Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Blunt Subtlety of the Cross

I hesitate to write because the subject of the cross is so vast and so deep that one or a thousand entries could not exhaust it's store. Nonetheless, as I prepare a series of sermons that will lead up to Resurrection Sunday, my mind is drawn to the cross.

I have always been amazed at how efficiently the Gospel authors describe the death of Jesus. Matthew describes the scene in what amounts to two paragraphs. Mark, known for his brevity, writes scantly more than Matthew. Luke, with a physician's precision uses maybe three paragraphs. John, who spends half of his gospel on the last week of Jesus' life and was the only writer who was an eye-witness, writes no more than Luke.

Part of the reason the writers don't dwell on the details is the first century reader would need no help envisioning such a horrific scene. Another reason may be that it was emotionally difficult for them to record what they had heard and seen because of their love for Jesus. Yet, in what amounts to no more than two or three pages of type, we read of the event that changed the world, the crucifixion of God.

God on a cross. How absurd that sounds. But to ransom my soul, He endured it's pain and humiliation. The message of the cross is blunt and two-fold:

1) Your sin is evil and deserves the severest of punishments
2) God is good and took your place on the cross.

But in that blunt message are hidden subtleties. Some are so subtle you may have never noticed them. The head adorned with thorns. Thorns that would not exist if it were not for man's sin (see Genesis 3:17-18). The hands pierced with nails. The nails do not hold Jesus there, for he could have come down any time he wanted. No the nails hold something else there; a certificate of debt that we could not pay, now stamped "paid in full" by the blood of Jesus (see Colossians 2:14). A discarded robe, representing the righteousness Christ shed so that we may clothe ourselves in Christ (Galatians 3:27). It's as if God had thought of every detail and placed them there for our discovery, if only we would look.

Unfortunately the cross has become too familiar. We see it as jewelery, emblazoned on T-shirts and decorating CD covers. To many, the cross is no longer heavy; it is no longer blunt. But I implore you, rediscover this core of the Christian faith. Never lose sight of the cross, for to do so is to lose sight of salvation. Once you discover, or re-discover, the bluntness of God's message ("you deserve these nails, but I took them instead") then discover the subtleties of His love and care.

There are many more subtleties than those mentioned above, but I leave those for you to discover as you meditate on the cross and what it means to a sinner saved by grace.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Living Life in the Zone by Kyle Rote Jr. and Dr. Joe Pettigrew

As a minister who has a passion to develop men into the leaders they are called to be, I was happy to select Living Life in the Zone for review. I find most men's devotionals to be both superficial and shallow. Many either don't address the real issues men deal with, or they give short, "cookie-cutter" answers to complex issues. Not so with Kyle Rote Jr. and Dr. Joe Pettigrew's book. They tackle real issues ranging from faith, to family to work to temptations that men face everyday. Instead of short answers they offer a "game plan" to challenge men to be what God intended them to be. They back their daily thoughts with real stories from the worlds of sports and business that either lift up some positive role models or challenge the reader to learn from the mistakes of negative examples. The devotions strike the perfect balance between being too short to be effective, but too long to keep the attention. Each day ends with challenging questions and practical "assignments" to help men mature in their faith.

I would fully recommend this devotional to men. It is well written and easy to read. Even if they are not die-hard sports fans, the spiritual truths and practical suggestions make this devo well worth the 40 days to go through it. As with any devotional guide, it is meant to complement Bible reading, not replace it. But if a man will devote 15-20 minutes of his day to this plan, I feel they will mature in many areas.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Snowed In

Do you remember when you were young and snow was in the forecast how excited you would get? Thoughts of school closing, snowball fights, snowman building and sledding preoccupied your mind as you watched the skies anxiously to spot the first flake drifting down from heaven as a gift from God. When the snow arrived, it painted the whole world white. Everything looked clean and new. I can remember wanting to be the first person out of the house. The first person to make an imprint on this new world just outside my door.

Now I have grown up, married, have children and a job. Snow in the forecast no longer excites me. In fact, after a week of being snowed in with children, the last word I want to hear is "snow." Nevertheless, I sit at my dining room table watching the flakes fall, cold and steady. My children, excited to be out of school again, dance around the kitchen playing and singing to each other. My only thought is, "how much will fall this time?" Snow has lost it's appeal to me.

Maybe this reflects your relationship with Jesus. When you first heard the gospel, your heart quickened just at the sound of His name. You found yourself waiting for His return. Maybe, like a child watching the sky for snow, you looked to the heavens often, hoping to be the first to catch a glimpse of His return, the first to see this gift from God descend from Heaven.

But then you "grew up." Life has become less spiritual for you as you deal with the everyday stresses of bills, job and family. Jesus, for some reason, isn't the first thing on your mind when you wake up, and He may not be the last thing on your mind when you lay down. You can't remember the last time you looked to the skies to see His return.

Let me give you the same advice that Jesus Himself gave to the church in Ephesus in the opening chapters of Revelation: " have left your first love... remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first..." (Rev. 2:5-6). In other words, restore the relationship. Draw close to Him. Look to the skies again, because one day He is coming.

As you wait enjoy the blessings He has given you and glorify Him to all you meet. For now, I'm going to watch the snow fall and try to beat my kids to being the first to step in the snow.