From Quarks to Galaxies

gallaxyThe ancient Greeks believed that there were only four elements that made up everything: earthwater, air, and fire. When I was in school, our microscopic world consisted of cells, molecules, atoms, neutrons and protons. Today scientists have discovered neutrinos and bosons, leptons and quarks. What will be discovered tomorrow? Every time man makes a new discovery he gets puffed up with pride but God just sits back and says, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

We turn our eyes to the sky to see moons, comets, planets, stars, black holes and galaxies. The Hubble Space Telescope has photographed an area of the sky less than 10% the size of the moon and discovered over 6,000 galaxies. Imagine if our eyes were opened to the entire sphere of the heavens. Our mind staggers before the complexity and enormity of creation yet man declares there is no God. What a joke!

A single fertilized human egg divides and divides again until, from only the blueprint in that single cell, every muscle, every nerve, every organ is formed. Under a microscope we could probably not distinguish it from the first cell of any other animal. And yet never once has a human egg produced a canary or an alligator. Only a human with every blood vessel and gland duplicated to such perfection that my doctor knows exactly where to find every bone and how my body will react to a catalog of medications. Bacteria may try to invade my body, but it will automatically fight to repel them. If I am injured, this body has mechanisms that begin the healing process. There are seven billion people on this planet each with unique fingerprints, unique DNA profile and unique facial characteristics. I think to hold there is no creator defies logic. It’s a hypocritical choice to ignore the evidence of nature. Hold a newborn baby and tell me that life is not a miracle.

All of Psalm 139 is excellent, but let’s focus on verses 13-16 (NIV), “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” These are probably the strongest verses in the Bible on the evil of abortion but that is not the point here. The world may say I am an accident; God says I am special to Him.

My sin separated me from Father God. Nothing I could do would satisfy the righteous justice of a holy God. Yet, the One who speaks stars into existence, who breathes and galaxies appear, the creator of it all came down to earth to suffer and die as a substitutionary sacrifice for me so that I can stand before God’s throne forgiven and justified.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11, NKJV) What is my response? If I don’t stand in absolute awe of the majesty of God, I simply haven’t understood His nature and power.

An earthly king depends on pomp and fancy clothes to impress those that come before him, because underneath he is just another man. Jesus didn’t need any of those trappings because He knew who He was. Do I know who I am? I am a carpenter. I am a nurse. I am an engineer. I am a housewife. Strip away the job and the doing, who am I on the inside? I am a child of the King. Apart from Christ, the world clings to the doing and the title because they have nothing else. They are afraid to look at the emptiness apart from the job. I have read that many will die shortly after retirement because they no longer find meaning in their lives. In Christ I am loved, forgiven, victorious and chosen. I have an eternal destiny plus my life here has meaning in Christ.

The prodigal son (Luke 15) returned from the pig pen with a servant mindset but his father still saw a son. A servant mindset says I need to earn approval and love. A son relationship is not based on performance but on position. Even the servant mindset was a step up for him.  He was stuck in the pigpen until he made a change.  The change didn’t happen when he changed his clothes or changed his job. No, he changed his mind, his thinking. Verse 17 says, “He came to his senses.” As long as I hold onto the old thinking, I will stay in the pigpen. To experience a new destiny I need new thinking.

Deep down I know I am a sinner unable to stand before the creator. Since the beginning of history, man has created religious rituals and rules to placate the justice we inherently know is demanded. Baal worship, Islam, Buddhism, Mormonism all have one thing in common: How can I do enough good things to counter the sin and tip the scales of justice in my favor? The simple truth is I can’t. No amount of prayer or fasting or feeding the poor or killing the infidel is enough. Only one thing can satisfy God’s justice: the blood of Jesus.

The Everlasting God is supreme over the past, the present and the future. By Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice 2000 years ago, we were redeemed from slavery to sin. Medicines have expiration dates; medical isotopes have half-lives; milk will sour if kept too long. The Blood of Jesus never loses its power.

The Old Testament prescribed animal sacrifices for sin. These offerings were made over and over. Jesus once and for all entered the heavenly Holy of Holies to place His own blood on the mercy seat for our justification (Hebrews 9:12). God’s people in the Old Testament brought their offerings to the priest. The priest examined the animal sacrifice to ensure that it was without blemish. The priest did not examine the sinner. If the animal was without blemish, God accepted the animal sacrifice as well as the one bringing it. When I approach God, it is not based on my good works, but on the sacrifice Jesus made in my place. His sacrifice was without blemish.

