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?

Jesus.

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.