Saturday, April 23, 2011

For those of you who want to learn more about Jesus Christ, the man who's Resurrection from the dead we are celebrating tomorrow...

Those of you who have followed my blog over the last couple of months know that I am a huge fan of Author and Pastor Mark Driscoll, who’s Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington has grown in leaps and bounds over the past ten years! What is amazing about the story of Mars Hill’s growth is that Driscoll refuses to compromise on any issues related to what Scripture says on controversial topics such as Jesus being the one and only way to Heaven, and homosexuality being a sin in the eyes of God. He preaches the Bible and doesn’t ever apologize for it! In a culture that is more and more pluralistic each day, this is a victory!

Most recently, I read Driscoll’s 2007 book “Vintage Jesus” which he based on a series of sermons he gave back in 2006. Throughout this amazing book’s 12 chapters, Driscoll examines questions about Jesus in terms of Jesus’ Divinity, Jesus being human and God at the same time, Jesus’ mission on the earth, why Jesus had to die, and where Jesus is today. Following will be some of my thoughts on some of the many highlights of this book.

In examining how human Jesus was, Driscoll concludes that Jesus was 100% human and 100 % God, meaning that Jesus was God, but also understood everything about what it was like to be human. He would have had to use the bathroom, and would have laughed and cried and felt every emotion we humans experience, yet he did all of this without sinning! I particularly thought is was cool how Driscoll mentioned that Jesus must have been fun to be around, because he was invited to parties and weddings (John 2) and frequently spoke to large crowds ( one example is in Matthew 5).

There is also a chapter that I would recommend anyone read who has ever wondered about the Old Testament prophecies regarding Jesus. In a chapter entitled “How Did People Know Jesus Was Coming” Driscoll reviews 25 Old Testament prophecies regarding Jesus, and then shows how Jesus fulfilled each and every one of those prophecies by citing parts of the New Testament! It is very powerful to see Jesus’ fulfillment of so many prophecies given in some instances, 1000 years before He was born! Whether you are a Christian or a person simply questioning the existence of Jesus as Lord and Savior, I dare you to read this chapter and not be blown away!

Another fine point in this book, that completely made me stop in my tracks was a point Driscoll makes in the chapter on why Jesus had to die. In this chapter Driscoll reflects on the statement the Apostle Paul makes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 about how Jesus became sin so that we might become righteous in God’s eyes. Driscoll writes that when Jesus hung on the cross “Jesus became a homosexual, alcoholic, thief, glutton, addict, pervert, adulterer, coveter, idol worshiper, whore, pedophile, self-righteous religious prig---and whatever else we are.” That is why He had to die such an ugly and unfathomably gruesome death. He was taking God’s wrath for the entire sin of the world on His back, and actually became that sin in the eyes of God as He hung dying on the cross! In light of the fact that we will be celebrating Easter tomorrow, this makes Good Friday, which we celebrated yesterday, all the more sobering a day for us to commemorate!

One other section of this expository look at Jesus is Driscoll’s discussion of the three roles Jesus plays in our lives. He is first a Prophet, who speaks directly into our lives about areas in which we sin, and leads us into repentance for those sins. Next, He is our great High Priest, who as the author of Hebrews points out is now “the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey Him.”(Hebrews 5:9b) Another words, once Jesus as our Prophet convicts us of our sin, He then intercedes for us on our behalf before God, and God grants us forgiveness (Hebrews 5:1-2). Lastly, though Jesus also should be our King, so that He has rule over everything in our lives. As Driscoll states, “Jesus is not just the King who rules over nations on the earth and principalities and power of the heavens, but He also rules over our pants, web browsers, refrigerator, debit card, cubicle, and car horn. As our King, Jesus demands and deserves obedient loyalty to His commands over every aspect of our life.”

That is powerful stuff, and certainly an area that I need to work on, but it is a process, that takes years of walking with the Lord to establish, though we will never be able to do it perfectly because this is a fallen world with sin in it (Genesis 3). However, Driscoll is right when he says Jesus needs to be all three of those things in our lives, and as Believers it is good for us to strive to give Jesus authority over every area of our lives! Living this way is not easy, but I can tell you that the more I’ve started giving everything over to Jesus in my own life, the more I’ve seen Him grow me in my love for Him!

Other highlights of this book include the sections where Driscoll looks at where Jesus is today, and what will happen upon Jesus’ return to earth. You see, Driscoll points out quite accurately that we have no idea when Jesus will return, as Jesus Himself told us that He didn’t even know, only God the Father knows (Matthew 24:36). Therefore, Driscoll points out that all these people who claim they have figured out the exact day that Christ will return are bogus, but He will return, and when He does it will be to judge every person who has ever lived. Those that accepted His gift of atonement for their sins, will spend eternity in Heaven with Him, while those who did not accept His redemptive Grace will spend eternity in Hell apart from Him! If that doesn’t make those of us who are Believers want to share the Gospel with everyone we have the opportunity to share it with, I don’t know what will!

