Christianity 201

April 18, 2017

The Crucifixion in Street Language

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.

Isaiah 53:5, NKJV and NLT


From The Street Bible by the late Rob Lacey*

The macabre scene moves slowly up Skull Hill. They get there and the Roman Death Squad shove a cocktail made of wine with myrrh into Jesus’ face. He takes a sip but spits it out, flat refusing to drink the stuff.

They pin Jesus to the rough crossbar leaving him to die. Him and the two hardened criminals — one on either side. Jesus says, “Dad! Don’t hold this against these people — wipe their slates clean. They’ve got no idea what’s going on here!”

The Death Squad rip his clothes off and start playing gambling games to see who “inherits” the clothing mementos.

Time check: Friday 9 AM. One of the soldiers grabs the multi-use Offence Placard, writes up Jesus’ “crime” and then pins it just above his head. It reads, “Jesus: King of the Jews”.

The other two victims with him — the terrorists — one on either side of the central focus point, Jesus… bite back their excruciating pain and add their jibes to the mix… “Aren’t you supposed to be The Liberator? Get liberating, won’t you? You need it and we need it!”

But the other guy calls across, “Don’t you have no respect for God? You’re getting what you had coming to you, but this guy’s done nothing wrong. So shut it!”

The second career criminal turns to Jesus and says, “Jesus, don’t forget me when you sit on your throne, okay?”

Jesus answers him, “I’ll tell you today — no lie — you and me, we’ll be in paradise together.”

Time check: 12 midday. It goes dark, totally dark, for three full hours right across Judah. Nothing except the chilling sound track of three men inching toward Death. Later, about three in the afternoon, Jesus freaks those still left there by shouting, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” Translation: “My God, my God, why’ve you abandoned me?”

Some of those within earshot hear the “Eli, Eli” bit and get the wrong end of the stick, saying, “Listen, he’s trying to connect with Elijah!”

Knee-jerk reaction for one guy was to offer some soured wine to the sufferer, hoisting a soaked sponge of the stuff up to Jesus on a stick. Others are going, “Whoa! Hang on. Wait to see if Elijah’s going to turn up like a one-man SWAT team and rescue him.”

Jesus shouts on out one more time and finally allows his spirit to be torn out of his broken body.

He cries out, “Dad, I trust you with my spirit!”

His last words.

He dies.


Quotations about The Cross:

God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, “I love you.” ~ Billy Graham


All God’s plans have the mark of the cross on them, and all His plans have death to self in them. –E. M Bounds


The Blood deals with what we have done, whereas the Cross deals with what we are. The Blood disposes of our sins, while the Cross strikes at the root of our capacity for sin. ~ Watchman Nee


Today Jesus Christ is being dispatched as the Figurehead of a Religion, a mere example. He is that, but he is infinitely more; He is salvation itself, He is the Gospel of God. –Oswald Chambers


The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales. ~ John Stott


*Note to overseas friends: In the USA and Canada, The Street Bible was published as The Word on the Street.

March 22, 2016

A Palm Sunday Application

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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A couple of days ago it was Palm Sunday. Regardless of whether you’re in the Northern Hemisphere entering the early days of spring, or in the Southern Hemisphere facing the beginning of fall, the day of the start of Holy Week, changeable as it is from year to year, unites Christians globally.

It begins with the story so familiar.

Matt. 21:1 As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,

“Tell the people of Jerusalem
    ‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
    riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it. 

Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God for the Son of David!
    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Praise God in highest heaven!”

I’ve heard this story so often, like many of you. I remember attending some Young Life meetings at a friend’s high school where the speaker encouraged us to read the Gospels through the lens of the different people in each scene. To see the story play out through the eyes of the disciples. Through the eyes of the one healed or ministered to. Through the eyes of the crowd. Through the eyes of the twelve disciples.

Bible expositors will sometimes emphasize the fickleness of the crowd, shouting “Hosanna!” one week and “Crucify Him!” the next. Others suggest that the actual makeup of the crowd in each case would have been quite different.

DonkeyOthers will note the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice, O people of Zion!
    Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you.
    He is righteous and victorious,
yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—
    riding on a donkey’s colt.

But my Young Life Bible study method was challenged when a pastor suggested years ago to look at the story through the eyes of the donkey.

I hadn’t thought of that before, but having heard this, I never forgot the basic 3-point outline, and in sharing it today, I’m hoping you won’t forget it, either.

I’ll keep it short and simple, as did he. You can share this with adults or share it with children, but once you read this, you’ll find it fits in your back pocket for a time you need it.

So what do we know about the donkey:

  1. Jesus knew its location. The equivalent in our day would be for me to say, “Go downtown to the main intersection and you’ll find new car on display which has hardly been driven.”
  2. Jesus had need of it. He says, “Bring it to me.”
  3. It had never been ridden. You don’t see that detail in the text above, but we get it from Mark’s version in 11:1-10, and also in Luke’s version in 19:28-40.

