YOU’RE LITERALLY RUINING LIVES WITH YOUR EVIL WAYS. FOR SHAME.”

 These are just a couple of the hundreds of complaints against the mouse-magic-makers. And parents are in crazy bidding wars on ebay trying to buy $150 deluxe character dresses for over $1000.00 and $30 plastic dolls for $300.

 So, this is what it’s come to, huh? Blaming a huge money-making empire for ruining Jesus’ birthday and His Resurrection because we can’t give our kids more stuff?

[HT: The We Are THAT Family Blog]

I know what you’re thinking. I know what you want to say to these parents . . .

“LET IT GO!”

I’ll admit, it’s easy to hear stories like this, laugh knowingly, shake our heads, and think “Wow.  Talk about spoiled children.  Can you say, ‘ENTITLED’?”

But am I much different? Allow me share some of the rants that I have posted on God’s “Facebook page.” These are prayers I’ve actually prayed . . .

  • Come on, God. We’ve been waiting for years!  I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed that you would stir his heart and rescue him.  Am I asking too much?  This is the kind of thing You want to do, isn’t it?  Why won’t You do it?  Why are You waiting?”
  • “How could you do this to her?” I growled at God through clenched teeth as I pounded my fist on the steering wheel. I was following the ambulance that was taking my burned wife to the ER. “She has been faithful to you! Is this how you show your daughter your love? Is this how you show me your love?”
  • Father, please, I don’t want to struggle with this sin anymore. I want to be a godly man.  You say that you are more satisfying than anything, than any sin. I’m not sure I believe You. I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted and seen how good You say You are.  Why is the pull of my me-first heart so strong?  Why won’t you change me?”
  • Father, why would You let my friend hate me? Why won’t You help us reconcile?  I want it, God, I do. Why won’t You arrange the reconciliation? Why don’t You break down the barriers between brothers and sisters in Christ? Why would you let Christian friends fall out of favor?  What message does our disunity declare?”
  • God please, please don’t let her die. Please don’t do this to these sweet people.  You have the power to heal, to restore. Please Father. I don’t know what else to say.  I’m pleading with You. Please.”

It’s easy to for me to see consumerism in spoiled suburban children and Disney Divas, it’s another thing to see it in my relationship with God.

The Palm Sunday story of fickle followers who shake palm branches and shout “Hosanna! Lord, save us!” on Sunday (John 12:12-15), and then shake their fists and shout “Crucify Him!” on Friday (John 19:12-16). This significant moment in the most significant week in history exposes my problem, because I have the same problem those people had:

The Pharisees, the people in the crowd, and even the disciples, wanted Jesus to be a kind of Christ that He didn’t come to be, the kind of King that He didn’t come to be. 

I, too, can get excited about following Jesus . . . IF He will be the kind of Christ and the kind of King I want Him to be.

 Each Palm Sunday I’m confronted with the same conviction . . .

I may want Christ customized or Christ civilized, but what I need is Christ crucified.

I’ll unpack this more in the days to come as we consider Palm Sunday and it’s inevitable clash of kingdoms this week on the Cruciform Life Blog . . . see you tomorrow.