Today, Tuesday, was a recovery day for us after 24 hours of travel and the 7 hour time change. This gave Kay and myself the opportunity to go into the Walled City. Entering the Old City through the Damascus was quite an experience. Entering the gate while thinking of the Psalm 122 was most moving. “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord. Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!” Wow, and my feet were standing within her Gates. Even with that wonderful moment, it was also a bit disconcerting that upon entering the Holy City we had to fight way through the Souk. That’s the market. While winding my way through the very narrow labyrinth of streets filled with shops and shopkeepers hawking their goods, the Holy City seems far from Holy. Then I walked out of the dark street and into a sun filled courtyard and stood before the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I will not try to fully describe our brief time in this very holy place. Yes, we were drawn first to go up the very narrow, steep steps to the Rock of Golgotha. There, just as other pilgrims, I could crawl down, under the altar, and reach through to touch the rock upon which Jesus was crucified. What a moment of humility and thanksgiving. Because we were alone and not with some tour, we could tarry. I use that word because it fits. We tarried, just as Jesus asked the Disciples in Gethsemane. We sat. We prayed. We talked. We looked. We rested. We soaked. We than went around to the Holy Sepulchre. I must admit the power and the holiness of this spot was a bit diminished because it was inundated by such crowds. It was hard to get even a moment at the place where Jesus Christ burst froth from the grave. Thankfully I will have several more opportunities to visit the Holy Sepulchre during this class and following.
With all that the Holy site contains, Golgatha, the Tomb, the Resurrection, I have to tell you the holiest moment I had was at the rock that is called the Stone of Anointing. This stone commemorates the slab on which the body of Jesus may have been lain so that it could be anointed before burial. Please understand. It is only hopeful that this may be the very stone upon which Jesus was laid. But, as I stood and watched the people come to kneel and pray, as they came to place objects on the stone to be blessed, as they knelt and touched it with their lips and their prayers I realized the holiness was not in the rock. It was in the people. Then hesitantly I too knelt and kissed the stone and touched it with my forehead and the holiness invaded me. I stayed their too long. There were many who wanted a moment at this place. Yet, I couldn’t leave. Thanksgiving. Sacrifice. Redemption. Joy. Life. Hope. These were just a few of the many words and emotions that poured over me. I didn’t touch the heart of Jesus. He touched me.
I pray for you all, for a holy moment of your own. Here in the Holy City, I experienced it. The holiness doesn’t reside in the place. It resides in the people. You too are holy. Always remember “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of Glory.”
With my love,
Good Night from Jerusalem
As I begin this last day of preparation and packing for the next stage of my three month sabbatical I am amazed and thankful at how this has all come about. The evidence of God’s guidance and sovereignty is overwhelming. One of the hallmarks of the Twelve Step Programs is the trust that “God can do for you, what you can’t do for yourself.” That has been so evident in this journey of choosing which sabbatical am I to take? When one begins with a open season of time and a blank slate the possibilities are endless. At first this seems attractive. Then it becomes overwhelming. The question initially seems to be this. Where to go? What to do? What to study? Then I recognized that is not the primary question. The primary question is, “For whom is this sabbatical?” Is it for me? Is it for the people off Saint James? Is it for God? Is it for shared ministry? Of course the answer to all these questions is yes. Then prayerfully I came upon a more basic question. Is this sabbatical about mission or study? Do I spend this time on a mission to serve others? Or do I go and study and learn more about mission and ministry? As I made the choice to travel to Jerusalem and the Holy sites of Israel I began to feel a bit selfish. I had to wrestle with the possibility of being a missionary tourist.
As I made my decision to take a study sabbatical and not a missions sabbatical I had to answer the question of the why of my sabbatical. These are the questions first mentioned above. For whom is this sabbatical? I would love to be going on a mission in this sabbatical. It would feed my soul. With that, my decision to take a study sabbatical comes from God’s leading and the desire to be more useful and useable to the faithful of Saint James to lead them to a life of missions. There are too many of us, Christians all, who spend our time studying about our faith and never enter the mission of our life-in-Christ.
I am going to Jerusalem and Israel at-large to be renewed, to be challenged, to be inspired. I also go for Sabbath Rest. All of this is for one purpose and mission. That is upon my return I may lead you, my friends, family and faithful of Saint James on a life of mission. We are on a mission you know.
With God’s help I will live out Saint Paul’s parting mission for the Christians of Ephesus. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Acts 20:28
By: The Rt. Rev. C. FitzSimons Allison
This past Advent my wife asked what I was going to preach about on the coming Sunday.
