The Power of the Cross

Cross hammer“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

After sixteen centuries and more during which the cross has been a sacred symbol, it’s difficult to realize the unspeakable horror and loathing which the very mention or thought of the cross provoked during the tyranny of the Roman Empire. In the first century, the word for cross, σταυρός (latin crux), was unmentionable in polite Roman society.

When the early disciples talked about the crucified Christ, every listener from Jerusalem to Illyricum (Romans 15:19) knew that Jesus had suffered a particularly cruel and shameful death, which as a rule was reserved for the most hardened criminals, incorrigible slaves, and egregious rebels against the Roman state. Cicero (Pro Rabirio Perduellionis Reo 5.16) decries the crucifixion of a Roman citizen, exclaiming, “The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes, and his ears.”

The story behind Jesus’ death on the cross discloses that He was rejected by the very people He came to save (Matthew 26:1-5), was deserted by His own friends (Matthew 26:47-4869-75), was strung up by the proper authorities (Matthew 27:22-26), and, apparently, was powerless to save His own skin (Matthew 27:38-44).

Following Christ’s resurrection, Peter served as faithful follower of the Lord proclaiming,

“You know the events that took place throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the Devil, because God was with Him. We ourselves are witnesses of everything He did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, yet they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree. God raised up this man on the third day and permitted Him to be seen.” Acts 10:37–40

the crossThe beginning of Christianity was cradled in what looks like disastrous defeat, and the unspeakable stigma of the cross exposed “Christians” to woeful contempt.  In fact, the word, “Christian” is found only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16) and when it is used, it’s a label formed by people who were not followers of Jesus to designate those who were. It’s a manufactured term with a derogatory slant, meant to be a dig.

Similar to Peter, Paul did not refer to Jesus’ death on the cross with embarrassment or skip over the awkward facts:

“I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed.” (Galatians 3:13)

The cross of Jesus was central to Paul’s preaching because the resurrection disclosed Christ’s suffering and death as the way of life for His believing followers in the world. Paul taught the early church that followers of the crucified Lord must also share the suffering of the cross:

“The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ—seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16-17)
“My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.” (Philippians 3:10)

Cross of VictoryAs followers of Jesus today, we want to share in the celebration of the cross, we would just rather avoid it’s suffering and shame. The message of the cross, however, is about trusting God’s will in submission and sacrifice (Matthew 27:36-46) rather than fighting for control or positioning for comfort. The message of the cross is an antidote to our self-glorification and self-satisfaction. The message of the cross is hope for the tired and weary, rest for the rejected refugee, grace for the humbled, and mercy for the broken sinner.

The Gospel of Christ crucified transforms the cross as a symbol of Roman terror and political domination into a symbol of God’s love and power. The cross shows that the power of God’s love is greater than human love of power. The cross reveals the love of God at its best and the sin of man at its worst. Isaac Watts said it well, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” 

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Defining Value

beautiful peopleWe live in a world that greatly values power and performance while richly rewarding physical athleticism and external beauty.

As our nation prepares for the 2016 presidential election, candidates are raising millions of dollars and a few are spending their self-amassed fortunes to become one of the most powerful leaders of the world. CEO’s of fortune 500 companies are financially rewarded with cash, stock, and other options (or replaced) based on their job performance.

Power of LeBronProfessional athletes demand million dollar contracts for throwing a ball, dunking a ball, dribbling a ball, catching a ball, hitting a ball, putting a ball, and kicking a ball. The best of our athletes make more money in product endorsements off the field because people want to buy the products they push. We want to be like Mike. Or LeBron. And for some, Tom.

Meanwhile actors, models, and musicians not only get rich, but they also wield tremendous societal and political influence. They influence what we wear. They shape how we talk. They impact how we think. They determine what we desire.

Still other people are defining their worth, or others lack thereof, based on race. “Black Lives Matter.” While that’s a true statement and addressed real hurts and genuine fears when the movement began, the movement seems to have created an even greater divide in our country. All lives should matter — unless, that is, you’re powerless inside a woman’s womb.

