Rethinking the Cross

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11a

I never expected to be wearing a gold cross around my neck. I heard all my life about the suffering of the cross and was told we should not trivialize its awfulness. I agreed because what they said was so logical. Then I changed my mind.

I read about the early church’s choice of the cross as its symbol. They chose the cross because it was the turning point of history. On that day, Jesus’ work was finished. The veil of the temple was supernaturally torn apart indicating the opening of the way for us to enter God’s holy presence. Early Christians could have selected a symbol other than the terrifying cross. But they didn’t. They chose the cross, I believe, because Jesus had transformed it from a thing of horror to a symbol of hope.

He does that! He takes messy lives and makes them beautiful. He changes murderers into saints, drug addicts into Good Samaritans, and the apathetic into enthusiastic followers of God. Satan thought he had used an instrument of torture to defeat Jesus that day, but no – Jesus had turned the battered, blood-stained cross into a thing of beauty.

I was involved in a women’s Bible study when I began to realize all this, and I told them about the change in my thinking about the cross. A short time later, they presented a simple gold cross necklace they had purchased as a gift for me. I wear it almost every day. The cross is beautiful because Jesus made it beautiful. And wearing it is a moment-by-moment reminder of whose I am!

“If the cross of Christ is anything to the mind, it is surely everything – the most profound reality and the sublimest mystery.” – John Stott

 

NOTE: Some of the most insightful teaching on the cross can be found in John R. W. Stott’s book, The Cross of Christ.

Reunion vs. Reconciliation

 

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” – Hebrews 12:14

Jacob had cheated his brother, Esau, out of his birthright more than 20 years earlier and now was bringing his large family and flocks and herds back to Canaan. As he prepared to meet his angry brother, he sent gifts ahead, tried to protect his family from attack, and prayed for God’s favor. Fortunately for Jacob, the reunion was one of rejoicing and celebration. Forgiveness seemed to abound and, at least on the surface, all seemed to be well.

Esau, with true Middle Eastern hospitality, invited Jacob to bring his family and herds to live near him in Seir. Jacob says, in essence, “OK, but we’re going to travel slowly because of the little ones and the animals.” So Esau goes on ahead, but Jacob never follows him to Seir. Why? I think there were too many differences remaining between them – cultural, religious, and maybe even some obvious animus from previous offenses.

Reunion is one thing. Reconciliation is another.

Maybe there is a person in your life you think of as toxic, or even dangerous to your physical or emotional well-being. Can you forgive that person? Yes. Forgiveness is for your benefit even more than it is for the person who has hurt you. And God requires his people to forgive.

Should you be in close relationship with him/her again? Most likely not, unless you see a true and long-lasting change of heart. It’s possible Jacob knew association with Esau would bring trouble. So he agreed to an amicable relationship, but not a close one. Sometimes distance is the best decision. Forgiveness is one thing. Reconciliation is another.

“It takes one person to forgive, two people to be reunited.” – Lewis Smedes

Critic or Companion?

For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. – Psalm 103:14

“God’ll get you for that.” That was a supposed-to-be-funny, but semi-serious, retort when I was growing up. I think it was a view of God that many in my generation shared. God was just waiting for us to step out of line. Hard as I might try as a teenager, I knew I stepped across that line too many times. I kept waiting for God’s hammer to fall. 

Do you ever feel that way? That you really can’t measure up to God’s standards, so you might as well quit trying? If that’s your mindset, you may need a new view of God.

Yes, he is holy and wants us to live in ways that honor him, but he knows we are weak and will fail. That’s why he sent Jesus to live the perfect life we cannot live and to die and be raised to pay for all within us that falls short of God’s standard. Does that sound like a God who’s just waiting for us to step out of line so he can zap us? No! It sounds like a loving God who made a way for us to become better over time – not by our own efforts, but by the power of the new life he gives us through Jesus. 

It may be our view of God needs to change to be more consistent with the God Jesus revealed. As we walk with him, he guides and grows us. When he finds something to correct, he always does it lovingly. He is never out to catch us in a fault, but to help us overcome it.  

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. – A. W. Tozer

The Me You See

“Since it is through the Spirit that we have life, let it also be through the Spirit that we order our lives day by day.” – Galatians 5:25 (CJB)

Have you ever had a conversation with God that went something like this?

