The Sharp Edges of Christ

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We all prefer the softer side of Christ.
The Jesus who blessed the children rather than the Jesus who bade us pick up our cross.
Christ Cross
We often desire to blur the sharp edges of Jesus, to make Him a more comfortable sort of person.
A softer Jesus is easier to live with, easier to fold into our busy lives.
Yet we are called to be God’s image bearers to and for our world and Christ shows us that in a world that is broken and full of violence, “the shape of such image-bearing will be cruciform”. (James A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom)
cross
Jesus comes as the new Adam, the God-man who perfectly bears God’s image not by a “triumphant conquering of the world but submissive suffering for the world”. (Smith)
Following Jesus means following the crucified Messiah.
Rembrandt The Three Crosses
(We) are summoned to follow a leader whose eventual goal is indeed a world of blessing beyond bounds, but whose immediate goal, the only possible route to that eventual one, is a horrible and shameful death. N.T. Wright
The reality is that Jesus demands all of us. Not pieces of us, not most of us, but all of us.
And what does He want with our selves? He doesn’t only want to trim off the bad bits, He wants to kill the entire self. He wants us to die to ourselves completely.
Jesus doesn’t say that we must deny and cut out those pieces of us that are sinful. He said, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself.”
Even the good pieces. Often it is the parts that are right and good from the world’s viewpoint that are the hardest to surrender. Yet it is that very good that stands in the way of God’s best.
deny self
And while it is true that God, in return, gives us Himself, places His own self into us and makes us into the self we were created to be, the surrender must be for the sake of Christ, not for our own benefit.
Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Many love Jesus while they are satisfied with life or as long as they receive comfort from Him in the middle of hardship, yet when Jesus hides Himself for a time, they (and, let me be transparent, I) begin to complain or even to turn their face from Him.
Would that we could love Jesus for His own sake rather than for what comfort He can give us! We would, I think, find power in that kind of love, a love that can praise Him in anguish of heart as well as in the satisfaction of abundance.
The ability to love Christ for the holy, beautiful, God of love that He is would contain within it the power to die to our natural selves. The power to take up our cross and follow Jesus and, in return, be allowed to share in His triumphal resurrection.
pick up 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. Thomas à Kempis
The whole life of Jesus was a cross, and what in this world filled with crosses gave us the idea that we could escape what God Himself took on?
Realize that to know Christ you must lead a dying life. The more you die to yourself, the more you will live unto God. Thomas à Kempis
We cannot be a person who has the capacity to enjoy heavenly things unless we have surrendered to God and allowed Him to kill off our natural self completely, giving us a new self in its place, a self that looks strangely like Jesus Himself.
follow Me
You will never enjoy heavenly things unless you are ready to suffer hardship for Christ. Nothing is more acceptable to God, nothing more helpful for you on this earth. When there is a choice to be made, take the narrow way. This alone will make you more like Christ. Thomas à Kempis
May God give us the courage to take the narrow way and to be made more like Christ.

Art credits: photographs of Christ statues by asta kr; The Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt

When Are You Blessed?

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
What are you clutching in white-knuckled fists?
Clutching for blessing
Blessed are you who hold your possessions loosely, knowing that they are a gift to be stewarded rather than a treasure to be hoarded.
What fear keeps you awake at night?
Fear over blessing
Blessed are you who are grateful for each year you grow older, knowing that old age deepens beauty and wisdom rather than bringing a loss of beauty or worth.
Which loss are you afraid would bring you to your knees?
Desperate for Blessing
Blessed are you who allow your beloveds the freedom to belong to God, knowing that He will care for them far better than you ever could.
Possessions, youth, loved ones. Some of you have already lost these things. All of us will eventually.
What will you do when your arms grow weary, when your hands lose their grip and these things you hold so dear are gone?
Losing your grip
We are all already poor, whether we understand this or not.
If clutching what you love is not the way to possess it forever, what should you do instead?
Open your hands. Relax your grip.
Surrender for Blessing
Surrender it to God.
Whatever it is, whomever it is, surrender it to God.
Acknowledge what is already true, that you are poor. Acknowledge the reality that you are in possession of nothing.
When you surrender that which does not truly belong to you, God gives to you in return the most precious gift of all.
God's Presence is Blessing
He gives you the gift of Himself, of His presence in that place where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.

Art Credit: Christ and Samaritan Woman by Siemiradzki

The Stakes Are High

From my high school band director days:
Mrs. Giger! My bassoon solo actually sounds good now!!
Well, I’m glad. What did you do differently?
I finally followed your advice to practice the song. And it worked!!
Aha.
It is something I’ve been trying to teach my seven year old. Working hard at a challenging task brings such a sweet reward.
Any excellent and beautiful ending is the result of working hard at something difficult.
We know this in our adult lives ~ we feel most satisfied after a day full of meaningful challenges that we tackled wholeheartedly; challenges that ended with accomplishment.
Why do we think that life should be different?
If this life is preparation for the life to come, why would we expect it to be easy? Shouldn’t we expect it to be more like boot camp?
…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope
We think that life should be comfortable, full of the things and people we desire.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
We are offended and outraged when things don’t go as planned.
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.
We decide that this is too hard.
Life is too lonely, too full of hurt, too saturated with grief.
True.
And this loneliness, this hurt, this grief can have purpose.
For it was fitting that (God), for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.
Eternity is high stakes. We shouldn’t be surprised that the preparation can be grueling.
Each day we have a choice. We can choose to accept what we are given and let God use it to mold us or we can dig in our heels and choose to look for the easy way, the way of least pain and effort, the way of bitterness and discontent.
Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. ~ C. S. Lewis
Life is. We can fight against it and live in a state of war. Or we can surrender to God and be molded into someone who is perfectly ready for eternity.
The stakes are high. Are you ready for the challenge?