Being Tethered to the Cross

We live in this place.

St. Francis of  Assisi once wrote, “The devil never rejoices more than when he robs a servant of God of the peace of God.” 

Sometimes I think I’ve made the devil dance far too many times.

I confess that peace has never been really high on my list. Love, joy, kindness, and even goodness are clear priorities. Peace… not so much. Until it’s not there. And then I get frantic by its absence and look for it with manic bewilderment.

I’m panting for some sign that God still loves me. Anxiety eats at me. I beat myself up by my last failure. The guilt of my latest sin grows until it looms larger than the blood that saved me. Sometimes religious people have the most neurosis.

I’m afraid that we are taking “the present tense’ out of the Gospel. The past tense is far preferable to us as we manage the Christian life. We like to make check marks on our list. Repentance– check. Baptism– check. Bible study– check. I think it gives me a definite feeling of ‘maturity.’

But these matter little without intimacy with Jesus.

I certainly haven’t arrived, and it seems I’m still the hideous sinner I always was. I cannot pretend otherwise, even with a truckload of cosmetics at my disposal. I know, I’ve tried. And I’m still ‘ugly.’ I do know forgiveness, and I do walk in its wonderful light (by grace.)

I read Luther 30 years ago. (And Bonhoeffer would say something similar.)

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

Martin Luther

This is the first of his 95 Theses nailed to the door of Wittenburg. There is a present tense here we can’t ignore. I don’t just repent over smoking, beer drinking, fornication, or hypocrisy, once and done. But my entire way of living is to be one of repenting.

Repentance is a ‘moment-by-moment’ grace.

“All of the Christian life is repentance. Turning from sin and trusting in the good news that Jesus saves sinners aren’t merely a one-time inaugural experience but the daily substance of Christianity. The gospel is for every day and every moment. Repentance is to be the Christian’s continual posture.”

John Piper

Luther’s last words, on his deathbed, wrote on a scrap of paper these words, “We are beggars! This is true.” Thirty years before, he was only echoing his first thesis. It seems dear ones, we are to live at the foot of the cross. Everyday. Because we desperately need to.


“Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him. But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Mark 10:48

Jesus is My Apple Tree

apple-tree

“Like the finest apple tree in the orchard
    is my lover among other young men.
I sit in his delightful shade
    and taste his delicious fruit.”

Song of Solomon 2:3, NLT

Jesus is my apple tree. He keeps my dying soul alive.

He is the subject of many different metaphors. We know him as a shepherd, a door, and bread. There are many other ‘pictures’ in Scripture, that speak of his ministry and life. There is one that strikes me today, that of Jesus Christ as a life-giving tree– an apple tree. Song of Solomon 2:3 and Revelation 22:1 are the ‘roots’ of this wondrous thought.

“On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.”

Rev. 22:2

To think of Jesus as ‘the tree of life’ or an apple tree is both an honor to Him and a strength for us. We can swirl metaphors around all day and never exhaust their truths. Jesus (a.k.a. “the apple tree”) is seen imparting life and healing through his fruit. He is the source of everything good and grand in our lives. Eating his fruit is not only significant but encouraged. (Like most things in God’s Kingdom.)

The young maiden in Song of Solomon has given us her take on Jesus— her shepherd, lover, and king. She sees him as the finest in the forest. He provides shade to her, as she eats the fruit of his branches.

Oh, what a worthy picture of Jesus our savior. We can look at this all day. As we come to him we can see the One who is gifting each of us his blessings. We do well to consider him this way.  The first few lines set the tone for us.

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.”

The song, based on an anonymous poem, first appeared in a New England hymn collection by a New Hampshire preacher in 1784, so it has a history. Many people sing this as a Christmas carol, although there is nothing in the words that refer to Christmas. Go through each stanza. See if it fits you. Perhaps it will cause you to see Jesus in a new way. Here is the poem in its entirety:

Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell,
His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell,
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

“Consider Jesus. Know Jesus. Learn what kind of Person it is you say you trust and love and worship. Soak in the shadow of Jesus. Saturate your soul with the ways of Jesus. Watch Him. Listen to Him. Stand in awe of Him. Let Him overwhelm you with the way He is.”   