Sheriff Ron Hickman of Harris County, Texas, addressed this issue about whose lives matter after one of the officers under his command, Darren Goforth, was shot and killed at a gas station last week, “We’ve heard ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘All Lives Matter.’ Well, ‘Cops’ Lives Matter,’ too, so why don’t we just drop the qualifiers and just say, ‘Lives Matter.'”

There are still others who determine their worth based on sexual orientation or identity. We’re pressured (by the powerful, by politicians, by athletes, by musicians, or by actors) to think that individuals should pursue and do whatever they think will make them happy and feel good about themselves.

defining valueThroughout our culture we have been conditioned to believe that appearance, race, sex, money, talent, and defining achievements determine how we evaluate people.

And ourselves.

Where do you usually go to find self-worth? Whose opinion influences how you view yourself?

The Bible tells us that God greatly values us, but not in the way that we might think. He doesn’t take pleasure in the symbols of strength and beauty or the temporary things that amuse people. The LORD sees and delights in what demonstrates real strength and eternal worth: knowing and trusting Him.

The Psalmist explains,

The LORD is not impressed by the strength of a horse;
He does not value the power of a man.
He values those who fear Him,
those who put their hope in His faithful love.
— Psalm 147:10-11

In the NT, Paul gives further insight into our self-worth:

5 Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, God’s wrath comes on the disobedient, 7 and you once walked in these things when you were living in them. 8 But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices. Colossians 3:5–9

Those are the things that the world values. That’s the old self.

But in Christ,

10 [You] have put on the new self. You are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of your Creator. 11 In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all. Colossians 3:10–11 (HCSB)

The new person in Christ has a new perspective of life where all material, physical, racial, national, religious, cultural, sexual, and social distinctions are determined to be worthless. Instead, Christ is now all that matters for all those who believe in who He is as God’s Son and what He has done through His death, burial, and resurrection.

lightstock_4161_xsmall_larry_murrayChrist is everything in salvation - no more performing on our own for a relationship with God.
Christ is everything in sanctification - no more achieving to determine our value.
Christ is everything necessary for satisfaction - no more searching for happiness on our own.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

In Christ, our personal value before God in Heaven is based upon the (sinless) performance of Jesus. In Christ, our eternal relationship with God is because of Christ’s power on the cross and through His resurrection. In Christ, our old way of thinking about ourselves and others has died. In Christ, our perspectives, prejudices, misconceptions, enslavements have all changed.  Jesus Christ is our all in all. He defines our value and He alone gives us eternal worth. Our identity is in Him. He makes life worth living. 

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Living by Faith

Foggy RoadIn our social media driven world today, life is viewed by what’s popular, progressive, or posted. Followers of Jesus, however, live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Similarly, Christ followers walk by faith in what God has said and done, not by what we may feel or fear. God says “the righteous will live by faith” (Genesis 15:6; Habakkuk 2:5; Romans 1:174:3922-255:1Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38; James 2:23).

The Bible tells us that faith is confidence in God’s promises and the proof of what is not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Furthermore, without faith it is impossible to please God, for anyone who seeks Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who trust Him and His Word (John 1:1-510-1418; Hebrews 11:6).

We have many examples (biblically, historically, and personally) of imperfect, yet faithful men and women through the ages who have trusted God’s promises through the dense fog of pop culture (2 Timothy 3:1-5), believed them regardless of ridicule (Matthew 5:11-12; John 15:18-20, 2 Timothy 3:12-13), and viewed themselves as foreigners and temporary residents on this Earth (Hebrews 11:13). Following their examples, let’s walk with God by faith in His Son, Jesus (John 17:3; Ephesians 2:8-10Colossians 3:1-4), and love others as He loves (Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18;  Psalm 86:15; 103:8; Jonah 4:2 ; Joel 2:13; Nehemiah 9:17-25John 15:12-13; Romans 5:6-8Colossians 3:12-14) as citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20) and ambassadors here on Earth (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Run the raceSince we have so many great examples of those who have walked with God by faith, let’s lay aside defensiveness, selfishness, and sinfulness that so easily trips us up. Let’s run with perseverance, patience, and purity the race of life that lies before us, looking up to Jesus, the creator and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy of Heaven endured the cross on Earth where He was ridiculed Himself (Hebrews 12:1-3). Let’s follow Jesus who is preparing an eternal home for us while praying for us at the right hand of God’s throne in Heaven (John 14:1-4; Philippians 2:8-11; Hebrews 7:25; Revelation 21:3-4).