The application:

  1. God knows our location. In a vast world of billions of people God is able to track each and every one of us. He knows our name. He knows our hearts. He can truly say, “I know where you live.”
  2. God has need of us. He chooses to work his will and master plan through people like us. While he doesn’t in and of himself need anything at all, he needs us in the sense that he is looking for a people (plural) who will be obedient to his calling.
  3. We must be willing to be broken.

One more time; this time we’ll make it more personal:

  1. God knows my location.
  2. God has need of me to carry his message to my corner of the world.
  3. I must be willing to be broken.

So simple! Now find someone to share this with.

April 12, 2014

Cheapening Spiritual Progress with Gifts

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
  Matthew 7:6

Earlier today at Thinking Out Loud, I wrote about the trend toward feeling obligated to purchase a gift for someone who is being baptized as a teen or adult, an obligation perhaps borrowed from our Catholic (Confirmation) or Jewish (Bar Mitzvah) friends.  In that context, today’s opening scripture verse may seem a little extreme, but I believe the verse applies to anything which might trivialize or reduce someone’s sincere (hopefully) spiritual steps with gift-ware.

I suspect the logic works like this: Family and friends have been invited to the church. They will have everyone over to their house afterwards. Food and beverages will be served. There will be laughter and celebration. That constitutes a party. Therefore, I must take a gift.

I am all for celebrating spiritual occasions. When the prodigal son’s father saw his son returning in the distance his heart was filled with joy:

Luke 15:20“…But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

The son begins his well-rehearsed admission of contrition and humility, but the father interrupts:

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

Sorrow and sadness
Turn into gladness.

But for many young people, a spiritual step that is marked with gifts — or even worse, cash — sends a mixed message. I know I have a very biased preference for books, but it seems like, if anything, a good time for a Bible handbook, a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia, or a copy of the scriptures in a novice-friendly translation.

Of the various youth-friendly, scripture-based things the gift-ware industry has created over the past decade, I’ve always liked the “Whatever” plaque from Abbey Press because it is a Bible quotation that is a good prescription for life for a young person.,

Whatever plaque

The text is based on Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

If a gift is absolutely necessary, that’s a sentiment I would endorse.

How else might we trivialize the things of God?  In looking back, I’ve referred to the “dogs” verse in Matthew twice before here.

One post dealt with several things at once:

  • We can pray repetitiously, reciting memorized prayers without thinking of their meaning
  • We can omit to pay proper reverence to the name of God
  • We can fail to regard as sacred the writings of scripture and the books that contain them
  • We can substitute subjective testimonies for actual Bible teaching
  • We can discount the importance of committing some of the scriptures to memory
  • We can have a rather casual approach to church services, small group meetings, etc.

In another post, I wrote about how as leaders, we can trivialize the importance of special times for The Church, using Good Friday as an example. We can neglect to immerse our congregations in His humility (washing the feet of The Twelve), his pain and sadness (showing how he would be betrayed and using the cup of sorrow in the Passover meal as example), and his anguish and suffering (at his trial, scourging, crucifixion and death.) For more of my thoughts on how might we ‘miss the moment’ on this particular day of all days, read this recent essay on the other blog.  In the two paragraphs that follow, I explain how we get to this conclusion from the opening verse:

Go Deeper: I should also say that there is much more going on in the ‘giving holy things to God’ and ‘giving pearls to pigs’ verse than what I’ve touched on in the three times it has come up here. While the verse seems to speak to all the things we’ve discussed, the context has to do with judging, but even there, this proverbial saying seems somewhat of an interjection and several Bible commentators skip over it altogether. In its most literal reading, the dogs and swine represent Gentiles, or by extension, unbelievers. It could be argued here that this is stating we are to judge within the family of God and not attempt to judge the world at large.

The broader application of this verse to mean “Don’t offer spiritual ‘pearls’ or things of great value to those who lack the understanding to absorb or process the meaning of them” is really being reversed to say, “Don’t take things which possess great meaning and value and expunge or excise (or we could say, diminish, depreciate or pejorate) all or some of that richness.

In the same Prodigal Son story we read in verse 10,

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

By all means celebrate. But don’t reduce someone’s pursuit of God and desire to live a set-apart life by offering something purchased only because you feel you had to.

We’ll close today with our opening verse as taken from The Message Bible, which seems to lean more to the way we’ve applied it here:

“Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.

 

May 1, 2013

Jesus Answer Knocks Them Off Their Feet

 

“…they drew back and fell to the ground.” ~John 18:6

The quotation above is from John’s account of Jesus’ arrest. Judas leads a group of soldiers and Pharisees to a grove of olives and Jesus steps out from his group and asks who they are seeking. They said, “Jesus of Nazareth;” and he answered, “I am he.” And then John tells us that at the words, ‘I am he;’ they fell to the ground. I’ve quoted the NIV (or ESV) above; The Message version adds a different dimension, “He said, “That’s me.” The soldiers recoiled, totally taken aback. Judas, his betrayer, stood out like a sore thumb.”