“Repentance,” I replied. “Oh gosh!” she replied wearily, “I wish you’d preach on something cheerful.” One can easily understand why repentance is not considered a joyful subject! The dictionary defines ‘repent’ as “self-reproach for what one has done or failed to do,” “conduct as to change one’s mind regarding it,” or “to feel remorse.” The brilliant novelist E. M. Forster claimed that, “of all means to regeneration, Remorse is surely the most wasteful. It cuts away healthy tissue with the poisoned. It is a knife that probes far deeper than the evil” (Howard’s End, Ch. 41). One could expect such a negative view of remorse from Forster’s known failure to trust Christian forgiveness. How-ever, we should not overlook the unfortunate truth in his observation.It is especially important when we acknowledge that our secular culture increasingly shares with Forster a hope bereft of divine forgiveness, where mere regret sadly replaces repentance.
I contend that the Greek word used in Scripture to express repentance distorts the true biblical meaning of the crucial term: Repent. The Greek word that is used is metanoia, meaning to change one’s mind, whereas in every context in Scripture ‘repentance’ is not a change of mind but a change of heart. The difficulty lies in the fact that the Greek language has no word for change of heart—no metakardia. Swahili has no word for atonement because there had been no experience of atonement. So Greek, bereft of Israel’s revelation concerning change of heart, is left with a superficial hope, only a change of mind, metanoia, no metakardia.
This failure to appreciate the deeper dimension of human nature was abetted by the teaching of Socrates and Plato, who insisted that knowledge produces virtue. They identified goodness with knowledge, saying that to know the good is to do the good. Vice and evil are simply the result of ignorance.
Such belief is radically different from that of Scripture: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt,” and “If I… understand all mysteries and all knowledge, but have not love, I am nothing” (I Cor. 13: 1, 2). Love comes not from a change of mind but a change of heart. “Rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:13); “The Lord is nigh them of broken hearts” (Ps. 31:18); “The wise in heart will heed commandments” (Prov. 10:8); “The heart of men is set to do evil” (Eccles. 9:13); “receive the heart of contrite ones ”(Is. 57:15); “Blessed are the poor in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). In fact, it takes nine columns of Cruden’s Concordance to list the texts regarding heart, but one column is sufficient to include all the verses regarding mind.
Because the Greek language had no word for change of heart, Greek translation gives prominence to the mind. This was bootlegged into Christianity, resulting in a Greek rather than a Christian understanding of repentance. It is not enough to change one’s mind. Our hearts must be changed, changed not by knowledge but by love.
Following this mistake the meaning of faith or belief (pistis) tends to be relegated to the mind and not, as in Scripture, more deeply to the heart. One can intellectually acknowledge the existence of God, but that is a far cry from the trust of God in one’s heart.The latter results in action whereas the former can rest in mere passive acknowledgement.
Much of the historical misunderstanding in the relation between faith and works stems from teaching that faith (pistis) is a matter of the mind instead of its being a trust of the heart that, as true faith, inevitably leads to works. Professor Ashley Null has taught us that “what the heart desires, the will chooses and the mind justifies.” This, he tells us, is his paraphrase of Philip Melanchthon’s writings that so influenced Thomas Cranmer and can be seen in his Prayer Books. Knowing that the will is but an agency of the heart, Cranmer saw the virulent vanity of Pelagianism. Unless the heart is enticed, evoked, and changed, it is vain to exhort the will. The Gospel itself is the means by which the heart is changed by the message of a gracious God. Unless the heart is moved, the will cannot be effectively engaged.
It is particularly evident in the parable of the prodigal son that repentance in the pig-pen is a low level of repentance, an insight of the mind. “I can do better as one of my father’s servants.” But true repentance, a change not of mind but a change of heart, occurs when the prodigal son experiences the undeserved, initiating, costly love of his father. Similarly, Cranmer’s absolutions in both Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer (1928) show that true repentance comes after, not before, absolution. The grace of unearned and undeserved absolution speaks to the heart and results in the fruit of the Spirit.
There is no Socratic reliance upon the mind as the means of virtue and obedience in Cranmer’s prayer books. His use of Psalm 51 in the penitential office, “make in me a clean heart, O God…, a broken and a contrite heart, shalt thou not despise,” his responses to the Decalogue, “incline our hearts to keep this law,” and the reception of Holy Communion, “feed on him in thy heart” show clearly that Cranmer’s incomparable use of Scripture for the biblical meaning of repentance indicates a true metakardia even though there is no such Greek word.
