Tag Archives: recovery

God is so very fond of you

I began reading last night another one of Brennan Manning’s books, this one titled, The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus.  Brennan has a gift for reminding me that I am Abba’s beloved child and that he is very fond of me.  All too often I forget this world-shattering truth and turn God into someone who loves like I do, which undoubtedly leaves me wondering if I’m good enough.

But God keeps inviting me, and you, and all of us, into his embrace and seems to never tire of reminding us that we are his children and his love is not subject to our merit, or lack thereof.    Maybe you needed this reminder today, too.   As Brennan is often fond of saying, “God loves you just as you are, not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.”

I leave you today with my favorite poem.  This was introduced to me some years ago by a counselor who saw in me that I was struggling to believe that God loves me.   By the time he made it to the last word, I had tears in my eyes and a racing heart, knowing this was God, once again reminding me of his relentless love.   This is “Without Brushing My Hair” by the Sufi poet, Hafiz.    Enjoy.

 

The
closer
I get to you, Beloved,
The more I can see
It is just You and I all alone
In this
World.

I hear
A knock at my door,
Who else could it be,
So I rush without brushing
My hair.

For too
Many nights
I have begged for Your
Return

And what
Is the use of vanity
At this late hour, at this divine season,
That has now come to my folded
Knees?

If your love letters are true dear Beloved
I will surrender myself to
Who You keep saying
I
Am.

~ Hafiz 

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Holiness is your calling

Scripture is explicit when it says we should make every effort to be holy, for without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).   With so much at stake it’s a wonder we Christians are so muddy in our thinking about holiness.  But this need not be the case.  Do we really believe God is such a poor, even evil, Father that He would call His children to such heights without giving us a ladder?

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I’ve begun reading Jerry Bridges’ classic, The Pursuit of Holiness, and was struck early on by the three reasons he gives for our lackluster appearance on the grand stage (Holiness) to which God has called us.

1. Our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered.

We are more concerned about our own “victory” over sin than we are about the fact that our sins grieve the heart of God.  We cannot tolerate failure in our struggle with sin chiefly because we are success-oriented, not  because we know it is offensive to God.

How true! I recall my many years of trying to overcome my addiction to lust and pornography.  I was consumed with a desire to be victorious over my sin primarily because it was messing up my life and the lives of others around me.   In this way I was only experiencing worldly sorrow over my sin rather than godly sorrow.   Paul says the former leads to death, while the latter will lead to true repentance, and life (2 Cor. 7:10).

It was not until I saw my actions as offenses against a holy God that I was able to break free from those chains.  My view of sin changed from being about me and how it hurt me or others to being about God and how it grieved Him.   Bridges goes on to say,

God wants us to walk in obedience – not victory.  Obedience is oriented toward God; victory is oriented toward self.  This may seem to be merely splitting hairs over semantics, but there is a subtle, self-centered attitude at the root of many of our difficulties with sin.  Until we face this attitude and deal with it, we will not consistently walk in holiness.

I can testify to the truth of this and that learning to walk in obedience – in holiness – has with it the blessed by-product of victory over even the most besetting of sins.

2. We have misunderstood “living by faith.”

Walking in holiness is still a walk.   While God has graciously given us a ladder we must do our part and climb it.    Much of our confusion over holiness is that we are lazy, and have conveniently made “living by faith” completely God’s responsibility.   It’s as if we think a magic wand will wave and just make us holy.

Bridges gives a helpful illustration in his preface of the co-operation necessary if we are to achieve holiness in our lives.   Farming, he writes, is a joint venture between God and man.   The farmer knows that without sunlight and rain – forces totally outside his control – his garden will never grow.   But also true is that unless the farmer tills the soil, plants the seed, fertilizes and cultivates he will not have a garden, regardless of how much sun and rain come.   Cooperation between God and man is necessary in farming, and in our pursuit of holiness.

We must face the fact that we have a personal responsibility for our walk of holiness.  One Sunday our pastor in his sermon said words to this effect: “You can put away that habit that has mastered you if you truly desire to do so.”    The Holy Spirit said to me, “And you can put away the sinful habits that plague you if you will accept your personal responsibility for them.”  Acknowledging that I did have this responsibility turned out to be a milestone for me in my own pursuit of holiness.