John Piper

Haight/Ashbury, San Francisco

Learning how to forgive

Once I was punched in the face while preaching. At the time I was an evangelist with SOS Ministries in 1987. I was leading a group to Haight/Ashbury St. in San Francisco. I remember it was really busy, and it was a good team, and they were excited to take their church to the streets.

Haight/Ashbury was the place the “summer of love” kicked off, it peaked in 1968. It has a certain sense of notoriety, and even in 1983 it still had a dubious reputation as a center of the counter-culture. “A cult a day is born in San Francisco,” a pastor friend once shared with me.

Normally the neighborhood where I took a team would direct me on how to preach. Tonight I focused on God’s love for sinful people.

That message seemed appropriate for this place, especially on this street. God loves these people very much.

A young man came forward. He told me that he was a backslidden Christian, and his father was an Assembly of God pastor. He had run away from home. Suddenly he began to weep. The entire team seemed to lean forward and I know they were praying earnestly for him. It seemed to me that he was teetering on the brink.

His punch however came unexpectedly.

His fist hit me square in the nose. My eyes began to water. Oddly enough he took a step back and began to really cry out. My team wasn’t quite sure how to respond, but I hoped they prayed even harder. I sort of gasped and tried to shake it off. Someone must have called the police.

The Holy Spirit was very much present, both convicting and comforting each of us.

One or two minutes went by and suddenly he stopped sobbing and he became really angry. He took a step and then tried to kick me in the stomach, but I dropped the mic and caught his foot. I was ready for him this time.

About 20 minutes went by before SFPD showed up and asked if I wanted to press charges. I thought for a bit, but deep down I knew that wasn’t the will of my Father. Maybe I should of, I don’t know. But I thought about my own sin and couldn’t judge no one.

The Father was reaching him while teaching me!

God loves His prodigal children very much, He understands the guilt and shame (and frustration) they feel. The Father however is always watching and waiting. He works through life’s circumstances to lead them home. Each belongs to Him. He continues far past what we think is possible. He will never give up.

“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

1 John 3:16

I suddenly saw a “wounded” brother, very confused and quite angry. Not with me, the team, or the music–but with God who created him, and died for him.

At that moment I just happened to be God’s love for this prodigal.

“How did Jesus expect His disciples to react under persecution? (In Matthew 5:12 He said), “Rejoice and be glad!” We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor sulk like a child, nor lick our wound in self-pity like a dog, nor just grin a bear it like a Stoic, still less pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. What then? We are to rejoice as a Christian should and even “leap for joy” (Lk. 6:23).”

     John Stott

The Smiles of God

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“Heaven is where the unveiled glories of the Deity shall beat full upon us, and we forever sun ourselves in the smiles of God.”

Ezekiel Hopkins, “A Puritan Golden Treasury”

 

Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the groom is with them, can they? As long as they have the groom with them, they cannot fast. (Mark 2:19)

This was Jesus’ idea.  He was bringing correction to the lives of those who were very serious, and especially those who felt the most religious.  Often, our native tendency is asceticism.  We evaluate ourselves religiously by our prayers and our fasts.

For serious people, we have a serious religion, and we focus on doing a serious religious activity, for that is what our serious faith demands.

Jesus pointed out that mournful faces are not indicators of a pious life.  How can His disciples mourn when Jesus the bridegroom is nearby? His disciples are going to a wedding, not a funeral!

Without question, the New Testament believers are to know repentance and self-examination.  We should grieve over our sins, but that grief is to be based on hope and joy.  Jesus changed everything.

If you are saddened by sin, that sadness must be tethered to joy and not to despair.  

The disciples could not mourn and fast while Jesus was present.   He does not wish His disciples to go mourning and fasting when they have no occasion for such exercises. His words are a defense of Christian joyfulness. Christ wants His friends to be glad. There is an utter incongruity in a sad and mournful Christian life.  It does not make sense in light of what Jesus has done.

Our sins have been forgiven–erased, cleansed, and washed away.  We have been dipped into the righteousness of the Son of God.  The fierce enemies of our souls have been eradicated by Jesus.  All of this is to bring out a song from a grateful heart.  We revel in the smile of Jesus and walk under the banner of beautiful love.  We have His forgiveness and have been given His favor.  We should be radiant!

 I pray that you will rejoice in this wonderful day He has made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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