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Constrained by the love of Christ

If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that.  Matthew 5:46 The Message

Christ first loved us.  1 John 4:19

For the love of Christ constrains us…  2 Corinthians 5:14 NKJV

The Greek word for constrain here is an interesting one.  It means to grab hold of, to constrain, to keep from wanted movement or desire.  It is used to describe people with sickness three times in Scripture, it is used to describe the soldiers holding Jesus to beat Him, and of the people of the Gadarenes being gripped with fear in Luke chapter 8.

Paul uses the word twice, once in Phil 1:23 when he is torn between going to heaven which he naturally desires, but knowing that Christ is constraining him to remain in ministry on earth.  And he uses it here in 2 Corinthians, in explaining why he keeps doing what he is doing.

Combine 2 Corinthians 5:14 and Matthew 5:46, and the summation is: we love people and minister to people not out of their love for us or what we will get out of it or because we have to or because of how we feel toward them at all.  We love because of the love of Christ; we love because His love is supernaturally moving in us to love the unlovable with the same steadfast love that is within Christ Himself.  Is that the kind of love I am showing others today?

The Reality of Christ

The reality of Christ is the single most important fact in the cosmos.

Children of God will spend all of eternity gazing, savoring, exploring, relishing, worshipping, and displaying this focal point of all reality.

How can we live in this reality today?

We can let the reality of Christ permeate our outer world and our inner world.

Our outer world is characterized by the effects of the fall: suffering, sin, injustice, imperfection.  Whether it is a stop light that won’t turn our way or a child dying of cancer, we are immersed in a world scarred by sin.

How, then, do we live in such a world? By dwelling in the reality of Christ’s life.  In John 1:14 the apostle states, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Let that sink in.  God dwelt among us.  We saw his glory, full of grace and truth.  For someone who has the new life of the Spirit, seeing that glory, meditating on that fullness of grace and truth, dwelling in that light can extinguish any darkness, no matter how great, that we encounter in this life.

Our inner world is horribly scarred by sin as well, by countless acts of pride, anger, selfishness, deceit, and lust.  The child of God who honestly looks at his soul sees his sin, sees how twisted his old self is and how evil, how rebellious, how dead to God it is.

How, then, do we live with facing our own sinfulness?  By dwelling in the reality of Christ’s death.  Later on in the first chapter of John is recorded the great declaration of the reality of Christ’s death, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  Our sin has been atoned for and taken away.  All our guilt, all our evil, all that rightly separates us from God and condemns us, has been cast away as far as the east is from the west by the death of Christ.  We are redeemed and restored.

This, then, the reality of the life and death of Christ, is the gospel. This is the reality that saves and gives life.  Let us live in that reality today.

It’s All Dung

One of the popular catchphrases in pop culture right now is “It’s All Good.”  I’m not sure whether this is a variation of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” or what, but might I suggest that Paul had his own catchphrase 2000 years ago:  

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Phillipians 3:7-8 ESV)

The word “count” in the Greek has a meaning of “getting out in front to lead”—and the word “rubbish” is literally “dung”, “manure” or (you get the idea).  So what Paul is actually saying is “my life strategy is to consider everything in my life as dung.” So, for Paul, instead of saying “It’s all good”  he might reply “It’s all dung.”

Obviously, Paul had counted everything in life as dung “because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ as my Lord.”  But look closer—this is not some comparison or mere use of flowery language—-Paul says he has “suffered the loss of all things”—all these things in his life—comfort, prestige, security, you name it, he had purposedly assigned the value of “dung” to, not as a gesture, but actually “in order that I may gain Christ.”  Consider this carefully: Paul had in fact purposefully taken actions which had caused him to lose everything which he had once held as valuable.

In this era of “Jesus has a wonderful plan for your life if you will just accept Him” Paul’s actions seem strangely foreign.  Paul seems to say that he had to plan his life and actions according to “It’s all dung” in order to know and gain Christ.  Paul seems to believe that there was no other way to truly become Christ’s intimate friend apart from this radical mindset.

Why? Why was Paul compelled to consider a lifestyle of “It’s all dung” to be the only way to the heart of Christ? Might it be because the gospels are filled with the same thing?