When Dr. Null’s work on Cranmer was published by Oxford University Press, it was promised that the whole title would be on the cover. Unfortunately it was not. One has to turn inside to the title page to find it: Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of Repentance: Renewing the Power to Love. Given the general and
understandable attitude toward the term ‘repentance’ the sub-title badly needs to be up front. Many of us feel that repentance is good for other people, but understanding that repentance renews “the power to love” makes us realize a dimension that all of us seek. “Renewing the power to love” rescues the remorse in repentance from destructive possibilities. Sin is a deeper matter than merely breaking a rule or law. It is always radically personal against others, against self, and against God. No self-hate, self-damage, despair, or the accumulation of sacrifices—the fruit of mere remorse—can rectify or redeem sin.
God’s absolution is no mere acceptance. It is God’s grace squeezing into the bastion of our hearts through the crack of remorse. This is the repentance (metakardia) that renews the power to love.
The Rt. Rev’d C. FitzSimmons Allison is the 12th Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina and lives in Georgetown with his wife Martha.
I WILL GIVE YOU A NEW HEART
Protection. Sometimes it seems as if all of life is about protection. Finding safety in the midst of danger. How can I protect myself from all the violence I see in the world today. In the world? Hah! How about protection from the violence and murder in our cinemas and even in our schools. There seems to be a new incident of senseless revenge-filled murder every day. While this is horrible and frightening, this violence seems to pale in comparison to the danger we experience daily through the judgment, the hurtful words of others. How can I protect myself from the hurts of others? Either I have to face them or ignore them. Facing them is too frightening, too dangerous. I’ll just ignore them. That’s it. I’ll just harden my heart towards them.
God recognized the hardness of heart of His people. He recognized that their only means of protection, of coping was to harden their hearts and to become desensitized to the horrors and dangers that surrounded them and even that which was in their own hearts. He spoke through the Prophet Ezekiel and gave them a great promise.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you…” Ezekiel 36:26
Good Friday represents so many things to me. It reminds me of our Lord’s taking my place in the punishment I deserve. It reminds me of the price that must be paid for restoration – restoration to God, my Creator; restoration to those whom I love and have hurt; restoration to those for whom I don’t care; restoration to myself, my conscience, my life. Good Friday represents so much honesty.
Most personally and regularly, Good Friday breaks my heart. Jesus enduring the Cross for me breaks my heart. It breaks my heart to heal my heart. No matter how much I know or how hard I try, I still harden my heart as a means of coping with the hurts from others. I too easily demonize and diminish the people who hurt me. I think, “They don’t matter.” or, “If they only knew what I know.” It is in the moment of Christ’s dying proclamation, “Forgive them, they know not what they do” that His compassion and love for people convicts, breaks and restores my stony heart. Jesus gives me a new heart. A heart for people. A heart for life. A heart for Him.
From Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of Kenya
Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith!
The disciplines of Lent, which begin on Ash Wednesday, are not intended to be burdensome, but to open our lives more fully to the transforming power of the gospel. Our mission as the Anglican Church of Kenya is simple, yet powerful: it is ‘to equip God’s people to transform society with the gospel’. This is an holistic transformation much deeper and more lasting than any government or international agency can bring because it addresses our deepest need, that of a restored relationship with the God in whose image we are made and whose workmanship we are.
The glorious truth of the gospel is that we are justified freely by God’s grace alone, but far from making us complacent about doing good, the abundant grace and full forgiveness we have through the blood of Christ should be a great spur to Christ-like living, to walking in those good works ‘which God prepared beforehand’.
Imagine the transformation if our nation heeded this call. As we prepare for general elections which will test the cohesiveness of our civil society, Christians need to model what it means to live in peace, practicing tolerance and forgiveness, with a new sense of urgency. Moreover, the foundation of our civic life is the family so it is vital that the love of Christ deeply infuses family relationships and that the shameful violence being reported in the media, not only of husbands towards wives but now even of wives towards husbands, is replaced by the kindness and gentleness of Christ.
Our Christian faith can also have an impact on the scourge of unemployment; although the immediate causes often lie with economic forces beyond our control, the Christian values of hard work, thrift, enterprise and honesty have the capacity to bring long term prosperity.
These things are not easy. They call for the spiritual depth which comes from a real and growing awareness of Christ’s presence in our personal lives. Otherwise, the good works God calls us to do will simply feel like burdens and we will not sustain them under pressure. During this Lenten season, whatever particular disciplines we adopt, our first aim should be to draw near to God in prayer and through his Word, beseeching him to make in us new and contrite hearts, hearts that will desire the things of his heart.
