Tag Archives: Cross

A Volkswagen Beetle and the Bible

In the midst of all the chaos, violence, partisanship, selfishness and crude cruelty in our society God has repeatedly put a verse in my mind. But I struggled with how to apply it – until now. This week God placed an innocuous experience from my life alongside the verse.

It occurred 49 years ago. Barb and I were on our honeymoon, headed from Michigan to Washington D.C. Our car was a Volkswagen Beetle. We had, of course, waxed the car so it would be a clean, bright shiny blue for the special occasion. What a great idea!

Then we placed a car top carrier on the roof to hold our luggage. Another great idea! But two great ideas don’t necessarily equate to a good idea. On the road to D.C. we discovered the carrier was slowly sliding backwards down the sloped roof and was about to slide down over the back window and slide completely off! Our solution?

We stopped and bought some clothesline and anchored the carrier by tying it to the front and back bumpers. While we drew a lot of funny glances along the way, it worked. The carrier held its place because it was firmly fixed, tied to a firm foundation.

This incident pointed to a valuable truth. To be firm, to be secure, to stay grounded in place one must be tied to a sure foundation. I now see why God keeps putting this verse before me. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11) God has been waiting for me to catch His mind and Spirit.

On one level, I truly believe that much of the chaos, violence, partisanship, selfishness and crude cruelty in our society would dissipate if more people would build their lives on a firm foundation. Then their actions would at least arise out of something solid and be consistent with their beliefs. We would still have disagreements but the selfish, knee-jerk, follow the crowd, listen to the media mentality would greatly lessen.

But for now I focus on another level. Those of us who believe in and serve Jesus Christ must be sure He – and He alone – is our foundation.

All of our decisions, actions, words and attitudes must flow from Him. Think, act, and speak like Jesus. As I observe life in the Body of Christ it too often saddens me – we react like those with no foundation. Our own thoughts, feelings, emotions, prejudices, likes and dislikes control what we say and how we say it. We, too, fall into the selfish, knee-jerk, follow the crowd, listen to the media mentality. Churches and denominations are torn apart. If we can’t do any better than this, how can we judge ‘all those other people’ out there?

Personally, I know Jesus is the foundation of my life. But I’ve had to admit that there have been times in the midst of our chaotic times that I have untied the ropes and slid backwards. My own thoughts, feelings, emotions, prejudices, likes and dislikes controlled what I said and how I said it. I’m grateful God was persistent and wouldn’t let me get away from this verse. I’ve asked Him to tie the ropes again and hold me to Him. It won’t solve all the issues or overcome all the problems – or even heal all the divisions. But if Christians get back to their foundation it will ratchet down the rhetoric, lessen the emotion, and place Jesus front and center. Then He becomes the focus for all around us. And He can do the solving and healing. Yes – there will be many who don’t want Jesus brought into it. But once He’s front and center, shining brightly through us, they can’t ignore Him. It may not always be easy, but we have a precious promise. The Apostle Paul said it well: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9 — Underlining mine)

What a difference that will make – for me, for you and for all around us.

The Place of Honor

I was intrigued, although not surprised by a news item coming from the Olympics. One of our American athletes was upset that he did not get selected to carry the American flag during the opening ceremonies. He was upset with the selection process. Perhaps he should have been selected. Perhaps the selection process is flawed. I have no way of knowing these things. But I do understand the emotion that prompted his public comments and that is why I was not surprised.

We like to think the Olympics are a time for athletes to represent and honor their countries. But the reality is that for most athletes it’s a time to win and be honored. I’m not saying that’s bad or wrong. Rather my issue is that we all too easily equate honor with winning, with being selected to hold the flag. Honor is equated with being the top dog, the most popular, or the most respected. Honor goes to the one who hangs out with or is seated by people of influence. I understand because I’ve too often been there and believed that.

But is that what honor is all about? Jesus had a different perspective. He, in fact, talked about the banquet table and the seat of honor.

“When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table! “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward.” (Luke 14:7-12 New Living Translation)

To the Scribes and Pharisees, who deemed themselves men of honor, Jesus said, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”(Matthew 23:11-12) Jesus taught his friends and followers the same thing.

“Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,”Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:20-28)

Not quite the same perspective, is it? The great news is that for Jesus it was not just a perspective. It was also His lifestyle.

As Paul later recorded:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very natureGod,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
(Philippians 2:3-11)

I’m not sure if Jesus’ view of honor would fit in the Olympics. But I wonder – what if we really lived for the true place of honor? What difference would it make? How would our world be different? Are you ready to take the place of honor?

