Tag Archives: Calvary

The Blood of Jesus Saved a Wretch Like Me

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You won’t be free until you see the cross of Jesus Christ for what it truly is.   This is why St. Paul said that he desired to know and preach nothing else besides Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).  The words of that wonderful hymn are true:

Would you be free from your burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood
Would you o’er evil the victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood

The writer of Hebrews says this about Jesus, our sacrifice:  “He entered once for all in the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscious from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:12-14).

Would you be free?  Would you be purified in your mind and heart and enabled to serve the living God with a clean heart?   You must know the power of the blood shed on the tree of Calvary.

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One of the biggest obstacles to our freedom is our tendency to minimize our sin, thereby minimizing the cross.   After many years of theological education which taught me all the many theories about why Jesus died on the cross none of it had any power to change my life like the simple truth:

Jesus had to die to save a wretch like me.   

Sin is a serious thing to God and the cross is proof of this.  Sin is not just inconvenient, or messy, or harmful, or depressing, or selfish.  Sin is deadly.  Sin destroys.  Sin is of such seriousness that it required God’s own Son to die in order to deal with it.   If you have any doubts about how serious God takes our sexual immorality or other habitual sins just look at the cross and see his bloody Son.   

I remember the day I first saw Jesus on the cross as though for the first time after nearly 36 years of being a Christian.   I had just completed a strongly recommended assignment while at Pure Life where I locked myself away in a chapel for about 6 hours and wrote out everything that came to mind in Charles Finney’s Breaking Up the Fallow Ground exercise.   When done, I gazed at the 20-some pages of offenses I’ve committed against this God I claimed to love and my heart was crushed like never before.    As I wept over the utter wretchedness of my life I looked up at the cross on the chapel wall and cried out,

HOW???  HOW COULD YOU DIE FOR SUCH A MESS LIKE ME???  HOW COULD YOU DO IT!!?? WHAT SORT OF LOVE IS THIS??!!

In that moment there was no longer  a question of WHY Jesus died for me.  I knew in my heart of hearts that there was no other way.  The WHY was morphed by HOW.    How could God do this for me?  I remember shouting,  I am so unlike You!  I became mesmerized by this holy, awesome, wholly-other God who would put on flesh and bones and shed His righteous blood for a wretch like myself.   Give me this Jesus!   I no longer wished to argue about nor doubt why he died for me but desired nothing more than to live for a God who showed such love for me!   There was no doubt in my mind and heart that from that moment on I would make Jesus the Lord of my life forever, and that I would one day be with Him in glory.    I knew the price with which I had been bought, and it was now a joy to honor God with all my heart, mind, and strength, including my body (1 Cor. 6:20).

My hope and prayer for you who are reading this blog is that you would see the cross this Easter season for what it truly is.    The why is simple:  He had to die to save a wretch like you and I.   The how is marvelous:  What sort of God is this who would do such a thing for you and I?   When you see the cross for what it is you will know that you know that you know that you are Christ’s and He is yours.

If you are serious about putting to death your habitual sin then I challenge you do print out the Breaking Up the Fallow Ground and read it, pray over it, and do it.   Take as many hours or days as it requires of you, and ask God to show His Son to you as though for the very first time.   He will do it!

A pastor friend of mine who came to me for help after decades of bondage took this exercise seriously and sent me the following text:

I am free! The surrender is as complete as I can do for the moment.  I have the assurance that I am Christ’s and He is mine.  There is NO more condemnation!  I am walking out of this sanctuary as a new resurrected person in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, desiring to walk in holiness and to do things not my way, but His.   Praise God! Thank you Jesus. I have the assurance of my personal salvation for the first time in my life!  Praise God for His mercy, His patience, and His faithfulness!

He has been free for over 2 months now, praise be to God.    Will today be the beginning of your freedom?     Run to the cross.   There is power in the blood!

O Ye Of Fickle Faith

Two days ago I got some news that I wasn’t expecting, which ruined for the moment the plans I was making for myself.   My wife, knowing my concern and sadness, sent me the following text while I was driving to work:

I’m sorry honey!!!  God is in control of our lives even when others make mistakes.  Keep your hope in God.  He knows what is best and when it’s best.   I love you.

The past few days I have been asked by a few friends if I could pinpoint one of the primary differences in my life today as compared to the life of 2 summers ago.   My answer, in large part, is found in the spirit of that text.

