The Cross You Bear

If we are children of God, then we are also heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8:17).

Years ago a man became very agitated during a Bible study on the subject of suffering and erupted: “I have never suffered for my faith and I’ve never suffered with Jesus!” Yet in Romans 8:17, the Apostle Paul assures you that if you’re saved, you’ll suffer “with” Christ.

How did Jesus suffer? He was rejected by men, denied by His friends, ridiculed by His family, mocked, persecuted, beaten, and finally crucified.

Your suffering won’t be identical to His. He never called you to bear His cross, but your own (Mt 10:38). Not all suffering is equal and not all suffering is “with” Him. You’ll suffer because you live in a sinful world full of ungodly people. Sometimes you’ll suffer because you or someone else has done dumb, illegal, or sinful things.

Is your faith in Christ leading to suffering “with” Christ?

A Christian will suffer “with” Jesus because of his union with Him. There’s no way around it. No suffering for Christ? Then you’re not in the faith. Anyone claiming to live a suffering-free life because of his ginormous faith is peddling a lie. Suffering for your faith is one of the means by which the Bible says you know you are a child of God (Mt 5:10-12; Lk 12:11; Jn 15:18-21; Acts 5:41; 14:22; Phil 1:29-30; 1 Thess 3:2-5; 2 Tim 1:7-8; 3:12; 1 Pet 1:6-7; 2:20-21; 4:12-15).

But there’s good news: you don’t suffer alone but “with” Christ and there is an eternal benefit to that suffering. Jesus said that the more you suffer in this life for His sake, the greater your honor in Heaven (Mt 20:21-23).

How you react to the cross you carry reflects the condition of your soul. Suffering drives the child of God to greater dependence upon Him and His grace. Suffering is a reflection of your faith today and works as a kind of preparation for glory “with” Christ in Heaven.

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Naked and Ashamed

And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints (Revelation 19:8).

Imagine having an appointment to meet the President of the United States, the Queen of England, or the Prime Minister of Tanzania. What would you wear?

As thought-provoking as that may be, there’s an even greater question to ponder: what will you be wearing when you stand before God?

The Bible pictures Christians standing in Heaven dressed like a bride for her wedding, donned in clean and bright linen, which are symbols of godly deeds. The Church’s righteousness isn’t something earned by good works or prayerful requests. It’s granted to her, something given as a gift by grace. The Scriptures say that this righteousness is Christ’s. It’s given to us through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone (Is 59:17; 61:10; Rom 3:21-22; Phil 3:9).

Ephesians 4:25-27 says that Jesus gave His life to sanctify His people. “Sanctify” means to set someone or something aside for service to God. He also gave Himself to cleanse believers with the washing of water by the Word. Through the Scriptures, we are cleansed from a sinful mind and given new habits, desires, purposes, and goals (Rom 12:1-2). He did this so that He could present us to Himself, a perfect bride for a perfect Groom.

Since believers appear before God dressed in the righteousness of Christ, what will unbelievers wear when they stand before Him? Their own works (Rev 20:12-15)!

When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they were caught naked. They tried covering themselves with works of their own hands, sewn fig leaves. Woefully inadequate, they hid among the trees, but they were still seen by God and they stood before Him naked and ashamed (Gen 4:7-10).

If you aren’t wearing the righteousness of Christ by faith, you’ll stand before God naked and ashamed … a guilty sinner.

The Solid Rock – Edward Mote (1834)

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

Refrain
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In ev’ry high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul give way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in Him be found!
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!

By Edward Mote (1834)

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (First Corinthians 3:11).

The Joyful Shepherd

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance (Matthew 9:12-13).

The four Gospels reveal a continual conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders. They believed that because they were physical descendants of Abraham and kept the outward appearances of the Law, they were in right relationship with God and citizens of His kingdom. They didn’t need a Saviour because they weren’t lost, nor a physician because they weren’t spiritually sick. They didn’t need Jesus.

One day Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God with a group of tax collectors and sinners. Some religious leaders arrived, complaining how Jesus spent His time with the rabble of society. He replied to their complaints with a story from ordinary life to make a point. With His parable He pointed His finger straight at the religious leaders.

