Venting: The Depth of the Cross

Any “so-called” gospel that doesn’t bring the truth about the cross to bear in people’s lives will end in disappointment and disillusionment. The Gospel is basically call to die each day. Anyone who is not dying each day is not living the Gospel.

The Pastor who says “God has a wonderful plan for your life” yet falls into adultery, is one who has not crucified his old life, but is seeking God’s ‘wonderful plan’ for his old life. Such a man, even if he hasn’t yet fallen, will one day.

The church who says, “God wants you to be healthy and wealthy” is preaching faith without obedience. Jesus learned obedience by the things he suffered, and it is this obedience of faith that was the goal of Paul’s gospel in Romans 1 and 16.

The Gospel isn’t a sales pitch. It is to own your unworthiness, and to follow Christ’s trail which begins and ends each day with the laying down of one’s own life, so that Christ can live in them. This is a way to sum up Christianity: Owning your unworthiness, and trusting in God’s love by living like Jesus beginning and ending each day with laying down your own life so that Jesus can live in them.

The school which does not have a vision to see children grow up to give their lives for Jesus is not teaching the gospel. Upstanding moral human beings minus the cross still mean shallow and broken human beings who are the problem with the world.

The person who acts like he’s all together, not living in light of the cross, is living in a dream that will shatter one day. “He who loves his life will lose it.” Jesus said, “But who ever hates his life will keep it forever.” John 12:25

Any declaration that says, “Jesus suffered on the cross so you wouldn’t have to.” is fallacious and hazardously self-oriented. Jesus suffered on the cross to show people who didn’t know how to do it the right way.

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Torah Teachings: In the Wilderness

Matthew 23:34– Jesus said, “I am sending you prophets, wisemen, and scribes. . .” The word “scribes” my friend from Seminary helped me understand as “Torah Teachers.” Why in the New Testament would Jesus send someone to teach the Torah to the Pharisees who knew it backwards and forwards? Because the “LAW” as it is called did more than prescribe behavior, but it describes human nature and God’s responses to Save humanity. This is another dimension of the LAW which Jesus fulfills.

The stories of the Torah reveal the character of God and depravity of Humanity like only one other story does: The life and death of Jesus. So often, the life of Jesus is not taken as seriously, and the message of the cross being foolishness to man becomes a mere piece of  thumb-worn religious jewelry on a pale Christian soul. To revitalize the message of the Gospel, one must return to the roots rich with the nourishing dirt of the Torah, in which the tree of Scripture takes root and sprouts to reveal two truths: God is Savior, and we are rebellious.

One story which brought this home is in Numbers chapters 16 and 17 in English Bibles, but just Numbers 16 in the Hebrew Tanak. Israel has just blown their chance to inherit the promised land, because 10 bad apples spread a bad report that discouraged everyone from believing in God, even though 2 spies, and 2 leaders stood with God. The people were finished. God stood ready to destroy them in Numbers 14, but Moses intercedes, and now the people who refused to trust God will die in the wilderness, and their children will possess the land.

This is not satisfactory for the people. Would it be for you? There is a military coup, where the people try to go up anyway, but God is not with them. They get slaughtered. No surprises here that those with military might would seek to secure their own salvation. This has been human nature since the fall.

Then there is a priestly coup. 250 Levites and Korah, Dathan, and Abiram– sounds like quite a force to be reckoned with. They move to dispose of Moses and Aaron because Moses and Aaron are thought to be the reason why the people are dying in the wilderness and not God, but God defends them, and proves that He is in charge by the earth swallowing up the 3 leaders, and the fire of the LORD consuming the 250 Levites where they stood. Again, no surprises here. The priests do not want to die, they don’t want the people to all fall dead in the wilderness. They refuse to accept God’s judgment, and they rise up and try to take control to preserve themselves. God has condemned them in His wrath “They shall not enter my rest.” Instead of humbly submitting, they revolt. “I don’t want to die!” they cry. Is this not a piece of Human nature we see over and over to this day?

