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A Holy Separation Anxiety

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Matthew 27:46

We call it “Good Friday”. But like everything else on the day of His death, it was good for us, but terrible for our Lord Jesus. As you go about your day today, consider these facts: Early on that Friday morning, after no sleep the night before, Jesus was taken to Pilate’s prison. He was beaten by professional torturers who knew their craft all too well. He was then presented to the crowd who chose a notorious prisoner over the very Son of God. Throughout the night Jesus was silent, ironically, directing the entire process that led to His death. He was taken into the courtyard (called the Praetorium) and the entire company of soldiers surrounded Him. They stripped Him, put a crown of thorns on His head, a staff in His hand, and knelt down before Him in mockery. They spat on Him and blind-folded Him, punching Him many times, as hard as they could. Later that morning, exhausted and famished, He carried His own cross, most of the way to Golgotha. At 9:00 am, the executioners impaled Him through His wrists and His feet, with long spikes, and fastened Him to the cross. Darkness came over the earth from noon until 3:00 pm.

At 3:00 pm, in anguish, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In that moment, Jesus was experiencing the wrath of the Father (His holy reaction to sin), as He “became sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was abandoned by the Father, so that you and I would never be. Then Jesus cried out, “It is finished!”, and He died. At this final cry of victory, God’s inflexible holiness and His unconditional love collided as our redemption was made possible. Around 5:00 pm the women came to prepare His body for burial and at 6:00 pm they placed Him in the tomb. A massive stone was rolled into place as the sun set on the saddest day in history. And the angels were silent as all creation watched to see what would happen next.

As you go throughout this day, be in a constant state of remembrance, meditating on what happened to our Lord Jesus. Think about each event as if it was happening today. Consider the horrific emotional strain Jesus faced, knowing He was about to endure a slow, painful death, and greater still, the anticipation of the very wrath of God upon sin that would come upon Him. And remember, He did all of this for you and me. Remember also that it’s Friday, the saddest day in history, but Sunday’s coming. Praise Him.

Pray:  Lord, today I will walk with You through Your sufferings. I will meditate on every phase of Your sacrifice for me and give thanks to You/ My heart breaks over my sin that put You on the cross. May I always remember what You have accomplished for me. And may Your love for me lead me to love You, to obey You, and bring glory to You Name.

The Life of a Servant

Thursday night before His death

“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.”  John 13:5

On the night before His death, Jesus would teach one of the greatest lessons of His ministry to His disciples. The Master-Teacher would use object lessons, symbols, and hands-on teaching to make His point. The first lesson was on servanthood; the second was on sacrifice. The first involved the washing of His disciples’ dirty feet – an act performed only by a servant, not a master. When He finished, He didn’t say, “Now that I’ve washed your feet, you wash mine”, (as we would have done). Instead He said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). You see, the way we express love to Jesus is by expressing love to one another. The way we serve Him is by serving others.

The second lesson was around the table as He took the well-known elements of the Passover Meal and re-interpreted them as fulfilled by Him. The matzo bread – the “bread of affliction” – (which was always pierced and always striped), represented His body. The cup of redemption represented His blood shed for them. How unusual it must have been as Jesus brought new meaning to these ancient symbols; how amazing it must have been after His death and resurrection to understand with crystal clarity what He meant. And now we know as well.

“The Master will dress himself to serve and tell the servants to sit at the table, and He will serve them.”  Luke 12:37

Pray:  Lord, thank You for Your amazing act of servanthood and Your example of sacrifice for me. I want to live the life of a servant. I will love someone for free today and, in so doing, I will be expressing my love to You. Tonight, as I lay down my head for a night of peaceful sleep, I will remember the sleepless night You had as You were arrested, tried, and beaten on my behalf. Thank you, for the soulful rest you bring because of the peace you have brought to those who trust in You.

Jesus, the Incomparable Substitute

As Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism was dying, his devoted followers asked how they should keep his memory alive, propagate his greatness. He said, “Don’t bother. Tell them not to remember me, but adhere to my teachings. They can forget me, but let my teachings be propagated around the world.” This sounds like a very self-less, humble response. But Jesus would have never said anything like this. If He had it would validate what many people think: that Jesus was yet another religious leader whose primary message was, “work harder, get better”. It would confirm what a lot of Christians seem to believe today – that Jesus came to initiate a new and improved behavior modification project. As if Jesus came to help us get better. Clearly Jesus taught us much, but think about it, what was at the heart of His teaching?