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26 ESV)

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)

Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” (Matthew 19:27)

There are many more passages we could cite—this is one of the major themes of Christ’s ministry and teaching, that His followers must abandon all allegiances, desires, goals, that all must be considered dung to gain Christ.

This isn’t lip-service; this is real; and this is hard.  A.W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God used words like “bleeding” and “terror” to describe what needs to take place in our hearts in order to know God:

Father, I want to know Thee, but my coward heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from Thee the terror of the parting. I come trembling, but I do come. Please root from my heart all Those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without a rival. 

The question on the table is, Has this really taken place in my heart?  Have I considered all that is in this world, all its toys as Tozer puts it, are they all as dung in my heart, not for the purpose of some pious asecticism or simple living or for my own peace or well-being, but only that I may gain Christ?  Have I taken that beyond mere lip-service into the plans and actions of my life?  Could someone look at my life and immediately say, “Yes, I can see by his life that He considers nothing of value besides Jesus Christ.”? 

As with all else in the Christian life, this change in perspective from valuing the things of this life to cherishing only Christ can only come from the new birth.  We must look within to our new hearts, and see that God has implanted a love for Him there that is faithful and all-consuming, and then learn to live in it.  Let us pray for the eyes to see that everything but Christ truly is dung, for us to be able to say it not because we’re supposed to, but because it in reality becomes the earnest, excited, joy-filled cry of our heart to God—”Jesus, it’s all dung; compared to you nothing else matters!”

The Radical Paradigm of Thankfulness 1

paradigm:  A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality

 

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV

This short verse gives us a radical way of viewing reality that is only possible through being “in Christ Jesus” through the new birth.  At first glance, it appears to be a simple command to do something– “give thanks.”  But the 2nd phrase “in all circumstances”—like so many of the Biblical commands, should bring us to our knees in realization that in our own strength it is impossible to fulfill.  Give thanks in all circumstances?  All the time?  In everything?  No matter what?

No, this is more than a simple command, it is a radical paradigm shift that influences every waking minute of our lives, that is fundamentally different than the paradigm we were born with.

Today we will look at our “original” paradigm, how we fail to thank God in all circumstances, and tomorrow we will look at how our new nature gives us the power to transcend our old nature into a new way of viewing reality through continual thanksgiving to God.

Our innate lack of thankfulness toward God originated with our first parents, Adam and Eve.  Their actions in the garden served as the prototype for all their children.  They (and we) will forget God, then redefine God, then ultimately reject God as we manifest a spirit of ingratitude toward God.

It has been well said that sin often begins with forgetting God and His blessings.  With all of the tremendous beauty and bounty of the garden, with anything but the one tree available freely to them, Adam and Eve forgot all that God had given them while they concentrated on what they didn’t have.  We see this pattern repeated over and over again in Scripture.  When David sinned with Bathseba, Nathan the prophet challenged David to remember all of God’s blessings, implying that if he had been thankful for all that God had given him he would not have fell to temptation:

 ”I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.  Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?” (2 Samuel 12:8-9 ESV) 

Forgetting God’s blessings effectively causes us to despise both them and the God who gave them.  God knows well our propensity to forget Him:  Eight times in the book of Deuteronomy alone he warns Israel not to forget Him or His blessings.  Yet it is so easy to forget:  I didn’t get the promotion I wanted, so I forget God’s blessings of providing me a job.  The church’s carpet looks hideous, so I forget God’s blessing of living in a country where worshipping Christ isn’t against the law.

Once we have forgotten God and His true nature, we are but a step away from redefining God to suit our liking.  In the garden Satan redefined God to Eve; “Did God actually say…?…God knows when you eat of it your eyes will be opened…”   Now Eve is thinking, “Why God is not being good to me at all—He’s keeping something good from me”—and she moves from merely forgetting about God to redefining Him as someone not worthy of her gratitude.  Paul speaks of the human heart universally doing this in Romans 1:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Notice the sequence: they started out knowing God, but they stopped giving thanks to Him, which eventually resulted in their redefining God into idol images. 

