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The Sting of a Portuguese Man-O-War and the Cross

picture from wimp.com

Not too long ago, I suffered my first Portuguese-man-o-war sting. It was the most excruciating pain I have ever felt (yes, ladies, I know what you’re about to say: try childbirth; but bear with me).

I was at the beach attending a friend’s going away party. Several families were there with their kids (including my daughter), swimming and playing in the sand. Portuguese Man O’ Wars (their swollen bodies looking like inflated purplish blue plastic bags) littered the beach. Since there were many children around, I used a small bucket to collect and dispose them away from the crowds to prevent the children from being stung. One was still bobbing in the water. I dutifully waded in and scooped it up. However, one of its tentacles brushed a couple fingers. The pain was instantaneous – like razor blades laced with battery acid. Even now as I write this, the top part of one finger has no sensation, as if it had been permanently anesthetized. Like a strong man, I didn’t yelp (although the crying out to Jesus in my mind said different). I carried it out and dumped it. My friends winced when I mentioned to them I was stung. A few humourously offered to urinate on my hand (a mythical antidote to the sting). My wife searched on her phone for proper treatments. Vinegar was one. Luckily, someone had brought a condiment with the stuff. I doused a paper towel and soaked the fingers affected. Torture! The best way to deal with the pain was with a hot compress. I wasn’t able to do this until I got home. Pleasurable relief! However, the pain lasted well into the night.

I’m sure most normal people would think about ending the pain as soon as possible and why was I so stupid to scoop one up in the ocean. But as some of my close friends know, I’m weird. Tried to overcome this weirdness for decades, but now I accept it as gift. In the midst of crying out to Jesus for relief, I thought of a Bible verse: O death, where is your sting? Weird, I know. At that point in time, death would have been great. And it was just two fingers! My wife says that I am hypersensitive to pain. Did I tell you that I was weird?

Anyway, I digress.

It made me realize that Jesus reached out to touch the sting of death and sin on a wooden cross about 2000 years ago – in my place. He became sin so that I might become the righteousness of God through Him.[1] The pain I suffered was nothing to the pain of bearing God’s wrath for the sin of all of mankind. And in this word mankind, is me. Wretched, sinful me. Jesus was stung for me. It should have been me, but He loved me enough to deal with the pain of God’s justice and separation in my place. What love! What sacrifice! And because of this incredible act of redemption, I can say with the apostle Paul:

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”[2]

 

[1] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 NLT

The Old Cross and the New (A.W. Tozer)

Before my next blog, read this clip from  A.W. Tozer’s book, Man, The Dwelling Place of God. It  challenged me several years ago when I first read it, and continues to do so now. I hope it does the same to you.

THE OLD CROSS AND THE NEW

All unannounced and mostly undetected there has come in modern times a new cross into popular evangelical circles. It is like the old cross, but different: the likenesses are superficial; the differences, fundamental.

From this new cross has sprung a new philosophy of the Christian life, and from that new philosophy has come a new evangelical technique-a new type of meeting and a new kind of preaching. This new evangelism employs the same language as the old, but its content is not the same and its emphasis not as before.

The old cross would have no truck with the world. For Adam’s proud flesh it meant the end of the journey. It carried into effect the sentence imposed by the law of Sinai. The new cross is not opposed to the human race; rather, it is a friendly pal and, if understood aright, it is the source of oceans of good clean fun and innocent enjoyment. It lets Adam live without interference. His life motivation is unchanged; he still lives for his own pleasure, only now he takes delight in singing choruses and watching religious movies instead of singing bawdy songs and drinking hard liquor. The accent is still on enjoyment, though the fun is now on a higher plane morally if not intellectually.

The new cross encourages a new and entirely different evangelistic approach. The evangelist does not demand abnegation of the old life before a new life can be received. He preaches not contrasts but similarities. He seeks to key into public interest by showing that Christianity makes no unpleasant demands; rather, it offers the same thing the world does, only on a higher level. Whatever the sin-mad world happens to be clamoring after at the moment is cleverly shown to be the very thing the gospel offers, only the religious product is better.

The new cross does not slay the sinner, it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect. To the self-assertive it says, “Come and assert yourself for Christ.” To the egotist it says, “Come and do your boasting in the Lord.” To the thrill seeker it says, “Come and enjoy the thrill of Christian fellowship.” The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public.

The philosophy back of this kind of thing may be sincere but its sincerity does not save it from being false. It is false because it is blind. It misses completely the whole meaning of the cross.

The old cross is a symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of a human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said good-by to his friends. He was not coming back. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing; it slew all of the man, completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck cruel and hard, and when it had finished its work, the man was no more.

