“If I see aright, the cross of popular evangelicalism is not the cross of the New Testament. It is, rather, a new bright ornament upon the bosom of a self-assured and carnal Christianity. The old cross slew men, the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it.”
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
The gospel is a profound mystery that has been made quite simple. A little child could grasp it. We have the deep sense that it is quite complicated, but it is really straightforward. For years, day after day after day, I have tried to jump high enough to attain a semblance of peace, but to no avail. After a long period I finally realized I couldn’t make it work. If God was going to save me, He was going to have to personally intervene. I just didn’t have it in me. The simplicity of our faith needs to be declared; too many believe it is unattainable. C.S. Lewis once wrote about this simple gospel:
“We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. … That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed.”
–C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Over time I realized, (actually it was more like a lightning bolt) that it wasn’t how high I could jump— but how low I could go. The ‘good news’ is designed for the simple; not for the spiritual athlete. We must become as “little children to enter the kingdom of God.” There is no other way. Jesus has made it clear. I simply can not attain salvation by my own merits, rather it is given out to those who can’t arrive at some vague legal standard.
“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
We are a people who are engineered for achievement. We value those who have ‘arrived.’ But what if the opposite was true? What if it wasn’t greatness, but ‘smallness’ that opened heaven’s doors? Would you qualify? I ask these questions not to demean you, but to reassure you. I would only suggest that you reexamine your faith. It is only prudent after all.
Adopting the world’s attitudes is not surprising. We are saturated by her presence. She makes her presence known by everything we perceive. It is the basic environment that surrounds all that we do or think. Jesus’ gospel asks us to rethink some basic things:
Do I belong here?
Is this my real home?
What am I living for?
Am I a loving person?
What am I living for?
We ask these questions, not because they are somewhat profound; we ask them because they are basic. Yet so much rests on each. We must clear away the world’s confusion, in order to grasp each question. We must become like little children, again. When we start to ask these questions— we are on our way.
“Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”And he went away, weeping bitterly.”
Matthew 26:75, NLT
Three denials are followed by three reaffirmations.
“A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”
The apostle Peter was a fervent disciple. He knew who Jesus was before most. He was always included in special times (e.g. the transfiguration, Gethsemane). He was favored by Jesus throughout times of ministry. I also believe that he was Jesus’ friend. Peter is known for:
being called on the shores of Galilee, Matt 4:18-19
‘almost’ walking on water, Matt 14:29-30
finding the tax money in a fishes mouth, Matt 17:24-27
having his feet washed, John 13:6-7
in Gethsemane– cutting off an ear, John 18:10-11
his remorse at denying Jesus, Matt 26:75
at the empty tomb with John, John 20:3-8
Peter’s own denials were of a serious nature effecting who he was, and who he was to become. Jesus astutely intervenes as they ‘breakfasted’on the seashore. There would be three affirmations; one for each denial. Peter needed to meet the resurrected Jesus, and speak with him about what he had done. Peter needed this.
Out of our own confusion, we realize that we deny Jesus. Perhaps frequently. A denial has different intensities and different situations. And none of us have an immunity as of yet. We deny the Lord when we refuse to speak of him to others. We deny the Lord when we fail to do what is right. Sometimes we deny him flagrantly, other times it is a more subtle attitude. At best, we’re still inconsistent, and at worst, apostate.
We’re not punished or abandoned for this behavior. Human logic would suggest that we should be. But instead we are gently restored. Given the opportunity, Peter the fisherman, would eventually become a wise shepherd to the young Church. I would also suggest that Peter’s personal weakness would serve him well as a gentle, and caring pastor.
Peter, near the end of his life, goes ‘full circle’ and uses a very precise Greek word foundin only two places in the New Testament. It is the specific form of the word “shepherd.” It is only used in John 21:16-17 in Peter’s restoration, and in 1 Peter 5:2. Peter encourages the Church with the same words Jesus himself spoke to him on the beach so long ago! Peter wrote:
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing.”
It’s strange to be in the position of being older. A whirlwind of days and nights swirl from this human drama, and I think I may be starting thinking about my exit— Lord willing, stage right.
I’m supposed to be a ‘veteran’ now– a mature believer. I’m not supposed to get stressed. However, age is a brutal teacher– and it seems we have to learn so dang fast, it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose. (Just the other day three teeth almost came out from the blast.)
Getting old is great in some ways. I only wish I could do it more gracefully.
On top of it all, it seems to me like my sin has poisoned the air that others must breathe. I have contaminated so much. You might just say, I have ‘soured’ everyone’s milk. “Learning to live with the regrets” is a class that we should add to the local high school’s curriculum. It certainly would be useful.
