When Jesus tells us to pick up the cross and follow me — you never know where that might take you.
For many of us, this journey is rarely filled with spiritual highs and mountaintop experiences. It is a journey — much like dragging a cross through the cobblestone streets of Jerusalem. It is bumpy, long and filled with great exertion. Yet, there is a purpose involved. There is a peace that goes beyond understanding. As the Apostle Paul states, we all must be crucified of the world spiritually in order to find freedom and rest.
This means that living the Christian life is not easy and we can expect difficulty. There are days where we just want to give in and give up.
What does it mean to take up the cross?
It means reading the Bible and getting nothing out of it. It means going to church and listening carefully but hearing nothing. It means thirsting both spiritually physically while you seem to be trekking through a desert with nothing in sight.
Yet, we move on on step at a time.
If you are feeling dry. If you are feeling no sense of communion with God. Please wait patiently. Don’t panic. Keep walking in faith, one step at a time, until you come to the end of your desert, even if it takes 40 years.
Our sinful nature is very impatient. We want to seek and find the glory and bypass the way of the cross. But, when you read the Apostle Paul, he had a much better understanding of the Christian journey. He says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to a attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10).
We focus on knowing the power of His resurrection and what the Holy Spirit does provide, but we reject Paul’s warning that in order to fully receive that power it must coincide with His sufferings. If there is no daily taking up of the cross, there is no daily resurrection and hence no daily power. There is no other way. This is what God ordained for Christ and this is what God has ordained for you. God does not give us the option of enjoying only resurrection power without crucifixion weakness.
“… As Christians, the real victory we seek in this work is not for ourselves, but for the gospel. Our greatest yearning should be for God’s kingdom to expand and for His will to be done on earth. Often we must surrender ourselves to what the world views as defeat in order for the gospel to advance.” (Skip Gray)
“Bitterness destroys more Christian workers than immorality.” Lorne Sanny
Lessons we can learn from John the Baptist
I ran across these thoughts from the world re-known theologian A.W. Tozer on the life of John the Baptist and what we can learn from him.
We can note first that John the Baptist was not afraid to preach about sin. Whenever there is a lack of introspective deliberation on our spiritual life, that will typically mean that sins reigns in our body. Self reigns instead. Those self-sins that include self-love, self-righteousness, self-admiration, self-esteem and hundreds of other self-sins that lie within each of us.
John the Baptist was simple in his faith in God. He did not try to impress anyone. He was a man of vision. He knew exactly where he was in his times. He knew his role, his purpose and his identity.
“The simple, humble, and courageous men who are willing to serve and wait on God in the long silences, who wait to hear what God says before they go tell the world—these do not come along too often. When they do, they seek only to glorify their God and His Christ!”
What a great reminder from a gift man in A.W. Tozer.
We sometimes wonder in life’s struggles, tragic events, or troubling news reports from around the country, “Where are you, God?” This is especially true during challenging circumstances that we face as individuals or even as a country.
My father in law is a man of wisdom. Sometimes he will share with me thoughts that seem to a hit a chord with heart and soul. I would like to share with you his thoughts and prayers during this point in our history as world and as a nation.
“When God first brought the universe into being He himself described it as being תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ (tohu vbohu-Hebrew) that is, being without form or function. It was in a kind of chaotic state. When I look around me now at the general situation of our country, in the family, in education, in government, in the business world, in many other areas, and even in a large part of the so-called Christian church I sense a bit of chaos. Instead of fulfilling good functions, there seems to be much disintegration.
After the tohu vbohu statement it says that the Spirit of God brooded (in the Hebrew it means like a hen on her eggs) upon this formless and functionless matter and life came into being. Right after that there was a Word who (not which) was the Light shining in the darkness bringing form and function.
Whenever I focus on what seems to be happening in my country right now I get depressed. I feel a sense of hopelessness. In spite of the encouragement to be “anxious about nothing” I struggle with anxiety especially when I see my grandchildren, unaware of the pressures put upon them, growing up in this tohu vbohu society.
