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Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Cross and The Tomb

This morning, I consider all the hardship of the Cross endured by our Lord and Savior; all the suffering of his last week on this earth; and all the victory of his Resurrection from the dead. One of the many benefits of the Cross is the power of change in our lives. When we ask God to change us, we are asking him to focus on the effect that the past has had on us, leaving all those "past" memories in the grave where they genuinely deserve to be. The life patterns formulated by our past have to be dealt with by the power of the cross - no other "remedy" is quite as sufficient as the Blood of Jesus to create anew in us what we so desperately long for.

Repentance is a call for change - repentance is the message of the Cross. The cross in our lives calls for a change of mind which leads us to a change of life character or behavior. God never asks for confession of sin alone - he asks for our confession of sin to be coupled with a change of behavior. To merely change our activity does not change the motivation to engage in that old behavior. Change becomes permanent in our lives when we are no longer what we were before - the only way to realize this kind of change is at the foot of the Cross of Christ.

Our daily walk with Christ requires change - the works of the flesh replaced by the fruit of the Spirit of God within us. When we do something long enough, it becomes a pattern or habit. We become comfortable with the behavior because it is routine for us. Timothy writes to the New Testament believers that we are to "train yourselves to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." (I Timothy 4:7-8) We establish a lifestyle through habit - and what better habit to establish than to be repeatedly touched by the Cross?

The practice of godliness that Timothy refers to leads to a life of godliness - we step out in one action and it produces another, until the product of those actions becomes the fruit of those steps. If we practice what God tells us to do, we learn the processes of obedience and the rewards of service. Disciplined living (trained life) requires replacing the old sinful nature / ways with the new pattern for life laid out in the Word of God. Discipline is a strange word to consider on Easter morning, but indulge me, please. Discipline requires self-examination - the Cross is the place of self-examination where lives are changed irrevocably. Crucifixion (death on the cross) symbolizes saying "no" to your own ways and choosing instead to follow obediently the will of another. Didn't Jesus pray with all the passion of his heart, "Not my will, but yours be done, Father" as he stood ready for the moment of his crucifixion? As we learn the value of placing our will at the foot of the cross, and allowing God to replace our willfulness with his determined will for our lives, we learn disciplined living. It is in that moment that God provides the strength and grace to embrace his will in obedient joyful service to him.

Too many times we face the cross and we give up because the change required seems too daunting, or like it would never happen fast enough for us, so why bother? We are creatures of comfort - we want life change without the daily struggle (without bearing daily the cross in our lives). We never learn to walk in the natural sense without falling - a whole lot. Why do we think our Christian walk will be any different? We have to face the embarrassment , the awkwardness, and fear of learning to walk. When we stay with it long enough, "walking with Christ" becomes part of who we are.

Endurance was definitely evident at the Cross of Christ. Endurance is part of growth. We learn to walk by enduring in spite of failures - bringing those failures one-by-one to the foot of the Cross, leaving them there, and drawing from the strength of the one who has gone before us into victory. All our efforts to change who or what we are apart from the impact of the cross on our lives is useless (fruitless). Godliness requires that we embrace the power provided by the Holy Spirit within us, believing the Word of God spoken deep into our spirits, and then taking the first steps toward wholeness (holiness). The Word of God teaches us what God requires, convicts us of sin by revealing how we have fallen short of the requirements, and then it corrects our behavior, setting us straight on course again.

I often resist the Cross - why? It requires my willful submission and that is not easy. No one ever said the cross is easy - but it is necessary. But...we often don't consider the other side of the Cross - the empty tomb. Resurrection is made possible by the Cross - if there was no death, there would be no resurrection. If there was not the shedding of blood, there would be no chance of change in our lives. So, as we consider this Easter morning, the sacrifice of Christ, and the power of Resurrection, let us embrace the cross, lay down our lives in willful surrender and allow the "tombs" of our lives to be opened to newness of life. In his grace and love - Happy Easter!