A personal encounter with the cross

“To be a follower of the Crucified means, sooner or later, a personal encounter with the cross.  And the cross always entails loss.”- Elisabeth Elliot, These Strange Ashes, 1998

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place . . . And who know but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”- Esther 4:13-14

In Chapter 15 of The Broken Way, which focuses on Esther 4:13-14, Ann Voskamp explains her topic with a quote from Chuck Colson.  Mr. Colson states:

“Christians who understand biblical truth and have the courage to live it out can indeed redeem a culture, or even create one.”

Therefore, Ann believes, if we only understood the specific fire(s) others face, we wouldn’t hesitate to fight that fire with the heat of a greater love.  As a result, Ann stresses, when experience a personal encounter with the cross, we need to “defend the image of God in the world’s broken.”

Furthermore, Ann exhorts us to give our gifts, lest they become our idols or identity.  Use the life God’s given you to give others life.  In other words, desire holiness rather than hollowness.  Also, defy cynical indifference as you make a critical difference.

In conclusion, Ms. Voskamp cites Timothy Keller (Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just– 2012).  Pastor Keller defines what it means to ‘do justice’:

” . . . to go to places where the fabric of shalom has broken down, where the weaker members of societies are falling though the fabric, and to repair it.”

Today’s question: During your desert, land between time, when have you experienced a personal encounter with the cross?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The thread of your life”

Grace waits in broken places

“Grace waits in broken places. . . . Grace seeps through the broken places and seeps into the lowest places, a balm for wounds.”- Ann Voskamp

Ann Voskamp concludes Chapter 14 of The Broken Way by observing that some wounds so twist and form us.  In the process, they become much more painful and deeper than scars.  Specifically, some wounds become who we actually believe we are.

However, Ms. Voskamp counters, the crossbeam supporting an abundant life in Christ consists of living as one truly loved and cherished by God.  Ann explains:

“Belovedness is the center of being, the only real identity, God’s only name for you, the only identity He gives you.  And you won’t ever feel like you belong anywhere until . . . you let yourself feel the truth of that — the truth your hear has always known because He who made it wrote your name right here.”

Yet, the serpent tries to make you feel alone and on trial- with you as the chief prosecutor.  Satan endlessly poisons you with self-lies.  Therefore, Ann posits that until we believe God loves us this minute more than we could ever dream of loving ourselves, we really don’t have enough faith.

In conclusion, Ann describes the role of grace in this process:

“Grace . . . gives us what we’d never ask for but always needed, and moves us to become what we always wanted.  But hardly ever the way we wanted (emphasis Ann’s).”

Perhaps, Ann encourages, we need to believe less in ourselves, and what Jesus says about us more.   The cross of Jesus can be a weapon in our hands we take into our hearts to break us free.  And cut the head off a lying snake.

Today’s question: How has God’s grace waited for you in broken places?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “A personal encounter with the cross”

Pick up your cross

“Pick up your cross.  It’s the only way you or anyone else can know a resurrection.”- Ann Voskamp

Ann Voskamp complete Chapter 10 of The Broken Way by stating that suffering’s present around every corner.  Furthermore, suffering lurks in every act of love.  As a result, in order to bear love out into the world, you must bear ingratitude from the world.  In addition, Ann notes, until you know how Christ’s love made Him suffer for you, you’re less willing to suffer for love.

Therefore, Ann stresses the necessity for you to pick up your cross.  The author explains:

“Carry your cross so this carrying of pain makes love.  It is never a cross you carry, but your resistance to the cross, that makes it a burden (emphasis mine).  Absorb pain with a greater love. . . .   Let yourself be worn down to love.  Let your joints grow loose with love so your hands swing easy enough to give, to break and give your struggling-to-be-willing self away.  . . . make every situation, every suffering, every single moment into a way to lead you into closer communion with Christ.  A broken way.”

Consequently, Ann urges us to join Christ and embrace suffering rather than fight it.  In this world, it’s impossible to avoid pain and suffering.  The broken way = the only way.

In conclusion, Ann advises not to look for perfection in your life as a means to attain  wholeness.  Instead, embrace brokenness as a part of your life.  Then you’ll find wholeness!

Trust God in all your brokenness.  It is a gift (emphasis Ann’s).

Today’s question: How have you know a resurrection as you pick up your cross?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “After a rain of tears”

How long, O Lord?

“How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?”- Psalm 13:1

Dr. Wayne Stiles continues Chapter 2 of Waiting on God by noting that the psalmist’s question sounds almost heretical- except it came from King David.  Furthermore, Dr. Stiles stresses, “this is how David felt, but it isn’t what he believed.”

