Category Archives: Jesus

Sacrifice, Suffering and Something Worth Living For

Jesus’s sacrifice insures our salvation. That sacrifice started in the Garden of Gethsemane and ended on the cross. It culminated in the Resurrection where God validated and accepted the sacrificial payment by raising Jesus from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit on that first Easter morning.

The sacrificial experience of Jesus was comprehensive as it touched him physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We are very aware of the physical aspects regarding the scourging and the crucifixion. He was physically beaten beyond recognition—“marred” is the word Scripture uses. He was abused so that we might be redeemed from our sins, healed of our diseases, and delivered from our torment. That physical suffering began in the garden and ended as he gave up his spirit and died.

In my last blog I detailed the mental suffering Jesus endured. The stress and pressure was so great that his sweat was mixed with blood. The capillaries in the sweat glands of his forehead burst. The awfulness of the cup he would drink was mentally overwhelming.

But sometimes we forget his emotional suffering. Rejection, abandonment and betrayal are three of the deepest—most damaging wounds that can be inflicted on the human heart and soul. These triple torments cut far deeper and bruise even the human spirit. One of his intimate friends—one of the twelve, Judas, sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave. Then he betrayed him with a kiss—the symbol of love and relationship.

As Jesus was arrested and seized, the other eleven disciples fled and abandoned Him. Their past bravado did not match their present need to survive. Most ran away and hid—fearing their own impending death. A couple—Peter and John followed at a distance, hiding in the shadows and hoping they would not be recognized.

Later, the crowd that had hailed Jesus as king on Palm Sunday shouted for his crucifixion on Friday. Christ was rejected by religious leaders and the common people, and his own disciples abandoned him in the moment of his greatest vulnerability. Jesus suffered alone—there was no one who made the journey with him through this hellish experience.

Jesus also suffered spiritually. Many have attempted to describe this, but how can a finite one describe what is infinite in its scope? We can’t really grasp his spiritual suffering because we can’t pull back the veil much less understand how the Holy One could become our sin. The Bible is very clear—Jesus not only suffered for our sin, he became our sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.

During this mysterious span of time, the earth became dark and the Son of God experienced what being forsaken by the Father is all about. I can’t explain this because I can’t even grasp it. I can’t conceive it in my mind. But, Jesus experienced hell so that we would not have to. He experienced being cut off from the presence of God and that spiritual suffering was beyond our capacity to understand. Each time I read the words of Jesus, just prior to his death, in Mark 15:34—“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani? (which translated means “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?)—my soul cringes. It clutches something deep inside my spirit and forces me to contemplate the depth of how much the Son of God loved me and his willingness to endure this depth of spiritual suffering so I might experience that love. I can’t grasp its full meaning but I hunger for that kind of love.

Jesus suffered so that we might be spared an eternity of suffering. He died so that we might live. Therefore we should live in a state of constant celebration. We should stand up for our faith. We should be tenacious if we really believe what we say we believe. Jesus was willing to die for his beliefs! Are you willing to live for yours?

Victory in the Garden of Gethsemane

The Garden of Gethsemane was the scene of one of the most magnificent, yet mysterious moments in the passion of the Christ. Passion comes from the Greek word paschein meaning suffering— i.e. the suffering of Christ. Most of that suffering occurred during the last eighteen hours of his life.

Gethsemane was located in an olive grove just across the Kidron Valley on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. Gethsemane means “olive press.” This olive press located among the olive trees across from the Temple and the Golden Gate was the place Jesus chose to spend each night during the final week of his life according to Luke 21:37. This was a safe, quiet place out of the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem, but within minutes of the Temple. Here he would rest, talk with his disciples, and pray.

This was the place Jesus chose to go on the night before he would be crucified. This was also the location of a cosmic battle few of us understand. Here Jesus won the battle in prayer that would be played out a few hours later as he was scourged and crucified. Great battles and contests are often won in the mind before they are experienced on the field. There on a stone in an olive grove Jesus went to war in prayer to prepare his mind and soul for what lay ahead.

