Tag Archives: cross

Victory is a Person (God’s not out to change us, but to exchange us)

Victory, from the Old French word victor, means to triumph or overcome in a struggle. A personal victory might be losing weight, breaking a bad habit or making the dean’s list. There are team victories, political victories and victories in war. Most victories require tremendous strain and effort, but are extremely rewarding.

In Christian circles you hear of a “victorious Christian life,” a time when sin is conquered, fear is overthrown and love for God and other’s flows freely.

Our natural tendency is to think a “victorious Christian life,” is gained in the same pains taking efforts other victories have been won, giving it our all, trying as hard as we can to win. This could not be farther from the truth.

It is true, Jesus desires for us a life free from fear and sin, loving God and others in the same sacrificial way He has loved us, but He is not asking us to change.

God is not looking for a changed life. He is offering an exchanged life.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2nd Corinthians 5:21

Christ has exchanged His life for ours. Not only did He die in our place to rescue us from eternal separation from God, but He also imputed His righteousness to us. We have become the righteousness of God.

There is not trying hard to be righteous. In Christ we are righteousness.

But you say, “That might be true, but how is victory realized in my own life? How is sin defeated, fear banished, love unleashed and joy experienced?”

The answer is still the same. With His exchanged Life.

Consider the great summary verse Paul wrote about the Christian life:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20

The victory is not in trying harder. The victory is in embracing the death of our old nature on the cross and depending upon the newness of our life in Christ. Christ did not die so that we could be changed. He died so that we might die with Him and be raised with Him in newness of life.

Victory is in realizing our crucifixion with Christ and depending upon Christ in all we do. Yielding to His abiding Spirit, we bear fruit for the glory of God. Apart from His work in us, we can do nothing. ( See John 15:5)

We need to stop trying so hard to pattern our lives after what we read about Jesus in the Bible. There’s only one person who can truly live the victorious Christian life and it’s not us. It’s Jesus in us.

We have been made new. In Christ we have all the love, joy, peace, patience and hope we will ever need. Ours is to realize our newness in Him (counting as fact the death of our old self (See Romans 6:11) ) and yielding to Christ in us to love whoever get’s in our way.

Victory is not in trying harder. I’m pretty sure we’ve all tried that.

Victory is in remaining in the love of Christ and yielding to His Spirit.

The old has gone the new has come.

Challenge:  Consider an area of your life in which you feel defeated.  Trust that Jesus wants you to have victory in this area even more than you do.

Bring this area before the Lord right now:

Lord, you know  how discouraged I am in this area. I’ve tried so hard to be like you, but have failed miserably. I know now that victory is not in trying harder, but in resting in You. Open the eyes of my heart that I might know your great love for me. Teach me to remain in your love and yield to your Spirit in me as I allow you to become my victory in this area.

Lord, You are my Victory.

 

Death Row – A Good Friday Story

A man squatted in a dingy prison cell, his features hidden by the deep shadows of his dark imprisonment. Only a thin plane of morning sunlight penetrated the darkness, revealing countless dust particles floating around rows of disheartened men. The man was seated, away from the light, staring motionless into the darkness.

On a hill outside the prison stood the place of execution, where condemned men were put to death. Today would be this man’s turn.

 In a way, death was a welcome ending to his pain. But more strongly the condemned man felt the fear of death’s mysteries. His soul, it seems, had died long ago, but the fear of physical death consumed him.

As he waited in the cruel anticipation of a violent death, his mind raced across the span of his life. What would have made a difference? What could have changed his inclinations towards evil? The answers to these questions could only be tossed out into his universe of despair. Like always, he knew no answers would come. There was no hope.

Slowly and ever more increasingly, the  man became aware of the sounds of a great number of voices and footsteps. There were shouts and roars, but none of the words could be recognized. The noise increased and erupted past him like a huge ocean wave. An enormous mass of shouting people had passed just outside his cell and were proceeding toward execution hill. 

The time was near. He couldn’t remember so great a crowd ever gathered to witness a death before.

Just then the outside door of the prison was slammed open hard against the wall. Keys jiggled and the main security door was unlocked. Prison guards streamed towards his cell. The hopeless man trembled and recoiled in fear. Death was pouncing upon him.

The guards unlocked his cell and converged upon him like as many wild tigers. They seized him, and drug him out into the morning sun outside the prison. When they had cleared the outside door, he was slammed face down hard on the ground, sand and dirt exploding into his eyes, nose and mouth. 

The impact dazed him. In a semi conscious state, he waited for the first sting of the lashing whip.

After awhile, he slowly opened his eyes, spitting dirt from his mouth. He tilted his head slowly, expecting his flesh to be ripped open with a whip at any moment. But he was alone. Turning his head, he could see the guards joining the crowds flowing toward execution hill. He was left unattended on the ground.

Slowly at first, but with increasing urgency, the freed man got up and made his way into a stable filled with livestock, across the block from the prison. Looking around as he fled, he expected his fantasy to end at any moment. 

Within the safety of the dwelling, he flung himself upon the straw and sobbed.

After awhile, the sounds from execution hill softened and the man’s curiosity moved him out of his safe zone. He left the building and circled around the back of the mountain of murder, called the “place of the skull”.

He came up upon the crowd and mixed himself safely among the masses. With much effort, he fought his way through until he could see what the commotion was all about.

