You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Called to the Cross’ category.


“[John] said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”  (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:23-27).

Sal Mattson appropriately died on Good Friday. His legacy is partly captured in the University of Tennessee campus newspaper:

Campus evangelist passes away | The Daily Beacon

If you have not watched (I know the video drags quite a bit but it really is worth watching)  and read the links above, what I say next won’t have near the impact that it should. At least not the impact it had on me.

My brother attended Sal’s funeral. He described it as a joy-filled celebration despite Sal living only 53 years and leaving behind a wife and 5 children. There was much rejoicing over Sal’s homegoing and His Savior. The stories told there magnified what we learn from the links above. He gave his life to preach the Gospel from a sidewalk on the rabidly secular campus of a state institution of higher education. What we might not know is how he was treated by those he ministered to. His eulogists’ shared how Sal was often reviled – cursed, mocked, and even spat on. But he never uttered a harsh word, instead, we are told, he looked lovingly at his nemeses and kept pleading that they hear and believe.

One such account symbolized his self-denying, cross-bearing pursuit of rejecting everything that might hinder knowing and following his Savior. I paraphrase:

“One day a group of students was particularly cruel to Sal, saying and doing terrible things. Profanity laced names were thrown his way and objects were hurled in his direction. One of the group was convicted enough about this injustice that he returned to apologize for the group. And he did. Sal’s response? ‘Thanks, but it’s OK. Let’s talk about your salvation.’ The young man soon professed Christ and returned often to visit Sal as he continued to stand and preach to an unwlecoming audience. The boy sometimes stood by his side in an attempt to deflect the insults and harassment.”

Sal was so committed to evangelism that the weekend before his transition, weighing only about 70 pounds and moving in and out of consciousness, he telephoned his father-in-law to share the Good News. I’m sure that the man’s profession of faith was a very powerful and meaningful going away present for the dying evangelist. Think about it – the last task Sal Mattson accomplished was to share the Gospel and hear a loved family member say “yes” to Jesus.

And when was the last time we told someone about our Savior? Would that be the most important thing on our mind as we were wasting away with cancer and our death imminent?

I wish I were more like Sal Mattson than I am. Really, I desire to be more like Jesus – for He truly is the ultimate example for Sal, for me, and for you. So often we sit in our comfortable pews, we serve on our committees, we attend our Bible studies and “Christian concerts,” we blog, we give back a portion of God’s provision, we pray, we read our Bible…we do most of “the right things.” But do we give ourselves? All of ourselves…like Sal did. To Jesus and others, that is. More importantly and clearly, do we give like Jesus did? 

So I think it only fitting we conclude this tribute to Sal and his Savior with Christ’s own words. I think they are quite appropriate:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Please know we can only live like Sal did, and like Jesus wants us to, when empowered by Him and His Word and not through self-effort alone. We must be compelled by loving Christ because we know He first loved us, and how much that cost. So, in the end, it is not Sal or us who gets the glory…it’s the Savior. And I’m convinced Sal would have it no other way.

Advertisements

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”  They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen…” (Luke 24:30-35).

Only Dr. Luke records this post-resurrection event. Two downcast disciples of Jesus are leaving Jerusalem and returning to their home in Emmaus. They share with their unrecognized Lord how great their crucified Master was. Yet they could not veil the disappointment that their hopes that He was “the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21) had vaporized. “After all,” they said, “it has been 3 days since His death.” Jesus’ response was loving but stern: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Then He patiently explained that these events were the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and that Scripture had pointed to Him from the beginning (v. 27). And when they understood, they rushed back to Jerusalem with a renewed sense of enablement.