Most of what took place is a mystery to us. We can’t fathom his grief, his pain, or the extreme pressure that was unleashed on the mind Jesus by the forces of darkness as he prayed. This was the most extreme form of spiritual warfare ever fought. The enemy of our soul always attacks the mind. One of the basic axioms of warfare is: Control your opponent’s mind and you control your opponent. That was, is, and will always be the devil’s modus operandi in every testing and temptation. It works most of the time, so why change?

Jesus responded to this attack in prayer. He did not argue or even mention the enemy. He endured the crushing weight of the accusations, the condemnations, the taunts, and the haunting questions. He fought through the images, the sounds, the smells, and the feelings his impending date with crucifixion would bring as the forces of evil launched an all-out assault on his mind. Jesus told Peter, James, and John that “his soul is deeply grieved to the point of death” (Mark 14:34). Luke tells us Jesus was in so much agony that the capillaries in the sweat glands of this forehead burst and “his sweat became like drops of blood falling down on the ground” (Luke 22:44).

For many the picture is of Jesus kneeling in the moonlight with his hands clenched under his chin praying, but that is an inaccurate image that Scripture does not paint. Prayer was most often done from a standing position, but a careful reading of the Gospel texts imply that during this ordeal Jesus fell down numerous times and then after regaining his feet he would fall again under the pressure of the battle. What Luke describes with the word “agony” is a hand-to-hand wrestling match with an unseen foe whose only goal was to force or convince Jesus to stop short—to quit without accomplishing the Father’s will.

As Jesus prays, “Father, if Thou are willing, remove this cup from Me, yet not My will but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42), we are not witnessing a struggle between a reluctant will and an obedient will. Rather what we witness is Jesus declaring that the cup from which he is to drink is so revolting—so horrible, yet only because he knows it is the Father’s will he is therefore willing to drink it. Jesus is not asking God to change his will. No! He is asserting that because this is the Father’s will he wants it to be fully done!

Gethsemane is a watershed event. Yet for most of us the only sermons we’ve ever heard centered on a weak group of disciples who went to sleep and failed to pray. We’ve majored on the three times Jesus confronted his sleeping companions. We used it to bring guilt and condemnation on those who don’t pray long or hard enough. Gethsemane is not about apathetic, weak, or prayerless disciples. Gethsemane is about the agony of a Savior as he wars in the heavenlies to destroy the works of the devil and redeem humanity from their sin.

Be careful not to miss the short phrase found at the beginning of Luke 22:45—“And when He (Jesus) rose from prayer. . . .” Those six words alert us to a defining moment in the battle. When the struggle is over—when the hand-to-hand combat is finished, the victor is the only one who rises to his feet. Jesus has stopped praying—prayer time is finished. Why? Because his prayer has been answered—he has won the victory, so he stands up. The vanquished cannot regain his feet because his head has been crushed. The standing position is considered a sign of strength and Jesus is the last one standing!

Gethsemane is not about the failure of the disciples—none of them could secure our salvation anyway. No the focus of Gethsemane is about a powerful Savior who stands victorious!

Crisis: Religion or Relationship (Part 1)

 

broken_rope2

Crisis (Part 1)

Fasting is tough. I am eighteen days into a 40 day fast from religion, as are many of the members of Eagle’s Wing Church where I pastor. We are driven by a desperate hunger and a passionate desire to experience a genuine relationship with God. Our desire is to know God rather than the facts or things that point us to God. We want to personally experience God and his love rather than live off the past experiences others.

Perhaps you’re wondering—why a fast from religion? Isn’t religion a good thing? Isn’t religion all about God?

Let me define religion. Religion is a system that must be practiced so that perfection can be reached. On the other hand, relationship is a heart-to-heart connection with a real person. You can’t have a relationship with a system. Relationship requires two people (not a person working a system). Jesus came to pay the price of sin so he might restore our ability to walk in communion with God—to have a personal relationship with him. Relationship is pursued,  while religion is practiced. And in this case practice will never make us perfect.