Three men hung dying on crosses, pain etched across their faces. Two of the men he knew from his time in prison, but he didn’t recognize the man in the middle. This man seemed much weaker and closer to death than the others.

As he stood watching, he noticed the blood gushing down the wood of the middle tree.  He followed the trail of blood up to the man’s face. Though he was among a mass of people, the man on the middle cross was looking directly at him.  His  eyes were not desperate and frantic, but peaceful and loving.

After a few moments the freed man turned and walked away. As he fought his way back through the crowd, he overheard someone asking about the man on the middle cross, “Why are they killing him? What has he done wrong?”

“He’s done nothing wrong,” the answer came. “He’s dying in place of a man set free.”

Luke 23:19-20  (MSG)  At that, the crowd went wild: “Kill him! Give us Barabbas!” (Barabbas had been thrown in prison for starting a riot in the city and for murder.) Pilate still wanted to let Jesus go, and so spoke out again.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NASB) He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Running to your Love

 The Lord your God is in your midst;  he is a warrior who can deliver.  He takes great delight in you;  he renews you by his love; he shouts for joy over you.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NET)

Can You Come Play?

During a recent trip to Walmart, I had a delightful surprise. I was in ”get-er-done” mode, wheeling my buggy toward the area I hoped I’d find camping chairs, when my Fitbit informed me I had a call. Looking down and seeing it was my daughter, I tapped my blue tooth and answered it. But it wasn’t my daughter, it was my four year old grandson. “Can you come play?” he asked.

If you’ve reached the stage in life where you’ve been blessed with grandchildren, you understand how his question made me feel. My heart absolutely over flowed with love for him.

There’s a different dimension of love I’ve experienced with our five grandkids. We don’t love them more than our children, just differently. Without the responsibility of direct parenting, I feel freer to love. In fact, in a very real sense grandkids help me experience the moments of life more fully and God’s love more deeply.

God’s Love

The next day in church, there was a phrase in one of the songs about running to God’s love. It’s a great concept, but understanding God’s continual open arms to us can be extremely hard to grasp. Speaking of Christ’s love, Paul prays we might comprehend its vastness and know this love which surpasses knowledge. With our limited minds, this picture of unending, unchangeable love can only be believed by faith, especially in light of our human failings.

When I think of how I’ve disappointed God, seeds of doubt creep in. Are his arms still open? Does he still desire our embrace?

Pop’s Love

What love I experienced when my grandson called me! If I wasn’t an hour and fifteen minutes away, I’d have driven straight there. And even with the distance, surprising him crossed my mind. Being “Pop” to my grandchildren has expanded my heart to measures I didn’t expect, but my love for them is a mere shadow compared to God’s love for me.

Expanding My Concept of love

When we think of our children or grandchildren, and really ponder our love for them, we can understand a deeper dimension of God’s love. Those closest to us can cause the deepest pain, but no matter what a child or grandchild does, would I ever refuse their desire to run into my arms?

Challenge:

Close your eyes and picture God holding out his arms to you for a running embrace.  Is there a hesitation? If so, what are you afraid of? Whatever it is, it’s a lie.

 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39 (NASB)

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for giving me a picture of your love for me, when I think of my grandchildren. Allowing me to be a grandfather helps me understand your love for me even more.

But sometimes there’s a “disconnect” in my heart. Your love is true. Like the Father in the story of the prodigal son, you have open arms for all your children. Whether we’ve been in the distant lands of false affections or striving to earn your love at home, your love never fails.

Your arms are always open and you delight in us running to you. In fact, when you see us running to you, because we are in Christ, you see your Son.

Victory is a Person

Victory, from the Old French word victor, means to triumph or overcome in a struggle. A personal victory might be losing weight, breaking a bad habit or making the dean’s list. There are team victories, political victories and victories in war. Most victories require tremendous strain and effort, but are extremely rewarding.

In Christian circles you hear of a “victorious Christian life,” a time when sin is conquered, fear is overthrown and love for God and other’s flows freely.

Our natural tendency is to think a “victorious Christian life,” is gained in the same pains taking efforts other victories have been won, giving it our all, trying as hard as we can to win. This could not be farther from the truth.

It is true, Jesus desires for us a life free from fear and sin, loving God and others in the same sacrificial way He has loved us, but He is not asking us to change.

God is not looking for a changed life. He is offering an exchanged life.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2nd Corinthians 5:21

Christ has exchanged His life for ours. Not only did He die in our place to rescue us from eternal separation from God, but He also imputed His righteousness to us. We have become the righteousness of God.

There is not trying hard to be righteous. In Christ we are righteousness.

But you say, “That might be true, but how is victory realized in my own life? How is sin defeated, fear banished, love unleashed and joy experienced?”

The answer is still the same. With His exchanged Life.

Consider the great summary verse Paul wrote about the Christian life:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20

The victory is not in trying harder. The victory is in embracing the death of our old nature on the cross and depending upon the newness of our life in Christ. Christ did not die so that we could be changed. He died so that we might die with Him and be raised with Him in newness of life.

Victory is in realizing our crucifixion with Christ and depending upon Christ in all we do. Yielding to His abiding Spirit, we bear fruit for the glory of God. Apart from His work in us, we can do nothing. ( See John 15:5)

We need to stop trying so hard to pattern our lives after what we read about Jesus in the Bible. There’s only one person who can truly live the victorious Christian life and it’s not us. It’s Jesus in us.