These followers of Christ were still living in the past, choosing to dwell upon Friday’s seemingly tragic events. They had been told that he was alive (v. 22-24) but, with their faith shattered and their heads staring down at the dirt road, they solemnly trudged home to their former life back in Emmaus. But they weren’t alone. Peter, along with some of the other disciples, had essentially done the same thing. Jesus had called them to be “fisher’s of men” but where did He find them after He had come victoriously from the grave? Fishing! For fish (see John 21:1-14)! Defeated by their failure to be faithful during Christ’s suffering and hopeless and helpless without the leadership of their Captain, they had returned to the same purposeless way of life they knew before they met Jesus. But upon seeing their risen Lord they made a mad dash to greet Him (John 21:7-8).

This season we celebrate Easter and Jesus’ expression of His continued presence with us, power in us, peace for us, and purpose through us that is clearly demonstrated by His resurrection. In the 40 days (Acts 1:3) before He ascended to the right hand of the Father He continually reminded His followers of those 4 things and made clear statements regarding each (see Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:36-49; John 21:15-19; Acts 1:1-11). All of this became a reality for His disciples as they waited in Jerusalem (the very place many had left following His crucifixion) for these promises to be fulfilled by the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In other words, it was after Easter that the full impact of His resurrection was most realized in His followers and they, moving forward, led lives that demonstrated His continued presence, power, peace, and purpose. Just read the book of Acts for the dramatic aftermath.

My point? Let us not lose the inertia of our Easter worship and festivities. Many of us will be stirred by exhilarating music, emotional “Passion Plays,” and motivating sermons. But our experience of the profundity of His resurrection is not meant to end there. The influence of His resurrection is to be something that propels us all year around, day by day, moment by moment. Let us not, like these disciples, return to the routine of a former, spiritually trivial life, but let us be continually transformed by the “fellowship of His sufferings and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). May His presence, power, peace and purpose in and through us not fade after the invigorating crescendo of our Easter activities and focus. Instead, may our hearts continue to “burn within us” with an all-consuming passion that can only come from the ongoing sufficiency that His resurrection guarantees.

Let Jesus’ truth resonate with us: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;  and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). Do we? Then let us be transported by the truth that His resurrection is to be experienced not just on a holiday but every day before and after. Let us not live like He is still dead. Let us not revert to the old passionless, mundane ways that we rose above during this sacred season. Let us magnify Him through His presence, power, peace, and purpose…even after Easter!


This an excerpt from my book “Captivated by Christ: Focusing on Him.” It can be found on virtually any on-line bookstore in both hardcopy and digital formats.

First Peter 1:3 exclaims, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” In other words, Christ’s all-powerful and glorious resurrection gives us more than a future hope; it gives us a living hope. The Lord’s death and resurrection created for us a transforming power that goes beyond His ability to raise us from the physical grave. It provided a power that can energize and give purpose to daily life.

Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him” (Philippians 3:10). In saying this Paul affirmed the predictive words of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25). What Paul is saying is that the resurrection empowers us to experience supernatural living now as well as eternal life in the future. In other words, the reality of physical death being overcome by eternal life through that all-important resurrection victory has real spiritual connotations for living.

Paul explains further: “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” (Philippians 3:7-8). What did he primarily lose? Himself! What did he gain? Christ and the power of His resurrection! That’s why he tells the Roman Christians, “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:5). This is a more important part of the Gospel than many give it credit for.

You see, in order to experience the power of the resurrection we must die physically and spiritually, literally and figuratively, now and in the future. You can’t be physically resurrected unless you physically die and you can’t live in spiritual resurrection power unless you die spiritually to self. This involves transitioning from our old self-oriented person to one whose focus is now on Christ. Then, through faith, we experience His resurrection power and presence. Paul elaborates: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

You see, when Paul talks about many of his travails, he considers the resurrection the root of his endurance and hope. The resurrection does give Paul hope that he’ll live with Christ in Heaven, but additionally it gives meaning to his life. In First Corinthians 15:30-32, as he connects his dying to self with the power of the resurrection, Paul says, “And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” In short, he has gained everything in Christ because of the fact of the resurrection. Without it, life is worthless.

