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.

Advertisements

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.

Leadership

In the past 17 years, Christian circles have been overwhelmed by books on leadership. A quick search on the ChristianBook.com retail website lists 253,161 current books with the term leader or leadership in the title.

Despite all these resources, there is a desperate lack of true leadership in the world today. A man is elected prime minister on the basis of his youthful good looks. The businessman is promoted because he’s put in his time at the company. There’s the woman who makes herself a pastor – not because she’s Biblically qualified – but because she feels a calling. None of these are evidences of godly leadership.

When His disciples argued over their own leadership rights and potential, Jesus deflated both their egos and their ambitions with a Heavenly perspective contrary to popular thought.

Whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:26-28).

Godly leadership isn’t created by reading a $25 book of principles, attending a weekend seminar, making resume bullet-points, following 40 days of something, or engaging in self-service or self-promotion; leadership is developed and demonstrated through Christlike humble service toward others.

It will never happen, but what I’m really waiting for are more books on following Jesus. Perhaps if we had more people who were truly following Jesus, we’d also have more qualified godly leaders.

And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19).

Your Hometown

There is nowhere in the world of memories like your hometown.
Your hometown is the place you were born and grew up. It’s where you learned the value of friendship, the pain of first love, the disappointments of failure, and the stories of life.

Your hometown is riding bikes on tree-lined streets on hot summer days, fishing in the creek, and camping under the stars in a backyard tent of bed sheets. It may be a girl’s first kiss or her first home run and a victory Oreo Blizzard at the corner Dairy Queen. Sunday school picnics and snow angels on the sidewalk.

Some young men answer the call of duty, leaving their lives on a battlefield while their bodies find their final rest back home. Others leave chasing dreams and adventure, not returning home until news calls them to stand alongside a casket at a freshly dug grave.

A hometown is as much a story and a time as it is a place. It’s where, as the years pile higher one upon another, the fondness for and yearning to return grows deeper and more powerful. It’s an invisible drawing, like a child to a kite or the morning dew to an open field.

CS Lewis wrote, “The fact that our heart yearns for something Earth can’t supply is proof that Heaven must be our home.

The longer I live, the more sure I am that I was not made for this world. I long to be with the One for whom I was created. The sin in the world afflicts my soul like it did Lot in Sodom. Even more unbearable is the evil and unfaithfulness I know lurks in the hidden places of my own heart. Nothing but total and absolute freedom from my own self will do.

Christian, this world is not your home. For our citizenship is in Heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).

The Blind Man

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29).

Today I waited at a stop light and watched a blind man walking on the sidewalk. His telltale, long white cane tapped the pavement in front of him, first on the right, then on the left, then back again. Each tap sounded out what was in front of him.

I wondered what he would do when he reached the pile of dead leaves in his pathway. He neither stumbled nor hesitated, but kept tapping his stick in front of him.

The red light changed to green and I continued on to my destination, just as the blind man was doing. Our journeys really were not different. We were both headed somewhere. I was traveling by sight and he was walking by faith.

For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

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?

The Monster Within

Janice pressed her back hard against the window and held her breath. Hiding in the shadows, the terrified woman was sure the monster would crawl past her and she could escape its hungering belly. She waited silently, one minute and then five.

Since a teen, Janice had been fully aware she was being hunted by a blood-thirsty creature that seemed to shadow her every move. No matter where she went, how far or fast she ran, the monster was always as near as her own shadow. Tonight she knew it had followed her yet again.

The past 25 years had been a whirlwind of travel and attempted disguise. She couldn’t hide among the masses in New York. Neither the empty open prairies of Wyoming nor the sky rise flat in London sheltered her from the creature that stalked her every move.

Deep down, Janice knew there was no escape from the creature. She’d put it out of her mind or try to mask it with a substance or a relationship, but in the still moments of the night it was so close she could feel its heart beating in her own chest. In those moments she recalled her mother reading stories from a black book about the monster. Mother said it had been following Janice since before she was born and there wasn’t a soul on earth strong enough to slay the creature and set her free. But she decided that if the monster was going to kill her, it was her life and she’d go out fighting on her terms.

A few years earlier she worked with a woman who knew all about the creature. She’d been terrorized too, and claimed Janice couldn’t run away or hide from it because it actually lived inside of her. Like her mother, this woman said a Saviour had come from Heaven a long time ago and gave His own life to defeat and set her free from the creature and its power. Janice just needed to trust that by His sacrifice He’d become the Victor over the monster she knew as Sin.

Sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it. (Genesis 4:7). If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:36).

Following the Anointed Man of God

Jesus saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” And he arose and followed Him (Matthew 9:9).

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations … teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19, 20).

Just as in ancient Israel, people today commonly become followers of religious celebrities. It could be the preacher who lifts your spirit and boosts your self-esteem. Maybe he says he’s an apostle who works miracles or a prophet who promises prosperity and the end of all your troubles. Who doesn’t want to follow someone offering pie in the sky before reaching the by-and-by?

I grew up in a Pentecostal congregation where we often had guest speakers to boost attendance and wow the crowd. My grandfather once pointed out to me how these men always arrived on Sunday morning with a gaggle of groupies from out-of-town. A groupie is an admirer who attends as many of a celebrity’s appearances as possible. These people didn’t care about our local congregation, hearing God’s Word, or admiring God’s glory; just another moment with the anointed “man of God.”

Most of the people who followed Jesus from place to place were groupies consumed with how He could satisfy their physical needs, whether it was for entertainment, food, or a physical or emotional pick-me-up. Very few were willing to fully and loyally obey what He said.

But He picked His own disciples, men like Matthew, who willingly imitated and obeyed His teachings. Jesus called to the tax-collector, “Follow Me.” Matthew didn’t pick Jesus, Jesus picked Matthew, and Matthew immediately left his office and the tax money he was counting and followed Jesus.

The real essence of Christianity is following Jesus as His disciple, not as a groupie. When He says go, a disciple goes. When He says stop, a disciple stops. His sheep know His voice and follow Him (John 10:27).

Moments before Jesus ascended back into Heaven, He gave His disciples a command to reproduce disciples. He didn’t charge us with making converts, Facebook followers, or filling buildings with adoring fans. We are responsible for making disciples who are obedient to the Scriptures. That’s the test of all evangelism: are those you “win to Christ” obeying the Word of God?

If you’re not observing His commands then you’re not truly following Him, you’re just a celebrity groupie.

Why Jesus Went Back to Heaven

And Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into Heaven (Luke 24:50-51).

When Daniel was little, I’d take him up on the hillside above our house to pick strawberries. I’d show him how to pull the berry and leave the cap behind on the stem. I’d watch him pick a few berries then move over and start picking on my own row. He needed to learn to trust me and what I’d taught him.

After being raised from the dead, Jesus spent 40 days with His disciples (Acts 1:3), then He ascended into Heaven to take His place of honor, authority, and equality with God the Father (Heb 1:3).

You may have wondered at some time why Jesus went back to Heaven after His resurrection. He’d certainly have a bigger influence if He was still hanging around the world today leading, preaching, working miracles, and showing off His wounds. Right?

Though Jesus ascended back into Heaven from where He came, He did send the Holy Spirit to permanently dwell in His followers (John 14:16). As the Light of the world, He still leads and shines through His Church (Mt 5:14; Col 1:18). By the preaching of the Scriptures, He speaks to us today (Lk 24:27).

His return to Heaven required His disciples – including you and me – to learn to trust Him and His Word. It causes us to learn to walk by faith rather than by sight. That faith in Jesus, when tested by trials, is more precious than gold.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, who having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:5-9).

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.