Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Real Tree of Life

And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many nspread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields.

Mark 11:7-8 ESV

Palm Sunday reminds us that there is no life without dying to self, there is no victory without a cost, and there is no salvation without a savior. The Cross is death, but through our sinless Savior, life is released. Life that is forgiveness of all our sin, healing of our broken hearts and ravaged souls, freedom from our self-inflicted wounds, and restoration of our broken relationship with God the Father. The Cross is the tree of life for every believer.

There was a time, and it is still not entirely over, when Christianity was rejected precisely because of the Cross. The Cross talked about sacrifice, it was said, the Cross is a sign of denial of life.

We, on the other hand, want life without restrictions and without renunciation. We want to live, nothing more than to live. Don’t let’s be limited by precepts and bans: we want richness and fullness – this is what was said and is still being said. All this sounds convincing and seductive, it is the language of the serpent, who tells us: ‘Don’t let yourselves be afraid! Eat serenely from all the trees in the garden!’

Palm Sunday, however, tells us that the truly great ‘Yes’ is precisely the Cross, that the Cross is the true tree of life. We are not alive to become masters of life, but to give it. Love is a giving of self, and this is why it is the way of true life, symbolized by the Cross.

Pope Benedict XVI, “The Cross of Jesus is the Real Tree of Life” [paragraphing mine]

Not a God of Confusion

All the people of the earth are nothing compared to him. He does as he pleases among the angels of heaven and among the people of the earth. No one can stop him or say to him, ‘What do you mean by doing these things?’

Dan. 4:35 NLT

God’s sovereignty is the biblical truth that God is the King and legal authority over all his creation. God reigns and nothing is a surprise to him, nothing is by chance, and nothing is beyond his purpose and workings. The fact that God is sovereign should bring us great peace: our lives are not just a series of random events and lucky breaks.

The sovereignty of God is his powerful might working his purposes in and through our circumstances, irrespective, of Satan’s wicked devices and man’s evil intentions. You and I can be thankful for the Lord by his sovereignty is working his appointment in the midst of our disappointments. My life and yours has meaning, purpose, and divine direction. The bad breaks in life when submitted to God can bring spiritual growth and intimacy with Jesus. Indeed, God is in control.

He is not a God of confusion, of discordance, of accidental, random, private courses in the execution of His will, but of determinate, regulated, prescribed action.

John Henry Newman, “Sermon 11: Order, the Witness and Instrument of Unity,” Sermons Preached on Various Occasions

A Restless Heart

Thou awakest us to delight in Thy praise; for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.

Saint Augustine

A restless heart is a heart that thirsts for love, hungers for meaning, longs for real relationships, and yearns to give and to serve. We all have restless hearts until we encounter the living God. Only in him can our hearts be satisfied in his unconditional love, purpose and meaning given to our ordinary lives, Christ-centered relationships found, and service released through unselfish love.

The restless heart, . . . echoing St. Augustine, is the heart that is ultimately satisfied with nothing less than God, and in this way becomes a loving heart. Our heart is restless for God and remains so, even if every effort is made today, by means of more effective anaesthetizing methods, to deliver people from this unrest.

But not only are we restless for God; God’s heart is restless for us. God is waiting for us. He is looking for us. He knows no rest either, until he finds us. God’s heart is restless, and this is why he set out on the path towards us—to Bethlehem, to Calvary, from Jerusalem to Galilee and on to the very ends of the earth.

Pope Benedict XVI, “Solemnity of the Epiphany 2012″ ( L’Osservatore Romano, January 11, 2012)

HT: Ignatius Press


Look Firmly at the Cross



As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.

Gal. 6:14 NLT

When I wake up in the morning and all the demands of the day flood upon my soul; I look firmly at the Cross of Christ. On Golgotha’s Hill, there I know I am forgiven, there I am healed, there I am freed from my selfishness and pride, and there I know-I know that I know-I am accepted by God. At the Cross, the world’s enticements and pleasures cannot compete with the love of God. After looking firmly at the Cross, all I desire to do is to please my Lord.