Understand that without the power of the resurrection, our living (and dying) is in vain. First Corinthians 15:14, 17 clarify: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” Our lives in Christ become meaningful and powerful only when we see the glorious ramifications of the resurrection. That happens only when we “die to self” and all things become secondary to His will and glory. This means that we forsake self-determination and self-absorption. Instead we live in the power of His presence and are guided by His purposes instead of our own (Philippians 3:7-8).

My prayer is that God will give me the desire to daily die so that I might live in Him and the power of His resurrection. After all, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Corinthians 15: 36).


“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

Many of you are familiar with is what commonly referred to as “the seven ‘I am’ statements of Jesus.” They are pregnant with meaning about who Jesus is and who He claimed to be. Simultaneously they create awe and bring us great comfort. Here is a list of them as they appear in the Gospel of John:

“I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 6:48)

“I am the light of the world” (John 8:12, 9:5)

“I am the door” (John 10:7).

“I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11-14).

“I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

“I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

“I am the true vine” (John 15:1,5).

Given this is the Easter season, I would like to focus on the 5th of these: “I am the resurrection and the life.” To understand this we must look at the context (Isn’t this always the case?). In John 11 we see what appears to be a tragedy. Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, is dying. They send a message to Jesus telling Him of his sickness (11:1-3). Jesus was not startled but quickly told His disciples this illness was not going to end in death but ultimately demonstrate His own glory (11:4).

Strangely, the Great Physician tarried for 2 days without going to Lazarus’ bedside. By the time He decided to go (11:7) his friend had perished (11:11, 14). He arrives at a grieving household, making his entrance with the claim that Lazarus will be miraculously raised from the dead after 4 days (11:23). And on what basis did He make this claim? He tells them plainly, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He points to Himself – not the dire situation, the suffering family, or the stench of the deteriorating body. He says, “I am!!” He has the authority to overcome death and life and soon proves it (11:43:44). Based upon the command of Christ – “Lazarus, come out” – the dead man lives.

I could go on about the implications of this event in light of our being born again or regenerated. How dead men don’t make decisions and the power of God alone awakens us from our spiritual death (see Ephesians 2:1-10 if you want to examine the correlation) but I choose to focus on the physical aspect of this display of God’s power through the glory of the Son. As Jesus said to Martha, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” And I believe this is true both spiritually and physically.

As we celebrate Easter, Christ’s willful death and eventual rise from the grave, it makes us ponder a painful reality of living in a fallen world; physical death. It is all around us and, as we age and have more experiences in life, we know that inevitably it will be our turn. If we don’t die from a terrible disease or accident, our bodies waste away, slowly eroding through toil and the passage of time. We have also lived through the grief of loved ones passing away, just like in this story. And their death and the prospect of our own can create an ominous outlook that begins to shape our thinking and our living.

The good news? Jesus is telling and showing us here in John 11 that through faith in Him we can physically live forever. Oh yes, His children will die an earthly death, but it is a transport not a termination. Because of His mercy and might, He will once again shout “come forth” to all those who believe and we will be raised and given new bodies (for more than a dash of comfort and hope, see 1 Corinthians 15:50-57). We will be healed and whole, spiritually and physically, for all of eternity. And we will be forever joined with Jesus and family and friends that have put their trust in Him, the Lord over death and life.

Do you believe? This is what Christ requires. This is what He told Martha – whoever believes in him, though he will die, will live on in Heaven – and this is what He is telling us. This Easter I urge you to surrender to Him so that what we celebrate, Jesus’ resurrection, will guarantee that His victory over the grave has been applied to you by His grace and faith.

If you don’t understand what all this means, please send me a note and I will gladly follow up with you. Or reach out to a trusted follower of the risen Jesus and ask them to help you. I’m sure they, like me, will be thrilled to do so.


