The Cross – a Culmination of the Bad and the Good

Have you every wondered what Jesus experienced in the garden of Gethsemane? It certainly wasn’t about showing us how to pray better. Nor was it an example of humility for us to follow.

For Jesus it was about suffering. He suffered his whole life, as Isaiah tells us, from men and from devils. Judas, Peter and Satan himself.

The cross was going to be a level of suffering like no one had ever experienced before. It was where Jesus would receive from the hand of his Father all his wrath for sin. It would also be the place the Father would turn his back on Jesus and abandon him.

Think about that. It would be the first time in Jesus’s life where the Father would disengage with his Son.

Jesus did not die for God, he was no martyr. He died under God’s wrath, the justice of God being poured out on him for the sins of the world. It was at the cross that Jesus became responsible for sin. Yours and mine.

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Knowing this, it moved Jesus to pray. He asked his closest friends – Peter, James and John – to pray with him so he would not be alone in his agony. But they failed him. They slept for sorrow because it finally dawned on them that he would not usher in their hopes for a restored Israel. Their dream was shattered. There was no crown for Jesus or for them. Instead there was a cross and death.

Jesus’s prayer included the removal of God’s wrath from him. He hoped for a reprieve. But no matter what, he was willing to submit to his Father’s will. What anchored him was the promise of the resurrection. This hope was Christ’s by right. He earned it. We don’t have that right, nor do we earn it. We have the same hope by faith.

Adam started in a garden that was a paradise, but then he ruined it. Jesus lived in a ruined world, and ended his life in an olive grove where olives were pressed to give their oil. A fitting location in preparation for the Second Adam to be crushed in order to restore us back to God and eventually to a new heavens and a new world.

Talk to me.

 

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It’s Yours for the Taking

Christ died so we could be justified. We have all our sins forgiven. He has made us new creatures in our union with Christ, and now God sees us like we had never sinned or had a sin nature. This change allows us to come home to the Father, where we stay forever. God never kicks us out.

Now, as wonderful as this is, I still had a nagging question: Why couldn’t I trust these truths about me? Why couldn’t I settle into God’s love and stay there? What happens to me when I sin again, which I do all the time? Does God stop loving me? Is he disappointed in me? Does he pull out my picture from his wallet and tear it up?

lily12I asked the Lord these questions recently, and this is what the Holy Spirit brought to mind:

If God held even one of my sins against me, he’d be declaring the blood of his Son to be insufficient to cover and blot out that sin. God can never go back on his Word because then he’d be saying his Son’s sacrifice was not good enough, that there was something lacking that I would have to make up for.  And he cannot do that. It cost the Father everything to send Jesus to the cross where all of God’s wrath for sin and sinners was poured out on him. The Father crushed Jesus for me. Everything I deserved from God’s hands was put on Jesus. How then could God hold any sin against me?

Not believing this with my whole heart is the greatest sin. It reeks of unbelief. My flesh wants to participate in self-salvation strategies. It wants to contribute to my salvation. It wants me to despair, fear and struggle. It delights in doubt.

But faith says otherwise. The greatest act of faith is to believe God and the Son he has sent! He is the solution to our estrangement from God. He is the answer to our love problems. The longing of our heart is fulfilled in accepting what the Father says of us – we are his beloved children.

Talk to me.

Not Here

I have two friends who are suffering physically and mentally. One suffers excruciating pain down her right leg as the result of a stroke. The other is bipolar and refuses to take any medication for it. Both insist that God heal them directly. So far he hasn’t even though they pray fervently for it.

Both suffer from believing a lie. That type of mental anguish is worse than the physical ailment. This lie is dispensed every Sunday in church like the drinks at the coffee bar. It’s called having your best life now. It’s a theology of glory. God is supposed to keep us healthy, wealthy, and satisfied Christians.  Broken

But God has promised no such thing this side of heaven. What we long for – perfect health, perfect harmony in our relationships, perfect families and perfect joy – will be a reality when we’re living in the new heavens and the new earth, but not here.

While the longings of our hearts are right, our timing is off. This is the wilderness we’re trudging through, just like the Israelites did. Canaan was their destination, not some plot of sand with a well and a palm tree. Like them, we are headed to where all our longings will be fulfilled, but at the moment we keep our sandals on and keep walking.

The only one who had his best life was Jesus because he lived in heaven. But he willingly left that behind to live his worst life for 33 years. There’s reason why Isaiah describes him as a Man of Sorrows. We never read of Jesus laughing or telling a joke. He lived with suffering every day. The worst kind in the rejection of his own people he came to save. Day in and day out he suffered with people’s unbelief and hatred.

He owned nothing except the clothes on his back. He went hungry. He wept. And yet with this example we’re taught to expect God to give us everything he never gave his Son.

We hate living ordinary lives. We crave notoriety, we demand to live our potential, we love unearthing the divine spark within. Except there’s nothing biblical in any of it. It’s worldliness disguised as philosophical fast food.

The only Person who lived up to his potential was Jesus. We can’t because sin holds us back.

The only One whose life was not ordinary was Jesus’s. Ours are routine and unexceptional every day.

The One who lived by God’s every law was Jesus thereby meriting heaven. We live to break every law and merit hell.

Knowing this, we still demand our best life now. It’s insanity. No wonder we’re depressed and despairing.