To conclude, I can easily recommend this book to just about anyone who wants to learn more about Jesus. Whether you are an inquisitive agnostic or a person who has been a Christian for more than 20 years, I guarantee you will learn something from Mark Driscoll’s incredibly well researched testament to Jesus Christ, the man who was sent by God to save our souls!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Jesus offers forgiveness and cleansing for the scar of sin on our lives!

Our sins have consequences. It’s true, sometimes we don’t see the effects of our sin right away, but they do have consequences. That concept of sin causing problems and scarring in our lives if you will, is one of the themes that is discussed by John Rzeznik lead vocalist and songwriter for the Goo Goo Dolls in their 1995 smash hit “Name.” The lyrics from the second verse have a lot for us to unpack as far as Christian concepts:

“Scars are souvenirs you never lose,
The past is never far,
Don’t it make you sad to know that life,
Is more than who we are.”

Let’s take the first example about scars being ‘souvenirs you never lose.’ Sometimes Satan makes it so easy for us to think we know better than God when it comes to what is best for us. Thus, we decide that acts which God calls sinful really aren’t sins for us, and that we should act on what we feel and tell God that we know better than Him and we aren’t going to listen to what He says in His Word about how we should live. When this happens it so often times turns out that we realize that God was right and we were wrong. This is why the Apostle Paul warned us concerning sin in Galatians 6:7-8 “Don’t be misled. Remember that you can’t ignore God and get away with it. You will always reap what you sow! Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.” (NLT)

The concept of reaping what we sow fits well with the concept of sin ‘scarring’ us in a sense that we can’t forget sin. The Holy Spirit will always convict us about such matters, and that conviction, if unacknowledged will lead to scarring. Paul calls that producing a harvest of “decay and death” which is really not a pretty picture! However, what I love about this passage of scripture is that it ends with an encouraging remark. If we live our lives to please the Lord, we will harvest ‘everlasting life from the Spirit!” That to me is very encouraging and exciting! Don’t get me wrong living our lives to please God is not easy! In fact it is very hard, but there is a promise of a reward attached if we do this!

The second part of the stanza here is also interesting to delve into. I find it perplexing that Rzeznik considers it sad to know that life is ‘more than who we are.’ Then again in a culture that is obsessed with selfish and egocentric behavior among our most famous celebrities, it shouldn’t surprise that an unbelieving world would not want to face the fact that life is not about us! But there couldn’t be a more accurate statement made, and it once again lines up with truth in the Bible.

In Colossians 3:2 Paul writes: “Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth.” That’s right, friends, we as Believers are not supposed to dwell too much on the distractions that demand our attention down here on earth, that are often futile efforts to build ourselves up! We often forget that life is so much more than what is currently going on in our lives. Whether it is good or bad, it is important to keep in mind Paul’s words about our thought life. God doesn’t want us to be consumed with ourselves down here on earth. He wants us to mindful of Heaven, and that in my view means a couple of things. One it means to have a longing for Heaven and the paradise that is awaiting us after our lives here on earth are complete. However, it also means to keep our minds on the things that matter to God. It means we can’t be selfish but instead be servants like Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3-4.

The concept of being able to focus outside of ourselves can be hampered as well by falling into sin cycles that can plunge us into despair. As “Name” continues into it’s next stanza Rzeznik addresses this in a unique way:

“You grew up way too fast,
Now there’s nothing to believe,
And reruns all become our history
A tired song keeps playing on a tired radio
And I won’t tell no one your name.”

This concept of ‘reruns becoming our history and ‘a tired song’ playing on a ‘tired radio’ all conjure up images to me of a cycle of behavior to me, behavior that the song’s story teller seems to desperately want to get out of but is unsure of how to. Sin can be like that quite often. The first taste is often sweet and pleasurable, enticing us to want more, which leads to us continuing in that sin, until we are so hooked we don’t know how to even begin getting out.

Sexual sin is especially this way, because it feels good in the moment, but barring the Holy Spirit is present in our hearts to convict us, it leaves us feeling hollow and empty later. Yet when the temptation arises again, it can be easy to jump right back into the same behavior all over again, because we as humans become easily addicted to things that makes us feel good. I think this is why Jesus told us that ‘the highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for many who choose the easy way. But the gateway to life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:13b-14 NLT). Being a Christian is hard folks, plain and simple. However, as Christians, we have the ability to ask God for help in fighting Satan’s temptations and He will help us. As Paul writes in Titus 2:11-12 ”For the Grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "no" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self controlled, upright and Godly lives in this present age."

