Ownership of the Cross

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take up your cross, and follow Me”

My Reader, join me in meditating on the conversation between Jesus and His disciples when He spoke these words.

This directive is recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. We are going to focus on four specific words Jesus articulated.

Jesus spoke these words to His disciples over 2000 years ago. Today, hear Him speak them to you.

Take up your cross, and follow Me.

Jesus was explaining to His twelve followers that He would soon suffer, die upon the cross, be buried and then raised to new life three days later. They didn’t want to hear it! They didn’t understand it!

To the disciples, the cross meant the most painful death in the most humiliating way. Having spent the last 3 ½ years with Jesus, the disciples loved Him. They did not want to think about crucifixion.

They pictured how the Romans forced the criminals to carry their own crosses to the place of crucifixion. In their minds, they heard the ridiculing comments shouted by the crowd as the convicted men shuffled to their execution. The Jesus the disciples knew did not deserve this!

Then, Jesus dropped another bombshell upon His disciples.

Jesus not only said that He would be crucified upon a cross – He told each of them to take up his own cross. This became more personal.

Was Jesus asking them to be crucified with Him? No.

However, in a sense, He was prophesying what was in store for His closest followers. Although not recorded in scripture, it is historically documented that 10 of the 12 disciples died as martyrs. Peter asked to be crucified upside down on the cross because he did not feel worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord. Following Jesus cost these men their lives. Each man took up his cross and followed Jesus.

Take up your cross daily and follow Me.

Luke included the word “daily.”  A person only dies once. This eliminates the thought that Jesus was asking His disciples to follow Him to Golgotha when He would be nailed to the cross.

Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

For me, taking up my cross may mean dying to my desires rather than dying a physical death on the beam of a cross. The New Living Translation uses the words “turn from your selfish ways.”  Every day we are to live a selfless lifestyle of surrender and sacrifice. Colossians 3:5 NLT says, “So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.” Then Galatians 5:24 NLT says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.

Take up your cross and follow Me.

Jesus addressed the command “take up your cross” to anyone who wanted to be His disciple.

No longer was Jesus only talking with His twelve disciples. This becomes more personal! He is speaking to us, One on one.

When Jesus died on “the cross,” it became “my cross.” He took my sins when He was nailed to the wooden cross. His cross had my name upon it. Now it is my responsibility to accept Him as my personal savior. Ephesians 1:7 states, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” Jesus extends the cross to you and me. We must personally embrace the cross. That is why Jesus calls it “your cross” that He invites us to take up.

Take up your cross and follow Me.”

After each of us accepts our cross, we are called to daily follow Jesus for the remainder of our lives. Galatians 2:20 NLT says, “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.”

We follow Jesus by stepping into His plans and purposes. Philippians 4:13 assures us of being able to follow His footsteps, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Neither you nor I know what will be required when we become His follower.

There are still martyrs today who are required to physically die for Christ. If you want a reminder of this, go to Voice of the Martyrs.  Please pray for these followers of Christ.

take up your cross, and follow Me”

My Reader, are you willing to take up your cross and follow Jesus whatever the cost?

Take up your cross and follow Me” involves embracing the totality of the cross. It means accepting  that Jesus died upon the cross paying the price for your sins. It means understanding the sacrifices it may require. It means following the path wherever Jesus leads. It may even cost your physical life.

Whatever “take up your cross, and follow Me” may entail, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

 

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Find the Beauty in a Bruise

BLACK and BLUE

 Beauty in a Bruise

There was a bruise on my arm. A black and blue spot. I had no idea why it appeared. However, it made me think about bruises.

But he was wounded for our transgressions,
h
e was bruised for our iniquities:
the chastisement of our peace was upon him;
and with his stripes we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5 NKJV

Isaiah prophesied that a suffering servant would be bruised. Almost 500 years later, Jesus was bruised.