The only course correction is to read the bible with fresh eyes and ask God for new understanding of life under heaven. Who is with me?

Talk to me.

 

Ode to Joy

I find joy to be something I long for and never quite grasp. It’s like running after a kite in the wind. I’m much more comfortable with gloom, that settled state of mind of pessimism and cynicism, with that I am well acquainted.

Joy, on the other hand, is something I know I don’t have. It’s required of the Christian and therefore I sin at it. I certainly don’t have it inside me. So where is it?

Like in everything else, it’s found in God. He owns it and it’s his to give out.

God is happy with himself, his Son and his Spirit. Theirs is a fellowship of joy. It’s pure. It’s unadulterated. And they’re eager to share it.

Can you and I be joyful in a fallen world? Yes. FullSizeRender (33)

Joy looks like Sarah’s laughter, Paul’s contentment in prison, and it ends in the book of Revelation where we can say with certainty, “And they lived happily ever after.”

Joy starts in confessing we don’t have it. Then we need to ask for it. It’s an essential ingredient for living.

It’s for our peace of mind and our witness to the world. It makes God look good to our unbelieving neighbor.

By presenting God as the source and giver of our joy, who knows we might provoke the people in our lives to want God, too.

Lack of joy dishonors God.

Think about it. He died for you in order to bring you to God. He wraps you in his righteousness, he cares for you, protects you, leads you into maturity and then takes you home. Oh, and did I mention all your sins are forgiven you?

Knowing all this, how can we walk around gloomy and broody? It’s disgraceful.

So what are you and I going to do to show off God’s joy today?

Talk to me.

 

 

Talking to Strangers

I handed a man a gospel of John this morning. He was my seatmate on the subway. He was reading a book about health and whole foods, so I wrote down Dr. John McDougall’s web address (https://www.drmcdougall.com/) and told him to look him up. I have no idea why I did that. I just felt compelled. He said he had heard about Dr. McDougall recently, and here I am telling him the same thing. I was going to leave it at that, but felt the Holy Spirit nudge me. Didn’t God just open up that conversation? Hadn’t God put this man in the seat next to me? I had traveled with an empty seat almost to my stop, which in morning commute hours is unheard of, so clearly this was a divine appointment. Did I think all these thoughts right on the spot? No, not one of them. I’m reflecting on the encounter as I write this. I got up to get ready for my stop. I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me, so I whipped out the gospel of John (https://www.ptl.org/) and handed it to him. He said he had never read the bible. He didn’t know what to do with it. I told him it was better than anything he was reading. He was stunned and looked at me suspiciously. One minute he was animated about being healthy and the next it was like I handed him a disease, but he took it. I prayed for him as I left the station. seed

Are you ready to witness for the Lord? Have materials in your pocket ready to give away and pray for encounters. He will give them to you. Nobody’s going to hug you for it, but you know God will be pleased. Who knows how many people will end up in heaven as a result of your encounters.

Talk to me.

How to Be Happy

I’m always taken aback when I’m reminded that God wants happy people around him. I’m generally not a happy person. Nobody would call me a bubbly personality. Just the opposite, I tend to brood and be serious about practically everything in life.

So to call me to be happy is a tall order, one which I fail at. photo(43)

That’s because sin damages happiness. It’s twisted, mangled and polluted. The world is choked with sin, but thank God, there’s always a flash of glory we experience every so often. We see this is the narratives of the bible. God covered naked Adam and Eve with animal skins. He preserved Noah and his family during the flood of judgment. He gave Esther favor and audience with the king, which ultimately saved the Jews from extinction.

His greatest flash of glory was sending Jesus, his Son to be our sin bearer so we could be reconciled to him. God didn’t have to do it, but he did because he wanted a people for himself to share his glory.

The world knows nothing about this. Instead it pins its happiness on things – possessions, wealth, health, leisure, and good relationships – but these are fleeting as most people eventually discover. There is no anchor for the soul here. Only a series of missteps that run into a dead end. However, when we realize that everything our hearts long for is found in Jesus, then he becomes our treasure, and as we live our lives in his presence, we are drawn into the happy fellowship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

What could be more sublime than that?

Talk to me.

 

 

 

Life in an Upside Down World

I’ve been writing about the upside-down kingdom of God. Losers will be winners, the last will be first, and the marginalized will fit in.

The biggest loser in the history of this world is Jesus Christ. He was poor, rejected, beaten, buried in a borrowed tomb, but now he is seated on the throne in heaven directing the affairs of this world and waiting for us to come home.

In the meantime, what are we to do?

For starters, we shouldn’t look down on people. We don’t have a full picture of their lives and kindness goes a long way to lifting them up a bit.

Everyone lives on God’s grace, sinner and saint alike. God’s blessings fall on both the righteous and the evil doer. We’re all takers. The only thing we’ve earned  is the wages of sin.

Be grateful. We once were alienated from God, but now we have been drawn near by sheer grace. God set his love on us, not because we were great human beings and deserving to be in the family, but because he chose us, pure and simple. We’re just as nasty as the next guy.

Tell others about this wonderful God we love and serve. That’s our reason for living. To glorify God and enjoy him forever. There’s nothing that gives more joy than witnessing for Christ. Even if we do it badly, it’s worth it, and God takes the mistakes and turns them around for good. So forget about feeling like a failure. There are no failures if you’re telling someone about Jesus.

Talk to me.