No One Takes Selfies Here

Almost every morning, I take a walk, though I don’t leave my family room. In my mind’s eye, in my heart, I take a walk on a narrow, stony dirt path that winds up the side of a knoll to where it all happened.

Dramatic Easter Sunrise Lighting and Christian Cross

At times, everything in me wants to turn and walk in the other direction. There is something both compelling and ominous about this place. This is not a scenic walk with breath-taking vistas. No one takes selfies here. I make myself keep walking until I can hear the wheezing of labored breathing, the moans of grown men… until I feel ashamed being in the presence of their shame, until I can imagine the stench and inhumane suffering. Compelled, I put one foot in front of another. I simply have to see the broken and bruised man in the middle. I kneel as closely as possible at the foot of his cross and there ponder what horrors occurred here.

What cosmic conflict raged on these shoulders? What agonies were so relentlessly poured upon this one man that all of heaven turned its face away and all creation moaned? What does all of this mean?

Then, I imagine a stranger, ignorant of the events, walking on the same path coming up behind me with shock in his voice asking “Who did this?!” I turn my head and look over my shoulder and confess, “I did”; My sins nailed him there. The eternal son of God became a man. The perfect man became my sin. The obedient son crushed by his Father for disobedience he never committed. Then, the languid eyes of the man in the middle lock with mine and I hear him say “It is finished. Paid in full… Now, they are all forgiven.”

Stare until you marvel. Stare until you mourn. Stare until you repent. Stare until you worship. Stare until you rejoice

Zech. 12:10 “They shall look upon me, whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn.”

This post was written by my friend, Steve Shank. Steve has served in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and is the author of First Steps of Faith, one of the first books I read after becoming a Christian. I am pleased to announce that Steve will be joining RevivingTheSoul as a regular contributor.

One of The Most Powerful Questions I’ve Ever Been Asked

It was a sunny day in Chattanooga, TN. I was 17, and I was working as a “bag boy” at the local Red Food Store. Sweat was dripping from my temples as I hustled in and out of the building carting groceries mostly for busy moms and elderly ladies who appreciated the help.

Polycart Flickr

In those days, at least in the store where I was working, people generally tipped the bag boys. It was not uncommon to get a dollar or two for 10-15 minutes of work, and I quickly discovered that the friendlier I was and the faster I could help a patron, the more cash I would take home.

It’s been over 20 years, and I can still vividly remember the conversation I had with one of the customers that hot, smoldering day. I had never met this woman before, and I never saw her again. It wasn’t a long exchange, but it has left an indelible mark on my life for these 20+ years.

As I recall, I was wearing a white shirt with khaki shorts. A wooden cross dangled from the end of a tight rope necklace, making it visible between the collar of my shirt.

When I loaded the final sack of provisions into the trunk of her car, she handed me a tip, paid a thoughtful compliment, and asked me one of the powerful questions I’ve ever been asked. Here’s how it went down…

The Lady: “Your such a kind young man; do you mind if I ask you a question?”
Me: “Sure.”

The Lady: “That cross around your neck” (pointing to the wooden cross dangling from my rope neck chain)
Me: “yes…”

The Lady (The Question): “Is it decoration, or is it real?”

I can remember being somewhat stunned by her question. Initially, I didn’t know how to respond.

The Backstory

The truth was, I wore the necklace because I thought it looked cool. I also wore it because in the circles I ran in, it was socially acceptable. I went to church every Sunday morning, every Sunday night, and on most Wednesday nights. I was a leader in our youth group, and I had recently been baptized.

On the outside, everything looked great. I wasn’t drinking or doing drugs. I was the Sr. Class Vice President heading toward graduating high school as a Valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA. Yet, inside, I was fully driven by envy and selfish-ambition, the desire to “one-up” my identical twin brother in a constant competition for the applause of others (I’ve written previously about my struggles in comparison as an identical twin).

I frequently found my emotional state was dependent on how I measured up against him, and he often won the rivalry. We had five major fights our senior year of high school. When I say fights, I mean the real-deal: raw, fist-flinging, furniture-throwing, glass-breaking, injury-inducing bouts and brawls.

