The Royal Road of the Cross

There will always be many who love Christ’s heavenly kingdom, but few who will bear his cross. Many are eager to be happy with him; few wish to suffer anything for him.
Many love Christ as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless him as long as they receive some comfort from him. But if Jesus hides himself and leaves them for a while, they either start complaining or become dejected. Those, on the contrary, who love him for his own sake and not for any comfort of their own, praise him both in trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if Jesus should never comfort them, they would continue to praise and thank him. What power there is in a pure love for Jesus – love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!
Do not those who always seek consolation prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can we find anyone who is willing to serve God for nothing? Such a person is worth far more than the jewels brought from the most distant lands.
Take up your cross and follow Jesus, and you will inherit everlasting life. There is no other way to life and to true inward peace than the way and discipline of the cross. Go where you will, seek what you want, you will not find a higher way, nor a less exalted but safer way, than the way of the cross. Arrange and order everything to suit your desires and you will still have to bear some kind of suffering, willingly or unwillingly.
The cross, therefore, is unavoidable. It waits for you everywhere. No matter where you may go, you cannot escape it, for wherever you go you take yourself along. Turn where you will – above, below, without, or with­in – you will find the cross.
If you willingly carry the cross, it will carry you. It will take you to where suffering comes to an end, a place other than here. If you carry it unwillingly, you create a burden for yourself and increase the load, though still you have to bear it. If you try to do away with one cross, you will find another and perhaps a heavier one. How do you expect to escape what no one else can avoid? Which saint was exempt? Not even Jesus Christ was spared. Why is it that you look for another way other than the royal way of the holy cross?
The whole life of Christ was a cross. And the more spiritual progress you strive for, the heavier will your crosses become, for as your love for God increases so will the pain of your exile.
When you willingly carry your cross, every pang of tribulation is changed into hope of solace from God. Besides, with every affliction the spirit is strengthened by grace. For it is the grace of Christ, and not our own virtue, that gives us the power to overcome the flesh and the world. You will not even fear your enemy, the devil, if you arm yourself with faith and are signed with the cross of Christ.
Decide then, like a good and faithful servant of Christ, to bear bravely the cross of your Lord. It was out of love that he was crucified for you. Drink freely from the Lord’s cup if you wish to be his friend. Leave your need for consolation to God. Let him do as he wills. On your part, be ready to bear sufferings and consider how in these sufferings lies your greatest consolation. The sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come.
When you get to the point where for Christ’s sake suffering becomes sweet, consider yourself fortunate, for you have found paradise on earth.
Stations of the Cross below the Mam Ean, Ireland

Looking for a New Road

Are you aware of having certain patterns in your life that you are unable – even unwilling to change? They seem so entrenched, so beyond your ability to do anything about. You might even see yourself walking in the same path of a parent or a parent’s parent and you realize this rut runs generations deep. How am I ever going to be able to overcome against these odds?
The scriptures give us a clue as to how to answer that in Romans 12:2 where Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Being conformed to a pattern sounds a lot like being in a rut. We all have ruts we run in. Paul suggests that the way to a new path is through renewing our minds. This makes sense when you realize that the patterns we run in are fueled in large part by our thinking. We have these old tapes that constantly run over and over again. They tell us we can’t change, or we are not loved, or such and such has too much power over us, or it will cost to much in personal investment to change. We might actually have to work at change – be awake and alert to it – make ourselves make different choices. Believe me, this is hard.
By renewing our minds, we remind ourselves that there are new tapes where we are concerned, played by the Holy Spirit and power is available for change through his presence in our lives. Even in this Book of Romans there are life-changing truths that can break the patterns. For instance earlier in this book he told us that we’re all in sin – even the “best” of us – but that Christ’s death and resurrection has set us free from that sin. We no longer have to subject ourselves to the vicious sin and guilt cycle because Christ has removed us from being wed to the law to being wed to Himself. We have a new husband as it were, and this one is full of grace, truth and forgiveness. We are not tied to a taskmaster; we are tied to Christ. And then there is the new life in the Spirit made possible by Christ being in us to the extent that we can actually take off that old life -the one that runs in all those ruts – and put on the new life that Christ has made possible.
This is why we need reminders. New ways of thinking that God has established as a fact in space and time and you and I can count on for our step by step life in the trenches.
Yes, it will take effort. Change doesn’t come easy nor does it come overnight, but it comes as we purposely focus on the new truths about ourselves that Christ has won. We are loved. We are forgiven. We have his Spirit. We don’t have to walk in those old ruts. We can break the pattern. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.
There are a lot of bad tapes out there; there’s a lot of negative reinforcement in here. Do nothing and you probably will keep on rattling along in the same rut. Renew your mind with God’s word and His truth about yourself and you can stand down those old tapes and start down a new path. It’s worth it. We aren’t just waiting for heaven. We are fighting a battle here. We are on a mission. We have a gospel to live out. If it doesn’t work in our life, how can we recommend it to anyone else?
by John Fischer

