Tag Archives: cross

Jesus had to die to save a wretch like me

I wrote these words a few years ago.   They are as true today as they ever were.   God is good!

goodfriday

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.

cross

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!

The missing element in our gospel

Yesterday I wrote about the virus infecting the UMC (which is actually in every church, and every person).   Addressing pride will go a long way in healing our churches and ourselves, but there is something essential about the gospel that I think we’ve collectively forgotten, or at least diluted.

When I was in the pit of my addiction and everything around me was unraveling, a trusted friend and mentor asked me over dinner,

Chad, do you believe in the power of the Gospel?

I responded by saying I do. After all, shouldn’t pastors and seminary students, of which I was both at the time, believe that?  But today, years later, I realize I didn’t know what I was really saying. I didn’t understand the power behind the question nor what would be required of me to access such power.

I am still very much a work in progress, but here I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned about that power and how it’s made available in your life and mine.   My prayer is that it will help you, as it’s helped me, to live free from whatever is holding you hostage or restore the joy of your salvation.

If when you hear the phrase “the power of the Gospel” you think of Easter, you are thinking about it the way I did when initially asked that question.  If you think first and foremost about resurrection, new life, freedom from addictions and failed relationships, healing, redemption, an eternal home in heaven, or anything of the sort, you are not alone, but you are believing in only a partial gospel.

It’s easy to do.  Who wouldn’t want all of those things? And when you are in the pit, you certainly want out.  The problem with it though is that this partial – yet hopeful – gospel obscures the real power behind the gospel.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church which was plagued with living a defeated Christian existence (sexual sin, relationship issues, church division, etc), he reminds them where the true power of the gospel rests:

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).

Did you hear that?  Or better yet, did you hear what Paul doesn’t say?  None of the things I thought was the power of the gospel back in the day.  Paul says the power of the gospel is not in resurrection, but in crucifixion.  It’s not an empty tomb, but a blood-stained cross.  Not Easter, but Good Friday.

A partial gospel – one that emphasizes Easter over the Cross – can be used by the enemy to rob you of ever knowing the power of the full Gospel, thus keeping you in perpetual disappointment and defeat as you seek a resurrected life without crucifying the present one.

This was the predominant truth I was missing in my life.  I did not know or understand (it was foolishness to me) the power behind the blood of Jesus Christ and the reason why the Cross must take center stage in my life – even more than an empty tomb.   For when the cross gets diluted in my thinking and in my life, the tomb of my life gets repopulated and polluted.

Paul stresses this just a bit further on in his letter when he writes that he desired to know nothing among the Corinthian church “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).   It was the cross that dominated Paul’s thinking, not Easter.

Because Paul put Good Friday first, he lived an Easter life.   The paradox of putting the cross at the center of our lives is that it leads to a reality only God can produce in us: resurrection.

Tragically, far too many of us want the new life without dying to the old one.  We love the promise of resurrection and cringe at the prospect of crucifixion.  Can’t we just be bandaged up a bit and go on with our lives as we have come to know them minus these “bad behaviors”?

Not if you want to experience the power of the Gospel.   For the power of the Gospel knows nothing of making men and women better people and only of making men and women new.    God’s program of redemption, then, requires we go the same way of Jesus, which knows resurrection only as hoped-for promise of a life crucified to God.   It requires that everything we know dies.

Death to our dreams and hopes for how our lives should be. Death to our past, our present, and our future.  Death to our desires and preferences.  Death to our plans for how we intend to recover ourselves or others.  Death to our rights.  Death to our pride and place and prestige.  Death to our intentions for where we want to live, what we want to do, what we desire to be, and how we can carve out a “life” for ourselves.

Every time I experience a rift in my spirit, or sense a shift in my relationship with God or others, or feel as though the future is scary or the present suffocating, I can usually identify something of my crucified self that is rearing it’s defeated, yet greedy, head.   There is something within my flesh that I must hand-deliver to the Cross of Jesus Christ and crucify once more so that I might be able to experience the life of the Spirit in which I, and I imagine you, desire to walk.