During our last major fight, we stood in the cul-de-sac and duked it out, my face taking the worst of the beatings until our older brother stepped in and stopped the fight. The entire scene was like something from a bad movie, full of anger and hatred. I retreated to the woods on my hands and knees, with the dirt between my palms. I looked up to the heavens and prayed, “God, please help us.”

It may have been the first time I truly prayed.

Is This Decoration, or Is It Real?

I share these details to give you the context for this particular exchange. Basically, I was a “religious” guy, a pretender with a wooden cross around my neck, masking a hidden life of anger, lust, malice, envy, and hatred. I was far from God.

Maybe the question just entered her mind, prompted by the Spirit, and she was faithful to step out of her comfort zone and ask it. If so, I respect her for her sensitivity to the Spirit and boldness with me. Or maybe she could tell I was a fake, kind of like how someone at a bank could recognize counterfeit bills just but being so familiar with the real thing.

Perhaps she wasn’t even aware of how deeply it would affect me. In any case, I could not get the question out of my mind, and as I slowly made my way back to the front doors of the grocery store, all I could think was, “That cross around your neck… Is it decoration or is it real?”

Deep down inside, something told me it was more than decoration to her and whatever she had, I lacked.

It wasn’t long after that I heard the gospel during my freshman year of college on the campus of the University of Tennessee and the cross became real to me. I heard the good news that Jesus Christ lived a perfect, lust-free, greed-free, envy-free, sin-free life and that he willingly laid down his perfect life to die a substitutionary death on a wooden cross in order to bear the full wrath of God for the sins of all who would trust in him. That night, God turned me from my trusting in my own performance to trusting fully in the Savior and my life was forever changed.

The True Message of the Cross

The cross is not a decoration. The cross is a declaration of the holiness of God and His great love for sinners. It’s not about religion. It’s about being real with God. It’s about coming to Him just as we are and admitting that we’re so bad that it took the Son of God himself to come and to live his life for us and to offer his life as a sacrifice so that we could be forgiven.

The news of the cross is at the same time the most horrifying and best news in the world. It displays for us vividly that we’ll never be “good enough” to earn the favor of God because we’ve all blown it. That’s why Jesus came, and that’s why he died. It’s not faith + our works that will save us. It’s faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone.

That’s what the cross is all about. It’s about dropping the act, admitting our need for rescue, and rolling the burden of our sin completely over to Jesus while we trust entirely in the life he lived and died for us. That’s why this dear woman’s question has stuck with me for so many years:

“That cross around your neck.. Is it decoration, or is it real?”

Only when it’s real will we turn from our own performance and trust fully in Christ alone to save.

Is the cross real to you? Oh, may God make it so real to you that you find eternal life and present joy in Him! “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

Expect More From God

iStock_000013606813MoreWillBeGiven

“For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance.” Matthew 13:12

This is happy news for every believer in Christ! Here’s why.

For to the one who has, more will be given.

Have you received the glorious gift of salvation? Then, you can expect that more will be given and you will have an abundance of grace. “He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

Has God shown mercy to you? Then, you can expect that his mercies will be renewed to you each morning, so great is his faithfulness (Lam. 3:21-23).

Have you been justified by His grace? Then expect to be sanctified, as well. “It is to the Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8).

Christ will distinguish his own. To the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance.

    Could this be? Could God be so gracious?

    Could the spring once opened to me never run dry?

    Could the fountain of grace that has renewed my soul really be ever-flowing?

Yes, it is true! God is this gracious.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30

The receiving of mercy from God should inflame an eager expectation for more of his mercy and grace.

This is remarkable. You have received mercy from God, and here’s what you can now expect: MORE MERCY!

Let past mercies foster future faith to anticipate more from your gracious God.

Come, and ask for more. He really is that gracious.

Jesus said,

“Ask and you shall receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you Fathers, if your son asked for a fish would give him a snake, or if he asked for an egg would give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?” (Luke 11:9-10).

Upheld by grace, daily, let us rest in the goodness of God’s everlasting love and exclaim with the psalmist:

“Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all of the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6)