THE BEAUTY OF THE CROSS

Is.53:10 – Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.

The most beautiful of all images in our world, ironically, is found in one that could be considered as the most grotesque. Roman crucifixion, it conjures pictures in our minds of the most intense suffering imaginable and vividly displays man’s inhumanity to man. Think about it; soldiers beating an innocent man with a Roman scourge to the brink of death. Then there is the taunting and mocking, spitting and cursing hurled at the Lord. Bloodied and humiliated, how can this picture be described as the most beautiful of all? My answer is this, the creator entered His-creation as a man with one thought in mind. He came to redeem us, to love us in our unlovely condition. He even loved His executioners as He prayed for their forgiveness. The ugliness of our sins were purged by the beauty of His blood. Christ died to save sinners. Here is Belden Lane describing the beauty of the cross from Jonathan Edwards’ perspective.

“For Edwards, the highest expression of God’s glory revealed in creation is witnessed in the God-become-Creature who died on Golgotha. In the humiliation of Christ we find the greatest consent of the creation to its Maker. The Creator becomes in this moment the lowest of all creatures on earth. The power of consent, the unity of being, the persuasiveness of the senses, the centrality of embodiment to the apprehension of God’s glory—all these are discovered here at the cross.

Edwards echoed Calvin and Augustine before him in affirming that God is beautiful, not only in the loveliness of the earth, but even “beautiful on the cross.” Obviously it is a long stretch, by any reach of the imagination, to discern beauty in the midst of pain. But once again it is the “new sense” imparted by God’s spirit that makes this discernment possible.”

So can you see it? Can you see the beauty of the cross? When the cross becomes personal, when its your sins dealt with at Calvary, all you can proclaim is “Beautiful, beautiful!”. The precious blood of Jesus is beautiful to me.

ANGELS, WATERMELONS, AND NEW WINE

Song 1:2 – Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—

For your love is better than wine.

 

 

One of my fondest Feed the Multitude memories was the one in 1994. That year we had moved our event to City Park. It was by far the largest FTM we ever conducted. What really caused this year to stand out was two events that transpired just weeks after FTM had taken place. First was the incredible outpouring of the Spirit that began to impact our church just weeks after FTM. The Lord touched me and several members of our staff and congregation in a profound way that August which soon spread to the church members.  We were touched in some revival meetings and began to experience what could only be called supernatural joy. Laughing, crying, shouting, dancing, singing and everything you can imagine was happening in our church. It was an outpouring of the New Wine of the Spirit which resulted in high levels of intoxication. Our lives and our church would never be the same.

The second thing that happened came in the form of a painting. A lady by the name of Loraine Gendron painted a picture of what she saw at FTM that year. There were angels everywhere throughout the grounds. They seemed to be helping in the serving area, helping with the baptism, even helping the singing and worship. They were also carrying watermelons to feed and refresh the crowds. It was those watermelons that got my attention. I came to the conclusion that those angels had spiked the melons, rather than some form of alcohol the Angels had spiked them with heavenly new wine, the kind that makes our hearts glad and causes us to fall deeply in love with Jesus. That was it, the melons were spiked. That’s why we were experiencing the incredible joy of God in our church. Every time I look at this picture my heart becomes glad. I think of how thousands of people have been ministered to and at the same time our cups are overflowing with the joy of the Lord.

So maybe you need a little bit of this new wine yourself this year. I hear there is an incredible free event with all the food and drink you can stand this July 4 at Victory Fellowship; oh yeah, there will be plenty of watermelons. The good news is that if you volunteer to work at one of the work stations at FTM we have saved the best wine for you. And yeah, it’s okay to drink on the job.

 

 

IN THE BEGINNING

Jn.1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

I remember dealing with Christian culture shock when I first became a Christian. This new Christian community that I was suddenly thrust into spoke a whole different language than what I was accustomed to. I remember dealing with things like “the Lord spoke to me” or “the Lord spoke to my heart”. I wasn’t sure how to even take these statements, did God Himself say something out loud or was I missing something? After a while I figured out that most of this “speaking” was from impressions people had when reading the written word of God. Another phrase people used was “I feel a check in my spirit”. I really had no idea what that meant and I’m not sure I have that figured out yet. Could that mean simply “I don’t agree with what you are saying?” Another phrase was one that comes from today’s scripture verse. Jesus is actually called the Word of God. No one ever seems to explain what that means, maybe because no one has even taken the time to try to work out what it does mean. If Jesus is the word, whose word is He? The only possible answer is the Father because the Father, like Jesus and the Holy Spirit, are the only eternal beings that exist. If Jesus is the word He has always been the word. What exactly is a word? It is a vocal expression of an idea. If that is true, then Jesus must be the Father’s vocal expression of Himself. Jesus is the Father’s word. Here is how Martin Luther describes this.

