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Archive for the tag “The Cross”

The Tree

In my small group time this week, we were challenged to tell our story. First, to write it down. Second to share it with someone. Statistics tell us that the majority of believers in Jesus Christ will not share with non-believers the story that changes everything. They will not share how they came to faith or what a difference Jesus has made in their lives. They will not lead others to the foot of the cross where Jesus died for everyone’s sin. It’s uncomfortable to share something that others might reject us because of it. However, rejection is all a part of the story. It’s all about the tree. The first tree, in the Garden of Eden, is where the story begins.

You might have heard the story of Adam and Eve and bite that changed everything for humankind. Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit off the tree of good and evil. The bite was not the sin that was introduced to the world; it was taking the word of the serpent over the word of God. The tree of good and evil brought death. It brought spiritual death. Spiritual death was brought on by the broken relationship between God and Adam and Eve. When the “fruit” of sin became part of Adam and Eve, they passed it along through their DNA to each generation. It’s a natural part of us. And in our natural states, we are far from God. We are clothed in nakedness with guilt and shame; with no hope of a relationship with God. The fruit of sin does that to us. It makes us offensive to God.

However, God didn’t leave the story of humankind to that one bite or that one tree. He had another tree in mind. God created another tree that would one day become the place of death that would bring spiritual life. At God’s appointed time, and through His way, He brought the answer to our brokenness. Jesus. Jesus became the only way to right the relationship between God and us. Jesus is the bridge of hope for us all. It is by God’s design through Jesus’ death on a tree (also known as a cross). Jesus died so that we could have eternal life. This tree brings life – spiritual life.

I have heard Jesus’ story all my life. I was raised in a Christian home. So I knew about Jesus early. On Easter Sunday, 1973, on the front row of my small Baptist church, I heard a word to “Go” when the invitation was offered. I moved out of that seat to walk the small distance to the preacher who asked me if I wanted Jesus to be my Savior. I said yes. This wasn’t a life altering decision for me. I was almost eleven years old on that fateful day and had no clue that I was naked and covered in shame and guilt because of my sinful ways. I just heard the word go and I did.

I believe on that day, I had the covering of Jesus’ blood. I believe on that day, I became protected and His. My faith journey resembles the faith journey of Jesus’ disciples. They walked three years with Him to get to know Him but it wasn’t until the death and resurrection of Jesus when their eyes were truly opened. My faith walk took more like twenty years. It wasn’t until the death of my friend in 1993 when my eyes were truly opened to Jesus’ death and resurrection and what that meant for me. I recognized my sinful nature as it truly was; a broken relationship with God and no way out of my mess except through Jesus.

It has been a long process to come to the place where I can totally confess with my heart that Jesus is Lord of my life. I had already confessed that He was my Savior; but when He became my Lord, everything changed for me. I liked to think of my faith journey as a fishing analogy. Jesus is the fisherman. He caught me on His line in 73; He gave me a little line to wear me out so that He could finally reel me in. I fought the process for twenty plus years, but eventually He reeled me in. He got me in His boat, cleaned me up, and released me back into the waters. I was released to bring others to Jesus’ line, not to go back and live a life of sin. Like the disciple Philip where he finds Nathanael and tells him about Jesus; we are told that we are to testify about Jesus – to be a witness of Jesus’ work. Philip said to Nathanael “Come and see.” This is the purpose of our stories.

My story isn’t really that exciting. It’s the process of learning about Jesus, knowing Him fully as Savior and Lord, then experiencing His transforming work in me as He leads me each and every day. Two trees changed everything for all of us. The first tree took everything from us; the second tree restored it all through Jesus. It’s with this thought I leave with you – have you been changed by the second tree?

It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!” Romans 9-10 (MSG)

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Getting It

Over the last couple of days, I have been contemplating the cross. It’s Easter time after all. It should be relatively easy to consider these things since devotional material inspires contemplation. I really don’t like to think about it though. It is a cruel way to die. And flogging? A whip with metal or glass shards given to someone for thirty-nine lashes because forty would kill someone? It makes me wonder what mind created such torture devices. How can we be that cruel? Yet, we are all capable of cruelty. Maybe not in that severity, but cruelty can be given in many ways. If I had been in the crowd watching Jesus, what would have been my reaction? Would I have been a follower of Jesus? Would I have been like the women looking on in great sorrow? These are the things I am considering.