Many people today may view those of us who choose to live by faith in God and His Word as narrow-minded (Matthew 7:13-14), old fashioned (Deuteronomy 32:7Psalm 78:1-7; 143:5; 2 Timothy 3:14-17), foolish (1 Corinthians 1:18), and intolerant (2 Timothy 4:2-4). Yet, those who see themselves as open-minded and progressive are making lifestyle choices that have been made before (Judges 17:6, 21:25, Romans 1:21-25). There really isn’t anything new on this Earth (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Christ followers, also, live by faith in what God has said and done, not by what we feel. So, let’s refuse to react in fear to the recent changes and outrages in our world (2 Timothy 1:8). Instead, let’s recognize that our battle is not against people, police, politicians, or protestors, but against the invisible, spiritual forces of evil that are real (Ephesians 6:12). That’s why we must reject our natural reaction to use the same weapons that are used against us, but rather, put on the spiritual armor of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Spirit, which is God’s Word (Ephesians 6:14-17). And above all, we put on love so that the peace of Christ will control our hearts (Colossians 3:14).

By faith in God’s Word, we believe there is an enemy who is called the Devil and Satan; the one who deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:8; Revelation 20:10). According to Jesus, deception is an essential element of Satan’s nature “for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44). The Devil disguises himself as angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), but the Bible reveals his true intention to exalt himself above God’s rule and his desire to take God’s glory (Isaiah 14:12–17). As the god of this age, Satan has blinded the minds of people so they cannot see the true light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4). Satan’s latest deceptions involve a repeat attack on the image of God in mankind (Genesis 1:26–28; Genesis 3:1-15) and assault Christ’s love for His church reflected in biblical marriage between a man and a woman (Ephesians 5:22-32). Our cultural and moral battles are not with the ones who have been blinded, but with the ancient deceiver who has blinded them.

So rather than give in to fear or try to defend our faith with the weapons of this world, we resist the Devil and stand firm in our faith in God and His Word, knowing that the grief and sorrows we are experiencing today are not new, but are the experience of fellow believers throughout the world (1 Peter 5:9).

Shine like stars on the roadLet’s live our lives by faith so that our words and actions of Christ-like love go viral (Philippians 2:13-15). Let’s live and love in such a way that God gets the credit for the good others may see in us (Matthew 5:16). As for me and my family, we’re choosing to live by faith in God who has given us life in His Son and trust the goodness of His boundaries for living (Joshua 24:15; Micah 6:8Romans 12:1-3).

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Remembering the Fallen

American Eagle on GravestoneToday, on this Memorial Day, we honor the 1.3 million Americans who have died while serving in the U.S. military. Each of them left the security of their homes to defend ours. They left their families and sacrificed greatly. They paid the ultimate price for their nation and for each of us. It’s our duty to remember those who fought for us.

“We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.” — George Orwell

In 1889 President Benjamin Harrison appointed Wallace Bruce to serve as U.S. Consul to Edinburgh. Serving there, Bruce’s wife, Annie, met a poor Scots woman who was applying for a widow’s pension at the American Consulate. The woman’s husband, Sergeant-Major John McEwan, served in the Union Army with 65th Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Rifles before moving back to his homeland of Scotland where he struggled with poverty and medical problems. When he died his family could not afford to properly bury him and his body was placed in an unmarked pauper’s grave.

George E Bissell LincolnMoved to honor McEwan in memory of others who had fought for freedom in the U.S., Bruce asked the Edinburgh Town Council to provide a plot in the Old Calton Cemetery for the Scots who had served in the Civil War and then began to campaign among his American friends for funds to build a memorial atop the plot. The American sculptor George E. Bissell executed the memorial, which features two bronze figures: Abraham Lincoln and a freed slave, as well as the names of the soldiers, McEwan among them, who fought in the war.

