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This past Sunday, in our small group (I would call it a church but some call it a class), God moved. One lady (Melissa) spontaneously praised Him that she was experiencing the joy of her salvation. Another (Vivian) sang a beautiful, self-composed song of praise to Jesus that had been inspired by the group’s discussion from our previous gathering. The only thing lovelier than the testimony, words, and “a capella” singing was the movement of the Holy Spirit that had enlightened these ladies’ hearts. God used their spiritual sensitivity, purposeful service, and active contribution to point me to Jesus. It was true koinonia. Unfortunately, such divine synergy is often lacking in our assembling together.

The institutional church has inadvertently (I would like to think) created a clergy/laity dichotomy. Often times we see professional clergy being the ones “responsible” for our biblical education, edification, ministry, service, and even our worship. Isn’t that why we “tithe”?  So we, the laity, can “go to church” for an hour or so and get those paid professionals to do our spiritual heavy lifting for us. That way, during the rest of the week, we are absolved of the legwork of Godward pursuits such as devotional time, prayer, deep bible study, worshipful praise, ministry, service, fellowship, mutual encouragement, and missions in the space that we have been placed. After all, we went to “church” on Sunday.

I’ve come to believe the early followers of Christ we more participatory than that – both at their meetings (1 Corinthians 14:26) and certainly in their daily lives. They buoyed one another and were demonstrative about their faith (Hebrews 10:24-25; Colossians 3:16). There was an atmosphere of intentional and vibrant mutual exhortation and the continuous use of their spiritual gifts through an inclusive functioning of the Body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12). They weren’t looking to paid clergy to be and do the body-life and missional work of Jesus for His church. Things were more organic than that. The approach was more bottom up than top down. As a matter of fact, the approach was unified, non-hierarchical, and dynamic (Acts 2:42-47). There were no professionals in the pulpits and passive onlookers in the pews. It is highly doubtful there were even pulpits and pews at all.

Why did the clergy/laity dichotomy and dependence on “ministers” and pastors not exist in the first century church?  Because they were all functioning as priests to each other and the world around them.  Peter said, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.…” (1 Peter 2:9). In other words, we are all priests chosen to display the infinite value and supremacy of the One who has called us. We do that through the expression of individual gifts being used for the corporate good of His glorious church (which is His beautiful bride). In that organic and dynamic demonstration His worthy praises are proclaimed.

And who designed us all to be priests and kingdom ministers?  Our gorgeous Savior, Jesus. John tells us, “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father–to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6). We must note that He made His bride to be this way.

And why did He design His church this way? Clearly, so that we all might image forth who He is and reverberate the truth that His is the glory and power for all of eternity! Just like Melissa and Vivian did last Sunday. I’m blessed I was there to experience the functioning, organic Body of Christ through the ministry of these two dear women. May we take their example as an admonishment to cease being passive in our pews.

I’ve messed up. We all have. I have fallen short of the unfathomable holiness of God. We all do. I am a sinner and the presence of my sin and my sinfulness is always with me. It’s not only my actions and my inactions but my iniquity is found in my thoughts and attitudes.  If we are honest before God we all must admit this. The closer I get to the white light of God’s holiness the more His spotlight of purity shows the dirt that is found in the dark corners of who I am. That is humbling. And it can become paralyzing and devastating unless we look to Jesus. I praise God that He was perfect for me – doing for me what I could never have done for myself. I am unable to comply with all of God’s will but Christ has. This is called grace. Unmerited favor. And I cling to that truth through the gift of faith He has given me and the truth of His word.

The writer of Hebrews testified to this amazing fact:

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

In the Greek this means through Jesus God has spoken once and for all. In Christ we find God’s last word on the subject of the forgiveness of our sins. This passage states that He purchased purification for all of His children’s sins. That means all – past, present, and future. There is nothing else to be done. It confirms Jesus’ saying on the cross, “It is finished”, which indicates that the price for our sins (plural) was paid in full. There is no other debt for our sin to be paid other than the one that was offered through His perfect sacrifice.

