the way of the cross

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:34-38

When we evangelicals think of the cross, we think of the salvation God provided for us, for humanity through Christ’s death and resurrection. And that’s so vitally important, no doubt. But we don’t often think of it in terms of a way of life for us in Christ. We might possibly write that off as true for his disciples when Jesus was headed to Jerusalem to face death. But we somehow against what we see follows in the New Testament and in history ignore the idea that the cross applies to us now. But in Christ we’re called to a cruciform or cross-shaped life.

The question becomes where do we find life? For many that’s in this world, and being successful in it, as well as enjoying much of its allure in what it has to offer. But for us in Christ there’s no turning back. There’s one way, the way of the cross, the way of Christ. And in that we find the true life.

 

worldly thinking

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:1-2

When we convert to Christ, we are under a new rule, and with that comes a new orientation to life. We can no longer see anything the same way we did before. However with that new reality comes the ongoing necessity to continue to change in that difference, or else drift back into the thinking we had before our conversion. There’s nothing in between. We’re either on course, or we’re drifting; we’re either conforming to the pattern of this world, or we’re being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

We should be aware of this in light of everything: family, business, politics, whatever. Anything and everything is under Christ’s rule for us. That has to make all the difference in how we look at everything, or it will make no difference at all. In and through Jesus.

 

 

no quick fix

When I read Scripture and life after over four and a half decades of being a Christian, at least it seems to me that there is no quick fix or great spiritual breakthrough awaiting us if we can just find it. Yes, it can make a big difference when we learn to depend on God and less on ourselves, and when we learn to “walk” more by the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, etc. All of that surely does make a world of difference, the difference between light and darkness.

But it’s best to settle down into the realization that there simply is no quick fix. Change for us is incremental and takes time, and yes, effort, on our part. God’s grace underlies it all, and without God’s working, there will be no change at all. But we have to apply what God has given us, and do it again and again and again, so that new habits replace old ones. For example my first natural reaction to problems will be to grumble and complain, maybe utter something under my breath that I shouldn’t. But as I learn God’s way given in Scripture, I might instead learn to rejoice and give thanks, and pray to God, and at least not grumble. Or if I do complain, to do so to God.

Christians waste their time trying to find the big breakthrough, maybe some great spiritual experience, instead of simply endeavoring to follow Christ and stay in the word and pray, and remain in the fellowship of God’s people. And just accepting the fact that life will be a struggle in this world, that the world, the flesh and the devil aren’t going to disappear because of some mountaintop experience.

The sooner we accept this, the better. That God will be with us through it all. In and through Jesus.

God’s help upstream

ר Resh

Look on my suffering and deliver me,
for I have not forgotten your law.
Defend my cause and redeem me;
preserve my life according to your promise.
Salvation is far from the wicked,
for they do not seek out your decrees.
Your compassion, LORD, is great;
preserve my life according to your laws.
Many are the foes who persecute me,
but I have not turned from your statutes.
I look on the faithless with loathing,
for they do not obey your word.
See how I love your precepts;
preserve my life, LORD, in accordance with your love.
All your words are true;
all your righteous laws are eternal.

Psalm 119:153-160

Oftentimes we feel like we’re rowing upstream, in other words, against the tide. While so many others are going with the flow, doing what everyone else supposedly does. And we can be looked on as strange and even estranged as a result.

During such times we need to hold on to God’s word and God’s promises, and not be moved from them. It’s all too easy for us to forget them for a moment in reaction to our trouble and troublers. Instead we need to continue to look to God and his word. Believing that God will help us to continue on in his will and way in and through Jesus.

 

 

hearing God’s voice above the noise

ג Gimel

Be good to your servant while I live,
that I may obey your word.
Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law.
I am a stranger on earth;
do not hide your commands from me.
My soul is consumed with longing
for your laws at all times.
You rebuke the arrogant, who are accursed,
those who stray from your commands.
Remove from me their scorn and contempt,
for I keep your statutes.
Though rulers sit together and slander me,
your servant will meditate on your decrees.
Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors.

Psalm 119:17-24

If there’s one thing true about living in this world, it’s that God’s word is not just given short shrift, it’s not considered at all. In fact, it’s considered at best, antiquated, and at worst unhelpful, even harmful.

That means we need to be in God’s word all the more. We cannot let up on that. That is where we find God’s directives, and learn to hear the voice of God above the clamor of all the other voices. In and through Jesus.

 

a breathtaking view

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:11-22

Ephesians, especially the first three chapters in our Bibles, is written to see something of the vast panorama of God’s working in the new creation in Christ, with a special emphasis on the church. Unfortunately for too many of us who have been in the Bible a number of years, it can come across differently than how it did originally. That’s when we maybe need to step back, slow down, move through it slow enough, then stop, and note the beautiful portrait and scene in our mind’s eye.

The passage quoted above is very much like that. The thoughts to the original readers would have been breathtaking in themselves, and Paul surely almost breathlessly himself, unravels a glorious picture before us. So that what we end up with is a breathtaking view.

Contrast that to what is presented today as glorious, maybe even the kingdoms of the world in all their splendor as maybe through a vision, the devil showed the Lord in Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness. Really, all the world has to offer can’t compare with what God reveals to us by the Spirit in God’s word through the gospel. No, it can’t compare. In fact what comparison we do end up finding by the Spirit’s help is the difference between darkness and light. At best between what is provisional and good in its place for now, and what is perfect and to last forever.

The entire Bible especially taken together is like this. And the book in it we call Ephesians. In and through Jesus.

the conflict of the flesh and the Spirit

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Galatians 5:13-18

Scripture makes no bones about it: There’s a flesh/Spirit conflict. You can see it throughout, and Paul spells it out in his letter to the Galatians. The flesh often means all that is opposed to God in the world. It is set in its ways, in an underlying rebellion against God which might be disguised as anything other than that. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit of God in Christ, actually a person within the Triunity of God: Father, Son and Spirit.

Just try to be led by the Spirit, and keep at it, and you’ll run up against the flesh somewhere at some point. Either those “in the flesh” will just ignore you as irrelevant, or they’ll challenge you directly or indirectly. With some that will be pure opposition, but with many others it can be a mix. They’ll regret their weakness or at least wonder over it, and the Spirit might well be at work in their lives for something much better. Only God knows all that’s going on under the surface. We need to hold our ground, and seek to walk and be led by the Spirit.

Of course we’re not always going to get it right ourselves. After all, who knows what it actually means to walk by the Spirit? I mean, we might actually be able to biblically or theologically describe or put some definition on it. But when it comes to actual life, we can’t have a handle on it ourselves. It is something by prayer and faith we seek to practice.

But again, make no mistake about it, when we do so we’ll run up against “the flesh.” That will be present, and we might as well expect it, so that we can be prepared for it. But the only preparation and follow through for us is simply to continue to walk by the Spirit. Continuing in that “way” in and through Jesus.