But then I am reminded of the fact that the Spirit is still able to brood upon the chaos. The Light is still able to shine into our situation. That then becomes my prayer. The eyes of the Lord are upon us. Our situation is never out of His sight nor is it out of His control. Our situation did not take Him by surprise. He knew “the end from the beginning.” In spite of the fact that He blessed this nation more than any other nation in the world, He knew that we would eventually at least try to rid any reminder of His presence from being acceptable in the public forum. But, as is evidenced in Jesus, He is a God of mercy and grace, a God of infinite power who can change damnation into salvation. And I long to see that happen again. I long to see Him turn this country around and again use it as His blessing to the entire world. In Him there is hope.” (Rev. Norbert Meier, 6/05/09)
We recognize God as the Master and the Controller of the Universe, Creator of all things, but Christians today have a hard time recognizing God as the Master and Controller of our own daily lives. How can such a big God be concerned about someone as insignificant as me? Yet, the Bible paints a much different portrait of God’s relationship with us.
We can take God at His Word that he loves us and is concerned about our daily lives. We can let go of the temptations to worry, be anxious, or demand control. All these can become barriers to receiving instruction from God.
President Ronald Reagan often told a story about a newspaper reporter from the Los Angeles Times. He once received instructions from his senior editor to get photographs of a brush fire in the foothills of northern California. The instructions included hurrying to the Santa Monica Airport to board a small plane, take some photos of the fire, then hurry back by noon with the story.
The reporter dressed quickly, rushed to the airport, and saw the small plane waiting on the runway. He parked his car to the end of the runway and climbed on board the aircraft. Within minutes, they were off into the clear blue skies.
When they reached 5,000 feet, the reporter took out his camera and said to the man flying the plane, “Bank right and I’ll take some pictures of this fire.” He then heard the most frightening questions of his life. “Bank right? Why don’t you bank right? You’re the instructor, aren’t you?”
Sometimes we seem to hurry through life not knowing where we are going nor what to do. Then a crisis comes and we realize that we don’t have a clue. It’s similar to being given the controls of an airplane while having no idea how to fly – or going through life pretending that we do. The reality is the peace, comfort, and assurance we receive when we realize that God has been the pilot all along.
We are not even co-pilots!
We are told in Scripture to buckle up, take a seat in the back and be prepared for some turbulence. Although life can be bumpy, we trust that our Lord will see us through.
The next time we are faced with difficult situations, perhaps it might be best to remember that God is in the control of this universe – even the controls of our life.
“Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), sixteenth president of the United States, has become a mythic figure in America’s civil religion. Born into relative poverty on the Midwestern frontier, he rose from humble origins through self-discipline, honesty, common sense, a considerable measure of ambition, and a ready wit to shepherd the nation through the black days of the Civil War. After his death, Americans found it irresistible to see his achievement in a religious light. It was soon noted, for example, that Lincoln–the “Savior” of the Union–was shot on Good Friday (April 14, 1865), that his efforts to liberate the bond slave and bind up the wounds of war were cut short by “martyrdom,” and that his very name–Abraham–spoke of the father of his people. Although Lincoln himself originally saw the Civil War as a political struggle to preserve the Union, he came to regard it as a crusade for truth and right. He spoke of the United States as “the last, best hope of the earth,” of its citizens as “the almost chosen people,” and of the War as a test to see if a nation “conceived in liberty . . . can long endure.”
Considerable uncertainty arises, however, when Lincoln’s own religion is examined. On the one hand, it is obvious that Christianity exerted a profound influence on his life. His father was a member of Regular Baptist churches in Kentucky and Indiana. Lincoln himself read the Bible throughout his life, quoted from it extensively, and frequently made use of biblical images (as in the “House Divided” speech of 1858). It was said of him, perhaps with some exaggeration, that he knew by heart much of the Psalms, the book of Isaiah, and the entire New Testament. His life also exhibited many Christian virtues. He was scrupulously honest in repaying debts from ill-fated business ventures of the 1830s. He offered tender sympathy to the widows and orphans created by the Civil War. He pardoned numerous sleeping sentries and other soldiers condemned to death for relatively minor lapses. He kept his head concerning the morality of the contending sides in the War, refusing to picture the North as entirely virtuous or the South as absolutely evil. And during his years as president he did regularly attend the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington.