How often does lack of gratitude make us redefine God?  How many marriages have been destroyed when people have said, “I know God would want me to be with this person who is not my spouse, God wants me to be happy.”?  How many callings have been rejected when someone says, “God would never ask me to do THAT.”?  Whenever we are not thankful for what God has given us, we will end up finding an excuse to sin, and often finding a way of not calling it sin by changing our view of God and His holiness.

The final step of ingratitude is a wholesale rejection of God.  That’s what Adam & Eve did: they rejected God’s blessings and goodness and rule in their lives to pursue what they felt was right, to their (and our) ruin.  When we sin, we have both forgotten God and rejected Him.

Many people who say they are atheists will trace the origin of their conviction to something tragic or evil that they could not reconcile with their definition of God.  Although it is impossible for the finite minds of humans to understand all the reasons God acts and why evil exists, to reject God because we cannot understand Him is the mark of a rebellious fool.  Sorry those words are harsh, but, after all, they are not my words, but God’s: “The fool says is his heart, “There is no God.”" (Psalm 14:1 ESV)  It has been said that at the heart level most people’s rejection of God is not on an intellectual basis (as they often maintain), but actually on a moral basis, because to accept God is to accept His rightful place as the ruler of your life, and a subject who is not grateful for his King will always attempt to overthrow Him.

This pattern of forgetting God and his blessings, then redefining Him, then rejecting Him is deeply inground in our psyche—how will we escape its destructive grip?  Tomorrow we will examine how our new heart gives us the ability to both change our paradigm and continually grow in thankfulness to God in all circumstances.

Neo’s Choices in The Matrix

Welcome to “Media Meltdown Mondays”, a new feature here at Light Along the Journey.

In Media Meltdown Mondays, we’ll tackle a movie or song or book and review it, or just try to tease out a relevant theme applicable to your spiritual walk with God. Some may be “Christian” media, some not, sometimes the metaphor will be direct, sometimes subtle or partial, but it will always point us a little farther along the journey.

So, how can I not start out with the most overblown and overanalyzed movie in evangelical Christiandom in the past ten years?

The Matrix 

Yes, I’m talking about The Matrix, that mishmash of guns, kung-fu, black leather, pop cultural, cyberpunk, and obtuse religious references. There have been so many Chrisitian web sites, articles, even books and postgraduate work devoted to this movie it is truly bizarre, especially considering how very very far away from the kingdom of God the two guys who came up with this stuff appear to be. Regardless of the movie’s many failings and shortcomings, yes, I liked it.The mark of any great movie (or any sermon or any creative work) is: How does it create a time and space for us to consider the nature of God, the nature of ourselves, and how we can become more like Christ? As I watch (and rewatch) this movie, one theme that both came out to me and that the writers said they had in mind is the whole thing of individual choice, specifically Neo’s choices. Even though the writers’ eventual explanation of the nature of Neo’s choices in the final movie is banal, insipid and just plain stupid, at best, let’s focus on the choices themselves. In the first movie, one of the main elements of the plot is the series of choices that Neo has to make, and those choices have a parallel to choices we have to make as well, and just maybe seeing those choices we have to make in our spiritual lives illustrated through the medium of a guy in a black trenchcoat and cool sunglasses will help us better consider those choices in our own lives.

1. Choice to go to the nightclub where he met Trinity—the choice of exploring the uncertain and unknown
–>Neo chose the unknown, not knowing the significance of his choice at the time
If he had not made that one choice, the rest of his choices would never have been open to him. 

Have you obeyed God in a matter, and God opened up a blessing or opportunity you weren’t even aware of as a result?

2. Choice to go up the scaffolding of his office building—the choice of taking risk
–>he saw the difficulty “this is crazy” “why is this happening to me?” and chose not to, with a result of both missed opportunity and enslavement.

Have you ever had a tough choice, a risk, and took the “easy way” out? What happened?

3. Choice to stay with Trinity in the car and trust her—the choice of trust
–>Trinity to Neo: “Please, Neo, you have to trust me. Because you have been down there. You know that road. You know exactly where it ends. And I know that’s not where you want to be.”

When have you seen where “your” road ends, and said “I will trust you God, even though I don’t know where You are going.”?

