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Embracing the Cross – A Devotion for Holy Cross Day

Devotional Thought fo the Day

27 The people in Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize Jesus as the one the prophets had spoken about. Instead, they condemned him, and in doing this they fulfilled the prophets’ words that are read every Sabbath. Acts 13:27–28 NLT

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NLT)

In the third place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is preached first and then the Law; sanctification first and then justification; faith first and then repentance; good works first and then grace.

For the early Christians, the Cross was primarily a sign of hope—not so much a turning back to the past as a turning forward to the coming of the Lord

Today is called in church calendars “Holy Cross Day” or Feast of the Holy Cross.

It is a day to think about the cross, and what was secured by the cross.  The redemption of the world.  My favorite sermon I’ve ever crafted is “The Parable of the Coke Can” – where life is pictured draining us, and sin crushing us, tossing us aside.  But then Christ comes along, and finds us, and seeing a value marred and hidden by sin, creates us to be something new.  He repurposes us, He redeems us, He restores us.  And what was torn aside, a broken container, is now a living chalice that God fills with His Spirit.

It is there in the cross that we are redeemed, where we are separated from the sin that had trapped us.  It was there at the cross that we also are united to Christ, to not just his death but His resurrection.

These are things the prophets foretold when they spoke about Jesus being condemned on every page, for the condemnation is the promise of the Old Covenant, the old promises that God made to man.  We have to see that painful, ugly horrid cross, and know that is our cross as well.  A cross where sin will be removed, probably painfully, as we struggle with it. A cross that is brutal, it leaves no sin covered, it strips them from us, even as the flesh was stripped from Christ’s back.

The Law crushes us to that cross, even as the gospel there gives us the promise of life. No, not even as the gospel gives.  It crushes us there so that the Gospel can give us life.

The last thought, the one in green from Pope Benedict XVI is that which I want to leave you with this morning.  That the cross was not seen as something to look back upon constantly for the early church.  It was what caused them to be able to look forward, to look at each day as something the Lord created, to look forward to the day when He will return for those He rescued there at the cross. The cross in the past is what gives us the hope, the expectation of glory (Col. 1) and that God has prepared something greater than anything we’ve experienced or dreamed about.  (1 Cor 2.9)

There is a saying in the church, an old call and response so appropriate to end this post with,

Call – “We praise You, O Christ.”
Response – “For by Your cross You have redeemed the world!”

AMEN!

Walther, C. F. W., Dau, W. H. T., & Eckhardt, E. (2000). The proper distinction between law and gospel: 39 evening lectures (electronic ed., p. 2). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 294). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

That Ass May Be More of a Blessing Than You Ever Dreamed!

Devotional Thought of the Day:Featured image

38  Those who do not take up their cross and follow in my steps are not fit to be my disciples. 39  Those who try to gain their own life will lose it; but those who lose their life for my sake will gain it. Matthew 10:38-39 (TEV)

21  So the next morning Balaam got up, saddled his donkey, and started off with the Moabite officials. 22  But God was angry that Balaam was going, so he sent the angel of the LORD to stand in the road to block his way. As Balaam and two servants were riding along, 23  Balaam’s donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand. The donkey bolted off the road into a field, but Balaam beat it and turned it back onto the road. 24  Then the angel of the LORD stood at a place where the road narrowed between two vineyard walls. 25  When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, it tried to squeeze by and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So Balaam beat the donkey again. 26  Then the angel of the LORD moved farther down the road and stood in a place too narrow for the donkey to get by at all. 27  This time when the donkey saw the angel, it lay down under Balaam. In a fit of rage Balaam beat the animal again with his staff. 28  Then the LORD gave the donkey the ability to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam. 29  “You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!” 30  “But I am the same donkey you have ridden all your life,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?” “No,” Balaam admitted. 31  Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the roadway with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed his head and fell face down on the ground before him. 32  “Why did you beat your donkey those three times?” the angel of the LORD demanded. “Look, I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me. 33  Three times the donkey saw me and shied away; otherwise, I would certainly have killed you by now and spared the donkey.” 34  Then Balaam confessed to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned. I didn’t realize you were standing in the road to block my way. I will return home if you are against my going.” Numbers 22:21-34 (NLT)

521      I wrote to you: Though I can understand that it’s not an uncommon way of talking, I’m not happy when I hear people describe the difficulties born of pride as “crosses”. These burdens are not the Cross, the true Cross, because they are not Christ’s Cross. So struggle against those invented obstacles, which have nothing to do with the seal Christ has set on you. Get rid of all the disguises of self! 