The Bible is clear:

  • “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:7)
  • “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)
  • “But now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Hebrews 9:26b)
  • “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”(Psalm 103:12)
  • “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)
  • “For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
  • “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
  • “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:16-17)

In my fallen condition I need to be reminded of these truths. They confirm that He is my only hope and looking to my self to find the solution to my spiritual failure is hopeless. I have missed the mark of His complete holiness. But by His grace, through the channel of faith, I see the beauty of Christ’s perfect life, sacrifice, and victorious resurrection. I am free from the penalty of my sin because of Him and Him alone. And I can claim the truth, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

This is why the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory” and He is sitting “at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven”. For He is both infinitely worthy and wholly qualified to declare us righteous in our past, present, and future sins. May we all fall at His feet and worship Him. May the sinners that we are surrender all that we have to His indescribable glory and majesty.  For He is the only hope for our past, present, and future.

Inadequacy is my constant companion. The more I am aware of my inability to do that which I desire to do the more attuned I am to my own weakness. And this is true in every aspect of my life; emotionally, mentally, physically, and most importantly, spiritually. We live in a culture that disparages weakness and inadequacy and it has become taboo to admit to it or demonstrate it.  Society’s axiom of “only the strong survive” has its place in the natural world. But to the follower of Christ the question remains, “Is weakness a bad thing in those that earnestly follow after and serve Jesus”? As we will see, on this subject like so many others, the Bible takes a contrarian view relative to the world’s perspective.

All we have to look at is Paul’s instruction to but one New Testament church. Like our society the church at Corinth was consumed with selfishness, pride, and self-sufficiency. To them Paul spoke often about weakness. What he says to them cuts against the grain of their culture and our human propensity toward being strong in ourselves and not yielding, through a form of self-acknowledged weakness, to our Lord’s infinitely superior strength. I believe Paul’s words are relevant for all who claim the name of Christ.

Paul begins by proclaiming that God’s glorious and eternal purposes were achieved through weakness:

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:25-29).

He makes clear that Jesus Himself demonstrated a form of weakness (submission and surrender to His Father’s purposes and plan) to accomplish His mission: “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you” (2 Corinthians 13:4). Furthermore, Paul sees His own weakness as a way to recognize Jesus ultimate sacrifice and serve others when he states, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Paul indicates that his weakness projects God’s power, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). So he was able to boast in his weakness because it put the spotlight on His omnipotent God; “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30).

Critical to those who authentically and passionately desire to be His servants, we see the following:

  • Jesus modeled a form of weakness in surrendering to His Father’s great and wonderful plan that led to our redemption.
  • We honor our Lord by confessing our weakness and being dependent upon His strength for living and serving for Him.
  • When surrendered to Him and His power our weaknesses can project God’s greatness and glory.
  • When we acknowledge Jesus’ grace to be sufficient for our weakness we can rest in His power and proclaim (boast) His provision that overcomes our inadequacies.
  • We can know of His infinite goodness in Christ’s adequacy for us and His purposes.
  • God chose the “weak things” like you and me to confound the wisdom of this world and project His majesty and beauty.

This means that our weaknesses and inadequacies can serve as a platform to project the infinite grace, greatness, strength, and the power of who He is. When our insufficiencies are relinquished to His all-sufficiency there is no doubt left as to the supremacy of our God and the perfect and complete work of Jesus in us. May we as followers of Him become “weak” in submission to His Father’s glory and understand and reflect His praise in our weakness. May we surrender our inadequacies to His gracious provision of sufficiency for us, in us, and through us.

“This is my cross to bear”. These are words we have often heard and sometimes expressed. The common interpretation of these “crosses that we bear” is that they are hardships – poor heath or finances, loneliness, bad or unfaithful spouses/children, divorce, unemployment, singleness, addiction, depression, etc. Today the consumer church classifies almost any trial under a broad umbrella labeled as discouraging misfortunes. These tribulations are primarily seen as uncontrollable circumstances that have nothing to do with the personal choices of those that are suffering. In this interpretation these “crosses” (like all other personal discomfort) are to be avoided or escaped.

I contend this view tragically sends a very false message. There are several things fundamentally wrong with the idea that those bearing these “crosses” are passive victims. For one thing, most people are in their terrible situation because of personal choices not despite them. This has been true in my life. Granted, some suffer for the cause of Christ because they have chosen to follow Him. But that is rare. Actually, we will now see that the “cross that we bear” should be a decision – a choice and a mandate in following after Jesus – and that volitional act will cause a hardship in this life. Yet, we will see that it is not without a glorious reward.