 

3. We do not take some sin seriously.

Because we do not see God as the offended party over our sin we trivialize our own.   We fall prey to the game of justifying some sin as less egregious than others, making allowance for our own shortcomings because compared to others we think we are doing pretty well.  Would we act this way if we meditated often on how much God hates sin – all sin – all the time?

Scripture says it’s “the little foxes that ruin the vineyards” (Song of Songs 2:15).   Jesus raised the bar exceptionally higher when he said that even the intent of lust was the same as adultery, or even anger towards another was the same as murder (Matt. 5:28).   Yet how often do we go through a day harboring anger, resentment, lust, envy, and greed towards one another, all the while justifying it because we think God doesn’t care that much or will let it slide once He hears our good excuse?

On commenting on the more minute Old Testament dietary laws God gave Israel, Andrew Bonar said,

It is not the importance of the thing, but the majesty of the Lawgiver, that is to be the standard of obedience…Some, indeed, might reckon such minute and arbitrary rules as these as trifling.  But the principle involved in obedience or disobedience was none other than the same principle which was tried in Eden at the foot of the forbidden tree.  It is really this:  Is the Lord to be obeyed in all things whatsoever He commands?  Is He a holy Lawgiver?  Are His creatures bound to give implicit assent to His will?

Are we willing to call sin, “sin,” not because it is big or little, or even because of the harm we reason it may or may not do to self or others, but solely and supremely because God’s law forbids it and we would rather die than disobey?

I believe if we rightly understood these three things we would have a far better grasp on what it means to pursue holiness.   I’m looking forward to the rest of this book where Bridges promises to flesh more of this out.

See yesterday’s post inspired from one of the chapters from this book:  Obedience is the Goal, not Victory.

 

Obedience is the goal, not victory

For much of my adult life I was striving for the wrong goal when it came to dealing with my addiction or my walk with God.   My goal was victory.  Freedom.   My goal was to be free from the thing(s) wreaking havoc on my spiritual, emotional and physical life and that of others.

I can’t begin to count the number of times I prayed for victory over my addiction to pornography.   I prayed, and prayed, and prayed, crying out to God to deliver me from my desires.   I thought that being a good Christian meant that I am to have faith that God could heal me.   I thought I was to “stop trying and start trusting” in God for the victory.   If I did not wake up and feel “free” than it must be because I hadn’t prayed enough or had enough faith.

Maybe you are reading this and feel the same way today.  You want freedom from whatever is controlling you.  You long for – pray for – victory.

It’s not a bad goal.   But I’m convinced it’s not the right goal.

It wasn’t until I learned that God had already answered my prayers and it was now my responsibility to live into those prayers that I began to get some traction in my daily walk with God.   It was when I learned that my goal isn’t victory but obedience that I started to find the freedom for which I had been praying.

Victory is a by-product of obedience.   We will never know the former without the latter. 

Obedience isn’t a word we talk about much.   It means “submission to another’s authority.”   Obedience flies in the face of our natural inclination to put our desires – our flesh – first.

It’s surprising we do not talk about obedience much when Scripture talks about it all the time.   Whether this is because the Reformation did such a bang up job at deterring us from anything that smells of “works righteousness” or because we naturally hate obeying is anyone’s guess.   Whichever our reason, until we take responsibility and “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” we will continue to be lukewarm in our Christian walk.

Here are just a few of many directives Scripture gives us which place the onus on us to get to work.  There is that which the Holy Spirit enables us to do (we don’t do this alone or by our own might) but there is much that we are responsible to do.

For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Rom. 8:13).

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature (Col. 3:5)

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Heb. 12:1)

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7)

Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him (2 Peter 3:14)

If you love me, obey my commandments (John 14:15)

Notice the action words/phrases giving us responsibility:  put to death; throw off; run; submit yourselves; resist; make every effort; obey.

Whenever I feel defeated it is always a result of me being disobedient.   Whenever I feel victorious is always a result of being obedient.

Perhaps it would do us well to stop counting days that we are sober and instead ask ourselves at the end of each day, “Was I obedient today?  Where was I disobedient?   How can I be more obedient tomorrow?”    When we make our goal obedience, victory is sure to follow.

I want to close with some words by Jerry Bridges from his classic, and highly recommended book, The Pursuit of Holiness.

