The Way of the Cross – Walking with Jesus (Friday)

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Today is Friday.  Good Friday.  The day of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Today, we’re walking with Jesus to the cross.

An old spiritual asks the question, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

The question is a form of anamnesis.  

In Greek philosophy, anamnesis  carries the idea that humans possess knowledge from past incarnations and that learning consists of rediscovering that knowledge within us.  Plato (428BC – 424BC) develops the idea in his works “Meno” and “Phaedo.”

The word is used in the Greek New Testament to translate the words of Jesus at the Last Supper when he broke the bread and poured the wine, saying “Eat this, drink this, in remembrance of me.”

To anamnesis is not to simply recall something.  It is to experience something.

“Were You There” is an anamnestic song that is meant to bring the past events of the cross into the present and, as a result, to change us.

The song did that for the African-American slaves who wrote/sang the song.  The spiritual re-membered the suffering of Christ to the suffering of the African-American community.

Today, let’s re-member, re-experience the events surrounding the cross.

Were we there?  Well, yes.  Maybe we were there with:*

Judas who sold out because Jesus did not meet his political and military expectations.   If it comes between Jesus and our nation’s political and military goals, what’s our choice?

The disciples who deserted Jesus when they realized that hanging with Jesus meant being rejected by the religious and political authorities.  Maybe even jailed or killed!

The religious leaders who were out to get Jesus because he criticized the religious people and made friends with the irreligious.  Jesus had the audacity to put people above religious and moral laws.

Pilate who let Jesus die even though he knew Jesus was innocent.  We take the easy way out instead of standing against injustices.

The soldiers who played games while Jesus died.  While we enjoy the good things of life, a fancy meal for instance, within a few blocks of most of us, hungry children go to bed at night.

Today, on “the way of the cross” maybe we realize that instead of walking with Jesus, we’ve been walking with someone else.

It’s ok.  Jesus loves us anyway.   That’s what the cross is all about.

The ultimate revelation of God.

The ultimate demonstration of God’s love.

The ultimate instruction of how to respond.

But,  re-membering needs to lead to changing.

Lets change walking partners and start walking with Jesus.

*The references to the people surrounding the cross with whom we identify are taken from my old “Systematic Theology” textbook from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Christian Doctrine by Dr. Shirley Guthrie.  That was way back in 1981!  I’m amazed at how relevant his words and applications are.

The Way of the Cross – Walking with Jesus

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I have written a devotional each day this week, Passion Week, for the church I pastor.  It was suggested that I make them available on my personal blog.  So I am.

Here’s today’s devotional. If you are interested in the earlier ones click here and you can check them out on Facebook.

The Way of The Cross – Walking with Christ (Thursday)

As I typed the title – “The Way of The Cross” – I caught my self humming a tune of a song we would sing in the Baptist churches of my youth: “The Way of the Cross Leads Home.”

Here are the lyrics:

“I must needs go home by the way of the cross,

There’s no other way but this;

I shall ne’er get sight of the gates of light,

If the way of the cross I miss.”

Then the chorus:

“The way of the cross leads home; (then all the bass singers would echo “Leads home”)

The way of the cross leads home; (leads home),

It is sweet to know as I onward go,

The way of the cross leads home.” 

The tune had a marching sound to it.  It was like we were marching home.  Home, according to the last verse of the song, is heaven:

“Then I bid farewell to the way of the world,

To walk in it nevermore,

For the Lord says, ‘Come,’ and I seek my  home,

Where He waits at the open door.”

Is the way of the cross simply about getting into heaven?  Here are the instructions a lot of us were given:

“If you accept Jesus as your Savior, and believe that he died on the cross to forgive you of your sin, then you will be saved, and go to heaven when you die.”

Easy peasy.

That’s pretty much what the “way of the cross” meant to me.

How about you?

The cross was little more, if nothing more, than the way to get to heaven.

Maybe we missed it.  Maybe there’s more to it.

Let’s think about the “way of the cross in light of 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

“Foolishness.” Paul uses that word again in 1 Corinthians 1:21 to describe the message that is preached.

What makes the cross, the way of the cross, the message of the cross, foolish? Check it out. Compare it to the way of the world (I just started humming the Earth Wind and Fire tune!).

The world says, “Hate your enemies.”
The cross says, “Love your enemies.”

The world says, “Do unto them before they do unto you.”
The cross says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The world says, “Eye for an eye!”
The cross says, “Forgive those who wrong you.”

The world says, “People who do wrong should be killed.”

The cross says, “Those who are without sin cast the first stone.”

The world says, “It isn’t cheating, if you don’t actually do it.”
The cross says, “Even if you merely think of cheating you are guilty of it.”