God, to me, reminding me of an attitude I had yesterday: “That wasn’t you.”

Me: “Yes it was. I’m just like that. I do it over and over. I’m sorry, Lord.”

God: “Oh, Bev.” (I heard his disappointment, not with what I had done yesterday, but at my sense of hopelessness today). “I know who you are now, and I know the you you will be when you are a finished product – and that is the you I see. This attitude isn’t part of it.”

Me: “Oh, Lord, change me. Make me like Jesus. I repent. I turn to you to make me better, to turn me into the me you already see.”

When we have willing hearts, God’s correction is always loving, always gentle, always for our good. He works within us to make us want to change, to want to be more like Jesus. Then, as we cooperate, he begins to carve away everything in us that doesn’t look like Jesus. He adds a few things, too – more patience, compassion, peace, truthfulness, perseverance, and prayerfulness – Jesus things.

At some point, we’ll see Jesus face-to-face and will realize how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. But, the promise is there, “we shall be like him. . .” 

Thank you, Lord, for seeing me as a finished product. For working with me to remove everything that is not like the me you see!

“Don’t get upset with your imperfections. . . Simply surrender to the Power of God’s Love, which is always greater than our weakness.” ~ Saint Francis de Sales

Imperfect?

” I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. . .
But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God. My times are in your hands.”
– Psalm 31:12 and 14-15a

I know a potter who used to throw his less-than-perfect pieces against a concrete post until only shards remained. Then he discovered there were people who liked the pots, vases, and mugs that had slight flaws. Now he has a special sale each year of his “ruined” pieces which then become cherished treasures to those who see beauty or usefulness in their imperfections.

Sometimes I imagine God walking through tables full of “ruined” vessels – people who are broken, flawed, or maybe just what others would call odd. I don’t think he wants to throw them all against the wall in frustration. I think he’s saying,

“I can use this one, and this, and this.” 

“Oh, my, this piece has a peculiar beauty.”

“This is a unique shape. I have the perfect place for it.”

“A little patch here, and this pot will be just right!”

Do you have a weak spot? Or a failure in your past? Don’t despair! When we go to God, confess our sins, he forgives, restores, renews, and then says, “This one is perfect for the plan I have for him!” Believe it! Then watch as he repairs you and leads you to new levels of relationship and service. He does have a plan for you – don’t worry about the cracks!

“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”

– Vance Havner

God is love.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. – Psalm 107:1

It’s a very simple Bible verse and one of the first we learn as children, “God is love.” (1 John 4:8b). Many of us assume that God is love as we define love and as we think it should be lived out in our world.

But, maybe this verse isn’t telling us what God is like. It might be telling us what love is like. It means that God is the definition of love. If love is defined by who God is, we have to accept, though it’s difficult, that love can include anger, correction, and punishment for sin (sin is also defined by God, not us). We are much more comfortable with a God who is only gentle, kind, and generous, and will simply ignore wrongdoing. But, as every parent knows, there’s more to love than acceptance.

If God is the definition of love, we can take great comfort and hope that everything he does or allows has a loving purpose. Love sometimes lets bad things happen – even to good people. Love sometimes says “Okay, then” when a person rejects him, but always forgives and welcomes when he/she turns back. Love gives great gifts and blessings to those who follow him. Love always invites us to come closer.

Once we have known God as love – the parts we like and the parts we don’t understand – we find out one if its best characteristics: His love never ends (1 Corinthians 13:8a). Our eternal God gives eternal love to those who know and follow him. Human love can let us down. God’s love never will!

“The great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.” – C. S. Lewis

#Godislove #Forgiveness

Keep it simple.


“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” – 1 Corinthians 1:17

If you’re like me, you sometimes hesitate to talk about your faith and, usually, our silence is because we’re afraid:

  • Afraid someone might ask a question we can’t answer.
  • Afraid they’ll think we’re not very sophisticated in our thinking.
  • Afraid we just won’t say it right.

Here’s where Paul comes in with a God-given insight (see verse above): It’s not about our intellectual words, knowing all the answers, or having the power to persuade – it’s about Jesus. When we simply point people to Jesus, his message, his actions, and his cross, we can’t go wrong. Paul says, in fact, that if we’re too good in arguing our point or using impressive words, the attention goes to us and our message falls flat. If we can direct someone to Jesus and the cross,  Paul says, that’s where the power is. Not us – him. That was Paul’s message to the people of Corinth in the 1st century and it’s ours today.