It is time for us Christians to face up to our responsibility for holiness. Too often we say we are “defeated” by this or that sin.  No, we are not defeated, we are simply disobedient!  It might be good if we stopped using the terms “victory” and “defeat” to describe our progress in holiness. rather we should use the terms “obedience” and “disobedience.” When I say I am defeated by some sin, I am unconsciously slipping out from under my responsibility. I am saying something outside of me has defeated me. But when I say I am disobedient, that places the responsibility for my sin squarely on me.  We may, in fact, be defeated, but the reason we are defeated is because we have chosen to disobey. We have chosen to entertain lustful thoughts, or to harbor resentment, or to shade the truth a little.

We need to brace ourselves up and to realize that we are responsible for our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We need to reckon on the fact that we died to sin’s reign, that it no longer has any dominion over us, that God has united us with the risen Christ in all His power, and has given us the Holy Spirit to work in us. Only as we accept our responsibility and appropriate God’s provisions will we make any progress in our pursuit of holiness (80-81).

 

I’m not hurting anyone (One of the lies we believe)

My friend James-Michael Smith has written a well-argued rebuttal to a post by a retired Methodist pastor that went viral through UMC social media.  In that post, Rev. McCormick argues that we need to be careful when using the Bible as a source for morality.   Below you’ll find the links to the article, and JM-Smith’s excellent response, and I encourage readers here to check it out.

One of the things you’ll find in this article, and what I find most instructive for myself (and, I presume, for most of my readers here), is an argument used by Rev. McCormick that what is moral or immoral is determined by the extent to which something is helpful or harmful to myself or others.

Isn’t this the lie every one of us who have been addicted to something have believed?

Whatever your drug of choice is, I am sure you, like me, have used the line, “I’m not hurting anyone!”   So deluded we become that we are convinced that we are not even hurting ourselves.  In fact, just the opposite:  We need our drug of choice.   We can’t live without it.   Those who are trying to take it from us are the ones harming us.   We are convinced that without this, we will be left with nothing to fill the void.

This is the sinister, conniving, baffling and powerful pull of sin.  We are led astray not by something that is ugly and obviously harmful, but by our own desires (James 1:14).   What seems right and good to us – that which we desire – is the bait Satan uses to cloud our judgment and eventually enslave us to something contrary to God’s will for our lives.

Who are we to judge what is helpful or harmful?  Jeremiah would remind us again today that our hearts are ever deceiving us (Jer. 17:9).

Francis Chan, when asked about his thoughts on homosexuality when ministering in San Francisco, points us to something else that I find helpful no matter your struggle, and I’ll paraphrase it here (watch the YouTube link though):  The Christian walk is not about being moral (however you want to define it) but about surrender to and obedience to our Creator.   If this God asked us to stand on our head, would we do it?  If this God asked us to not marry, would we do it?  If this God asked us not to eat a fruit that looked delicious, would we do it?

My desires – my heart – is fickle.  We are surrounded by a culture, a world drenched in sin, which does a fantastic job of making anything seem OK so long as we aren’t hurting anyone.   The world will tell me, and my fickle heart is easily persuaded, that my desires are good and deserve affirmation.  This is the morality of the world.   But that is not the standard of our holy God.

The way out of habitual sin – addictive behavior – begins with acknowledging that I am the creature, not the Creator, and my way of doing life may seem right to me, but is one that leads to death (Prov. 14:12).

Check out JM’s blog HERE

Or his Facebook Note HERE.

The world will hate us

Jesus anticipated that the world would hate him and those who followed his way.   I have been reading through the Gospel of John, and this morning I’ve been meditating on these words from Jesus:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (John 15).

There is something about the Greek word for “hate” here that gets lost in translation.  The word we translate as “hate” is μισέω (miseó) in Greek.   Hate, in English, means “an intense or passionate dislike for someone/something.”    μισέω, on the other hand, assumes a comparison is in play.   It is to like something or someone less than something else.  It’s to renounce something in favor of something else.   We see this at play in Luke 14:26 where Jesus tells his followers they must “hate” their mother, father, brothers and sisters.   Jesus is not saying his followers must have intense or passionate dislike towards their families, but must prefer God over their family.   To do otherwise is idolatry. 

