The Wonderful Cross

Chris Tomlin’s lyrics are a great place to start with singing glory to our Savior King Jesus, but our praises mustn’t end there. First, we need to think about the words we are singing.

When I survey the wondrous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain, I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

What is wondrous about the cross on which our Lord died? Nothing whatsoever! It represents the curse that Jesus bore for us, who truly deserve to so die. The fact that He actually chose to die in our place because of His love for us, His wayward creation, is the most wondrous thing of all. But that awful cross? Just two pieces of lumber; nothing special about that.

Christendom has elevated the cross, a symbol of Christ’s redemptive work for us, to the status of a religious icon. We’re okay as long as we only view it as the symbol, but when we elevate it to a position of singular importance and venerate it as a source of God’s grace, we are in danger of becoming idolaters.

Some Christian denominations cover their church buildings’ walls with icons representing Jesus, saints and religious objects. Others condemn using icons in worship. Both extremes are wrong when they take pride in their respective beliefs and make them conditions for spiritual fellowship.

Now, for the phrase, “Prince of Glory.” Maybe I’m picking nits, but I wonder if using a non-Biblical title for our Lord Jesus is quite the thing to do. He is indeed the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and the King of Glory (Psalm 24). Would the lyrics have suffered if Tomlin had used, “King of Glory” instead? The cadence would have been the same, so why not use the Biblical phrase?

The balance of that stanza cries out a truth that the church badly needs to grasp. Oh, aren’t we into worldly gain! The more, the merrier! Ephesians 4:17-32 gives us a strong statement of how we must conduct ourselves in the church and the world. Apostle Paul begins with, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” Then, in verse twenty-eight he adds, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.” Does that include any provision for accumulating possessions? Can we find that anywhere in the New Covenant of God’s grace? So, why do we insist on devoting ourselves to accumulating possessions for our own glory?

Finally, Tomlin’s second and third stanzas remind us of Christ’s depth of suffering and the response we owe to Him.

See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did ever such love and sorrow meet?
Or thorns compose, so rich a crown

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all

Read more: Chris Tomlin – The Wonderful Cross Lyrics | MetroLyrics

The Weeping Prophet

So, here’s the story: Last night I went to bed with hopes of falling asleep without delay, but as I lay there communing with my Creator, I began praying for heart-holiness, both for myself and for His church. As often happens when I pray for Christ-likeness, I began weeping, and the more I contemplated the contrast between Christ and myself, the more my tears flowed. I heard myself sobbing, both from grief and gratitude; I felt a sense of the Holy Spirit’s grief about my soulish stubbornness, and unbearable gratitude for God’s grace despite my failure to apprehend the victory I have in Christ Jesus.

Then, this morning’s Our Daily Bread devotional cited Lamentations 3:1-6, 16-25, where the weeping prophet Jeremiah mourned Jerusalem’s destruction and the Jews’ subsequent captivity. So in typical fashion, I lumped both experiences into a single conceptual stew.

God is disciplining His church in much the same way that He disciplined His people Israel, albeit with His New Covenant grace.

  • As Jeremiah cried out warnings about Israel’s wandering ways, God’s New Testament writers warn His church about our own carnality.
  • As Israel ignored the prophet’s warnings, most of today’s church lie comfortably in our worldly affluence, enjoying our Sunday religious lift while snoring through our godly preachers’ warnings.
  • As Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, popular culture is destroying the institutional church.
  • As Babylon carried Israel’s intelligentsia into captivity, the world system is co-opting the church’s theologians.
  • As Babylon absorbed Israel into its own culture, the world system is defiling God’s church through our preoccupation with its entertainments, its trendy styles, and its pursuit of youthful image.

Though we have much reason to grieve, we have far more reason to rejoice; none of this surprises our omniscient God, and His plan for our triumph over the world system is, and always has been, in place. Yes, I still mourn for those of His church who will never awaken from their slumber, but I rejoice for the faithful remnant who heed His warnings, becoming incorruptible salt and prevailing light for this stale and dark world. Like God’s people Israel, the church’s exile is only temporary, and we have the Great Hope of our eternal homecoming, where our tears will cease and we will commune with our Lord Jesus face-to-face.

A Hard Pill To Swallow

My thousand milligram vitamin C tablet gives me fits when trying to swallow it. The stupid thing begins dissolving before I can gulp it down, so it sticks in my throat until I can gulp enough water to break it free. But vitamin C pills aren’t the only supplements that are hard to swallow.

(1 Peter 2:12) Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Thank the New American Standard Bible for that awkward wording, but its meaning is quite close to the original language. Semantics aside, today’s church needs to play catch-up regarding, “the thing(s) in which they slander [us] as evildoers.” Such things are too numerous to list here, but the, “excellent behavior,” in that verse does not mean acting “Christian.” It means, “winsome goodness,” and most of today’s church could never be accused of that.

(1 Peter 2:13) Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,

Here is the abrasive coating for our hard-to-swallow pill. Fallen humanity does not easily submit to authority of any kind, and least of all to God, as our great-great-great … grandparents so aptly demonstrated. Here again, to see apparently moral people with issues in that area, all we need to do is take an honest look at today’s church. Because we’re “saved,” we think we have a free pass to heaven regardless what we do in the flesh. But for God’s perspective, we need to flash back to His command in verse twelve: Maintain winsome goodness among outsiders … (my rendering; look it up, it’s pretty close).