We often feel this way as well.  We experience the tension of putting our faith in front of our feelings.  Like Jacob, Joseph, and David, we struggle to reconcile reality with truth.  As a result, Wayne explains, we feel spiritually dysfunctional waiting on God:

“Waiting on God feels like living a dysfunctional spiritual life. . . . Because we have promises from God he seems to have forgotten, we feel like we’re losers in a waiting game played with One who has infinite patience.  But waiting on God is not dysfunctional.  It is normal.”

When we refuse to reconcile reality with truth, we shift our focus to how the Christian life “ought” to be.  Although we physically hear the whole truth of God, listening to the “disagreeable” parts becomes an entirely different issue.  Selective hearing reigns.  However, Dr. Stiles emphasizes, the tough parts of the Christian life list as required courses, not electives.

Dr. Stiles encourages that God wants to give us so much more than answers to third-grade questions.  Sometimes God demonstrates His great love for us by saying no to our requests, as the author explains:

“He sees the blind spots in our character- those areas we don’t even know to pray for.  So he shapes our situation to unearth the defects burned deeply beneath the layers of immature jealousies, lusts, and longings for relief.”

To experience God’s faithfulness through the cross, we must become free of our fear of that cross.  Our personal cross bridges the gap between the God we want and the God who is.  Every day we must take up our cross and follow Christ (Matthew 16:24).

Today’s question: In what ways has expressing King David’s words- “How long, O Lord?”- enabled you to reconcile reality with truth?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Compulsory journeys”

 

 

Scripture’s Rosetta Stone

Mark Batterson continues his discussion of Romans 8:28 in Chapter 21 of If by referring to that verse as Scripture’s Rosetta Stone:

“The twenty-eighth verse of the eighth chapter of Romans is the Rosetta stone of Scripture.  Without it, much of life makes no sense whatsoever.  With it, we’re able to decipher our experiences.”

In 1799, Pierre-Francois Bouchard was overseeing the demolition of a wall in the ancient Egyptian city of Rosetta.  There he uncovered a 1,676 pound slab of black granite stone with ancient writing on it.  Enter fellow countryman Jean-Francois Champollion, linguistic locksmith who spoke twelve languages.  Champollion took two years to break the code, thereby unlocking the ancient civilization of Egypt.

Because the puzzle pieces of our lives don’t seem to fit together and we aren’t able to view the completed puzzle picture, many of us feel helpless and hopeless at times.  We can’t see God’s vision for the whole of our lives.  Romans 8:28, Scripture’s Rosetta Stone:

  • promises God will fit every piece of your life together in the most efficient, effective, and beautiful way possible
  • unlocks many of the mysteries of life and promises to recycle, redeem, and use your betrayal or injustice for your good and God’s glory

Pastor Batterson encourages you to remember that whatever road you have traveled always starts with the agony Christ endured on the cross.  Your salvation story starts with history’s greatest injustice.  The ancient symbol of torturous death became humankind’s symbol of eternal hope.  Mark concludes:

“And if God can do that with the cross, He can redeem your pain, your failures, your fears, and your doubts.  The cross is the missing piece in the middle of every puzzle.  Without it, we’re helpless and hopeless.  With it, the puzzle is solved.”

Today’s question: How has Scripture’s Rosetta Stone recycled, redeemed, and used your vocation loss for your good and God’s glory?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The 8:28 guarantee”

A new creation

“You are a new creation, but sometimes it takes time for your new nature to become second nature.”- Mark Batterson

As Mark Batterson concludes Chapter 3 of If, he offers encouragement that it is never too late for you to be what you might have been.  God still can roll away your if only regrets.  One way to break the sin habit is to establish a prayer habit.  That way you can leave the past in its place- the past.  Pastor Batterson adds:
“He crucified our sin by nailing it to a cross.  Don’t resurrect it!”

We appreciate the grace of God by fully acknowledging our sinfulness, rather than underestimating it.  We also appreciate and reflect God’s grace by not labeling others by their sins.  There is no gradation of sin.  We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 8:23).

In order to step into what if, we have to get past if only.  The cross of Christ, the crossroad, “turns if only regrets into what if possibilities.”

Mark believes that when we focus just on the penalty Jesus paid for us at Calvary, which is wonderful beyond words, that’s only half the gospel.  Pastor Batterson refers to this partial focus as the glass-half-empty gospel.  Since Christ’s righteousness has been credited to your account, your glass is full of the righteousness of Christ.  Mark elaborates:

“This half-empty mindset causes us to focus on forgiveness, but Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to forgive you. . . . He died to change you.  And He didn’t die on the cross just to keep you safe.  He died to make you dangerous- a threat to the enemy.  He died so you could make a difference for all eternity.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you see yourself as a new creation in Christ?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The emergency exit”

The cost of prayer

“To see the law by Christ fulfilled

And hear his pard’ning voice

Transforms a slave into a child

And duty into choice.”- William Cowper, Olney Hymns

Timothy Keller concludes Chapter 5 of Prayer by discussing the ground motive 0f Spirit-directed, Christ-mediated prayer: to simply know Him better and enjoy His presence.  Pastor Keller notes this stands in stark contrast to the normal ways we use prayer:

1.  In our natural state we pray to God to get things.  While our belief in God may not be an issue, our deepest hopes and happiness reside in our relationships and material possessions.  Prayer is used in times of trouble, not when life is going smoothly and our truest heart treasures seem safe.