We have been made new. In Christ we have all the love, joy, peace, patience and hope we will ever need. Ours is to realize our newness in Him (counting as fact the death of our old self (See Romans 6:11) ) and yielding to Christ in us to love whoever get’s in our way.

Victory is not in trying harder. I’m pretty sure we’ve all tried that.

Victory is in remaining in the love of Christ and yielding to His Spirit.

The old has gone the new has come.

Challenge:  Consider an area of your life in which you feel defeated.  Trust that Jesus wants you to have victory in this area even more than you do.

Bring this area before the Lord right now:

Lord, you know  how discouraged I am in this area. I’ve tried so hard to be like you, but have failed miserably. I know now that victory is not in trying harder, but in resting in You. Open the eyes of my heart that I might know your great love for me. Teach me to remain in your love and yield to your Spirit in me as I allow you to become my victory in this area.

You are my Victory.

 

Loving Without Expecting Anything in Return

A few years ago, my oldest son Jonathan and I were tending a burn pile down by the barn. As we sat in camping chairs, water hose ready, watching the dried limbs and brush blaze, he had something to tell me that was very hard to hear.

As my eyes followed a black ember dancing upward in the billows of smoke, he said, “Dad, growing up I felt as if you cared more about the relationship than you did about me.” He went on to explain that he knew I loved him, but he could tell I cared a lot about being viewed as a successful Father.

Jonathan’s words pierced my heart. At that time my identity was very closely tied to success in all my roles. I feared failing as a husband, father, provider, brother and friend. This is exactly what he was pointing out to me. My love was not pure. I needed to know I was doing a good job and depended on the response of others for assurance and validation.

My conversation with Jonathan was very hard, but it was exactly what I needed.  I’m so glad he cared enough about our relationship to point out how he was feeling. His honesty helped me understand that I loved with a selfish love, expecting something in return.  I thanked him for his boldness and sincerely apologized. I asked God to heal this part of me which craved affirmation and the approval of others.

God has and is answering my prayer. I’m now much freer to love others with the sacrificial love of Jesus, but I also know He’s not through with me yet. At times, I still find myself expecting certain responses from others as I seek to love them.

My prayer is that I will love others as Christ loves me, not with a faulty human love, but with the love of His Indwelling Holy Spirit.

Consider the following verses:

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God,  gets up from supper, and lays aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.  Then He pours water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. John 13:3-5

Right before Jesus performs a service, done normally only by slaves, John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives us a peak into Jesus’ mind:

Jesus knew who He was and where He came from.  Jesus is the Son of God. His Father sent Him forth, giving all things into His hands so that He could rescue us and restore us to right relationship with God. Jesus didn’t need anything from those He came to rescue. He was completely filled with His Father’s love.

If we were sent to an ant colony to rescue the queen from an anteater, to return when the job was done, would we really care what the ants thought of us while we were there? No, we could care less how the ants felt, we were visiting from another place.

As believers, our citizenship is in heaven. Like Jesus, our true home is not this world. We are free to love others as Christ has loved us, needing nothing in return.

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; Philippians 3:20

Because this world is what we see, it’s easy for us to operate on its terms, looking to society to tell us how we’re doing. But consider the following amazing fact, spoken by Jesus concerning you and me.

Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; Remain in My love. John 15:9

Jesus loves us just as much as God the Father loves Him. Let this soak in before you read on.

Ours is to remain in this great love, a love we did nothing to deserve to begin with. Remaining in the love of Jesus allows us to love freely as He did.

If we remain saturated in the love of Christ, untethered from the need for human validation and approval, we love freely, expecting nothing in return.

But how do we remain in His love? Read the following verses carefully for the answer.

If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. John 15:10-12

We remain in His love, by loving others as He has loved us. His love flowing through us, completes our Joy. Our life becomes a continual rhythm of receiving His love and giving it away. Free to love because He loves us..

  • Jesus loves us as much as God loves Him
  • We can do nothing apart from Jesus, including loving others

Challenge: Think about a time recently when a person didn’t respond to your love as you would have desired; a time when your feelings were hurt or when you found yourself fishing for a response.

Ask the Lord to wash away your expectations and hurt in His great love. Ask him to open the eyes of your heart that you might get a glimpse of how much God loves you. His love is wider and deeper and longer and higher than your mind can understand. But His can speak to our hearts and reveal His ocean of love.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19

What is Abundant Life?

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10

It’s Saturday morning in South Carolina. Though it’s before 10 am, it’s already hot and I have a fan whirling. I sip my coffee and watch the birds visit the three bird feeders we’ve placed beyond the reach (at least for now) of relentless squirrel visits.

I love Saturday mornings. Unless I’ve packed my schedule too tightly, there’s time to sit and relish God’s nearness.

This morning I read John 10:10. I pause at the promise of abundant life.

Abundant Life. What does it really mean?

Through our country’s eyes, abundance has a lot to do with possessions. Yet we know this kind of abundance doesn’t produce abundant life.

Statistic show that half the world’s wealth is in the hands of 1% of the population. Can these 1% say their possessions have given them abundant life? History is dotted with sad stories that say no. Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Howard Hughes and Earnest Hemingway are just a few who lived in abundance of possessions, yet their lives ended sadly, not reflecting the abundant life Jesus is referring to.