A old friend is celebrating her birthday so I volleyed a semi serious “tongue and cheek” regret at her. But then, I suddenly realized that there is a point when we realize that behind every older person, is someone else wondering what the hell has happened, and how did it get this way so fast? It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.
As a Christian, I tentatively believe that this world I’m in, has folded open for me, and God has specified a direction. I do contend though, unbelief is easier on a certain level, but I do not intend to take any detours. Perhaps the real trick about reading a map in the car is that you most likely won’t get it folded back the same way ever again. You must learn to accept this. And as a rule, maps seldom reveal the best detours.
“I will be your God throughout your lifetime— until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.”
Isaiah 46:4, NLT
I must admit to having a connection to “Bumble”, that crazy, loveable, abominable snowman in one of those schlocky, animated children TV classics from my youth. I guess I identify with that ‘misfit’ yeti– someone who finally sees the light, but only when all his teeth are pulled! Somewhere in that show he seemed almost good, but didn’t we all wonder for a while if he would come around or not?
I also wonder about the thief on the cross who got his ticket punched by Jesus at the last possible moment. When we finally make it to heaven, we will find him there laughing and celebrating like everyone else, just like he belonged. I guess grace does that to a person.
“He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed”
Who knows what Jesus is thinking at this precise moment as he entered the Garden? His disciples waited for Jesus and scripture states that he proceeded ahead of them— “a stone’s throw.”
We often share in the sorrows of the people closest to us, and Jesus wants has disciples to follow him. And they do, but not all the way. They came close, but were oblivious to the full nature of the pain that was beginning for Jesus. They slept while he agonized. He was for the first time, needing someone close.
Many of us will make the same trip to the garden. Soon every believer makes the trip to ‘Gethsemane,’ but not as mere observers. It is a distinct place of testing and of sorrow. And each will experience it for themselves. “The servant is not above his master.”
But Jesus is close— he completely understands what it means to be alone with sorrow. The believer can lean on Jesus as the pain continues. He sends his “Comforter” to each, as he escorts us through this time. He comes in grace, and is completely kind. He truly is just a stone’s throw away.
“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.”
23″Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. 24You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Psalm 73, ESV
Continuity is a medicine for us who are always on the edge of losing control. One patriarch in the Book of Genesis was told that “he was unstable as water.” And this pretty much describes me as I struggle with Bipolar Disorder. But the promise from Psalm 73 is for a continuous presence. There is no flickering, no jumping about. He is steady. He does not flit or fluctuate. He is always, and forever, constantly focused with you.
He provides guidance, ‘free of charge’. We can experience many confusing days. We make the attempt to walk through them, but we quickly grasp our ineptitude. It goes very much better when He is speaking into our hearts. Since He is present with us on a continuous basis anyway, let us turn to Him for direction.
There is a realization in verse 25.“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” This statement declares “point blank” who and what is real.
The psalmist has an ‘umbilical cord’ attached to heavenly places. This feeds him and gives him a radical strength to stand up and ‘to be’. He is completely over with the things of this earth. He desires only heavenly things, that which really matters after looking down the long corridors of eternity.
In verse 26 he admits a desperate weakness. He understands the foolishness of his flesh. He knows that it is pathetic and feeble. There is absolutely nothing he can do about this. He has tried and tried repeatedly. His heart is like a colander that drains away all the grace and mercy that comes. He can hold nothing. He must stay under the faucet.
But still, there is a profound realization that God is strengthening his heart. He has done this on an eternal level. What this means is this: He has touched me and by that touch has made me eternal, like Him. The rest of this Psalm extends and states certain things that the Psalmist has learned himself.
27″For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. 28But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”
Psalm 73, ESV
Proximity determines everything. Some will bounce to the other end of the spectrum. Being close to Him confers life. Moving away from Him brings nothing but certain death. The issue in this Psalm is of ‘unfaithfulness’. This is a biggie. Being unfaithful means treachery, and a wagon load of deception, and nothing good will ever come from it.
“Every man is as holy as he wants to be.”
The Psalmist again deals with proximity. God draws a person, but coming near is always your choice. The Psalmist sees that his “nearness to God is my good.” He realizes that by taking refuge in God there is something that will be quite wonderful. There is some effort that must happen. So he makes God his refuge. The Lord God is now a ‘bomb shelter’ or a covering for our souls. He continues this process with the deep commitment to sharing ‘the works of God’.
“The reason why many fail in battle is because they wait until the hour of battle. The reason why others succeed is because they have gained their victory on their knees long before the battle came. Anticipate your battles; fight them on your knees before temptation comes, and you will always have victory.”
“A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.”