Olympic Rings: https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/13284311374/

Those Never-ending Weeds

Every year it’s the same routine. In the spring my wife and I get busy digging up the weeds – roots and all. We even make sure there’s adequate mulch to help choke out future weeds. After many hours and the accompanying aches and pains, we rejoice in looking at mostly weed-free gardens, trees and shrubs. It’s a scene of beauty and a sense of accomplishment.

But the positive emotions are guarded and restrained – because we know what’s coming. We’ll wake up some future morning and see more weeds – seemingly popping up out of nowhere overnight. Then, after grumbling for days – and sometimes weeks – about how quickly weeds appear and grow and how slowly trees, plants and shrubs grow, and about how no matter what we do we can never completely eliminate the weeds, we get back to digging up the weeds.

It’s amazing – no garden or lawn is exempt. Over the years we’ve learned that wherever there is dirt, there will be weeds. And as I was digging up weeds again this past week it hit me – the reoccurring weeds are a parable of my life. Unwanted weeds keep popping up not only in the dirt, but also in my life. The weeds are the unwanted habits, thoughts and tendencies – the sins – that I try so hard to root out of my life only to have them reoccur on their own schedule. This, too, leads me to grumble about why I can’t keep these weeds down and eliminate them completely.

That’s why I’m so grateful for the apostle Paul. Addressing the Roman Church centuries ago, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote about these weeds: “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.” (Romans 7:18-21 NLT) Every time I read those words I wonder if Paul has read my diary! And none of us is exempt.

It would be easy to give up and be miserable. As Paul laments “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:24) But he continues: “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:26)

I am still frustrated that these sinful weeds keep reoccurring but my guilt is relieved. Jesus has taken care of the power of the weeds. They will always be short-lived. And He supplies me with the only weed killer I need: “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you…And Christ lives within you …the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.” (Romans 8:8-11)

I’ll never look at weeds the same again. Oh, I’ll still grumble and complain about them. But I will also thank God who through Jesus has given me all I need to fight the weeds in my life.

The Truth From Calvin Revisited

Okay all you good Calvinists! Now that I have your attention…This is not about John Calvin – nor Calvin College. It’s about Calvin, as in “Calvin and Hobbes”. I enjoy and appreciate this great comic strip – not only for its humor but also for its wisdom and observations of life. One of my favorites is truly profound. Calvin’s mother says, ‘C’mon, Calvin. We’re going to the store.’ Calvin asks, ‘Can Hobbes come?’ ‘No, just leave him here’, mother replies. Shouts Calvin, ‘BUT I WANT HIM TO COME WITH US!’ As Calvin and Hobbes walk out the door together Hobbes observes, ‘If you can’t win by reason, go for volume.’

“Go for volume.”

Is this not a slogan and philosophy for many today? I wrote the original version of this blog 10 years ago – I suggested it was an appropriate theme for that time in history. Little did I know or could I comprehend how much more fitting it would be 10 years later.

There are so many loud voices today. It appears to me that many of the loudest voices (culturally, politically, religiously) are those of persons who are less concerned with the logic, reasonableness or truth of what they say than with the volume with which they say it. So they say it loud. The skill of and desire for true debate is rare. People seldom truly debate with each other anymore – they shout at each other instead. This past summer we witnessed this degradation in the so called political debates. I say ‘so called’ because they bore little resemblance to formal debates. I can only imagine what high school and college debate coaches must have thought. Certainly what they heard played out in these shouting matches bore little resemblance to what they taught and coached. Logic, reasonableness and truth gave way to volume, personal attack, and quotable tag lines. It should not surprise us that society at large has followed the lead. Perhaps Calvin was right – ‘If you can’t win by reason, go for volume.’

What a contrast to Jesus who was “oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

Since He had, and indeed was truth, Jesus didn’t need to shout. (Read the Gospel of John where ‘truth’ is mentioned at least 50 times!) And without shouting He proved to be the truth that has set us free! If we know this truth, there’s no need to worry about volume! Just speak and live the truth – and that truth will speak for itself.

(Jesus carrying cross from: &copy; Gracel21 | Dreamstime.com – <a href=”https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-jesus-carries-cross-christ-carrying-up-calvary-image39086448#res13162905″>Jesus carries cross</a>)

Ever Failed a Test?

We all have memories of certain tests we have taken. I still remember the only test I failed outright. It was in 7th grade English. We were diagramming sentences (I’m not sure this is even done anymore – although it should be!). On a straight horizontal line we would put, first, the subject of the sentence, then a perpendicular line, then the verb, and then either a slanted line followed by a predicate nominative or a perpendicular line followed by a direct object. Well – I got the straight and slanted and lines at the end reversed. So every sentence was wrong – even thought I really knew the answers! So I got a big, red “F”.