A shepherd had 100 sheep but one wandered away and got lost. The shepherd left the 99 to find the lost one. He rejoiced at finding the lost one, put it on his shoulders, and carried it home. Then Jesus said, I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance (Lk 15:7).

This parable isn’t about evangelism or a pastor’s duties. It’s about Jesus, His work, and His joy.

Shepherds were a despised class of people in the days of Jesus, responsible for guiding, providing, and protecting the sheep that belonged to others. This shepherd left everything to save one lost sheep and was then joyful when he found it, safely carrying it upon his own shoulders to his own home.

Jesus left the glories of Heaven to seek and save that which was lost (Lk 19:10). He graciously carries the lost sinner upon His own shoulders, bearing the weight of the sins of His sheep even to the point of death on the cross (Jn 10:14-15; 1 Pet 3:18; Col 2:8). He endured that cross for the joy that was set before Him, the joy of redeeming sinners who will live with Him forever in His home (Heb 12:2; Jn 14:3).

The religious leaders didn’t think they needed the good Shepherd to find them, save them, and bring them home. Do you need such a Shepherd?

True, Effective, Productive Prayer

Take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17-18).

Today we emphasize a very man-centered religion. Sermons, books, and songs are fashioned toward satisfying the consumer rather than the Creator. Another way we misdirect people is through prayer.

Don’t misunderstand me. Prayer is vitally important in the Christian experience, but prayer is not profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This honor rests squarely upon the sufficiency of the Scriptures alone (2 Timothy 3:14-15). It’s God’s Word that empowers and equips you to live the daily Christian life … not prayer.

Prayer is man talking to God; the Bible is God talking to man. You’ve read it here before, and you’ll read it here again: you need to hear the voice of God more than He needs to hear you. His words are life, not yours.

Yet so often we downgrade the perfection and sufficiency of the Bible and elevate our own words. We pay more attention to the thoughts and feelings we have as we pray than what God has said. I’ve heard of churches holding all-night prayer meetings, but never a service for all-night reading and meditating on God’s words.

No one can truly, effectively, and productively pray until he has first heard from God and had his mind renewed by the Holy Spirit working through the holy Scriptures. Godly prayer is always a response to what God has said in the pages of His Word. The Scripture reveals God’s holy character, points out my sinfulness, and then fills me with thanksgiving to Him for His grace. The Bible shapes the priority of my needs and those of others so that they align with His will.

I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes, I will not forget Your word (Psalm 119:15-16).

 

Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness

My mother and me when I was a year old, 1968.

“Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:19, 21).

The other day I watched a mother pushing her two young children in a shopping cart. One child accidentally poked the other in the tight space and the mother told the crying girl to hit her brother back. Revenge was this mother’s solution. Vengeance always feels like a tonic to the sinful soul.

By the time my mother was in her mid-twenties, she was basically raising her 4 children by herself. As a kid, I didn’t think she was an awful parent, but as I’ve become older, I think she was pretty close to a perfect parent.

I have a sister a year younger than myself, and growing up we had our share of disagreements (all of which were her fault). She’d allegedly bump me by accident, so I’d poke her back. She’d sock me in the arm and I’d kick her. Then she’d clobber me. It was sweet vengeance all the way. We lived an Old Testament eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth justice.

My mother’s solution was for us to say we were sorry “and mean it“, hug each other, and then get back to playing together. She taught us the Christian virtues of practicing grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Yes, there were times she intervened with sovereign and wise judgment, applying fair justice, but it was always at her hand, not the revenge-hungry hand of my sister or me. Grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

The popular perception is that children are angels, but children naturally practice the sinful art of revenge. Getting even is what the sin nature longs after, and what we re-enforce in our children.

God, however, teaches His children to leave revenge in His hand and rather be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).

 

Feeding My Birds

Every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:4-5).

Every morning I enjoy watching “my birds” come to sing and eat at the feeder hanging on the maple tree outside my bedroom window. I keep it filled each Springtime with bread crumbs, sunflower seeds, and millet for the sparrows, finches, doves, and wrens to feed upon until the weather warms and food is more abundant.

Jesus said that the birds of the air neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6:26).