4. Choice to take the red pill—the choice of irreversible commitment
–>this is the choice of belief, many liken this moment to Christian conversion

Have you made that choice, to choose Christ as Lord and Savior?

Is there a choice in your life that you haven’t made because there wasn’t an “out”, a way you could undo it?

5. Choice to save Morpheus—the choice to sacrifice your life for a greater good
–>Neo: “Morpheus believed in something. I know that now”
What does Neo “know now”? —that to believe in something changes your life, and demands sacrifice. This is the first selfless, noble thing Neo does in the whole movie; it is his turning point. Note that it is now Tank who says “this is crazy” instead of Neo saying it during his earlier choice of risk out the window of his office building.

When have you stepped out in faith and “lost your life” for God?

6. Choice to face agent Smith rather than run—the choice to accept your destiny
–>”what’s he doing?” Morpheus, “He’s beginning to believe”
Neo finally KNOWS who he is, and he makes THE choice, the choice to fight the enemy, save his friends, fulfill his destiny. As John Eldredge puts it, “You’re just not going to be able to live an ordinary life anymore. I’m sorry. But you know too much now. You are too dangerous to leave alone, and the Enemy is going to come after you, to try to put you back in your place. The battle can get ugly…but this is where your strength is revealed” Please note that the choice did not make his life easier, but harder, but it was the right thing to do.

Have you made that choice?
The choice to live a life of sacrifice, of destiny?
Do you have a sense of what God’s destiny, what your place in the battle is?
What do you need to do now in your life?

7. Choice to get up after being shot—the choice to believe that you have a new life and new nature that is supernatural

One of the movie’s nicest touches is that Trinity, Morpheus, and Neo all have to “get up” at an absolutely critical time, and break through their natural resistance to do so. Neo’s “resurrection” occurs as he realizes that the matrix, the agents, and “death” have no power over him any longer.

Have you realized this truth? Have you realized that in your new life in Christ you have abilities (of love, mercy, and the other fruits of the Spirit) that transcend anything that you could do in your old life or your old nature?

How can you live a supernatural life today, impervious to any “bullets” the enemy can throw your way, able to live as a new creature in Christ?

The Priority of Building the Church

While doing a study on Romans 14, I disgressed and ended up doing a word study on the Greek word that is often translated “build up” in the writings of Paul.  In the gospels the word specifically refers to the physical buildings of the temple, while Paul uses the word to apply to the spiritual building or temple which is composed of the “stones” of believers in Christ.  In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul specifically tells the church that they are “God’s building”, and Paul uses this word in several of his writings, each time to highlight the priority of building the church, but each time highlighting a specific way we should hold up the priority of building the church.

In the passage in 1 Corinthians 3 Paul warns anyone to be careful how they build on the foundation he has laid, to use ”precious stones” rather than “hay & straw”.  This likely refers to the soundness of doctrine and teaching, which Paul knew was vital to the healthy building of the church.

In Romans 14:19 Paul urges us to pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.  In this passage his principle is that personal convictions(regarding matters like eating, drinking, and feast days) are not to interfere with building the church.  “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.”  Can’t get much more direct than that.

In Romans 15:2 Paul brings out a related theme, that we should “each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”  Building the church takes precedence over pleasing ourselves.  Start to see a pattern?

In Ephesians 2:21 Paul says that the prejudice between Jew & Greek has been nullified by our oneness in Christ.  All separations and divisions are to come down in the name of building Christ’s church.

In Ephesians 4:11 Paul switches gears and speaks of the special offices of ministry, such as pastors & teachers, being appointed for one purpose(guess?), to build up the body of Christ.  He goes on to say that each member of Christ’s body, when he or she is playing their unique God-given role, is helping the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.  Later in the chapter, he warns to let no corrupting talk come out of our mouths, but only that which is good for building up(v. 29).

In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul speaks of the misuse of spiritual gifts simply for show.  This can apply not only to specific spiritual gifts but to almost anything we say or do in our lives.  It is so easy to subtly let our actions be guided by our needs for our egos to be massaged.  Instead, Paul simply says, “Let all things be done for building up.”(v. 26).  And so we should—everything in our lives, every aspect, centered on glorifying God and building the body of Christ.