Spiritual Disciplines are an Invitation

In the spirit of keeping things simple, I’d like to explore the foundation of what spiritual formation is about by giving a brief overview of the spiritual disciplines.
The only thing we have any control over is the actions we take at each and every moment. I can’t control the past, nor can I control the future, but I can do things to influence my future. What I control is how I spend this very moment, and even those actions are most often influenced by my desires, conscious and subconscious pressures, and the habits I’ve acquired throughout the years. In a sense the disciplines are about consciously choosing how we want to live. They’re about redeeming each moment and tearing down the divide of sacred and secular. When I take time to practice Christian spiritual activities, even in the midst of my everyday life, these behaviors become simply a way of placing my will and my life before God as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
Dallas Willard often said that the outcome of our spiritual activities far exceeds what we put into them. In this sense the disciplines are all about grace, God taking our little offering of time and action and using it to transform us into people we were previously unable to be; people who naturally live lives of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Certainly spiritual activities—things like prayer, study and service—become ingrained into the habitual structures of our lives, but the real outcome we are looking for is the fruit of the Spirit organically flowing throughout our lives. The disciplines are about the transformation of the human personality into the image of Jesus Christ. And in time, we become people able to respond to life as Jesus would if he were to live our lives.
The disciplines are not about doing something for God, or earning righteousness from God. When people use the disciplines in a pharisaical manner by creating new legalisms for themselves or others, they have missed the point entirely.
We enter into spiritual exercises as an active response to God’s love.
The disciplines should never be used to bring self-condemnation. Please do not set plans and goals in your spiritual life and then end up using your failures as ammunition to prove you don’t measure up. That is the way of the world, not the way of Christ. God is ever eager to meet us where we are, not where we think we should be.
The disciplines are an invitation, not an obligation. Joy, freedom, and laughter are where this journey is taking us. Now certainly the disciplines require energies. And, sometimes they lead us to suffering as self-centeredness works its way out, but spiritual training is largely a movement of freedom, a light burden, and an easy yoke.
One of the things I think helps people enter into spiritual practices is to undertake activities that are relevant and helpful to our particular time and season in life. Don’t be bound to doing a discipline the way others do it. Listen to the Spirit. What are you being led into? Where would God like to meet you today?
You begin where you are. For some of us this may just mean getting enough sleep in order to begin restoring some sort of balance to life. For many, the best thing they can do is just carve out space to quietly soak in God’s love and affection. It is difficult to actively respond to God’s love when we know nothing of it. Of course, this practice will ultimately lead us into joyfully taking up other disciplines when the time and season is right. Don’t compare yourself and your practice to others, don’t judge yourself as committed or not, simply just begin.
Remember the disciplines are not about self-help. While undoubtedly there is a certain practicality to doing activities that pull us from the pressing chaos of life or things that move us towards serving others, but, as best we can, we will want to turn our attention to being present before God in the activities we undertake. We are entering into a life lived with God: attentive, submitted, joyfully obedient. We are learning how to die to ourselves for love of God and others, not selfishly chase what feels good to us. Yet, of course, the disciplines can be fun, and enjoyable. God is good like that and we can receive it.
One final thought before we begin this journey together: the forming of the human heart is slow work. This reality shouldn’t be fought, but rather embraced. God seems to have designed human transformation in the way he designed change in his other creations; measured, gradual, moving from one season to the next, life and death. The created order is in a perpetual state of change. So we begin slowly, we pace ourselves for the long haul. And in keeping with this theme, the discipline I’m planning to practice this month is just that: “slowing.”
Thanks for reading. And may the grace and peace of Jesus Christ infect all you do.

My Vesper

“She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and to His throne” (Revelation 12:5, NKJV).

Tracing in broad stokes the prophecy of the seed of the woman (see Genesis 3:15), John describes the deadly conflict in which Satan, the dragon, seeks to devour the infant Jesus at the moment He is born (see Revelation 12:4). However, the “Male Child” was destined to triumph over the dragon and eventually reign supreme over all nations with an iron scepter. This is an allusion to Psalm 2:8, 9 and is clearly applicable to the Messiah who would ultimately defeat the forces of evil and reign in majesty and power as King of kings forever (see Revelation 2:27; 19:15).