This detail about the soldiers is singular to John’s gospel. (He doesn’t mention the betrayal with a kiss at all.) I’ve often wondered what caused this particular reaction.

  • The Life Application Bible suggests that they were startled by the boldness of his question
  • The Wycliffe Bible Commentary suggests he unnerved his captors, some of whom may have been the ones previously unable to lay hands on him (John 7:43-46);
  • Though the Pharisees had seen Jesus teaching in the temple, it’s possible the soldiers had never seen him up close and personal. As they came into proximity with him he was either not what they expected, or they sensed something “wholly other” about him. (Matthew Henry adds that the term ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ was used derisively, and that Jesus could have simply answered “No” for technically he was ‘Jesus of Bethlehem.’)
  • The Life App. and various other commentaries tell us that his “I am he” answer used the “I AM” form of God’s name; it indicated his claim of divinity. There are many pivotal turning points in John’s text, but this is one where we often miss the full impact;
  • The above, combined with what they where about to do; they suddenly felt the impact of their own actions. Were they arresting an innocent man? Were they arresting God?
  • If the full force of his answer registered at all; Matthew Henry points out they would realize that he could simply strike them dead at that point. Was there any limit to his potential response?

Without taking away from any of these explanations, I want to introduce a new dimension to the narrative that had never struck me before in this context. I picked this up reading Michael Card writing in an older issue of the Our Journey devotional booklet.

“When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, He was already bloody before anyone laid a hand on him. He had been fighting a battle that would make certain the final outcome on Calvary. The blood and water that flowed from his wounds on the cross were preceded by bloody sweat that poured from His pores as He suffered the agony of a death more painful than the physical death of the cross, the death of the will... The painful crushing began appropriately enough, in the garden…” ~ Michael Card (Italics added)

What do you do if you are the soldiers, sent to arrest someone, who looks more like a victim than a criminal? What do you do if the plan calls for flogging or torture and the person seems to be already spent? Could that be part of what caused them to draw back and fall to the ground?

March 29, 2013

Trivializing Good Friday

Matthew 7:6a “Do not give dogs what is sacred…”

Although the passage above normally refers to offering your spiritual gifts, your ministry, your teachings to people who are unreceptive, there is an equally opposite danger that can occur when people are receptive by virtue of being hungry and thirsty for the deeper things of God and those  in leadership fail to provide the spiritual necessities.

In other words, if you can profane your teaching by offering it to people who treat it with contempt and scorn, I believe you can also profane it — and treat it with contempt — by offering less than the best that is appropriate to a particular situation.

One of the ways I think we do this is by failing to really get inside the moment that is Good Friday. If we fail to allow our hearts to capture Christ’s suffering and death on our behalf, then we have nothing to share with others who want that to be the focus of their holy day. We show ourselves to be extremely shallow spiritually.

If you have the responsibility of planning a service for Good Friday — or any part of it — it’s so important to bury yourself in the story and then let the text speak to you as you decide which elements of that story to impart to others. Otherwise, you’re guilty of trivializing the text, trivializing the day, trivializing Christ’s atoning work in suffering and dying for us.

One of the shortest verses in scripture is “Jesus wept.”  We tend to want to reduce the events between His arrest and His resurrection — which we will celebrate on Resurrection Sunday, but in Good Friday, not yet — to a simple text of “Jesus died.” But in reality, it goes on for chapters, in all four gospels, and is the very centerpiece of our faith, and the centerpiece of all of scripture, first and second testaments included.

We dare not trivialize that.

In fact, three years ago I wrote about a familiar passage in I Cor. 11, and noted that really, the betrayal of Jesus what ‘hatching’ in the mind of Judas long before the Passion Week narrative begins. With the religious leaders of the day, Jesus’ death was a work in progress.

“On the night Jesus was betrayed, He took bread and… broke it saying, ‘This is my Body, broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.'”

I didn’t even need to look it up. Here’s what I wrote back then:

As English shifts, modern ears might be getting this as “After Jesus was betrayed he took bread…”

I think a better reading would be, “On the night that Jesus was about to be betrayed…”

Or better yet, “Knowing full well that he was just a couple of hours from being betrayed, he took bread…”

Judas was about to exit the building. His scheming mind hatched the plan needed to locate and identify Jesus with the least interference from the crowd, and bring him before the Romans to mete out the death penalty on charges of blasphemy. There would be profit in this, not to mention a place of honor among both Pharisees and Romans alike.

But before he even left, Jesus says, “This is my Body, broken for you.” He is in control. He is giving Himself.