On the other hand, Lincoln never joined a church nor ever made a clear profession of standard Christian beliefs. While he read the Bible in the White House, he was not in the habit of saying grace before meals. Lincoln’s friend Jesse Fell noted that the president “seldom communicated to anyone his views on religion, and he went on to suggest that those views were not orthodox: “on the innate depravity of man, the character and office of the great head of the Church, the Atonement, the infallibility of the written revelation, the performance of miracles, the nature and design of . . . future rewards and punishments . . . and many other subjects, he held opinions utterly at variance with what are usually taught in the church.” It is probable that Lincoln was turned against organized Christianity by his experiences as a young man in New Salem, Illinois, where excessive emotion and bitter sectarian quarrels marked yearly camp meetings and the ministry of traveling preachers. Yet although Lincoln was not a church member, he did ponder the eternal significance of his own circumstances, a personal life marked by tragedy (the early death of two sons) and difficulty (the occasional mental instability of his wife). And he took to heart the carnage of war over which he presided.
Whether it was from these experiences or from other sources, Lincoln’s speeches and conversation revealed a spiritual perception far above the ordinary. It is one of the great ironies of the history of Christianity in America that the most profoundly religious analysis of the nation’s deepest trauma came not from a clergyman or a theologian but from a politician who was self-taught in the ways of both God and humanity. The source of Lincoln’s Christian perception will probably always remain a mystery, but the unusual depth of that perception none can doubt. Nowhere was that depth more visible than in his Second Inaugural Address of March 1865: “Both [North and South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered: that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.” Even more to the point was his reply when a minister from the North told the president he “hoped the Lord is on our side.” Responded Lincoln, “I am not at all concerned about that . . . But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”
(The following post is taken from an article written by Mark A. Noll entitled, “The Ambiguous Religion of Abraham Lincoln.”)
For almost nine months, I was the host of a daily radio program called “Treasure Valley Spotlight” that concluded at the end of March this year. From my experience, I would like to share four observations. These observations are:
#1 “The Harvest is Ready and the Workers are Few”
#2 Be thankful for the Truth and nothing but the Truth
#3 There are some good Christians doing some great work
#4 Be Ready
Let’s take a closer look on the first observation. When Jesus sent out his disciples to every town and place, he told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” When Jesus gazed out upon the field, he saw the ready and willing hearts that would be receptive to the gospel message. Unfortunately, we can’t see the open hearts like Jesus. All we see is the rough exteriors of people that are intimidating, upsetting and causes us to be fearful. More often than not, opportunities are missed and the message of God’s forgiveness is lost.
Several ministers and lay people came on the radio program to share unique stories of how the Lord used them to share the gospel. Like me, they struggled with fear, intimidation and busyness. The encouragement given is that underneath the façade of disinterest in Jesus or God, there are people who are very receptive to know more. And they are waiting to be asked.
Rarely will a person take the initiative in inquiring Christians about what they believe. Questions about Christ can be risky either for an unbeliever or someone who hasn’t step through the doors of a church for awhile. It is often very difficult for a person to become open or vulnerable due to the risk of uncovering old wounds that have served as barriers to seeking a right relationship with God. However, with a spirit of love, gentleness and patience, God gives us opportunities to share that amazing message of true grace, peace and forgiveness that can only be found in Christ Jesus.
I still smile at the many stories shared both on and off the air of people coming to faith out of the most unusual circumstances. People hardened by life’s difficult circumstances are transformed by the Holy Spirit through faith. People largely considered as impossible to reach, are touched by the love of Christ found only in His message of redemption. And God used normal people like you and me to be that messenger of grace.
It would be nice if we could look inside people’s hearts like Christ and see that the harvest is plentiful. It would be nice to know a person’s receptiveness to the gospel and if the timing is right to share. But we don’t have that ability. All we can do is trust what Jesus is telling us that the harvest is ready and the workers are few. Perhaps we can both be more mindful and prayerful for those unique opportunities that only God gives us to share that good news with those people whom he places in our lives. Trust me, they are ready to listen!
