Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Cross of Christ Jesus & Reflecting the Savior

One of the fundamental truths of Christianity is that there is a God and I'm not it.  And I imagine that's an underlying truth as to why so many can't stand it.  They can't hear it, but they can, and they hate themselves for knowing it and they hate you likewise for saying it.  They will try to shut you up.  They will try to get you angry.  They want you so mad that you're afraid to bring it up again.  Keep bringing it up, but only if you can do so lovingly.  If you can't, start journaling and start praying for the people you're upset with, and when you pray for them, pray for two weeks straight, that they have everything you want in life.  Then your resentments will disappear. 

Let's be lights, reflecting the son. 

Be a light wherever you stand and whenever you stand.  Whether in mental hospital or chat room, school or steak house.  Be an example of truth, kindness, and justice.  Be a reflection of the Savior.

One can never escape the very essence of Christianity, which is Christ Jesus, and the ultimate love he showed on the cross.  Many can become lost in other areas of the faith, which are worth exploring and knowing, but the heart of Christianity, the heart of the faith, is the life Jesus lived and death Jesus gave for his people, all of his people.

Is my heart filled with reverence every time I speak the name of Jesus Christ? 

That is one of the solid goals here.  We've got to understand just what Christ Jesus did on the cross, on mount calvary, two thousand years ago.  We have to understand the debt that was payed, if we're to reflect the Savior in the world today.  It's by that understanding and the impact it has on our hearts, that we begin to understand what true love is. 

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

I believe we learn to love after we receive the Savior, and begin a process of transformation.  We've all been hurt by the cruelty of this world.  We've all suffered at the hands of untrustworthy people.  That's ok.  They were not worthy of our trust or our love, but Christ Jesus is worthy of both.  Maybe a lot of us can't understand what was done at Calvary because we've locked our hearts away.  I know I did.  But the love we show for our heavenly Father will be returned a thousand fold.  It will not be betrayed or torn asunder.  We can offer that love, and by making a commitment to God he can teach us how to love again.

That's what is happening in my life.  I'm being taught how to love.  And of everything I might say about it, among all those thoughts, there is one penetrating truth: it is a good thing.  When I pass the commitment to my Father, and grant him reign over my life and input on all my decisions... well, life gets a lot easier.  It's not that life gets materially prosperous, but it is that no matter what happens I am eternally secure in my salvation.  And whenever I face a perplexing baffling situation in my life where I just don't know which way to turn, which way to go, I'm truthfully not as terrified as I would be without God.  Because I learn to get on my knees at that moment and give the situation to him.  So of course life is better with Christ Jesus, with the Father in charge.  And I would even say it gets easier, not in duty or undergoing persecution, but in the fact that I don't take it all on alone anymore, I take it on with the CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE beside me.  That's how personal my God is.  

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis provides a brilliant metaphor in that statement.  The sun in our solar system is what allows us to see, even at night.  I didn't have any clue how to know a thing before I accepted Jesus Christ.  I had some vague ideas, some theories, but in the end it was all bull.  But when I became a Christian, it was by the transforming of my mind that I soon began to see the clear truth of things in the world.  Before then I had no frame of reference.  I didn't know the world was created.  I didn't know all hinged on my connection to God.  But now I do know, and experience continues to teach me that I see the truth now, like never before.  

“All who call on God in true faith, earnestly from the heart, will certainly be heard, and will receive what they have asked and desired.”
Martin Luther

It's so simple, it's haunting.  Where I see simplicity, yet infinite truth, I see the hand of God at work in the world.  The Bible is full of that.  A single verse can be examined and endless pages could be written on the meaning and truth within it.  I love the Bible.  For me it is the ultimate communication of God's authority and truth.  Finally, a book that I can test all things to, and discover whether they are truthful or not.

We need that in the world today.  We need a measuring stick for our actions.  We need something to test against.  It's just like how science needs immutable laws that govern interactions in the known universe.  Without those laws there would be no order, no measurable truth to examine and expand upon.

But the Bible misinterpreted?  Oh, that's no fun.  In the classic book The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, there is a scene where "Christian" the main character is journeying along toward salvation, when a man stops him and suggests he try morality as a way to salvation.  And he then goes off the path, and attempts to climb Mt Sinai.  The symbolism is rich as Christian tries to climb the mountain where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.  That's what happens a lot of the time, especially in Catholic and Lutheran churches.  They try to climb Mt Sinai.  They try to follow the ten commandments to the letter.  But the Bible says we are no longer under the law. 

