Losing My Place

On that first Palm Sunday Jesus’ disciples and crowds of fans cheered His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As they raised palm branches and shouted “Hosanna!” to their soon-to-be King, their expectations for a restored Kingdom of David rose in their hearts.

Hoping to hear Jesus say “We’re tired of not winning. From now on we’re going to win, and I mean, win big,” instead the disciples heard Jesus talking about dying and losing. And to make matters worse, He invited them to die and lose with Him.

As I’ve reflected on John’s record of Holy Week, I’ve wondered: What will I have to lose if I submit to King Jesus?  What will have to die if I am to live in the Kingdom He bought for me with His blood? 

Several clues in the context of this story have convinced me that I may have to lose my PLACE, my POWER, and my PRESTIGE. Today we’ll consider what it might mean to lose our place in order to live in Christ’s Kingdom.

If we let him [Jesus] go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:48, ESV)  

The power brokers feared Jesus. If this insurgent irritates the Romans enough, the Jews might lose their current place and nation.  The poor and broken cheered Jesus. These common folk waved palm branches for one they hoped would help them gain a better place and nation. One hoped to guard their “good life” while the other hoped to get one.

Do you ever struggle with the place in which God has put you? Sometimes I do. Not that I don’t love the people in this place, but sometimes I long to live back home closer to my parents and extended family. You see, I grew up in “God’s Country” . . . North Carolina. (Of course it’s God’s Country, why else did He make the sky Carolina Blue?) Sometimes I grumble like those tent dwelling Hebrews, Why did the Lord lead us into this desert (I live in Texas)? (Don’t get me wrong, I’m half Texan. My mom is from Austin.) But Texas has represented some desert-like times in our life, too . . . difficult, dry, draining times.

I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to desire to live close to family, especially when I desire to serve and care for aging parents who invested their lives into me and my little family. But when that desire becomes a demand that God do what I want, when I want it, then something I believe might be ideal might become an idol.

I’m convicted by Psalm 16:6, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” What if God’s Country is not defined by the boundaries I dream to draw but by the inheritance He’s called me to inhabit? Do I believe that the lines He’s drawn for me have fallen in pleasant places? Do I trust Him enough to see beauty in the desert?

The great Master Gardener, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a wonderful providence, with his own hand, planted me here, where by his grace, in this part of his vineyard, I grow; and here I will abide till the great Master of the vineyard think fit to transplant me. – Samuel Rutherford

Psalm 16 goes on to say, You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11, ESV)

Ah, I get it now. God’s Country is wherever God is present, and that’s what makes a place pleasant.  After all, we’re talking about the God who promises to make a way in the wilderness and cause rivers to flow in the desert for the people of His praise (Isaiah 43:19-21).

A Note about Losing our Nation . . .

The Jewish leaders were also concerned that the arrival of King Jesus might cause them to lose their nation. We can relate, can we not? As D. A. Carson noted: “The world still seeks political saviors.”

I wonder how much of my angst over what’s happening in our country is more about losing my comfort than it is about loving my country.   If I loved this country as much as I claim to, wouldn’t I love the people more than I love my political party or persuasion?  Someone recently quipped, “The results of Super Tuesday are nothing compared to the results of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.” What am I going to do with Jesus if I lose the America I’ve come to enjoy?

I love my country, but do I love the people who live here? Perhaps I don’t want my neighbors to seek Jesus any more than the Pharisees wanted their countrymen to seek the true Messiah. How anxious do I get about seeing my neighbors, the nations, and the next generation submit their hearts to the crucified King? Maybe, like the Pharisees, I’m more anxious to preserve what I think is “God’s Country.” Maybe I’m more concerned about my  pursuit of happiness in my country than about joining God in His pursuit of my countrymen for the sake of their full and forever happiness.

Lord, have mercy on my me-first heart.

 

Tomorrow:  “Losing My Power”

 

We Need More Cruciform Churches

work_226Those grand and glorious cathedrals built in the Middle Ages may have something to teach us about the way we live the Christian life today.

The medieval church ministered to a culture that had no direct, personal access to the Scriptures in their own language. The church leaders of that era were faced with the challenge of teaching biblical truth to a Bible-less people. One creative way they taught key doctrines was by building object lessons into their church facilities. The cathedral served as “The Poor Man’s Bible,” as historians now call it. Everything about the way a cathedral was built—firm foundations and transcendent towers, storytelling statues of stone, tile mosaics and stained glass windows depicting central biblical stories in full color, and even the way sunlight streamed through those windows—was designed to help folks discern, delight in, and declare the great, biblical doctrines concerning God and the gospel.

The art and architecture of these sanctuaries taught two central biblical truths: God’s just judgment against the sinfulness of mankind; and God’s gracious provision of salvation from his wrath through the life, crucifixioaerial-amiens-cathedral-2-2n, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Cathedrals were intentionally built to teach theology to the people in the pews. And not just random bits and pieces of biblical teaching, but a consistent curriculum of repentance from sin and faith in Jesus as he is offered in the gospel. Indeed, the most distinct feature of these cathedrals was their cruciform or “cross-shaped” floor plan. The central doctrine the church building communicated was the gospel, the message of the cross. And since these church buildings were the most prominent and prized buildings, the hope was that through the preaching of the gospel inside the church building and through the presentation of the gospel in its art and architecture, the surrounding population would both see and hear the message of the cross.

Here in the 21st century we need more cruciform churches. Not lavish cathedrals but living communities of disciples being shaped by the cross into the shape of the cross for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors, the nations, and the next generation. Our best hope is to cooperate with The Architect, who promised he would build his church (Matthew 16:18) as we join him to form our families, small groups, and churches into “cruciform communities.” Such communities visibly show and verbally share the message of the cross because they are made up of people who have been vibrantly shaped by that message.  

Unlike the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, this construction project requires both the building and its building blocks to be cross-shaped. The Apostle Paul taught that both our individual bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19) and the corporate Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) are temples in whom the Spirit and glory of God dwell because of what Jesus did on the cross. The biblical blueprint for a cruciform church calls for every Christian to live what I’m calling “the Cruciform Life,” a life shaped by Christ crucified (Galatians 2:20; Matthew 16:24).

Let us pray with Jesus that through the preaching of the gospel in and by our church communities, and through the presentation of the gospel in our vertical love for God and horizontal love for others, the world would both hear from us and see in us the message of the cross (John 17:14-21).

[This post was adapted from the Introduction to Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life. To learn more about the Cruciform Life read Cruciform and this blog.]

When “Ministry” Trumps Community

We’re finishing up our study of 1 Corinthians in my 11th grade Bible class at TCA this week, and yesterday we concluded our discussion of chapters 12 through 14, Paul’s instructions about spiritual gifts. An old thought from a new passage of Scripture dawned on me as we talked, but first some background . . .

Paul has acknowledged that the Corinthian church is “enriched in [Christ] in all speech and all knowledge . . .  not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1 Corinthians 1:5, 7), but that they have allowed their gifts to become a source of division among them (1 Corinthians 1:10-12, 3:3, 4:7, 12:25, 14:12).  Two forms of pride were cropping up in the congregation: Continue reading