Our hearts yearn for relationship. We are born with a hunger to be loved and to give love in return. God created us that way. And he created a deep craving within all of us that can only be satisfied by a genuine relationship with him. God is relational. It is a part of his nature. Relationship starts in the heart of God.

Humanity created religion because we like systems where we can achieve things on our own. For some reason, we want to do it our way, rather than God’s way. Religion demands a pseudo perfection that is somehow achieved through rigorous practice and good works. The problem with that is we can’t rise to the measure of perfection God requires. Otherwise the death of Christ on the cross was a tragic waste.

The modern Christian church is in crisis. Most preach salvation by grace but then we turn around and try our hardest to achieve God’s favor, love, and blessings through works and activities. That’s religion, not relationship. Most believers attempt to connect with God through religion—through the system. But the only way we can make this heart-to-heart connection is through relationship.

For the next several weeks I want to share the subtle deception of religion and the satisfying depth of relationship through this blog. I encourage you to join us in a forty day fast from religion. If you will commit—God will bless you and set you free from religion’s crushing coils.

How do you start? Simply ask the Holy Spirit to show you anything in your spiritual life that is smacks or smells of religion. That may be a belief, a doctrine, a cherished idea or practice. It could be anything. As the Holy Spirit exposes those hidden things, confess them and move on. Invite the Holy Spirit to examine all your beliefs, doctrines, practices, and way of thinking. Don’t be afraid to invite him in to those things—he should be at home in all of them or that belief is not from God. That’s it!

You may be thinking there’s got to be more to it than this. What are the rules? If you need more rules than I’ve shared, you can start right there with that thought—it’s riddled with religion!

The Burn Pile

photo (2)

I have a huge pile of brush ready to burn. In the Deep South we call it a brush heap, a brush pile, or a burn pile. Over the last few weeks, I have been working my way around a hay field trimming the bushes and the low hanging limbs that have been slowly encroaching on this property for several years. I’ve been cutting pine and sweet gum limbs, as well as privet bushes and piling them up to burn.

All of us should have a pile or brush heap we are working on—metaphorically speaking. Or at least we all need one because we all have junk in our lives—clutter that cries to be dumped, picked up or burned. Clutter smothers us and chokes out the life God has given us to be enjoyed. But God has given you and I the responsibility for trimming the excess, pulling the weeds, and cutting the bushes that encroach and smother our lives. We all need a burn pile, a place we can deposit all those things that have no place in our life.

Some of the materials in my burn pile are the pruning from my azaleas. These are ornamental bushes that produce beautiful flowers in the summer. But, if I don’t prune them each year they get out of hand and take over. Their beauty, if left untrimmed, can become a nuisance and an obstacle in my driveway. Likewise, there are many good things in our lives that, if given complete freedom with little or no maintenance, can get out of hand. They need a pruning every once in a while to bring them back under our control. Even a good thing, if allowed to run wild, can become a bad thing.

Much of my burn pile is composed of privet bushes. Privet bushes seem to spring up when land is not carefully maintained. The birds eat the berries, then roost in the tree limbs on the edge of the field and their droppings spread the privet bushes. These tiny seeds turn into tiny plants that are easily pulled up if you catch them early. But, if you ignore them, they produce a root system on which tiny bushes soon become large trees intertwined with one another. They grow quickly and once they get started they are hard to get rid of. These privet bushes are like the unhealthy clutter we often allow to take root in our lives. We have to be diligent in uprooting the junk because it can become a major job once it becomes a habit or an addiction.

I have promised myself that once I get this field trimmed that I will not wait another ten years to do it again. Instead, I plan to do yearly maintenance to keep the growth and the junk in check. Every person needs a check list they apply to their life on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. Questions need to be asked and answered carefully. And all the junk and clutter needs to be uprooted or trimmed and the trash placed on the burn pile. Once it gets large enough—light it up and watch it burn.

One of the benefits to having a burn pile is you can always celebrate once you light it up. I plan on having a wiener roast and a couple of mouth-watering Smores on the hot coals of those pesky privet bushes once they’re gone.

