Go Back To The Cross

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‘But we preach Christ crucified.’ 1 Corinthians 1:23 NKJV

A European village priest in medieval times is said to have told his congregation, ‘Come back tonight for a special sermon about Jesus.’ And they did. To their surprise, however, no candles illuminated the sanctuary. They groped their way to the pews and sat down. The priest was nowhere to be seen. Then they heard him walking through the church towards the front. When he reached the cross that hung on the wall, he lit a candle. And without saying a word he illuminated the pierced feet of Christ, then His side, then one hand, then the other. Raising the candle, he shed light on the blood-masked face and the crown of thorns. Then with a puff, he extinguished the candle and dismissed the congregation. Nothing more needed to be said.

Take the words ‘Christ crucified’, and add the words ‘for me’, and you’ll understand what God did when He hung His sinless Son on that cross. Had you been the only person who ever lived, Christ would have died for you. With His arms stretched wide, He was saying, ‘This is how much I love you.’When you’re tempted to sin, when you’re guilt-ridden by sin, when Satan whispers, ‘There’s no hope for you,’ when pride would have you focus on your own virtue and morality, go back to the cross. You can’t go there too often. Hymnist Isaac Watts sums it up in these words: ‘Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’

Strive for integrity

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‘May integrity and uprightness protect me.’ Psalm 25:21 NIV

Bobby Jones is considered one of history’s greatest golfers. But more than all his victories on the golf course, he’s famous for what happened in the 1925 U.S. Open. He inadvertently touched his ball and assessed himself a one-stroke penalty, even though no one else saw him touch the ball. But he couldn’t violate his conscience. And by assessing himself that penalty, he lost the Open by that one stroke. When tournament officials tried to compliment him for his integrity, Jones simply said, ‘You might as well praise me for not breaking into banks. There is only one way to play this game.’ Bobby Jones played by the rules. Full stop. And in doing so, he honoured the integrity of the game. One sportswriter wrote, ‘In the opinion of many people, of all the great athletes, Bobby Jones came the closest to being what we call a great man.’ Jones could have won the tournament, but he would have lost his integrity. And winning the U.S. Open wasn’t worth a one-stroke penalty on his integrity. That’s epic integrity! And that’s something to be celebrated. We live in a culture that celebrates talent more than integrity, but we’ve got it backwards. Talent depreciates over time. So do intellect and appearance. You will eventually lose your strength and your looks. You may even lose your mind. But you don’t have to lose your integrity. Integrity is the only thing that doesn’t depreciate over time. Nothing takes longer to build than a godly reputation. And nothing is destroyed more quickly by one stroke of sin. That’s why your integrity must be celebrated and protected above all else.

You can start again

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‘Forget what happened in the past, and do not dwell on events from long ago.’ Isaiah 43:18 GWT

Although it’s true that we all fail, here’s something worth remembering: you can fail successfully. How? By learning from your failures and growing stronger and wiser through them. Surrendering your future to your past just means you drown in remorse and hopelessness. But if you practice ‘failing forward’, you can experience future success. So acknowledge your failings, see yourself cleansed by the blood of Jesus, let go of your disappointment in yourself, and get up and try again. At one point in Elijah’s life, he got so depressed that he prayed he might die: ‘“I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”’ (1 Kings 19:4 NIV) Later when he was strengthened by God’s grace, he emerged from his depression a new man with a new mission in life (see 1 Kings 19:15–16). After he’d denied Christ openly, Peter was forgiven. Despite his weakness, he was restored and became the apostle who would ‘strengthen his fellow apostles’ and build the New Testament Church (see Luke 22:31–32). It’s not a matter of how badly or how often you’ve failed—it’s a matter of what God can make you when you accept His grace, get up again, and allow Him to empower you to do better. Peter is proof that God takes us when we are weak, and speaks and acts through us in ways that bring glory to Him alone! (See 1 Corinthians 1:28.) Will God sometimes correct you? Yes, He’s a good parent, but He won’t discard you. So the word for you today is—you can start again.

Conviction and Credibility (2)

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‘The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.’ Proverbs 11:3 NIV

The second quality you must exhibit in dealing with others is credibility. When people trust you they’ll listen to you. In the early stages of the relationship, they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt as long as your credentials are good. But in order to maintain their trust, you must demonstrate credibility [reliability, integrity, sincerity]. It’s been said that the mediocre teacher tells, the good teacher explains, but the great teacher demonstrates.