The world says, “Might makes right!”
The cross says, “Truth and love make right.”

The world says, “You get hit, hit ‘em back harder.”

The cross says, “You get hit, turn the other cheek.”

The world says, “The Greatest are the greatest.”
The cross says, “The Greatest are the least.”
The contrasts go on and on!

What do you think?
The way of the cross sounds foolish, doesn’t it?  Does Jesus really expect us to live like that?

The way of the cross seems hard, doesn’t it?

It’s a lot easier to just accept Jesus as my Savior who died on the cross for my sins than to actually live the way of the cross.

Did Jesus have the “way of the cross” in mind when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”?  Is this really a calling for us to live a way of life that looks like His?

Is this “way” what Jesus referred to in Matthew 7:13-14 when he talked about the narrow way being pretty isolated but the wide way being crowded?

Is this “way” what Jesus was thinking about when he told Peter that Peter was thinking wrong (Maybe thinking like the world?) and that Peter needed to take up his cross and follow him (Matthew 16:23-24)?

Today, let’s walk with Jesus.  Let’s live the way of the cross.

“Birth of a Nation,” starring the Bible!

nat-turner-the-birth-of-a-nation-nate-parker-03

 

Denise and I watched “Birth of a Nation” last Friday night.

It’s certainly not a “make-out” movie.

It’s uncomfortable.

It’s disturbing.

It’s gut-wrenching.

It’s important.

The main characters in the movie are:

*Nat Turner – a slave who is known for leading a rebellion against the slave owners of South Hampton County, Virginia.

*Elizabeth Turner – the plantation owner’s wife.

*Samuel Turner – the plantation owner’s son and upon the death of his father, the plantation owner and Nat’s owner.

*The Bible.  Yep, the Bible plays a major role in the real life story of Nat Turner.   I don’t recall a movie with more Scripture than “Birth of a Nation.”

Nat could read.  His ability was noticed by Elizabeth who brought him into the library of the main house.  When Nat reaches for a book, though, he’s quickly reprimanded.  “Those books are for white folks,” she says.  “They’re full of things your kind wouldn’t understand.”

So she hands him the only book he’d ever need, the book that shaped his life: a Bible.  Nat becomes a preacher and begins holding Sunday services on the plantation for the slaves.

There is an unrest among the slaves in the county, so, at the suggestion of the local white preacher, Samuel pimps Nat out to other slave owners to preach to their slaves in an effort to keep them under control.

Instructed by the slave owners, Nat based his sermons on texts like:

“Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to those who are harsh”  (1 Peter 2:18)

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear and sincerity of heart, just as you would show to Christ (Ephesians 6:5).

“All who are under the yoke of slavery should regard their masters as fully worthy of honor, so that God’s name and our teaching will not be discredited” (1 Timothy 6:1).

Initially, Nat doesn’t realize he’s part of a systematic indoctrination.  Then he does. And he doesn’t like it.  The words he’s reading from the pages of the Bible leave a bitter taste in his mouth.  The words are:

Offensive.

Unjust.

Unloving.

Nat began to read other parts of the Bible.  Nat tells his flock, “I’m going back through his words with new eyes.  For every verse they use to defend our torture, there’s another demanding our freedom.”

He found new texts for his sermons:

“Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the nations… ( Psalm 149:6-9).

Nat hatches a plan to put that text into practice. His wife, Cherry, reminds him of another Bible verse: “…those who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

But Nat is determined.  The passage that confirms for him that he should lead an armed rebellion against the slave-owners is 1 Samuel 15, in which God tells Saul, through the prophet Samuel, to commit genocide against the Amalekites.

While this movie, like all movies “based on a true story,” plays loose with some facts, the portrayal of the role played by the Bible in the story is spot on.

From one Bible came three different ethics.

  1. Slaves, submit to your master no matter what.
  2. Slaves, kill your master  (remember the Exodus?).
  3. Love your enemies.

Each of us is living a story.  What role does the Bible play in our stories – our ethics?

In this story, “Birth of a Nation,” the issue is slavery.  On that issue the Bible was used as the basis for diametrically opposed positions: pro-slavery and anti-slavery.

Slave owners and pro-slavery pastors used the Bible to justify the African slave trade through the 19th century.  Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy during the Civil War, said that slavery…

“was established by decrees of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation.” 

Through the 21st century white Christians continued to used the Bible to justify their feelings of superiority over and oppression of non-whites.

Throughout history, people have invoked the “Good Book” to rationalize the widespread murder of others.  Europeans quoted the same verses that inspired Nat to brutally kill white slave owners, to excuse the murder of Native Americans.  Catholics and Protestants have each quoted it in their violence against the other.  Preachers quoted it to support the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.  Some Christians are still quoting it today to teach that the murder of men, women and children is the righteous reaction to disbelief in God.

