Archives For cross

By Steve Playl

Declaration of Independence grunge America map flag

Picnics in the park, cookouts with families, visits to historic places, yardwork, parades down Main Street, extravagant pyrotechnic displays!

These are as American as baseball, hot dogs and apple pie and are appropriate ways to celebrate Independence Day. But while celebrating the Fourth and enjoying our present freedoms, may I suggest that we take a look back, then let’s look to the future.

Look back to July 4, 1776, when Thomas Jefferson, assisted by such patriarchs as Ben Franklin and John Adams, completed the final wording of the document presented to the Second Continental Congress, which evolved into the birth certificate of the United States of America.

That document, the Declaration of Independence, was eventually signed by 56 men who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to secure the opportunity for an experiment in democratic government. And it led to the greatest free nation the world has ever seen.

Although the “self-evident truth that all men are created equal” was not yet understood as meaning that all human beings of both genders and all races are equal in the sight of the Creator, the document has become the capstone of freedom for all Americans.

As we celebrate our freedom, let’s remember that it came at a great cost to those who went before us — and that our freedom from sin’s penalty was paid for by our Savior with His divine sacrifice…

Although the meaning of “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” has been misrepresented at times from many different directions, those rights have been fought for, debated and paraded through the streets of this nation for more than 240 years. Some, in the name of tolerance, have insisted that their rights include forcing others to comply with their wishes. Others, insisting on their understanding of “science,” have argued against the reality of a Creator. Many have added their own desires to the list of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Still the Declaration of Independence is one of the greatest human documents ever created, and it represents a magnanimous vision for all — a “land of the free and home of the brave.”

Four score and seven years later, Abraham Lincoln pointed out in his Gettysburg Address that the nation could possibly perish. That speech was made during the deadliest and most devastating war in America’s history. Many wars before and after have cost us dearly in the blood of our sons and daughters, but most of our conflicts have been with “outsiders” and America has been united in battle. The “Civil” War, on the other hand, divided our nation against itself.

Now, two hundred, two score and three years after the states united to declare independence from Great Britain, we find ourselves divided by politics, policies, power struggles, and pride. Too few of our leaders seem willing to sacrifice personal feelings and ideas for the greater good of the masses. While there will never be unanimous agreement on every conviction, surely we can agree to place far greater priority on negotiating with our fellow Americans than negotiating with our avowed enemies.

My prayer is that our precious grandchildren will grow up in an America somewhat like the one where I grew up. With all its faults, it has been the greatest nation throughout all of history.

But if that future is to become reality, more of us must return to the God of our Fathers in repentance, humility, prayer and commitment. We must again become a nation with common sense. We must use the word tolerance as something more than political rhetoric. We must again practice compassion, even while passionately defending differing points of view. And, yes, we must also stand for truth as revealed by our Creator.

As we celebrate our freedom, let’s remember that it came at a great cost to those who went before us — and, all the more, that our freedom from sin’s penalty was paid for by our Savior with His divine sacrifice on the cross, which calls for the most serious of celebrations.

Steve Playl, a retired Baptist pastor, is a chaplain at a Bristol, Tenn., hospital, a newspaper columnist and college instructor. Reprinted from Baptist Press.

Greg Zanis.jpg

Greg Zanis drove from Illinois to Nevada to install a memorial under the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.

When President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, a Fresno pastor climbed the bell tower of the church and began pulling the rope. When he descended much later exhausted from sounding the alarm, he found the sanctuary filled with mourners, looking up to him for a hopeful word. That was on a Friday afternoon. The following Sunday churches everywhere were packed with people who needed help understanding the tragedy. It was called “the Sunday with God.”

On October 8, 2017, we had another Sunday with God.

We’ve had a lot of them, especially in the past two decades. Their names become shorthand for inexplicable tragedy: Columbine, New Town, Wedgwood, Emanuel AME, Boston Marathon, Pulse Nightclub. And the signal event in this category is clearly the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Churches were full the next Sunday and for several months afterward with people asking “Why?” and wondering how God could let this happen. And all these years later we might add—again.

In Las Vegas on Sunday night, October 1, it happened again. A gunman high above an open-air concert killed 58 people with high-powered assault weapons and injured more than 500 others before turning the gun on himself. He left victim’s families, the survivors, and a nation to try to make sense of the utterly senseless.

How can we respond to what we struggle to explain—or even understand?

A retired carpenter from Aurora expressed his grief in the same way he has since his father-in-law was murdered in 1996: he built crosses. His truck loaded with 58 crosses, each with a red heart and the name of one of the 58 victims, Greg Zanis drove from Illinois to Nevada to install a memorial under the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. He has built such a memorial at every mass shooting since Columbine High School. His crosses are indeed welcome in places where people need to be pointed Christ-ward.