In John 15, when Jesus says the world hates you, but hated Jesus first, he makes it clear that it is because those who follow him were chosen out of the world.   This chosenness out of the world creates the basis from which a preference can be made by any one of us:  The way of Christ or the way of the world.

Those who hate the way of Christ are really just those who have decided that they prefer the ways of this world more than the way of Christ.

It’s understandable how this happens.   When we try and try and try, and pray and pray and pray, that God would deliver us from this or that affliction, and nothing (so we think) happens within the time frame we are willing to give it, we end up hating the way of Christ and accept as a given the way of the world.   We huddle with the masses, taking on a form of religion and godliness while rejecting it’s real power (2 Tim. 3:5).

On a person level, I have at various times over the last 20 years reveled in my identity as an addict, preferring that over claiming my identity in Christ.  My natural bent was to take comfort in the community I found among those who self-identified as addicts.  Here there was no expectation that I live in victory.   I placed my faith in a program of recovery more than the God who inspired such programs and desires to redeem me, making me new.

But as I look back at these past two decades, my time of greatest victory has only come when I clung to Christ and his words of life more than the ways of the world.  It’s only come about when I confessed that my greatest problem is not that I’m an addict but that I’m a sinner, and trusted in a God who makes sinners whole, and new (2 Cor. 5:17).    My times of greatest struggle, however, were those periods where I went through the motions of recovery, having little faith in God’s power to redeem me.

In the same passage quoted above, Jesus says a littler further down:

If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father (vs. 24).

The works Jesus speaks of are his making the blind see, the lame walk, the dead raised to life.   If Jesus had not done these things, than you and I – the world – would not be guilty of preferring the natural ways of this world because we would not know another way was possible!  But we do know.  We have seen.   We have heard testimonies of those who have been set free from their addictions.  We have heard testimony from those who no longer live their lives enslaved to their desires.   We have heard testimony from those who no longer revel in the excuse that they were “born this way” but instead rejoice in that they have been born again.   Do they struggle?  Are they tempted?  Yes!  But those struggles and temptations no longer define them, but are rather opportunities to mature in the faith (see James 1).

We have heard and seen these things, and yet we prefer the world’s way.  We hate the way of Christ.  Jesus must still marvel at our lack of faith (Mark 6:6).

My prayer for anyone reading this is that God would awaken in you a desire to be made new, not just better.   I pray that God would awaken you to the truth of His word, that He desires to break the chains of sin and death in your life, and free you for joyful obedience to Christ.   I pray that God would put a hunger and thirst in you for righteousness, that you would seek first the kingdom of God over the programs and comforts of this world.

I pray this for you, I pray this for myself, and I pray this for the Church.  May we cling to Christ, presenting ourselves to the world as a way utterly peculiar to that from which we’ve been called out.   Amen.

Dear Heterosexual: You are not forgotten

It’s been just over a week since the United Methodist General Conference voted on whether or not same sex marriage and LGBT clergy will be allowed in the UMC.

The fact that this issue has so captivated mainstream thought and life, and has been the key issue of debate every quadrennium in the UMC is quite impressive. Why?  Because according to a Gallup poll in 2018, only 4.5% of Americans self-identify as gay, lesbian or bi-sexual.   In this study, 95.5% of Americans identified themselves as straight.   What is so impressive is how the sex lives of 4 out of every 100 people has so captivated our consciousness, both within and without the Christian community.

It got me thinking:  What about the other 95% of us?  It can feel as though we have been forgotten.   It can feel as though our struggles and our sins are of little consequence.  With the spotlight so intensely focused on what 5% of the population is doing behind closed doors it’s easy to minimize or even justify our own struggles.

With 95% of Americans uninterested in marrying someone of the same sex it seems strange that nearly 100% of our conversations about sex have little to do with what all of us, gay or straight, are struggling with, such as….

Pornography

I wish we discussed this in the church more than we discuss homosexuality.   I wish this were seen for what it is – the epidemic destroying our lives – and our church leadership took it every bit as seriously if not more than homosexuality.   While we obsess over the 5%, consider these statistics regarding pornography

The porn industry generates 13 billion dollars in revenue in the US alone.
1 in 5 mobile searches are for pornography
69% of the internet pay-per-view market is pornography
51% of pastors say pornography is a real temptation
64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month
71% of teens hide online behavior from their parents
9 out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls are exposed to pornography before age 18
Average age of first exposure: 12
68% of young adult men and 18% of young adult women use porn weekly.
This sin, legal to view and purchase everywhere, affects every one of us.  The struggle is real, and it is destroying more families and lives than gay marriage ever will.  Our nation’s legalization of gay marriage pales in comparison to the overwhelming acceptance of pornography in our culture and our failure to address it.