God is in control.  Hope in God.   God knows what and when is best.  Trust Him.

It is easy to believe God is in control when things are going your way.   When you wake up to a bright, sunny day, when the coffee is hot and strong, when the car starts and has plenty of gas, when your boss gives you a promotion, when you are healthy, when your spouse is on your side and your kids are being obedient – in all these things we give thanks to God, as we ought.

But what about when there is a raging storm outside, when the coffee pot is broken, when the car breaks down on the side of the road, when you show up to work and are given a pink slip, when you get diagnosed with cancer, when your spouse cheats or leaves and when your kids drive you crazy – in all these things we tend to think God is absent or to blame.

Praise-in-Storm

I confess that I often lack the faith to believe God is in control of all things, that all things work according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11).    I confess that I often lack joy when I face trials of various kinds, which are designed for the purpose of increasing my faith (James 1:1-4).   I confess that when I feel persecuted or tormented I far too often become self-absorbed rather than see this as an opportunity to bear witness to the glory and majesty of God (Luke 21:12-13).

In Mary Beth Chapman’s moving book about hope and struggle through the tragic death of their daughter she shares how they, as a family, had their faith deepened.    While the pain was still very raw, she describes how her husband, Stephen, would go into his sound-proof recording studio in their home and scream at the top of his lungs,

You give and you take away!   Blessed be the name of the Lord!   You give and you take away!  Blessed be the name of the Lord! 

He was quoting Job 1:21.   I had tears in my eyes as I read that for the first time, and again as I type them here.   Why?  Because it’s a faith I find so humble, trusting and vulnerable.    It’s one I see so often lacking in myself, and sadly, in much of the church world.

It is a faith that gives God glory in the midst of the storm, even though, paradoxically, it names Him as the author of it. It’s the faith of Job.   Though he lost everything dear to him, he refused to curse God.    His ruminations over what happened to him neither led him to believe God was absent nor that He was to blame (in a pejorative sense) but rather, God is the author of all things and that He is good and trustworthy.    If God is truly good, and if God is truly in control, then whatever befalls Job is re-imagined through that lens.   This is ultimate trust.  This is ultimate faith.    “Yet though you slay me,” Job said, “I will trust in you” (Job 13:15).     Job knows that life and death occur by God’s hand, according to the counsel of His will, and it’s all good for those who love God (Rom. 8:28).

 
And lest we think this God is archaic, one of some ancient, Old Testament understanding of God, Jesus reminds me that it is the God he knows, and trusts explicitly.   Sent to earth to die a horrible death, he prayed that this cup – one predestined by His Father – be spared him.    The pain he was about to endure he did not attribute to an absent God nor did he blame him, but instead prayed, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”    Like Job, Jesus prayed, “Yet though you slay me, I will trust in you.”

This trust resulted in an Easter miracle.

Granted, this God offends our modern sensibilities of what is “good” and “loving.”   It isn’t one that appeases the masses, or tickles itching ears who long to have their best life now.

My wife remembers all too well the many times she was told by a godly woman that the pain her husband (me) was inflicting upon her were opportunities for her to repent, to run to God, to worship Him.   For years she resisted this counsel, believing instead that if God were love He must be absent, or to blame, or did not love her very much at all to allow this suffering in her life.    She couldn’t stand to hear from women who testified that if she would only trust God, she would one day be giving Him thanks for her afflictions (just like David does in Psalm 119, numerous times).

Today, however, she is doing just that.   As her text above demonstrates, my wife has learned that the faith she thought she had was a fickle one, tossed and torn by the events of any given day.    Today, by the grace and mercy of God, she stands as a Job-like example to me of one who strives to pray, “Though you slay me, God, I will trust you!”

Seeing such faith in action leads me, and I hope you as well, to pray, “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!”  (Mark 9:24).

I Killed Him

Due to illness we did not attend church this morning but had family worship at home.   Being Pentecost Sunday I read Acts 2 and we discussed the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church.   But this post is not about that.   It’s about the conversation that took place because of my 8 year old son’s curiosity and fear over a confession I wrote in the margin of my bible.

I didn’t quite understand the worry in his face when I asked if anyone had any questions following our bible study.   Maddox looked as though he were about to cry as he pointed with a shaky finger to the words I scribbled in the margin…

I killed Him.

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“What does this mean, Daddy?”   The question opened up an opportunity, no doubt initiated by the Holy Spirit, to talk about something every Christian needs to remind themselves of often, for we so easily forget.

