I wish I could slow this week down. Easter Sunday will be here soon enough, but you and I need Good Friday first.
The chronic suffering all around us reveals it’s true.
Sunday proclaims the hope of resurrection, but when we rush past Jesus’ crucifixion, our hope becomes too small to carry the real weight of the world in which you and I live.
Good Friday, entering into the crucifixion, sharing in Christ’s suffering (Romans 8:35-37, 1 Corinthians 4:10-11, Philippians 3:8-11), leads the way to resurrection.
And oh, we need resurrection. We need it so much, so tangibly, so actively, in fact, that we dare not hurry past Good Friday.
A couple I know spent six months last year praying nearly 24-7 in the hospital room of a woman the doctors said wouldn’t live a week. This husband and wife believe in the resurrection and so, in a very real way, they entered into their own season of sacrifice in prayer for another. (She walked out of the hospital earlier this year.)
Last fall, I met an elderly pastor and his wife who trained to become foster parents so they could take in the baby of a drug-addicted young woman who intermittently visited their parish. That baby girl is now a teenager and still living with them. Her mom is also still in their lives, and still battling her addictions. Reflecting on his situation, the pastor said, “This is not how I envisioned my retirement.”
“Sentimental, overly ‘spiritualized’ love is not capable of the sustained, unconditional agape of Christ shown on the cross. Only from the perspective of the crucifixion can the true nature of Christian love be seen, over against all that the world calls ‘love.’” – Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion
He and his wife are allowing the fabric of their lives to take the shape of Jesus’ suffering for another. They are choosing to live for resurrection rather than for retirement.
I know moms and dads who have walked long with their own kids through mental illness, addictions, and other chronic problems. I remember one adult daughter talking about the morning her dad found her half-asleep on a couch the morning after yet another drug-infused party. She still doesn’t know how he found her there, but she remembers how he gently kissed her forehead before placing a warm breakfast sandwich beside her and turning to go.
Each of these is an example to me of living a cruciform life—a life that is taking the shape of the crucifixion because of the hope of resurrection.
Without taking up our own cross and following Jesus (Luke 14:27), without letting the days of our lives become increasingly cruciform in nature, we reveal our own lack of belief in the reality of the resurrection (no matter what we profess on Easter Sunday).
It’s easier just to pray from a distance or not to pray at all. It’s easier to assume healing won’t come. It’s easier to think someone younger or more qualified will do it. It’s easier to box Christianity into a Sunday service, a ten percent tithe, and morning devotions where resurrection becomes a metaphor for achieving a bit of the American dream.
Sunday without Friday leaves the terminal dying, the sick hurting, the sinners returning to their sin, the mourners grieving alone. Skipping over Good Friday means leaving Jesus Himself sick, sinful, and alone on the Cross (Matthew 25:45).
I know the difference others’ cruciform living has made in my broken and hurting life, so I’m talking to myself here.
The hope of Easter is not some kind of confetti to throw from a distance at the sick, sinful, and suffering. “It’ll be okay! Happy Easter!” The hope of Easter is entering into the death that Jesus died for the whole world on Good Friday, it’s actively taking on a cruciform life because sickness, sin, suffering, and death need no longer intimidate us.
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In C.S. Lewis’ book That Hideous Strength, one of the arch-villains is a decapitated head. Men fear and bow before “the Head” as they would a god. Pretty grizzly stuff.
We live in an age where mankind exalts our own heads.
Ask people what separates us from the animals (or “other animals”), and many will say it’s our intelligence. Ask a political leader of either major party how they’re going to solve our chronic social problems, and most will include something about education. It’s as though we collectively genuflect at the uncontested saying, “knowledge is power.”
I get it. We are smarter than the animals, good education is a help to much of what ails us, and knowledge does empower. But really? Is human intellect really the biggest thing that separates us from animals? Is education really the only solution to our social problems that we can agree on? And is knowledge always power?
Even within Christendom, where we hold as foundational that we cannot save ourselves, you’ll still find an exalted veneration of knowledge seeping into what we say and do. Could this be why so many of our churches place the teaching at the center of our Sunday services and Bible “study” at the center of our mid-week gatherings?
Certainly, godly teaching and Bible study are crucial to Christian discipleship, and I am for churches doing a better, not lesser, job at these. Even so, it is Scripture that teaches us our thinking cannot save us, even our right thinking about God.
Jesus told the religious of his day, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39, 40).
Apparently, we can know about God without knowing God, we can gather around His words without coming to Him, we can identify Him on the page without recognizing His face.