(1 Peter 2:14) or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.

Apostle Paul, in Romans 13:1-8, said the governing authorities bear the sword to bring down God’s wrath against evildoers, giving us ne’er-do-well human beings incentive to behave. While this is true for all people, it applies even more directly to Christ-followers, as outsiders are all too aware of our higher, Biblical moral standard. Again, flash back to verse twelve; when they watch us behaving badly toward one another, or anyone else for that matter, we’ve just proved they are right in their negative opinions about us, and therefore about God.

(1 Peter 2:15) For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.

According to Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Christ-followers must do what is right, not from fear of earthly authorities, but from fear of God. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

Go ahead, gulp that Scriptural pill right down, so you can shut the fools’ mouths.

 

Faith’s Other Side

What’s bright is not always beneficial.

In today’s Our Daily Bread devotional, Mart DeHaan wrote about trusting God, and included a short poem by that famous Greek author, Anonymous.

Trust when your skies are darkening,
Trust when your light grows dim,
Trust when the shadows gather,
Trust and look up to Him.

Sometimes our faith gets turned on end when God seems to work against us, rather than for us. If in those difficult times we want to, as Apostle Paul wrote, “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” we have to check out the the faith-coin’s other side. If you haven’t guessed that hidden message, read Anononymous’ poem again. That’s right; it’s trust!

You’ll find trust easy to grasp when your world is progressing swimmingly, but you may find it more illusive when you feel like you’re up to your eyeballs in piranha. So, what’s the key to flipping that faith-coin? The psalmist knew the secret:

It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
That I may learn Your statutes.
(Psalm 119:71)

Find your “statutes” in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. I’m not talking about the Ten Commandments and other laws found in the Torah, but the godly principles that apply to us as directly as they did to God’s people Israel. That verse from Psalm 119 spells out God’s purpose in allowing affliction in your life; if you have founded it on the Rock, affliction drives you to His Word for faith-building. If faith were a building, trust would be the roof that keeps you dry and safe in the worst storms. As long as I’m pushing metaphors to the limit, 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 gives you a Bill of Materials for your house.

Oh, you may think the pounding rain, the gale-force winds, the torrential flood, and the thunder and lightening will get to you, but as faith brings trust, trust brings, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, (that) will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

Utopia

Map of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia

Project Utopia; A Human Concept

Everyone hopes for a better place. Since 1516, when Sir Thomas More published his novel, Utopia, we’ve known what to call it. Many sociological and political movers and shakers in the six intervening centuries have tried to establish their own, “unique,” utopias, but every attempt went the way of all earthly paradises. One problem stands in the way of such ideal places: the dreaded “S” word, or the “D” word, and they aren’t the popular profanities that start with those letters. Sin, and the depravity that follows it, always intervene with even the best-laid human plans, programs and institutions, when we leave God out of the picture.

You may have noticed the bad reputation that religion is earning, even our beloved Christianity. That’s because even many religions or sects that claim to embrace Christ’s teachings and Spirit, don’t. Instead, they are the products of human pride and ambition, rather than of Christ’s Great Commission. and the love that He commands in His Word. Oh, they may have begun with the purest motives ever, but we … that’s you and I … too often let our carnality take over. A (literally) dead giveaway is when we set goals and targets for our ministries that aren’t strictly Scriptural. Those might include targeting a mean income for a church’s constituency, establishing “seeker-friendly” programs, and vetting perspective members by their appearance, style or occupation. But, of course your church doesn’t do that, does it?

A Religious Utopia (at least for those who pass the plate)

I said everyone hopes for a better place, because when we don’t have hope, despair takes over our lives. The New King James Version New Testament lists sixty-three instances of “hope,” fifty-three of which are in the epistles. God obviously considers hope an important idea. You’ll find the best known of those passages in Romans, chapter eight:

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.

Christ-followers live in the only reliable hope of a “utopia,” and that is not a place, but a relationship with the only One who is able to deliver far more than we could ever hope for. Never stop seeking that “Utopia.”

C.S. Lewis on Effort

Uncle Jack has always had a way of eliciting controversy; religious liberals accuse him of being too conservative, and religious conservatives accuse him of being too liberal. He brings out the extreme range of opinion among Christians. While I disagree with him on some theological points, I’ve found much more agreement with his Scripture applications. His statement on effort, from Words to Live By, is a case in point.

Many things—such as loving, going to sleep, or behaving unaffectedly—are done worst when we try hardest to do them.

So true, but Lewis didn’t mention the self-control required to do those things without trying.

Did I hear you say, “That’s nuts!”? Well, it’s not nuts. The only way to develop positive behaviors so you do them automatically is by developing the appropriate habits, and that takes self-control.