Without this joyful discipline, we will be vulnerable to taking short cuts that lead us away from the truth of the gospel. Some church leaders seem to think that the transformation of society will simply come through commitment to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, and at home in Kenya, the Vision 2030 initiative and the new constitution. While it is obvious that such good things as feeding the hungry, fighting disease, improving education and national prosperity are to be desired by all, by themselves any human dream can become a substitute gospel which renders repentance and the cross of Christ irrelevant.
Moreover, we need to be discerning about the values behind these visions. For instance the Millennium Development Goals have grown out of a secularised Western culture which is pushing Christianity to the margins and uses the language of human rights and equality to promote irresponsibility in social life and diminish personal responsibility.
So this Lent, let us seek to experience a renewed walk with Christ in those good works that God has prepared. The good news of the gospel is that transformation begins with ordinary men, women and children, however sinful or insignificant we may feel. It is not a responsibility we can leave to governments and agencies, but a challenge to fulfil the purposes of Almighty God in our place for our time.
May the Lord establish your hearts in every good work as you trust in Him
Archbishop, Anglican Church of Kenya
In 2008 former Vice President Al Gore grabbed the headlines as the narrator of a film about the environment and global warming entitled An Inconvenient Truth. This short word from me is not about this film or even global warming. The “inconvenient truth” about which I wish to write is the inconvenient truth proclaimed by the truth of Christmas.
Christmas is not a shopping season. It is not a family get together to eat season. It is not even just a season to share and give charitably. Christmas is the celebration of the birth, the incarnation of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. I know that doesn’t surprise any of you, especially as I write this in a church newsletter. I am sad that it may surprise you when I tell you in all seriousness that the birth of Christ has become an inconvenient truth.
The premise of Al Gore’s movie is that we Americans see any sacrifice, no matter how slight, which might care for our environment as inconvenient. It would be inconvenient to our lifestyle, to our comfort, to our plans, to our striving for the American Dream. This is also, exactly what has happened with Christmas, the Birth of Christ and the Gospel. Scripture is filled with what have become seen as inconvenient truths because these truths may be detrimental to our lifestyle, our comfort, our plans, our striving for the American Dream.
When a society prospers and enjoys great security it is inevitable that false ideas about life, death, truth and God will flourish with little resistance. Conversely when tragedy strikes those same people no longer want what once ticked their ears, but they want answers and truth.
Sadly this is true for the visible church (meaning, the institution). As American Christians continue to gluttonously indulge themselves on the riches and excesses of life that the West has to offer, they tolerate and even welcome all sorts of twisted ideas about life, death, truth and God.
Some segments of the Church will tell you that God wants you to be rich and healthy and that if you’re not, you must be lacking faith. Another segment of the Church will tell you that no one can know anything for sure (emerging church and nature worshippers). And yet another segment will sacrifice any inconvenient truths of Scripture for popularity and the ever increasing appeal to entertain their members and the desires of society.
However, when your child is diagnosed with leukemia, when your spouse is killed by a drunk driver, when a global famine strikes or the stock market crashes or even when you finally recognize your own weaknesses and limitations, will the hard sayings (John 6:59-60) of Jesus Christ still seem inconvenient?
“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.”
“If anyone would come follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
“What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul.”
“If anyone says he has no sin, he deceives himself and the truth is not in him.”
These and more inconvenient truths are embodied and proclaimed by the Angels at the celebration of the Birth of Christ. “For unto you is born, this day, in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” It has become an inconvenient truth for many and for much of the Church that we are in need of a Savior. That we are sinners in need of forgiveness and restoration to our Creator.
This year at Saint James, as in every year, we will celebrate the inconvenient truth that we are in need of a Savior. That “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” I pray you will join us.
From the Bishop of South Carolina, The Rt. Rev’d Mark Lawrence
Dear Friends in Christ,
When Marjorie Goff closed the door of her apartment in 1949 she was 39 years old. For her the door stayed shut for the next 30 years. To be accurate there were a few exceptions. She went out in 1960 to visit her family, two years later for an operation, and once in 1976 because a friend came to her apartment to take her out for some ice cream.
Marjorie suffered from that metaphor of the human condition known as a phobia. The list of recognized human phobias is legion. There’s agoraphobia, aerophobia, acrophobia, claustrophobia, pyrophobia, thanatophobia—just to name a few. Robert L. DuPont a past director of the Washington Center of Behavioral Medicine called phobias, “The malignant diseases of the ‘what ifs.’”
