Thinking Out Loud

April 3, 2015

At The Cross

Filed under: Jesus — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:44 pm

c201 topToday’s blog post is presented jointly with Christianity 201, part of our blog network, which provides daily devotional and Bible study content 7-days-a-week.

Gal 6:14 May I never put anything above the cross of our Lord Jesus the Anointed. Through Him, the world has been crucified to me and I to this world.

This morning I attended two very different Good Friday services in two different towns. As I left the first one, and walked toward my car, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What is my takeaway for having been here?” Also, “What does the cross mean to me, personally?”

Really, I have no words. There is no verbal or written expression that can unravel the mystery or make an appropriate response to God’s transcendent love and Christ’s transcendent sacrifice. A song came to mind from Matt Redman, I Will Offer Up My Life, and the line

Oh my words could not tell, not even in part
Of the debt of love that is owed by this thankful heart.

As I thought about it later, the song is strongly oriented to Easter even though the title points to a personal response of sacrifice to God.

You deserve my every breath, for You’ve paid the great cost
Giving up your life to death, even death on the cross
You took all my shame away, there defeated my sin
Open up the gates of heaven and have beckoned me in

The cross does demand a response however, and for Redman, the songwriter, that response is defined at the outset, in the first verse,

I will offer up my life in spirit and truth
Pouring out the oil of love, as my worship to you
In surrender I must give my every part
Lord, receive this sacrifice of a broken heart

At the second service we looked at the verse in Galatians (above) and also this passage:

NIV I John 4:8b …God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

The speaker said that while “the holiness of God demanded that there be a punishment for sin, the love of God demanded that there be a way of salvation.” The sermon title was, “There Had to be a Cross.” That reminded me of another song by another British songwriter, Graham Kendrick, Here is Love. The speaker said the cross is the intersection of our sin and God’s love; you could also God’s requirement for justice meeting his loving mercy.

Grace and love like mighty rivers
Born incessant from above
Heaven’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love

My prayer today is that you also would find something new in the Good Friday/Easter narrative, and would make a personal response.

As a bonus, here’s the song that follows the one above from Graham Kendrick.

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April 6, 2012

Good Friday: Who Gets It and Who Doesn’t


It’s interesting when you look at the life of Jesus how it was the religious establishment in general and the Pharisees in particular who didn’t get it.  I’m not sure that things are any different today.

I can write what I’m about to say knowing that 99% of my readers live outside my local area, but somewhat temper my remarks in light of the 1% who do.   Here it is:  Evangelicals don’t know how to do Good Friday, and the local church pastors are probably most to blame for that situation.

Good Friday is a big deal here. All the churches come together for two morning services that are now held at the local hotel and convention center. Right there, I think the thing has become somewhat unmanageable.  Each church’s pastor has a role to play, one introduces the service, another prays, another takes the offering, yet another reads the scripture, one preaches the sermon and so on. It’s all rather random and uncoordinated. They need a producer. Can someone coax Willow Creek’s Nancy Beach out of retirement?

In Evangelicalism, nothing is really planned. I love extemporaneous prayers, as long as some thought went into them, but the tendency is to just “wing it.”  Like the pastor a few years ago who opened the Good Friday service by talking at length about what a beautiful spring day it was; “…And I think I saw a robin.”

Fail.

This is Good Friday, the day we remember Christ’s suffering, bleeding, dying.  Evangelicals don’t understand lament. We don’t know how to do it, we don’t know what to say.

My wife says we tend to ‘skip ahead” to Easter Sunday. We give away the plot and lose the plot all at the same time. We place the giant spoiler in the middle of the part of the story to which we haven’t yet arrived; diminishing the part where we are supposed to be contemplating the full impact of what Jesus did for us.  We rush to the resurrection like a bad writer who doesn’t take the time to develop his story, and then wonders why the impact of the ending is not as great.

I learned this year that in a number of traditions, once the season of Lent begins, you are not supposed to say or sing ‘Hallelujah.’ Then, on that day that recalls that triumphant day, the Hallelujahs can gush force with tremendous energy. But we Evangelicals spoil that by missing the moment of Good Friday entirely. Can’t have church making us feel sad, can we?

To make matters worse, this morning our service contained a large advertisement for a local Christian radio station. However, having said that, the guy who made the presentation seemed to get the meaning of the day more than some of the clergy establishment in charge. In fact, throughout the morning, it almost seemed like the further away one moved from the ‘clergy class,’ the more you would find people in tune with what this holy day is intended to symbolize.

The worship team did what appeared to be an admirable job, until you consider the songs that got left out. It was the second time in as many weeks that I’ve been part of an Evangelical gathering in that same convention center where I felt those responsible for choosing the worship songs had misunderstood the opportunity and trust that was being given to them. This is an occasion that calls for the A-list of music materials, not the C-list or D-list.

The speaker, I must say, redeemed the morning for us, speaking about the imagery of Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God.’ At the outset, he admitted he is only 29 years old, yet he stuck to the theme of the morning more than any of the pastors there.

Perhaps he hasn’t had enough time to lose his way, or whatever it is that has the rest of the clergymen in our town going completely off message, year after year.

Jesus Christ bore in his earthly body the worst torture and punishment that humanity is capable of inventing. He did this willingly, as a once-and-for-all sacrifice to cover your sins and mine. This is the height and depth and width of His love.

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