The Crucifixion of Christ

We don’t like to leave Christ on the cross for very long. Our theology often gets in a rush to the resurrection. But the resurrection lacks its own possibility if you exclude the crucifixion of Christ. Anyone who has watched the movie The Passion of the Christ was moved by the brutality of what Jesus experienced on our behalf. The Romans weren’t out to make any crucified criminal look good or keep their dignity intact. On Sunday we get 10 minutes to reflect on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. I wonder what it would be like to reflect on the crucifixion for a full six hours? Several times I have prayed for a full hour but never for six. Imagine yourself at the foot of the cross, looking up at the dying Lord for a full six hours. Imagine the pain you would see, the blood that would flow, the words that were said, and the testimony from those standing nearby. Five minutes would seem like an eternity much less six long and brutal hours. The breathing becomes quicker, the pain more intense, the words more and more loving. And the seconds, minutes, and hours pass by slowly. To see him dead and lifeless hanging there would be heart wrenching. Could you keep your eyes on a bruised, battered and bloody Christ for six full hours? Could you keep your eyes off him?

There are several things that stand out to me when I spend time reflecting on the crucified Lord:

  1. He is concerned for others. He makes preparations for his mother. He forgives sins. He is concerned for the other crucified men around him.
  2. He experiences the full extent of the pain and agony. D.A. Carson points out the two times Jesus was offered wine in his crucifixion. The first is found in Mark 15:23, “wine mixed with myrrh”. Jesus refused this wine as it was intended to dull the pain. But the second offering of wine Jesus took (Mark 15:36). This wine was to ease Jesus’ thirst and would result in prolonging his life and as a result his agony on the cross (Gospel According to John, 620). Jesus really “bore it all” on the cross.
  3. Jesus is in full control. This isn’t an accident. It wasn’t a slip up. He was in control during his arrest and was in control of his crucifixion. Jesus gave up his spirit (John 19:30). It was his decision, his choice, and his obedience to the Father.
  4. There is glory in the unglorious. The cross was designed to degrade and shame those on it. It was a public spectacle designed to kill as much as to deter others from similar offenses. But through the unglorious experience of the cross Jesus received glory from God (John 17:4-5). What is more Jesus was bringing shame on sin and death itself.
  5. Last and most important is the obvious – love. John 3:16 says God loved the world so much that he gave Jesus. This is true in his birth. It is also true in the crucifixion. God gave Jesus fully. He didn’t let the world borrow Jesus and take him back again at a convenient and comfortable time. God fully gave him in order to fully gain us. John 14:1 tells us that through his foot washing Jesus showed his disciples the full extent of his love. That phrase might be better translated that he loved them to the end. The cross really did show them and us the full extent of his love. The creator laid down his life for the creation so that we could lay our lives down to take them up again just as he did.

From the Harding group The Firemen:

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Tiger Woods Teaches Us Consequences Still Exist

If you watch any amount of tv you get a constant diet of what you do really doesn’t matter as long as it makes you happy. One of the things that has amazed me the most in the whole Tiger Woods debacle was the fact that society didn’t just give him a pass. Reality doesn’t match the constant message of culture that you can do what you want and not worry about it. Sponsor after sponsor has pulled their endorsement of Woods and he may even lose his family due to his poor decisions.

Bottom line, tv has it wrong and real life shows us that consequences still exist. What you do does matter. Morality and ethics are still important even if the make believe world of sitcoms tries to sell us a different message.

“you may be sure that your sin will find you out.” – Numbers 32:23

Gospel of John 13:31-38 Jesus is Going Where They Cannot Yet Come

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.” – John 13:33

In John 13 we learn that the hour Jesus has continuously referred to as coming is now here (13:1, 31). Jesus tells the 11 (Judas just left to betray him) that he is going somewhere they will not able to follow. Now if you are a disciple, a follower, of Christ that is problematic. They have been following him through thick and thin to this point and intend on continuing to follow him no matter what. That is what disciples do, after all. In vs. 36 Peter asks the question that was on everyone’s mind, “Lord, where are you going.” and follows it up with a bold declaration of his intention to be with Jesus always, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” (13:37). In other words, because I am willing to die for my faith in you and our friendship there is not a place in this world you can go that I will not be by your side. I would die following you before I would live elsewhere.