“God, too, in his majesty and nature is pregnant with a Word or a conversation in which he engages with himself in his divine essence and which reflects the thoughts of his heart. This is as complete and perfect as God himself. No one but God alone sees, hears or comprehends this conversation. It is an invisible and incomprehensible conversation. His Word existed before all angels and all creatures existed, for subsequently he brought all creatures into being by means of this Word and conversation. God is so absorbed in this Word, thought or conversation that he pays no attention to anything else.”

In the beginning was the Word, the Father’s expression of Himself. John goes on in this chapter to take it one step farther. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. Wow!! This is the greatest of all mysteries, the unveiling of God in the person of the Son.

GODS LIBARY

MERRY SATURDAY BY PARRIS-

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” Ps.8:11

I learned an amazing fact the other day about beetles. That God must have loved beetles because they end up being the largest variety of species on the earth. There are 400,000 different kinds of beetles that they have classified and scientists are still finding more of them. Tell me, how does one make 400,000 different kinds of beetles? In fact one could be so bold to say, that without beetles the earth would be in big trouble. The ecosystem would become unbalanced. From bringing pollen to flowers, breaking down dung to masquerading as ants, beetles rock in my world.

Joseph Caryl, the English Puritan Bible commentator, proclaimed that “All creatures have a teaching voice, they read us divinity Lectures of Divine Providence.” He taught that every particular beast, or every single creature is able to give instruction . . . the least as well as the greatest, the Mouse as well as the Elephant or the Lyon; the Shrimp as well as Leviathan; the Hysop on the wall, as well as the Cedar in Lebanon; the Grasses of the field, as well as the oaks of Bashan. John Flavell’s reflections on “spiritual husbandry” resembled Francis of Assisi when he affirmed, “It’s an excellent Art to discourse with Birds, Beasts and Fishes, about sublime and spiritual Subjects, and make them answer to our questions.” “Believe me,” he said, thou shalt find more in the Woods than in a [library] corner; Stones and Trees will teach thee what thou shalt not hear from learned Doctors.

“Our five senses are so many Doors whereby . . . External Objects are conveyed to us, and the Soul is to take notice of them.” We hear God speaking in each of these. “From the Sun, to the Stone; from the Cedar, to the Violet; every creature hath a voice to teach us something of God. This whole World is a School of man. All the Creatures spell this to us. . . .” John Bailey of Connecticut spoke of everything in creation as constituting a part of “God’s library,” a vast resource from which people could “read their fill.” From the beauty of open fields to the hard-working faithfulness of a good horse, the natural world provided entry to the mystery of God’s glory. For the person of discerning spirit, the tiniest creature witnesses to the source of its amazing life in God’s providential care. But don’t stop with the creature, he said, go on to the source. “The Fountain must needs have more than the Stream.” In the same way, John Flavell of Dartmouth urged his congregation to “Make a ladder out of earthly materials,” using matter—even cattle and corn fields—to ascend to God. He described “the World below [as] a Glass to discover the World above; Seculum est speculum.”

I pray you take the time to examine God’s library. Take out the God glasses and see, lean forward with your ears and he just might have something to say to you.

FISH AND BREAD

Ps.36:8 – They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house,

And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.

They shall be abundantly satisfied – they shall be saturated, as a thirsty field is by showers from heaven….they shall be inebriated. — Vulgate

One of my favorite miracles in the ministry of Jesus is the Feeding off the Multitudes. Every part of this miracle is rich with spiritual implications. Each part has something to say to us in our day to day life. After the Lord had multiplied the little boy’s lunch and everyone had been fed, the eye witness, Matthew, gives us a glimpse into the scene. This is what he said, “So they all ate and were filled”. Think about this, they ate that supernatural meal and they were filled. This was more than just food for the belly, this was food for their souls. In today’s verse David aptly describes this spiritual meal. He said that we are abundantly satisfied by the fullness of our Father’s house. Don’t you get it. The Lord had spread a table in the wilderness, they were eating heavenly food at the Father’s table that day, not just fish and bread.

The crazy thing about this story is that it tells us a lot about man’s spiritual condition. The overwhelming majority of the crowd missed the whole point. They proceeded to try and make Jesus their earthly king.

“This is great!”, they imagined. We have a king who will drive out the Romans, and provide our temporal needs. That’s why the next day when the Lord began to talk about His body and blood the crowds were appalled. As a matter of fact the crowds were gone. They weren’t interested in a heavenly kingdom, they wanted their best life now. Sound familiar!