The Wycliffe Version isn’t the translation on Bible Gateway that most bloggers turn to, but its rendering is unique: “Take ye, and eat ye; this is my body, which shall be betrayed for you; do ye this thing into my mind.” (italics added)

It clears up the verb tense thing as it relates to the order of events, which shall (or will) be broken for you, only it has the surprise element of bringing betrayal in that clause as well: shall be betrayed for you.

Christ’s body was physically broken for us, but his esprit was no doubt broken by the betrayal of someone who He had walked and talked with; someone whom He had taught in the give and take sense of eastern teaching — for three years.

The Amplified Bible is one of the few other translations that addresses the order of events. Note the section I’ve italicized: “For I received from the Lord Himself that which I passed on to you [it was given to me personally], that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was treacherously delivered up and while His betrayal was in progress took bread…”

In a culture that grows less Biblically literate by the day, I think it necessary to sometimes look twice at details of the story that we just assume that people know. Necessary to clarify, to remove confusion.

But sometimes, in the examination, there is discovery, and the familiar narrative continues to take on shades of depth and meaning beyond anything we’d already considered.

Thinking Out Loud, Jan 4, 2010

… To which I add today, that it is in the closer readings, in the rediscoveries, we are drawn deep into those long ago days and less likely to rush through or trivialize the proceedings of a sacred time in our church calendar.

March 28, 2013

Playing With Time

As some of you read this, it’s already Good Friday. This particular blog is set up to post articles between 5:00 and 6:00 PM EST (New York time) but with readers all over the world, I realize that many readers are already “in” a particular day when this gets seen.

But in many respects, we’re all guilty of a greater measure of playing with time when it comes to Good Friday. The reason is simple. We already know how the story ends. It’s entirely impossible for us to approach Good Friday not knowing that Resurrection Sunday is just around the corner. We don’t have to read ahead because we’ve previously read the whole story.

But it wasn’t like that on that overcast day at the foot of the cross. In play-script form, The Voice Bible reads:

John 19:29-30 The Voice

29 A jar of sour wine had been left there, so they took a hyssop branch with a sponge soaked in the vinegar and put it to His mouth. 30 When Jesus drank, He spoke:

Jesus: It is finished!

In that moment, His head fell; and He gave up the spirit.

It’s so easy to miss what those standing around the cross at that moment must have felt.

The second way we play with time — going backwards instead —  is in the way we’re able to trace back all the prophecies Jesus gave concerning himself. The disciples are dejected and grieving His death, and we read this in the 21st century and we want to scream at the pages, “Look, go back to page ___ and read what he says about how The Messiah must suffer and die! It’s all there!”

You get a sense of this in Luke 24; and again, we’re going to defer to The Voice translation:

Luke 24 – The Voice

13 Picture this:

That same day, two other disciples (not of the eleven) are traveling the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. 14 As they walk along, they talk back and forth about all that has transpired during recent days. 15 While they’re talking, discussing, and conversing, Jesus catches up to them and begins walking with them, 16 but for some reason they don’t recognize Him.

Jesus: 17 You two seem deeply engrossed in conversation. What are you talking about as you walk along this road?

They stop walking and just stand there, looking sad. 18 One of them—Cleopas is his name—speaks up.

Cleopas: You must be the only visitor in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about what’s been going on over the last few days.

Jesus: 19 What are you talking about?

Two Disciples: It’s all about the man named Jesus of Nazareth. He was a mighty prophet who did amazing miracles and preached powerful messages in the sight of God and everyone around. 20 Our chief priests and authorities handed Him over to be executed—crucified, in fact.

21 We had been hoping that He was the One—you know, the One who would liberate all Israel and bring God’s promises. Anyway, on top of all this, just this morning—the third day after the execution— 22 some women in our group really shocked us. They went to the tomb early this morning, 23 but they didn’t see His body anywhere. Then they came back and told us they did see something—a vision of heavenly messengers—and these messengers said that Jesus was alive. 24 Some people in our group went to the tomb to check it out, and just as the women had said, it was empty. But they didn’t see Jesus.

Jesus: 25 Come on, men! Why are you being so foolish? Why are your hearts so sluggish when it comes to believing what the prophets have been saying all along? 26 Didn’t it have to be this way? Didn’t the Anointed One have to experience these sufferings in order to come into His glory?

Clearly, Jesus’ later teachings about his impending sufferings weren’t registering. Or perhaps it was a case of serious denial. Verse 21 is translated more commonly in a form like “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (NIV)  The verse captures most accurately the sadness felt by those two followers.

If you continue reading The Voice, you find at this point an embedded commentary suggesting the writer Luke is doing his own version of playing with time; using this story a set up for something he knows is coming just a little bit past the point where this chapter resolves itself and this book ends: The Book of Acts. Acts is this gospel’s sequel. The commentators seem to feel that Luke is preparing his audience for something which, while it does not in any way diminish the resurrection — which is after all, the centerpiece of the entire Bible — is going to astound them, namely the birth of The Church.