2.  Ordinarily our prayers are not varied.  Pastor Keller states our prayers usually consist of petitions and, on occasion, confession.  Little time is spent on adoring and praising God.  The author then explains why we have no positive, inner desire to pray:

“We know God is there, but we tend to see him as a means through which we get things, to make us happy.  For most of us, he has not become our happiness.”

Christians who understand the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit seek God for themselves.  Jesus paid the price- the cost of prayer- so God could be our Father.  As Pastor Keller concludes: “Prayer turns theology into experience.”

Today’s question: How would you describe your current prayer life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Worrying in God’s direction”

Abandoned in God-forsaken places

At noon the whole country was covered with darkness, which lasted for three hours.  At about three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eli, Eli, lema, sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?”- Matthew 27:45-46 (TEV)

Max Lucado begins Chapter 19 (“Abandoned!  God-Forsaken Places”) of Next Door Savior by stating that abandoned is such a haunting word.  It’s a feeling all of us experienced in the immediate aftermath of our ministry downsizing or vocation loss.  Yet, Max emphasizes, “nothing compares to being abandoned by God”.

After Jesus had been hanging on the cross for three hours, darkness fell “like a curtain”.  Far away in Egypt, the historian Dionysius observed: “Either the God of nature is suffering , or the machine of the world is tumbling into ruin.”  When Jesus screamed His words of abandonment, no one had to ask Him to speak up.

Peter reminds us that “Christ carried all our sins in his body (1 Peter 2:24).”  If our past sins were made public, specifically our outbursts of anger toward those responsible for our vocation loss, we would scream for God to have mercy on us.  Max notes that we’d feel a fraction of what Christ felt on the cross.  Max concludes:

” ‘My God, my God, why did you abandon me?’  Why did Christ scream those words?  So you’ll never have to.”

Today’s question (from the Study Guide): When you are fearful, what Scripture gives you strength?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “A wail of a time”

 

Defeatism

And Jesus said,, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”- Luke 23:34

In Chapter 12 (“Defeatism- It’s Too Late Now”) of AHA, Kyle Idleman observes that “life can reach a point when it feels like things have gone too far.”  Like Humpty Dumpty, there are too many broken pieces to put together again.  Yet sometimes rock bottom is the best place to be if that’s what it takes for us to experience AHA.

It is never too late.  Pastor Idleman states that if ever there was someone who thought it was too late, it was one of the two criminals crucified with Jesus. But something happened to him.  He not only defended Jesus, he cried out to Him for help.  What made him think it wasn’t too late?

Pastor Idleman is convinced that Jesus’ prayer on the cross was the turning point.  Jesus prayed that God would forgive the soldiers who crucified Him.  The thief’s heart softened when he experienced the grace Jesus extended to the Roman soldiers.

As the author concludes, we experience defeatism when we rely on our own actions:

” A spirit of defeatism may be reasonable if it all depended on us. . . . A spirit of defeatism comes because we don’t accurately take into account how the Father will respond when we come home.”

Today’s question: To what extent has a spirit of defeatism characterized your desert, land between time?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The blame game”

Minimization

“Sin will always take you farther than you want to go.

Sin will always cost you more than you want to pay.

Sin will always keep you longer than you want to stay.”- Old saying

In Chapter 8 “Minimize- It’s Not That Big of a Deal”) of AHA, Kyle Idleman states that minimization takes denial and projection one step farther:

“Minimization is acknowledging the reality of the situation and even owning responsibility for it but denying its seriousness.”

Rather than being brutally honest, we tell ourselves half-truths that are tolerable.  In the rationalizing words of the Black Knight (Monty Python and the Holy Grail)  after Arthur had cut off both his arms: “It’s only a flesh wound.”

Pastor Idleman emphasizes that Scripture certainly doesn’t  minimize the consequences of sin.  For example, Jonah’s sermon to the people of  Nineveh was short (eight words) and to the point: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  Jonah made no effort to minimize his message or apologize for hurting the Ninevites’ feelings.

We also tend to choose minimization instead of honesty.  Most significantly, that minimization of our responsibility extends to the repercussions of the decisions we have made.

In the next several blogs Pastor Idleman discusses three phrases we often tell ourselves when we minimize the reality of a situation.

Today’s question: What role has minimization played following your ministry downsizing or vocation loss?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Truth, or consequences?”