As I read the words in blue from above at the end of my devotions this morning, I thought of the story of Balaam.

Partly it is because I have been trying to help a lot of people reconcile the relationships that they have shattered. They often consider dealing with each other the cross they have to bear, and they count it a noble thing to do so.  They might not call them n ass directly, or publicly, but there is that kind of thought that is given.  They will bear up with the frustration, the pain, and will humble themselves to the point where they cannot any longer, and the need for reconciliation becomes ….more visible.

I will confess that I am writing this as much to me, as I am to anyone else.  We struggle against them, we proclaim that we will gladly becomes martyrs, we convince ourselves that we will tolerate them, and that is our martyrdom, that is the persecution we will endure, and offer it up to the Lord, as we bury the anger and resentment, and find ways to increase the distance between us.

And we are full of it!

Not that!  We are full of pride.  (well and the pride fills us with that as well)

They aren’t the cross we have to bear. TO say that is to bear a different kind of cross that the cross of Jesus Christ.

His Cross is one where reconciliation happens, the Cross where mercy and grace is found and celebrated, the Cross where sin is put to death, and we are raised, freed from it and all unrighteousness.  That’s the cross we have to bear – to do things to bring about healing, forgiveness, to see God’s grace and mercy and love accomplish this between the asses in our life, and us.

it is then, with eyes wide open, that we see as Balaam did.  That perhaps God has used them to protect us from harm, to protect us from sin and disobedience ruining our lives. That their work, whether deliberate or not, has been n incredible blessing.

We need to learn not to think of those people as the cross we have to bear, but instead yearn to take up the cross and follow Christ, for them.  Even as He did for us.

It’s a hard lesson, but there is the biggest grace point…. we can’t do it unless we see the cross of Christ, unless we know His love and mercy as we interact with them.  Knowing He is there, to heal, to pour out mercy, to pour out grace on us all, turns this from a cross of horrible suffering, into one we can embrace for the joy set before us.

Which is the biggest blessing of all, this need to walk with Christ, to follow Him to the cross, To remember that our life centers in Him – for that is where we meet Him, where we are united to Him, all of us who are called by His name.  Remember you baptism, run to receive absolution, find joy in our communion together at His table. together.  Amen

So don’t think of them as your crosses, for now you know that is a lie.  Bear the cross that brings reconciliation, and learn from our Lord to bear it for the hope sent before us.

Dwell in His Peace!

As you

They aren’t our crosses to bear, to claim so is not a mark of humility, but that of condescension and pride, much as Balaam found out, and confessed.  Much as St Josemaria pointed out, .

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1976-1980). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Take Up Your Cross: photo What Does that Look Like?

Take Up Your Cross: photo
What Does that Look Like?

Romans 12:9-21

 Jesus, Son, Savior

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ flood your lives, enabling you to “really” love others!

 

Take up the Cross…but what does that look like?

The words of Jesus we know well, we’ve heard them before, but how often do we think through what they mean?

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.

Turn from our self-centered, self-serving, self-focused needs.  That is a real challenge, especially in a culture that jokes about what it feels to be true.  You know that saying, “It’s all about me”

That’s tough, and God’s law does convict us when we act like life is “all about me.’

But it’s the second and third actions that are required, that make it more challenging.

Taking up a cross?  Which one – the one above the altar – hey no problem.  The one Vicar Chai carried in this morning? It’s kind of heavy – but most people can carry it.  No, it is something far more than that.

Take up the cross, and follow me, Jesus says!

Are you willing? More importantly, are you able?

In order to answer that question, we have to know what does this mean: “take up your cross, and follow Jesus”.

You have to know what it looks like.

That is what the section of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome describes, so let’s look there.
What it looks like

Though the description of taking up your cross and following Jesus flows through the entire twelfth chapter, I want to start with verse 11 this morning, for it is the key

11  Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 2 Rejoice in our confident hope.

Now, most of the people here are not even remotely lazy, most work hard.  We commit to serving the Lord enthusiastically. We are confident in the hope we have; that God will be faithful to His promises.  So this bearing the cross thing seems possible, and since we are good people, we can do this!

But those encouraging words are to spur us on to do that which is more challenging….

It goes on,

Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13  When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. 14  Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 

And on….

15  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16  Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! 

And on…..

17  Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. 19 Dear friends, never take revenge.

These actions and attitudes are not easy, they are indeed, what it looks like to take up your cross, and follow Jesus.  They sum as well, this idea of love, which started the reading.