Some will argue, God isn’t feeding your birds, you are! Nay, God is keeping the birds fed through me. I’m just the channel through which His blessing flows.

As Christians, we give thanks to God before we eat. Yes, your husband cooked the meal and your employer gave you the wage to buy the food. You drove to the store and bought what was provided by the farmer and the rancher. But we remember that every blessing we enjoy flows from God above, though often through the hands of others. As expressed in the ancient hymn Christians still sing by Louis Bourgeois:

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him, all creatures here below. Praise Him above, ye Heav’nly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen. 

 

What’s Missing?

Many years ago I parked my car and walked a few blocks to take care of some business. When I returned to my car, I found that someone had broken off the door handle. The whole handle was missing. The keyhole for unlocking the car door was in the handle, like you see in the photo. Without the door handle, I couldn’t unlock the car to get home.

I stood next to the car for the longest time contemplating my every choice, like breaking the window or sitting down on the curb and crying. Finally I decided that I had no choice but to find a telephone and call for help.

As I walked to the nearest business, I looked back at the car and realized there was a keyed door handle on the passenger side of the car; I only needed to enter through the passenger door.

All that time I stood there trying to figure out how to get into the car, and the solution was so simple. I already had access, I just need to use what was already available to me.

Ephesians 1:3 says that God the Father has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. When I was born again, God gave me every spiritual blessing He had in Heaven. I can’t ask for more than He’s already given to me. My problem is that I fail to use what He’s provided.

Send the Light – Charles H Gabriel

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a call comes ringing o’er the restless wave:
“Send the Light! Send the Light!”
There are souls to rescue, there are souls to save.
“Send the Light! Send the Light!”

Refrain
Send the Light, the blessed gospel Light.
Let it shine from shore to shore.
Send the Light, and let its radiant beams
Light the world forever more.

We have heard the Macedonian call today:
“Send the Light! Send the Light!”
And a golden offering at the cross we lay.
“Send the Light! Send the Light!”

Let us pray that grace may everywhere abound:
“Send the Light! Send the Light!”
And a Christ-like spirit everywhere be found.
“Send the Light! Send the Light!”

Let us not grow weary in the work of love.
“Send the Light! Send the Light!”
Let us gather jewels for a crown above.
“Send the Light! Send the Light!”

– Charles H Gabriel (1890)

I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness (John 12:46).

Click here to play the hymn

My Paul – Dr Raymond Cox

Dr Raymond L Cox – 1998

Once a week Daniel and I drove to the Baptist Manor, a retirement home for impoverished pastors and missionaries so I could visit my childhood pastor, mentor, and friend, Dr Raymond Cox. He was my “Paul” and he called me “Timothy.”

While Daniel roamed the building visiting all his “grandmas and grandpas”, Raymond and I would talk about current events. He always asked how things were going in my church, then we’d discuss church history or open a Bible and argue over some theological idea. He’d traveled the world preaching and teaching. He even preached in Moscow, Russia during the height of the Cold War. As a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society in London, he was hired to re-trace and write about the footsteps of the Apostle Paul’s first two missionary journeys. He was the most brilliant man I’ve ever known, a church historian and theologian par excellence.

On my last visit with Raymond, he was laying in the bed asleep, heavily sedated with morphine. He was dying of cancer. I sat next to his bed and held his hand. He never opened his eyes, moved, or acknowledged my presence. It was okay.

When it was time to leave, I got up, brushed the thin, twisted hair from Raymond’s eyes, kissed his forehead and said, “Goodbye Paul.” I told him I’d miss him, but that he’d run his race, finished his course, and he could go to be with Jesus. Then I turned and walked away.

A few feet from the door, without opening his eyes, Raymond spoke. “I love you Timothy.” I went back and sat with him. He never woke up or spoke again before dying four days later in 2004.

Raymond used to tell me, “Pastors never retire, they just get put out to pasture.” He had so much yet to give, but he was considered too old to do any good. When I took my first church as pastor, I asked Dr Cox to be my co-pastor. I knew he wanted to minister with me, but told me, “Richard, it’s time for you to move out from my shadow and cast one of your own.

You Timothy, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also  (Second Timothy 2:1-2).