But there is one other thing I am considering as well. Love. It is the basis of everything concerning God and Jesus’ actions throughout His ministry. Jesus said “if you have seen me, you have seen my Father” (John 14:9, my paraphrase). Jesus lived out the love that God has for each of us. John 3:16 says that God so loved the world that He gave us His Son. Do I really get it? Do you? Paul said in Ephesians 3 “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” It’s more than head knowledge. It’s heart knowledge. It was his prayer that we would understand this love. I want to. I desire it with all my heart. I want my eyes to be open to it.

Jesus had a moment in the garden when He knelt down to His Father and cried out to take the cup of wrath from Him – but only if it was God’s will. God’s will was for blood to be shed so that we could have a new life. Jesus said that: Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). Greater love. In His last talk with the disciples, He emphasizes love. His command: love each other. It’s hard to love others. I have someone in my life that is hard to love. Yet, I am commanded by my Lord to love. The only way I can accomplish this Jesus says is to abide in Him. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He knew we couldn’t do it by ourselves. He is the only one who can do it. We are to stay connected to Him like a branch is connected to a vine. When His love is in us, we are enabled to share it with others.

When I consider the cross, I don’t consider the horror of it. I consider the love of it – what Jesus did for me. For you. At any moment, He could have opted out and called legions of angels to His rescue. He could have called fire down to consume those who were doing these cruel acts. He could have stayed the hand of those whipping Him. He could have taken the priests out with a single word. He could have done so many things to stop this, but He said nothing. He did nothing. He stayed connected to the cross for me. For you. So that we could love one another as He first loved us. That’s the power of the cross. That’s the power of the love that He showed us even when we were still sinners. Even for those who whipped Him; nailed Him on the cross – He asked His Father to not hold it against them, because of their ignorance of what they were doing. They just didn’t get it.

When we finally get it, it will change everything! Love. There’s power in it. When we grasp, how wide and long and high and deep is that love, it will change everything. Do you get it? I am finally starting to.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:16-18

What Now

For the last few weeks, God has been instilling His plan in my heart. I know; it should be very evident this is what He wants done. Last year, my church started a training program to help us disciple others. I got it. I understood this is the great commission – we are told to go to the ends of the earth to teach others about Jesus. But what about going next door? Yes, I should go there too. I struggle with getting out of my comfort zone. I am perfectly fine sitting here in my nice quiet little house typing away on my computer. I may reach a few with my postings. However, my neighbor may never know that I write these blog postings. They may never come to the place of understanding that God loves them so much that He sent Jesus for them. Jesus came to redeem them – to set them free from their bondage to sin. Oh, we don’t talk about sin anymore – from our mistakes; the mistakes that we commit over and over.

God’s plan. He introduced the plan way back in the garden. He set things in motion until the right time. Then He sent Jesus to finalize the deal. Jesus did what God asked of Him. He suffered and died on a cross so that we could live in His resurrection power. He came to give us life everlasting. Jesus came for the lost. He came to end our suffering. The suffering we no longer endure is the suffering related to our sins. We give the weight of those burdens to Jesus. We now suffer for a different cause. We suffer for the sake of Jesus’ name. We take on His task of spreading the good news around the world or next door. Jesus said that we will have persecution because of Him. We will suffer for His cause if we choose to accept the challenge placed before us. It’s a matter of if we choose obedience or not.

I recently started another Bible study from the book of Jonah. This one is by Priscilla Shirer. This is a powerful study about God’s plan to reach the lost. Jonah had the task of reaching people he cared nothing about. He ran in the opposite direction. He didn’t accept the challenge until God put him in an uncomfortable place, then he did it reluctantly. About the time I started the Jonah study, I read about the persecuted church in the book by Nik Ripkin called The Insanity of God.

We truly don’t understand persecution in this country. It’s a foreign concept to us. But in the first century church, they understood it well. Persecution was like the stamp of a foot that scatters dust; persecution drove the people further into the world to reach the lost. Persecution scattered the Body of Christ. For those of us who are not under persecution, we are 30% of all the believers around the world. The rest of the believers are enduring persecution. Believers in persecution are willing to risk it all for the sake of Jesus’ name being known. They stand up in the oppression for the things we take for granted. They risk death for the sake of the resurrected Jesus. Those seeking will travel miles on foot to find people who know Jesus. They find Bibles miraculously in order to increase their knowledge. People in some areas only have a portion of Scripture, and they memorize every word.