However, it’s Good Friday, and as we place ourselves back in that particular part of the story through this Holy Day and its various church gatherings, we can’t help but know what happens next.  So with a glimpse into Easter Sunday, let’s see how The Voice ends Luke 24:

27 Then He begins with Moses and continues, prophet by prophet, explaining the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures, showing how they were talking about the very things that had happened to Jesus.

28 About this time, they are nearing their destination. Jesus keeps walking ahead as if He has no plans to stop there, 29 but they convince Him to join them.

Two Disciples: Please, be our guest. It’s getting late, and soon it will be too dark to walk.

So He accompanies them to their home. 30 When they sit down at the table for dinner, He takes the bread in His hands, He gives thanks for it, and then He breaks it and hands it to them. 31 At that instant, two things happen simultaneously: their eyes are suddenly opened so they recognize Him, and He instantly vanishes—just disappears before their eyes.

Two Disciples (to each other): 32 Amazing! Weren’t our hearts on fire within us while He was talking to us on the road? Didn’t you feel it all coming clear as He explained the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures?

33 So they get up immediately and rush back to Jerusalem—all seven miles—where they find the eleven gathered together—the eleven plus a number of others.

March 26, 2013

Serving in the Face of Death

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:19 pm
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I find nothing out of character or particularly arresting about Jesus’ decision to wash his disciples feet. That’s totally consistent.

I find the timing absolutely amazing.

John 13 New International Version (NIV)

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Verse 3 is awesome in every sense of the word.  The IVP New Testament Commentary states:

Jesus’ own awareness is also an important part of the context of the footwashing. He knew that the Father had put all things under his power (literally, “into his hands”) and that he had come from God and was returning to God (v. 3). Here in Johannine language is the description of Jesus’ identity in his relation to the Father. This knowledge does not simply give Jesus the security to wash the disciples feet — his sharing in the divine essence is what leads him to wash their feet. Jesus said that he only does what he sees the Father doing (5:19), and this footwashing is not said to be an exception to that rule. John’s introduction to the event ensures that we understand God’s glory is revealed in Jesus in this sign. This is what God himself is like—he washes feet, even the feet of the one who will betray him! Thus, the footwashing is a true sign in the Johannine sense, for it is a revelation of God.

This is a defining moment. This is an image that will burned into the memory of the twelve.

I was reminded of this again this week in a song from Michael Card from his companion CD to his book about Luke. The song is: How Much More a Servant Could He Be? (You can learn more about the project at this blog review, where I discovered the video.)

March 24, 2013

The Power of the Cross

God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, “I love you.” ~ Billy Graham


All God’s plans have the mark of the cross on them, and all His plans have death to self in them. –E. M Bounds


The Blood deals with what we have done, whereas the Cross deals with what we are. The Blood disposes of our sins, while the Cross strikes at the root of our capacity for sin. ~ Watchman Nee


Today Jesus Christ is being dispatched as the Figurehead of a Religion, a mere example. He is that, but he is infinitely more; He is salvation itself, He is the Gospel of God. –Oswald Chambers


The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales. ~ John Stott

As we approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I wanted to include this worship song by Stuart Townend which can be part of your Holy Week service or used as a communion song throughout the year. If you can’t play the video in your region, take some time to read the lyrics.

Col 1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

This, the power of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath-
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Every bitter thought,
Every evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
“Finished!” the victory cry.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

This, the power of the cross:
Son of God-slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Two other songs also posted here fit well with this theme and have been posted here previously:

Quotes: Tentmaker, Christian Quotes

February 21, 2012

Lent Begins

Growing up in an Evangelical environment, I had little consciousness of the liturgical calendar beyond Christmas and Easter. There was also Thanksgiving, but then, how seriously could that be taken when it was observed more than six weeks apart in Canada and the United States?

To be Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Mainline Protestant however is to be aware of the ever changing liturgical season; it is more than the passing of time, rather, each cycle is complete retelling of the New Testament gospel story. I’ve come to believe that Evangelicals are somewhat shortchanged in this area, though non-Evangelicals are also missing out on other ministry and worship opportunities because they are slave to the calendar. Balance is found somewhere in the middle.

Part of the reason both sides miss out is due to a lack of understanding of how things came to be. With lent — which begins this year as of tomorrow morning with Ash Wednesday — while I’ll admit that Wikipedia is not always the ideal source for theological information, this article is very comprehensive.