In fact, it can be argued that abundant possessions inhibit abundant life. Stuff can drain much time and energy, leaving little margin for true abundance.

By implication, abundance can also be associated with success, good health and overall good circumstanced. There is certainly nothing wrong with desiring all these things,  but we know that circumstantial happiness does not translate directly to abundant life either.

The abundant life Jesus refers is not tied to possessions or circumstances. In fact His abundant life is exponentially more satisfying and stable than either.

Years ago, during a two week missions trip to Lima Peru, I was deeply saddened by the living conditions I saw.  Poverty forced mothers to do the unthinkable, releasing their young sons to fend for themselves on the streets.

Our group served at Casa Hogar, an orphanage designed to feed and educated these children. But many of the abandoned children were already steeped in a life of glue sniffing, stealing and prostitution. Chained to this life, they  refused the long term help of the orphanage. Some were adopted, however, and shown the love of Jesus.

In spite of all the poverty and sadness in Lima, there was a quality of love we saw in the believers which I had not experienced in the United States. The folks who worked at Casa Hogar seemed to be refreshingly free from the pursuit of possessions and smooth circumstances.

We all experienced such a depth of the love of Jesus during our two weeks in Peru that many of us dreaded to return to the  “rat race” of the American culture.

We had the audacity to think we were traveling to South America to “minster” the love of Jesus to folks in dire straights. But we were the ones who were deeply touched by the love of Jesus flowing through the Peruvians, even the children.

As I take another sip of coffee, and notice a squirrel repelling down a wire to once again help itself to our bird seed, I write the following words:

Abundant life is not abundant possessions or smooth circumstances. Abundant life is Abundant love.

The Bible is saturated with remarkable language about God’s love,  but there is no better demonstration of abundant love than what Jesus did for each one of us on the cross.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.[1]

 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)[2]

As I watch the squirrel wrapped around the feeder, spilling seed everywhere, I conclude that  the kind of abundant life Jesus promises us has everything to do with His love.

But how does God’s abundant love translate into an abundant life for us on a day by day basis? In other words, what is our part in God’s story of abundant love?

I believe the answer is in John 15.

In verse 9, we get a such an astounding definition of abundant love that only the Spirit of God can fully reveal it to our hearts. Jesus tells us “Just as the Father has loved Me, I also have loved you;”

Pause a moment. Jesus loves us as much as God the Father loves Him. This is stunning!

Allow this truth full access to your heart, penetrating every hardened sinew  of protection and blowing away every argument of self hatred.

Jesus loves us beyond our comprehension and He demonstrated it by dying in our place on the cross

The second part of  John 15:9 is a command:

“Remain in my love.”

Remain where God has placed us, in the love of Jesus.  We did nothing to earn this love, ours is to not move from where we have been placed.

Verses 10 and 12 tell us how.

If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love. (10)

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. (12)

We remain in Jesus love, by loving like Him; by being willing in every situation to love sacrificially. This is what we experienced in Peru; folks being freed up from chasing possessions and smooth circumstances to love like Jesus in spite of their poverty and difficulties.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to not have the burden of the “rat race” facing us every day; to rather ask God each day, by the Indwelling Spirit of Christ, to love the people He brings our way; to yield to the Spirit in us to allow Him to love as us.

This is abundant life. Allowing the abundant love of Jesus to flow through us.  ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:38

If you don’t see already that abundant life is abundant love, allow me to seal the deal.

Couched in between verses 10 and 12 in John 15 is the following verse:

These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. John 15:11

Abundant life is abundant love.

 

[1] Romans 5:8

[2] Ephesians 2:4-5

 

Dying of Thirst

 Desert Dryness

“How long did they say we should wait here?” Andy asked, glancing again at the crumpled wreck that had once been their plane, as the two brothers laid exhausted in the desert heat.

“Andy…  How many times can we talk about the same thing?” Peter returned in tired frustration. “They said to wait here with Jimmy until they could bring help. They didn’t specify how long…”

“How long has it been? I’m getting so thirsty…” Andy moaned.

“I’m thirsty too. We haven’t had a drop of water since Jimmy died and that’s been a couple  of days.” Peter replied. He was trying to shield himself from the desert sun by the twisted wing of their downed plane.

By this time the two brother’s lips were cracked and parched; their tongues stuck to the roofs of their mouths.

Later, after the sun went down, Andy propped himself up on his elbow and could see Peter’s gaunt face and white crusted lips.  “I’ve had enough of this.” Andy said. “I’m going to find water.”

Peter opened his eyes. “Where are you going?” He called after Andy, as he saw a shadowy vision of his brother ascending a sand dune into the bright moon light.

Peter struggled to his feet and followed Andy from a distance. Soon the vision of his brother blurred and he wiped his eyes to clear them. Then he felt a pressure on his shoulders and realized he was on the ground. He lay there exhausted, giving up hope of going on.

He was awakened by warmth on his eye lids. Opening his eyes to the east, the new sun was already baking him. It burned his exposed skin as he lay motionless in the sand.

