Saturday, March 28, 2009


Without question, history’s most shocking transformation of something loathsome and terrible into something beautiful and beloved is THE CROSS.

The cross was one of the most painful implements of torture and execution ever devised by evil men. As awful as gallows are, they at least bring death quickly and with a minimum of suffering. The cross on the other hand purposefully delayed death in order to extend and maximize suffering.

To die on a cross was the ultimate horror, the ultimate disgrace, the ultimate failure.

But today the cross has become the most treasured religious symbol in the world. Covered with gold, the cross is worn as decorative jewelry on a necklace or bracelet. The cross is a frequent subject of artists, an ever-present architectural emblem, the most revered religious icon, and a favored theme of poets and musicians.

Imagine singing about cherishing the gallows, or clinging to an electric chair. Imagine wearing a gold-plated noose around one’s neck as jewelry, or of having a miniature gallows decorating your fireplace mantle.

Yet millions of people nostalgically sing about “loving [and] cherishing the old rugged cross,” of the “wondrous attraction [and] beauty” it holds for them, and pledge always to “cling to it.”

The astonishing transformation of the cross from something unspeakably ugly to something fantastically beautiful is a metaphor for what Jesus does in the life of those who believe and follow Him. He transforms us! He takes the ugliness of our sin and transforms us into a brand new people, not yet perfected, but irresistably moving down the path of becoming more and more like Jesus in what we think and say and do.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Getting a new body is huge business today -- from surgeries, pills, diets, exercise plans, flattering clothes, etc.

Standing by a hospital bed today listening to a friend indicating that the surgical procedure he will have tomorrow carries life-threatening risk, the conversation turned to the great hope of Christians for the resurrection of the body.

We talked about N.T. Wright's great book, Surprised by Hope, in which he reminds us that heaven is a wonderful but temporary future home for Christ-followers. Jesus' resurrection guarantees our resurrection -- not to an etherial, spirit-existence floating around the clouds or beyond, but to physical life on the new earth in a world as it was intended to be at the beginning.

From the time of the original fall into sin God promised to send a Rescuer to restore His ruined creation to its original perfection.

Age, illness, and accidents can make life in these fallen bodies less than pleasant at times. But for those who embrace new life through faith in Jesus' redemptive work, the RESTORATION OF ALL THINGS, including our physical bodies, is thrilling.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Hmmmm. Does it make sense to order someone to be joyful?

Tonight our LIFEGroup will discuss chapter four of John Ortberg's excellent book, THE LIFE YOU'VE ALWAYS WANTED. He reminds us that God is the most joyful Being in the universe and that Jesus desired and prayed that the full measure of His joy would be in us (John 15, 17). Paul twice commanded believers to rejoice always (Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16).

Even a cursory glance at Biblical references to joy (they are many!) will reveal that joy and sorrow are compatible, even essential in a broken world awaiting Jesus' return and promise to restore everylasting joy (Isaiah 35 et al).

Ortberg shockingly identifies joylessness as sin . . . one not often discussed or condemned. He gives practical suggestions for upping strategic celebration and the joy factor in our lives, including regularly setting aside a day for joy.

In the midst of often heart-crunching sadness, the reminder that "joy flows from a certain kind of thinking . . . exchatological thinking" was most helpful. Viewing "all events in light of the Resurrection and the ultimate triumph of the risen Christ" comprises "eschatological thinking."

Jesus endured the cross because of His own eschatological thinking (Hebrews 12:1, 2).

Sheldon Van Auken said, "The best evidence for Christianity is Christians, their joy, their certainty, and their completeness. And the best evidence against Christianity is Christians, when they are joyless and somber, self-righteous and smug, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


That doesn't sound like fun -- self-denial.

Jesus' call to self-denial is a reminder of how counter-cultural His kindom is. So many things are up-side-down. The first will be last. Lose your life to find it. Love your enemies.

I'm reading a great new book by Richard Stearns, THE HOLE IN THE GOSPEL. He includes a quote at the begining of chapter two: "The true gospel is a call to self-denial. It is not a call to self-fulfillment."

I fear that the Western Church has too often turned the Gospel into a means to achieve self-fulfillment, and in the process lost the gospel and true fulfillment.

I need to think about this.

Friday, March 13, 2009

People are God-like – made in His image, of immense worth. Hence, to be treated with respect and love.

People are sheep-like – so said the prophet, our Savior, and His apostle. An old song admits, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.” Sheep go astray.

People need shepherds – the Scripture so designates governmental leaders and pastors.

Shepherds are also sheep, hence sometimes wander.

There are good shepherds and bad shepherds. Sheep can’t always tell the difference. Bad shepherds need to be identified, not followed.

Shepherds and sheep are also God-like, hence worthy of respect and love, even though they go astray.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep. To be a good shepherd, I too must be willing to lay my life down for the wandering sheep. Redemption comes through the cross.

The cross is hard . . .especially for a sheep.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I marvel at God’s love.

I don’t think I could offer one of my children to be tortured and crucified for the persistent, willful, ugly sins of those who had trampled on all the good things I had given and planned for them.

“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him [Jesus] and cause Him to suffer” (Isaiah 53:10). One translation renders the verse, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him.”

I cannot comprehend God’s pleasure in the crushing of His Son. As a parent, I agonize when I know any of our children or grandchildren are hurting. The pain is exponentially greater when I am aware that my own failures have caused or contributed to their pain. I cannot imagine taking pleasure in the pain of my child.

I am made in God’s image. That is why I have emotions. When I feel my children’s pain, I learn about the pain God must have felt as He observed His Son’s suffering – suffering beyond anything we can imagine. His willingness to endure that pain and allow, even plan, the pain of His Son reveals the extent of His love.

How could God be pleased in His Son’s bruising? I can only guess that His eternal perspective sees so clearly the wonderful and eternal results of Jesus’ suffering that He is able to have pleasure even in His Son’s pain that produces such great results.

I suppose that if my faith in God’s inexorable plan for His children to turn all of their pain into good -- eternal good – then I would be more able to deal with the pain of those I love. I must learn, by faith, to view pain through the lens of the future when God will not merely wipe away all tears, but grant the crown of life to those who endure trials (James 1:12).