9  Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.

No hypocrisy allowed, no “but they did, said, thought,” just really love them….

So how do we “really” love

This is difficult, is it not?   I mean we are supposed to really love our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, those annoying phone solicitors and even our pastor?  Really love them?  Not sure we can do that all the time, Are we sure we can bear that cross. Are we sure we want to bear that cross.

But bear it we must, if we follow Christ, if we are with Christ, if we are in Christ.

For that is what bearing our cross is, it is walking in Christ.  To give up our lives, if that is what it takes, for that is what love led Him to do.

Peter said it well,

21  For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21 (NLT)

This doing good, this bearing one’s cross, this setting aside what benefits us, what makes us happy is what happens when we are being transformed by God.  Remember – that is where the chapter started,

1  And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)

So What happens when we slip and throw a whine party?

These words cause a bit of anxiety.  Because I know that we are not always following Christ. I know we struggle to bear our cross, tossing it aside at times.

So what can we do, when we find ourselves justifying why we shouldn’t love this person, or that one?  When we want to justify tossing the cross aside, because we don’t want to love them, to really love them?  Or we are afraid to, for the pain we might go through.

Jeremiah knew that feeling.  In the Old Testament reading we find it, and God’s response to Jeremiah’s whining,

Jer 15:19  To this the LORD replied, “If you return, I will take you back, and you will be my servant again. If instead of talking nonsense you proclaim a worthwhile message, you will be my prophet again. The people will come back to you, and you will not need to go to them.

When we struggle like Jonah loving Nineveh, or Jeremiah loving the rebellious children of Israel, it is simply that, a struggle.  It is the same struggle Jesus had when he looked at the cross, and realize the shame that carrying it might bring, and that is where we find our answer, on how to love others.

Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. Hebrews 12:1-3 (NLT)

The struggle for us is not that we can’t love them, it is that we’ve taken our eyes off what Paul told us to do, to 1Rejoice in our confident hope.”

This was Peter’s answer as well, that we should always be ready to have an answer for the reason we have hope.

You want to follow Jesus?  Take up the cross of walking in His love, keeping your eyes on Him.  The cross where He has joined you to Himself, and realize that there, you can see their need for His love, for His mercy, even as you needed it yourself.

This is what it all boils down to, our baptism, our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, our hearing that our sins are forgiven, it is all about God coming to us, uniting us to His cross, bringing us with Him…

Knowing His cross, we cling to that hope, we find the will of God, and a desire to see it come to be, that all would know His love, that all would be ministered to, no matter the sacrifice.

For that is what happens, when we allow God to transform us into people who dwell in is peace, the peace that goes beyond comprehension or explanation.  The very peace that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  AMEN?

 

 

Serving Others: Requirement of the Law or the Effect of Gospel?

Devotional Thought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

24  Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. 25  Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ 26  But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. 27  Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves. Luke 22:24-27 (NLT)

167  Make up the time you have lost resting on the laurels of your self-complacency, and thinking what a good person you are, as if it were enough just to keep going, without stealing or killing. Speed up the pace of your piety and your work: you still have such a long way to go: Live happily with everyone, even with those who annoy you, and make an effort to love —to serve!—those whom you despised before.  (1)

“Christianity is the only co-operative society that exists for the benefit of non-members  (2)

Thirty years ago, as I was a sophmore (Literally translated ‘wise fool’ and it fit) at a small Bible College, I was somewhat of an idealist.

The school’s motto was that it was to prepare “Servant-Leaders” who would change the world for Christ.  That was our mission, and many of us dreamed of the glory that would occur in our lives.  Some of us would head to the mission field.  Some into congregations where they would minister with children or youth or music, or some as preachers.

Thirty years later, I am less idealistic.  I lost long ago the visions of doing something spectacular in the sight of God and man.  And to be honest, with that burden gone, I find more joy in what i see God doing.  As I heard of how my church members minister to one of their own this morning, as I observed them caring for the new people who visited our church yesterday.  I hear of the sacrifice of others, as they care for their families, even their friends. These may seem to be little things – but it is amazing to observe God’s love pouring out.

At the same time, it is amazing to see the hunger and thirst for God’s word, for the sacraments.  There seems to be this connection between God providing for us, and our providing, in very meaningful ways, for others. There is something about knowing the presence of God, and hungering to be present for others, There is something about receiving Christ’s mercy, about knowing that God is compassion towards us, and is passionate in His care for us. It empowers us, it drives us, it raises our awareness of those who need to know God..