There is a lot of pro-slavery backing in the Bible.  In fact, in his book, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, historian Mark Noll, in comparing the pro-slavery sentiment in the United States with that of Europe, says, “When a populace, committed to republican and democratic principles, was also a Bible-reading populace, the proslavery biblical case never lacked for persuasive resources.”

On the other side, were anti-slavery Christians who appealed to the spirit of Jesus to support their view.  The line was drawn between the anti-slavery spirit of Jesus and the pro-slavery letter of the Bible.

And according to Dr. Noll, “Those who defended the legitimacy of slavery in the Bible had the easiest task.”

I’ve found Dr. Noll to be right.  It’s easier to point to chapter and verse than to point to the life and spirit of Jesus.

So, I have to remember to whom the Bible itself points – Jesus.

Jesus is talking to religious people who, when confronted with the radical teachings of Jesus, liked to point to a particular verse to prove Jesus’ way was wrong.

“…the Father who sent has himself testified on my behalf.  But you have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him who he has sent.  You search the scriptures because you think in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.  Yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:37-40).

Jesus says the Bible points to Him.

It doesn’t point to itself.

It’s about Him.

It shows us who God is, and who God isn’t, through the person of Jesus.

Any ethic found in the Bible that is not found in Jesus loses to Jesus.

Let’s build the story of our lives around Him.

 

Happy MLK JR Day

stick-with-love

I so appreciate what  Martin Luther King Jr. did…

… and the way in which he did it – through “enemy love.”

In June 1956 (the month and year of my birth), a federal district court ruled bus segregation unconstitutional; the Supreme Court affirmed the ruling in November 1956.  It just blows my mind that it took our court system to right such a wrong as racial segregation.

The Montgomery Improvement Association sent the following letter outlining how people should conduct themselves on the newly integrated city bus system.

bus-letter

Sound familiar?  Have you ever read or heard anything like that?  Go back and read it again.

Quite the contrast to what we see and hear today.

Let’s continue the work.
Let’s continue in the spirit in which the work was done.

 

A Relevant Message from Our History

second-inaugural-address-quote

 

I’ve had several post-election conversations with people on both sides of the political divide.

One of the more intriguing elements of the conversations is the “God” part.

“What role did/does God have in  elections?”
“We prayed and our prayers were answered.”
“We prayed and our prayers were not answered.” 

“The answer to the ‘God-part’ question is in the Bible!” I’m told.

“By me kings reign” (Proverbs 8:15). 

“…he removes and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:21).  

But what about this one?

“They set up kings without my consent;  they chose princes without my  approval” (Hosea 8:4).

“Hmmm.  I didn’t know that was in there.”

This contest of Scriptural “one upmanship” is tiring.

I received some comfort and direction from another time in America’s history.

It was inauguration day, March 4, 1865.  The nation was fractured.  Some people were hopeful.  Some people were fearful.   620,000 men had died in the Civil War.

Between 30-40,000 people had gathered at the east entrance of the Capitol.  In the crowd were Frederick Douglass, the African American abolitionist and newspaper editor, and the actor John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer, seething with hatred.
President Lincoln stepped to the podium.  With keen theological and political insight, he said, “Both sides read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other…”

The 56 year old President helped the nation focus on what mattered in the days ahead,

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Good words then.  Good words now.

A New Way to See

col-sanders

What do you see when you look at the pic of Col. Sanders?

1.  The KFC founder with a cool “Western” or “String” Bow Tie? or,

2.  The KFC founder with a big head and a tiny stickman body?

The original KFC logo with the pic of the Colonel came out in 1952.

I was born in 1956.  Until today, I have looked at that pic and seen option 1 – The Colonel with a cool tie.  Today, someone pointed out to me option 2!

Now, it’s all I see.

I can’t unsee it.

What that person did with Col Sanders, Jesus does with life.  Jesus didn’t draw pictures but he told picture-stories. We call them parables. Jesus used parables to not only help us see things more clearly; but more often than not, his parables were told to help us see things differently!

When Jesus finished his stories, people found themselves slapping their foreheads and exclaiming, “Wow!  I’ve never thought of it that way!”

Let me give you a “for instance.”  It’s recorded in Luke 10:25-37.  Jesus is in a conversation with an expert in the Law of Moses, who asks Jesus a fundamental question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life.”  As far as questions go, it doesn’t get any bigger than that!

The answer given by Jesus isn’t found in most “Gospel Tracts”:  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself…Do this and you will live.”

