The Power of the Cross

God sacrificing His son on an instrument of Roman torture is pretty hard for the world to grasp. It seems foolish to a world that hasn’t experienced its power.

That’s the key. It’s a power that has to be experienced. Only someone who has moved from guilt and despair to freedom and hope can testify to the power. The power is in the blood and the blood is on the cross. 

It’s a difficult second step, even for those of us who have experienced the power of the cross of Christ, to appreciate the power of our own crosses.  The foolishness of the power of Christ’s cross is magnified when we consider a cross of our own. There seems no chance of power in self-denial and suffering, yet it’s where all spiritual power resides.  If we shake our heads in doubt at the Cross of Christ, we tremble in fear at the thought of a personal cross.

But do not fear, for the cross leads to heaven. In the cross is health, in the cross is life, in the cross is protection from enemies, in the cross is heavenly delight, in the cross is strength of mind, in the cross is joy of the spirit, in the cross is the height of good deeds, in the cross is holy living. There is no health of the soul nor hope of eternal life except in the cross.

It is not in our nature to bear the cross, to love the cross, to bring our bodies into subjection, to flee from honors, to bear criticism meekly, to discipline ourselves, to bear all adversities and losses, and to desire no prosperity in this world. If we look inside ourselves, we will find none of this. But if we trust the Lord, endurance will be given to us from heaven, and the world and our bodily desires will obey our commands.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 322-325). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

The cross isn’t natural, but neither is our new birth. It’s supernatural. It’s power and grace and, yes, joy. The cross isn’t foolishness. It’s all that we desperately need.

Not the Cross

I don’t like this verse. I don’t want to think about taking up a cross.  I’m not the only one. “Christians” are talking about their “best life now” and blessings and success and getting stuff, not giving up stuff and taking up crosses. 

Mardi Gras is very popular. Lent, not so much. 

Jesus has many lovers of his heavenly kingdom but few bearers of his cross. He has many seekers of comfort but few willing to face troubles and trial. He finds many companions at his table but few with him in fasting. Many desire to rejoice with him, but few are willing to undergo adversity for his sake. Many follow Jesus that they may eat of his bread, but few are willing to drink of the cup of his passion. Many are astonished at his miracles, but few follow after the shame of his cross. Many love Jesus so long as no troubles happen to them.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 266-270). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Maybe we need to give up on the term “Christian.” It’s come to be associated with status. We want to be King’s Kids and not followers. We want crowns without crosses. We expect blessings and mountain tops and think suffering and valleys belong to the unfaithful or back slidden. 

But those who love Jesus for Jesus’ sake— and not for the comforts he gives to them— praise him in all suffering and sorrow just as they do in the greatest blessings. And if he should never give them another blessing, they would nevertheless continue to always praise him and give him thanks.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 272-274). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Isn’t it time we follow Jesus not just admire him? Shouldn’t we be loving Him for who he is and not just for all that He’s done? Is it too late to learn that the path to joy goes through selflessness not selfishness? Our cross is our cross, whether we like it or not.

Transformed

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. 

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 237-238). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

This one sentence, pulled from Romans 12 is packed with truth.  Consider:

Copy cats.  We are pathetically unoriginal.  We copy the behavior and customs of this world. We talk like the folks on TV. We wear what the models wear. We buy what’s in. We love what’s trendy. 

Mirror minded.  Our attention is riveted on us. “It’s all about me.” We say with a smile, but with all seriousness. Our perceptions go no further than our physical reach. We don’t care enough about others to have any idea what they are going through or need.  We are so self-absorbed that we don’t hear what others are saying, instead looking for an opening to turn the conversation to the most important thing, us. 

Sayers not doers. We believe that what we say is more important than what we do. We profess our love but would not submit ourselves to a moment of inconvenience to put a smile on someone else. Suffering for others is way out of the question. We are willing to say “Have a good day” but are unwilling to lift a finger to make anyone’s day an iota better.  We will “pray about” anything but will do nothing. 

Stuck.  We are stuck in this pattern, unable to break out or change. We are suckers for diets, exercise gadgets, life coaches, gym memberships, motivational speakers, sermons, and miracle cures. We move from change agent to change agent, only moving and never-changing. 

Fearful. We don’t like who we are but are fearful of change. We are willing to be saved, but scared of being something new. We are horrified by our thought life, but mesmerized by the drama in our soap opera lives. 

We know the solution is in complete surrender to the King, but we like to drive. We are sometimes bold enough to ask the co-pilot to help, but never trusting enough to hand him the steering wheel.