Then, immediately after all the offering pans are picked up from the 250 smoldering corpses, another coup, this time the whole congregation of the people of Israel! Every layperson in Israel rises up against Moses and Aaron and says, “You have caused the LORD’s people to die!” Once again the glory of God appears.

It is fallen human nature to not accept God’s judgment. Whether it be military or privilege, this is easier to see and understand, but is it really everybody? The Torah teaches how utterly depraved all humans are to the end and how God’s glory will continue to fill the earth so long as He lives (Numbers 14:20-21).

It is my view that this utter depravity of Human nature can only be dealt with in a believer’s life after he is saved by the filling of the Holy Spirit. This, I believe, is why Jesus had to go into the Wilderness, so that in the crucible any dross of humanity left beneath the skin through the waters of baptism may be purified from the inside out. God will keep refining us in the Wilderness (Which, by the way, happens to be the Hebrew name for the Book of Numbers: “In the Wilderness.”) We must be taught to accept God’s judgment on sin in our lives, and not see it as making us a victim, but as refining impure gold, which has chosen it’s impurity over the love of the Lord since birth.

How does one know that he is ready to leave the wilderness? When he can do what Moses and Aaron did in all three of these circumstances: they fell on their face. The falling on their face is a vulnerable, death-like stance of submission one takes before God and man: unwilling to try to save oneself– thrown fully on the mercy of another. Moses and Aaron and Joshua and Caleb were the only ones who fell on their face in Numbers 14, and even Moses and Aaron did not get to enter into the promised land. The stance of falling on your face means, you accept God’s judgment of you even if it means he damn you to Hell. This is truly what we deserve. And this is true too: If we do not fall face-down before God (Numbers 14:5) in whole-hearted submission to His judgment, then our corpses will fall in the wilderness. (Numbers 14:29)

How does this work in light of Christ’s death for all sin? Does this negate the work of the cross? Should not the believer see Christ’s death on the cross as God’s justice fulfilled even for the punishment of sin in his life? Certainly all the required wrath has been poured out on Jesus instead of those of us who now have peace with Him, but we need our own cross to deal with the persistent presence of sin in our fallen hearts. God has given us a cross to carry behind Jesus on the road to Calvary to deal with this part of our sin problem, and only those indwelt by the Spirit will carry their cross just as Jesus did, not for their own salvation, but for Christ’s salvation to be borne to others through our constant dying to self. Such is the mystery of faith: Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

I pray that if you find yourself in the wilderness with God, that you treasure this time. He is preparing you as a pure vessel so that His work may be done through you, and He loves you more than I can say.

Answer: The Cross

“By His stripes we are healed.”
There it is again.
I’ve heard that so often, like I’ve heard, “By the atomic bomb Nagasaki was destroyed.”
Let me rearrange it:
We are healed by His stripes.
Let me take care of the pronouns.
We are healed by Jesus’ stripes.
Let me personalize it for this blog.
I am healed by Jesus stripes.

Why? What about Jesus getting beaten senseless is so healing for me? I’m sick. I consider the deepest cause of my sickness is my own self-salvation, my own self-righteousness, my own self-service, or simply, my own “sin.” Is it just a matter of Jesus being beaten for that, that I am healed?

“The stripes that wound scour away evil.” All the brokenness of the world He scoured away in his body. There is something to that, because His resurrection proved that God was coming not just to crucify the world, but resurrect the world. The world will burn. The world will be remade. We will die. We will be changed. Every pain I face isn’t just a reminder that it hasn’t happened yet. It’s a chance to go to the cross and embrace it and say, “I accept your mercy to righteously judge my brokenness and my sinfulness because of your great love, and I lay down my life again, the way Jesus did on the cross, and ask you, that I may take it up again to serve you a little longer.”

The Cross is the door; only the dead can pass through it. That means I can’t save myself, I can’t heal myself, I can’t rule myself, I can’t love myself, or keep my relationships or my family, my church, even my own life for myself. “God you can have me, but you can’t have my family.” You haven’t gotten a hold of it yet. It’s Christmas, the “Family Holiday” it has become more so than Thanksgiving. Everything needs to be nailed to the cross, even family. Right?