I am perplexed by this concept of persecution. I take for granted all that was done for my sake to know Jesus. I have multiple Bibles. I can worship openly. I can talk openly about Jesus. Yet, I do not have the compulsion to go next door. What do I do with the words contained in the Bibles I have around my house? Something is wrong with this picture. So what now? How do I change my comfort zone to include others who do not know Jesus? It starts with knowing Jesus so well; to be willing to die to myself in order to gain the passion (suffering) of Jesus. It’s the plan that began so long ago. It’s in my hands (and yours). We are the torchbearers of this generation. What will you do with the knowledge that you possess?

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Luke 24:45-48

It’s Free!

When I do mundane chores like mowing the grass, my mind tends to wander. Usually, I will start to think about spiritual things. Okay, most of the time it’s just meaningless stuff. One time while I was mowing, I started thinking about my perfect yard. Well, my dream of a perfect yard. As I was mowing, I was looking at mostly weeds with a little grass mixed in. When I first moved into my house fifteen years ago, I really worked to maintain the grass and keep the flower beds weed free. But I got sick and couldn’t maintain my yard as I should have done. I just didn’t have the desire to keep it up. Now that I am feeling good, the weeds are just too overwhelming. It would cost big bucks to get the yard looking good again. Now, I am just not willing to pay the price of a beautiful yard.

While I was pushing the mower – no riding mower for me – I was thinking about the cost to live these days. We like free stuff, don’t we. But everything has a price; nothing is really free. Except the freedom we find in Jesus. Jesus said He came to set the prisoners free (Luke 4:18). Our sins keep us bound and unable to live free. Jesus sets us free from our sin nature – our prison; our bodies of death and decay. Jesus paid the price for everyone. The cost of our freedom came through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Nothing we can do in ourselves will pay the price. The price has to be a perfect sacrifice. God says a lamb of perfection must be slaughtered in order to pay the price of sin.

God gave His people the of sacrifice thousands of years ago. But they had to do it annually. There was no way the sacrifice could do the work once and keep them from sinning. It was impossible. With Jesus all things are possible! He fulfilled the role of the perfect Lamb for once and for all. Nothing else has to be done. Jesus said on the cross with His last breath – “It is finished!” So with those words, I received a free gift when I said I believe Jesus died for my sins. He took the payment that was due for me and paid the price by His blood. But not just that, He defeated death by walking out of the grave. He didn’t stay dead! So not only do I have payment for my sins, I have the free gift of living with Jesus in heaven for eternity. It just keeps getting better. We live with the expectation that there is something more after we die. We have a hope that comes by the way of Jesus and His sacrifice.

My grass will wither and die – especially if it’s not raining. We too can be seen as grass to eternal beings. We too will wither and die one day. But with the promise that Jesus gives us, death for us who believe is just another transition to eternity with Jesus. One breath expelled here and a new breath taken in heaven. It’s not the end of us, but the true beginning. What a blessing to understand that Jesus sets us free from death, and it didn’t cost us anything to receive this gift. It’s free for anyone who will believe in His life and resurrection!

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he (Jesus) rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:18-21

Saturday

I am writing this on Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The day when nothing happened. The day between fear and faith. During my quiet time, I thought about the disciples locked in their houses living in fear. Jesus was gone. I am sure they didn’t understand what was taking place. They had yet to receive the Holy Spirit; they didn’t yet have the understanding so they were still clueless on this day. They didn’t have the whole story at that point, even though it was foretold in Scripture and even Jesus said it on numerous occasions – I will be raised to life on the third day. But in the midst of their grief and their fear, they didn’t remember all the teachings of Jesus. No one had written it down yet. Here they are shut up and worked up.

I can look at Scriptures and wonder how the disciples missed it, but I am too much like them. I live in those Saturday times between fear and faith. When fear overtakes my understanding of what Jesus has taught me. When my faith is still weak, and I can’t see a thing. I know – faith is not by sight. I understand it but in the midst of the circumstances, I just don’t seem to have that full faith that Sunday is coming. Jesus said it so I should believe it. The disciples ran away. Me too, at times. The disciples had to see for themselves in a few hours that Jesus wasn’t in that tomb; what He said is true. He is alive. He has risen. But on this Saturday, the darkness is still there.