Thank God for hunger.
For the religious and rebellious alike, hunger can take us beyond trying to satiate our intellects and instead urges us to come to His actual table. It was hunger that drove the younger son to come home, but it was also hunger that brought the older son out of the fields.
For them and for me, real hunger can be hard to acknowledge, and harder still to accept an invitation to the table. To do so means my answers have fallen short, I don’t know Him as much as I should by now, I am malnourished and in need.
This is one of the reasons I love Lent. The ancient practice of fasting invites us beyond our know-how and into a place of simple hunger, where we find ourselves empty and needy.
Lent reminds me of my hunger and affirms my hunger is good.
Augustine said, “The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise of holy desire. You do not yet see what you long for, but the very act of desiring prepares you, so that when he comes you may see and be utterly satisfied.”
He wouldn’t stop punching me in the arm. Hard. Again and again and again.
I was 9 and to this day I remember the details. It was recess and I was outside the classroom on the blacktop underneath the basketball hoop. I was wearing my favorite winter coat, a hand-me-down, dark blue Dallas Cowboys letterman-style jacket with metal snaps and greyish silver sleeves.
There were kids running and playing around us. I don’t remember where my friends were. I don’t know where the teachers were. I remember that all I could think to do was to try to pretend it didn’t hurt.
It wasn’t the first or the last time Tim (I remember his name, too) would use his greater height, weight, and strength to put me in my place. I knew the pecking order. He would remind me.
When I reflect on my 47-year journey, my body’s been through a lot. I’ll bet yours has, too. Perhaps much more.
During this Lenten season, Christians around the world make their way toward the Cross. Rich and poor alike, young and old together, men and women of all races we travel side by side. Bruised from punches, weary from walking, calloused from labor, flinching from abuses past, pulled by temptations present, skinned from falling, bent from burdens. We carry our infants, our weak, our wounded, our dead.
From this distance three weeks out, we can catch a hint of the lighted upper room where our truest Friend will break unleavened bread: “This is My body, given for you.”
For me, I walk this Lenten road because I remember that blacktop, the cruel smirk on Tim’s face, the silver coat sleeves hiding my pain.
But that’s not all I remember. I remember saying goodbye to my dad at age 3, throwing rocks at a smaller boy at 5, starting to drink at 13, hiding pornography at 17, my wedding night at 29, sitting helpless at my daughter’s hospital bedside at 38…
“Do this in remembrance of Me.”
I walk this Lenten road because I do remember. I walk to remember.
In prayer, I see myself at His cross. Bruised, beaten, broken, He remembers me, my body at 3, at 9…here, now.
I need this. My whole body needs this. I can feel it.
“This is My body, given for you.”
His words, so simple, so meaningful—reaching across the globe, sounding across the universe, filling all eternity.
Words not just to consider by intellect, but to heed: “Take, eat.”
Jesus, thank You. Thank You for giving Your body for my body. I need Your body!
Question: What’s one thing your body’s been through that needs the hope of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection?
When I was 22, I remember walking alone across my college campus late at night, ashamed and angry. I looked up at the stars and prayed out loud, “God, I know you love me, and I love you. I also know you hate what I’m doing and I hate it too. So why won’t you change me!?”
I’d been viewing pornography again, and sexual sin in my life was something I both hated and loved. I’d read books, tried prayer, confession, accountability, Scripture memory, resolutions and more resolutions, and nothing seemed to make a difference.
I felt like a man in a tiny canoe trying to paddle upstream in a powerful rushing river. I was exhausted.
How does God restore sexuality? Said differently, how do we change?
After nearly 20 years walking with people seeking sexual restoration, I think of five different categories worth paying attention to if you want to see changes in some area of your sexuality. (I’ll address these as they relate to sexuality, but I think they are components of change in nearly any life-dominating area.) Here they are:
To know what is true is to know what is real. When we buy ideas that are false, we attempt to live outside of reality, and living outside of reality can never lead to real health, freedom, or intimacy.
As a parallel, gravity does not change whether you know about it or not. But it’s best if you know about it because it will pull you with the same force whether you’re stepping on a path or stepping off a building. Likewise, reality is unmoved by what you think it is. It can always and only be what it is. Jesus taught his disciples, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31, 32).