After some time, Peter became aware in his semi-conscious state, that the sand itself was burning his skin. With all the strength he could muster, Peter crawled to a nearby cactus and curled up in its feeble shadow. This offered some relief, at least until the small shadow shifted again. He faded into unconsciousness.

I’ve Found Water

 “Peter! Peter!” Andy’s excited voice brought Peter back into awareness. The sun was almost down and Peter could see Andy waving his hands in excitement. “I’ve found water. Let’s go.”

As Andy’s words flowed into Peter’s conscience, he sat up, looking curiously at Andy.

“It’s a bit of a hike Peter, but it’s the freshest water I’ve ever drank. There’s a valley with a slow running river flowing through it. Peter! It’s surrounded by lush plants, even shade trees. The water is so cool and I think I saw fruit trees down stream on the other side. Let’s go.”

Peter just stared at Andy, not moving a muscle.

“Come on Peter, do you need help?”

After a few moments of silence, Peter replied in a weak voice, “Andy, I just don’t think there could be a river of water like you described, especially out here. You’ve seen a mirage.”

“Peter!” Andy replied in unbelief at the words he was hearing. “I didn’t just see the water, I drank some. I drank my fill of cool refreshing water. It softened my dry cracked lips and washed away all the dryness. It was wonderful! Come on.”

After Peter still didn’t move, Andy said, “You don’t look so good. I think I can carry you.”

Andy stooped and grabbed Peter under his arms to pull him up.

“Andy! Leave me here,” Peter groaned. “I’m not wasting my time on this. It doesn’t make any sense to me that water could be anywhere around here. I know you believe there’s water and that’s great for you. But, honestly, I think you’re being fooled. You want to have water so much that you’ve convinced yourself that it’s there.”

“Peter!” Andy replied, not believing his ears. “Trust me! Sometimes you have to just trust someone and not let your reasoning get in the way. I agree with you. It’s an unlikely spot for a fountain of water, but I drank from it. I know it’s not a mirage. It refreshed me through and through!”

“Andy, I do trust you. I trust that you think it was a real river, I just don’t believe it myself.”

“What do you mean Peter!” Andy screamed. He was starting to get really frustrated. “How can you say you trust me and still not believe there is water? That doesn’t make sense!”

Andy was now beside himself with disbelief that his brother would refuse water that would save his life.

“Andy, like I said. I do trust you. Keep on believing that there is water. Don’t let me stop you. I just don’t share your belief that there’s water out here.”

“UGH!” Andy groaned. He then turned and began walking quickly in the direction he had come from.

Finding Water on Our Own

Peter watched his brother disappear out of sight and fell again into unconsciousness.

After some time, Peter awoke to a burning fire in his throat. I’m dying of thirst, he thought. I have to find water, I can’t die like this. He frantically began to scratch at the sand with his finger nails. I’ll dig my own well. After all, the cactus has to be getting water from somewhere. His pitiful cistern barely dented the sand by the time he used his remaining strength. There was no water and he could not go on.

His mind faded into unconsciousness and beyond.

When Peter opened his eyes it was completely black, pitch black darkness enveloped him.  No light, no moon, no stars, nothing but darkness. He had never experienced such thick murky blackness. He reached down to touch his legs, but he could not feel them. His legs were gone, as were his arms and even his face. In desperate agony, he screamed, but he heard no sound. He continued to shout and wave with what he thought were his arms, but nothing could disrupt the thick gloomy darkness. He was in an abyss of nothingness.

Then he heard a voice “Peter! I’ve brought you some water.”

It was Andy’s voice, not coming from any one direction, but from all around his darkness.

Andy! Andy! I’m here!  Peter screamed with all his might, but there was no sound.

Andy! Help! Please help me! Andy!  Peter yelled as loud as he could, but nothing.

Then he heard Andy’s voice again. “Peter! Peter! Why wouldn’t you believe me? I brought you water, its right here!” But, there was nothing he could do, it was too late.

Back to Reality

Very faintly at first and then increasing in volume, Peter began to hear the sound of rushing water.  Then, suddenly the abrupt caw of a crow overhead awakened him.

“You about ready to go Peter?” called a voice that sounded like Andy’s from some distance behind.

Utterly stunned, Peter began to size up his surroundings. He was far from being in a desert. In fact, he found himself in a place quite the opposite. Instead of desert heat, his hands and face felt chilled. Yet, moments before, in an eerie desperate darkness, he was experiencing death.

Somehow, he was sitting, facing downstream, beside a winding brook of rapidly flowing water. Both in front and behind him there was the liquid cleansing sound of water freely flowing over rocks into gushing pools.

A brisk breeze whisked his dry, parched face as his eyes followed the stream forward to the horizon. He was in the mountains. He noticed the rolling hills towering above him on either side of the stream. And though the sun was pleasantly warming his face, patches of glistening white snow covered the land as far as he could see. In places the snow resembled brilliant diamonds as the sparkles of sun light reflected in every direction off the melting snow.

He was sitting in a lounge chair of sorts, made of stone, complete with arm and foot rests. In one way, it felt like he had been asleep for a very long time. Yet, what he had just experienced felt very real.

As he recalled his previous devastation, he became aware of great thirst. Like a bullet, he propelled himself forward to the cool liquid below his feet. With a splash, he literally buried his head in the rushing pool, violently lapping the ice cold water. He could feel the wetness moisten his leathery tongue and begin to dissolve some of the thick mucus in his mouth.

