Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Advent Day 1: Jesus Came to Crush the Head of Satan

"I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel."
Genesis 3:15

On the sixth day of creation, God made Adam and Eve.  They were created to worship God, enjoy his creation, care for his creation, and multiply and fill the earth.  God provided abundantly for all of their needs.  He created the garden of Eden, placed Adam in it and created Eve to join him.  God told them that the fruit trees in the garden were for them.  They could feast on all the trees, except one.  Adam wasn't told why or given any kind of reason.  God simply said don't eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

But, one day Eve decided to listen to someone else.  In Genesis 3 the serpent, who we know as Satan, began to twist the words of God and convince her that God was keeping something good from her that she should have.  After all, why wouldn't you want to be wise and know good and evil, she thought.  So, she took some of the fruit from the forbidden tree and then gave some to her husband.

Immediately their eyes were opened, they realized their sin and that they were exposed before God.  They tried to run and hide from God, but it was of no use.  When he approaches them, he asks them to tell him what they did.  And, after they answered him, he doesn't address Adam and Eve first.  Instead, he turns his attention to this devious and deceptive serpent and part of what he said to him was, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" Gen. 3:15.

As the Scriptures move forward through thousands of years we track with this promised, head crushing, offspring of Eve through Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and King David.
Then, when we turn to Matthew 1 we find out that Joseph was a descendant of King David, tracing his line all the way back to Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Noah, and Adam and Eve, making Jesus a descendant of King David.   Jesus is the long awaited promised offspring from Genesis 3:15.  And, we know that he has a job to do: he must crush the head of Satan.

But, he doesn't crush it in the way anyone would expect with a powerful military victory or a physical fight.  In fact, Jesus doesn't appear victorious at all. He died on a cross. But, on the cross, Jesus crushes any hope of victory that Satan had by bearing the condemnation for the sin of all of God's people.  None of them would be cut off from eternity by his cunning deception.  He crushed the head of Satan by allowing his own body to be beaten and crucified.  But, when he rose from the grave, Satan took his position under his heel.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Deception of Ease: Reflections on Jeremiah 44:11-19

Far too often Christians offer Jesus as a solution to problems he never promised to fix:

Come to Jesus and your financial problems will disappear.  Come to Jesus and you'll get a job, find the spouse of your dreams, and be able to have children.  Come to Jesus and you won't be homeless anymore or your debt burden will go away. 

They make Jesus into a genie, but he grants as many wishes as we can dream; none of this silly limit of three.

But, what if things get worse when they come to Jesus?  What if their debt increases, their fiance breaks off the engagement, the infertility of continues, and the homeless man gets kicked out of the shelter?  If we make promises Jesus never offered, then their natural response will be, "I'm not any better off with Jesus than I was without him?"

That's what the people of Jeremiah's day were asking.  In chapter 44 Jeremiah rebukes God's people who were exiled to Egypt because they were worshiping the"queen of heaven."  He warns them that God intended to punish them for turning away from him and looking to this so called, "queen of heaven."

Their response?  Verses 16-17, "We will not listen to you, but we will do everything we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven."

Why did they refuse to listen?  Because, life was easier when they worshiped the queen.  Verses 17-18, "for then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster. But, since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven . . . we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and famine."

They were going to do whatever they thought made their life easier.  It didn't matter to them if it was the queen of heaven, Yahweh, or Thor.  They just wanted things to be easy.

When all we offer with Jesus is a life of ease, we're placing him on an equal playing field with everybody else that makes the same offer.  And, if someone else works, then they should follow them.  Devotion becomes nothing more than pragmatism.

But, Jesus offers something greater and exponentially more glorious than being able to pay our bills. So, let's not reduce him to a glorified genie.  He offers us perfect joy and satisfaction in him for all eternity instead of the eternal condemnation we all deserve.  Furthermore, the path to the eternal joy may be filled with suffering and trials to get our eyes off the stuff of this world and on the glory of Jesus.

So, when we share the gospel or lead someone in discipleship, don't promise what Jesus doesn't.  The promises Jesus made are glorious in and of themselves - don't try to make them better.  You can't.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18
17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Jesus Will Take Your Jersey

It's old news now.  But, the image stuck with me.

It's been over a year since Ray Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was caught beating his fiance on a surveillance camera.  In response, the Ravens offered any one who owned an official Ray Rice Jersey the opportunity to exchange it for the jersey of another Ravens player, at no cost.

On September 19th of 2014 over 7,000 people showed up to trade in Rice's jersey.  Stories published about the event included photos of a line of people stretching out away from the stadium, with Ray Rice jerseys in hand.

It's that image I still think about today.  It's still with me a year later.

Thousands of people were willing to wait in line for hours, some arriving as early as 4 am to get their place in line.  They didn't want to wear the name Rice on their backs anymore.  His name was tarnished.  He was a man who had beaten a woman.  There was too much shame in that name, too much guilt, too much disgust.

Who would be willing to wear that name on their back?


That's the shocking good news of the gospel.  Jesus was willing to take the guilt of our sin and make it his own.  That's what 2 Corinthians 5:21 means when it says, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

It's as if Jesus said give me the jersey with your name on it.  I'll wear the one that says Brooks - with all the guilt of your pride, jealousy, hatred, anger, lying, and selfishness.  I'll put that on my shoulders and I'll take the judgment from my Father that you deserve.

Imagine if the line at the stadium that day was filled with people wearing a jersey with their own name on it, representing all the guilt of all their past sins.  And, when they get to the front of the line, Jesus is there and he says, "Give me your jersey.  I'll bear the guilt and take the punishment you deserve."  Jersey after jersey after jersey - he puts them all on.  He puts on every single one, bearing all the sin and guilt of every name of every person who comes to him.