So, if someone asks what we believe or why we have hope or peace in this sometimes-crazy world, let’s not get sidetracked with reconciling the Bible with science or theorizing about prophecies. Let’s just talk about Jesus, what he has done for us, and what he has promised to those who follow him. Then he does the rest. No more fear!

“The cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering, for he took them upon himself in the person of Jesus Christ. From the cross God declares, ‘I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pain that you feel. But I love you.'”- Billy Graham


Do you know why Jesus came?


“. . . to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12

If I had lived when Jesus was here and if I knew he was God, I think I would have been afraid. If God is holy and all-knowing, he must surely be angry at humans. But no! The good news is he came to do away with sin, not us! His disciple John explains it this way: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8b).

John also tells us Jesus came, not to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17).  He knew the world was a mess and we humans are a mess, but he put the blame exactly where it belongs: on Satan! He came to free his children from Satan’s grasp, to invite us into relationship with himself, and to make us better people. He came to reveal the irrational love of the Father for all his children trapped in a world of evil. He came to love us, not to hurt us.

Every human since has had to decide how to respond.  At some point, we’ll be accountable for the choice we made: Did we choose to allow him to free us from sin’s stranglehold, or did we choose to continue on a hopeless path without him? We’re not responsible to untangle ourselves from all the trouble sin brings, but we are responsible for the choice we make about Jesus and his invitation to be his.

I hope you choose Jesus this Christmas. And if you already know him, choose to know him better!

“The loving mission of our Lord Jesus Christ was not to condemn but to forgive and reclaim.”A. W. Tozer

Republished from December 2017 blog.

#Jesus #Christmas

Living generously

“I will gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well.” – 2 Corinthians 12:15a

What do you think of when someone talks about generosity? Probably we anticipate we are about to be asked to part with some cash. But, there’s a lot more to living generously than giving money.

Peter and John give us a great example of that (Acts 3). They saw a man on the Temple steps who’d been lame from birth. People carried him there every day so he could provide for himself by begging. When approached for alms, Peter said, in essence, “I don’t have any money, but I have something else I can give you, ‘In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk.'” Peter gave this man a gift of far greater value than a few coins!

What does it mean to live generously? Sometimes it does mean giving money. And we need to do that willingly and often. At other times, we may need to give something else. Maybe our skills to lend a hand to someone who needs help. Maybe it’s a listening ear. And, sometimes hardest of all, it means being generous with our love for those who are hard to love and forgiveness for those who have wronged us.

Generosity has more to do with attitude than with cash. Living generously frees us from the burden of accumulation and allows us to travel lighter, to be less self-centered and more compassionate. And, somewhere along the way, joy creeps in. Maybe today is a good day to look around and see who needs our generosity – financial, spiritual, relational, or merciful. Then, let’s open our hearts and our hands!

“The noblest thing a man can do is just humbly to receive, and then go amongst others and give.” – David Livingstone

 

#generosity

Cleaning Up

“I dwell in a high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” – Isaiah 57:15b

Sin is a dirty word. We don’t like to talk about it. We don’t like to acknowledge sin may be a problem in our lives. So we hide it or ignore it. I do that, too, sometimes, but am beginning to see my sin as God does:

  • He hates my sin, but he loves me.
  • He’s not surprised when I sin. He knows my frailties.
  • My sin grieves God, partly because of how it damages me.
  • God is holy and cannot look on sin, so my unconfessed sin is a barrier between me and God, between me and answered prayer, between me and the blessing God wants to give me (see Isaiah 59:1-2).

Maybe we should begin looking at our sin in a whole new way – not as something to hide, but as something to be acknowledged, something from which we can be freed. It’s like working in the garden all day, coming in hot, dusty, and sweaty. We can ignore our condition or we can get in the shower. Which is better?

All God asks is that I recognize my action or attitude as sin, then confess and receive forgiveness and the strength to overcome. The joy of confession is that my relationship with him is fully restored, my prayers are heard, and my life is blessed. Confession is not a bad word. It is cleansing, restorative word – something we should not turn from, but should run toward. It’s like a nice, warm shower!

“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” – Jerry Bridges