Jesus proceeded to ask His disciples if they were going to leave too. Thankfully Peter finally got it right. His answer? “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Even though the large crowds were gone from the ministry of Jesus, His course had been set that day. He had come to set up a kingdom, just not the kind the crowds were looking for.

So in our modern world we have to ask ourselves the question, “Why am I following Jesus?” Is it for an earthly free ride or is there more to it than just fish and bread.

TALKING ANIMALS

Job 12:7,8 – But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you;

And the birds of the air, and they will tell you;

Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you;

And the fish of the sea will explain to you.

To those who have been given eyes to see, the glory of God is all around you. You catch glimpses of Him in the clouds passing overhead and hear His voice in the morning songbirds outside your window. Everywhere, from the crashing waves at the seashore to the barren wasteland of the Australian Outback, the glory of the Lord literally fills the earth. How does that relate to me in my hum drum, everyday life caught up in the noises of the city? Its really quite simple, He is there too. From the dust motes reflecting the glory of the sun in the light streaming in from your office window, to the butterfly swimming in the summer breeze, there is nowhere you can go that He is not present. Jonathan Edwards was known for his attraction to creation; here is a quote from Belsen Lane on Edwards and the voices of creation.

“As our senses open us to harmonies of sound and delicacies of scent, as they teach us to delight in the play of light in a bubbling fountain of water, they offer a spiritual training in the knowledge of God. Edwards never tired of pointing out that to “know” God is also to enjoy God. The properly trained mind not only “speculates and beholds, but relishes and feels.” When it comes to matters of the divine, enjoyment is a precondition for any authentic knowing.

In speaking of nature as a school of desire, Edwards drew on a long tradition of the “colloquy with the creatures.” This literary trope goes back to Job’s injunction to “Ask the beasts, and they will teach you,” and to Jesus’s call to consider the lilies. The form became stylized in Augustine’s Confessions when he “puts his questions to the earth,” asking the creatures, the winds, and the sky to “tell him of God”. Their answer is that their beauty leads him to a Beauty beyond themselves in God.”

So put your ears on today. His voice may come in a very unusual and unexpected way. Like

C. S. Lewis and his wardrobe, even the animals are declaring the glory of the Lord. You never no, maybe your beagle will have something to say this morning.

SONS

Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be —1 John 3:2

This is one of those Bible doctrines that falls into the unfathomable category. Just think about Who we are talking about being sons of, we are speaking of the Creator of all things Himself. He has brought us into His very own family, into a fellowship that the Heavenly Father and the uncreated Son of God have enjoyed from eternity. The ramifications are unthinkable. We were once enemies of God, children of darkness, until God’s only Son became one of us. He purchased us with His own blood and the results; He has sent the Spirit of Sonship into our hearts. This is more than just a legal adoption, He has come to live inside of us making us essentially one with HIm. This is too good to be true. Here is how A. B. Simpson sees this verse.

“We are the sons of God. We are not merely called such or even legally declared so, but we actually are sons of God by receiving the life and nature of God. And so we are the very brethren of our Lord, not only in His human nature, but still more so in His divine relationship. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call [us] brethren. He gives us that which entitles us to that right, and makes us worthy of it. He does not introduce us into a position for which we are uneducated and unfitted, but He gives us a nature worthy of our glorious standing; and as He shall look upon us in our complete and glorious exaltation-reflecting His own likeness and shining in His Father’s glory-He shall have no cause to be ashamed of us. Even now He is pleased to acknowledge us before the universe and call us brethren in the sight of all earth and heaven. Oh, how this dignifies the humblest saint of God! How little we need mind the misunderstanding of the world if He is not ashamed to call [us] brethren.”

What is the privilege of being family? It is access, fellowship with God. Jesus described this in His final prayer, He prayed that we could enjoy the intimacy with the Father that He had enjoyed from eternity. This is our inheritance, fellowship with God. This is why Jesus came, this is what He purchased with His own blood.

EAT HIS BODY – DRINK HIS BLOOD

Jn.6:56 – He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.

Feed the Multitudes really is a picture of the life and ministry of Jesus. This miracle brought the entire life of Christ on earth to a head. The majority of people who were following Christ were following because of the benefits they believed that this miracle worker could bring to this life. They wanted to make him their king, they had no idea of redemption and the real reason Jesus came. When He begin to share about eating His body and drinking His blood they wanted nothing to do with Him. They were looking for an earthly messiah, a heavenly kingdom held no interest for them. Here is how Martin Luther describes today’s verse.