Lent (Latin: Quadragesima, “fortieth”[1]) is the Christian observance of the liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events of the Passion of Christ on Good Friday, which then culminates in the celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

During Lent, many of the faithful commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxury as a form of penitence. The Stations of the Cross, a devotional commemoration of Christ’s carrying the Cross and of his execution, are often observed. Many Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches bare their altars of candles, flowers, and other devotional offerings, while crucifixes, religious statues, and other elaborate religious paraphernalia are often veiled in violet fabrics in observance of this event. In certain pious Catholic countries, grand processions and cultural customs are observed, and the faithful attempt to visit seven churches during Holy Week in honor of Jesus Christ heading to Mount Calvary.

According to the Synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent forty days fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan.[2][3] Thus, Lent is described as being forty days long, though different denominations calculate the forty days differently. In many of the Christian churches, Lent is regarded as being forty days long, but the Sundays between Shrove Tuesday and Easter Sunday are not typically regarded as being part of Lent; thus, the date of Shrove Tuesday will typically be slightly more than forty days before Easter Sunday.

This event, along with its pious customs are observed by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans and some Baptists.[4][4][5][5] Lent is increasingly being observed by other denominations as well, even such groups that have historically ignored Lent, such as some Baptists and Mennonites[6]

One of the things I don’t see so much in literature is a comparison between the season of Advent and the time of Lent. While Advent anticipates, foreshadows and prefigures the coming of the Messiah, Lent anticipates, foreshadows and prefigures Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.

Both represent a long run-up to an event that we already know is to take place. There is a tension of wondering what happens next, even though we know the story. That tension is partly due to looking to see what happens next inside us. The anticipating of Christ’s coming is preparing our hearts to welcome Him and recognize Him as Divine. The anticipating of Christ’s suffering and death is preparing our hearts to receive what He is, in the narrative, about to do for us and has in fact already done. It is placing ourselves under the covering of His atoning sacrifice.

For those of Evangelical background like myself, the Wikipedia article includes significant dates falling within the next 40 days:

  • Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity
  • Clean Monday (or “Ash Monday”) is the first day in Eastern Orthodox Christianity
  • The fourth Lenten Sunday, which marks the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter, is sometimes referred to as Laetare Sunday, particularly by Roman Catholics, and Mothering Sunday, which has become synonymous with Mother’s Day in the United Kingdom. However, its origin is a sixteenth century celebration of the Mother Church. On Laetare Sunday, the priest has the option of wearing vestments of rose (pink) instead of violet.
  • The fifth Lenten Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday (however, that term is also applied to Palm Sunday) marks the beginning of Passiontide
  • The sixth Lenten Sunday, commonly called Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent immediately preceding Easter
  • Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday to commemorate the days on which Judas spied on Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before betraying him
  • Thursday is known as Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, and is a day Christians commemorate the Last Supper shared by Christ with his disciples
  • Good Friday follows the next day, on which Christians remember Jesus’ crucifixion and burial

I encourage you to read the whole article. The more Evangelical your background — especially if you are very Charismatic or Pentecostal, or very much part of a seeker-sensitive church — this will all seem rather foreign. But these traditions and forms had their origins in a church that was more vibrant than its descendant denominations today, and we do well not to toss out too much Church history.

April 23, 2011

The Scandal of the Cross: Look Who’s Getting In!

Part III of Setting our Faces Toward Jerusalem Series

A couple of years ago we were at Willow Creek at a time that they were getting ready to bring in a major country artist for a concert. It struck me that instead of promoting the benefits to be had for those adherents of the church who would be attending, they instead promoted the value of the artist’s reputation in terms of inviting unchurched neighbors, co-workers and family. “This is the best invite opportunity you’ll ever had,” was close to how Bill Hybels put it.

good-friday

In a way, Easter is like that. I don’t mean the actual Good Friday or Easter services at a local church, so much as the conversational opportunities it affords. You can talk about things during the next 48 hours that you simply might never get to the rest of the year, other than perhaps Christmas. This is a prime opportunity to talk about Jesus, the Cross, sin, death, forgiveness, atonement, resurrection — major themes of Christian doctrine and practice that just don’t come up in normal conversation. Provided you don’t introduce those topics artificially, you can still bring the discussion around to Easter fairly easily and then say what it means to you personally.

In considering writing this however, it occurred to me that voicing this suggestion is not unlike sitting in church and hearing a great sermon and then deciding that someone else that we know has to hear it; the idea that this time of year is a great opportunity for the benefit of somebody else. But this time of year comes around in the Christian calendar not so much for anyone else but for me. This is my time to sit and contemplate that it was my sin that led Christ to the cross to die in my place. This is why Jesus came; because we needed a savior.

The apostle Paul said that it was for this reason that Christ came into the world: to save sinners. And then he adds something like, ‘of which I am the worst.’ I, so undeserving, so unable to gain salvation by any of my own efforts, gets included in Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary just by saying to God, “I want to be included among those who realize that this sacrifice was for me; I want to be among those covered by what happened that day on the cross.”