People were asking for a change of course in the White House and they elected an untested, charismatic speaker in Barack Obama. People were looking for a change in the economy and a change in the war on terror. Perhaps our country needs is a total transformation and a change in direction in their lives and in their relationship with God. Are we a nation that has begun to see the anger of God being played out? Are we a nation that must heed the warning to turn from our idolatrous ways?
It’s funny how things never change.
Much of the same types of issues were found in ancient times when a prophet was raised up by the name of Zechariah.
The word of the Lord came to Zechariah and he said, “The Lord was very angry with your forefathers. Therefore tell the people: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty. Do not be like your forefathers, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the LORD. Where are your forefathers now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your forefathers?” (Zechariah 1:2-6)
It is fathers that not only help to determine the physical characteristics of their children, but also play a huge role in influencing their spiritual characteristics. Children will not only bear family resemblances, but will also model the spiritual pursuits of their father if they are properly trained in the way they should go. When a father forsakes his duties, by providing a poor example not only in their spiritual life, but also in their daily life at home and on the job, he already has built a tough road for any child to embark on. The Bible says that the sins of the fathers can pass down to many generations.
The message given in the verses above is to change your ways. Turn from your selfish and evil ways. Change your minds and your attitudes toward God. Taking the context from the book of Zechariah, he is saying, “Change your minds about what is important in life. Get your priorities straight. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you. As your fathers are examples of the wrath that comes and is to come on those I hate because of their sin, so also are they examples of the love that I show to those who turn.”
Throughout the Bible and throughout history, there are many examples of the Lord working circumstances so that they may return to him. More often than not, it was through great adversity. By sending turmoil, enemies, famine and destruction, can we get the attention of humans and show that there is a God who does extend mercy and love to those who call on Him.
We live in a culture today where our young generation must turn from the sins of their forefathers, to rise above the sinful and idolatrous examples of their forefathers and turn to God. And this is so difficult to do! It can only be the Lord who makes it possible for children to break loose from the stranglehold their father’s exampled have on them.
It can be done. We see it in the lives of people who live godly and faithful lives in spite of terrible examples at home. And we wonder, “Why do they do it? Why do they come to church?” The answer must lie in this verse. The Lord has impressed upon them the necessity of being better than their fathers.”
I pray for the future of our world and shudder to think of what type of culture and nation will my grandchildren live through. What type of judgment on their forefathers must they endure? I do know, however, that they can only through the power of God. And the future generations will be blessed by the choices and confessions they make today.
There was a retired man who asked once about his prospects of going to heaven. He felt his prospects were slim and was resigned to going to hell. He said, “You don’t know some of the terrible things I have done.”
There was a woman who spent almost every day at church volunteering for a myriad of activities. You could say that she practically lived at the church. Outwardly, she seemed like a godly woman, but inwardly her motivation was to atone for a secret sin in her past.
And there was the college student who was interested and drawn to the teachings of the Bible and to Jesus Christ. However, he was reluctant to accept the Christian faith. He thought, “It just sounds too easy to be true.”
It is easy for all of us to think that our relationship with God depends on what we do for Him. We picture God in our minds with a clipboard in his hands writing notes on everything we have done or failed to do. Perhaps we picture him waiting to see if we hold up our end of the bargain and prove ourselves worth of His love and approval. There certainly is not much joy in this picture of our relationship with God. No comfort exists and not a whole lot of hope.
In the Bible, Jesus didn’t define our relationship with God as being about what we do for God. In fact, Jesus told his disciples that he would die and would rise again on the third day. The Old Testament had promised a Savior who would suffer for our sins so that we could be forgiven. He would rise again from the dead so that we too could conquer death and live forever in heaven.
So, can I ask you a question? Are you trying to make up for sins of the past to win your way back in to God’s favor? Are you wrestling with despair of knowing that you can’t?
Remember that Jesus suffered for your sins. He suffered for all of them no matter what they are. I urge you to not live under the joyless burden of thinking you owe God anything for the gift of eternal life. Your risen Savior is the certainty that God loves you and has already saved you. Your salvation is not about what you do for God, but it is all about what Jesus had done for you. Trust in Jesus, and live as happy, thankful and free children of God.