“What ifs” add up to fears, and fears are right smack dab in the middle of the Easter story. Matthew’s gospel tells of the chief priests’ and the Pharisees’ fear of a hoax by the disciples. So they pressured Pilate to send a guard of soldiers to secure the world against a scheme (Matthew 27:62-66). I’m reminded of Houdini, that renowned magician of another era, who told his wife as he was dying that he would find a way back. His widow waited, but he never came. You can secure the world against a scheme or even a magician, but you can’t secure it against a miracle. Mary Magdalene however didn’t know this, so she was fearful for quite other reasons than the priests and Pharisees. When she returned a second time on Easter morning to the empty tomb and to face a fearful future without even the dead body of Jesus to console her, the “what ifs” got the better of her. The Gospel of John recounts how she mistook the risen Jesus for the gardener. “Sir,” she queried, “if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him…” Our fears and “what ifs” as did hers may well hide from us the presence of the risen Christ. No wonder in the Easter narratives the attending angels and the risen Jesus tell the disciples “Do not be afraid.” It is Christ’s victory on the cross and in the tomb over every mortal enemy of humankind that makes these words have substance and therein makes them liberating.
“Christ is risen—Jesus lives” that is the telling message of Easter: even in the face of Death, Sin, Hell, Judgment, the Devil, and all the “what ifs” of fear— Jesus lives! After all these enemies of mankind have done their worst, He still Lives—and He still delivers. This is what gives truth to those wonderful words of Julian of Norwich, “All is well, and all manner of things shall be well.” She too lived like Marjorie Goff in a room with a closed door. She was an anchoress. Her room was attached to a cathedral. She had only two windows in this room. One looked in towards the altar of the Norwich Cathedral. The other looked out to the world. Unlike Marjorie, however, it was not fear that kept Julian behind a closed door. It was love—love for Christ and love for a needy world. It was for this world that Jesus died, and for which He now lives to make intercession, and within His love and intercession she presented her intercessions and so can we.
C. S. Lewis once wrote of Christ’s resurrection: “He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man.” It is this opened door that made Julian of Norwich free, free enough to be joyous in a single room, two windows and a closed door so she could live devotedly with an open door of abiding prayer (Revelation 3:20). It is the Gospel, the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection that when rightly heard and understood will open the doors and lives of those like Marjorie Goff who have lived in the fear of “what ifs.” I encourage you to invite a friend or acquaintance to join you at church for the Easter Day Eucharist so they might hear this Good News and of the door that Christ has opened for you and keeps open for them as well.
Blessings in Christ our Savior and Lord,
It is ironic that no command becomes a greater focal point of division than Jesus’ great command to end it. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” is a lightning rod of controversy and a bludgeon used both by legalists and libertarians who justify their hate of others. The wicked boomerang, “Stop judging me!” is often just as sin filled as the straight-forward, “garden variety” “You’re damned to hell you wicked sinner!” Whether couched in false humility feigning victimization or launched from the stereotypical angry brow with outstretched finger, both judgments are equally evil.
This is why it is eternally important that we get Jesus’ words right. Here is a classic example of where a right or wrong understanding of Jesus’ teaching determines whether the “eye of body” (Matthew 6:22) sees well or remains faulty. And our understanding of this truth will determine whether we will deny the faith and cling to unbelief under the Law, or whether we will embrace the righteousness in Jesus Christ that comes by faith.
So what exactly is Jesus saying?
Words are sometimes imperfect vehicles to convey the true meaning of things. Only in this case, it is our modern use of the word judge that causes confusion. When Jesus says, “Do not judge…” he is not saying “Do not compare truths and make distinctions” he is saying “Do not condemn.” This is a key distinction for us because humans make judgments about everything everyday. So what Jesus is saying is that we ought not to make a final decision about anyone and we should never give up on anyone when it comes to preaching the Gospel. For who are we to presume that God’s kindness will not lead the legalist, the homosexual, the false prophet, the glutton, the gossip or the atheist to repentance? Who are we to act as if we control the grace of God? We should not and we cannot presume these things if we would believe ourselves to be firmly kept in the faith. Now this does not mean we should not warn unbelievers about hell, but it does mean that there is a difference between saying “The Gospel says that your unrepentant sins will lead you to hell” and saying “You’re already hopelessly damned to hell on account of your unrepentant sins.”
If Paul’s former life, and what God rescued him out of, doesn’t humble us to hope that a better end awaits the hardest sinners we know, then we should suspect that we are these hardened sinners ourselves. We should suspect that we are the kind of people who somehow sees sawdust through two-by-fours.