A bruise is caused by an act that ruptures blood vessels underneath the skin. Jesus was bruised for our iniquities. Iniquity refers to our sinful nature. Jesus experienced internal injury for our internal sinfulness. Welts appeared as blood collected under His skin because of blows to His body. Bruises caused Jesus inward crushing and outward suffering.

Jesus was bruised for our iniquities – our sinful nature. We deserved the bruises – Jesus did not. Jesus suffered so we do not have to suffer. The blows inflicted upon Jesus did not puncture His skin, but the actions of those inflicting the blows penetrated His heart with sorrow. Jesus hurt – physically, emotionally, spiritually.

And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly,
and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
Luke 22:44 NIV

Before Jesus was arrested and beaten, He prayed. Jesus prayed earnestly! I have heard it said that Jesus was suffering such grief and agony that internally His blood vessels may have burst while He was praying. Internal bleeding causes bruising. Could some of Jesus’ bruises occurred while He was intently praying?

A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
Isaiah 42:3 NIV

Isaiah foretold another prophetic word about bruises. Again, there was reference to Jesus. This time Jesus was not bruised. Instead, He was the one who would not harm a bruised reed. We are the bruised reeds. Because Jesus was bruised, He understands the pain of our bruises.

Reeds” refer to the canes that grow in marshes. A reed denotes what is fragile or weak. Symbolically, a bruised reed is someone who has been hurt by sin. Reeds in marshland sway with gusts of wind. Wind storms cause reeds to wave while spiritual storms can cause our faith to waver.

A bruised reed alludes to what is broken or crushed, but not entirely broken off. Our sinful nature causes most of our bruises. Doubts and fears weaken our faith. Calamities and afflictions result in our being banged up with bruises. We become fragile and feeble.

Jesus knows our sins and sorrows, but He will not break us. He never lays His hand harshly upon us. His gentle touch extends healing and peace. Psalm 51:17 says that God does not despise a broken and contrite heart. According to Psalm 34:18, the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Jesus is like a soothing balm that heals the brokenhearted. We are anointed with the oil of the Holy Spirit. The spiritual, There is a Balm in Gilead, comes to my mind. The refrain begins, “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.” The first verse declares, “Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.”

There are times when we as believers may feel like wavering reeds being tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine. We may be shaken by Satan’s temptations. Doubts and fears may cause our faith to sway. We may feel like a bruised reed almost broken in pieces. Our hearts may feel hopeless. We may feel worthless because of our wounded spirits.

BUT, Jesus will not break us. He was bruised for our bruises. There is beauty in knowing this.

HELP!

the Lord worked with them
Mark 16:20

Do you feel overwhelmed with what you are facing today? May these five words encourage you. But first, let’s take a look at the rest of the story.

While Matthew and Mark both end with “The Great Commission,” in Mark 16 Jesus chastised the disciples because of their unbelief and hardness of heart. Despite everything they had seen, everything they themselves had done, they still struggled with unbelief. Amazing. And then Jesus commanded them to, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” He even stated, “They will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Wow!

Although their faith was lacking Jesus had a job for them to do, and He would equip them to do it. “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed His word by the signs that accompanied it.” Mark 16:20.

Matthew 28:19-20 records Jesus instructing them, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus promised to always be with the disciples and to help with whatever He asked them to do. But He was leaving; how could He promise that?

Jesus told the disciples: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you,” John 14:16-17.

Luke 24:48-49 says, “You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Jesus was speaking of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the one who would always be with the disciples and be their helper. All of these accounts substantiate the fact that the Lord will help us do what He wants done.

Jesus still calls us to go into all the world with the message of the gospel, just as He commissioned the first disciples. And He still promises to work with us. We are assured of His help because of Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” This is why Paul could say in Philippians 4:13 (and we can say), “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Christ empowering us with His strength is how He works with us. Philippians 2:13 NLT declares, “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.”

Today when I observe family challenges, situations in our country and struggles throughout the world, I definitely see the need for that empowering presence, God’s Holy Spirit working in us. While we may not know what the Lord will ask of us, we have the assurance of His help through the Holy Spirit.