Galatians 3:25-26 (NLT) says "And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.  For you are all children[a] of God through faith in Christ Jesus."  I don't know about you.. but to me, that seems very clear!  If man could have been made right by strictly following the law, there would have been no need for Christ Jesus.  No man can be expected to follow the law to the letter when they lack Christ within.  It's an impossible climb.  It is not a journey any man or woman can make.  The law taught us that.  Which is why we receive Christ Jesus within ourselves, and by that reception and the transformation that occurs after, we then are made good by God over time.

C.S. Lewis put it very well when he said: “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”

Can I understand the kind of love it takes for my God to redeem forever someone who earnestly does not deserve such a thing?  I quite literally did not deserve any such thing.  I was a criminal and a liar, and most completely afflicted with the deadly human ailment called selfishness.  Bill Wilson called selfishness a plague on mankind.  And we are all afflicted.  All but Christ Jesus. 

For one to come about in the world, and live a life, 33 years and more without wronging people...  Without being self absorbed...  Without cheating, without lying, without causing pain to others...  Without acting as a fool...  Without spitting in the face of God...  He lived such a life of perfection.  What did he receive for this perfection of life, this incredible, unheard of act of living a flawless life, never seen ever before or ever since in all the history of man, not ONCE?  What did he receive, being tempted in all ways that every human is, and not falling to any such temptation?  He was conspired against.  He was pushed before authorities and condemned as a criminal.  He was beaten and whipped mercilessly.  He was publicly humiliated.  He was nailed to a cross, and left to hang there until dead.  And more than that, he died and was disconnected from God, bearing the weight of all of our sins.  Every time I made a mistake, or will make a mistake in which I harm others or myself, that is one more sin Jesus had to endure in his being on the cross. 

And what did Jesus Christ say as he was on the cross, slowly dying?  He prayed, "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing."(Luke 23:34 NIV)

And then as he bore the sins, and was punished for my sins, your sins, all sins, for all time, he cried out words that haunt my very being when I hear them in my mind, when I see them in print, he cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  (Matthew  27:46 NIV)

What happened at that moment to Christ Jesus?  It has been debated.  But I doubt it can even be imagined.  And for that, he is my Lord and Savior.  He is worthy of my praise, he is perfect.

His LOVE is perfect.
His LIFE was perfect.
His FORGIVENESS utterly perfect.
His JUSTICE perfect.

In all ways to me, he exemplifies what DIVINITY means.

There is no other religion on the planet that approaches the uniqueness and divine character of Christ Jesus.  Once sufficiently meditated upon there is a single conclusion:  Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, Immanuel, God with us, in person.  He is the historical and factual messiah.  He in fact lived and died, and rose again.  Such a personal God, to come to Earth personally to save his people... such a perfect life lived... such a perfect sacrifice... and such a divine character.  If I were not a Christian, but examining the faiths, I imagine I would look at the sacrifice of Christ Jesus and say THAT, is what a divine life looks like. 

Every time I meditate on that life, my own ability to love grows.  My own ability to receive love grows.  And I grow in admiration for my Savior.  I grow in loyalty to my God.  I grow in my transformation to be a picture of Christ Jesus in the modern world.

That is the goal.  This is the mission.  Let us live it.  Let us remind ourselves when we speak the name of Christ Jesus, of the depth and meaning within his character and within his sacrifice.  And let us remember the wonderful Good News: Christ Jesus lives!  He rose on the third day in fulfillment of scripture!  And he works in our lives individually, everyday!

I don't go into the brutal details of the death of Jesus to inspire guilt, but to inspire awe in your heart and mind for such an offering.  The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as our reception of that kind of forgiveness is a cause for celebration.  

In the history of the Christian church, the very first services in the 1st century were held in homes.  They would read scripture, and what struck me was that the first Christians, when they held services, held them as celebrations!  Not drudgeries or rebuking sessions, but celebrations of the salvation received through Christ Jesus, and the wonderful hope of the coming Kingdom of God! (Source: The Story of Christianity by Justo L. Gonzalez, p. 107).

I'd like to close with Romans 5:1-8 from the New International Version of the Bible.  If you're reading this as a non-believer, skeptic, or agnostic, this bit of scripture really explains what it means to be a Christian.  And if after reading you'd like to turn your life over to the universal God of all things, it's very simple and doesn't require any robes or long drawn our ceremonies.  Simply drop to your knees, wherever you happen to be, and pray to God.  Outloud, or in your mind, "Father, I acknowledge I need you in my life, I believe Christ Jesus died on the cross in payment for my many failures.  I accept Christ Jesus as my personal Savior.  Father, I give my life to you, to do with what you would.  Please, use me to your glory in the world.  In Jesus name, Amen."

Romans 5:1-8 (NIV)
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.