As important as truth is, it isn’t enough to make you whole, anymore than gravity is enough to make you run. If your leg is broken, it needs to be physically healed. The unseen inner wounds people carry are no less debilitating in the areas of sexuality and relationships—wounds related to sense of worth, identity, belonging, security, agency, etc. I’m convinced this is why when three of the gospel writers recorded that Jesus healed a man covered with leprosy (see Mt. 8:2ff, Mk. 1:40ff, and Luke 5:12ff), they all pointed out that before He healed the man, He first touched him. Jesus was concerned with healing the man’s spirit, not just his body.
Sometimes our unwanted sexual behaviors have a demonic component to them. The enemy is after dominion, and one of the pieces of real estate he most desires to control (or at least influence) is the human person—that’s you and me.
One of the enemy’s assignments is to tempt us to sin. Jesus Himself was tempted by Satan (cf. Mt. 4:3ff), and Paul refers to the enemy as the “tempter” (1 Thes. 3:5). Beyond temptation, the enemy accuses, confuses, depresses, oppresses, and possesses whenever he can. And he doesn’t fight fair. He’ll use our wounds (see above) and sins as entry points into our lives.
And so, Paul wrote, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:11-12).
Just as every single one of us has to grow up physically, each of us must also grow up relationally, emotionally, spiritually, and yes, sexually. Growth is God’s path out of all manner of immaturity. You cannot be healed of immaturity nor be delivered from it. You must grow. At the same time, growth is not a passive activity, it requires our participation.
What’s more, where a person can be delivered from demonic oppression or supernaturally healed, growth is a different bird. It requires time and participation. A young man may desire to be a good husband one day, but nothing will grow him up as a husband more than being a husband.
Human beings are relational creatures. In a very real sense, it’s in our genes. Who we are and how we thrive is all intimately connected to relationships. Likewise, sexuality is relational. Even for lifelong celibates who remain chaste, their capacity for sexual wholeness is directly correlated with their relational wholeness—their intimacy with God and with others. Want to become more sexually whole? Seek to become more relationally whole.
I put relationships as the last of these five categories, but if you look closely, you’ll see it’s actually a part of all the other four. Just as lies, wounds, demonization, and immaturity usually take root and grow in our lives through harmful, unhealthy, or unholy relationships; so truth, healing, deliverance, and growth all take root and grow in our lives through deepening intimacy (relationship) with God and His people.
In all these: Truth, Healing, Deliverance, Growth, and Relationships, God’s heart toward you is good and loving, always willing and working toward transforming you more and more into the man or woman He created you to be.
If we can help, let us know!
Question: Which of these five categories do you have the most experience with, and which of these may need more attention as you journey toward wholeness?
Comedian Jim Gaffigan describes what it’s like to have four children: “Imagine you’re drowning…and then someone hands you a baby.”
When my wife and I first heard this, we had just had our fourth and both of us almost jumped out of our seats, exclaiming “Yes! That’s exactly how it feels!”
We had already been giving so much, working so hard to keep our heads above water. How could we take care of another baby?
That feeling of drowning has diminished over time. What once seemed like it would pull us under no longer does. (My wife deserves most of the credit, for sure.) Now, a decade and a fifth child later, there’s not a one of our kids we would dream of living without.
In the midst of the struggle it felt like we were just surviving, sometimes on empty. Looking back now, it seems like there was a different kind of math at play. I’m used to a math that says 10-10=0. Give away what you have and now you have none.
Somehow, math in God’s Kingdom works differently.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)
Lent invites us to give not simply from our surplus, but to give sacrificially for the sake of others. Where fasting means we go without in order to intentionally hunger, giving sacrificially means we go without so someone else can have.
This is how Christ gives.
Why would God want us to give in this way? I think one reason has to do with Kingdom math. He wants us to grow, to become the men and women He created and redeemed us to be—to become like Jesus.
To be clear, I am not encouraging you to give so much that you increase your debt or go into debt. (Doing this would be “giving” someone else’s money, not your own.) Nor am I encouraging you to ignore the reality of your own emotional, physical, and spiritual limitations. He designed us with limits, people who need to rest and to receive. I acknowledge there is a tension here, God alone is the infinite One who is always able to pour out.
But this Lent, might I encourage all of us to give more than we feel we can—more of our money, our home, our goods, our time, our energy—as an act of faith that speaks to God and to our own souls:
Jesus, I have been waiting to have more, see more, and feel like more before stepping out to live a bigger, more giving life. Please grant me Your faith to look beyond the cross and trust that all I hold in my hands is not the sum of what I possess, and all I know myself to be is not the sum of who I am.
Leave a comment below: What’s one area of your life where you were at your limit that now you see God used to grow you to become more than you once were?