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The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018

Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life…..To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!  Amen.  (Jude 21, 24, 25 NIV)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8: 37-39 NIV)

Keep Moving Forward

For those of you who know who Dory is, her words are an inspiration to children and adults alike.  “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming….”  Or in the immortal words of the Robinson family, “Keep moving forward….”

Why am I quoting children’s movies to talk about spiritual things.  Well, because this is not just a spiritual truth.  It is a creational truth.  Keep Moving Forward.  Keep going.  Don’t stop.  These are words to live by and take to heart.  In life a lot of people have stopped and are not going anywhere.  They mill around like sheep in a pen with no direction, no guidance, no interest in going anywhere.  All they do is survive.  That’s no way to live…

Of all things, our walk with God has purpose.  There is a reason why we still live, why we are still here, why we haven’t gone on to glory.  And if there is a reason, a purpose, a point to our continued existence, then we must keep moving forward.

But it isn’t easy.  There is opposition.  It is easier to just stay home, not try, avoid rejection, mistakes and shame.  If the Devil cannot keep you from heaven, he will certainly try to keep you from being effective in your life ministry.  It is a battle after all.  So don’t be surprised.  Keep moving forward.

In fact, if you don’t keep moving forward, keep doing good, keep working for the kingdom of God, then that is also a statement.  Perhaps more a statement of unbelief than belief, but a statement nonetheless.  What do I mean?

The main reason that people stop moving forward is either because they are convinced that their work is ineffective or that they are unworthy.  To think that your work is ineffective is arrogant.  After all, what do you know about the results that God will work through your efforts.  Yes, you can try and improve your ministry but without the arrogance of final answers or ultimate results.  Progress not perfection is the name of the game.

But what about this idea that we are unworthy of continuing our ministry.  Most likely because of some sin or moral failure that we have committed.  Divorce.  An affair that became public.  Misuse of funds.  Personality conflicts with key personnel in your ministry.  Whatever it is, you are ashamed of yourself and cannot move forward.  Restoration is necessary.

The point is to get restored.  That is what it means to move forward.  Move forward in the path that God has set before you.  Perhaps you will no longer lead your ministry.  Perhaps you will need to start at zero again, do something different, go somewhere else.  But keep moving forward in faith and with the Lord.  Do not let sin, even your own, keep you from fulfilling your life ministry.  If you end up in jail, start a jail ministry.  If you end up on the street, start to minister to the street people.  Whereever you are, no matter what has happened, there is forgiveness and there is restoration, even if it looks different and feels strange.  Keep moving forward in your life ministry.

But there is a danger here as well. 

On the one hand, we have talked about the struggle, about surrender, about consecration and how the Holy Spirit helps us in our need.  We have talked about the importance of prayer and the context of grace.  But, on the other hand, the purpose of all of this is to restore us to the joy of our salvation and help us to become effective (maybe even more effective) in our life ministry again.  Without the end goal of restoration to effective ministry, we have missed the entire point of the exercise.

But here is where the danger lurks.  We want that restoration so badly that we are willing (and quite able) to skip the necessary steps for true restoration to happen.

Keep moving forward does NOT mean to get things back to normal as quickly as possible, to cover up the shame, to avoid dealing with the consequences of our sins.  Keep moving forward always means to take the path of the Way of the Cross without skipping a single step.  Restoration without resurrection power is useless and, in fact, may keep you from the very blessing and anointing power that was available to you to mark your restoration with even more effectiveness than ever before.  There is nothing more powerful than a sinner restored through the blood of the cross.  It is what the world deeply desires and needs.

But our tendency is to avoid the cross, to avoid the difficult introspection, the shame, the confession, the brokenness that the cross demands of us.  And that avoidance can be costly.

Our obedience is rooted in love but it must still be obedience.  The path before us is always the Way of the Cross.  The focus is on the relationship, most certainly, but it does not ignore the morality of our lives.  Morality is the symptom, the result, the fruit of our relationship with God.  Most certainly.  That is why we must take the time and make the effort to deal with the underlying relational issues whenever a problem in morality rears its ugly head.

As we obey, we will enter into struggle, no doubt.  As we struggle, God will uncover our idols of desire and our fortresses of fear and we will tear them down in the name and power of the Lord.  But it is a battle and sometimes we will fail, the temptation will take us by surprise, our faith will not be strong enough.  At that point, we must choose brokenness and surrender at the foot of the cross, embracing its shame and exchanging it for the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.  If we take that first step down the path in the Way of the Cross, it will lead us through a process of renewal and consecration that will make us even more effective as we return to our life ministry of obedience to God and struggle against sin.

Obviously, confession and repentance are key elements in the process and forgiveness and reconciliation the result.  This is always true between us and God and also true in terms of forgiving ourselves.  But what about other people….

This is where it gets difficult.  What do you do about other people who may or may not see things the same way?  What if they don’t agree or don’t even know about the Way of the Cross or the process of restoration?  What if they don’t understand that following means struggle and struggle means failure at times and failure needs to be surrendered and a renewed consecration be accepted?

Loving Obedience, Struggle in Faith, Surrender, Brokenness and Consecration are the natural spiritual steps in an ongoing virtuous circle of spiritual maturity.  In fact, if you ignore or deny any of these steps, your spiritual maturity is impossible for their is no spiritual maturity without the cross and learning to stay and walk in the Way of the Cross is the entire point of our Christian walk.

But what if your Board doesn’t see it that way?  They are ashamed of the problems of their pastor, their worship leader, their fellow board member.  They are confused about what to do about it and look to denominational guides and political handbooks instead of trying to understand the Way of the Cross.  I get it.  It has happened to me.

Jesus gave his disciples a simple parable that answers this question very well.  He tells his disciples that they should build their houses on the rock and not on sand (Matthew 7:24-27 NIV).  You do that by obeying his word.  Quite simple, really.  After all, Jesus didn’t say “if” the rains and floods come, he said “when” they come, you will stand, you will survive, if you built your life on the rock.

Of course, the first application of this saying of Jesus is to our salvation and discipleship.  But there is a general truth here as well.  Preparation is key.  If you are not prepared spiritually for the storms that will come, then you will have problems.  If your Board, or your partner, or your family is not prepared for the storms, you will get into problems.

And don’t just think about yourself.  Think about them.  If they are not prepared to understand what spiritual maturity is, or if they are not prepared for spiritual battle and warfare, or moral failure or disagreements in the church, then it can knock them off the path of their own obedience as well.   And that’s not good.

So, your job is to prepare your team, your Board, your family.  Your job is to teach them the Way of the Cross.  Train them in the priority of relationship over morality without excusing sin but learning to deal with it in a certain way, through confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Teach them that loving obedience always brings the struggle of faith and that in that struggle there are sometimes (many times) failures and problems as our idols and fortresses are uncovered and we are sometimes reluctant, sometimes even outright defiant in trying to maintain them because we need them, we want them, we would be lost without them.

It is a process of progressive sanctification.  The quality of our fight is what matters.  It is faith in the promises and truths of Romans 8 in the context of the struggle of Romans 7 that matters.  It is a rocky road on the way to spiritual maturity and many are those who do not find it.

But the solution is not rejection and fear but surrender and renewed consecration.  The goal is restoration.  The power is in the resurrection of our Lord and what that means for us today in terms of forgiveness and reconciliation.

But if we don’t train our team, our family, our church in these truths how will they learn spiritual maturity or deal with the storms when they come.  It isn’t just about us.

That doesn’t mean that we will keep our leadership position if we are in a particularly bad place in our spiritual progress.  Without condemnation, it may still be necessary to step down for a bit (or for good) but with restoration still the goal and faith that our life ministry may become even more powerful in the context of that restoration, and with faith that God has something different, better, more effective for us to do.

The point is to keep moving forward……with God, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the truth that He keeps us in the palm of His hand, that our salvation is assured, that our job is to walk in the Way of the Cross and prioritize the relationship we have with Him.

Don’t let sin keep you from your purpose.  But also don’t let your purpose keep you from dealing with your sin.  Neither your sin nor your purpose is anything without your relationship with God.  Walking in the Spirit is our normal, mature place to be but even grieving the Spirit is relational.  We are still in the Spirit.  That makes everything spiritual.  Even our sin is a spiritual issue.  Our sin does not destroy the relationship but the joy of the relationship must be restored, otherwise what’s the point?

Spiritual maturity has to do with your ability to stay right there in that sweet spot at the foot of the cross.  Dealing with sin.  Confession and Repentance.  In the context of Grace.  Forgiveness and Reconciliation.  So that you can have even greater effectiveness in your Life Ministry.  Surrender and Consecration which is Spiritual Maturity.

It’s about the relationship, stupid.  It’s not about the sin.  The sin is a symptom of the relationship.  Sin has been dealt with at the cross.  Our job is to prioritize the relationship and deal with our sin through the cross.  The ability to do that consistently is spiritual maturity.  Spiritual maturity (which is relational) is the foundation and power-source for a life of morality and obedience in fulfilling our purpose and life ministry.

The Desert Warrior

Let’s talk to God…..

Lord, my sin sometimes overwhelms me.  Some of it is private enough to deal with quietly between you and me but other things are more public.  I’m scared of the fact that so few other people really understand any of this and I don’t want to be condemned out of hand.  But then I remember that you, too, were rejected by your own people, abandoned by your own disciples.  And you call me to share your suffering for the sake of the gospel so that I can also share your glory, your character, your spiritual maturity.  It takes faith and it is hard.  Of course.  Why am I surprised.  Like you, I have to choose to please God and follow Him no matter how those around me react or whether they even understand what I am going through.  Thank you that you will never leave me.  I want to stay in your love always.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.