The Gift

cd7478-christmas-gift-christmas-card

Sitting up wide-eyed under the weight of a cotton quilt, a tussle-haired child hurriedly wipes the sleep from her eyes, drops from the bed to the cold floor and begins to navigate her way carefully and quietly down the dark hallway and into the den. Peering cautiously through the doorway, her eyes adjust to the dancing lights stationed like sentries on the small green tree in the corner. Darkness retreats with the onrushing charge of daybreak. Her searching eyes focus, like a lion about to pounce, on the prize that sits partially hidden under the evergreen boughs. A small box with a huge white bow wrapped in layers of bright red and green foil paper silently awaits her searching fingers and excited eyes. The gift she has anxiously awaited all year is finally hers to open. It’s Christmas morning!

Sitting in the darkness on the steep hillside watching their sheep, a solitary band of shepherds stare in utter amazement as the angels begin leaping across the skies like Roman candles in a holiday firework display. A fragile young wife and her frightened young husband welcome a child that refuses to wait any longer for his birth. Amid the stench of the cattle and the labor pains, the Fragrance of God makes his entrance into his creation and is gently placed in a stone feeding trough in a small, out-of-the-way town called the House of Baked Bread. No throngs or multitudes of family or well-wishers await the announcement of his birth outside this rather unusual delivery room. The Father of all good gifts has finally delivered the gift humanity has anxiously awaited throughout the centuries. It’s Christmas morning!

Kneeling beside a sick and broken addict, a young man shares a powerful story with compassion and purpose. For the first time in many years this shackled creature begins to consider what freedom is really like. Not freedom to do what he wants, but freedom to be what he was created to be. Calmly and carefully the young man shares a Scripture here and an experience there. The Holy Spirit hovers unseen, like a mother hen with her biddies, bringing forth eternal life. Through the sobs of hopelessness a confession is offered and a cry of faith is answered. A new creation is born. The gift received is new life conceived through Jesus Christ. It’s Christmas morning!

Christmas is more than a day we celebrate; Christmas is the gift we have been given. Immanuel—God with us—has given us the gift of abundant, eternal life in him. Share the gift with someone and watch God unwrap the real gift of Christmas morning.

The Parable of Redemption’s Price

images

The light was blinding as the captives were led shackled with leg and wrist irons out from the dim, gloomy cells and into the street. Freedom and redemption were the last things on their minds. Naked, dirty, and beaten, the herd of broken humanity—prisoners of war—was pushed and prodded along the narrow streets by an unrelenting squad of soldiers to the center of town and into the market where the great auction would take place.

Cursing crowds of faceless torturers greeted the prisoners at every turn. The leg irons made walking almost impossible and so they trudged slowly through the abuse hurled at them by the cruel mob. Bloodied from the constant barrage of fists that greeted them each time they raised their heads, the prisoners finally arrived at the raised area in the center of the market. A huge crowd, with vengeance on its mind, cheered as the pitiful group of captives made its way slowly up the ramp onto the black block. This was the slave block from which each one would be sold as a slave to the highest bidder.

Men, women, boys, and girls, once proud and free, faced their tormenters defeated, broken, and without hope. Some wept silently, while others simply looked out at the merciless crowd with hollow, lifeless stares. Here on the slave stage the reality of despair became their hope for the future in the great drama they seemed destined to play out.

The dealer, a large dark individual with a loud blasphemous voice, began to call out the bid prices, and the sale began with a vengeance. Bidding was fast and furious. Strength and beauty, once considered valuable assets, made little difference to the buyers. Families were divided. Mothers silently died on the inside as their children were sold to monsters. Husbands wretched in agony as they watched their precious wives purchased by perverts. There in the market, life without hope became death without end, as each of the prisoners was auctioned to the highest bidder.

All at once, the crowd parted as a solitary figure walked to the front of the auction and stood before the slave dealer. An uneasy silence fell over the venomous crowd. The great prince offered to purchase the whole lot for a single price. With glee beyond belief, the dealer pondered what price the prince would be willing to offer for such a pitiful mass of humanity as this. Prostitutes, thieves, blasphemers, liars, drunkards, and adulterers made up this lot on the block and their value was minimal, the dealer thought, but the prince was, after all, rich beyond belief. And so with an insatiable, heinous greed in his heart, the dealer named his price.