So how does this practically apply? I am going to wait patiently for the Lord to completely heal me. Seems simple. People of the “Faith” tradition will say, “Proclaim it!” I do indeed. Just remember God doesn’t listen to the proud. He listens to the humble. 🙂 The humble are those who embrace the cross. It’s perfectly in keeping with God’s plan for the world to work supernatural healing in the world. I kinda want someone to come to my house and teach me a bit more of how this works, but the cross takes care of all sickness. And if there’s a sickness still, then He’s bringing part of the world to the cross, until it’s completely put to death. I guess.

The Cross is the answer. Thoughts?

The Cross and Discipleship

THE CROSS

                At last! Through the muddiness of modern Church teachings, and the simple complexity of everyday life as a human, the Spirit has guided me to a galvanized understanding of perhaps the most fundamental tenet of Christianity. Now I can not only distinguish Christianity from all its counterfeits, but I can package it clearly for other people to understand. This won’t make me wealthy. It will make me poor. It will not make me famous. It will make me a criminal. It won’t make me live large. It will bring me down to the scum at the bottom of stagnant ponds: like Jonah in the belly of the whale. “Salvation comes from the Lord.”

Without further ado I will share this glistening gospel gem with you, dear reader. I don’t think it will take long. Let’s start with Paul’s first letter to Corinth. In response to a report that the church in Corinth was divided, he said, “I’m glad I didn’t baptize any of you, so that you would think that I had saved you.” But he goes on to say,

17 For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power. 18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.” (Isaiah 29:14)

20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. 22 It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. 23 So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

24 But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. [1]

What is this “message of the cross” that invalidates all the wisdom and strength of humanity? It became clear to me when I recently saw a post by a friend of mine on Facebook. A certain elected national leader had a hammer in his hand and was captioned to say, “I don’t like losers.” And in the background you could see Jesus hanging on a cross. This picture, as you may guess, was controversial, but what really struck me was not the controversy of the religious leader’s respectability, but the cloudy misunderstanding surrounding Jesus’ death on the cross. This post by my friend helped me galvanize a scriptural principle that I believe gets to the heart of the message of the cross.

Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.[2]

Here, Jesus points out that the cross will cost the most fundamentally important relationships a human can hold: family. As he ended in this passage, the first principle can be stated The Cross requires everything even something as precious as family. The message of the cross indicates that there is only one doorway to salvation. It is the door Jesus made by hanging on the cross: total surrender and death to one’s old life, to one’s old self out of humble submission to the Righteous Judge.

This part of the teaching is not as offensive. Some people would say, “I have heard this before, and have even implemented this principle in my life.” What I think most people fail to acknowledge is what this level of surrender, death, and submission will actually cost them. The principle I discovered was this.

Jesus’ time on earth shows that there are two kinds of people in this world: those nailing Jesus to the cross, and those who are being nailed right up there with him.

There is no third option. That means you, dear reader, are either one nailing Jesus to the cross as His judge, or the one being nailed right up there with him under God’s righteous judgement.

What? Really? That sounds harsh. Yup. Now I’m going to go through what I believe to be four kinds of people who may read this and find it unacceptable:

  1. You may say, “I am not getting hung on a cross, but there’s no way I would do that to a fellow human being!” No? Imagine a great political leader told you that there was a man who was bewitching the population, and determined that he had to be exterminated. Also imagine that this political power said, if you follow him or are associated with him, you too will be exterminated. Chances are you would not stand up for the guy even if you thought his teachings were alright. In not siding with him though, it is like the bully beating up the kid on the playground while you watch. Your inaction is a choice to act in favor of the bully.
  2. You may say, “I identify with Jesus, so if the time came I would be willing to be crucified with him.” Really? What if that meant leaving your family behind with no one to care for them? What if that meant being villainized and falsely accused of being a socially morally unacceptable thing like a pedophile? Would you still identify with him then? The question is not about “if the time came” The question is about right now. It is foolish and naïve to believe that you would die for Christ, if you do not truly exclusively live for him now. This is the message of the cross. You who identify with Christ, do you share the burden of His sufferings even leading up to the same way He died?
  3. You may say, “God wants me to be happy. Jesus already died on the cross for me so I wouldn’t have to.” You are partially incorrect. God wants you to be happy in eternal things. If your happiness is in anything that money or time on earth can afford you, then you have missed the point. Furthermore, Jesus death on the cross wasn’t to “take your place,” like many churches espouse in their sermons assuring forgiveness for sins, which of course is there. Jesus’ death on the cross was to “make your place.” Persecution, self-denial, suffering wrongfully as a doer of righteousness—these are the inheritance, function, and purpose of the believer in this life. Power, wealth, fame are temporary substitutes for what brings lasting joy. If they are given in any fashion to the believer, they are a means to the ends of Him who “though He was rich, for your sakes became poor.” This is the oneof whom you are becoming a mini-version, by becoming a “little-Christ.” You may say, “If my sins are forgiven why do I still need to get on the cross?” Because Jesus did, and you are not more righteous than He are you?
  4. You may say, “I have enough smarts and heart to know that letting anything like that happen to anybody would be tantamount to unthinkable.” That line of thought is patterning after a character sketch of “a captain of his own ship trying to find his way in the world with his conscience in tact.” What such a man would have to appreciate is that the message of the cross requires the denial of one’s right or ability to be Judge. Even if you judge righteously, you still are the one in need of being judged. Salvation is only to be found in the submission to the Judgment of God, who is not only the True Judge, but He is also a righteous judge. You may not understand or believe in His justice, but if you live in the world long enough you will be faced with a choice to recognize how irreversibly broken the world is. The only doorway to life is through the cross, where everything is submitted to God’s lordship, and whatever is of God will survive.

The reason there is no third option, I can articulate better after talking with my fiancé about it. She heard my bolded principle above, and shared, “Or perhaps the third option is, you are both.” That is indeed what I am saying. Every one of us have been a crucifier of Jesus. You are either the one Crucifying Christ, or the Crucifier of Christ who has surrendered to the death you are worthy of. And this is no cheapening the value of one’s life to ending it frivolously wrongfully like in suicide. This is the re-valuing someone’s life as in itself being worth nothing, but in right humble standing before God worth giving up for salvation of ourselves and others.

A Story, I hope will illustrate this principle better. A soldier had been nailing criminals to the cross his entire career, until one day He had to crucify a righteous man. The man looked and saw that the righteous man did not deserve to die, but saw that he himself deserved it. He cast aside his armor, and ordered his men to nail him to the cross right next to the man. All who passed by mocked him, but some of his men wondered: what solidarity could a man claim with a righteous man wrongfully condemned to death?

It is this solidarity with Christ that the cross represents. Jesus bore the sins of the whole world on that cross. We carry around in our body the dying of Jesus, just as Paul wrote about his apostleship:

For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.[3]

The message of the cross is offensive: You’re either embracing Jesus’ death yourself, or you’re the one swinging the hammer.

DISCIPLESHIP

Allow me then to share this pattern for discipleship, based upon the life of Jesus which leads to this proper understanding and manifestation of the cross in a person’s life.

SCRIPTURE: First there is a catechesis stage, where the student (disciple) is familiarized with the basic teachings of the Gospel in the Old and New Testament. This is the stage for listening, asking questions and increasing in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man.

CONVERSION: Second, there is a baptism wherein the Spiritual journey begins with the Lord sending His spirit upon and into an individual. This is the point I would call Conversion.

SPIRITUAL POWER: Third, there is a time for the Holy Spirit’s leading to temper all fleshly, proud, and sinful passions in the heart and body. This is where the disciple learns how to pray, how to hear His voice, to face his own sin, and to grow in Spiritual strength and power and prepares the disciple for the end purpose of his life: The cross.