“Boy, you sure must be thirsty!” Andy’s voice startled Peter from behind, but it did not interrupt his water feast.

“I’ve never seen anyone guzzle water with quite as mush gusto!” chuckled Andy.

Peter didn’t even acknowledge Andy at first, continuing to gulp the cool mountain water. After awhile he lifted his face from the pool and turned toward him.

“What happened?” Peter demanded almost rudely. “What do you mean what happened?” Andy answered, astounded at the question. “You’ve been asleep for over an hour. I’ve been up stream a ways reading. Don’t you remember?”

“Sort of.” Peter nodded his head.

“You drug me up here to see the Mission Church at Valle Crusis because it’s on the historic register. Not that I mind.” Andy smiled. “These mountains are stunningly beautiful.”

“Yeah,” mumbled Peter.

“Hey!” Andy interrupted before Peter could answer. “What’s wrong with your lips? They’re shriveled and white.”

Was it a Dream?

Completely puzzled, Peter returned to the stone chair and stared at Andy. “Something weird is going on.” Peter exclaimed, as he shifted his intent stare to the pool he had just drank from. “I guess it was a dream, but it was so real. And what happened to my lips?” Peter rubbed his upper lip with the tip of his finger.

“In my dream, I died of thirst and you were trying to help me. You kept telling me about a fountain of water, but I refused to believe you. Then I died. But it was a very strange death. I knew I was dead, but I could still hear you trying to give me water, but it was too late! There was water after all, but I didn’t believe you.”

“Really?” Andy replied with great interest. “Tell me about it while we walk the rest of the way to the mission.”

As the brothers walked along the stream toward the mission, Peter relayed in great detail what had gone on in the desert. Andy listened intently.

“As you tell me about your dream, it reminds me of how sad I feel that you don’t believe me when I tell you that Jesus is more than just a man.” Andy replied, as they passed a horse farm along the road.

“I can relate very much to your dream and what I was trying to do. I saw the water and it saved my life. However, when I offered it to you, you didn’t believe me. And you don’t believe me about Jesus either.”

“I couldn’t see how there could have been a river like you described out there in that dry dusty desert,” Responded Peter.  “I figured you were just seeing a mirage and that you had convinced yourself that the mirage existed. I thought you were being deceived. I even tried to dig my own well near the cactus plant. I couldn’t just die of thirst.”

“But you did die of thirst Peter!” Andy answered sternly. “You’re my own brother and now you really are dying. We’e all dying. Nobody gets out of here alive. And I’ve found a fountain of life, life that could satisfy you now and always. Life that is even more incredible to the thirsty soul than that drink you just had. But you won’t believe me!” Tears watered in Andy’s eyes as he looked at his brother. “How will I be able to endure you dying of thirst when I know where the living water is to save you?”

All Peter could do was stare at his brother. He couldn’t  just make himself believe in something he doesn’t believe in. Where was the evidence?

Water for the Soul

“I do believe you Andy. I believe that you do see the water, but the water must be for you and not me, because I don’t see it.”

“I didn’t see either Peter!” Andy exclaimed. “When Lee told me about Jesus, back when I was in college, I figured it was just one of his crazy phases. I tolerated what he said because he was my oldest friend. I didn’t check out what he was telling me until I found myself burdened by all I had done wrong and feeling empty with no real purpose. Jesus is more than a man. I can tell you because he has become a friend of mine. Just like Lee introduced Jesus to me, I want to introduce Him to you.”

“I appreciate it and I’m interested in learning more about him because of what he means to you. That’s why I saw The Gospel of John and The Passion of the Christ movies with you.” Peter replied as they approached the entrance to the Valle Crusis Conference center.

They entered the facility and followed the sign up a rocky road covered with snow toward the old Mission church.

“I must admit.” Peter interrupted, the silence as they trudged up the road. “Something pretty extraordinary must have happened the day Jesus was crucified. With all the attention given to that point in history and what supposedly happened after that, I wish I could go back in time and figure out what really happened.”

“So, in your mental box, in your paradigm, what happened back then would have to fit inside of a man’s mind and be explained by man’s reasoning?” Andy questioned.

“I guess so.” Peter replied thoughtfully as they reached the summit of the road.

Valley of the Cross

They walked along a snowy path in silence for a few moments. There was a ravine to their left and Valle Crusis, the Valley of the Cross, unfolded before their eyes as they hiked.”

The sun was low in the sky and sunset colors of deep orange and yellow supplied the backdrop for the mission church they had come so far to see.

“Isn’t it picturesque, Andy?” Peter marveled “I read that a botanist from New York came through here and was struck by the remote beauty of this place. He then talked to the Bishop in Raleigh, who oversaw the Diocese of North Carolina. And he decided to create a mission here.”

The two brothers stood stunned at the beauty of the old church and its cross against the painted sky. They made their way down another rocky, snowy path to the church. Peter tried to open the over-sized, thick wooden doors and to their amazement they were unlocked. They went inside and sat down in a wooden pew near the front.

The church was simple, yet elegant in the details of the woodcarvings and trappings. The ceiling was high and supported by tremendous wooden beams. A rugged cross built in a circular stained class window behind the pulpit was awesomely beautiful, especially as the setting sun gleamed rainbow colors from the stained glass all around the cross, filling the church with colorful light. It seemed to Andy to be a foreshadowing of glory.