John’s primary concern in this prophecy is the final outcome of the controversy between good and evil. His focus is on the final deliverance of the church and the triumphant climax of the great controversy in which Christ is the victor. In describing the deadly age-long conflict against the “Male Child,” John completely passes over the life, ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He focuses instead on the final outcome of the warfare and rejoices that the “Male Child” was caught up to the throne of God–an obvious reference to Christ’s ascension.

This is the good news John wants to highlight in this drama. Rather than being devoured by the dragon, the “Male Child” has ascended in safety to glory and to His pre-incarnate status (see Hebrews 1:3). With the mission accomplished and Christ back as the triumphant conqueror, “The voice of God is heard proclaiming that justice is satisfied. Satan is vanquished… The Father’s arms encircle His Son, and the word is given, ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.’ “–The Desire of Ages, p. 834.

Lord, because You have conquered the dragon, I, too, am confident of victory. Amen

My Vesper

“Then His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up’ ” (John 2:17, NKJV).

This zealous, challenging portrait of Jesus is radically different from the portrait of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” that we have learned in the primary Sabbath School.

Dr. Lloyd J. Ogilvie warns about the false picture we often create of “an easy-going, good-natured Jesus, who is on call when we want Him to help us deal with our personal agenda.”–The Other Jesus, p. 12. The zealous, no-nonsense Jesus showed up one day in the temple and was shocked to see His Father’s house transformed into a den of thieves! The house of worship and prayer had degenerated into a market place for unabashed merchandising. Peddlers and traffickers jostled with the worshipers.

With whip in hand and His eyes flashing with zeal and indignation, Jesus ordered the money changers and their livestock out from the sacred precinct. Overthrowing the money table and vigorously tossing them out of the temple, Jesus cleaned up His Father’s house.

When Jesus drove out the money changers and the bargaining merchants from the sacred precinct, He was consumed by zeal for God’s house. And so the authentic Jesus who tenderly comforts the sorrowing also disturbs the undisturbed. The authentic Jesus is tough as well as tender. Of this episode Ellen White wrote: “Even the disciples quaked with fear, and were awe-struck by the words and manner of Jesus, so unlike the usual demeanor of the meek and lowly man of Galilee. But they remembered that it was written of him, ‘The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.’ ”

Lord, whether You comfort or disturb me; it is always redemptive. Thank you for being tough as well as tender. Amen.

Like a Rock

When we stand ready to suffer for our faith, we are standing where Jesus stood and where he stands even now. He stands with one foot in heaven and the other up on earth, his hands and side scarred by the nails and spirit. He stands at the very heart of human history, human suffering, human death, anguish and tragedy.

But He stands there like a rock.

He stands there having injured everything, every human suffering in thought and body. and he says to us, this is where you must stand, not in a dreamland of faith that deceives you into thinking you can float into heaven on some cloud.  No, if ever you are to enter heaven you will do so at the cost of serving God at the center of human suffering and tragedy, and your only earthly reward will be that people curse you for it.

My Vesper

“Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you’ ” (John 21:17, NIV).

In response to the question, “Do you love me?” Peter twice answered his Lord in the affirmative. The third time, he replied, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

In this statement, Peter acknowledged Christ’s omniscience. It was his way of saying, “You know whether I love you or not because you know my thoughts.” Given Peter’s track record of shamefully denying Jesus three times in the past; he now decided to let Jesus be the final judge of his motives. By his confession, “Lord, you know all things,” Peter had expressed a great truth. As the Omniscient One, Jesus knows everything about us. Jesus knows the motives that prompt all our actions.

Christ knows everything about our secret and public life with precise accuracy. Only the Omniscient One whom God has appointed to judge the world (see Acts 17:31) has such competence. Because He knows all things, He is able to judge us not merely by what we do, but by why we do what we do. He knows the hidden motives of our hearts.

The One who knows all things, is the empathetic and compassionate Saviour. This attribute qualifies Him to provide encouragement and strength to us in our complex pilgrimage to perfection. Referring to those who follow Christ, Ellen G. White wrote: “They will realize that His all-seeing eye is ever upon them and that the most secret thought is known to Him. The character, the motives, the desires and purposes, are as clear as the light of the sun to the eye of the Omnipotent.”

Lord, because You know all things, I submit to Your righteous judgments. Amen.

My Vesper

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28, 29, NIV).

The crowds were amazed! What a description of Christ as a teacher! What was so amazing about His teaching? There was always something fresh, inspiring, and life-giving about what Jesus had to say as a teacher.