The race of Adam is under death sentence. There is no commutation and no escape. God cannot approve any of the fruits of sin, however innocent they may appear or beautiful to the eyes of men. God salvages the individual by liquidating him and then raising him again to newness of life.

That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of men is false to the Bible and cruel to the souls of its hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world, it intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our old life up onto a higher plane; we leave it at the cross. The corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die.

We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum.

God offers life, but not an improved old life. The life He offers is life out of death. It stands always on the far side of the cross. Whoever would possess it must pass under the rod. He must repudiate himself and concur in God’s just sentence against him.

What does this mean to the individual, the condemned man who would find life in Christ Jesus? How can this theology be translated into life? Simply, he must repent and believe. He must forsake his sins and then go on to forsake himself. Let him cover nothing, defend nothing, excuse nothing. Let him not seek to make terms with God, but let him bow his head before the stroke of God’s stern displeasure and acknowledge himself worthy to die.

Having done this let him gaze with simple trust upon the risen Saviour, and from Him will come life and rebirth and cleansing and power. The cross that ended the earthly life of Jesus now puts an end to the sinner; and the power that raised Christ from the dead now raises him to a new life along with Christ.

To any who may object to this or count it merely a narrow and private view of truth, let me say God has set His hallmark of approval upon this message from Paul’s day to the present. Whether stated in these exact words or not, this has been the content of all preaching that has brought life and power to the world through the centuries. The mystics, the reformers, the revivalists have put their emphasis here, and signs and wonders and mighty operations of the Holy Ghost gave witness to God’s approval.

Dare we, the heirs of such a legacy of power, tamper with the truth? Dare we with our stubby pencils erase the lines of the blueprint or alter the pattern shown us in the Mount? May God forbid. Let us preach the old cross and we will know the old power. [1]

 

 

[1] The Best of A.W. Tozer (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992), 175-178 [taken for the book, Man, The Dwelling Place of God].

 

Don’t Follow Your Heart

In entertainment, you will find a common theme: follow your heart. Whether it’s for a spouse, career, dream, or even morality, you must follow your heart, open your heart, trust your heart, listen to your heart, ad naseum.

But God disagrees.

After giving instructions to Israel in the wilderness, God tells them to sew tassels with a blue cord onto the corners of their clothes, to help them “remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after”[1]. When He says that our propensity is to whore after our heart, He’s picturing it as a seductress trying to lure us away and bring death to our lives. He warns that the hearts is, “more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?”[2]. It isn’t a fountainhead of wisdom or freedom, but a sewer of lies and slavery.

How can I prove this? My own life is testimony to this truth. Whenever I followed my heart and my eyes, I found pain – sometimes not right away, but in the end, it yielded a crop of bitterness and heartache. I’ve seen the same result in others as well. No peace, no life; just the fleeing illusion of fulfillment resulting in the mold of discontent and destruction rotting the soul.

The Disney movie, Frozen, became a global hit a few years ago. The song, Let It Go, sung by Elsa (who had been hiding her icy powers but was now on the run) became many little girl’s favourite tune. One stanza says:
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free![3]

Elsa was finally able to do everything her heart desired.

But the irony was (as stated by Tim Keller – I don’t remember the source) she was locked inside an ice castle, completely alone. Instead of receiving freedom, she made a prison!

So what is the solution? By following a bunch of rules?

Trevin Wax, in a critique about the movie, states:
“A popular idea in our culture is that there are only two ways to live:

  • Through authenticity, expressed in rebellion against cultural constraints
  • Through an ordered life, expressed in rule-keeping

Many people see these as the only options. And sometimes, Christians are assumed to be lumped in with the second group – the rule-keepers of religion. To the stodgy, religious types, ‘Let It Go’ is an anthem to the beauty of spontaneity and freedom.
But Christianity doesn’t see morality in either of these ways.”[4]

The solution is found in Elsa’s sister: Anna.

She doesn’t “let it go.”

She doesn’t forsake the older sister who rejected her all her young life.

She doesn’t follow her heart (although she does fall madly in love with Prince Hans, who just wants to kill her and her sister to gain their kingdom – again proving the point).

Instead, she gives her life to save Elsa – the complete antithesis of the Let it Go song. By giving up her life for another, she found meaning and life in the end.

Following your heart doesn’t bring freedom and life.

You find freedom and life by trusting the One who knows our heart all too well and yet gave His life to deliver us from it: Jesus, the Christ.

“Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.”[5]

 

 

[1] Numbers 15:39 ESV

[2] Jeremiah 17:9 CSB

[3] http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/idinamenzel/letitgo.html [accessed May 19, 2017]

[4] https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/trevinwax/2014/02/17/missing-the-point-of-frozens-let-it-go/ [accessed May 19, 2017]

[5] Luke 17:22