M personal desire is to allow the Holy Spirit to think and love and live through me. And my prayer for all believers is the same as Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:16, “I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being.” As believers, we all need help doing God’s work. And, we have been given a helper, the Holy Spirit.

 

A Valentine for 365 Days

Universally, the heart is a symbol of love. However, on February 14, the heart is commercialized in more ways than one can imagine. Greeting cards are created in the shape of hearts decorated with lace and flowers. Heart-shaped boxes enfold decadent chocolates. Bouquets of red roses with a plastic heart stuck in the middle are advertised. Even fluffy stuffed animals portraying love are for sale. Whatever the expression of love, there is always a heart included with the sentiment “Be My Valentine.”

Why magnify love only one day of the year? True love lasts longer than one day. Love is more than a few romantic words composed by Hallmark. Love is more valuable than commercial stuff. God’s love is lavished upon us 365 days of the year. (see I John 3:1) God is love according to I John 4:8.

Let’s make a few comparisons between what God says about love and what the marketing industry sells.

The Greek language has several unique words for love. Agape is God’s love – selfless love. Eros is passionate or romantic love. Valentine’s Day focuses on Eros.

Here are images of angels. Cupid is the valentine angel. In classical mythology, Cupid is the god of erotic love. A cupid is described as a winged being symbolic of love.

In comparison, we see an image of Michael, God’s archangel. Micheal is a warring angel who fights for us. (see Revelation 12:7-9) In Revelation 5:11, John heard the voice of “thousands upon thousands and tens thousand times ten thousand” angels. Too many angels to count! Psalm 91:11 a  loving verse telling each of us about our personal guardian angel. Weapons are evident in these images. In the valentine image, Cupid is shooting an arrow with his bow. On many valentines, there is an arrow of love aimed for the beloved’s heart. Is this truly romantic?

The other image is symbolic of the sword of the Spirit – part of God’s armor. (see Ephesians 6:18) The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. Offensively, God’s Word can penetrate the unbeliever’s heart allowing him/her to experience the love of God. Much more powerful than an arrow!Is love costly? Looking on the back of a valentine card, one discovers how expensive a particular piece of folded paper can be. Is Eros love worth this amount of money?

Agape love cost Jesus His life. That’s costly! Romans 5:8 NLT says, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” And I Corinthians 6:20 says, “God bought you with a high price.”Pictured above is an old-fashioned valentine. On a flimsy piece of paper, a cute little angel says, “It would be heavenly to have you for my Valentine.” Although this might be a sweet sentiment, there is no sincere commitment.

In contrast, God reveals His love for us throughout the Bible. In Revelation 21 and 22, the angel of the Lord shows John the new heaven and the new earth that will last throughout eternity. The Lord’s love endures forever.  (see  I Chronicles 16:34)

So, forget the commercial hype of Valentine’s Day. Concentrate on God’s  love. Listed below are  scriptural love notes from God. (Emphasis is by the writer.)

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God.
I John 4:7

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
I John 4:8

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But
the greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 13:13

and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us
and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:2

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We Quit – God Doesn’t

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Earlier today, the Lord led me to several scriptures that may not necessarily be correlated. However, the Holy Spirit connected them for me. Please give me a few liberties with what I share today.

I began reading II Kings 4:1-7. This is the story of the widow who possessed only a little oil. Elijah instructed her to collect jars from her neighbors. Then she began pouring her oil into the containers. The oil never ran out until she ran out of empty jars.
Could the widow pouring oil into containers be symbolic of my pouring out prayers to the Lord?

 Next I read Psalm 56:8 NLT that tells about the Lord collecting tears in His bottle.
My prayers are often cried out to the Lord in tears.
Can I make the analogy of God keeping my prayers in a bottle? 

Finally, I read Revelation 5:8 that says golden bowls are full of incense – with prayers being the incense. Angels present these bowls to Jesus in the throne room of heaven.
I wonder if Jesus responds to my prayers by pouring out His answers to me from similar golden bowls.