Think about that, God’s gift of Salvation helps us to say no to sin! The Holy Spirit within each and every one of us gives us that power, but we need to ask Him for help! God is a faithful God and Jesus promised that He will give us anything that we ask of Him, if it is in His plan for our lives (John 14:13-14). Friends, sin does leave scars on our lives, but you need to know that God can cleanse us from0 those scars left by our sin! Oh don’t get me wrong some sins are going to leave a mark on us for a time, but in God’s eyes if we have asked Him for forgiveness, that sin is no longer remembered by Him (1 John 1:9). So since God has forgiven us, often times we then need to be able to forgive ourselves, and ask forgiveness of those who we have hurt by our sin. These things will take time, but once we have invited God into the process, true healing can begin

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Journeys Are Sometimes Necessary In Order For God To Teach Us Lessons

Life is a journey friends, and it only moves forward. We can’t go back once a moment has passed. Singer Anna Nalick once wrote in her hit single “Breathe (2 AM)” that ‘life’s like an hourglass glued to the table’ and it is true! Therefore, as believers we should try to make each and every moment count. The Apostle Paul tells us this in Colossians when he wrote “Live wisely among those who are not Christians, and make the most of every opportunity” (4:5 NLT). See every moment spent in this life is important to God, especially those moments we spend around those who are not Believers, and we need to keep that in mind.

Sometimes God takes us on a specific journey to teach us some things about life as well. Many of us have heard stories of people who took time off from work and the minutiae of everyday life to seek God and hear from Him. In some ways this is true of Brett, Martine, and Gordy, three travelers who run into each other by accident on journey across Post Hurricane Katrina Louisiana in the movie “The Yellow Handkerchief.”

As the movie progresses along, we learn about each character and how they are on a specific “journey” in their lives. For Gordy, he is traveling across America searching for what it means to be a man, because his own father abandoned him when he was young. Martine, is a young 15-year-old girl, who suffers from a poor relationship with her father, and thus has looked for meaning in sexual relationships with boys from in her small town school. Brett, meanwhile is fresh out of spending six years behind bars, and on a journey to possibly reconnect with his estranged wife, though he isn’t ultimately sure if he will be able to do that or not, or if she will even take him back if he does find her.

As the story progresses these three characters that had planned to travel with each other for one day keep being brought back together through various circumstance. They also begin to learn lessons. Early on in the movie, young Gordy tells Martine that he is incredibly attracted to her and that he would like to kiss her. This scene occurs while the three of them or in a hotel, stranded because of a heavy rainstorm. Martine, who we have already been told has been taken advantage of before, agrees to allow Gordy to kiss her. However, when he kisses her passionately and begins to climb on top of her she screams and stops him, leading Brett, who had been in the bathroom, to separate the two of them for the evening.

The next day Brett quietly remarks to Gordy, that girls need to be romanced and that they don’t want to simply jump into bed with a guy. While, this certainly should have included Brett telling Gordy that sex is meant for marriage exclusively, there is still some Biblical truth in Brett’s statement. In Song of Solomon 2:3-5 the women in the poem writes “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love. Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love” (NIV). Hmmm. Banquet halls and being feed raisins and apples,(sweet foods back then) sounds a lot like dinner and chocolate nowadays perhaps? The point being the Bible tells us that a woman values a man who pursues her by romancing her and winning her heart. This in some ways is the truth Brett is telling young Gordy.
Brett meanwhile is battling a dark secret from his past. He was in jail for manslaughter, and though the death that resulted from an accident that he contributed too, there is no way that it was really his fault. Yet, Brett deep down can’t forgive himself, which I think is a predicament many of us might confess is something we struggle with all the time. When we mess up, it is so easy to beat on ourselves for days, weeks, or even years! Even if we have confessed this sin before God and man, we can still harbor anger at ourselves for mistakes we made years earlier.

The good news though friends, is that God doesn’t want us to be bound by our past mistakes. That is why he sent Jesus into the world, to die for that sin, so that we could walk I freedom. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:7 “In Christ we have redemption and forgiveness of sins.” Think about that word ‘redemption’ for a second. defines it as ‘deliverance or rescue’ and ‘atonement for guilt.’ That means we are no longer guilty in God’s eyes of for those sins. It is as if they never happened! Now don’t get me wrong in this life the effects of some sins can continue to be viewable in our daily lives, but God doesn’t want us to view ourselves as un-forgiven. He wants us to move on and allow Him to use us for His glory again!

David wrote in Psalm 130:7 “O Israel, hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is unfailing love and an overflowing supply of salvation.” From this verse, I think we can conclude that God demonstrates that ‘unfailing love’ for us through His gift of salvation, and I can’t believer he wants us to take that love he has for us and basically say ‘I know you’ve forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself.” You see in the end, how God views us is what matters, not how we view ourselves!

As Brett progresses in his journey, he begins to realize that maybe he can forgive himself, and decides to take a chance, with encouragement from Gordy and Martine, to walk out that newfound self-forgiveness. The ending brings about the importance of romance that Brett told Gordy about to full circle, and leaves us as an audience seeing firsthand what a newly forgiven person looks like! While it may not specifically reference God in this movie, God is ultimately the author of the greatest story about Redemption, and it is neat to see earthly examples of this in Hollywood movies!