There have been many tests since then, tests that have been far more important. That’s why I frequently turn to Abraham who once had a faith test – and it wasn’t for a grade, it was simply pass or fail. His test began when “Some time later (after these things) God tested Abraham…Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Gen. 22:1-3)

God tests us. This whole scene is a test. But notice when the test occurred – “after these things.” After Abraham had, at the command of God, left his native home and headed towards an unknown land; after God had promised him a son, an heir, so he could be the father of many nations; after Abraham had rescued Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah; after Abraham had waited many, many years and in his old age had a child by his servant; after God rejected that child as his heir; after God had finally blessed Abraham with a son by his aged wife, a son named Isaac. After all these things God tightened the screws even tighter on Abraham. He tested him. All his previous trials and tests had merely been preparation for this mother of all tests.

A good teacher never tests us on things she has not taught us but only on those for which she has prepared us. So it is with God; whatever the test, remember that God never tests us without first preparing us for the test. How is God currently testing you? Where in your life is He tightening the screws? Don’t panic – you are ready for it. God has prepared you.

Notice that Abraham passed the test because he was obedient. Obedience is always the primary issue for God. And we cannot obey partially – with obedience, it’s all or nothing. Obedience is total, not partial. The key is to understand why was Abraham so obedient. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together”. (Genesis 22:7-8) Abraham was obedient because he trusted God. He had high expectations of God because of God’s past performances in his life. (What, by the way, are your expectations of God? How long has it been since you considered his past performances in your life?) Abraham knew that God had never failed to deliver on a promise; he was willing to trust in God’s continued faithfulness. Abraham knew in his heart of hearts that God would not lie. Abraham did not need to understand, but only to obey and leave the details to God.

Remember that God’s goal, the purpose of his tests, is to lead us to trust Him fully and therefore be willing to walk forward even in the darkness when we cannot see our way. As the author of Hebrews put it, “Faith is… being certain of what we do not see.” (12:1) Jack Hayford wrote: “People who have to see the sunrise to be sure another day is coming are people who will live in the fear of the dark forever. But people who know that God has ordered the course of this world – and that the sun is going to come up – don’t worry about the darkness of the night. They are secure in the confidence that another day will dawn.”

And sure enough, God was faithful – He provided a lamb. Abraham did not have to sacrifice Isaac. A lamb in a thicket was God’s designated replacement. It’s not so much that Abraham was faithful as that God was faithful. God had tested Abraham, but Abraham had tested God – and both passed! Yet it gets more interesting. Many scholars claim that Moriah, where this all took place, was eventually a place called Calvary – where God also provided a Lamb.

God had another, more permanent designated replacement. And whether or not Moriah is Calvary, the other Lamb, Jesus Christ, was sacrificed. We do not have to sacrifice anything to receive God’s provision. The Bible proclaims, “Since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32 NLT)

So Abraham did not have to sacrifice Isaac; but he needed to release him. We do not have to sacrifice anything to receive God’s provision, but we need do release everything to Him. But notice that Abraham was in Moriah when God provided the lamb. GOD PROVIDED THE LAMB IN THE PLACE OF OBEDIENCE! When God commands us to slay our Isaac, He is really asking a question: “Are you willing to let go of what I’ve given you before, to receive what I have for you now?” We experience the provision of God when we stand in the place of obedience. Are you willing to be obedient to God? Are you ready to release your dearest treasures, your most passionate love, your greatest accomplishments to God? Can you surrender your control of what you were never meant to control? Can you commit what is not yours to gain what you cannot lose? I invite you to release that which you are withholding from God. Whatever it is – your greatest love, your wealth, your job, your time, your accomplishments; your sexual desires, a special relationship with someone, your marriage; your sin, your guilt, your grief; your pride, your selfishness, your ‘rights;’ your anger, your bitterness; your unwillingness to serve Him, your hesitation to obey Him, your fear of trusting Him; your attempts to control your something in your life – lay it on the altar and release it to Him. Unless you climb Moriah, you will never see the heights nor experience the riches. God has already provided the Lamb – now He’s waiting to provide for you. “We never can prove the delights of his love until all on the altar we lay; for the favor He shows and the joy He bestows are for them who will trust and obey.” (1)

(1) Trust and Obey, John H. Sammis

A Shady Life

I admit – I live a shady life.

But it’s not what you think. I’m not dishonest, crooked, underhanded or shifty. Rather I’m shaded and sheltered. Here’s what I mean.