Putting these three scriptures together, this is what I envision:
All my prayers are kept in God’s bottle with my name upon it. At the appropriate time, Jesus tips the bowls of prayers. He pours out His answers in my direction. The number of prayers answered depends upon the number of prayers I have prayed (how many bottles I have filled).

If this is true, why does it appear that not all of my prayers are answered?

It certainly is not because of God’s inability. Luke 1:37 NKJV says, “For with God nothing will be impossible.” It must be me. The Lord declares in Isaiah 55:8, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways.”

Sometimes I quit praying before God answers.

I am reminded of Zachariah and Elizabeth’s experience. They prayed and prayed for a child. No baby was conceived. Finally, they decided their prayers would not be answered as they desired. They were too old. They quit praying.

They gave up, but God did not.

Reading Luke 1:5-25, I find out what happened.
While Zachariah was serving in the temple, the angel Gabriel announced that Elizabeth would bear a son named John. Zachariah couldn’t believe it! How? Why at this time?

Scripture says that Zachariah and Elizabeth were “upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” (see Luke 1:6) I believe God wanted to entrust them with a particular infant who would grow to be a man with a message.

God foreknew that He would send His Son, Jesus, to live as a human on earth. Part of His strategy included another man, John the Baptist, who would prepare the way for His Son. Two baby boys had to be born during the same historical time period. God did not answer Zachariah and Elizabeth’s prayer earlier because they were to be the parents of John the Baptist.

Although Zachariah and Elizabeth may not have been faithful to continue to pray their petitions, God was still faithful to answer their previous prayers. God had the answer in His hands, ready to be released at the appropriate time.

I love this concept! God answers prayers we no longer pray.

God collects our prayers in a bottle. They are as sweet as incense to Him. God has no limit to the number of bottles He will fill. Our part is to keep pouring out our prayers to Him. At the appropriate time, He will pour out His answers – answers that will glorify God and be for our good.

No Messy Manger for the Magi

 

While packing away our nativity scene for another year, I reminisce about the significance of each figure. I hold the Magi, or Wise Men, a little longer because I have not blogged about them in the past weeks. I must take time to ponder and print a few words about these men before this season is complete.

According to the Christian calendar, Saturday, January 6, 2018, is the church festival of Epiphany which commemorates the Magi coming to see Jesus. This was the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles because the Magi were not men of Jewish background.

Little is known about these mysterious Magi except that they were seeking a specific baby. Matthew 2:1-12 is the only scriptural account. For an extended time, these men determinedly followed a star. I think they would have visited a messy manger if God’s star had led them to that location. However, we can assume that they were still traveling when Jesus was born in the messy manger. Some say it possibly was as long as two years before the Magi found Jesus. Maybe these Magi represent those who are still traveling the road of life looking for Jesus today.

Although not historically accurate, these men have sometimes been referred to as kings. (Maybe because of the Christmas carol We Three Kings.) Chuck Missler has said that over time the truth and traditions about these men have been embellished. By the third century, the Magi were viewed as kings. I wonder if this perspective has anything to do with the fact that the day is coming when Jesus reigns as King of kings. (See Revelation 19:16) Missler has also written that these ancient men were part of the hereditary priesthood of the Medes. They were known for having profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. Here is another correlation – Jesus becomes the great high priest. (See Hebrews 6:20) If we associate kings and priests with the Magi, maybe we are types of Magi because Revelation 1:6 NKJV says, “(Jesus) has made us kings and priests to God his Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever!”

The Wise Men may not have been totally wise about whom they were seeking. They simply expected to find the one born king of the Jews by following a star. These men even stopped in Jerusalem to ask Herod what he knew about the baby. (see Matthew 2:2) While the Wise Men were not necessarily looking for an infant king in a castle’s cradle, neither were they expecting to find him in a messy manger. They just wanted to find Jesus! Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Although the Wise Men may not have been wise in every respect, they were wise enough to seek him. There is truth in the quote, “Wise men still seek Him.” Today, Jesus wants us to seek and to find Him.