The central focus of Jesus’ teaching was His identity, who He was and is. He would have never said, “Forget me, just follow my teachings.” He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” It may sound self-evident but at the heart of the Christian faith is Christ Himself, Who He is and what He has done. So, it’s paramount that we get our Christology right (who He is) above all else and then put everything else at it’s service. Here’s why:  Your view of Christ determines your response to Him. The Person of Jesus – His character, His identity, and the essence of His nature is clearly revealed in the Gospel accounts and is brought into undeniable focus and clarity the final week of His life.

Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem begins with a counter-procession, presenting a contrary way, a rival king, a contrasting social order, and an opposing theology, ushering in an alternative kingdom – the kingdom of God.

Jesus said His kingdom is “not of this world,” and it contrasts the kingdom of the world in every possible way. This is not a simple contrast between good and evil, but rather two fundamentally different ways of doing life, two fundamentally different belief systems- two fundamentally different loyalties. This King is ushering in a different kind of kingdom and it’s embodied in the King Himself.

This is why the angry pursuit of the religious leaders ramped up the final week of His life. In the end, He was not crucified because He talked about loving others or caring for the poor. He was crucified because of who He claimed to be. In the end, He lived the perfect life for us, suffered and died, taking on our shame and punishment, and He rose again, conquering death and hell- this is the Gospel, the Good News that has rescued us from death and hell. He is the King we worship, the One we proclaim, and the One we follow every day.

This Holy Week, let’s tell others who Jesus really is. Tell them He is not another good example, but our incomparable Substitute.

 

Gospel Hope

When you stop to think about it, you’re life is all about hope. Every decision, every good or bad moment is about hope and expectation and then, whether that expectation is met or not. Think about it: “I hope this person likes me.” “I hope this relationship works out.” “I hope to pass this test.” “I hope I graduate.” “I hope this job becomes mine.” “I hope I stay healthy and grow old. “I will do this or that…” And then something or someone steps in. And when it doesn’t happen we’re disappointed, upset, angry, even despairing. In fact, you could go so far as to say, all frustration and disappointment in life is a result of, or birthed out of, unmet expectation.

And beware: Christmas ramps this up in spades. All of this season’s ads are pummeling you with false hope. We’ll see hundreds, even thousands, of ads this month promising you something- offering hope. What we see is an embellished vision of life created by a media- drenched culture that changes our expectations. It captures our imagination and convinces us that life should be like this. In fact, there’s a term for it: it’s what sociologist Krishan Kumar (at UVa) calls “hyper-reality”. He says, “Our world has become so saturated with images and symbols that a new ‘electronic reality’ has been created, whose effect is to obliterate any sense of an objective reality lying behind the images and symbols.” In other words, the images and the symbols that represent the things that stand behind them 
are actually overblown, exaggerated and embellished. We create in our minds a world that is not based on reality. As a result our hopes are heightened even more and our expectations are exaggerated and we’re always left wanting, even despairing.

We place our hope in something or someone and we expect that thing or person to deliver. The Scottish writer, Allan K. Chalmers, wrote, “The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” We all place our hope in something or someone. But it is the Object of our Hope that makes ALL the difference. So, rightly understood:

Christmas is all about hope created, hope lost, hope restored, and hope realized. Indeed, this is the story of redemptive history. And HERE is the great human problem: We are prone to place our hope in things that cannot deliver. But here’s the ironic twist:

The doorway to hope is hopelessness. The only way you find true hope is to give up on all those other things in which you place your hope. And for hope to be hope (not wishful thinking but biblical hope), it must fix what’s broken. If not why hope in it? And we must realize that the answer is not found in us or anything this world can offer. There’s no horizontal hope.

Hopelessness is the doorway to hope. When you finally give up on the idea that you will find hope in the horizontal, you’re at the doorway of REAL hope, that gives life. And when you open the door, guess who’s standing there? Jesus. When you give up on horizontal hope then you’re ready to look up and find the only hope that matters. Have you given up on all those other things? Do you still think you’ll find your personal savior in something or someone else? Give up on that perfect relationship. Give up on that perfect job, the perfect body, the perfect marriage, the perfect house, the perfect kids. Give up; those things are fruitless. But HOPE has come.

Biblical hope is a bold and certain expectation that God will do what He says He will do.

Biblical hope is synonymous to trust. It is not synonymous with a wish or desire. Those who hope in the Lord, are those who trust in Him- and trust is equivalent to obedience. Hope is not a magic wand or a good feeling- ultimately hope is the result of obedience. Hope is a firm reliance on the preferred or future Story of God. 

Hope is not a situation, it’s not a circumstance, it’s not a thing.