Early in my Christian walk I prayed to better understand the Father’s heart. In reply God showed me a picture of my mother. My older brother Gene died of polio before I was born. This was an insidious killer that brought tragedy to many families in the first half of the twentieth century. When I was in 5th grade the Salk polio vaccine was released. Since we lived in a rural area all the children in our school were bussed to a central location for the vaccine. The picture I saw was returning on the bus after the injections, my mother went done the aisle of the bus checking on each child. What was going through her mind? I think it was something like, “Thank God these children are protected, but why couldn’t it have come soon enough to save Gene?” In that picture I saw Father God. I think the Father looked down with tears in His eyes on Calvary, at the broken body of His Son and thought, “My children are redeemed, but at such a great price!”

The spotless Lamb of God, the One who created the galaxies and set the stars in place, the one who created atoms and electrons and quarks, took my sin to the cross. Now because of the divine exchange, I can stand before the Father accepted and forgiven. Jesus is the One who came down to this infinitesimal dot in the vast universe. He died a shameful death in my place to pay a debt I could not. To the world it looked like the end, a promise that fell short. But three days later He shook the foundations of hell. He ripped the keys to death and the grave out of the devil’s hands and strode triumphant out of the tomb.  Today, Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19). He is our eternal intercessor (Romans 8:34). Because of Jesus’ victory we now declare Him Lord of all.  From quarks to galaxies, Lord of all.

Too Close to the Edge

Too close to the edgeDid you realize that all advertising is temptation? In our Bible publishing business, our focus is to tempt our customers to buy our products. Car companies don’t want you to see a block of steel, plastic and glass; they focus on prestige and power and peer acceptance. Beer commercials don’t sell beer, they sell sex. The goal is to stir up fleshly desires, to stir up passion. Have you ever gone fishing? Every lure hides a hook.

James 1:12-15 tells us, “Blessed is _____ if he/she endures temptation, for when he/she has been approved, _____ will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love Him. _____ should not say when he/she is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God,’ for God can’t be tempted by evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But _____ is tempted, when he/she is drawn away by his/her own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it has conceived, bears sin; and the sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death.”  Notice that it says we are drawn away by our own desires. Sorry, we can’t even blame it on the devil. Temptation comes from what I have allowed in my life; the decisions and choices that have shaped who I am. Satan has no legal right or authority to mess with my life unless I open a door for him.

1Peter 5:8 (NKJV) warns, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” This implies that he can’t devour just anybody. He is out there roaring trying to impress and scare us but he is also looking for an open door. Ever had the situation where you comment, “Why do we have all these flies in here?” as you swat at the little pests. “Oh, the kids left the door open.” If we leave a door open for the devil, you can be sure he will come in. In Luke 4 Jesus is tempted by Satan. In the end, vs. 13 in The Message says, “The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity.” Still today he is lying in wait.

There is the temptation to be complacent. “Hey, I’m a good Christian.” Watch out. 1Cor 10:12 (NKJV) warns, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” We all have those times where we think we can do it on our own, times we don’t want God’s help. “I’m going to do life my way.” When that happens, God says, “Go ahead, I’ll be here when you’re ready.” That is really what the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) is all about. The younger son thinks he knows better than his father, but the father is there to welcome him back when, as NIV puts it, “he came to his senses.”

When we hear a pastor talk about “the flesh” is he just referring to sexual sin? No, it is any area not submitted to God. Anywhere that we allow an un-renewed mind or still live in the old man we are open to temptation. Galatians 5:16 promises that if we walk in the Spirit, we won’t fulfill the desires of the flesh. What am I feeding myself? If I feed the flesh, it gets stronger and stronger. Galatians 5:24-25 tells us to crucify the flesh. A dead person cannot be tempted.

Sin is a counterfeit that is never lasting. Sin is trying to meet my needs outside of God’s will. It can only lead to bondage and destruction. James 1:15 says, “Sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” I liken it to a mousetrap. To the mouse, the color of the cheese is so attractive, the smell so inviting. Just a little taste will be so good… WHAP!