For more of my commentary on the Reason Rally see – The Reason Rally: Atheists Out of the Closet

Now read this: Atheists Rally for Reason; Urged to Mock the Religious, Christian News

My response to Richard Dawkins? Bring it on! I want to be blessed and joyful! And Jesus said I will be if I’m persecuted for righteousness’ sake and on His account:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

With this in mind, I’d like to share a chapter from my yet to be edited, yet to be published devotional commentary on Colossians.

Joyful Suffering With and For Jesus

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…” (Colossians 1:24). 

Max Lucado says, “Please understand, [God’s] goal is not to make you happy, His goal is to make you His. His goal is not to get you what you want; it is to get you what you need…Earthly discomfort is a glad swap for Heavenly peace.”[i]

Joyful suffering, if you understand the message of the Gospel, is not an oxymoron – a paradox, maybe, but not a contradiction. Here is a sample of some passages that assert, despite our natural aversion to it, suffering and persecution is an inherent and beautiful part of our faithful following of Jesus: 

  • His followers rejoiced in being counted worthy to suffer for Jesus’ name (Acts 5:41). 
  • Suffering providentially compels us to be dependant upon God and not ourselves (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). 
  • Spiritual maturity and character are developed through suffering (Romans 5:3-4). 
  • Suffering for Christ reminds us and others of the Treasure to come (Hebrews 11:25-26). 
  • We will be uniquely blessed if we are “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:10-12). 
  • “The Spirit of glory and of God” rests on those who suffer for Him (1 Peter 4:12-16). 
  • Those fully surrendered to Christ view suffering for His name as a divine gift (Philippians 1:29). 

But this suffering and persecution is not fatalistic, purposeless, or hopeless. It has a mysterious yet divine purpose in us and for a lost world: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death,to the other a fragrance from life to life.Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).

So we see two potential reasons that we are called to suffer for Christ; the presentation of the Gospel and our identification with Jesus.

First we see in Colossians 1:24 that the spread of the Gospel is facilitated by the suffering of Christ’s servants. When commenting on this verse John Piper explains, “Paul suffers, and he says that in his sufferings he fills up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? What does that mean? Here’s my answer in summary: What’s missing is the in-person presentation of Christ’s sufferings to the people for whom he died. The afflictions are lacking in the sense that they are not seen and known among the nations. They must be carried by ministers of the gospel. And those ministers of the gospel fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ by extending them to others. Paul sees his own suffering as the visible reenactment of the sufferings of Christ so that they will see Christ’s love for them.”[ii]

Secondly, suffering for Jesus identifies us with Him (see Acts 9:15-16). When we suffer for Him we are, due to the mystery of our spiritual union with Him, actually, in sense, suffering with Him. When Jesus accosted Saul on the road to Damascus He said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4-8). So we see that Paul’s persecution of the church was a persecution of Jesus. So everything that is done to the body of Christ (us) is also done to Jesus. Paul later explained this as “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). 

But Jesus had already told us this would be so: “You will be hated for my name’s sake,” he said (Mark 13:13). And especially in John 15:18-21: 

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” 

The joy we find in suffering for and with Jesus is that we are honored to image forth His beauty and the glorious Gospel of our Lord.  In our union with Him we magnify Him by demonstrating His suffering. For it is through His cross of suffering that He has saved our souls. And what a privilege it is to point others to Him, through our temporary afflictions for His name, knowing what eternal and indescribable glories await us in Jesus: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (1 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Apply It:

Meditate on Isaiah 53 and contemplate Jesus as the “suffering servant.” Spend time considering how much He suffered for you. Thank God for the infinitely valuable sacrifice of His only son, our perfect substitute. Seek the Lord’s guidance on how that translates to following Him. Ask yourself the penetrating question: Am I willing to suffer with and for the One who suffered for me so that I might live eternally with Him?  Ask God to give you the courage to do so with joy, if given that privilege.


[i] Lucado, Max. Colossians and Philemon (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 6.

[ii] Piper, John, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003), 268.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 58 other followers

Faithful Blogger

%d bloggers like this: