Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series



``We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.’’ (2 Cor. 10:5)

Case Study - One afternoon, one of my seminary students took me to the Jos Museum. He said, ``Sir, I want to show you something my father made!’’ Naive as I was in those early years of being in Africa, I thought he would show me a clay pot, a drum, or a sculpture his father had constructed. When we arrived at the Museum, he directed me to a special glass case where he pointed to a juju mask and proudly announced, ``My father made that mask which allowed him to assume the roles of the spirit of travelling.’’ When he told me this I thought. Oh, he is probably referring to travelling in a taxi, bus, or lorry. But, the student went on to explain, ``After my father donned the mask, he would assume a new identity. He was instantly transformed into somebody else. He acquired new powers above and beyond those of a mere mortal man. At a moment’s notice, he could fly great distances between villages, appearing at special sacrificial ceremonies. People feared my father and gave him great respect when he wore his mask, but ignored most of the other times. However, when I became a Christian I knew that wearing the mask would be wrong even though it would have been my right as the first born son. Still, I feel something missing. What can I get so as to gain the respect, power, and freedom that my father experienced with his mask.’’ The student was looking for something that he could use to transform himself!

After I thought about that incident, it struck me that everyone looks for masks that can miraculously change their identities. Some are looking for masks to be able to hide their inner sense of inadequacies. Others are looking for masks that can make them into the cultural image of someone great. Still others are looking for identities that will make themselves acceptable in the eyes of their culture. Perhaps most tragically, many are looking to use Christianity as a mask in order to appear acceptable in the eyes of God and men. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for putting on their hypocritical masks of religion. Listen to what he told them about their masquerades:

``When you fast, do not be sad-faced like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces to show other their fasting. I assure you, they have received their full reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that no one except your heavenly Father who is there in the secret place may notice your fasting. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’’ (Matt. 6:16-18)

Many religions, cultures, and certain personalities honor fasting for its great sacrifice, but Jesus knew that it could be used as a mask for empty spiritualizing. Some people think that fasting can draw special notice from God, men, and oneself to the higher spiritual powers. In actuality fasting has been used by many as a mask of spiritual piety falsely. Jesus condemned any practice that was used as an ostentatious parade of piety. Fasting, like many masks that people use today are vain attempts to move God to liberate them from their distresses. Some people look at fasting as a special charm to get the favor of God. Fasting is looked at by some religions as an extra special way of gaining personal, tribal, and national penitence. Legitimately, spiritual fasting may have this effect of diverting disasters in seeking forgiveness from God. But it is often looked at as a manipulative tool to bribe God into doing special favors. Fasting like masks (Real and Imaginary Ones) are used extensively throughout the world, but especially in Africa to put on certain identities. Here is a story to illustrate the wrong ideas about using fasting as a religious masquerade:

Story - Once a traveller found an old religious looking priest walking through the streets of the crowded streets of the capital city. Since few religious people frequented this part of the city, the man became curious and asked the elderly religious man a question. ``What are you looking for in the market places and the streets of this dirty city?’’ The old man turned to him with a disheveled look on his face and said, ``I am seeking the face of an unpretentious man!’’ The traveller looked at the priest and said, ``What do you mean by that?’’ To which the priest replied, ``I have lived in a monastery all of my life thinking that was the way to greater holiness, but I was wrong! The reason I went to the monastery in the first place was the fact that I would not have to wear a mask of pretentious piety. But after 40 years, I can see that I have just as many masks now as when I went in. Now I am looking for someone who is willing to show me how to remove my masks. I want to be able to see God clearly without having to wear any masks.’’ This puzzled the traveller since he only thought of physical masks used for juju, dodo, or ancestral worship. Then the priest spoke for the last time, ``I want to meet a man in whom there is no guile with nothing to hide, and purely transparent.’’ The man turned to the priest and said, ``Well, you are obviously looking in the wrong place!’’

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