Devoted to God

One of my favorite early Dilbert panels shows some space aliens coming down to Dogbert saying that they want to share their advanced technology to rid the Earth of disease and bring peace to the world.  Dogbert’s reply is “What’s in it for me?”—which prompts the aliens to get back into their spaceship and take off.  Dogbert then muses, “I’ll always wonder if I could have handled that better.”

“What’s in it for me?” is the core question in every human heart.  The whole structure of our soul is built on our total devotion to our own self interest, ever since the Fall.  That is the core question that Adam and Eve asked themselves when they first disobeyed God, and their children have asked it every day since.  Whether it is what food we eat, or how we treat someone else, or our goals or aspirations, our natural devotion is irrevocably “what’s in it for me?”

The problem is, humans weren’t designed to live this way—with our programming fixated on the self.  As Douglas Wilson once said in a post, with every step we take focused on “what’s in it for me”, we become more hollow, empty, and wretched.

What’s the alternative?  It is what we were originally designed for, to be devoted to the glory of God.  Our souls were originially designed to continually focus on “What’s in it for God?”  Devotion to God was meant to guide our every thought, our every word, our every deed.  Through having a life solely and purely focused on God we were meant to live in freedom and love and joy and peace and fulfillment.

Only through Christ, only through the new birth, do we gain a new nature that can shift our paradigm from self to God.  This paradigm shift is one part of being in “the kingdom of God”.  If you are in a kingdom, if you a subject of the king, your life is consummed with whatever the king’s business is, whatever will benefit and glorify the king, and your joy rests in being a good and faithful servant.  When we enter the Kingdom of God through regeneration, then we gain a new heart that is inclined to God, that lives and works and dreams unto God.  Living in this new state of “God-devotion” vs. “self-devotion” frees us from so much that brings confusion and pain into our lives and allows us to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.

If we have a new heart, we don’t have to be slaves to self-devotion anymore.  We can choose to live from our new heart, to live joyous lives of devotion to our God.

Moving Beyond “Little Faith”

Four times in the book of Matthew Christ uses the term “little faith” to challenge the disciples to grow deeper in their spiritual walk. Each time He spoke to a different aspect of their(and our) life of faith:

1. Learning that Anxiety is Unnecessary

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious… Matthew 6:30-31 ESV

The first “little faith” lesson in Matthew is in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is speaking to His followers, people who by faith had come to realize that He held the words of life.

His message is that anxiety is unnecessary. Isn’t it interesting that the largest section of the Sermon on the Mount(besides the Lord’s prayer) is devoted to anxiety? And even though we all know that passage well, how well do we apply it every day? Just as Jesus described, we worry about food, about clothing, about everything. We aren’t sure what the future will hold, and so we worry.

Jesus gives us 3 keys in the passage to defeat anxiety. First is to remember how valuable we are to the Father(v. 26). Only when we are convinced of God’s boundless love for His children can we ever be free of anxiety. Second is to remind ourselves that God knows our needs(v. 32); He knows better than we know, and He alone has the power to ensure that our needs are met. Lastly, Christ instructs us to focus our lives on the needs of the Kingdom rather than our own needs(v.33). God “has our back”—the knowledge that He will provide our needs can free us from anxiety and free us to plunge forward to accomplish great things for His kingdom.

2. Dismissing Fear When We Follow Jesus

And when He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep. And they went and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And He said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Matthew 8:23-26 ESV

There is so much treasure to be mined from these few verses that are so familiar to us. First notice the two-fold faith of the disciples: First, they followed Jesus; they had the faith to want to stay close to Him. Second, they had faith that He could do something about the storm and so they cried out to Him.

So far, so good. So where was their faith lacking? Their cry for help was not borne out of calm and trusting dependency, but out of sheer desperation. Fear had gripped them, fear that, like their anxiety, was unnecessary. Fear is lack of complete trust in God for the present, while anxiety is lack of trust for the future. Both anxiety and fear can weaken and paralyze us from moving, physically and spiritually.

How can we dismiss fear from our life? By realizing “what sort of Man is this, that even winds and sea obey him”(v.27). We must let the truth of Christ’s infinite power grip us, and be convicted that as long as we are in the boat with Him, we have nothing to fear from any storm in our life.