“This is now a precious dwelling place and glory, that we poor sinners, through belief in Christ and through our eating, have in ourselves his power, energy, strength, righteousness and wisdom. As it is written here: “Whoever believes in me, I remain in them.” He is ours, so that sin, death, the devil and world with all its evil cannot disgrace us or cause us to give up hope or make us fools. This is a beautiful, wonderful dwelling place or tabernacle, very different from the tabernacle of Moses was, which was beautifully and magnificently adorned with beautiful carpets and decorated with golden pieces. But outwardly it was calfskin or lambskin, like the hut or tabernacle of Moses was also decorated.”

So Christ came to prepare a new place for us to dwell. He wanted to become our dwelling place Himself. The miracle of Feeding the Multitudes was a picture of the heavenly life He was calling us to. He wants us to literally live off of Him. He becomes our bread, the true bread that comes down from heaven.

Every year Victory Fellowship has a giant free food festival for our city. On the outside there are groceries, jambalaya, hot dogs, water melons, haircuts, and shoes. If that’s all you see then you haven’t seen the real FTM. FTM is an invitation to a new life, a new community. He is calling us to leave behind our former life and embrace this new life characterized by eating His flesh and drinking His blood. This is the true food, the living bread that comes down from heaven. If you eat this bread you will be completely and finally satisfied.

INSTANTLY

Jn.6:21 – Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.

I think this twenty four hour period was one of the most amazing in the ministry of Jesus. It started with teaching and healing the sick, moved on to the feeding of the multitudes, then on to a time of intercession, next it was walking on water, and then supernatural transport to the other side of the lake. To top things off, Jesus began to teach that day about His body and His blood, there was surely no turning back now. The Lord was literally giving His followers a taste of the world He came from and was preparing to return to. In His message that day He taught about heavenly bread and heavenly sustenance. Too often, we are fixated on this world only, the Lord was turning the gaze of His followers to the other world. Here are some thoughts from the New International Bible Commentary.

“The last lines in particular are dramatized in the strange statement of verse 21 that when the disciples tried to take Jesus aboard, immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. The whole scene has a supernatural quality about it, like a resurrection appearance. Jesus assures the disciples that he really is the person they have known all along, yet his presence–and, for a moment, theirs–is elusive, transcending time and space. He does not so much enter their world–the boat and the storm on the lake–as give them a glimpse and a taste, however fleeting, of his world. The disciples’ reaction is not expressed. As soon as they reach shore, they drop out of the story until at least verse 60. It is left to the reader to sense the mystery of what has happened and to wait for the explanation that only Jesus’ words (and they only in part) will later provide.”

Our tendency is to look at our lack of food or the storms that are about to sink our boat. Jesus was showing us to fix our gaze on heavenly food and the Maker of storms. The creator of all things was in there midst that day. he was displaying His glory through an amazing twenty four hours of miracles. The good news, He is still in our midst and is still the Bread that comes from heaven and the One who commands storms.

FOOD FOR MY SOUL

John 6:35 – And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.

We are so accustomed to the physical world that it is very hard to recognize the spiritual realm. Those that become aware of the spiritual world are often considered radical or some sort of weirdo. Jesus had just performed a great miracle the day before. He fed thousands of people with five barley loaves and two small fish. He is trying to share with these followers that the miracle was a picture or image of a spiritual reality. There was a message behind the miracle. He was saying there was another kind of food and another kind of hunger. He was the living bread that comes down from heaven. This was a greater miracle than even the manna that lasted for forty years. Jesus was speaking about food for the soul. Here is how Luther describes this verse.

“Out of the mass of powerful words in the holy Scripture there is almost no stronger word that Christ is a bread and meal given by God, and that whoever eats this bread lives forever and becomes content, no longer hungering or thirsting. . . . It is a settled point that here in this chapter the Lord is speaking about spiritual food, for he himself explains it as the hunger and thirst of the soul. The soul wants to live forever, to not be cursed, to have a merciful God, to be able to stand before the wrath and judgment of God, to not be condemned by sin and the law or go to hell. Those are the soul’s desires. It is a spiritual thirst and hunger, for which we need a spiritual meal and drink. And so the Holy Spirit comes and says, “If you do not want to die or be damned, then come to Christ, believe in him and cling to him. Eat this spiritual meal, believe in Christ, that is the most important thing.”

So what kind of food are you fixated on? Can you only see the physical world and the physical needs that we have? That’s why this crowd wanted to make Jesus king. They were stuck on an earthly kingdom. Jesus was about far more than that. He was introducing food for our inner man; the kind that satisfies us forever.