Instructions from the Cross

Many have written about the last seven things that Jesus said while He was hanging on the cross. I think that, in a sense, Jesus was not only setting an amazing example for us but He was also giving us instructions for living. In the following brief sharing I will try to look at those things he said in light of how He instructs us to live"

"Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."

In saying these words Jesus was giving us a true picture of what forgiveness looks like. He was telling us that our forgiveness is not dependent on the nature of the heinous act that is perpetrated against us or even if the offender really knew what they were doing or not. Hanging there on the cross Jesus simply forgave.

"Woman, behold, your son!" ... "Behold, your mother!"

Jesus so loved His mother.. a sermon in and of itself. In these verses we see that Jesus looked past His excruciating pain and showed care for Mary as he entrusted her to his friend John. It reminds me how at the beginning of humanity Cain, speaking of his murdered brother Abel, challenged God saying: "Am I my brother's keeper?" From the cross Jesus seems to be answering Cain's question.

"Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."

What can be said about the thieves on their crosses that hasn't been said before.. one cursed at Jesus and the other simply asked Jesus to remember Him when He came in His kingdom. And Jesus assured the latter of Paradise. It is almost too simple for even me to accept. Maybe that is the instruction in this verse - keep the gospel simple.

"I am thirsty."

Jesus speaks to us from the cross of His humanity, His suffering and His pain.. and in this verse of His thirst. He reminds us of His description of the poor being those sick, imprisoned and thirsty.. and of His instructions to care for such as these. When we care for them He tells us that we care for Him.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

These are difficult words to read.. something deep inside me resonates with what Jesus is saying and how He is saying it. Many wax theological about this and point back to Psalm 22 and seem to think Jesus is just fulfilling prophetic scripture. I think that He is giving us a glorious example to follow when we are in pain. He shows us that trusting the Lord sometimes involves questions and sometimes involves feeling alone. His words comfort me.

"It is Finished."

In these three words the Son of God settles salvation and ends the reign of Satan on earth. The world has been different since this moment. Because Jesus finished what He started people have hope. In these words Jesus instructs us to endure and finish the course we are on until that day when we can say, like Paul, that we have finished the race.

“Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit”

With His dying breath Jesus instructs us about living. In a sense He is instructing us to commit ourselves each day to the Lord. He instructs us to trust the Lord even when things are the darkest.. even when the pain seems more than we can bear.. even when everyone has forsaken us. I think that there is no better way to live or die.

Making His Ways Ours

The twenty-first chapter of proverbs speaks to us about how our ways are not like the Lord's ways. In this chapter we discover that God's ways are patient ones bearing with us as travel life. It speaks to us of His heart for the poor and His desire for us to be kind, work hard, speak positively and not complain.

"The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs te heart. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin." (v1-4)

I love the way that these verses blends the ways of the Lords with the ways of a person. I think that it is so wonderful how God is portrayed as more of an influencer than a controller. He is interested in working with us to refine our attitudes, strengthen our innermost being and bring us to a place of humility.

"The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty. The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death." (v5-6)

I have often thought of how the ways of kingdom living have no shortcuts. We can not get to where God wants us to be when we use sinful shortcuts. I think that even prayers can be an attempt at shortcutting God's purposes when we offer them for selfish purposes.

"It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife. ... It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman."(v9, 19)

I think that child or husband could be substituted for wife.. living with a complainer can be hard. That said I have to say that I live with a non-complainer - Ann could spend her days bemoaning the wheelchair she spends so much time in or the physical difficulties that she daily wrestles with but has chosen a path of being positive. Is so appreciate my wife's inner (and outer) beauty.. her discipline and attitude often puts this complainer to shame.

"Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” (v13)

I have had a lot of dialog with my friends about whose responsibility it is to care for the poor. I consistently say that it is "our" responsibility. I hope that one day we believers will put the government out of a job - even if it is just a little bit.

"Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich. ... The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back." (v17, 25-26)

I have been concerned for some time at the growing fixation on pleasure in our society. It seems that the days of people working hard and supporting their families have given way to video games and online social networking. I pray that America will one day regain the prominence we once had in research, development and industry.

"Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor." (v21)

I love how righteousness and kindness are linked together in this verse. Possibly kindness is an evidence of real righteousness.

"A wise man scales the city of the mighty and brings down the stronghold in which they trust. Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. “Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride." (v22-24)

I think these three verses all involve our speech. I can often tell when I am most proud when I pay attention to what I say.

"No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord. The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord." (v30-31)

I sometimes think that I am a pretty smart person.. I have lived so much of my life from my brain.. but so often life reminds me that I am not very wise about the most important things in life.. it is why I so desperately need to seek the Lord. Our ways are not His.. our love is not like His.. His ways do not fail.

Please click here to catch some of my other ponderings on the book of Proverbs.

Listening to Your Emotions

This ten minute video features Dr Matthew Elliott talking about his book, "Feel: The Power of Listening to Your Heart." I like the focus in the video on listening to and not following our emotions.. I use emotions and not "heart" because I think that it is a clearer term.. so often in scripture the heart is mentioned as a reference to our innermost being.. the place where the Holy Spirit lives.. that part of us that we should be following. Here are a few clips from Dr Elliott from his post on the Jesus Creed blog:
I was with a woman this morning who lost her son to tragedy three years ago. This intense, strong, vibrant follower of Jesus told me that she had almost left the church because people spoke theology and empty Christian platitudes to her instead of feeling and weeping with her. It was terribly empty. She found comfort from those who would share her pain. That is the way God made us.
We think our job is to control our feelings and in our church culture we are uncomfortable when people feel deeply. In our desire to distance ourselves from feelings, we do great damage to souls and our own ability to feel love and compassion.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the doing we forget that, to God, the core issue is the state of our hearts. Feelings have much to say about the true state of our hearts, that is why they are so prominent is Scripture
Our most powerful witness is often not what we say but how others see we feel our faith. The world is not asking us for perfect answers and ultimate logic. What people are asking Christians is: "Do you love me? Does the life you say you have in Christ bring you the joy and hope I want in my life? Can I see it on your face?"
The imagery of "feeling and weeping" with someone is one that many feel so uncomfortable with. In a sense I think that feeling another's pain is a way that we can love them. I have often cried with others and have had folks cry with me - in each case I have felt a bit more whole.. a bit more human.. a bit more loved.. a bit more connected to God. I think that people need us on many levels.. my prayer is that each of us will be open to the Holy Spirit's ministry of loving others in this compassionate way.

Following where You Do Not Wish to Go

This funny picture from ASBO Jesus represents how I sometimes feel about following the Lord. In the last chapter of John's gospel Jesus says this prophetically to his friend Peter:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go."
Sometimes life is like that isn't it? Sometimes we like Peter find ourselves living out a future that we had not ever imagined. Jesus continues his thought to Peter with just two words:
Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He *said to him, "Follow Me!"
Oh my.. did you catch that.. it is like Jesus is saying to his friend that He knows hard times will come.. even imprisonment.. even death.. in spite of all that Jesus tell Peter to simply "Follow Me!"  Of course, Peter now understands where following God has led Jesus.. he witnessed Jesus' prayer in the garden.. he heard Him beg the Father to let the cup pass.. he heard Him say "Not my will but yours be done".. Peter had counted the cost of following Jesus.. and yet he still pressed Jesus by asking this about his friend John:
So Peter seeing him *said to Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?"
His answer to Peter is brutally frank:
Jesus said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!"
Ouch! Nothing like God to put you in your place and help you to understand your role in the relationship.. it is a very difficult directive but one that I believe leads us to a place of peace about our circumstances.

When I think about my life it is so easy to go to the "woulda shoulda" places and bemoan what might have been or what could be - I sometimes forget about how Peter and all of the Apostles save John died.. I forget that Jesus' promise to them and to me is to never leave or forsake us when we follow Him in places where we do not wish to go.

Knowing that truth calms me and produces a sense of contentment in my life. Sometimes life happens and we find ourselves in a place where we never dreamed we would be. In seasons like that it is good to know that God has providentially brought us to these places and His promise stands - He is with us.. even in those places where we do not wish to go.