Saturday, January 29, 2011

When I don't want to carry my cross...

“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. -1 Corinthians 2:14

Without the Spirit’s empowerment I cannot embrace the cross with joy, because the cross is foolishness to me. Walking in the flesh, the cross symbolizes painful sacrifice, suffering and death. I don’t want to suffer and I certainly do not want to die.

In moments such as these I run not only from the cross but also from the cross bearer. I deafen my heart to the Lord because I do not want to hear His call. I blatantly reject His presence. I become defiant and disobedient.

In escaping the suffering of the cross I ultimately suffer. Life apart from Christ is empty, joyless and unfulfilling. I was made for Jesus and it is only in His presence that my soul can rest.

In Matthew 16:24 Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” It is easy to hear this call and fail to hear the last part: follow me. We do not carry our cross alone. Jesus comes with us!

Bearing the cross apart from Christ is unbearable, but bearing the cross with Christ is joy and life. All is rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Him and as Matthew 28:20 promises He is with us always—to the very end of the age.

May we be humbled and encouraged that the Lord has come to call not the righteous but sinners. May we freely acknowledge our deficiencies and boldly proclaim that apart from Christ we can do nothing. May we ask for an outpouring of His grace. May the Lord embolden us by His Spirit to comprehend spiritual realities. May the cross appear as it truly is—beautiful—and may we embrace it with joy. May we never separate the cross from the man on the cross. May we abide in Him, and may Christ be glorified as we are crucified by the Spirit.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Daily Deaths

To follow Christ is to go against every value of this culture. 2 Corinthians 5:15 says: “And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” Unlike the world, the Christian does not live for him or herself but for Jesus Christ.

The life of faith is hard. There is an unseen battle for our wills. A daily battle.

It is in moments of testing that me of little faith questions what I am doing: Why am I putting all of my hope and trust into something I cannot see? Why am I seeking first the Kingdom of God rather than this world? Why am I passing opportunities to advance myself in this life?

Though I am faithless, the Lord remains faithful. His Spirit speaks truth to my heart: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).

The truth is I am surprised when trials come, and I am distraught when the Lord asks me to make costly sacrifices for His glory. My flesh clings to this world. My flesh wants to be successful in this life. My flesh wants to become greater not less.

The Spirit within me sheds God’s overwhelming love abroad in my darkened, sinner’s heart. It is in the Spirit that I am given renewed strength to walk in the way of the cross. It is in the Spirit that I am reminded that my daily death to self pales in comparison to the price Jesus paid. The Son of God who knew no sin died a gruesome death on a cross that I might have eternal life. I have been bought with His precious blood and my life is not my own. All I am is His. I exist to bring fame to His name. I exist to glorify Him forever.

2 Corinthians 4:13-12 says: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” As Christ was crucified, so are we crucified. Crucifixion is an excruciating process, but as Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him, so also do we bear the cross for the joy set before us. To live is Christ and to die is gain! This world is not our home. Our citizenship is in Heaven. May we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.

Lord flood our hearts with Your relentless love. Grant us the grace to be crucified to self that You might live through us. May we accept Your call with thanksgiving and joy, and may we have fellowship with You as we partake in Your sufferings. May we count all as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing You.

Friday, January 14, 2011


We were created to be in relationship with our Creator. We were created to know His love. When sin entered the world, however, we become separated from perfect love. The consequences of this separation are devastating.

Before the fall, Adam and Eve felt no shame. Why? They had nothing to hide. They were in perfect relationship with God.

After Adam and Eve sinned they experienced shame: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Genesis 3:7). They felt the need to hide from each other and from God: “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8-9).

Rather than be rooted in the unconditional love of God, Adam and Eve became rooted in shame. From this root of shame came much brokenness.

The dictionary defines shame as the following: “The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another.” Shame leads to negative feelings within causing men and women to search for positive feelings without. Perfectionism, achievement, people pleasing—even addictions all stem from this deeper heart issue. If a person does not find value within him or herself, he or she will search for value elsewhere.

To be whole we need to be whole within—in our souls. If every external thing we rely on for value were stripped away would we still feel valuable?

If your answer is no allow me to share a deeply beautiful truth: The holy and perfect God of the universe loves you. He deemed you so valuable that He died in your place. He who knew no sin became sin for you, so that in Him you might become the righteousness of God.

Isaiah 61 illuminates the redemptive ministry of Christ. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” The passage continues saying: “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).

The Lord longs to uproot His people from the root of shame and replant them in Himself. He longs to flood our hearts with His unconditional love, and He longs to bear fruit through the broken.

Being uprooted is deeply painful. One by one the Lord will remove every external thing we have relied on for self worth. We will feel more worthless than we have in our entire lives. This is such a beautiful place to be, however, because Christ Jesus remains. The truth is we are not enough but in the Beloved we are more than enough. We are unworthy and unrighteous, but in Christ we are completely worthy and fully righteous.

Being uprooted is painful, but it is oh so sweet. If you feel the Spirit prompting you to be uprooted, I encourage you to take a step of faith and allow the Lord to bring healing and restoration to your life. May Jesus be glorified in our brokenness.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Revival and the Glory of Jesus Christ

Last Spring I met with a dear friend for breakfast. As I sat sipping my coffee, my friend passionately shared her longing to see God’s glory fall on the UW-Madison campus. I listened attentively, but my heart struggled to connect with her words. I did not share her zeal, and her obsession with God’s glory quite honestly made me uncomfortable. I left the conversation feeling restless. Why wasn’t I passionate about God’s glory like my friend? And for that matter, what was God’s glory?

This conversation was the start of a great work in my heart. As a light illuminates a dark room so my pride was laid bare: I could not understand God’s glory because I was too focused on my own.

In our flesh we will never comprehend the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Satan has blinded our hearts to God’s glory, and we thus need spiritual assistance to behold spiritual realities: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Hebrews 1:3 says: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.” To behold God’s glory is to behold Jesus Christ, and to behold Jesus Christ is a work of God alone. This is horribly humbling! I have done nothing to behold the glory of Jesus Christ! It is a consequence of God’s mercy alone!

And so what are the implications of these truths? Revival will only happen when we humble ourselves before an all powerful God and ask Him to move: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place” (2 Chronicles 7:14-15). As believers we need the Holy Spirit to awaken our hearts to the glory of Jesus Christ! We need to truly hold Him as our highest treasure!

When believers hold Jesus Christ as their highest treasure a beautiful work will transpire: Rather than seek to advance individual fame, brother and sister will join arm in arm to chase after His fame. Believers will forsake pride, boasting in their weaknesses and the power of the cross over those weaknesses. Believers will walk in brokenness before each other and before a dying world. They will forsake worldly wealth, comfort and security. They will bear the cross thereby showing a dying world the ultimate worth of Jesus Christ!

One person is not intended to carry the burden of revival alone. It contradicts the very purposes of Christ: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23). Christ longs for His body to be unified in purpose. Will you brother and sister join with me in asking the Lord to reveal His glory to our hearts and to our campus?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Jesus Offers More than Forgiveness

In Luke 4:14-21 Jesus makes a beautiful proclamation:

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus references Isaiah 61 and proceeds to announce He is the fulfillment of this scripture. This is deeply profound! While Christ came to pay the wages of sin by dying on the cross, Luke 4 suggests His ministry extends beyond mere forgiveness (which in itself is no small gift!):

We are spiritually poor, lacking every merit of our own. We have each rejected God, and rather than worship our Creator we have worshipped ourselves and creation.

Man’s rebellion rightfully deserves punishment, but God is slow to anger and abounding in love. 1 John 4:10 says: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Christ is the good news! He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus died the death we deserve to die. He died that we might have life! This is true love!

When we accept Christ’s gift of forgiveness by faith we inherit the hope of eternal life: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). We stand clothed in the righteousness of Christ and we stand before the throne of God free of accusation and without blame. Isaiah 61:10 speaks of this: “For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of His righteousness.”

Isaiah 61:1 expands the ministry of Christ further: “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” Christ has come to bind up the brokenhearted and set the captives free!

No striving of self will bring about lasting freedom from sin. Freedom is found only in an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. In John 8:31 Jesus says: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus says the truth will set you free. He is the truth! Jesus Himself will set us free as we submit our lives to Him and allow His Spirit to empower us: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). And as John 8:36 says, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!

Christ not only frees us from the power of sin—He also frees us from the effects of sin. He binds up our broken hearts, and He brings restoration and healing: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3-5). As we submit every wound to the truth of the Gospel, our bleeding hearts find healing in the blood of Christ.

Isaiah 61:3 continues: “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” Christ heals and restores for His name’s sake. He is setting aside a people for Himself. This holy people—the redeemed—are to be a display of the Lord’s glory and the very medium by which His glory is spread: “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God” (Isaiah 61:4-6). The children of God are the carriers of the Kingdom. They bind up the brokenhearted and proclaim good news to the poor. They plant seeds of truth and trust Christ to grow His Kingdom: “For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations” (Isaiah 61:11).

The redemptive ministry of Christ ought to humble us. Christ died not only to forgive us, but to free us and heal us! How deep is the love of Christ!