What motivates those positive habit formations? God’s Holy Spirit, working through frequent exposure to, study of, and meditation on his Word. That is the very first godly habit, and all the others flow from it. When God opens your eyes to the awful wonder of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for your sins, and the depth of his love for you—personally—that motivated him to submit to that torture, you will want to let him speak to you through his Word. God will show you that he is love, and as Jesus demonstrated his love by dying on the cross for you, so you will want to demonstrate your love for him by crucifying your own desires for self-gratification, and obeying him even when you don’t feel like it.

I Abhor Myself (Job 42:5-6)

MTJames:

Be sure to see the end of this repost. The song in the YouTube video is a powerful reminder of God’s excellent faithfulness.

Originally posted on The Vine Vigil:

Have you read the Book of Job?  I’ve read it dozens of times, and the part that always stands out to me is this -

Job 42:5-6

I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee.  forgiveness

Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

Day after day, I fail Him, and day after day, He shows indescribable mercy.  The secret pride, the self complacency, the surreptitious coveting, the sluggishness, O God – please – please -  help me.  And He does.  Again and again and again.  Again and again when I don’t deserve it.  Again and again when I forget Him and allow the cares of this world to consume me.  There He is, so gracious, so merciful, so longsuffering. 

How can He love me – still.  He is so wonderful, my puny vocabulary is insufficient to praise…

View original 129 more words

Isaiah 55:6 Conviction

A New Day

This morning Pastor Luke preached on Jesus’ parable of the ten servants, where their master gave them each one mina, which is thought to be about three-months’ wages, or about $3,800 in today’s economy. That was enough to invest profitably. You know the story of three of those servants; when their master returned, one servant handed him $38,000, one handed him $19,000, but the last servant gave him the original $3,800. You know how that went over with their master. The moral is, “For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (verse 26)

Though many truths reside in that one parable, the one that applied to me was, no one has nothing, so God demands from each of us, regardless how poor we claim to be, some demonstration of our stewardship of His blessings. To say we have nothing to give back to God insults Him terribly, as at very least He gave us His Son Jesus to bear our sin-guilt upon Calvary’s cross. We live because Jesus died in our place, so we owe Him our very lives—that includes all that our lives produce. Yet, even though He is entitled to our all, He asks only that we show faithful stewardship of our lives, which is to love as He loves us.

That message convicted me of my laxness in bearing the fruit of what He planted within me—and that’s even this blog’s theme. But when Pastor Luke provided an opportunity to respond to God’s conviction, I sat still, putting off the business I need to conduct with my Lord.

That’s where Isaiah 55:6 comes in. I found it when I opened my Verse of the Day feed from BibleGateway, and it goes like this: Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near. As soon as I saw it I thought of my bum planted firmly on Cornerstone church’s padded pew. So, this is the lesson I learned: Whenever you or I feel conviction from God, we need to open up our accounts for His examination. Where repentance is due, we must do it with humble sincerity. Where restitution is due, we must pay back what we owe. Where confession and forgiveness is needed, we must confess our sin to those we sinned against and beg their forgiveness. But we can’t take care of divine business on our own. We need God’s help to humble ourselves and do what He asks. That is what Isaiah meant by, Call upon Him while He is near.

Father, I call upon you right now, asking for the strength, the grace, the humility, to act on the wisdom you showed me today. And I ask this in the authority of Jesus’ precious name.

An Offer I Can’t Refuse?

I needed a Bible verse, so I hopped on my mouse and traveled over to BibleGateway.com, found my sought-after Bible verse, and was satisfied. But I found something else as well: Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.

I want it! But they want $25.99 (that’s a penny less than $26 if you hadn’t noticed) for the privilege of using it on BibleGateway.

“But it’s really sick,” I explain to Inner Mother, “It works right alongside BibleGateway’s Bible text.”

“You already have Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary to play with,” answers Inner Mother, “Why do you need another one, when you rarely use the one you have?”

“But Moooommm,” I whine, “I already use BibleGateway a lot, and it’d be so convenient …”

Inner Mom just gives me That Look (I don’t envy her view.).

To buy, or not to buy. That is the question (sorry, Shakespeare). Buying stuff is not a noble pursuit, if said stuff only meets the need to possess stuff. I can’t imagine how many times I’ve bought cool stuff, simply because a couple of unassigned bucks happened to reside in my pocket. Where is that cool stuff now? Why, I can’t even remember what it was, let alone where it might be hiding.

God reminds me, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Nuff said?

I Love My Verse of the Day from Bible Gateway

Granted, one Scripture verse isn’t much, but, at least for me, it often opens my creaking thought-door for some wide-ranging tangential ruminations. If you want to start getting it, find it under the Newsletters link on Bible Gateway.

Another daily blessing is Our Daily Bread, one of many devotionals available through Bible Gateway, and available under the same link. Sometimes it comes to my inbox with somewhat mundane spiritual thoughts and applications, but often it bowls me over with its relevance to my life.

Bible Gateway isn’t the most extensive site for Scripture study, but it offers a fantastic range of Bible translations and resources. If you haven’t used it, you really aught to check it out. You can’t have too much exposure to God’s Word.

Today’s Bible passage is Philippians 1:9-10 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ. That’s my prayer for you, as I cover each piece I post on this blog with my prayer for anyone who happens upon it. May God bless you richly as you follow in Christ’s Way.