John 1:11 says, “He (Jesus) came to that which was His own (the Jewish people), but His own did not receive Him.” John MacArthur points out that the Magi were “God-fearing, seeking Gentiles.” They followed a star that led them to the Messiah they had heard about since the days of Daniel. Through scripture, we know that Jesus came first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. (See Romans 1:16) In a previous post, “Messy Shepherds at a Messy Manger,”  I noted that shepherds were the first to visit Jesus when he was born in a messy manger. They were of Jewish lineage. Significantly later, the Magi worshiped Jesus –  they were Gentiles. According to Romans 14:11, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord – that includes both Jews and Gentiles. Matthew 2:11 says, “On coming to the house, they (the Magi) saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”

The word “epiphany” originated in the Greek language and means “manifestation.” The worshiping Magi portray the picture of Epiphany because this season of the church celebrates the appearance or “manifestation” of a divine being, namely Jesus. However, an epiphany can also be defined as a sudden perception or revelation. In others words, a new understanding is “manifested.” Each of us encounters our own epiphanies when we come to illuminating discoveries or realizations. An enlightening fact of faith is an example of an epiphany. Or, it might be a moment when we become increasingly aware of Jesus’ presence. Since it is the beginning of the new year of 2018, now is a good opportunity for each of us to set the goal of becoming more receptive to personal epiphanies. May our epiphanies cause us to bow down and worship our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

Manger to Mansion for Me

Christmas is past but our house is still a mess because of our celebration. Consequently, I continue to think about the messy manger. What a mess! Messy manger – messy world – messy house – is there a “messy me” as well?

Throughout Advent, we unpacked how Jesus was born in a messy manger. We came to the conclusion that He is not uncomfortable in our messy hearts or the messy world today. However, Jesus does not leave us in a mess. Philippians 3:20a assures us, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Yet, there is a preparation process. Acts 3:19 tells us to, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” Another verse to consider is I Thessalonians 3:13, “May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.” When Jesus returns, whether our hearts are messy or cleaned up will determine where we will spend eternity. Listen to what Jesus says about His coming again in Revelation 22:12, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.”

As a young girl, I heard a fictional story of a little boy who reminisced on Christmas night about the joy of celebrating the holiday. At the end, the boy said, “Now I have to wait 365 days to celebrate Christmas again!” According to the calendar, this is true. However, Christmas is more than one day of festivities. While Christmas is a celebration of the first coming of Jesus to earth as a baby, He promises to come again. No one knows the time when He will return – it may be tomorrow or it may be in another 365 days or it may be more years than we can comprehend. Luke 12:40 informs us, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

While living on earth, Jesus promised in John 14:2-3, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. When Jesus first came to earth, we gave Him a messy manger. Now, He is preparing a majestic mansion for us in heaven. What a contrast! When I refer to the manger of Jesus, I am speaking of the natural world, but when I refer to the mansion Jesus is preparing, I am speaking of the spiritual world. Continuing with this comparison, we can say that Jesus experienced a natural birth to make it possible for us to be spiritually born again. In John 3:3 NLT Jesus emphasizes, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” John 3:16 clearly states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” When our spirits are born again, we are assured of eternal life. Today, we are waiting for Him to come again to earth to take us to His spiritual mansion. In summary, we can say that Jesus humbled himself when He came to earth and lived in a temporal home as a human being so that we can be lifted up into the mansion He prepares as our eternal home. John tells us in Revelation 21:3-5, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’ And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”

When Jesus was born as a baby, most people missed His coming. As far as we know, many residents of Bethlehem were oblivious to His birth. However, when He comes again no one will miss Him. Luke 21:27 says, “they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” And, within Revelation 1:7 we are told,”… every eye will see Him….” During December we have taken time to prepare for Christmas. Now as we near the beginning of a new year, may we take time to prepare our hearts for Jesus’ second coming. Let’s clean up our messy mangers. We do not want to miss His return!