Ultimately, each of us should strive to be the message. In the first six months of a relationship, we focus on a person’s communication ability in order to make judgments about him or her. For example, when we have a new boss who speaks well and casts a compelling vision, we buy in. When we connect well with a new neighbor or co-worker, we feel we may have a new friend. When we meet the person we end up marrying, we think everything will always be wonderful. And for most people the honeymoon is wonderful. But after the honeymoon comes the marriage! Sometimes that too is wonderful, and sometimes it’s not.

What makes the difference? Credibility! Here’s how it works in relationships: during the first six months, communication overrides credibility. After six months of credibility overrides communication. When a person is credible, the longer the time, the better it gets. But for someone who lacks credibility, the longer the time, the worse it gets.

Credibility is like money: with it, you’re solvent; without it, you’re bankrupt. The truth is: with the passage of time the way you live far outweighs the words you use.

 

Conviction and Credibility (1)

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‘“Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do.”’ Judges 7:17 NIV

On the eve of his spectacular victory over the Midianites, Gideon told his army of three hundred men, ‘Watch me… Follow my lead… do exactly as I do.’ What would happen if you said that to the people who know you? Would you have to qualify that statement by saying, ‘Follow me in business, but not my family life’? Or, ‘Follow my professional advice, but not my personal lifestyle’? To earn respect and be worthy of following, you need two qualities that really matter. The first is conviction: conviction is a set-in-concrete belief that you live by and refuse to compromise on. A pragmatist adjusts his or her beliefs and actions to things like the bottom line, or not making waves, or being liked and accepted. A man or woman of conviction won’t do that. Early one morning, Scottish philosopher and religious skeptic David Hume was observed hurrying to hear evangelist George Whitefield. When asked if he really believed what the great evangelist preached, Hume replied, ‘Certainly not! But he does, and I want to hear a man who truly believes what he says!’ Author Larry Phillips said: ‘There’s a noticeable difference between steel and tin—especially when hit. Genuine heartfelt convictions simply come across as “words of steel”. There’s a determined resolve in the tone… We need to be reminded that we can’t fake convictions! [People] will always discern the difference between words of steel and the sound of tin—no matter how hard the tin is hit!’ People know the difference between your core values and your intellectual concepts. If you don’t have a deep conviction about what you’re saying, why should they?

 

Press on

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‘Do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba… Seek the Lord and live.’ Amos 5:5–6 NIV

Bethel is where Jacob had his life-changing dream and made a vow to God. Gilgal is where the Israelites camped after God miraculously parted the Jordan River and they stepped into the Promised Land for the first time. Beersheba is where Isaac dug a well and built an altar. All three places held a special significance: they were sacred landmarks in Israel’s spiritual journey. So why would God tell them not to seek Him there? The answer is simple: you won’t find God in the past. His name is not The Great I Was, it’s The Great I Am.

The psalmist said, ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’ (Psalm 46:1 NIV) When we cling too tightly to what God did last, we often miss what God wants to do for us next. He is at work right here, right now. He is always doing something new. So go ahead and build altars and mark holy moments to the past, but the purpose of altars is to remind us of God’s faithfulness in the past so we can have faith to believe Him for the future. When we stop living out of imagination and start living out of memory, we start dying. To be fully alive is to be fully present. It mandates leaving the past in the past. That’s why Paul wrote, ‘Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.’(Philippians 3:13–14 NIV) So the word for you today is: press on!

Burn your bridges to the past

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‘He burned the plowing equipment.’ 1 Kings 19:21 NIV

Elisha’s ministry begins with this Scripture: ‘He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah.’ He couldn’t go back to his old way of life because he had destroyed the time machine that would take him back. It was the end of Elisha the farmer, and the beginning of Elisha the prophet.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to lose weight, get into university, write a book, start a business or a ministry, or get out of debt. The first step is always the longest step and the hardest. You can’t just take a step forward into the future; you also have to eliminate the possibility of moving back into the past. That’s how you go after goals. That’s how you break addictions. That’s how you reconcile relationships. To begin a new chapter, you must end an old chapter. Elisha didn’t need to burn his plowing equipment to follow Elijah, but it made a statement. More specifically, it was a statement of faith. There was no turning back. Nine times out of ten, failure is resorting to Plan B when Plan A gets too risky, too costly, or too difficult. That’s why most people are living their Plan B. They haven’t burned their bridges to the past. Plan A people don’t have a Plan B. It’s Plan A or bust. They would rather crash and burn to go after their God-ordained dreams than succeed at something else. The word for you today is: burn your bridges to the past and move forward.

