The Joy of The Cross

We never associate Christ’s death on the cross with joy.  Yes, it is the innocent being betrayed, abandoned, brutalized, and forsaken.  Yet Jesus affirmed constantly that he is doing the will of God in Heaven.  “Not my will, but thine be done,” is the quote from the prayer in the garden before Jesus is betrayed.  Hebrews 10 makes a point of that be the prophetic word from Christ, “I have come to do you will, O God.”

Hebrews 12 gives us this association of the Cross and joy.  Hebrews 12:2, “looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”  The way we approach Lent, and now Passion Week, often forgets and even disdains joy.  In contrast, the author of Hebrews gives the joy that was to come as the reason Jesus endured the Cross and all that it entailed.

I challenged you recently to include in your spiritual disciple of Lent to name at least one thing each day that brings you joy.  If we do not look for joy in our spiritual discipline, even that which is marked with repentance and self-denial, then we are not using Christ as our example.  “For the joy that was set before him” should cause us to anticipate and even find the joy that we are offered in following Jesus as a disciple.  Even when the requirement includes taking up our cross to follow him.

Pastor Greg

PS:  I am looking forward to Maundy Thursday at 7:00 p.m.  I have a sermon in the first person on the life of Judas.  I have presented this on a couple of occasions and have received positive remarks about this approach to the character that betrayed Jesus Christ.

In The Kingdom, Seeing is Doing

What to Expect in the End  
     The end of the world has been a fascination among Christians for most of the history of the Church.  Passages like our text this Sunday (Mark 13) are among those that excite the speculation of many readers.  Of course, the sun being darkened and the moon not giving its light; wars and rumors of wars; earthquakes in various places; are titillating descriptions for the imagination.      

What has been one of the considerations of the end that Jesus has emphasized in Mark?  I think the idea that there is coming a tomorrow that will not be like today is Jesus’ exhortation.  As in the man who was told, “tonight your soul will be required of you.”  Tomorrow may not be like today, and what are you going to do about it?      

In 1 Peter 4:7-8 we read “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.  Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”  We are preparing for the “end of all things” by patience, self-control, praying, loving and forgiving.  This is where we get out of balance.  I think all Christian doctrine or prophecy is to remind us to do these things.     

 I do see the Bible teaching that there will be a tomorrow that is not like today.  That tells me that I must do today the things like Peter mentions so I can prepare for it.  Keep loving, keep praying, keep forgiving until the stars begin to fall.

Pastor Greg

In The Kingdom, Seeing Is Doing

Mark 12:28-34

     Those of us trained in the mindset of the Reformation have an aversion any kind of works or even ritual tied to our faith.  It is right to affirm the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 3:28, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”  Yet, when we come to Jesus in the Gospels, we hear a different take than our usual understanding of relationship between works and justification.

     We come this week to one of those bothersome passages where it seems Jesus is affirming that fidelity to the Commandments is the way to enter the Kingdom of God.  Understanding that the whole of the Law and Prophets (our Old Testament) is summed up in the Greatest Commandment, “to love God with our whole heart,” and the Second is “to love your neighbor as yourself,” puts you not far from the Kingdom of God.  How is that?  Some commentators say that the man is not far from the Kingdom because he is not far from Jesus.  That is not a convincing explanation.  If we look at what is said in this passage, the key verb is love.  Who you love and how you show it is what puts you in the Kingdom of God.  If you love God, your life will run contrary to the kingdoms of this world.  If you love the other as yourself, your life will run contrary to your social group, tribe, racial norms, or other allegiances. 

     The epistle of James gives us a great example to contemplate.  “With it (our tongue) we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God (James 3:9).”  These actions are incongruent.  If you have not allowed the command to love God and love neighbor to sink in your heart and control your tongue, you are far from the Kingdom of God.  We cannot be self-righteous thinking that we “love the right kind of people” while disdaining and even cursing the wrong kind of people.
     Being a part of God’s plan of redemption of all things begins with our hearts and how we are disciplined into the stringent requisites of the Greatest Commandments. 

Pastor Greg

Lent and Self Image

Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips,
and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
(Isaiah 6:5)

     It seems in some circles that feeling bad about yourself is one of the greatest sins.  With all our emphasis on giving children and other confidence and acceptance we put a lot of effort into building their self-image.  By and large this is a positive emphasis, because we are accepted fully in Christ Jesus.

     In the traditional practice of Lent, we have an emphasis on “just as I am, poor, wretched, blind.”  And seeing ourselves as failures and worthless before God.  The honest, spiritual inventory called in traditional Lent, should not be shied away from.  For we must have an accurate diagnosis or assessment of our spiritual and ethical health before we can take measures to healthy living.  Yet, we must also do and accurate spiritual inventory of our strengths lest we slide into despair. 

     So, in our self-examination of Lent let us think back to last Lent and see how we have improved, how we have overcome our flaws, and how we have become stronger in our faith.  This is the encouragement of Lent.  This makes Lent a season with the promise of building our self-image or self-understanding.  It is not just a time to ask for God’s help in overcoming our deficiencies, but seeing how God’s power has helped us grow, develop, and mature in the past.

Pastor Greg