I think on this particular Saturday morning, the skies are overcast and the rain has been hit or miss, I have the sense with anticipation of a new beginning even when it doesn’t look like it right now. I think of the promises of God that are yet to be fulfilled. Yesterday, I was reading Revelation 22. It is the hope of what is to come. Jesus said in Revelation 22, “I am coming back.” He said it three times in that chapter alone. It hasn’t happened yet. It’s still Saturday waiting on the promise to be fulfilled. Three times is significant. I have the hope of that coming. I have faith that will become sight one day. I don’t know if it will happen in my lifetime or not, but either way, I will see it one day!

On that day, Sunday will be glorious just as it was when the disciples laid eyes on their risen Savior. Can you imagine the joy they experienced when they saw Him for the first time? Can you imagine seeing the nail scarred hands? Can you imagine looking in His eyes and seeing the love that must have been evident? What a glorious day when we too will see those nail scarred hands! What a glorious day when we look into His eyes and see the love that is meant for all people but His focus is on each one of us. But on this Saturday, why wait until Sunday to believe in the promise? I think we should live in anticipation of it. We should live in faith and celebrate it now. His love endures forever – even now when the rain is falling, and the skies look bleak. His eyes are focused on us, His beloved. Fear nothing. God is good and keeps His promises. Yes, Jesus is coming back. Praise the Holy One of God, the One who died for all. And praise the One who defeated death for all who believe in Him!

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:16,33

Finished!

Jesus said it from the cross – (it is) Finished! Even in the smallest details, God spoke it and it was done. From the very beginning, God spoke and what was spoken was done – the stars, the heavens, the seas, and everything in between. Nothing is outside the tip of His finest paintbrush. He painted the picture of Jesus Christ through His every Word, and He became all that was spoken. Every detail is painted by the Master, but most fail to see His hand. Most of us are too blind to see. Most of us are dead to live freely. But Jesus said – it’s finished. Nothing else needs to be done. He died so that we could see. He died so that we could have life. All it takes is for us to believe it and receive it freely.

He paid the price and became the substitute for me. It was my death and your death that He took on. Jesus bridged the gap between us and God. Nothing we could ever do would get us into the presence of God. The religious activities wouldn’t do it. Our wills as weak or as strong as they could be won’t do it. Even our good deeds will not get us to the point of holiness and righteousness that is acceptable to God. Through Jesus, it’s done. I believe therefore, I have the righteousness, and I have the holiness. But it’s not because of me; it’s because of Jesus.

I have believed this for many years and sometimes I forget that even today, He died for the sins I committed yesterday. I forget all that I have done in my past that put Jesus on my cross. Every day, I am told to surrender and take up my cross. But sometimes I forget that I must do this so that I may be His hands and feet in this community. Yes, I am forgiven even for the sins I committed yesterday and today. Yes, I am no longer condemned. Yes, I am His child. Easter is for us to remember all Jesus has done for us and will do through us when we receive that free gift. Easter is a time to be grateful and acknowledge His love for us by His sacrifice on the cross.

Easter reminds me to come bending low at the foot of the cross and receive the gift of life for today. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! What God spoke into existence is still being fulfilled. Jesus finished His work here, but we still have much work to be done. What God started will be completed until the day of Jesus’ returning. How do I know that Jesus will return? Because God spoke and said it will be done. Jesus told us He is coming back (three times in Revelation 22). And on that Day, when I bend low at His feet, He will raise me up and say well done. Not because of me, but because of His work in me. What God started in me, will be finished. I may not look like I am done yet because I am not. I am still a work in progress; I still fail miserably and God still forgives me. God has the finest paintbrush still in His hands. Even the little details, which I don’t know yet, God does. God said it, and I know it will be done! The cross bridged the gap for us! Believe it and receive the free gift – it’s paid for by Jesus!