The way we think has us in a death spiral. We’ve got to be willing to trust Him enough to put us in a life cycle. Unless we can become heavenly minded, we are forever earthly bound. 

Jesus Freak

Back in the 60s we had “Jesus Freaks.” These were folks who were bananas for Jesus. They weren’t “churchy” people. They were mostly converted hippie types. I don’t know any Jesus Freaks these days. I know some church freaks, some missional freaks, some holiness freaks, and some “grace” freaks, and quite a few just freaks. That’s sad, because I think we are called to be “Jesus Freaks.”

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14: 6). Without my way you cannot go. Without my truth you cannot know. And without my life you cannot grow. I am the way which you must follow, the truth you must believe, and the life for which you must hope. I am the way never changing, the truth never failing, and the life never ending. I am the straight way, the supreme truth and the true, blessed, and uncreated life. “

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 212-214). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

We mouth agreement that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, but we don’t really think or live that through. If He is the way, there is no other way. If He is the truth, there is no other truth. If He is the life, there is no other life.  We don’t think or live that way. That would be freaky. We may believe He is the best way, but surely there is a Plan B. We talk about truth in relative terms and are willing to concede that I may have truth, but that must leave room for your truth. We have an incredible tolerance for “life styles” even those which are incredibly immoral and fundamentally show no love or respect for others. 

If we truly believed what we say, we would live that way. It’s time to get freaky again, Jesus freaky. 

 

Conflicting Christian Myths

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. Ephesians 5: 1– 2

It seems to me that there are two conflicting myths about Christianity. Some say Christianity is about what you believe. Others insist it’s about what you do. The truth is that neither is correct. 

Christianity is about trusting in God’s Grace. Through His grace, we are forgiven, and by His grace, we are empowered to live lives of love. 

Children naturally imitate their parents. Boys love to play like they are shaving. Girls love easy bake ovens and tea parties.  When we trust in Jesus, our nature is changed and we become His children. It becomes “natural” to us to want to be like Him, to imitate Him. God, however, is perfect. His ways are an “impossible” standard to live up to. Plus our history of living for ourselves drags us down.

Enter Grace. Through God’s grace, our past is forgiven and forgotten. Through grace, we are empowered to change, to become more each day like our Lord Jesus.

What is required of us? Taking our eyes off ourselves and on Him. We need to forsake our selfishness and learn to live in love, putting God and others first. 

We have to stop looking at faith as a theological construct and instead walk it out. 

“If we know the whole Bible and the teachings of all the philosophers, what does all this benefit us without the love and grace of God? It is completely futile unless we love God and serve only him. This is the highest wisdom: to put earthly values behind us and to reach forward to the heavenly kingdom.”

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 194-196). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition

We need to shake off the thinking that it’s all about what we believe and what we do and understand that it’s about whom we trust and what He does in us.

The Imitation of Christ

An old friend today gave me a copy, leather-bound no less, of The Imitation of Christ, Classic Devotions in Today’s Language, by Thomas A. Kempis, compiled and edited by James N. Watkins. It’s amazing how excited I am to get a copy of a book I read  fifty-five years ago. The book is a Christian classic. I read a earlier version while a student at Immaculata Seminary in 1962 and 1963. 

The devotional classic, second only to the Bible in sales, was written anonymously in Latin in the Netherlands. Thomas Haemmerlein (1380– 1471), better known as Thomas à Kempis, is generally credited as the author/ editor, but purposely avoided claiming its authorship. The hand-copied manuscripts of the book were first circulated as early as 1420, with its first publication in English in 1696. Through the centuries, the book has been recommended by such diverse leaders as John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and Thomas Merton, the popular twentieth-century author and Catholic monk. The Jesuits, a Catholic order of priests and brothers, honored the book. Their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, was inspired by The Imitation of Christ to formulate his own Spiritual Exercises. The book has been published as more than six thousand editions in more than fifty languages.

I am excited for several reasons. I vaguely recall how inspiring the reading was back in high school. I look forward to being re-inspired. I am also excited because I have reached a relatively dry period in my writing life. I immediately formulated a plan to read the latest version and bombard readers with my thoughts as I go through it a second time after fifty-five years. I look forward to seeing what I may have learned, and may have forgotten, in the interim. 

The latest edition is broken into 90 readings, so this could take a while. I hope you will follow and get a little something out of my experience. Got to go now. Time to start re-reading.

 

Birthday Post Mortem

Last week I “celebrated” my 68th birthday. Principally because I have a great family, I had a wonderful day. I did take pause to consider how birthdays change over a lifetime.