Good words. Good heart. Good intentions. But he was wrong. In the very next verse Jesus prophesies that Peter will disown him not one time as Judas did but three times! What follows that prediction are some of the most quoted and most taken out of context verses in the gospel of John (14:1-4) where Jesus tells them more about where he is going and what he will do when he gets there. In John 14 the disciples still don’t get that he is talking about his own death, resurrection and returning to the Father but more on that later.

From these verses we learn that it is possible to be zealous but misguided. Some speculate that was the case with Judas. Some believe he was a zealot who was trying to force Jesus’ hand to restore Israel in a more political than spiritual sense. The question for us is this, How often do we have good intentions that we really do believe are true and right but like Peter are weak on the follow through?  Are there times we make promises to God that we don’t make good on or take lightly in a moment of stress, guilt, or anxiety? The example of Peter shows us that there is still reconciliation with God even if we goof it all up but it is certainly not a road any of us should want to travel. This story also teaches us there are some things, many things God understands that we don’t and that it is okay. At the end of the day Christ’s promise of their place in heaven was not dependent upon how well they understood what he was talking about (because they didn’t) but on the fact that Christ is faithful to fulfill his promises so much so he is willing to go to the cross to make these promises possible.

Ten Reflections on the Importance of Scripture

I really do love the Bible. It has meant so much to me in both the peaks and the valleys of life. It is like a long standing relationship that just gets better and better with age. I have had the times when the Bible fell open to just the right text at just the right time and felt God was telling me something. When my grandmother was dying of cancer and in her last days I sat in Bible class that Wednesday night with tears in my eyes. I opened my Bible straight to 2 Cor 1 about the God of all comfort. There has never been a moment in my life where the words felt more like in some small way God had me and countless other people in mind when he inspired the opening words to the second letter to the Corinthians. I have had times when I wrestled and wrestled with a text and couldn’t get much out of it that seemed applicable at all but somehow I knew I was better for the experience of trying to hear what those ancient words had to say to my modern ears.

The Bible has served as a mentor to me. There are the times the Bible has humbled me into recognizing I was wrong or needed corrected. Then there are the times scripture has jumped up right in front of me, come to life, and was responded to with “Aha!” The pieces finally clicked together. They had been there all the time but maybe a new insight, a new piece of information or life experience made an old, much read verse, come to life in a new way. I am sure you know what I am talking about. You have almost certainly been there yourself.

A few reflection on scripture:

  1. The Bible stands there and says what it says and I have to deal with it. If I get my priorities out of whack I can try to manipulate what it says to suit my ears but cherry picking Greek glosses and lexicons or by coming up with some obscure interpretation. But if I am humble enough to let God’s Word change me rather than me change it I will experience something powerful in its study. It is like getting a letter from a friend about a problem. You can’t argue back with a letter. You have to take it all in first and read what is there, even re-read it.
  2. Because the text is living, breathing, and sharp (Heb 4:12, 2 Tim 3:16) and because my life isn’t static, the Bible often encounters me at different times in life in different ways that it ever has before. I certainly read the Gospel of John differently now than when I was 13. Knowing the themes, the signs, the theology, purpose, and where John is taking the reader the text has become so much richer for me than it used to be and things now seem obvious that were buried for the 13 year old version of myself. I love the richness that brings to the text as the words on the page are the same but the conversation changes as our maturity and readiness to hear what it is saying changes.
  3. We are looking back on what many looked forward to and so we take much for granted. 1 Peter 1:12 tells us that the Gospel that has been revealed to us was concealed even from the angels much less those who went before the church and ministry of Christ. So there is much to be appreciated about being the recipients of the complete message of God/Christ through the Gospels and letters of the New Testament but also through the Old Testament (more on that another time). This gives us a privileged perspective of faith resulting in great responsibility. For instance, when Mary and Martha are upset with Jesus for not getting to Bethany to heal Lazarus any faster we know he is going to raise him from the dead. They don’t. That doesn’t mean we don’t have any faith struggles because our picture of God can be more informed than those who just had this piece or that. But it is still a blessing nevertheless!
  4. God knew I was thickheaded enough to give me the Gospel in four formats. I love the differences in perspective of each of the Gospels. God was so wise to preserve that for us! Mark is action packed. Matthew is so detailed in how this story fits the rest of the story. Luke is compassionate. John is intimate…an inner circle view of much of the goings on and explanations of Jesus’ ministry with the sole intention of producing faith in the reader.
  5. Scripture is rich in the variety of genres and approaches it takes to speak to me the words of God – poetry, geneology, narrative, letter, and everything in between.
  6. There is always someone to relate to. Whether I did something good or bad there is always someone to relate to. The Bible isn’t interested in painting the good guys as the good guys. The Bible is interested in pointing imperfect people toward a perfect God. The result is I realize I am in the same boat as everyone from those who barely got it all the way up to the “heroes of the faith.”
  7. Scripture brings me hope no matter how imperfect I find myself to be. Man after God’s own heart and murderer, shepherd of God’s people and murderer, stepped on the waves and denied him three times. Yet all were received back into God’s grace in the end. That gives me hope.
  8. Scripture is effective in leading me toward life and righteousness. Philippians 4:8 says, “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.” I can’t think of anything to think about that fits those criteria better than scripture itself. Jesus said his words are spirit and life (John 6:63).
  9. As Donny D says often, you will never do what the Bible says and wake up with regrets wondering why on earth you did something so foolish. It doesn’t get much more practical than that.
  10. The One whose hands knit me in my mother’s womb also produced the words contained in scripture. His words really are life.