And look who else is getting in: The woman caught in the act of adultery; the thief on the cross; the prodigal son and his elder brother. Christ died to save sinners of which we all are the worst. We’re a bunch of misfits.

So this year, we need to be re-examining the story looking for things we’ve missed before; looking for things in a familiar story to touch us in a new way. Then, because of what Christ did, and because we’ve allowed ourselves to be changed by it, we look for opportunities to share this story with others at a time it is so much easier to do so, than at any other time of year.

And really, isn’t that just like the Gospel? Part one is “taste and see;” and part two is “go and tell.”

April 21, 2011

Famous Last Words…

The eleven men who were left were very quiet.  The voice of Christ was very soft and low — tender with farewell.

It was now only a matter of hours until Christ and his disciples would be separated.  He wished to fill those last hours of fellowship with the tenderest and most significant of His teachings.

The most sacred… the most tender… the most heart-felt emotions… are those expressed at the end of the letter…

The tenderest caress comes just before the parting.  The softest word just before the conversation is ended… before the train pulls out… before we turn away.

We seem to catch the quiet intimacy of that fellowship.  Unforgettable words of parting and comfort were spoken by Jesus to His friends.  Jesus has written them out for us:

  • “Little children … a new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you … By this will all know that you are my disciples…”
  • “Let not your heart be troubled; … In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you…”
  • “I will not leave you comfortless.  I will come to you…”
  • “I am the vine, you are the branches…  Abide in me, and I in you…”
  • “these things I have spoken unto you that in me you might have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world…”

Overcome the world?  When the one who spoke was so soon to fall under the power of Caesar?  Yes, for in reality we must remember that Jesus could have escaped the cross.  No one compelled him to go to Jerusalem on that last journey.  Indeed His friends and apostles urged Him not to go.

Watch Him, in the bitter hours that lie immediately ahead, time after time taking the initiative in deciding His own fate.

Christ had begun His ministry by telling His apostles that the Son of many must suffer many things.  Must — there was no other way.  It was for that purpose that He had come into the world.

“For as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up .. that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

There was Light in the little room that night.  But beyond the light lay a death-ridden world…

  • in the midst of the military might that was Rome where life was cheap
  • in the philosopher’s porticoes of Athens where the mind found no hope
  • in the dangerous living of the great shipping centers of Asia Minor to the disease infested alleys of old Jerusalem —

Men feared death, dodged its hideous grasp, could nowhere find respite from their fear.

But here was something new… Here was one facing death — not afraid but confident … already triumphant … already speaking about seeing His friends again … about never leaving them…

Strange words … about being with them to the uttermost parts of the earth and to the end of time.

How?  Why? Because He alone knew the Father’s eternal purpose for what it was — the determination once and for all to destroy the power of death — once and for all to deliver men from their lifelong bondage to the fear of death.

Within a matter of hours, Christ Himself was to become the instrument by which the Father would — for all time — make death not a wall … but a door.

~ Peter Marshall –The First Easter (McGraw-Hill, 1959) pp. 16-19

April 20, 2011

He Took The Nails

I only know her as Missy.  She writes a parenting blog, It’s Almost Naptime, that often draws over 1,000 (mostly women) readers in a single day, and I highly recommend it, especially if, like her, your family grew quickly and the kids are still small.   I dropped in this morning only to discover a wonderful illustration in one of her recent posts, Better Me Than You.

[C201 readers are always encouraged to read the post at the author’s website/blog.]


Because I am barefoot 99% of the time, and because we aren’t the neatest house on the block, the incident of stepping on sharp, pointy objects is an all too common occurrence.

I wish I could blame it on the kids, but I’ve never had the neatest house on the block. My floor has always been a bit of a landmine. The soles of my feet are riddled with the scars of my domestic ineptitude.

Recently for some odd reason I was blessed to be wearing shoes when I stepped up the stairs and directly on top of a wayward nail which pierced straight through the sole of my shoe and into my poor foot. As I screamed dramatically, the thought ran through my mind which, for almost seven years, has been repeated every time I have been assaulted by my own home: Glad I got to that first. Better me than one of the kids.

That pretty much sums up the change in our hearts (and pain tolerance) caused by motherhood, doesn’t it? A tack in the foot no longer yields screaming and curses, but gratitude. The same tack could have harmed the sweet soft skin of my precious child. It hurts, but it would have hurt my baby worse. Better me than him.

Soon after Shepherd’s birth, I realized my love was so strong for this child that, not only would I take a bullet for him, but I’d take a bullet for him gladly. With zero hesitation. Now the chances of me being asked to take a bullet for one of my children are thankfully very small. But thumbtacks? Slivers of glass? Runaway carpet nails? A Lego with a vendetta? It’s a repetitive – sometimes daily – sacrifice.