The first three Gospels record the response of the people to what Jesus taught. Matthew and Mark report that “the crowds were amazed at His teaching” (Matthew 7:28, NIV; cf. Mark 1:22). But Luke states that, “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47, NIV). As a teacher, Christ is peerless in the content, quality, and style of His teaching. No wonder Nicodemus described Him as “a teacher who has come from God” (John 3:2, NIV). This amazing Teacher always spoke with clarity, persuasion, and power. The people were deeply impressed and amazed by His exposition of truth. Christ’s listeners stood in awe and astonishment as He told His compelling parables. No one who heard Jesus teach was ever the same again. What He taught and how He taught were always revolutionary and life-changing. Amazed as His teaching, people either embraced it or rejected it.

In His masterful teaching style, Jesus clearly unfolded before the people the great truths of the gospel. He did so with persuasion and authority, but without being dogmatic. He did not dwell on the opinions of men, but on spiritual certainties that brought healing to the sin-sick, rest to the weary, and hope to the hopeless. People were amazed at Jesus’s teaching because of the life-giving freshness of the new wine that He offered them (see Mark 2:22). The new wine represented the vital truth of the gospel at work in the lives of men and women. “The mission of Jesus was demonstrated by convincing miracles. His doctrine astonished the people… His teaching was plain, clear, and comprehensive. The practical truths He uttered had a convincing power, and arrested the attention of the people. Multitudes lingered at His side, marveling at His wisdom.”

Lord, I, too, am amazed and inspired by the saving and transforming power of Your teaching. Amen.

‘Just a Little More’

“Just a little more” is a longtime friend of mine.
He takes a seat next to me after dinner. My stomach may be full to the point of protest, but no matter. He points at my empty plate and asks, “How about just a little more?”
He rests on the edge of my bed in the morning as my alarm clock beeps. I may need to be at work in an hour, but he tucks the sheets under my chin and assures me, “Just a little more.”
He follows behind me as I walk my fiancée home. Sure, we’ve established physical boundaries, and we may have already reached the edge of them. But he promises me, “Just a little more won’t hurt.”
Every day, we find some pleasure, enjoy it to the full, and then itch for just a little more: a little more chocolate, a little more wine, a little more sleep, a little more shower time, a little more YouTube, a little more Netflix. We take in some delight that gives our senses a standing ovation, and they won’t sit back down again until they get an encore.
In the moment of gratification, “just a little more” sounds like the voice of a kind friend — so pleasing, so innocent, so reasonable.
And often so foolish. The voice of this pleasant companion frequently keeps us from hearing the words of the wise man: “If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it” (Proverbs 25:16).
“Every time I break through God’s fences, and think I’m headed toward ecstasy, I am entering the Land of Nausea.”
Solomon’s proverb reminds us that God has put fences around our bodies — boundaries to keep us from crossing the line between innocent pleasure and excess, between enjoying God’s gifts and abusing them.
Although the fence line between enough and too much might not always be obvious, we often know when we’ve begun to wander outside the bounds. Sometimes, our bodies themselves revolt: if not with literal vomit, then perhaps with a sickly lethargy, as if someone just added two pounds to each limb.
Other times, our bodies may be begging for more, but our Spirit-trained conscience tells us that we have just exchanged self-control for self-indulgence. We have gratified our flesh’s yearning for comfort and silenced the voice of reason. We have found honey, and then we’ve eaten enough for two.
In the moment, of course, the promise of immediate pleasure can make self-control seem silly, stiff, and against all reason. I have often brushed up against the fence line, fully aware that “just a little more” is about to lead me outside God’s yard, and I have kept on walking anyway. I gazed over God’s fences and saw an amusement park. Only afterward did I notice all the sick people lying beside the roller coaster.
“Since Eden,” Derek Kidner writes, “man has wanted the last ounce out of life, as though beyond God’s ‘enough’ lay ecstasy, not nausea” (Proverbs, 159). Every time I break through God’s fences, and think I’m headed toward ecstasy, I am entering the Land of Nausea.
But nausea — whether physical or spiritual — is just the short-term consequence of breaking God’s boundaries. If we make a habit of heeding “just a little more”; if we regularly follow our bodies’ urges, not because we have carefully chosen to do so, but because we have fallen under their sway; if we constantly find ourselves flirting with the fence line, and crossing over anyway, Proverbs paints a picture of our future self: the sluggard.
The sluggard’s course begins quite harmlessly. “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,” he says (Proverbs 6:10). But over time, he finds himself increasingly shackled to his own cravings: increasingly unable to rise from bed (Proverbs 6:9), increasingly dissatisfied (Proverbs 13:4), increasingly numb to the pleasures he once enjoyed (Proverbs 19:24; 26:15), and increasingly reluctant to tame his bodily impulses with hard work (Proverbs 21:25).
When we habitually give in to “just a little more,” we feed the sluggard within: We dull our senses. We refine our selfishness. We wring and squeeze God’s gifts until they break. And we train our bodies to find self-denial offensive.
Ironically, giving in to “just a little more” leaves us with a whole lot less: less pleasure, less dignity, less self-control. Satan robs God’s children one indulgence at a time.
How, then, do we silence the smooth suggestion of “just a little more”? We begin where wisdom always begins: the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7).
And how does the fear of the Lord fill us with self-control? It inclines us to listen to our Father’s voice (Proverbs 1:8). The fear of the Lord inclines us to hear our Father’s “just enough” as stronger, sounder, and altogether sweeter than “just a little more.”
We hear our Father remind us that the boundaries around our senses are not obstacles to ecstasy, but his infinitely wise engineering applied on a bodily scale (Psalm 139:13–14).
“Our Father’s ‘just enough’ is stronger, sounder, and altogether sweeter than ‘just a little more.’”
We hear our Father warn us that our bodies are not our own but have been bought with the blood of Jesus and indwelt by the Spirit of God, who yearns for our holiness (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).
We hear our Father promise us that he keeps his best pleasures in his own backyard, and that he will withhold no good thing from those who prize self-control over self-indulgence (Psalm 84:11).
If we would stop at the fence line long enough to hear our Father’s voice instead of rushing heedlessly forward, we would find ourselves turning around more often. We would put down the glass, rise from bed, clean the dishes, shut down the computer, and gladly refuse even a little more.
G.K. Chesterton writes, “The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild” (Orthodoxy, 9).
Our Father’s backyard is not stiff and solemn, filled with pursed-lipped saints who have scraped up enough self-control to stay within God’s fences. Our Father’s backyard is where good things run wild. Here, our Father delights us with a feast of rich food (Isaiah 55:1–2). Here, the Spirit trains God’s people to walk in self-control and godliness — to enjoy God’s gifts instead of abuse them (Titus 2:11–12).
And here, Jesus walks. Here walks the man who always heard his Father’s voice, who walked in flawless self-control, and who never indulged a sluggish moment. And this same Jesus promises that, if we will abide with him within his Father’s fences, he will fill us with more joy than “just a little more” can ever give (John 15:11).