What has scripture meant to you whether you have studied it all your life or even just a short amount of time?

Attractional or Distractional – Part 1

We hear a lot about attractional models of worship, evangelism, and all the rest “doing church.” I wonder at what point attractional becomes distractional.

Moving Away from Worship as Penance:
I don’t want you to mishear me here. I am not trying to say the duller and more irrelevant our worship services are the more pleasing they are to God. In my childhood I attended one church that almost made worship seem like a penance. If you could endure all the things that went on any given Sunday and still come back week after week then you paid your penance and God must be pleased with such a selfless endurance. That is clearly not what God wants! God wants spirit and truth AND wants us to be joyful, enthusiastic and energetic. Those two are not mutually exclusive! At the same time we can get so caught up in the form that what we intended to use to attract people becomes a distraction.

I see this happening in several ways although I am sure there are more…

1 – Worship Forms – already mentioned above and elaborated on below

2 – The Misguided “If we only…” way of thinking:
There is a strong tendency to start thinking in “If only’s” and let our dissatisfaction become a distraction from the real goal of our lives and worship – to give God honor and glory right here and now. Often our desire to make things better and improve our worship and worship experience (which is a worthy goal) can rob us of the joy of encountering God through worship in the present. In other words, longing for something new and improved can make our worship in the old way of doing things unsatisfying rather than realizing that God is just as pleased even if it is not our particular way of doing things, song selection, tempo, etc. Imagine if Moses had said, Sinai is cool and all and I know I can meet God there but first let’s put together some real rocking praise down here in order to make the experience something really special. Again, I am not knocking trying to improve what we do but I do fear that the process of improving our worship can become a real distraction if we miss the point and audience of our worship. Does God find this attractive? is more relevant than does average non-Christian Joe on the street find this attractive?.

3 – Winning Converts to Something Other Than Christ
One question we must continually ask ourselves is, “What are we winning people to?” Are we winning them to hype and energy with no substance? Are we winning them with money giveaways? Are we winning people to an attractive and easy gospel, health and wealth, forgiveness without true repentance Gospel? Or are we winning them to the message of Christ that includes tough lessons like self-sacrifice, repentance, and dying to self as well as joyful messages like forgiveness and grace (more on that in a minute).

4 – Emotion as a Coverup for Poor Content:
One of the surest ways to see something is shallow is if it is characterized by a constant barrage of emotion. The quickest way to make up for poor content is one of two extremes. You can either shout a poor sermon to make it sound good or you can cry your way through a poor sermon and hope the heart is pulled by fake tears rather than Gospel. Let’s face it, emotion is appealing to some degree. We want people to be genuine, transparent, real…It attracts. But as with any of these things, in extreme or out of the wrong motives it distracts and detracts from our real purpose. That is the whole point here. Many things are good in and of themselves but when taken to extremes or done out of the wrong motives become a distraction.

More in a bit on what God uses to attract non-believers.

5 – What would you put here?

Hope and Disappointment from the AMAs

Did anyone else watch some of the AMA’s last night? I was encouraged by the popularity of Taylor Swift. She seems pretty wholesome. Then there was Lady Gaga. She seems like a living piece of artwork. As you watch her, as strange as it is, there is something intriguing about it all. You wonder what is going to happen next or just how much more strange it can get. But there is no denying the artistry of it all. Whitney Houston made recompense at the awards with a good performance. But the saddest part of the whole thing was the popularity of Eminem. Much of his song was bleeped out but did any of you catch the opening of his song “Crack a Bottle”? If you didn’t, here it is. Said proudly, braggingly like these were his credentials:

Ladies and gentlemen!
The moment you have all been waiting for.
In this corner, weighing 175 pounds
with a record of 17 rapes, 400 assaults and 4 murders
the undisputed, most diabolical villain in the world
Slim Shady!

And we wonder why our women are being abused, children left fatherless, and our society so calloused and violent. Try playing these words in your ear over and over and over and see if it doesn’t change the way you think…then put yourself in the mindset of a 12, 15, 18 year old boy trying to figure out who he is and see what effect it has in how he views women and how he values or devalues the worth of others. What on earth is being promoted as enviable? What is being called good, desirable, worthwhile? What is being promoted as the standard of entertainment and quality in the music industry. This is not some behind the scenes, rogue group putting out this hateful music. This is by one of the most recognized “artists” in the industry. It is sad that anyone has to be exposed to this. The rest of the song was filled with the most vulgar profanity and sexual exploitation. All that and there were children in the audience, not to mention those watching at home. Unbelievable.

More Taylor, less Slim Shady. More lyrics, only this time from Isaiah 5:

“Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.

21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
and clever in their own sight.

22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine
and champions at mixing drinks,

23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
but deny justice to the innocent.

24 Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw
and as dry grass sinks down in the flames,
so their roots will decay
and their flowers blow away like dust;
for they have rejected the law of the LORD Almighty
and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.

– Isaiah 5:20-30

 

Raw Emotion – The Raising of Lazarus from the Dead

There is little more mystifying and moving to me as the tears Jesus shed with Mary just before he raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11. Wouldn’t you think Jesus would have had more of a chuckle rather than tears? The kind of wink, wink…you are crying now but wait and see what I have up my sleeve in just a minute, kind of moment with Mary? None of that. He shed tears. Even though he had the power. Even though he had the authority. Even though he was going to take care of it all. He still sobbed. You might think the Messiah would have pushed Mary and the mourners aside, marched up to the tomb of Lazarus and ordered him to come out and put a stop to all those tears. But first he experienced and expressed emotion at its rawest. The NIV doesn’t help us very much here, which tells us Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit” (John 11:33). In Greek this has more a sense of anger than it does sentimentality. Angry at death. Angry at what his beautiful creation had become. Angry at sin. Angry at sickness. Angry at decay. Angry at all those things that mar the image of God within us. Even though he had the answer to sin, sickness and death and had the power to redeem and restore God’s image even amongst the dead, it is mind boggling and so meaningful that he wept, broken, right there with Mary and the others.

Two Free E-Books for Men Struggling With Pornography and Sexual Addiction

Pornography and sexual addiction is the elephant in the room in many congregations around the country. I heard one statistic that as many as 50% of Christian men in America struggle with some form of sexual addiction. How many men is that in your congregation if that statistic is true? That adds up pretty quickly. What is more, many ministers are also wrestling with this issue. We will be reaping the destructive results of these addictions in the church for many, many years.

It is important that Christianity puts its collective foot down on this issue and begins to educate local Christian communities with a biblical view of sex and sexuality.

I am going to talk about that more in some future posts but for now I want to make any of you men out there who struggle with this two free e-book resources that you might find helpful.

Mark Driscoll’s Porn Again Christian – This book is pretty hard hitting, straight forward and doesn’t hold back on much. It answers many questions that people might be afraid to ask and deals with the issue of how destructive pornography is and how it fights against God’s ideal of sex within the context of marriage.

Tim Challies’ Sexual Detox – This is the compilation of the posts I mentioned earlier in one pdf. While the first book I would only recommend to those who struggle with pornography, this one is something I think would be beneficial for all Christian men to read.

I have no way to know who is downloading these, it is completely anonymous. So if you need to read either one of these please do so. Don’t be so proud as to think you can deal with these things on your own and walk away with a healthy view of sex or a healthy marriage if you are currently wrestling with pornography or other sexual addictions.

Gospel of John 8:12-59 – Jesus Gets Testy

John 8:12-59 contains some of the best known lines in John but they aren’t said to a loving, accepting mob of fervent believers. They are spoken to a mostly obnoxious and rebellious group in Jerusalem. In 8:12 Jesus says he is the light of the world. One of the great “I am” statements and one of the better known verses in John. The response? The Pharisees challenge his words and question his acting as his own witness to the truth of his comments. In 8:31-32 we have the famous line, “then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” The response? We have never been slaves to anyone! Most of them just aren’t getting it and Jesus is about to lay into them for it.