The paradox in all of this, and perhaps the reason why Paul called this fixation on the Cross “foolishness to the perishing,” is that every time I do this I find God a more-than-ready and trustworthy steward of my crucified self and where my sin abounds, His grace abounds even more.   When I live to know nothing except Jesus Christ crucified I receive a life that is not my own, but Christ in me, who is new and alive and full of Easter promise and power.

The thing I thought was missing from the recent United Methodist General Conference, and I would contend in most American churches today, is a proclamation of this cross-bearing life which always precedes the resurrection life.   Jesus did not go to the cross to affirm our natural state but to inaugurate our supernatural one.

If you have been missing out on the fullness of the power of the Gospel my advice to you would be to prayerfully ask God to give you a heart willing to take everything to the cross.   Pray this every day until it becomes a reality in you.   Then, and only then, after you have been to the cross, will you experience the gracious gift of Easter and the power of the Gospel which makes men and women new.

Getting the power behind the power of the Gospel

When I was in the pit of my addiction and everything around me was unraveling, a trusted friend and mentor asked me over dinner,

Chad, do you believe in the power of the Gospel?

I responded by saying I do. After all, shouldn’t pastors and seminary students, of which I was both at the time, believe that?  But today, four years later, I realize I didn’t know what I was really saying. I didn’t understand the power behind the question nor what would be required of me to access such power.

I am still very much a work in progress, but here I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned about that power and how it’s made available in your life and mine.   My prayer is that it will help you, as it’s helped me, to live free from whatever is holding you hostage or restore the joy of your salvation.

If when you hear the phrase “the power of the Gospel” you think of Easter, you are thinking about it the way I did four years ago.  If you think first and foremost about resurrection, new life, freedom from addictions and failed relationships, healing, redemption, an eternal home in heaven, or anything of the sort, you are believing in only a partial gospel.

It’s easy to do.  Who wouldn’t want all of those things? And when you are in the pit, you certainly want out.  The problem with it though is that this partial – yet hopeful – gospel obscures the real power behind the gospel.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church which was plagued with living a defeated Christian existence (sexual sin, relationship issues, church division, etc), he reminds them where the true power of the gospel rests:

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).

Did you hear that?  Or better yet, did you hear what Paul doesn’t say?  None of the things I thought was the power of the gospel back in the day.  Paul says the power of the gospel is not in resurrection, but in crucifixion.  It’s not an empty tomb, but a blood-stained cross.  Not Easter, but Good Friday.

A partial gospel – one that emphasizes Easter over the Cross – can be used by the enemy to rob you of ever knowing the power of the full Gospel, thus keeping you in perpetual disappointment and defeat as you seek a resurrected life without crucifying the present one.

This was the predominant truth I was missing in my life.  I did not know or understand (it was foolishness to me) the power behind the blood of Jesus Christ and the reason why the Cross must take center stage in my life – even more than an empty tomb.   For when the cross gets diluted in my thinking and in my life, the tomb of my life gets repopulated and polluted.

Paul stresses this just a bit further on in his letter when he writes that he desired to know nothing among the Corinthian church “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).   It was the cross that dominated Paul’s thinking, not Easter.

Because Paul put Good Friday first, he lived an Easter life.   The paradox of putting the cross at the center of our lives is that it leads to a reality only God can produce in us: resurrection.

Tragically, far too many of us want the new life without dying to the old one.  We love the promise of resurrection and cringe at the prospect of crucifixion.  Can’t we just be bandaged up a bit and go on with our lives as we have come to know them minus these “bad behaviors”?

Not if you want to experience the power of the Gospel.   For the power of the Gospel knows nothing of making men and women better people and only of making men and women new.    God’s program of redemption, then, requires we go the same way of Jesus, which knows resurrection only as hoped-for promise of a life crucified to God.   It requires that everything we know dies.

