Tag Archives: Cross

Bitter or Better?

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A journey from Mara to Elim.

“Moses cried out to the Lord and the Lord showed him a piece of wood.” Ex 15:25

Wooden cross on the top of Zámčisko

Like the Israelites we, on our own life’s journey, also encounter “lakes of bitterness.” I was literally in the region of the “Great Lakes” one year on a ministry visit to Rwanda. This country has known its share of bitterness. One of the pastors I stayed with still bore the scars of the conflict on his forehead. His wife showed me a neat semi circle of a scar that meandered all across her ankle and Achilles tendon.

“My foot was nearly severed in the massacre,” she said, taking down a faded black and white portrait of her Father. “I was only a young girl of eighteen when I lost him and all the rest of my family in the genocide.”

I stared at the deep scars on strong black flesh, glanced again at the lost Father and wondered how on earth love can survive.

Another friend shared how after 25 years of loyal service he had found himself out of a job and passed over for promotion. Nameless thousands survive on a dollar day, noble African ladies till the fields with a baby on their back, while other nameless thousands in the West throw away almost as much food as we eat!

One of the basic human needs is for both material and psychological fulfilment. On their journey to the promise land the people of God were thirsting after a satisfying cool drink. Imagine the disappointment and anger when their drink turned out so bitter!

Have some of your own legitimate thirsts been thwarted? What has left a bitter taste in your own mouth? That bitter taste often impregnates our words which are a good indicator of our “bitterness” level!

The writer of Hebrews 12:14-15 clearly saw the terrible toxic potential of bitterness to eat away at the very structures of our lives together.

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

The cross is the only instrument sharp enough to cut out the roots of bitterness. Only one man ever owned a bitterness free heart. He hung that heart up upon a cross like a cosmic sponge and soaked up the “Great Lake” of mankind’s “Mara”.

Like Moses, we need to cry out in desperation until we gain a fresh revelation of that “piece of wood”, that old rugged cross, which, when applied to the bitter waters of aching hearts can make them sweet again.

“He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.”

May our words and personalities find a renewed sweetness as we allow the work of the cross to function in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.

Cry out to God. Don’t stop at Mara! It is not your final destination.

“I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.” Psalm 57:2

With the cleansing of the bitter waters and the call to obedience comes a deep revelation of the covenant name – Yahweh  Rapha.

“I am the Lord who heals you.” Exodus 15:26

Peter quoted the prophet Isaiah when writing to a persecuted church, reminding them that,

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”  1 Peter 2:24

Revelation and Ezekiel also encourage us with the promise of a “tree” of life in heaven whose leaves are for “the healing of nations.” Rev22:2

We serve a loving, reconciling, powerful God who makes us better rather than bitter!

Our destination is Elim. Have you ever longed for the picture postcard palm trees? We have so much more in Christ – perfect provision and eternal life welling up for us in abundance.

And so, let’s go back to the scars of Rwanda. I recently ventured to the cinema to see the Oscar winning film “Slumdog Millionaire”, and in the last scene the lover kisses the scars of his bride and redeems the pain.

It is only a very pale reflection of our reality, but I believe Christ will heal our deepest scars; kiss away Rwanda’s (and all nations’) wounds in his ultimate healing embrace of His Bride the Church.

“Crown Him the Lord of love; see from His hands and side,

Those wounds still visible above in beauty glorified.

No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,

But downward bears his burning eye,

At mysteries so bright.”

 

 

 

 

 

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A Better Life…?

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 Why did you become a Christian? What do you say to others to convince them to give their hearts to Christ?

Image from the Book of Kells, a 1200 year old ...

Take a look at most Christian websites and you will find a myriad of promises as to how you can have a better life as a Christian. A better marriage, a better health, a better bank balance etc – the list is endless, and produces a never ending supply of “better” techniques and experiences to attain the better life.

Many think that the greatest ideological threat to the Church in the 21st Century Western World is not atheism, communism, Islam or even false doctrines promoted by those who want to discard the biblical faith. Rather it is the worldview of consumerism. In this worldview the self is lord.

This worldview sees life in terms of shopping: life should present me with the greatest number of goods and services for the least amount of expense possible. This worldview has invaded the Christian mind. It afflicts conservative/evangelicals and liberals alike.

Jesus Christ challenges this worldview. He says real life is about denying one’s self. Being a Christian means we stop living like we own ourselves and we give up ourselves to Jesus Christ.

But this Biblical Christianity is threatened by Consumer Christianity.

Bible teacher Dan Jenkins says that:

Nederlands: MCDonalds Winterswijk

Consumer [Christianity] is a mentality which is self-centred. One who is a consumer is concerned with the benefits to himself or herself of whatever they buy or believe. Therefore, for the consumer to become interested in the product or service or belief system, it must appeal to their personal interests, concerns, and opinions. … Consumerism is a mentality of control. Consumers only invest in something we can continue to control. We want to see results and monuments to our investment! …The consumer always dictates the qualities and terms of the product or service they will purchase or support! The demand is for benefits which affirm personal preferences and opinion. In other words, it is hinged in feelings, not Truth! This form of Christianity is [idolatrous] and unbiblical. (From Dan Jenkins, Gospel Consumers or Doers,)

Let’s look at another analogy: In our society McDonald’s has become the epitome of the consumer experience. The successful fast food chain has learned that to appeal to consumers you have to offer lots of menu choices designed to please many different tastes and appetites. It can’t cost too much. You don’t want to entangle the customer with any intimacy or relationships – they don’t have to form a relationship with a server, just step up to the counter, order and walk away.

Now, in order to retain parishioners, the Church is becoming “McDonald-ized”. We try to offer what McDonalds does:

• Lot’s of menu choices designed to please our appetites and personal tastes. Give the people what they want.

• Hold down the price of commitment in time and money.

• The tendency to avoid intimacy. That’s why many people love the mega-church environment where they can be anonymous consumers. You never have to get to know anyone!

That’s the kind of Christianity that most people want today: McChristianity. We are a nation of McChristians! The Western Church is dying of its addiction to spiritual fast food.

God is longing to wean us off of such junk food. Persecution and suffering may well break into our world view taking us back to the original ethos of the early church. A longing for a better life may be tempered by the desire for…“a better resurrection.”

Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.”         Hebrews 11:33

It may be that we are in need of a paradigm shift in the Western world to take us back to the true sacrificial meaning of what being a Christian is all about. Of course our lives are “better” in Christ as we embrace all the benefits of forgiveness and redemption, but the echoes of a deeper glory are being heard as the churches of the “global south” join us in our march towards world evangelization. Some of our Chinese, Indonesian, Sudanese and Ethiopian brothers and sisters bring with them a “joyous ruggedness” – an experience and acceptance of the cross, its cost and its hardships, which may redeem us from the sad selfishness of consumer Christianity.

As I personally have been contemplating the cost of a “better resurrection” paradigm, and listening to the tragic yet glorious testimony of persecuted brethren around the world I’ve found comfort in the words of Lady Julian of Norwich. She describes seeing God holding a tiny thing in his hand, like a small brown nut, which seemed so fragile and insignificant that she wondered why it did not crumble before her eyes. She understood that the thing was the entire created universe, which is as nothing compared to its Creator, and she was told,

 

“God made it, God loves it, God keeps it.”

A matter that greatly troubled her was the fate of those who through no fault of their own had never heard the Gospel. She never received a direct answer to her questions about them, except to be told that whatever God does is done in Love, and therefore,

 

 

“that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”