In over six years of jail ministry, the most frequent questions I get regard overcoming temptation. Let’s look at some keys to fighting temptation:

  1. Submit to God before resisting. James 4:7 (NIV) tells us, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” If I am not first in submission I am trying to go against the devil on my own. Good luck! The good news is we can ask for God’s help. Hebrews 4:16 (KJV) commands, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Our loving Father is not the judge ready to jump on us.  He won’t be shocked.  Wherever we see “grace” we can read “empowerment” and it gives a richer meaning to the verse. “Come boldly before the throne of empowerment”. That is the empowerment to overcome temptation and live in God’s power. James 1:17 (NIV) promises, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
  2. Find the source, the root, the trigger. I call it the pothole, that thing or situation that trips you up. What might be the opportune time for the devil? Failures, rejection, frustration, pride, stress, finances, loneliness? A few years ago I had the opportunity to speak with Darryl Strawberry. He was an 8-time MLB All Star, 4-time World Series champion yet he ended up $3 million in debt and in prison. Here is what he said to me, “I went from hero to zero. I had all the money, all the stuff but I was still asking, ‘Who am I?’ Despite all the success that the world saw, there was no happiness, no freedom. I was hurting inside, but covering it up with drugs. Here is my message: Drugs are not the problem; they are used to mask the problem. Find the root. What triggers you to run to the drugs or alcohol? Don’t be focused on the drugs but be focused on changing behavior, changing environment, changing the pattern and focus of your life, establishing accountability.” That naturally leads us to…
  3. Establish accountability. If I am really serious about making a change, I must establish accountability. If not, I am just playing a game.  When I find myself stuck in a repeating cycle of good intention-failure-guilt, I will not get better on my own! I need someone who will pray for me, encourage me, and hold me accountable. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his/her fellow; but woe to _____ if he/she is alone when he/she falls, and doesn’t have another to lift him/her up.”
  4. Consider the consequences. Imagine your spouse or teenage son coming in and announcing “Good news! The airbag worked perfectly.” “Oh, that’s good…What?” As the late Paul Harvey would say “And now for the rest of the story.” The devil never tells us “the rest of the story.” When have you seen a beer commercial showing a guy puking in the gutter? Or a smoking commercial of a woman in the last stages of emphysema? Or a credit card commercial showing a family struggling to pay their bills at the end of the month? Maybe you can think of other examples. Galatians 6:7 warns, “Don’t be deceived, _____. God is not mocked, for whatever ____ sows, that he/she will also reap.”
  5. Change focus. Change the channel. The goal of commercials is to capture our focus. The battle against sin is won or lost in the mind. Ignoring a temptation is far more effective than fighting it. Rick Warren says, “Once your mind is on something else, the temptation loses its power. So when temptation calls you on the phone, don’t argue with it, just hang up!” If my focus is, “Don’t give in. Don’t give in.” what’s going to happen? Most likely I’ll give in. If my focus instead is, “I am righteous in Christ. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. God is on my side. Nothing can separate me from God’s love” then I can live in victory. Colossians 3:2-3 “_____ is to set his/her mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. For _____ died, and his/her life is hidden with Christ in God.”
  6. Don’t go too close to the edge. I don’t know how many times I have spoken to people who say they were doing so well and suddenly they fell. Further conversation reveals they were actually trying to see just how close they could get to the edge without falling over. The Bible tells us repeatedly to flee from sinful temptation (1Corinthians 6:18; 1Corinthians 10:14; 1Timothy 6:11; 2Timothy 2:22). Don’t flirt with it, don’t play with it, run! Ephesians 4:27 tells us to give no place to the devil. If drunkenness is a problem, stay out of the bar. If plagued with sexual fantasies, stay out of R rated movies and pornographic internet sites. If the struggle is anger and bitterness, consider what music and TV you are allowing in. Psalms 119:3 (NLT) is a good verse to meditate on: “They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in His paths.” And also Proverbs 14:16 (NLT): “The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence.” That reckless confidence causes them to plunge right over the edge.
  7. Finally, resist the Tempter with the Word. That’s how Jesus did it in Luke 4. “It is written.” Bottom line, I must know who I am in Christ. I am loved. I am forgiven. I am victorious. I am chosen. What verses are in your arsenal?