In order to understand this flawed interpretation of these “crosses” let’s looks at the proof text that’s being referenced. In Mark 8:34 we read Jesus saying, “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.  Jesus’ words on this subject found in Matthew 10 are even stronger: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (vs. 37-39).

First, let’s see that “bearing your cross” is an active choice on the part of the follower of Christ.  Jesus said to “take up your cross”. He makes it clear that “cross bearing” is not a circumstance but, instead, is an intentional determination to follow after Him in the likeness of His death. This is not the passive, negative predicament of an innocent victim but a life surrendered to the death of self.  In other words, the Christian’s purposeful following of Christ mandates that we take up “our cross” and live out a transformed existence of self-sacrifice, self-denial, and the losing of our life for His sake. The reward is that we will find Him – which is Life more abundant and eternal. We take up the cross of dying to self in order to gain Him. This what Paul was referring to in Philippians 3:8: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ…”

Secondly, “bearing your cross” means to accept, and even embrace, hardship. By following Christ and dying to self we know that we will suffer with Him. This suffering reflects and demonstrates the beautiful path of our Savior that led Him to Golgotha. Knowing Jesus means intentionally choosing the consequences of following Him. That means being a Christian isn’t about hardship avoidance but hardship acceptance.  Numerous passages clearly indicate that there is a cost in following Christ (see Luke 14:25-35) and that His followers will have tribulation in this life. Paul understood this: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). In other words, how can we expect to share in the power of His resurrection unless we share in the fellowship of His suffering and death?

In terms of being a follower of Christ, what does this mean to me? I believe that it means that I must, if I truly desire Him, willingly take up my “cross” with Him. In a figurative sense, I, like Paul, will “die every day” (1 Corinthians 15:30). In doing so, as Jesus says in Matthew 10, I will love nothing more than Him and, therefore in that, be considered worthy of Him. And in losing my life for His sake I gain a Life that is divinely and eternally greater than the one that I am putting to death on the cross of self-denial that I have taken up in following after Him. Therefore, may I make “my cross” be His cross – the one He sacrificially hung on that I might gain the forgiveness of sin and the eternal joy of His beautiful presence.

Most of us can look back over our lives and see a past littered with poor choices, mistakes, failures, and our share of “bad breaks”. If we linger there, those realities can push us towards discouragement and even maudlin sentimentality. When we stay there, this quagmire of negativity can rob us of our joy and hope in Christ. Yet with Satan’s luring and the weakness of our flesh it is more common than it should be. Unfortunately, when we get stuck in the past many of the promises of God’s word and our purpose in serving Him are obscured. I believe that a life fixated on the past is tragically diminished. Life in Christ is only full, productive, and joyous when one is faithful in the present and hopeful for the future.

The apostle Paul is one example of someone who could have parked himself in the past and focused on his many misdeeds. As a persecutor of the early church he had much to be ashamed of. Yet we see that he purposefully didn’t dwell on his past but, instead, on the calling and task at hand and his future reward in Christ. Paul understood that who we are in Christ now and what He has promised those that pursue Him is exponentially greater than the unfortunate litter of our past. I think this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote these words to the church at Philippi:

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you” (Philippians 3:12-15).

Here Paul clearly shows that the Christian’s intentional focus should be on faithfulness in the present while fixing the lens of our heart on our future prize (which, ultimately, is Jesus Himself). He uses strong words to describe his pursuit – take hold, press, and strain. These words leave no doubt that effort, strenuous effort, is expended in this journey towards Jesus. An athletic metaphor, this is a description of a runner laboring to win the prize awarded the victor of the race. And, one thing we know for sure, a runner must never look back and always focus on his next step while looking towards the finish line. Applying the analogy to our life-race with our Lord, Paul says this mentality is evidence of spiritual maturity.

The writer of Hebrews has a similar thought:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author 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.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

So, in my desire to run life’s race in a way that glorifies my Savior, my newest prayer request of God is to keep me faithful to Him today and hopeful for the future. With my own tendency to dwell on the past (especially when my life seems like it is in a holding pattern) and forget my present calling and future prize I must remind myself daily of this goal. God has given all of us tasks for today (with our church, job, family, friends, etc.) so we must remain faithful to those responsibilities while trusting that He holds our future in His hands. While “pressing on” in chasing after Him this day and each day as it comes we can live with a sense of hope and joy knowing what He has prepared for us as victors in Him. For truly, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

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