A desire for being in the shade and shadows brings to mind the time we took our 3 boys to Washington DC. It was hot. No – it was scorching hot. It was so scorching hot that the front page of the news showed a row of parked motorcycles all tipped over laying on their sides. In the intense heat the blacktop had softened so the kickstands sank, tilting the cycles until they all fell. Now that’s hot!

I vividly remember the sweat and fatigue. We planned our walking routes so we could get periodic spots of shade – it was the only relief and rest available outdoors. And even the air conditioned buildings seemed muggy and stifling. Perhaps that’s why I identify so easily with the Psalmist who prayed “…hide me in the shadow of your wings…” (Psalm 17:8) The wings are another image of and symbol for the cloud. What we would have given for some shadowing clouds on that day! (1)

The Psalmist uses the imagery again: “The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, or the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forever more.” (Psalm 121: 5-7) The Lord is a shadow for all the distresses and threats we encounter – any time, day or night.

How can we be sure? Jesus points to Himself as the wings of God. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” (Matthew 23:37) What a picture! When her babies are in danger Mama Hen spreads her wings to protect them. Pretty much what human mothers do for their children!

The issue is whether or not we will plan our routes to go under His wings.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (Underlining mine) The shady spots are available – sometimes God’s wings and shade are right where we are – but oftentimes we need to go to the shade – like the hens need to go to Mama. The Psalmist knew it – he made it clear: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” (Psalm 91: 1-4). Curry’s Paraphrase: When we dwell under His wings we will have rest during the heat and storms of life.

One final image – Jesus hangs on the cross with His arms outstretched. His wings are spread. He’s offering the refuge of a shady life for all who come to Him.

The words of William Cushing say it eloquently: “Under His wings I am safely abiding, Though the night deepens and tempests are wild, Still I can trust Him; I know He will keep me, He has redeemed me, and I am His child. Under His wings, under His wings, Who from His love can sever? Under His wings my soul shall abide, Safely abide forever.” (2)

(1) See my three previous posts: Life in the Cloud, More Life in the Clouds, Living in Glory

(2 Under His Wings, William O. Cushing

Trashy Treasure

 

An abandoned area that is covered with trash and street graffiti. This makes an excellent background or backdrop. Shallow depth of field.

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. It’s most often said when advertising a rummage sale. I’ve heard and said it often. However, I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with it – I’ve wondered what impact it has upon those purchasing the items in the sale. If my stuff is trash, does that mean the person buying it is a trashy person? I hope not – I would never mean it that way. I hope the message is that we all have different needs and view things differently. What I don’t need, you may need. What I see as useless, you may see as useful. What I see as of little value, you may see of great value. It’s all a matter of perspective. I determine what is trash and treasure in my life and you determine what it is in yours.

It occurs to me that this same principle applies to what happens to us, to how we respond to the events and circumstance of life. I pondered this recently when I read a chapter in Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s book, “Buried Treasure.”[i] He pointed out that in the Hebrew language a word spelled backwards often has the opposite meaning of the original word.  For example the Hebrew word for trash is resh-peh-shin. Reverse it and you get shin-peh-resh, which is the root for the word SHaPiR which means ‘excellent’ or ‘fine’ and is the basis of the word sapphire. I find that fascinating. When I’m in the midst of a

antique wooden chest isolated on white background

difficult experience it looks bad, like trash. But often time tells a different story; when I later look back on it I see how it was an experience that refined, molded and taught me. The trash was really a treasure.

This changes how I view my present experiences. Is the tough time I’m going through trash or treasure? My perspective will determine how I respond. It’s now so much what happens to us that matters as it is how we respond to what happens to us. It’s not what life brings to us in her hands as it is what we bring to life in ours.

That’s one of the reasons I wrote my book on the life of Joseph.[ii] His life was full of trash – dysfunctional family, rejection, revenge, guilt, broken dreams, temptation, and self-pity. But they were mere stepping stones that took him from a pit of death to a place in a palace. When he was reconciling with his brothers – who had betrayed him – he proclaimed “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” He saw all the tough times in his life not as trash but trashy treasure.

Joseph’s life principle points to Jesus. Even He demonstrated that trash could be treasure. He died the most cruel and despised death of all – crucifixion. But when he rose from the dead He proved the trashy cross was really the treasure of salvation for all who believe.

Whatever you view as trash in your life, try reversing your thinking. It may just become a treasure. Be open to what God is doing in your life.

[i] Rabbi Daniel Lapin, Buried Treasure (Multnomah Publishers, 2001), 151f.

[ii] “When the Going Gets Tough” – see www.revcpikk.com