Wallace Bruce described the fallen heroes we remember today:

“Who kept the faith and fought the fight;
The glory theirs, the duty ours.” 

God keeps His promises
All photos from James Langford

“None of the good promises the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed. Everything was fulfilled.” (Joshua 21:45)

Over the past several days, my heart has been breaking over the tragedies across our country and around the world. Closer to home, I have talked with friends whose lives and families are crumbling. I’ve got some fears and some doubts about things swirling around me, as well. We know that God is sovereign, but things, people, and life itself feels out of control.

If God is real, where is He? Why doesn’t He act? Why doesn’t He show up and make things right? Why doesn’t He change the hearts of people —  including me? Right now.

Langford tornadoAs I was reading through the Bible yesterday morning (Joshua 21:1-22:9), I was reminded of the battles, physical and spiritual, that the Lord required His people, Israel, as they entered the Promised Land.

While they were still in Egypt, the Lord God led them out of slavery’s bondage and promised to give them possession of a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8, 17). After wandering in the wilderness  for 40 years because of their lack of faith and obedience, they finally crossed the Jordan river. But, even then, they had to take the physical land of Canaan and fight the people of Canaan by faith in God’s promises.

The battles were real. The doubts were great. The complaining was pandemic. But Joshua was faithful.

In Joshua 21 we are told, “the Lord gave Israel all the land He had sworn to give their fathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side according to all He had sworn to their fathers. None of their enemies were able to stand against them, for the Lord handed over all their enemies to them.” (Joshua 21:43-44)

The complete fulfillment of God’s promise was inseparably connected with the faithfulness of Israel to the Lord and His Word.

None of the good promises the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed. Everything was fulfilled. (Joshua 21:45) God keeps His Promises. All of them. Every one of them.

Langford RainbowThis morning, nothing of significance has changed around me. The storms are still raging. People are still rebelling. The world is the same — maybe even worse. The deep, lonely hurts of my friends, my family, and my heart are still there.

But, I am reminded: God keeps His promises. Trust in them. Rest in them.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Paying what is due 

 “Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

We grumble out loud about paying our taxes and under our breath about our government and it’s leaders. We look for loopholes for getting out of paying our taxes and find excuses for withholding honor where it is due.

But followers of Jesus do more than just ask what is due, they do what God asks. Our relationship with Him is characterized by our love for Him and respect for others (Matthew 22:37-40). Our obedience to God is demonstrated by our submission to our governing authorities (Romans 13:1).

“You must submit [to government], not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor. ” (Romans 13:5-7)

Jesus taught His disciples to pay taxes willingly — even when the Roman government to which He paid them crucified Him. Rather than dishonoring the Roman and Jewish leaders who unjustly killed Him (Matthew 27:11-13), Jesus entrusted His life to the One who judges justly (1 Peter 2:21–23). He gave back to God what was God’s — His life — and was glorified (Philippians 2:8-9).

Why should we give anything less than the taxes that are due to our government and the honor that it’s leaders are due?

Before you comment on partisan politics, post a rant against the government or it’s leaders, or decide to share an inflammatory article, consider who’s watching and who’s listening. In a culture where more people than ever before claim no religion, we are the only Bible many will read.  Our personal witness has never been more critical to the advance of God’s Kingdom. The way we submit to God’s servant (government) and servants (leaders), says a lot about our trust in God. Let’s pay what’s due — taxes and honor.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ. 

Who are you following?

Social Media

Who are you following? Not just on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, or Instagram.

Who is influencing your life? Is it your favorite writer or author? Is it a particular blogger that puts words to your thoughts? Is it a specific actor or a favorite show? Is it a musician or band that is always playing in the background? Is it an artist that paints your world? What about a teacher or professor that challenges your thinking? Is it a politician that voices addresses your issues? Is it an athlete that is a role model for you?

Who is influencing your values? Who is shaping your beliefs? Who is impacting your behavior? Whose life is your life imitating? And most of all, who is reaching your heart?

“Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

ShipwreckIn our media saturated society, we can’t avoid or escape the Sirens’ Song that lures the unsuspecting to shipwreck their lives on the rocky shores of self-achievement, self-satisfaction, self-sufficiency, and self-indulgement. All around us are “godless enemies” (Philippians 3:18-19) who feed their appetites, find satisfaction what should cause embarrassment, and fall with gravity’s destructive force to the physical, material, and sensual things of this world.

With so many influences that threaten to bring our lives crashing down, we need to follow the godly examples available to us that encourage us to set our hearts on Jesus and things above (Philippians 3:8-10Philippians 3:20, Colossians 3:1-2). In his letter to his friends in the prestigious Roman colony of Philippi, Paul wrote,

“Join in imitating me…” Philippians 3:17

Paul could encourage others to follow his example because he was passionately following Jesus Christ himself. Paul had one clearly defined goal in life on this Earth: to get to know His Savior more and more until he saw Him face-to-face. Knowing Jesus was the greatest, most important thing to Paul. That’s why he could say the same thing to the Corinthians,

“Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Paul’s own example encourages us to make knowing Jesus Christ the focus of our lives. But his example of following Jesus was not the only one available. He went on to say,

“Observe those who live according to the example you have in us.” Philippians 3:17

Who are the godly examples that God has placed in your life that you should follow? Teachers in your school? Parents in your home? Leaders in your church? A mentor or a friend?

Over the course of my life, God has brought so many godly men and women into my life who have dramatically influenced my relationship with Jesus: Jack Reeves has modeled Christ-like love and compassion to me since I was in high school — when I needed it the most. Ken Carozza, Rick Smith, Allen Frans, Mike Cahill, and Russell Allen when I was in college. Walt Baker greatly impacted my life on a mission trip to Haiti and first encouraged me to consider ministry as a pastor. There are so many professors from Dallas Theological Seminary who have my influenced walk with Christ in the classroom, on the racquetball court, around the table, and especially, in the local church: Doug Cecil, Bob Chisholm, Tom and Mary Constable, Charlie Dyer, John and Karen Grassmick, Hall Harris, Bob and Pearl Lightner, Mike and Penny Pocock, and many more. The influence of pastors Don Geiger, Steve Faubion, Roger Raymer, and Neil Ashcraft will forever impact how I serve Christ as a pastor. Faithful friends, like Jonathan Baker, Tony and Lisa Evans, Derek and Tammy Hughes, David and Carol Morgan, and Stan Willis (and his wife/my sister, Lori) have walked beside DeeDee and me and carried us through some of life’s dark days. Likewise, there are faithful people who are a few years older and much wiser, like Dan and Jodi McEvilly, Doug and Linda Salser, Philip and Heidi Graham, Gary and Dionne Coppinger, and Rich and Julie Thomas, who have pointed me to Jesus continuously and always encourage me to trust in Him. The godly examples of faithful servant leaders and friends at PlanoBibleChapel are, also, lives well-worth imitating. Of course, DeeDee, our kids, our parents, and our siblings (Lori and Debbie) are the ones who know me best and see me, most often, at my worst, serve as the greatest examples of Christ-like humility and love because I see them up close, too.

The examples of these great people, and so many more, as well as their passion to follow Jesus continue to impact me today. In fact, if you’re still reading this reflective rambling, you are probably on my heart and mind, too, because you’ve encouraged me to follow Jesus and live for Him.

ClimbingThis week, let me challenge you to take three practical steps of following the examples of godly influences in your life.

1.  Meet with at least one person who has been a Christ-like example to you. Meet them for coffee or lunch. Share with them how God has used them in your life to encourage you in your desire to follow Jesus. Be specific in how their life has been a model for knowing Jesus more and more.

2. Write a note to at least one other person who has influenced your life with Christ, but lives out of town or is, otherwise, unavailable to meet face to face.

3. List at least two ways that you will imitate the Christ-like lives of those people and then live like them, like Jesus, this week.

We all need living examples of following Jesus and, more importantly, we need to imitate their lives to find joy and fulfillment.

“I consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8)

Follow me, too… as I follow Jesus Christ.