COMMUNITY: Fourth, there is the accountability to a local church body, in which after these things have occurred, the disciple reveals to them what God had shown him to be true, and what is that mission into which he will be walking. This is where the disciple learns his proper place in the Church as a part of a body of believers, and applies the giftings and power of the Holy Spirit.

SERVICE: Fifth, this disciple will begin implementing the mission and investment of the Holy Spirit in him to serve the body of Christ, and the world and the poor in the community around him.

WARFARE: Sixth, is the standing up for the poor by going against those who abuse them. This is where the social activism will doubtlessly make enemies in the established religion and the government.

PERSECUTION: Seventh, is the point when the disciple fully comes to display Christ: The Cross. When the Believer is not able to dissuaded from his aggressively loving opposition of the enemies of freedom and peace, there will be no choice but to kill him. This is the end of a disciple’s walk here on this earth. While it does not always end in death at the hands of enemies, “He who endures to the end shall be saved.” “And this is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith.”

The result: He who has walked all seven of these stages is a Christ-ian indeed, because he has denied himself, taken up his cross, and done as Jesus did. And unless you are walking according to this principle, and the cross is where you are headed, then you are simply striking the hammer deeper into the flesh of the son of God, who loves you and gives himself for you still today, along with all who bear His name.

For those carrying the cross now, one parting word of encouragement from Peter.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

[1] 1 Co 1:17–25. NLT

[2] NASB Mt 10:34–39.

[3] 1 Co 4:9–16.

[4] 1 Pe 4:12–14.

The Disciple and the Tree

In response to those in the church who say the primary purpose of any disciple is to make more disciples, I have this to say:

Jesus called the church to make disciples.
Jesus did not call the church to make disciplers.

Being a discipler is totally part of being a disciple,
But there is more to a tree than the seed which bears it;
Or the seed in the fruit on the branch which stretches out
With the leaves that take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen
Shading the bark shielding the hart and the sap drawn up from the ground
Through the roots which stand the tree upright toward the heavens.

In the same way there is more to a disciple than the new convert;
Or drawing people to the gospel by the love of Christ
Which comes from humble submission to God in working as He does
Offering strength and rest to those in need, preserving the value of life in truth
Being grounded in a world from which we are inseparable, being dust
Standing upright before God for the good of all men.

There is more to being a disciple than being a discipler
Just as there is more to being a tree than a bearer of seeds.

The church must remember the tree out of which is made the cross they are called to carry.
The church must remember what it means to be fully human.
Only then will she ever properly represent the fully human Jesus Christ.

Who is the Second Adam.

The Gospel of the Cross

Reflections on Theology of the Cross by Gerharde O. Forde

The Cross means I must die
The Resurrection means I will live again by God’s kindness if I have faith.
The world is either heading toward the cross
Or it has already been crucified
All who are found to be on the side going toward the cross
Will not be resurrected
But all who embrace the cross
Will be resurrected
He who seeks to save his life by ignoring the cross
Will lose his life
But who loses his life for Jesus sake by dying to self
Will find that his life is saved

Why? Because our sinfulness, our pride, insubordination, and rebellion must die.
We must die since our sin means destruction of ourselves and all that is good.
But God made a doorway for the life He wanted to save.
Only those who die in submission and subordination to God will live.
God will make a new creation, but He won’t resurrect the old creation.

If you wish to be saved
Identify yourself as a rebel, a sinner, unworthy of God’s kindness
Lose your life of serving yourself
When you ignored the message of the cross: That you cannot save yourself
Like the child who knows he has done wrong, confesses and accepts punishment
Who thus shows his humility of heart to his parent’s jurisdiction
So submit your life to God, which to the detriment of all, falls short of holiness
And the God who is good, welcomes you to be resurrected into His New Creation

This is the Offensive Gospel.
This is the Narrow Gate.
Narrow as the beams of the cross itself.