Death to our dreams and hopes for how our lives should be. Death to our past, our present, and our future.  Death to our desires and preferences.  Death to our plans for how we intend to recover ourselves or others.  Death to our rights.  Death to our pride and place and prestige.  Death to our intentions for where we want to live, what we want to do, what we desire to be, and how we can carve out a “life” for ourselves.

Every time I experience a rift in my spirit, or sense a shift in my relationship with God or others, or feel as though the future is scary or the present suffocating, I can usually identify something of my crucified self that is rearing it’s defeated, yet greedy, head.   There is something within my flesh that I must hand-deliver to the Cross of Jesus Christ and crucify once more so that I might be able to experience the life of the Spirit in which I, and I imagine you, desire to walk.

The paradox in all of this, and perhaps the reason why Paul called this fixation on the Cross “foolishness to the perishing,” is that every time I do this I find God a more-than-ready and trustworthy steward of my crucified self and where my sin abounds, His grace abounds even more.   When I live to know nothing except Jesus Christ crucified I receive a life that is not my own, but Christ in me, who is new and alive and full of Easter promise and power.

If you have been missing out on the fullness of the power of the Gospel my advice to you would be to prayerfully ask God to give you a heart willing to take everything to the cross.   Pray this every day until it becomes a reality in you.   Then, and only then, after you have been to the cross, will you experience the gracious gift of Easter and the power of the Gospel which makes men and women new.

The Blood of Jesus Saved a Wretch Like Me

goodfriday

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.

cross

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!

Keep It Simple, Stupid

They were both very passionate about their position, this fact made obvious by the increasing volume with which they both argued their point and the speed with which they cut the other off in order to insert a new point.   I sat on the couch nearby, forbidden to enter the fray, and for perhaps the first time ever, felt grateful for being so restricted.    The discussion was over the rapture – when it might happen, who would be around before and after, and how world events were playing into the hands of biblical prophecy.  Behind closed eye-lids I rolled my eyes and to this day, 2 years later, can remember but one piercing thought:

Despite such passionate convictions on secondary issues like this and many others, all of us here have one thing in common: We are here, in “rehab” for sexual addiction, and therefore all of our theological posturing sounds stupid.    You may be right about the rapture, but if you are addicted to pornography or serial adultery (or any other habitual sin), those arguments aren’t doing you any favors now, nor will they in the future.

When I arrived at Pure Life, the director of counseling discerned exactly how I needed to be handled and issued a gag order on me with regards to talking theology.   I wasn’t allowed to enter into any theological discussions while a student there in large part because he discerned such discussions fed my pride.   He was right.  He was also right about the other part:  such discussions concealed a wicked heart, making me feel I was “good” simply because I talked about God a lot.

What I really needed was a return to the simplicity of the gospel.  I needed to get back to the basics.   I needed to return to the cross.

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

It is so easy to be distracted by issues and soap boxes and theologies.    It is so easy to get mesmerized by the dust kicked up around us by our words and blogs and comments and arguments and before we know it we believe being a Christian is about proving ourselves and our beliefs as “right” over and against others.

All of this stinks of pride, and it’s repugnant to God (Prov. 16:5).

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I am grateful for men like Billy Graham, who turned 95 yesterday, and for decades of ministry stuck to the simple, clear, clarion call of the gospel: Repent and believe in Jesus and be saved from your sins.    The cross is where the blood of Jesus was made available to destroy the works of sin and death in us, and without that sacrifice and our trust in Jesus we will remain lost.

Every time I find myself wanting to argue about this or that, or chase some rabbit trail about secondary matters, or let someone on social media know what I think, I am doing well when I bite my tongue and remember to keep it simple, stupid.   Anything pulling me away from the cross is nothing but a distraction from what really matters, and what will truly transform my life and the lives of others.

Lord, keep me simple and focused.   Amen.

The Lie about Lying

Addicts are masters at lying.   They are better at it than people who are not addicts not because non-addicts don’t lie (they do) but because addicts get more opportunities to practice their craft.   And as the old adage goes, practice makes perfect.