Silence fell across the crowd. Without a word, the great prince stepped up on the block, took off his regal robes, and gently touched each prisoner with his healing hands of liberation. The chains began to fall away and the prisoners began to leap off the slave block. Families were reunited, and hope began to bloom as the little group made its way out of the dark city and up toward the great mountain, which lay to the east.

Along the road, the tiny troop heard a great hellish shout of joy go up from the city. One of the newly freed prisoners stopped timidly and looked back. The awful sight he witnessed would forever change him. As he stared, he beheld a solitary figure naked, beaten, bruised, and bloodied, hanging the air, with his arms stretched out and feet pressed together, pierced with jagged pieces of iron, as the merchants of death and the grave bid for his body.

I am the one who looked back and I tell you the truth of what I saw that day. Suspended between heaven and earth, planted above the slave block was the price of my redemption…the Great Prince Himself.

He gave His life to redeem us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us His very own people, totally committed to what is right.” Titus 2:14

Overwhelmed by God

Have you ever had a moment when you were completely overwhelmed by God? What happened? How did your spirit, soul, or body react to his touch?

Perhaps you wept…laughed…collapsed…rejoiced…shouted…were totally confounded…or just went silent.  All of us are different and all of us respond somewhat differently to God’s touch. But one thing is for certain, when God touches a person, that person knows they’ve been touched.

Yesterday, as we were ministering to people who came forward for prayer, I saw the touch of God on a shy, blond-headed little girl. The fact that she came forward and waited patiently for her moment of ministry in front of almost a hundred people amazed me.

In fact, when I turned to assist her, I was struck by the matter-of-fact manner in which she stepped forward. No hesitation. No fear. It was as though God himself was escorting her toward her heart’s desire and she would not be denied. This little girl was waiting patiently in line to be hugged and prayed for by a ninety-nine year old lady who had just spoken for about ninety minutes. She carried her burden quietly but confidently, as if she knew somehow she would not return to her seat with it.

Her voice was so soft that the praise and worship music seemed to drown her words out. Ms. Ruby motioned for me and told me she could not hear what the child was saying. So I leaned in and asked her what her need was. She replied very calmly, “My Papa died!” A knot welled up in my gut, and tears flooded my eyes, but I relayed the message to Ruby, who took this precious baby in her arms, hugged her like there was no tomorrow, and began to quietly pray with here. Two people, one ninety-nine and the other seven or eight took a load far too heavy to bear into the very throne room of God and I was an overwhelmed witness of the power of God.

I was transfixed and undone—knowing I was standing in a holy place where all the presence and power of God was being brought to bear on an unbearable burden that was crushing a child. I was afraid to move—it was such a holy moment. I stood still and gazed at the wonder of God’s love at work.

I watched as God embraced this tiny girl because she was his most important treasure in the world at that precise moment. Her burden became his burden as he lifted it off her petite shoulders. Ruby’s arms became God’s arms as he drew her close to his heart. Ruby disappeared, and in her place stood the King of kings and the Lord of lords—the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

I couldn’t think. Or say anything. Or do anything. I was confounded and confronted with the gentleness of omnipotence. I was overwhelmed by God, touched by his power, yet torn apart by the tenderness of that touch.

That same touch carved out the Grand Canyon, dug out the depths of the oceans, and tossed the mountains into place. This touch, that flung the stars throughout the universe and gouged out the pathways of the rivers, had just wiped the tiniest of tears of the cheek of a little girl. His touch had reached deep into her chest and lightened the heavy load crushing her broken heart.

And…I was overwhelmed by God. Overwhelmed…because I know that I know he loves you and me in the exact same manner. He is omnipotence willing to touch frailty and give power to the powerless. He is unbounding grace willing to caress the powerless, the vulnerable, the helpless and the impotent. He is infinite love swallowing up the unlovable and the unwanted.

Oh God, I am overwhelmed by your presence! May I reside here forever more?