As a kid, we enjoy birthdays as “me” events. The day is all about us. We get gifts and cake and ice cream. It’s a day that’s all me. 

As we get older, we see birthdays as milestones on what seems a very slow march to adulthood. It’s amazing how long a year used to be when I was 8. It seems like barely a month at 68.

Once we hit adulthood, the birthdays begin to come quickly and the youth we didn’t appreciated when we were in it, begins to spin away. I laugh now at folks who get black balloons at 40. Kids are so silly. 

As retirement years approach, we experience a bit of panic as we begin to realize that our time is limited and that life has not been all we imagined and we feel we better start really living. These are the years of mid-life crisis.

At 68, I realize I could have gone on social security years ago. I finally got over the fact that I’m now part of the medicare generation. Stuff isn’t as important as it used to be. I have seen much too much rust and ruin. Family becomes so much more important as I struggle to pass on what I’ve learned to those coming behind, while knowing deep inside that some lessons have to be personally learned.

In this process I have come to so appreciate just how loving our God is. I am amazed at how he has designed life. He has designed aging so that we slowly learn that we can’t depend on our shrinking physical and eventually our mental gifts. It takes a lifetime for most of us to learn the value of the spiritual over the physical. Our lives are designed to make us slowly more alien than ever in the world in which we exist as our belief in a future and better place becomes more real. 

I appreciate what a gift long life is, having seen so many get many fewer years than I have. I have learned about faithfulness from a wife who has stuck with me for 47 years. Together we have experienced a Father’s faithfulness, whose general guiding hand I can clearly see in the rear view mirror of time. 

These days birthdays are a lot less cake and ice cream and a lot more contemplation, hard knocks wisdom, and immeasurable gratitude. Thank you Jesus for 68 years and for the forever that comes when you’re ready. 

Loved “The Shack” Movie

Yesterday I went to see “The Shack.” I loved it. I really loved it. Before you pan me or the movie, please see the movie. I am NOT endorsing the book or the theology of it’s author, William P. Young, who has also written an awful non-fiction book Lies We Believe About God . I would have to re-read “The Shack” to analyze all the differences between it and the movie. I would rather just see the movie again.

We don’t fully know God. I understand the discomfort in seeing Father God portrayed as a full-figured black woman. We have no problem accepting God as a Jewish carpenter or described as a lion or a lamb in scripture or portrayed as a lion in literature. I guess our discomfort about the black woman thing says more about us than about God. We don’t know all about God. We forget that. 

Critics claim the movie portrays God as we would like Him to be and not how He is. I think the truth is that God is so much greater than we know or, in this life, can imagine. The movie dramatically lays out some truths about God that the world, and a lot of “Christians”should know and need to be reminded of. It portrays a God that is more loving and involved than we may be ready to handle.

The Love of God. God’s love is personal and beyond our understanding. That truth is sometimes lost in our imperfect attempts to convey the gospel. Love today is seldom experienced and often misunderstood. We were created to love and be loved and our loss of that truth is today’s greatest tragedy. 

The Power of Forgiveness.  The movie deals head on with perhaps the greatest tragedy one can face: the brutal loss of a child. It’s a great excuse for unforgiveness. It is unforgiveness, our own and our inability to forgive others that drains the joy of the Lord from our lives. That drain can only be plugged by the hard work of forgiveness. We need divine help to do that.

Sin is it’s own punishment.  In our war against sin, we sometimes forget that God’s laws are not an arbitrarily constructed set of tests of our worthiness to receive His love. They are very practical guides to keep us out of trouble. They are variations of the advice not to touch stoves to avoid burns. We keep getting burned and keep blaming God for the advice and not the stoves for the burns. 

We are not alone. We can live miraculously holding the hand of God. We can only live miserably alone. He never leaves us or forsakes us, even when it feels like He has. We walk lonely unproductive paths touting our foolish independence. 

It’s not about now. It’s about forever.  Delaying death is a multibillion dollar industry that perpetuates the lie that this is all there is. We need to better spend our time preparing for eternity rather than in trying to avoid it.

It’s not about religion; it’s about relationship. We have been saying this so much that I think we have lost an understanding of what it means. We desperately need to get that back and to learn how to retell that truth. We can only do that in relationship, not in religion.

Burn the book, but go see the movie. This movie doesn’t address every issue or answer every question. In fact, it raises issues and questions that followers need to be ready to answer. It’s another tool to help us understand why we are here and to appreciate and understand the God who put us here.