3. Defeating Doubt in our Life

And Peter answered Him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:28-31 ESV

Compared to most of us (and the rest of the disciples), Peter had great faith, not “little faith”. He was the only one who got out of the boat, in fact he is the only man in history whose faith was great enough that he walked on water.

So where did he fail? Just where I do too—with doubt. I have faith, I believe that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do, but when the wind is fierce, I look at it, I look at the intensity of my problem, my battle, my lot in life, and I take my eyes off Jesus. Anytime we are looking at any problem in our lives more than we are looking at Christ, doubt will come. And when doubt comes, we sink.

The answer to defeating doubt and keeping our head above the water? You already know the answer—to keep our eyes on Jesus.

4. Looking at life from God’s perspective rather than man’s

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves saing, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive?” Matthew 16:5-9 ESV

How often I am guilty of exactly this—like Elisha’s servant in 2 Kings 6, my eyes see the immediate situation, the armies arrayed against me, and my eyes are not open to the armies of God. That is the situation the disciples found themselves in—it was not simply misunderstanding Christ’s metaphor, it was their entire world view that took in only their human perspective and not God’s perspective.

Again, they had “little faith”—if they had no faith, they would not have been listening to Jesus at all. Their “little faith” propelled them to be with Jesus and listen to Him, but they were still having trouble understanding Him because their perspective was still rooted in their old nature.

How do we change our perspective? Jesus told them one way, to remember what things God had already done for them. When we bring to mind God’s hand, both in our lives personally, in the lives of the saints whose biographies we can read, and through the Scriptures, our spiritual eyes are opened, strengthened, refocused to see God’s hand, and to both walk in His way and to bring vision to others around us.

The Cross-Centered Life by C. J. Mahaney

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing

 

  

Sometimes all it takes is one simple truth to make a profound impact on a life.

That’s what The Cross Centered Life did for me. This short book dwells on one simple truth: Christ died for our sins. In the first chapter Mahaney states, “In our never-ending desire to move forward and make sure that everything we do, say and think is relevant to modern living, too many of us have stopped concentrating on the wonders of Jesus crucified…One simple truth should motivate our work and affect every part of who we are: Christ died for our sins.” The book has chapters on how legalism, condemnation, and emotionalism can rob us of a life that is cross centered, and some practical advice on how to make each day cross centered.

I’ve read multiple books on spiritual disciplines and some classics such as The Practice of the Presence of God, but none have taken me so simply and eloquently into the idea of dwelling in the glorious beauty, truth, simplicity, and profundity of the Cross. The last quote in the book is a fitting capstone, from J. Knox Chamblin, “The Spirit does not take his pupils beyond the cross, but ever more deeply into it.”

Down in Front, Please

If anything was obstructing our view of the main event, this would be our standard response. Or would it?

What if it was some goofy guy in a hat doing some antics, and you actually started watching him, and not until it was too late realized that you had missed the big play of the game by watching something else?

No, that wouldn’t happen. Our attention doesn’t distract that easily. Does it?

The main theme of C. J. Mahaney’s excellent short book The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing is just that—our gaze in our lives should always be focused on the “main event” in all the history of the universe, the atoning death of Jesus Christ. Our focus, our thoughts, our lives should be continually centered on the cross.

But we are so easily distracted by other things that pop into our view—anxiety and uncertainty, power and success, other people, other goals. Some things are actually good things, like loving our family or ministry, which God wants us to devote attention to, but only in the context of our continual gaze at Christ.

A good test of whether we are in error is exactly this: is any thought or goal or activity or desire viewed with Christ still “in the foreground”, or have we brought the desire so that it is in front of our eyes, blocking our view of Christ? John Piper has spoke of this when he wrote a recommendation for Josh Harris’ book Sex is Not the Problem(lust is)

The main issue with lust is that it hinders us from seeing and savoring the glory of Christ.

Not only lust, but any goal, desire, or thing that hinders us from seeing and savoring the glory of Christ, especially that of his atoning work on the Cross, we must deliberately and vigorously push out of the way in our lives, so that our view of Christ remains unobstructed.