After awhile, Peter spoke, as he starred blankly at the cross. “I guess it would be comforting to know that you were created for a purpose and that you were not some random roll of the dice in the universe.”

Andy, staring intently at the cross, replied. “Peter, it makes all the difference in the world!”

Passion Foretold

After a couple of moments Andy spoke up again. “Peter, you said you think something amazing happened back when Christ was crucified and rose again. I agree with you and I’m going to show you something that is going to blow your mind, if you’ll let it.”

Peter looked over at Andy, but did not respond in words. Andy reached in front of him and pulled out a pew Bible and turned to Psalm 22.

“Peter, the passage I’m getting ready to read to you, from Psalm 22, was written by King David. David lived about a thousand years before Jesus was born. As I read it, think back to what we saw in the movie, The Passion of the Christ.

As Andy began to read, Peter returned his gaze to the cross.

“It starts with, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Then listen to this description later in the Psalm! ‘I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd: and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and You lay me in the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. But You O Lord be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance.’”

Andy stopped reading and closed the Bible. “It goes on from there.” Andy said as he placed the Bible back in the pew rack in front of him.

Captives Set Free

“Are you sure that was written before Jesus was born?”  Peter questioned. “Is it in the Old Testament?”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Answered Andy. “The amazing thing, Peter, is the love that was demonstrated by the suffering of Jesus. Jesus is Lord; he could have kept the whole thing from happening. But, because of you and me, Jesus chose to endure all that suffering. In fact he did it for all people, for the Jewish High Priests that turned him over, for Pontius Pilate, even for those Roman soldiers who were so vicious in their attacks. Even though none of us deserved what he did for us, he chose to die in our place. He came and died to set the captives free.”

“What do you mean captives? Do you mean prisoners?” Peter asked.

“Not just literal prisoners, but any and every human being. We are all bound in our wrong doings. The most righteous person on the planet has done at least one wrong thing. God loves us and wants fellowship with us, but the nature of who He is, His purity, His holiness, demands that anyone who fellowships with him must be cleansed first.”

“Is that why the Israelites were always sacrificing lambs and doves?” asked Peter.

“Exactly!” Responded Andy, growing a bit animated. “And the lamb had to be a spotless lamb, free from blemish. God provided a way for the people of Israel to have fellowship with him. Their sins, their wrong doings were symbolically transferred to the perfect lamb and then the slaughter of that lamb satisfied God’s demand of purity or holiness.”

“I remember reading somewhere that the crucifixion happened during the Passover,” replied Peter. “Does that tie in?”

“You’ve got it!” Answered Andy. “The Passover celebration was when the families of Israel remembered the time when they were held captive as slaves in Egypt. Moses asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. However, he refused over and over again; even as God sent  different plagues, devastating  Egypt. The final plague involved the killing of all first born males throughout the whole country from humans to animals. However, he made a way for the Israelites to be saved. By spreading the blood of spotless lambs on the doorposts of their houses, an Israeli family would be spared. If a doorpost had this blood on it, the evil was forced to ‘pass over’ the house. So, it is tremendously significant that Jesus died during Passover. He ended the need for yearly sacrifices for wrong doings. He died as a perfect blood sacrifice, like a spotless lamb, so that anyone who receives what he did and follows him, will be set free, both now and forever.”

Forgiveness

The two brothers sat in silence for a long while, staring ahead at the empty cross. Slowly the rays of colored lights dimmed. Dust particles could be seen floating in the slices of light that remained from the late afternoon setting sun.

Andy had closed his eyes and pondered the victory of the Christ that followed the tremendous pain and suffering of His passion. The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection seemed so much sweeter after learning so many of the details concerning how intensely Jesus had suffered to save him. He could not fight back tears. Tears of joy and tears of sadness that his brother refused to believe and follow Jesus. He didn’t have it all figured out in his mind when he made the choice to follow Jesus. It was a belief by faith, not a complete mental understanding; just a small faith at that. But it was not the amount of faith that had caused his relationship with Jesus to grow over the years. The reason his faith had grown was because of who his faith was in: Jesus Christ, the man who was God, who had died to set him free.

As Andy soaked in the sweetness of his family relationship with the Creator of the universe, he was aware that Peter was slipping past him and moving toward the exit at the back of the church.

Immediately, Andy began to pray intently for his brother. The tears increased as he longed for Peter to take the step of faith before he died.

Andy finished praying, wiped his eyes and turned in the pew to join Peter outside. However, when he looked down the rows of pews towards the back door, he discovered that Peter had not left after all. His face was buried in his hands on the wooden floor in front of the door. Both his knees and elbows were on the floor, his body in a posture of surrender.

Andy looked up, past Peter’s sobbing body and saw a golden metal plaque hammered to the large wooden door. On the plaque were the following words:

My people have committed two evils. They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns on their own, broken cisterns that hold no water.  Jeremiah 2:13

Seated

 

 

 

 

 

 

God Doesn’t Want us Better; He Wants us Dead

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John 12:24

We won’t experience true life until we embrace our death.

Imagine your shock, if while walking through a grave yard, you came across the following tombstone:

Here Lies your name

Born your birth date

Died Approximately 2000 years ago (exact date unknown)

 As disciples of Christ, embracing our spiritual death is critical to the flowing of Christ’s life.

When Christ died on the cross two thousand years ago, as believers, we were crucified with Him. Our sin nature and every sin we would eventually commit were put to death in Him. This was a complete work, performed by the only person worthy to undertake it. When Christ cried, “It is Finished,”[1] all human striving for religious achievement was put to rest; all sins washed clean in the flowing of His life blood.

The reality of our death with Christ is worked out day to day by denying ourselves. Jesus says to follow Him, we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him.[2]  Denying ourselves has to do with avoiding evil, but it also has to do with avoiding good.

Evil:  Denying evil is about remaining in the love of Christ. We are able to love God and our neighbor because God first loved us. When we are saturated in the satisfying love of Christ, we have no need of anything vile. His power in us allows us to consider ourselves dead to any evil.

Good: Denying good is much harder to understand, but  just as vital. We are to avoid “religious” activities rooted out of a desire to live a “good” life for God. We are to deny any attempt to earn God’s love with our own righteousness. If righteous could be obtain by our efforts, Christ died for nothing.[3]

The Christian life is not about us trying hard to avoid being evil and striving to do good. It’s about bringing ourselves to the cross of Christ, reckoning ourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus; dead to the sin of evil and dead to the sin of trying to earn a righteousness of our own by living a good life. Out of our death flows His life.

The Christian Life can be summarized in one very powerful verse:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I life by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.

 Galatians 2:20

Challenge: Pick a failure area of your life. Bring it to the cross of Christ and consider it dead. Depend upon the life of Christ in you with that area.

Lord, I’m sorry for trying to do “good” things for you. It seems the more “I” try, the more I’m prone to evil. Please show me every time I slip back into relying on myself, that I might deny me and depend upon you. I must decrease and you must increase.[4]

 

[1] John 19:30

[2] Matthew 16:24

[3] Galatians 2:21

[4] John 3:30

Sentenced to Die

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him Second Corinthians 5:21

What would it feel like to find yourself in a prison cell, sentenced to die? Yet, being released at the last hour for another to die in your place; a man free of wrong, willing to die for you.

Exchanged Life

A young man squatted in a dingy prison cell. His features were hidden by the deep shadows of his dark imprisonment. Only a thin plane of sunlight penetrated the darkness, revealing countless dust particles floating around rows of disheartened men. The man was seated, away from the light, staring, motionless, into the darkness.

Outside the prison, upon a hill, stood the place of execution, where condemned men were put to death. Today would be this man’s turn. In a way, death was a welcome ending to his pain. However, more strongly, the condemned man felt the fear of death’s mysteries. His soul, it seems, had died long ago, but the fear of physical death consumed every fiber of his being.

As he waited in the cruel anticipation of a violent death, his mind raced across the span of his life. What would have made a difference? What could have changed his inclinations towards evil? The answers to these questions could only be tossed out into his universe of despair. Like always, he knew no answers would come. There was no hope, never had there been hope.

Slowly and ever more increasingly, the young man became aware of the sounds of a great number of voices. There were shouts and roars, but none of the words could be recognized. The sounds increased and erupted past him like a huge ocean wave. An enormous mass of shouting people had passed just outside his cell and were proceeding toward execution hill. The time was near. The man could not remember so great a crowd ever gathered to witness a death before.

Just then, the outside door of the prison was slammed open hard against the wall. Keys jiggled and the main security door was unlocked. Prison guards streamed towards his cell. The hopeless man trembled and recoiled in fear. Death was pouncing upon him.

The guards unlocked his cell and converged upon him like as many wild tigers. They seized him, and drug him out into the bright sunlight outside the prison. When they had cleared the outside door of the prison, he was slammed face down hard on the ground. The impact knocked him into a daze. In a semi unconscious state, he waited for the first slapping sting of the lashing whip.

After awhile, he senses returned and he slowly opened his eyes, spitting dust from his mouth. He tilted his head slowly, expecting his flesh to be ripped open again at any moment. Amazingly, he was alone. People were flowing in masses towards execution hill, but he was left unattended on the ground.

Slowly at first, but with increasing urgency, the freed man got up and made his way into an old warehouse, across the block from the prison. Looking around as he fled, expecting his fantasy to end at any moment. He made it to the abandoned building and flung himself sobbing to the ground, filled with emotion.

After a long while, the man’s curiosity couldn’t be contained. He left the building and circled around the back of execution hill. He came up upon the crowd and mixed himself safely among the masses. With much effort, he fought his way through until he could see what the commotion was all about.

Three men hung dying on crosses, the pain etched across their faces. Two of the men he knew from his time in prison, but he didn’t recognize the man in the middle. This man seemed much weaker and closer to death than the others. As he stood watching the dying man with blood gushing down the wood of the middle tree, their eyes met. A strange magnetism drew his soul, locking him in on the suffering criminal.

Their eyes met. Though he was among a mass of people, the man on the middle cross was looking directly at him. The dying man’s  eyes were not desperate and frantic, but peaceful and loving.

After a few moments the freed man turned and walked away. As he fought his way back through the crowd, he over heard someone asking about the man on the middle cross, “Why are they killing him, what has he done wrong?”

“He’s done nothing wrong,” the answer came. “He’s dying in place of a man set free.”