A young man who escaped the shooting told a network interviewer, “I was an agnostic going into that concert, but after what happened there, I believe in God. It’s a miracle that any of us survived.” His comment exemplifies the baseline responses to crisis: you either blame God or you embrace him; run from God or run to him.

Las Vegas pastor Vance Pittman was honest with his congregation on the Sunday morning after the killings. “The temptation of our humanness is to run from God in moments of tragedy, but the psalmist reminds us that those are the moments we should run to God.”

Pittman, who founded Hope Church in the city 17 years ago, admitted his own wrestling with the massacre. “Anyone who didn’t simply isn’t human,” he told the crowd in the packed sanctuary. “It’s OK to ask God some hard questions…He can handle it.”

He then pointed to Psalm 62. “Where is God in the midst of tragedy?” Pittman asked. “He’s right there in the midst with us… ‘God is my refuge.’” He cited the experience of two police officers. One said to the pastor, “It’s nothing short of a miracle that more people were not killed. It’s almost like someone spread their wings over that crowd and protected them.”

A thoroughly biblical response to events such as this must address the role of evil, “an act of pure evil,” as President Trump described it two days later in Las Vegas. God created a perfect world, but willful humans introduced sin. Taken to its natural ends, man inflicts that sin on others. Such monstrous evil may seem beyond us, but in all honesty it’s not. Only God restrains lawlessness in any of us. While at times he may not intervene in the ways we wish, God is still on the scene, in the business of saving humanity. In this world where evil is rampant—be it war, massacre, or the aftermath of disaster—God is still working his purpose out.

“Nowhere is this seen more clearly than looking at the cross,” Pittman said to his searching crowd. “The cross of Jesus is the single greatest act of evil and injustice in this world, and yet God—in his sovereignty—has caused it to be now seen as the greatest demonstration of love and goodness the world has ever experienced.”

– Eric Reed (with thanks for quotes from The Las Vegas Journal-Review, CNN, and Baptist Press)

We who handle holy things

Lisa Misner —  March 21, 2016

Jesus Christ crown of thorns and nail

Jesus wept. Standing in the cemetery with Martha and Mary, he didn’t pat the grieving sisters on the shoulder. He didn’t say, “I’ve got this.” Certainly he could have. Jesus knew that in a few moments he would order the great stone rolled away from the tomb and call a dead man from its greedy maw. He knew that this sign would portend his own resurrection and back up his statement: “I am the resurrection and the life.”

But when the sisters each said, “Lord if you had been here our brother wouldn’t have died,” it must have been like a knife under his ribs. He had delayed rushing to their brother’s deathbed on purpose so that the Father would be glorified. But in that moment, before the tomb, he grieved for the sisters and for his friend Lazarus. Jesus did not stand apart from their grief. He entered into it.

On a recent Wednesday, I faced this phenomenon myself: stand apart from the sorrow, or enter into it. First I visited with the family of a man who had learned two weeks earlier that he had only months to live. But the end came more quickly than that. On Saturday he was changing the brakes on his wife’s car; on Sunday he was in a coma. He believed in God, his wife said, but unlike her, he never accepted Jesus as his savior. She had carried this sad truth throughout their marriage. She had lived her faith before the man and witnessed to him many times. Many people had, and now it was too late.

An hour later I met with another man who had learned two weeks earlier that he had only months to live. He had questions about faith. He wanted answers about why Jesus had to die for everyone. But more important, he wanted to be certain of his own salvation. He wept over sin—his own—and we prayed for his salvation and assurance.

On the way home I thought about the contrasts between these two meetings. And I wondered when was the last time I saw someone weep over his own sin. It’s been a while. I’ve been there many times when people cried over the sins of others, and the impact of sin on the nation, but crying with the realization that their own sin is an offense to God? That their sin sent Jesus to the cross? It’s been a while. And stopped at a red light, I thought, How long since I cried over my own sins and my part in the sacrifice of Jesus?

We who handle holy things are like celebrity chefs who brag about their “asbestos fingers.” They’re so accustomed to grabbing hot pots without pot holders that their hands have become desensitized to the heat.

We stand so close the burning bush that it warms our toes but singes our eyebrows, and we hardly notice the difference. We climb the mountain like Moses to meet with God, and we approach the burning peak with such aplomb that the smoke and lightning don’t scare us. We reach out to prop up the house of God with unholy hands, hardly thinking that others who did so were struck dead.