Look at the cross, think of the cross, meditate on the cross, and then go and set your affections on the world if you can. I believe that holiness is nowhere learned so well as on Calvary. I believe you cannot look much at the cross without feeling your will sanctified, and your tastes made more spiritual.

As the sun gazed upon makes everything else look dark and dim, so does the cross darken the false splendor of this world. As the taste of honey makes all other things seem to have no taste at all, so does the cross seen by faith take all the sweetness out of the pleasures of the world. Keep on, everyday, looking firmly at the cross of Christ.

J.C. Ryle, “The Cross of Christ”

HT: J. C. Ryle Quotes

To Disfigure the Cross


How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Heb 9:14 ESV

To disfigure the Cross is to attempt to add our good works to Christ’s perfect, complete work on the Cross.

Good works cannot achieve right standing before God. However, a faith-filled salvation will produce many good works. Good works are the fruit of salvation, not its cause or basis. Good works flow from Christ’s grace enabling us to pour out costly love for and on behalf of others.

Good works cannot earn God’s favor. Good works cannot gain God’s approval. Good works do not obligate God to forgive us. Good works cannot replace a salvation that only a sinless, beautiful Savior accomplished for us in his death and resurrection.

To add to the finished work of Jesus Christ is to disfigure it, mar it, and destroy it altogether. There is nothing you can contribute to the payment that Jesus made on the cross for sin. There is no penance you can undergo, no good work you can perform, no pilgrimage upon which you can embark, no punishment you can endure to clear your guilt before God. When Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ he meant it.

He meant that he had completely paid the price to release his people from their bondage to sin. So for you to try to pay for your own sins is to deny that Jesus really did finish paying for sin. For you to try to do something to earn your own salvation is to make Jesus Christ out to be a liar.

James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, The Heart of the Cross (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 52.

Jesus Understands Our Pain

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.

Heb. 2:14 NLT

As a pastor, many parishioners ask, “How do you know that God cares?” We know God cares because Jesus came among us, he experienced our suffering, and he knew all our temptations and trials. God in Christ did not remain aloof, cast an disapproving eye, and remain indifferent to our desperate plight. Out of love, Jesus set aside his heavenly status and was rejected, betrayed, and humiliated. Jesus understands every life struggle that we have ever experienced or will ever face. Jesus understands everything.

Jesus Christ did not remain at base headquarters, receiving reports of the world’s suffering from below and shouting a few encouraging words to us from a safe distance. No, He  . . . came down where we live in the front line trenches  . . . where we contend with our anxieties and the feeling of emptiness and futility, where we sin and suffer guilt, and where we must finally die. There is nothing that he did not endure with us. He understands everything.

Helmut ThielickeChrist and the Meaning of Life, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper, 1962), 18.

Our Union with Christ


For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Rom. 6:5 ESV

Our Union with Christ is the revelation that Christ’s death was our deliverance from sin, his burial was our putting away of sin, his resurrection our triumph over sin, and his ascension the removal of our separation from God caused by sin. Through faith, The Holy Spirit creates this bond by penetrating, indwelling, immersing, and pervading our hearts.

As long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us. For this reason, he is called ‘our Head’ (Eph. 4:15), and ‘the first-born among many brethren’ (Rom. 8:29).

We also, in turn, are said to be ‘engrafted into him’ (Rom. 11:17), and to ‘put on Christ’ (Gal. 3:17); for . . . all that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him. It is true that we obtain this by faith. Yet since we see that not all indiscriminately embrace that communion with Christ that is offered through the gospel, reason itself teaches us to climb higher and to examine into the secret energy of the Spirit, by which we come to enjoy Christ and all his benefits.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.i.1, ed. Ford Lewis Battles (Westminster John Knox, 1960), I. 537.

HT: Of First Importance 

What We Lack


Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

Eph. 3:20 NLT

The problem with my walk with the Lord is not a lack of the person Christ, a lack of the power of the Holy Spirit, or a lack of personal promises from God, but the lack of my desire, will, and determination to walk apart from sin. Just how badly do I want to be holy? That is the question. Often what we lack in our battle with the flesh is a passionate hunger for a holy life.