And, with each jersey he puts on his shoulders, he reaches into a box and gives out the cleanest, brightest, white jersey you've ever seen with the name JESUS stitched on the back.  He wears all the guilt of your name and you get to wear all the righteousness of his.  

That's the great exchange of the Gospel.  Jesus gets our sin, we get his perfect life.  Jesus endures the cross, we gain eternity full of joy in his presence.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

An Open Letter to NASA's Chief Scientist

Written in response to statements made in NASA's recent panel discussion titled Water in the Universe.

Dear NASA,

Many Christians don't trust science.  That's unfortunate, because Christians should view science as a gift of God by which we make incredible discoveries about His world.  We can worship God as we discover the intricacies of a flower or the majestic power of a solar flare.  We can relieve suffering through medical technology and advancements in creating clean water.  As Christians, we should not deny the good that science has brought to our world.  It's something for which we should thank God.
I'm thankful for science and I'm thankful for most of the work NASA is doing.  For example, we have all benefited from the marvels shown to us by the Hubble Telescope.  What an amazing, awe-inspiring universe we live in.  Thank you for pulling back the curtain on the universe!

Psalm 19 tells us that the glory of God can be seen both in creation and through his Word.  I'm thankful NASA has helped us see more of God's handiwork.

Having said that, I think non-Christian scientists are often baffled when Christians doubt their scientific findings; whether it be questions about evolution, the age of the earth, the fossil record, or other similar issues.

While we could have a whole other conversation about those issues, the main point I want to make is this: declaring your bias up front doesn't help your cause.  Maybe my memory is foggy and maybe I don't have a grasp of the modern scientific process.  But, my elementary understanding of the scientific method is I first make a hypothesis, then create a way to test my hypothesis, then I observe the data objectively and decide if it confirms or conflicts with my hypothesis.

NASA has a hypothesis - there is life of some kind on either other planets, moons, asteroids, or other space objects.  NASA is currently testing that hypothesis and observing the data, I hope, objectively.  But, the latest statements from your panel discussion make me doubt it.  It sounds like the conclusion has already been decided.  You said,  "I think we're going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we're going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years."

That doesn't sound like objective observation to me.  It sounds like: "we know that life exists somewhere out there, we just haven't found it yet and need a little more time to implement our technology."  Maybe the word "think" was carefully chosen in that sentence and it was just a restatement of a hypothesis that already exists.  But, on the surface, it makes it sound like you've already decided.  And, because of your position as Chief Scientist it places unintended pressure on those who work for you to discover what you have already declared to be.  This kind of bias creates distrust and can drive the wedge further between religion and scientific discovery; a wedge that doesn't need to exist.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Blind to the Healer

In Luke 6:6-11, the Pharisees were keeping a close eye on Jesus.  It was the Sabbath and, of course, he was in the synagogue.  The scribes and Pharisees knew there was a man there whose hand was withered and they knew that Jesus would want to heal him.  So, verse 7 tells us they "watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him."  

It's almost unbelievable.  Can that really have been their thought process?  There's a man in their presence who they know can take a man's withered hand and make it like new with the touch of a hand or the word of his mouth.  But, they're so consumed with their rigidity to the Law that they look at him without seeing him.  The Healer is standing right in front of them and all they care about is law-keeping.

It's easy to point fingers at the Pharisees.  But, how often do we miss Jesus because we're too busy trying to pursue our own righteousness?

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Seeing the World in a New Way

This is a great video of color-blind people experiencing color for the first time.  As I watched it, I was struck by the spiritual reality it illustrates.  We are blind to the truth of the gospel until Jesus shines his light into our hearts.  But, when that happens we see the world as we've never seen it before . . .

[4] In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. [5] For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. [6] For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:4-6 ESV)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

He's Only Sorry Because He Got Caught

He's only sorry because he got caught.

I hate that phrase.

Now, let me tell you why.

We don't get to decide the means God may use to open someone's eyes to their own sin.  Even the most introspective person has to admit they are blind to many of their struggles and sinful habits. Therefore, having a ray of sun cause the filth in our own hearts to be revealed is a good thing. 

Sometimes it comes in the form of a soft and gentle morning light and we're able to begin dusting it away as we confess it to God before others see it.  But, other times, we "get caught" and walk into a spotlight in front of a crowd of people and it hurts.  They see the filth we never wanted them to see.   Our heads lower and shoulders slouch as we see the hurt, disgust, and astonishment in the eyes of the onlookers.  And, Lord willing, that causes us to begin to see our sin for what it really is,

As a result, we confess our sin to God (1 John 1:9) and to those we hurt (Matthew 5:24, James 5:16). But, maybe we hesitate because we're afraid they won't accept our remorse because it came through getting caught.  

So, that puts the question back in the lap of the offended.  Are you willing to forgive someone who hurt you if their sorry happens as a result of getting caught?

Read 2 Samuel 11-12 and see when David's repentance occurs.  He repents because Nathan shines the spotlight into his soul.  He gets caught.  But, God accepts his repentance.

Remember, Colossians 3:13 calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven (bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive).  God never withholds forgiveness because someone got caught.  He doesn't wait for them to prove they are contrite by going through a ritual.  He forgives because Jesus has already paid the price on the cross.

So, let's banish the phrase from Christian vocabulary.  No more "He's only sorry because he got caught."  Instead, let's make it, "Praise God this situation helped him see his sinful heart and brought him to repentance."