I killed Him.  It’s what I wrote in the margin of my Bible next to Peter’s sermon in Solomon’s Portico, where he is rehearsing once more the history of Israel and their guilt over murdering the Messiah.    Acts 3:14-15 reads,

But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead.

I killed Him.

At some point over the past year during my devotional reading the Spirit spoke those words to me, placing me there on the scene – at Pilate’s sham-of-a-trial, at the walk towards Golgatha, at the foot of Calvary – hissing and jeering the entire time, insisting that I will not allow anyone, not even God, get in the way of my own self-interests.

I was there, driving the nails through the hands and feet of the Author of Life, because my sin and shame made it His passion to let me.

I killed Him.

All of my betrayal, lust, selfishness, pride – all the pain it caused all those I thought I loved, all the depression, anger, loneliness, and despair  – was on his shoulders as I hoisted him up on the cross to die.

I killed Him.

It’s a heart-wrenching thing to realize, that you killed the Author of Life.   If you are so fortunate to have the Spirit whisk you away from your current place and set you down at the foot of the cross I assure you you will never be the same again.    When you see the weight of sin this Sinless One bore for you, for all the world, the veil is torn and religion dies, only to be replaced with what John Wesley called “a heart strangely warmed.”     Religion is replaced with holy passion and yearning, and sin – that which enslaved you the day before  – loses it’s deathly grip.

It’s easy to lay the blame elsewhere. It’s easy to watch the death of Jesus unfold like a bystander then rail against the social powers-that-be, the evils of society, the injustice of a fallen world.    I was once a pastor who was so wrapped up in the social sins I saw, in large part because I did not want to see the personal sins within.   Getting wrapped up in the social evils which make for good Facebook or Twitter fodder was far more appetizing (and crowd pleasing!) than sitting alone at the foot of Calvary, weeping over my own sin which put my Jesus there.

I don’t ever want to lose sight of the cross or my explicit hand in the whole bloody affair.   I don’t ever want to lose sight of the fact that Jesus was on that cross for me, dying for the very things that made me take a hammer to his hands.   I don’t ever want to lose sight of the fact that I killed Him.

And yet, amazingly, He still loves me.   What a Savior!

 

God Has Chosen Our Heritage

Last week, the day after Thanksgiving, I had the honor of speaking at my grandparents 60th wedding anniversary celebration.   Some family members have since asked for the words to that sermonette, so here they are.    Thank you, Grandma and Grandpa, for inspiring such ideas!  

There is this wonderful word tucked away in Psalm 47 which came to life for me as I thought about what I might say today.   It reads, God chose our heritage for us (Psalm 47).    This strikes both a note of grace and mercy for us today.   Grace because today we celebrate the joy and love of such a heritage and give thanks for numerous ways grandma and grandpa’s shared lives have had a profound impact on so many.   Mercy because the shade this family tree provides, under which we are gathered here today, is similar to the shade of another tree, the cross of Christ, which summons us, even demands of us, a response.   

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 God has chosen our heritage for us and we would do well today, even in the midst of great celebration, to inspect the fruit of our own trees.

 As I told people why were making the trip from TN to PA – that my grandparents were celebrating their 60th year as a couple – the responses I received were all the same:  wow, you don’t see that very often.    

 Sad, but true.   What is so sad and tragic about this observation is the lack of testimony on God’s earth of the sacredness of covenant between two people and the witness it should provide the world of God’s solidarity with us. 

 I don’t think grandma and grandpa would mind me saying that what we celebrate here today should not be considered a miracle or something extraordinary but what ought to be commonplace, particularly among those who claim to live under the shade of the cross.  Marriages that persevere through decade after decade, which carry on through seasons of feast or famine, which determine to live by faith rather than feelings, which make a choice to love in the same way God has made a choice for us ought to be the rule rather than the exception among we who have been given such a heritage. 

 God has chosen our heritage for us.  It is fitting that we should take this time to consider how we will honor God’s choice towards us, even as we honor my grandma and grandpa.   Such is God’s mercy.

God has chosen our heritage for us.  It is fitting to celebrate today the race Grandma and Grandpa have run and continue to run.  We are all benefactors of their steadfastness.  Grandma and Grandpa, I hope the presence of all of these here today says to you how much your marriage has touched so many lives.  Such is God’s grace.