Premarital Sex

Even before pornography began to flourish with the advent of the Internet, virtually everyone was having sex outside of marriage.  A study published by the USA Today in 2006 showed that 9 in 10 women born in the 1940’s had premarital sex.  The median age in 2003 of those having sex for the first time was 17.  Of those interviewed in 2002, 95% said they had sex before marriage.

According to one study, 61 percent of Christians said they would have sex before marriage. Fifty-six percent said that it’s appropriate to move in with someone after dating for a time between six months and two years.

While everyone is talking about who 5% of our population is now allowed to marry, the church has often failed to offer to the struggling rest of us a healthy, positive view of sex and why God intends it to be reserved for marriage. We have failed to offer a positive, affirming, theologically rooted understanding of singleness and celibacy.  We do not teach well what it means to have a body created in God’s image to be used for God’s purposes in unique ways as a single person or as a married couple.   (Read my review of the excellent book, Faithful: A Theology of Sex. Better yet, get the book!).

Sexting

While our Church directs her focus on who can and cannot get married or be ordained, our youth are floundering as we turn blind eyes and hearts to their struggle.   Sexting, which is sending sexually explicit material through mobile devices, is a growing phenomenon among both youth and adults.  40% of all teenagers have sent and received sexual material through their phones.  You can read more stats here, and this CNN article suggests that over 60% of youth are using apps on their phones to send sexually suggestive material.  It’s worth checking out, parents, to learn ways to safeguard your kid’s online behavior.

I know firsthand the reality of these struggles, and know all too well the pain they bring to bear on all of one’s relationships.  Even more, I know the guilt and shame surrounding these behaviors and I know how easy it is to minimize and justify these things because they are done in secret.  Because so few will admit they struggle in these areas, and because the church spends so much time talking about the 5% rather than the other 95%, it’s no wonder there is so much confusion in our churches regarding sex ( and given our negligence here, it’s no wonder we struggle to speak the truth in love when it comes to the important matter of homosexuality, gender confusion, and more).

The church, when operating as she ought, is a hospital for the broken.  She is to be the place where sinners like you and I, the 100% of us, can be real about our struggles without fear of being shamed or judged so that we might discover the transforming power of grace at work in each of our lives, healing our brokenness and restoring our communion with God and each other.  And yes, that includes our sexual brokenness.

This is not to say the church has nothing to say about marriage, or shouldn’t address the 5% of our population, but it is to say that as we look at the landscape of sexuality around us, we must admit we are deeply broken and in desperate need of healing.   As I read Scripture, it says that judgment begins in the church, not upon those outside (1 Cor. 5:12).  Perhaps the most faithful and God-honoring thing we can do at such a time as this is to look within ourselves and bring to the cross our own struggles and sexual brokenness.   Perhaps the best thing we can do as a church, particularly this day as we enter into the penitent season of Lent, is to beat our chests and cry out, “Have mercy on me, Oh Lord, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

My hope and prayer for the church is that we are offering places of healing for all people, no matter what their struggle.  I don’t want to see us become so fixated on one sin that we forget that we are all sexually broken.  We all need healing.  We all need to have our minds renewed.  We all need to lay our sexual selves down at the altar and offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2).   We all must remember that our bodies our not our own, but have been bought with a price, and we are to therefore honor God with how we use them.

The one way in which “all means all,” (a refrain often used by those fighting for affirmation and acceptance), is truly accurate is in the sense that we are all broken and are all in need of a Savior who not only can forgive us, but can transform our desires into holy affections, pleasing to God and for the glory of His name.

So, to the 95% of us out there who are struggling, please know you are not forgotten amid the cacophony of voices, both gleeful and despairing, over the results of General Conference.  And you are far from being alone.  I hope you’ll seek out a church this Lent to offer up your own struggle to the lover of your soul, and find a brother or sister to walk alongside you as you both recommit to surrendering your bodies, and what you do with them, to the God who made you.

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.