Out of this came another question from the Lawyer: “Ok, then, who is my neighbor?”  

Luke says the Lawyer was trying to “justify himself”  – “looking for a loophole, he asked, ‘And just how would you define neighbor?’” is how The Message puts it.

The religious expert was trying to determine who he did and did not have to love.

So, Jesus told a story.  We call it “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.”

Isn’t in interesting that, in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus does not give a straightforward answer?

He could have handed the lawyer a list of people to love.

He could have given a catalogue of characteristics to look for in people whom he should love.

He does not.

Instead, he tells a story.

A story is ambiguous.

A list is straightforward and simplistic.

These are interesting times.  Some familiar landmarks have shifted and some people are anxious, worried, scared, angry. They want unambiguous, straightforward answers.

And Jesus tells us a story.

It’s a story that presents another way of looking at things…

At people.

At religion.

We don’t always like to look at something in a new way.   We like the old way.  The way it looked before.

And so we shut out people.  We shut out ideas.

The original hearers of Jesus’ story were not just surprised.  They were shocked.  The hero of the story is not a person of their own race or religion.  He’s a Samaritan!

“What?  Did you hear that? Can you believe he said that?  A Samaritan?!  Come on now!  This is too much.  He’s really crossed the line this time.  He’s been in the sun too long.  He stayed too long with the wine at that wedding.”

But, I think Jesus knew exactly what he was doing.  With this story-picture, Jesus is saying, “All people even people you don’t like, you don’t understand, who don’t share your values, who don’t vote like you, who don’t look like you, who don’t love like you are your neighbors.”

It was a new way of thinking and seeing for them.

It’s a new way for us.

But it’s His way.

I hope I will never unsee His way.

A New Way to See

col-sanders

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you see when you look at the above pic of Col. Sanders?

1.  The KFC founder with a cool “Western” or “String” Bow Tie? or,

2.  The KFC founder with a big head and a tiny stickman body?

The original KFC logo with the pic of the Colonel came out in 1952.

I was born in 1956.  Until today, I have looked at that pic and seen option 1 – The Colonel with a cool tie.  Today, someone pointed out to me option 2.

They’re right.  It does look like a big head with a tiny stickman body.

Now, it’s all I see.

I can’t unsee it.

What that person did with Col Sanders, Jesus does with life.  Jesus didn’t draw pictures but he told picture-stories. We call them parables. Jesus used parables to not only help us see things more clearly; but more often than not, his parables were told to help us see things differently!

When Jesus finished his stories, people found themselves slapping their foreheads and exclaiming, “Wow!  I’ve never thought of it that way!”

Let me give you a “for instance.”  It’s recorded in Luke 10:25-37.  Jesus is in a conversation with an expert in the Law of Moses, who asks Jesus a fundamental question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life.”  As far as questions go, it doesn’t get any bigger than that!

The answer given by Jesus isn’t found in most “Gospel Tracts”:  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself…Do this and you will live.”

Out of this came another question from the Lawyer: “Ok, then, who is my neighbor?”  

Luke says the Lawyer was trying to “justify himself”  – “looking for a loophole, he asked, ‘And just how would you define neighbor?’” is how “The Message” puts it.

The religious expert was trying to determine who he did and did not have to love.

So, Jesus told a story.  We call it “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.”

Isn’t it interesting that, in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus does not give a straightforward answer?

He could have handed the lawyer a list of people to love.

He could have given a catalogue of characteristics to look for in people whom he should love.

He does not.

Instead, he tells a story.

A story is ambiguous.

A list is straightforward and simplistic.

These are interesting times.  Some familiar landmarks have shifted and some people are anxious, worried, scared, angry. They want unambiguous, straightforward answers.

And Jesus tells  a story.

It’s a story that presents another way of looking at things…

At people.

At religion.

We don’t always like to look at something in a new way.   We like the old way.  The way it looked before.

And so we shut out people.  We shut out ideas.

The original hearers of Jesus’ story were not just surprised.  They were shocked.  The hero of the story is not a person of their own race or religion.  He’s a Samaritan!

“What?  Did you hear that? Can you believe he said that?  A Samaritan?!  Come on now!  This is too much.  He’s really crossed the line this time.  He’s been in the sun too long.  He stayed too long with the wine at that wedding.”

But, I think Jesus knew exactly what he was doing.  With this picture-story, Jesus is saying, “All people even people you don’t like, you don’t understand, who don’t share your values, who don’t vote like you, who don’t look like you, who don’t love like you, are your neighbors.”

It was, for them, a new way of thinking and seeing.

It’s a new way for us.

But it’s His way.

I hope His way is all I will ever see.