And across a thousand Sundays in the course of our ministries, we offer up symbolic body and blood with little thought to the lambs whose throats were slit, whose lifeblood drained into bowls to sprinkle the altar, and whose bodies were burned in sacrifice for sins. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sin” is easier said over Welch’s than Red Cross. Strange as it sounds, in the rush to the Good News, it’s possible to skim past the realities of death. It’s possible to celebrate the Cross without mourning the blood dripping from God’s Ultimate Sacrifice. If we are not careful, all this handling of holy things becomes routine.

Even when we are careful.

Before we rush to the joys of Resurrection Sunday, let’s stop first at the reality of Crucifixion Friday. With sorrowful John and the weeping Marys at the foot of the Cross, let’s consider our own complicity, and enter in.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

COMMENTARY | Jonathan Davis

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WHAT A SAVIOR – “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Sculpture by Libby Morecraft of Harrisburg

Our culture loves blood. The latest vampire novel, graphic movies, every CSI crime drama, the nightly news – they’re all pictures painted in blood. Even the walking dead are promoting a bloody afterlife every Sunday night on cable. But our culture’s bloodthirst is biting into the wrong vein.

As God’s people, we also are to be marked as lovers of blood. Not because of an obsession with gore, but because of the Savior who shed his life’s blood
on our behalf.

Yet, for some reason, we often shy away from the bloody language of the cross. Our culture, so fascinated with blood stories, turns away from the most
important blood lines of all. Talk of the cross is offensive to many, and to bring up the blood as central to faith will bring many conversations to a halt. And
rather than offend, some Christians will stick to the more polite apologetic: Jesus loves you, and has a great plan for your life.

But that’s a bloodless Christianity. And a bloodless Christianity is no Christianity at all.

Flesh and blood isn’t just Easter language; it is Gospel language to be used at all times and in all places. We are to embrace the bloodiness of Scripture, for to do opposite is quite dangerous.

Our bloody theology

The Bible presents us with a robust theology of blood. Because Christ was crucified, we reap a multitude of benefits for His glory and our good.

• We once were people without hope, but have been brought near to God by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-13).

• In Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins (Romans 3:24-25; Ephesians 1:7).

• We have been justified by Christ’s blood (Romans 5:9).

• We have peace with God by the blood of the cross (Colossians 1:20).

From Adam and Eve’s first sacrifice outside the garden to our High Priest’s completed work, and everywhere in between, the history of God’s people is marked by blood. For several thousand years, it’s the blood of animals, offered as a covering for sins. And finally, it’s the once-and-for-all sacrifice that
washes whiter than snow.

When it comes to salvation, nothing but blood will do.

Maybe the most startling example of flesh and blood language in the Bible is found in John 6. Jesus tells his followers they must eat his flesh and drink his
blood. On the surface, it’s a revolting concept. “Is he advocating cannibalism?” they must be thinking.

Then, at his last meal with the disciples, Jesus enacts the teaching, tying together eternal life with eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Jesus notes that
we are abiding in him when we do so. To commune with Christ is to embrace this bloody language.

Now, it’s not too hard for us to talk about the crucifixion and the blood this time of year, especially in our churches. At Easter, the person and work of Jesus
come to the forefront of our minds, and rightly so. This is the time of year we celebrate Christ’s crucifixion, and it makes sense that flesh and blood speech
is on our lips.

But what concerns me is our post-Easter language, and how we share the Gospel with people who don’t know Christ. Too often, we avoid talking about Christ’s suffering, and in doing so, we drain our faith of its very power.

Power in the blood

The next time you’re on break at the water cooler, try dropping this line from Jesus into the conversation: “Hey, did you know that Jesus said, ‘Unless you
eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’”

I can hear the crickets chirping.

The Corinthians felt the shame of flesh and blood preaching, and this led them away from boasting in the cross to boasting in worldly wisdom. Preaching
a crucified king sounded so un-wise that they forsook the very message they had heard and believed.

But Paul argues that crucifixion language is the very language the Holy Spirit empowers. He had come to the Corinthian believers in weakness and fear. His speech and message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (1 Corinthians 2:3-4).

We must recover that kind of speech in our churches and as we go out into the world. Sin is serious, so serious that it warrants death. This is why there is
great danger in bloodless Christianity. To remove the bloody language of the cross is to remove man’s only hope of being made right with God.

The Gospel of the cross is the good news that God is holy, you are not, and the necessary sacrifice to make you right with God is found in Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

As believers we have tasted and seen the goodness of salvation applied to our hearts, and our desire is to see the lost know this same salvation. Is talking
about the cross offensive? Yes. Is it difficult to speak? Yes.

But let’s not run from it. Rather, let us press into it, speaking Christ and Him crucified plainly and with conviction, trusting the Holy Spirit to draw the lost to the Father through the Son.

When we do, people will begin to understand there’s power in the blood.

Jonathan Davis pastors Delta Church in Springfield.