Hope is a Person and His name is Jesus.

 

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

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Grace changes everything.

Many give up on the fight for purity because of past failures or habitual sin. This is precisely where Satan wants us to land. My counsel to young men has always been, “The good guys fight”, meaning that you’re either in the fight or you’ve given up the fight. Even “good” men (and women) battle sexual lust and temptation. Sexual sin is Satan’s easiest door to shame. In John 4, a Samaritan woman encounters Jesus and it transforms her, from a life of shame to forgiveness. This story exposes a kind of shame that defines many of us because of past sins, driven by on-going misplaced affections. Shame is a step beyond blame.

  • Blame says, “I’ve done wrong and I deserve to be punished.”
  • Shame says, “I am wrong and I cannot change. I can’t overcome my past, my mistakes, my failures.” I am who I am. Shame leads hopelessness and despair.

How do we move from shame to forgiveness? Like the woman at the well, when we realize that we are fully known and completely loved, our lives are changed. In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” To be known fully and loved completely is the greatest truth you’ll ever know.

1. God knows you fully. (vv. 1-15) Like this woman, God knows where you are and He’s gone completely out of His way to come to you, to find you. Like her, we seek diversions, a rerouting of the truth about ourselves. We guide our conversations, in an attempt to avoid the truth, so no one will truly come to know us. Many of us go through our lives like this. Are you fully known? Your greatest need is to be fully known. God knows everything about you. Psalm 139 says He knows when you get up and when you lie down. He knows what you’ll say before you say it. You can’t go anywhere and be away from His presence. He formed you in your mother’s womb. Wherever you are, He knows where you are right now. He’s pursuing you.

2. God loves you completely. (vv. 16-26) She was thirsty for love and clearly, she sought to satisfy this thirst through relationships with men. She thought that what she needed most would be found in the next man, a better relationship, the next love, in someone who would finally love her. We are all thirsty. We’re all craving love. He alone satisfies. And before we do write this off as a third-person story, don’t miss this: We all have lovers. Call them idols, other gods, false identities- we all have them. Who are you sleeping with? Jesus seeks to provide for you the one thing that He knows you actually need. The only thing that can quench this soulful thirst of the human heart is the love of God. What we need is what Thomas Chalmers, the Scottish minister, called, “the explosive power of a new affection.” Her problem is ours; it’s love out of order, disordered love, misplaced affections. Disordered love is when good things become God things. Misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection of God, of the Gospel- what He has done for us in Christ. She needed what you need today, what I need: to be fully known and fully loved. What you need is a greater satisfaction in Him, the explosive power of a new affection. This is a life-changing reality: God knows you fully and He still loves you completely.

We see another sexual sinner in John 8, the woman caught in adultery. The woman turns to Jesus condemned by the law and the religious leaders. And after He silences those who wanted to stone her to death (by telling them, “If any of you are without sin, then let him case the first stone.” He then says one of the most amazing statements of grace (of the Gospel) in the Bible:

“Neither do I condemn you. From now on go and sin no more.” John 8:11

Notice the order of His words: You are not condemned by me, but forgiven – fully known and completely loved- let my love transform you and NOW, go and sin no more. Let my love compel you to holiness. Let my grace propel you into a life of obedience!” Most of us would say the opposite – “Get your act together, then I will no longer condemn you.” God’s acceptance of you is the power that liberates you toward obedience, not the reward of liberating yourself. We obey God, not to gain His approval but because we already have it (in Christ). Listen: God is not mad at you.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

Sex is not the answer, it is however, an expression of the question. Another person is not the answer. More money is not the answer. A better job is not the answer. A new and improved you is not the answer. These things, these pursuits, these thirsts point you to the question. And they are designed to point you to the Answer. It’s why you can’t stop working. It’s why you’re never satisfied. It’s why you’re anxious. It’s why you can’t rest. Your restless soul is not the answer but it IS an expression of the question. And the ultimate question is: Can I be fully known and fully loved? YES, and His…

3. Grace changes everything. (vv. 27-42) She leaves her water jar (I love this detail). The greatest need in her life had been met- she realized that she is fully known and completely loved. This is the foundation upon which you can build your entire life, because circumstances cannot touch that. She had a new identity, a new resolve, a new motivation, and a new purpose, and a new message. She had no need for a jar that would slow her down. She has a new, relentless urgency, a new purpose altogether.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

You are totally loved, fully forgiven, and completely accepted by God. His grace changes everything. Now, as a portrait of His grace, live to the praise of His glorious grace.