One of my favorite passages to teach/preach/use explains this connection between God serving us, and our serving others…

1  And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Romans 12:1 (NLT)

This is the norm, when you walk with God.  To imitate Christ as He served, serving those around.  Such is the blessing of being a living sacrifice.

I think that may be the problem we have had in recent years. That we’ve made serving God an obligation, that you are only holy if you serve

But what if serving is a way of finding out who we are in Christ?  What if it is a blessing, a gift from God as we realize how He has designed us to live?  What if in serving, we find out how much more God services us?  What if our serving is simply the side affect of becoming children of God?

Servants who lead – because our leader served.

This blog post has wandered a bit today… but there is an obvious need to return to these roots, to live in Christ, like Christ.  For our own sake, to be a church that is more interested in those who are struggling, than in ourselves.  But that can’t be done in a compensatory manner.  It comes as we know, as we experience Christ.  The Lord who served others in life, and by His death, and still serves us today…..

Lord Have mercy by guiding us to show mercy.  AMEN

 

 

 

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 916-920). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2) Northumbrian Community:   Celtic Daily Prayer,  Entry for May 5

 

Take Up Your Cross and Walk with Jesus

 38  Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. 39  Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.  Matthew 10:38-39 (NJB)

“989    Come, now! After saying so often, “The cross, Lord, the cross,” it is obvious you wanted a cross to your own taste.”  (1)

It is pretty obvious that the culture in America doesn’t handle suffering and death all that well.  Heck, we don’t even handle getting old that well, as our bodies begin to groan and ache.  We find ways to hide the effects of suffering and the problems we endure, and if we can’t, we try to ignore it, shove it in a corner.  Or we try and use it to get some kind of attention, as if we can play the martyr, or even top someone else’s martyrdom.

We don’t even like to see others suffer, and far too often, we leave them alone in it.   Abandoning them because if we have to face their pains, their burdens, we might have to deal with our own as well.  So getting down in the dirt, embracing the pain, being for them, no, that’s not where God wants us.  Even pastors do it, as that open congregation must have less suffering and sacrifice than the one we are at. Congregations as well – as they look for another pastor, thinking that it’s his fault that the church isn’t what we think it should be.  Indeed, how much time do we spend looking with envy at where the grass is greener?  How often do we disrespect God by coveting the lives, the things, the churches that others have?

Like St Josemaria says…. we want a cross we like, burdens that we don’t lose sleep over, the perfect cross that doesn’t hurt, that doesn’t cause our bodies to scream out in pain, or cause our soul agony.  One made by Sealy Posturpedic, with massage units.

No pain and maybe we gain.

Yesterday, I learned for a moment to greet a cross with a sense of joy. After having been away to bear a cross I whined and complained about, (and still am!  My wise wife warns people for my sake not to bring up the pain!) I was able to be with my church family.  A family that has and is bearing much pain, hardship, illness, and brokenness. I am sure there are others who deal with more, but the people I care for…together in Christ we’ve endured.  We even know why, as we regularly greet each other with the phrase, “the Lord IS with you”.   We’ve come to rely it so much.

As we waited for service – people came up to me – to add prayers.  Some with tears, some barely able to say the words. Others added them afterward, in scratched out writing on paper crumbled and slightly damp.  Two more were added from requests from friends via electronic media.  Thirteen prayers total – added to a nearly full back and front half page. We pray a lot around here… because we have the need, and that’ has grown over the years.

As we looked at the Lord’s prayer, and why our prayers are answered, I felt more and more at home. As we struggled in prayer, as we worshipped the God who calls us to talk to Him, to lay our burdens upon Him, more and more peace flooded into our brokenness, bringing the healing and trust in God that we don’t have on our own.  Our communion time, our passing the peace, were all incredibly….good?  beneficial? moments of great awe?

As I look back on it. all I know is this, the pain and burdens we gave to God,… we trusted He would deal with in all wisdom and love.  The things we celebrated, the joy and peace we know are evidence of His glorious presence.

We took up our cross – and we realized, consciously, subconsciously, that we were in His presence, we were with Him…..and the crosses were dealt with, and we relaxed with our God, We rested with Him. We dwelt in the presence of God, but we knew it. Taking up our cross is not just a matter of not hiding from the pain, it is a matter of embracing Jesus.

Now to remember that again today… as new crosses are embraced, new things endured, and can even become a joyous occaison, as we walk with the Lord who took the cross meant for us.

English: The lord's prayer in Manchu

English: The lord’s prayer in Manchu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 2298-2299). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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