 

Marriage: it takes two

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‘Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself and the wife must respect her husband.’ Ephesians 5:33 NIV

A woman went away on a long weekend retreat. Halfway through the final Monday morning session she suddenly jumped to her feet and left the room. Concerned, a friend followed her to see what had made her leave the meeting so abruptly. She found the woman hanging up a telephone in the lobby. ‘Is everything all right?’ she asked urgently. ‘Oh, yes,’ the woman responded sheepishly. ‘I didn’t mean to alarm you, but I suddenly remembered that it’s Monday morning bin day.’ Her friend replied, ‘Bin day? Isn’t your husband at home?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the woman, ‘but it takes two of us to put out the bin. I can’t carry it, and he can’t remember it!’ The secret of a good marriage lies in learning how to live and work together. And here are ten suggestions to help you accomplish that goal:

(1) Agree to pray together daily.

(2) Find something good to say about each other every day.

(3) Don’t forget to snuggle.

(4) Think of yourselves as a team—not just a couple.

(5) Respect your differences.

(6) Eat at least one meal together each day.

(7) Submit your disagreements to God.

(8) Develop a strong sense of humor.

(9) Identify ‘your special place’, and ‘your special song’.

(10) Reminisce together.

Ironically, the number one reason given for divorce today is ‘incompatibility’. Well, guess what? You are supposed to be different! When two people with different gifts decide to love one another and listen to one another, their differences can become a source of strength rather than a source of weakness. Marriage: it takes two!

Jairus (4)

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‘He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality.’ 2 Timothy 1:10 NLT

It’s no surprise that God has a heart for hurting parents. After all, God Himself is a father. What has parental emotion He not felt? Are you separated from your child? So was God. Is someone mistreating your child? They mocked and bullied His. Is someone taking advantage of your child? He, the Son of God, was set up by false testimony and betrayed by a greedy follower. Are you forced to watch while your child suffers? God watched His Son on the cross. Do you find yourself wanting to spare your child from all the hurt in the world? God did. But because of His great love for us, ‘He did not spare His own Son but gave Him for us all. So with Jesus, God will surely give us all things.’ (Romans 8:32 NCV) Note the words ‘all things’. There’s nothing God can’t do in answer to prayer! Perhaps you’ve prayed but your child has died. No pain compares to that of losing a child. Maybe you’ve said, ‘Jesus resurrected Jairus’ child, why didn’t He save mine?’ God understands your question. He buried a child too. And He hates death more than you do. That’s why He ‘broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality.’ For those who trust Christ, death is nothing more than a transition to Heaven. Your child may not be in your arms today, but your child is safely in His. After losing his son at birth, David looked forward with hope and said, ‘I shall go to him.’ (2 Samuel 12:23 NKJV) And so will you.

 

Jairus (3)

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‘Her spirit returned, and she arose… And her parents were astonished.’ Luke 8:55–56 NKJV

You can do your very best for your children, and still stand where Jairus stood. You can love them, protect them, and pray for them, and still find yourself in an emergency ward at midnight or a drug rehab clinic during visitor’s hours choosing between two voices: despair and belief.

Who would have faulted Jairus for giving up? When he first went to Jesus, his daughter was critically ill but still alive. Then while he was talking to Jesus, word arrived: ‘Your daughter is dead.’ (Luke 8:49 NLT) In that moment Jesus looked at Jairus and said, ‘Don’t be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed.’ (Luke 8:50 NLT) Whether stopping the child’s sickness in its tracks, or raising her from the dead, Jesus was the answer to Jairus’ problem. And He is the answer to your family problem too. Notice two things Jesus did:

(1) He dismissed those who mourned, but had no faith (see Luke 8:51). Be careful who you let get close to you, especially in times of crisis.

(2) He united the parents in faith. ‘When Jesus went to the house, He let only Peter, John, James, and the girl’s father and mother go inside with Him.’ (Luke 8:51 NCV) At that point He ‘took her by the hand and called, saying, “Little girl, arise.” Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately… And her parents were astonished.’ (Luke 8:54–56 NKJV) When you pray and put your faith in Christ, He can do things in your family that will amaze you!