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7 (NLT)

Table Turner

How did it go so wrong? The week started out with a triumphant entry into Jerusalem. People were lined up along the road shouting praise – shouting save us (Hosanna). In order for Jesus to save them, He had to die for them. Their expectations were different from God’s way. God says His ways are higher than ours. On the way into the city, Jesus saw the walls of the city and knew the walls would not protect the people from the destruction that was coming. Jesus wept for the people who were inside those walls. The people were shouting praises with their mouths but their hearts were not turned toward Him. What they wanted was a physical savior and a physical protector. They wanted a king. But they had no idea that Jesus was (is) The Savior; He was (is) The Protector; He was (is) the King of Kings.

The week started with praise but ended in crucifixion. Jesus didn’t meet the expectations of the people. He wasn’t there to save them from the government. He didn’t come to make their lives better physically. Yes, they were oppressed. But it was not God’s way. He didn’t take the people out of their circumstances. He walked with them through it. Jesus walked along roads encountering many along the way. Some recognized Jesus and asked for what they needed. Many didn’t know what they needed, but Jesus did. He looked into their hearts and gave them exactly what they needed – grace. In the end, Jesus knew what people need.

The week had a few last teachings. The fig tree was not producing fruit. The money changers were affecting worship and prayers. Jesus came to shake things up. He turned the tables on the religious people. The people’s hearts were not turned over to God. So Jesus turned the tables on them. The fig tree was cursed because there was no fruit. The disciples’ feet needed washing and no one was willing to do it. Jesus bent low to teach the disciples this is what it means to follow me. Bend low and I will raise you up. Jesus bent low once more on a deadly cross so that ultimately we would be lifted up. The cross was the ultimate table turner. Those who turn their hearts toward Jesus are no longer lost in sin, but given a new life through Jesus’ death. No, it’s not our way. We would never have chosen a cross to save someone.

Did the week really go wrong or did it really go right? Jesus knew when He walked into the city that He would be walking out of it to die a gruesome death for everyone who shouted praise and for those who shouted to crucify Him. He also washed the feet of Judas, the one who betrayed Him. God’s ways are not our ways for sure. It’s a good thing too. I needed to be saved. I needed the body broken and bruised. I needed the blood spilled because I too am a sinner who shouts praise one minute and crucifies my brothers and sisters the next. As I contemplate all Jesus did during His last week, I want to walk differently. I want to bend low. And I want the tables turned so that my heart is truly changed for good.

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:24-37

Beaten and Bloody

Several weeks ago I was reading about the trials of Jesus. I was going through the Beth Moore study “Jesus: the One and Only.” I was in the final week of this study. The reading for this blog was in the Gospels, all four accounts of the trials Jesus faced – the elders and chief priests, Pilate and Herod – all were mockeries of justice. But what got me most was the beatings Jesus was subject to. Each trial, Jesus was mocked. He was insulted. The ones participating were given power to do so. The soldiers were given power by the officials. The crowds were given power by the elders and chief priests. Pilate thought he had power but really it was given to him by God. But the beatings were all from the evilness in men (and women). Each lash was given by a man. Each thorn was piercing the skin because someone thought it would be funny to see a crown on Jesus’ head mocking His kingship. We are an evil people.

I recognize this evil because it is present in me. There is nothing good in me. I was listening to a sermon recently and the pastor was saying how he loved a good battle scene in a movie. I can understand the thrill of a fight. I once took a martial art. It was more for a self-defense perspective, but it was something that I enjoyed doing. I love to watch a good martial arts fight. So I can’t fault the men who beat Jesus; I think it’s in each one of us. I am just as guilty of throwing an insult or rude comment. I have been known to do it on occasion. There is nothing good in me, except for Jesus. Jesus is the only reason that I do good and have love in me.

After reading the accounts in the Gospels, I am left with a feeling of ugliness. The next lesson will be on the cross, then the resurrection. The ugliness of today gives way to the hope of tomorrow; the joy that comes with the resurrection. Jesus took my ugliness on the cross and forgave me of the insults and evil that so easily surfaces in my heart and mind. Those things are nailed to the cross daily. From the cross, Jesus asked the Father to forgive them, for they do not know what they do. Yes, I need His forgiveness because some of the time, I don’t know what I am doing. I deserved everything that Jesus took for me. He paid the price for my sins. Every lash, every mark on His body was meant for me. He took it all. The cross was bloody. His blood was poured out on the cross. I am grateful for His sacrifice. There is nothing I can ever do to repay Him for His gift, so I just say thank you Lord Jesus for rescuing me from myself.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6

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