Why is it that we, in the very kingdom of grace, surrounded by angels, . . . nevertheless, can do so little, and, instead of mounting with wings like eagles, grovel in the dust, and do but sin, and confess sin alternately? Is it that the power of God is not within us? Is it literally that we are not able to perform God’s commandments? God forbid.

We are able. We have that given us which makes us able. We do have a power within us to do what we are commanded to do. What is it we lack? The power? No; the will. What we lack is the simple, earnest, sincere inclination and aim to use what God has given us, and what we have in us.

John Henry Newman, “The Power of the Will,” Parochial and Plain Sermons (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1997), 1175 [paragraphing mine].

I Will Trust Him

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Heb. 11:6

Trusting God is a response of the heart that believes God’s promises, stands on his faithfulness, and is confident in his unfailing love.

Trusting God is relying on God’s character, believing God’s Cross, and obeying God’s Spirit with a certainty that surpasses physical sight and transcends human reasoning.

Trusting God ignores bad circumstances, negative feelings, and discouraging thoughts to stand on God’s word and walk in his ways (Isa. 55:8-9). In short, faith simply believes what God says is true—our sins are washed away in Christ’s blood, our lives are in his hands, and his love will never fail us.

Therefore I will trust Him [God]. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us.

He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me–still He knows what He is about.

John Henry Newman, Meditations and Devotions 

The Book That Understands Me

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

Psalm 19:7 ESV

In his commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel, Bill Arnold relates what happened to French philosopher Emile Cailliet. During World War 1, as a 20-year old youth, he was confronted with the horrors of war. He asked:

What use, the ill-kept ancient type of sophistry in the philosophic banter of the seminar, when your buddy – at the time speaking to you of his mother – dies standing in front of you, a bullet in his chest? Was there a meaning to it all? A [person] can endure anything if only it appears meaningful. But what of the caprices of Fate, what of random killing, of senseless ordeal? Deep in the mud during long winter nights when silent knives became arms of predilection on both sides, I wondered. By then, my thinking had no longer anything to do with philosophy taken for the sake of a qualifying exam… I too felt, not with my reason but with my whole being, that I was naked and – war or no war – destined to perish miserably when the hour came.

He descended into a state of utter pessimism:

The moment came when I was overwhelmed by the inadequacy of my views. What could be done about it? I did not know. Who was I, anyway? Nay, what was I? These fundamental questions of human existence remained unanswered.

Then Cailliet was shot, but was saved by an American field ambulance crew. After his recovery and discharge he resumed his graduate studies. He reflected:

During long watches in the foxholes I had in a strange way been longing – I must say it, however queer it may sound – for a book that would understand me. But I knew of no such book. Now I would in secret prepare one for my own private use. And so, as I went on reading for my courses I would file passages that would speak to my condition, then carefully copy them in a leather-bound pocket book I would always carry with me. The quotations, which I numbered in red ink for easier reference, would lead me as it were from fear and anquish, through a variety of intervening stages, to supreme utterances of release and jubilation.

Eventually he put the finishing touches to “the book that would understand me”. He sat down under a tree on a beautiful sunny day and, as he read his precious anthology, found himself becoming increasingly disappointed. As Arnold comments:

Instead of speaking to his condition as he expected, the passages only reminded him of their context, of the circumstances of his labor over their selection. Then, Calliet says, he knew that the whole undertaking would not work, simply because it was of his own making.

That same day, in quite an extraordinary manner, his wife came into the possession of a Bible. Prior to this Emile had been adamant that religion would be taboo in their home and he had never even seen a Bible by the age of 23. But on that day he was eager to read the Bible and recalls:

I literally grabbed the book and rushed to my study with it. I opened it and ‘chanced’ upon the Beatitudes! I read, and read, and read – now aloud with an indescribable warmth surging within…. I could not find words to express my awe and wonder. And suddenly the realization dawned upon me. This was the Book that would understand me! I needed it so much, yet, unaware, I had attempted to write my own – in vain. I continued to read deeply into the night, mostly from the gospels. And lo and behold, as I looked through them, the One of whom I spoke, the One who spoke and acted in them, became alive in me.

The Bible – the book that understands me!

Bill T. Arnold, 1 & 2 Samuel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 87-89.

HT: Face-to-Face Intercultural