By nature, we are a people who are in need of corrective vision. We need to have the eyes of our heart surgically repaired (or circumcised a better theologian would say!) in order to see clearly. We need the kindness of the Spirit in our hearts in order to gently correct the error of others.
When we condemn other people, when we place them in our horrible stereotypes and use them to justify our stinginess and with holding of our love, we condemn ourselves by the same measure we use. Remember that every soul under the Law of God will perish by that Law. When we condemn by the Law, we live by the Law. And those who live under the Law are already spiritually dead and will be judged according to its perfect demands.
During Lent we will continue our study and sermons on the fundamentals of life and the Christian Faith. We will be using a small book entitled, What Is The Gospel, by Greg Gilbert.
Why will we ask and investigate such a fundamental question as this? Surely, everyone knows what the Gospel is? Why even non-Christians know what the gospel is. We use the expression, “That’s the gospel truth” all the time. Everyone knows what the gospel is.
Sadly, this is not true.
The gospel is being challenged today at almost every major point. When it comes to God, people no longer think of Him as holy and righteous, and it has become almost axiomatic to reject the idea that He judges. What we have instead is a sort of affable, but kind of clueless grandfather who wishes we’d do better but understands that of course nobody’s perfect. Not only so, but people also shy away instinctively from the understanding that we are sinners who are liable to God’s judgment and condemnation. We tend to think of ourselves as more or less good people, with a relatively minor infraction here or there. Even many evangelicals have, deliberately or not, started to shy away from talking about sin as rebellion against God, instead saying that the human problem is really one of disintegration, meaninglessness, and broken relationships. The biggest challenge to the gospel, though, I think, is a strong tendency to make its center something other than the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross cannot be shoved over to the side or replaced with something else (like cultural transformation, or the promise of a new heavens and new earth, or social justice). As Paul said, the gospel that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” is not just important. It’s not even just very important. It is of first importance.
Have We Lost The Cross?
As I look around at books being published by evangelicals, even books that claim to be explaining the gospel, the more I see authors getting exciting about things other than the death of Jesus on the cross in the place of his people, taking the punishment for their sin. There are two things that are particular dangers for evangelicals in this area. First, there’s a tendency simply to shove the cross out of the center of the gospel, to say something like, “Yes, yes, of course the cross is important. But we need to understand that what the gospel is really about is…” It could be “God’s purpose to remake the world” or “God’s invitation to us to join him in bringing about his kingdom” or “a declaration that Jesus is Lord over all” or any number of other things. So the center of the gospel becomes something other than the cross. That is a misunderstanding of the gospel. Second, there’s a tendency to re-think or re-understand the cross as something other than Jesus dying in the place of his people, taking the punishment they deserved for their sin. So, often you’ll read or hear someone saying something like “At the cross, human culture and human systems reached their lowest, most evil point. All the oppression and violence that humans could muster was flung at Jesus, and he absorbed it all and defeated it!” What’s missing there, of course, is any understanding that what Jesus really absorbed on the cross was God’s wrath for our sin. It’s why Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” and not, “O culture, O culture, why have you turned against me?”
We will use the Gospel, the Cross, Jesus’ Substitutionary sacrifice and God’s Word to answer some of our questions of God and life. “Why did God allow this to happen?” “Now, what do I do?” If God is good, why ______?” “If God is all-knowing, why should I bother to pray?”
Why not take another look at the Cross? Why not take another look at Jesus? Why not take another look at the Gospel? It might just change your life – eternally.
Never before have I lived a Holy Week like this. My back injury has forced me to a very different role during this most important week of our Faith. For those of you who were part of our journey through James’ letter, I have found comforting wisdom in James 1:2-4. I have had to constantly look deeply into that mirror which is my Lord’s Word and His Life. And yes, I have found joy there and new revelation of what “Holy” means and more importantly, what it produces.
What has this pain, this helplessness, this Holy Week produced in me? It has comforted me in the arms of unconditional love. This week, this unbelievably important week I have been unable to do anything for the people I love, for the ministry I love, for the faith moments I love to celebrate, and for the Lord I love to serve. I have been helpless and worthless and yet, I have experienced afresh the love of my crucified and risen savior for this helpless and worthless person. For that I can “count it all joy.”
To the many of you who are praying, loving and offering me help, thank you. Please know that my salvation is purchased by my Lord, but my soul this week has been purchased by your prayers. Numbers 6:24.