 
Why do we lie?   Yesterday I read a post hosted by our friends at Castimonia, a Christian site dedicated to helping men find sexual purity, which sought to answer that question.    It’s written by a PhD, A. Michael Johnson, and he argues that addicts lie because they learned as children, like all of us, that lying protects us.   We crave love and compassion and acceptance and we learn early on that lying can meet these felt-needs.

This signal to lie to protect ourselves becomes automatic over time and is signaled by fear and bolstered by a “fabrication system” which helps us recall lies that worked while also inventing new ones.   The good news, Johnson argues, is that with some “effort and help” we can learn to detect the signal of fear and choose a more healthy alternative as well as overwrite the “fabrication system” with more mature, truthful responses.

He concludes by writing,

Understanding how you came to be a liar is important because it helps to strengthen your compassion for yourself. You did not learn to lie because you were a bad person. You learned to lie because you were a frightened child protecting himself. That understanding is not a justification for continuing to lie. The understanding helps to remove obstacles to living in the truth. And living in the truth is a central thread in the fabric of recovery.

With all due respect to the folks at Castimonia, I believe this article is a beautiful lie.    The only thing I agree with is the last sentence -that living in the truth is central to recovery – but this article obscures the truth and prevents anyone who is truly seeking freedom from finding it.

Back when I was seeking “recovery” as opposed to “freedom” (there is a difference) I longed to find some point in my past which would help explain me to myself and the world.    I wanted so desperately to find some sort of traumatic event, abuse, organic deficiency – anything! – that would explain why I was such a mess.    Surely I can’t be this bad of a person, can I?  Surely there is some reason behind it all, right?

This quest to pacify ourselves  is the project of modern, secular psychology and 12 step programs.   It’s captured beautifully in Johnson’s concluding remarks where he writes, “Understanding how you came to be a liar is important because it helps to strengthen your compassion for yourself.”

This is the beautiful lie:  First, that the goal is to understand ourselves, and second, that the reason we want to better understand ourselves is so we can be more compassionate to ourselves.

The person who follows this logic is no better than a dog chasing his own tail.   The addict is an addict because he is fixated on himself – he is selfish to the core – and deliverance will not come by understanding himself better or being more compassionate to himself.   When I was in the pit of my sexual addiction and doing exactly what I wanted when I wanted I assure you I was being very compassionate to myself!

So why do people lie?   Here is truth:

Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.   You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right  (Psalm 52:2-3).

Jesus said that  out of the abundance of what is in the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45) and his brother, James, says the tongue is a “restless evil, full of deadly poison,” and contrary to Johnson’s optimism that a bit of “effort and help” can make a person more truthful, Scripture says no human being can tame the tongue (James 3:8).

The goal of understanding ourselves is to bring us to the end of ourselves.   Victory for me did not come by finding something to blame in my childhood but by recognizing that I was a sinner and that I loved lying more than I loved telling the truth.  I loved my sin and the comforts it afforded me more than I loved God and others.   Rather than being gentler and more compassionate on myself I needed to see my lying for what it really was:  a sin that offended a holy God.   I had to cry with David, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4).

And in that terrifying moment I discovered an amazing truth.  I discovered amazing grace!   I discovered that whatever compassion I was seeking to show myself pales in comparison to the compassion God in Christ showed me on the cross.   The cross both indicted and liberated me, causing me to see the truth about myself and the evil of which I’m capable while simultaneously revealing an indescribable love so infinitely attractive I was willing to surrender everything and live no longer for myself (and my own protection) but for Jesus who became my all in all.

If you find yourself addicted to lying please know you don’t have to dig up the past to better understand why you do what you do.   God has already told you.  And God has already graciously provided a way out.  Freedom will come not when you learn to be more compassionate to yourself but when you learn to die to yourself.

And what God raises to new life in the process is sweeter than any comforts our lies seek to protect.