In John 8 Jesus is finally getting testy. For instance, in John 5:31-47 Jesus answers their apparent questions regarding his authority by appealing to multiple witnesses. According to the Law there had to be 2-3 witnesses for testimony to be considered valid (See Deut 19:15). If Jesus is the only one speaking for himself it doesn’t hold up in court. In John 5 Jesus freely admits that his testimony concerning himself cannot be considered valid (5:31) but that he has more witnesses who have testified concerning who he is: John the Baptist (5:33), Jesus’ miracles (5:36), God (5:37), the scriptures (5:39), and Moses (5:36). But now in John 8 Jesus says that he has two witnesses that make his case valid: himself and God. That seems to contradict his point in John 5. It seems to me that the first time around Jesus was willing to work with them to prove his point. He was patient and willing to lay out his case. But by John 8 he is ready for them to get it. By this point his testimony and words should speak for themselves and be heard as valid. If God himself spoke to them would God need 2-3 witnesses to confirm it as true? No. And neither does Jesus (the point he is making in John 8 – sent by God, obedient to God, etc). No more time to go back to the basics and lay out his case again. They should get it by now! His message should be producing its intended effect – faith.

Jesus doesn’t hold back in John 8. He says they are “from below” and “of this world” in 8:23, that they would die in their sins if they don’t believe in Jesus (8:24), that they are children of the devil for not loving and believing in him (8:44), and that they do not belong to God (8:47). None of these were popular expressions in their day! The crowd started eyeing the stones around them to see who would get dibs on the big pointy ones. Don’t you wonder why the Romans didn’t try to do a better job of keeping the temple area free from stoning usable stones?

What is crazy to me in the whole matter is by their actions they confirm exactly what Jesus said was in their heart. Jesus said they follow their father the devil who was a murderer and deceiver. They reject the claim and then try to stone Jesus for exposing the deceit that was in their hearts! In 8:12 Jesus told us he was the light of the world and starting with the woman caught in adultery, then her accusers, and last this crowd by the temple Jesus thoroughly exposes either life and light or death and darkness in the lives of those around him.

How do we respond when the truth about our lives is fully revealed? Do we embrace it or do we kick, scream and fight against it? Most of the crowd in John 8 were determined to hold Jesus at arms length and to reject him no matter how futile their efforts to prove him wrong were. You see it in the way they jumped from one thing to another. We are children of Abraham, no…children of God. Under Rome but not slaves to anyone…yadda, yadda, yadda. They tried to discredit him rather than listen to him – Aren’t you are a Samaritan and demon possessed (8:48)? As if they expected him to say, “Why yes I am.”?

The ultimate exposure of their hearts was seen in what their hearts told their hands to do – pick up rocks to keep from having to undergo the paradigm shift of Jesus as Lord. Do you ever guard your heart so tightly that you keep God out and make it impossible for him to effect any possible change to your thinking, actions, and attitudes? Or are you willing to embrace the truth even if it dings our pride, forces us to admit we were wrong, and humbles us to the point of total surrender? Hopefully it doesn’t take Jesus getting testy with us before we finally put our faith in him but if that’s what it takes he is certainly willing to bring it.

Walking in the Light Does Not Mean We Never Sin

Many Christians have been fed the works-righteousness lie of the sin-out, repent-in cycle. It goes something like this…When you become a Christian you are reconciled to God but when you sin, until the moment you repent you are in danger of the fires of hell. Don’t forsake the assembly…you might go to hell. Don’t do anything stupid because if you die before you repent, BAM, you go to hell.

Fortunately the Bible doesn’t teach that. Jesus certainly never taught it. In John 8:12, Jesus teaches quite the opposite of that. He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus didn’t say, “whoever follows me will never walk in darkness until their first sin and then they no longer walk with me or have the light of life until they repent.” He is saying that it is entirely possible to mess up and still be walking with Christ, in the light, and have life. So how can someone be guilty of sin and still walk in the light? John tells us in 1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” There is the answer. Here we clearly see that someone can walk in the light and still need purification from their sin.

Jesus never expects us to have a sinless existence this side of heaven. What is more he enables us to continue walking in the light even when we sin. It isn’t in, out, in, out. It is in and forgiven 100%, continually. So let’s get over the fearful notion that we might have done something that excommunicated us from the love of God and cling to the concept of walking in the light while receiving forgiveness of sins because that is scriptural, gives us hope, and reminds us that our salvation is more dependent on God than it is on us.