Linger Long over Your Bible

We are like trees bearing fruit, not laborers picking fruit. To use Paul’s language: the fruit is the fruit of the Spirit, not the works of the law. The one who meditates on the law of the Lord day and night and finds his delight in the truth of God, man, and life revealed through the instruction of God, “he is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:3). It is absolutely essential that we understand that the Christian life is fruit-bearing, not fruit-picking.
We’re not laborers, we’re trees. We have roots down by rivers. Our life is coming from a river. It’s coming from streams. It’s coming up, and fruit is growing as we live by the river. You don’t fight legalistically. You don’t make your list and say, “Wickedness, no. Sin, no. Scoffer, no. Kept the list. It’s in my pocket, and I’ll get it out when I’m tempted.” But that’s not the way it works.
Psalm 1:3 says the way it works is that when you go to the word and you see God and all his ways and works in faithfulness spread out there before you, it’s like sending your roots down into a stream, and life comes up and you’re shaped in your thinking and your feeling, and fruit comes out. And if it’s not coming out, you don’t pluck yourself up and start walking around going to the fruit store. You just say, “What’s wrong? There’s a river down there.”
This is not mechanical and it’s not automatic. The way roots and water in this stream work is not automatic. The connection between my root system and God’s stream of life-giving truth in the Psalms is meditation. Learn how to do this. Learn how to linger over, for example, Psalm 23. Almost everybody knows Psalm 23. Linger over this. Pray over this. Immerse yourself in this. Wrap this thing around your head. Don’t let go of it — like Jacob and the angel — until it blesses you, changes you, affects you in the morning. Don’t just say, “I read my Bible.” The devil knows the Bible by heart. He used it on Jesus.
It’s about lingering there, loving this, and pleading with the Lord to open the eyes of your heart: “Unite my heart to fear your name, and incline my heart to your testimony. Shape me. Delight me. Satisfy me. I won’t let you go until I’m changed. Open my eyes, O God.”
That’s connecting with the water. That’s where the battle is fought. I must have an alternative set of delights, or I will be a chaff leaf in the wind of the wicked — just blown wherever they want me to go. Just a little thing on the Internet will capture me. This little thing on television will capture me. And this little thing in the bank will capture me. And I’ll just float to and fro. The battle is at the level of our emotions. The root system must touch the life-giving, joy-giving water.

Read, watch, or listen to the full message: