The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“We are fools for Christ……We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world…..therefore, I urge you to imitate me.” (I Corinthians 4:10-13, 16 NIV).
Spiritual Time Out
Ok, let’s take a deep breath and stop for a moment. That’s a lot to take in. We need a spiritual time out. Relax. Let’s think about this for a moment…
There is nothing that can scare us more than the prospect of admitting our deepest sins and taking the risk of being rejected, shamed or (perhaps worse of all) ignored.
But God makes it clear that He wants us to confess our sins to one another (and to Him) no matter what the risk. That confession is the first step in the Way of the Cross. Without confession there is no need for repentance. Forgiveness becomes a mere formality and true reconciliation, an undefined longing in the night for something that eludes our grasp. Anointing? Transforming power? Forget it.
Without confession (and repentance), forgiveness and reconciliation lose their power. The cross has been side-stepped, good intentions and a positive attitude are good enough to keep the peace. Sigh.
Sometimes the problem is simply that people don’t know what they are missing, they have a sense that things were different in the primitive church, that signs and wonders and transformative power were common in the church of that age when being a Christian meant that you were putting your life in danger and so you took it more seriously and transformative power was essential.
They needed it, they wanted it, they sought it, they cried out to God for it, they searched the scriptures for it. Perhaps the anointing is only for those who want it, who need it, as much as they need food and water, as much as they need to breathe.
We don’t know what we’re missing but maybe we are a bit scared of that power as well. It is dangerous after all. Confession always is. But without it, repentance has no power to transform. Without it, forgiveness is weak and insipid. Without it, there is no true reconciliation. Therefore there is no anointing, no power from on high, and the church remains undistinguishable from the world because, after all, they are worldly. They have the form of religion but deny its power.
But for those who still long for the glory of God to reveal itself in the lives of His people, those who believe with all their hearts that there is something more, something supernatural, something transformative about this new relationship with God based on the cross and empowered by the Holy Spirit, for them, and only for them, God reveals His path, His Way of the Cross.
Paul said that he preaches only about Christ and him crucified. Is this what he meant? The Way of the Cross. Confession. Repentance. Forgiveness and Reconciliation. Each step an act of faith. Each moment filled with danger and expectation of God’s intervention, the work of the Holy Spirit released in power in the lives of those who have the courage to follow Him into the darkness carrying the light of the good news. Practical. Real. Dangerous. Glorious.
But let’s make each step clear so that we can take them boldly, and begin our training in the Way of the Cross by taking the first step out of the boat with faith and confidence that this is the path that pleases God, that creates men and women of faith who now have the power of their testimony, their transformation, to be used in the rescue of their children, their family, their friends, their fellow church members out of the darkness and into the light. Healing will follow. Healing for relationships. Healing of body and soul. Healing with signs and wonders following.
When you discover that you are not right with someone, you must act promptly and sincerely to rectify the situation and regain spiritual unity. You must care enough to do something about it. That is the first step.
But more needs to be said. What does it mean to be out of spiritual unity with someone? Jesus said that if you have something against someone, or they have something against you, take steps to reconcile. If it doesn’t work one on one, then get the spiritual leaders of the church involved. Do whatever you have to do to solve the problem and restore the relationship, really and truly and sincerely, not just as a job to get done, but with sincerity of heart.
And here is where the problem is. We are accustomed to disunity in the body of Christ. Nobody says that we have to know everybody in the church or that everybody has to be our best friends. Not practical. But those we do have a relationship with, we are responsible for the condition of that relationship.
We are far too comfortable with the status quo, with the disunity that is so common in the church. The puritan pastors would make someone their best friend if they had a problem with them or they with the pastor. If the relationship was broken in any way, they would go to any lengths to find a solution, no matter how long it took or how often they had to repent, apologize, explain, talk, cry, ask for forgiveness, give grace, ask for grace.
What they did NOT do is ignore it, accept it, or simply justify it by saying that they did their best to reconcile on their part and the rest was up to the other. Bullshit. Yes, there is no other word that is more appropriate to that kind of ungodly thinking. God expects us to fight for our relationships, for healing, for forgiveness. He was willing to die to make it possible, we should at least be willing to keep trying, keep arguing, keep talking, keep expecting, keep fighting to make it happen.
But if you insist on reconciliation, if you raise your voice, if you fight to keep it front and centre and are unwilling to give up or give in until it is accomplished, aren’t you the one in the wrong?
One pastor even claimed that I was NOT a peacemaker because I continue to bring the same things up over and over again when it was already forgiven (but not reconciled). I replied that the peace that Jesus brings is not like the peace that the world wants or expects. It is a peace based on the cross and is accomplished only through the Way of the Cross. He didn’t like that answer.
There was something wrong with my insistence that confession and repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation are essential and mandatory and important and the lifeblood of our ministry. Especially among the leaders. Without it, there is no anointing and without the anointing…..well, let’s just say that God isn’t pleased.
I would rather make mistakes, screw up and do it all wrong, but TRY to please God than just stay in my comfortable safe zone of pretending to be a real Christian.
If you cannot pray with someone with an open and sincere heart and work together for the spreading of the gospel and the establishment of the kingdom of God in the lives of people using your spiritual gifts in the context of the spiritual fruit that God is growing in your life, then you do NOT have spiritual unity.
If you are NOT right with someone, or someone is NOT right with you, will you do everything in your power to restore that relationship? Or will you ignore it?
The second step is to be willing to take a spiritual time out and spend some time with God before talking to the person one on one. If the first step is to be aware and open to the possibility that there is a problem, a lack of unity, that must be rectified, the second step is to talk to God about it. And do that first.
In our last post, we talked about brokenness and the power of God that is released when we are willing to truly and sincerely ask God to reveal to us whatever sin we may have committed in that relationship. After all, we aren’t surprised, are we, that we may have sinned? Something happened. The person has something against us after all. Maybe they are wrong. Maybe they are right.
How will you know unless you talk to God about it and search the scriptures (and your heart) and talk to other spiritual leaders to whom you are accountable.
This is a key point. The Holy Spirit will convict you of your guilt but the Word of God will tell you whether or not something is a sin from God’s point of view. We have to be willing to search our hearts and search the scriptures. The heart is deceitful above all things, the Bible says. Spiritual blindness still affects those who are in Christ. Humility and grace will be necessary.
The third step is to go and talk with that person. It is the first talk not the last. You need to find out what the problem is from their point of view. Listen carefully. Take notes if you have to. Don’t be in a hurry to get to forgiveness before you go through the cleansing step of confession and the committment of repentance as an act of reconciliation.
On the other hand (see below), God may provide you a short cut to forgiveness, so take it and then circle back to confession and repentance later. But don’t be so foolish as to think you can skip that step. It is essential for your relationships and also for your ministry of reconciliation and establishing a culture of grace in the church.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The point here is to take your time. This isn’t a one time conversation. This is a relationship. Get to know this person. Make them your friend. Find out what makes them tick. The more difficult they are, the more work (and prayer) you will need to do. But there is a reason why they are the way they are. Find out what it is. This is a time of ministry.
Three things that I want you to keep in mind.
First, the church is watching. How you deal with the most difficult in the church will reflect on how the rest of the church believes you will deal with them. This is your chance to create a culture of grace rather than a culture of shame. We will talk about that in the next post.
Second, it’s about the relationship, stupid. It isn’t about what happened. It isn’t about what he said or she said. It’s about what it means for the relationship. It’s about that sinking feeling that what someone said means that they don’t actually care for you. It’s about that terrible surprise that someone doesn’t actually like you, that they are only putting up with you, that they agree with those who are bad-mouthing you, that you are unimportant, or even worse, never were important to them. It’s about love. It’s about feeling the shame of realizing that you care what they think and that you just discovered (through whatever action or words that were spoken) that they think less of you then you do of them, or worse, that they don’t think about you at all. That you are nothing to them. It’s always about the relationship.
So, even in the first meeting with the person, make it clear that you value them and your relationship with them. That you want to understand exactly what the problem is and that you will do everything you can to make it right, whatever it takes. You cannot confess something you did not do, nor can you repent of something that you don’t believe is a sin before God. They will respect that, but you must also make it clear that we are all blind to our own faults and that good intentions are not enough. Tell them that you want to spend some serious time in prayer asking God to reveal the truth to you so that you CAN confess and repent of whatever it is that God reveals to you.
But, and this is the most important part, regardless of whether you come to an agreement on what was said or what was done or what was meant or interpreted by any action, you MUST make it clear that you value them and your relationship with them and that you will confess and repent of any and all things that you can even remotely think of. That will go a long way towards reconciliation and may even solve the problem then and there. God may provide a shortcut to forgiveness at that point, so take it.
But that doesn’t mean that you are off the hook. The opportunity to heal the relationship because of your declaration of love for this person does NOT let you off the hook. The job is only half done.
First, the church is watching. Second, it’s about the relationship, stupid. Third, you can’t forget about confession and repentance. It doesn’t work that way. That’s the third and most important thing that needs to be said.
Even if you hug and give forgiveness and grace to each other, still make a committment to pray and seek God in terms of confession and repentance. And set a time to get together to continue your discussion and sharing your heart.
God went to all this trouble to bring something to your attention and now you just ignore the process. Not wise. This is an opportunity to dig deep and discover some things for you to work on. And you can invite the other person to do the same thing.
Did you hear that last thing I said? You can invite the other person to do the same thing. In the context of grace. In the context of forgiveness. You both can go to the cross and seek an understanding of your sins (yours and his/hers) so that you can confess and repent, so that you can protect your relationship in Christ and the relationships you have with the rest of the church (and that the person sitting in front of you has with the rest of the church).
Do you see it? DO YOU SEE IT? It’s so beautiful, so glorious! This is what matters!
You just turned a problem into an opportunity to do ministry. You are creating a culture of grace and demonstrating the power of God to heal relationships. Now the anointing can come. Now lives are transformed. Now the cross has the power to heal relationships. This is what it is all about.
Every broken relationship. Every relational problem in the church. Every time there is a person with a beef, a parishioner with a chip on his shoulder, or needing to lash out at the leadership (who is the most visible and vulnerable), you have an opportunity to engage in the ministry of reconciliation.
If you make it important, if you follow the steps, if you understand the dynamics, if you become a disciple of the cross, if you follow that path yourself, God will anoint your ministry with more power than you will know what to do with.
That is what it is all about. Confession is the gateway. Brokeness is the context of confession. Grace is the divine ingredient. Love is the purpose and reconciliation is the result. Repentance is the proof and forgiveness the bridge.
There is nothing more beautiful, nothing more exciting, nothing more transformative than the ministry of reconciliation but for it to happen, humility and grace, confession and repentance must be your constant companions, whether you are the accuser or the accused, the sinner or the saint (and we are always both), or in the right or not. What does it matter?
It’s about the ministry of reconciliation and what you are willing to do to get there. How important is it to you? That is the question. It is everything to God. He died to make it happen. All of the power of heaven is available to make it happen. It is the one prayer that is always sure to get God’s attention. But it all begins with an attitude, an awareness, a way of seeing relationships (as God sees them), broken and insipid and weak when, in the power of the Holy Spirit, they should be strong, and beautiful and powerful.
This is the way God is rescuing the world one relationship at a time. Welcome to the family of God and the ministry of reconciliation.
The Desert Warrior
Let’s talk to God……
Lord, I have to admit that I have gotten lazy and I have not taken my broken and weak relationships seriously enough. It is easier just to assume that I did my best and the rest is up to them. I know that isn’t true. You fight to the death for our spiritual unity. I must do the same. Teach me the ways of the ministry of reconciliation. Teach me the humility and brokeness of confession so that I am always aware of the relationships around me. Let me learn to be a champion of the cross and not be satisfied with anything less. In your name I pray. Amen.