Today I was cleaning the girls’ room. As I slid my hand under Maggie’s bed, my right thumb made direct contact with a pointy piece of glass. A rather large piece of glass, which could have done substantial damage to a small foot. My blood oozed from my body, while, as usual, I expressed gratitude for the opportunity to get to it first. Better me than her.

I stared at the blood stained glass when suddenly, I stifled a sob, and doubled over.

For the image of my bloody Savior hanging on a cross had appeared in my mind.

And He said, Better Me than you.

The Lord, in His wondrous mercy, beat me to the piercing, and the pain, and the blood. It was a sacrifice. Because He loves me even more than I love my own children.

When they tied his arms to a post with his back exposed, and He braced Himself for what was to come, He said, Better Me than you.

When they raised the whip, it’s tendrils tied with pointy pieces of glass and metal and bone, He said, Better Me than you.

When they brought the whip down on His back, with full force, over and over and over and over and over, He said, Better Me than you.

When the skin had been shredded and the arteries and veins in the muscles in His back began to hemorrhage, He said, Better Me than you.

When they dug the crown of thorns into his head, He said, Better Me than you.

When they grabbed His beard in their hands and pulled as hard as they could to rip the hair from His face, He said, Better Me than you.

When they cursed Him and called Him the foulest names they could think of, He said, Better Me than you.

When they slapped and punched His bleeding cheeks, and mocked Him, and spit on Him, and beat Him with a staff until His bloody tortured body was unrecognizable as human, He said, Better Me than you.

When they forced him to lift the seventy five pound crossbeam, lay it across his scourged and lacerated shoulders, and ordered his failing body to walk, He said, Better Me than you.

When the loss of blood and the pain from the tortures caused him to stumble and drop the cross, He said, Better Me than you.

When they stripped off all His clothes and threw His naked, mutilated body down on the cross, hammered thick, heavy, wrought-iron nails into His wrists, then lifted Him into place, He said, Better Me than you.

When they crossed his ankles and hammered similar nails into the arches of his feet, He said, Better Me than you.

When He struggled to breathe, causing Himself excruciating pain no matter how He moved, He said, Better Me than you.

When He looked into the face of a mother, His mother, watching the murder of her precious child, her baby boy, He said, Better Me than you.

When His Father turned His back on Him, when He felt most forsaken, when He cried out in agony and heartache and despair, He said, Better Me than you.

When His chest filled with fluid and He felt His own heart drown within Him, He said, Better Me than you.

When He cried out before He finally suffocated to death, He said, Better Me than you.

When He took on the wrath of God and paid the penalty for your sins, and my sins, and our beloved children’s sins, He said, Better Me than you.

This is love:
not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 4:10

April 14, 2011

Looking For (God’s) Love in All the Wrong Places

About fourteen months ago, I ran a profile/interview with Kevin Sanders aka Kuya Kevin, a guy from Alabama who finds himself doing youth ministry in The Philippines.  Yesterday, I dropped by his blog and found something I thought would fit in really well at C201.  It appeared at his blog under the title, The Cross:  God’s Revelation of Love.

Easter Sunday is quickly approaching. It’s the time when we think more about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I’d like for all my readers to reflect on the cross as God’s ultimate revelation of love to us.

Let’s think about this whole concept of revelation.  Here’s what it means: we would not know God completely unless He chose to reveal Himself to us.

We can know some things about God by simply observing the universe in which we live.  Paul talks about this in the Book of Romans:

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
-Romans 1:20

But these general observations (called “general revelation” by theologians) can only take us so far.  We need more information to know who God is and what He is like.  This is where the Scriptures come in: they teach us about a holy, loving God whose character is nothing like ours.

The apex (high point) of God’s revelation comes in Jesus Christ and what He accomplished on the Cross.  The Bible describes it this way:

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
-Romans 5:8

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
-John 15:13


Here is our problem: we often look to the wrong place to “see” God’s love. Sadly, this is true of believers and non-believers alike.

Here’s what I mean–we tend to ask questions like this:

  • “If God loves me, why did this happen to me?”
  • “If God loves me, why am I in so much pain?”
  • “If God loves me, why isn’t my life going the way I want?”

Do you understand the problem?  We will always be disappointed if we simply rely on our life circumstances as “proof” of God’s love. It would go something like this:

  • I had a good day today.  God must love me.
  • I’m heartbroken.  God must not love me.
  • I got a pay raise.  God must love me.
  • I got stuck in traffic.  God must not love me.

It reminds me of the “he loves me, he loves me not” game that children play with flower petals.

Please don’t misunderstand me here–I know that disappointment with God is a very normal human emotion.  God understands these feelings, and even allowed them to be recorded in Holy Scripture (the Psalms, for example).

But disappointments in life do not change what Jesus has done on the Cross. Do you want to know how much God loves you?  Don’t look at your difficulties.  Look instead to the cross!  Jesus has already proven His love through his sacrificial death.

~Kevin Sanders