the video below contains the most difficult 5 minutes and 16 seconds of film you will ever watch. The accompanying song, “Carry My Cross” is performed by Third Day and somehow helps to transform the tears generated by the graphic imagery of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” from tears of pain and grief at the way our Lord and Savior was savagely beaten to tears of joy and triumph at the end when His words in John 10:17-18 are displayed and we are reminded that He died willingly, obediently, and for each and every one of us because He loves us.
cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to
them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have
no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. (John 19:15-17 ESV)
Jesus had been silent throughout most of the proceedings and as they led Him away, He continued His silent acceptance of what was about to happen. Even though He knew He would shortly suffer a horrible death, He also knew that His blood had to be shed to wash away the sins of the world.
In the spring of 2005, my sister Kathy, and her husband, Larry, arranged a vacation at a beach house in Myrtle Beach, SC. At the time, I was living in Hollywood, FL taking care of our mother and our step-father, who had suffered a stroke several months before. I drove them to Myrtle Beach, where we were all joined by several other family members for a relaxing week at the beach.
Everyone else went off on an excursion one day, and I remained behind, claiming I just wanted to relax. The truth is, I wanted to snort some cocaine, smoke some pot, and drink a few beers. You know….’relax’.
I did all of those things, but I also did something else. I watched Mel Gibson’s “The Passion Of The Christ”, which someone had left lying next to the TV. I was still very, very far from considering myself a Christian at that point, but I was curious as I had heard so much of the controversy surrounding the film. Admittedly, I was mesmerized by it even though I was still fully engaged in my private, undeclared ‘war’ with God.
Gibson’s interpretation simply has to be as accurate as the human imagination can possibly make it. When I watched it back then, I watched it without devoting any thought to the real events of that day. I will be watching it again today, but from a different perspective: I will be watching it as one who has experienced the saving power of the blood shed by the One who really died that day.
This time there will be tears of gratitude in my eyes for the pain He endured on my behalf. I will also be watching it with sadness at the pain He experienced, but at the same time, I will be watching with joy for the reason He experienced it.
I was the reason.
You were the reason.
All of us. He died for all of us.
But do “all of us” know what that means?
For me, the shedding of His blood washed away the blood that covered my body in August of 2009 as I lay dying on that shower floor. The blood He shed as His life left His body enabled me to ask God for forgiveness and receive new life for myself.
Jesus defeated death for all of us by dying on the cross. Whereas my death that morning in south Florida would have affected only those who knew me, the death of Jesus Christ that day affected, indeed changed, the entire world.
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15 NIV
Some of us may have faced times in our lives when we have thought about turning away from the Lord. Perhaps life hadn’t been going our way, or something happened to us or someone we love that we were angry about. Maybe we blamed God.
Maybe we questioned His very existence.
Joshua was a very capable leader and he willingly accepted his role as successor to Moses and successfully led the Israelites into the Promised Land. He did not become leader of the Israelites in spite of his faith in God. He became leader because of his faith.
That faith gave him the courage and the wisdom needed to do what he knew God wanted done.
We all make choices, and the most important choice we can make is whether to follow God, or whether to follow our own human instincts, thoughts, and desires. If not God, in all His wisdom, power, grace, and glory, then who? How can we possibly think we can negotiate the highway of life on earth without God’s help? And without God, what awaits us when the bloom of our life withers and dies?
What is it that is so unattractive about everlasting life with God that makes any of us reject it? How could we possibly choose the ‘nothing’ that non-believers say awaits us when we die over the ‘something’ that awaits us when we follow the teachings of Christ and live for service to others as God so desires?
We can be pushed and pulled in a multitude of directions as we go through life. We can encounter tragedy that causes us to call God’s leadership into question. We can encounter smooth talking individuals who seem to have it made and have all the answers.
But if the answer doesn’t include God, then it is really not an answer at all. Certainly not an answer that will lead us to a joyful and everlasting life with God.
No matter what we are facing in our lives, it is easier to face it with God. No matter how attractive some misguided souls may make a life without God seem, we must all realize that choosing that particular option will not have the eternal peace and joy we will have if we choose to follow God.
Your life, and your everlasting life, depend upon it.
“Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.” Proverbs 4:25 NASB
It is easy to become distracted sometimes in today’s world.
There is so much going on around us that sometimes we may be tempted to become sidetracked by something we have seen or heard, causing us to stumble off the path of sin-free living and wander onto the path of sinful living.
It is not that it is so difficult to tell the difference between right and wrong, but sometimes those who ‘package’ the wrong do such a good job that they make us forget our true purpose and make us look away from our righteous destination.
When Solomon wrote the Proverbs, he was well aware of the influence that our hearts had over us. If we have filled our hearts with the spirit, we should always be getting the correct messages, but sometimes we allow ourselves to be fooled into just following sinful impulses. The consequences from closing our eyes to what we know is right can seem to be very small, but they can also be extremely unpleasant. Life is full of forbidden fruit, so to speak. Unfortunately, we do not have God to tell us specifically which choices are forbidden, but with daily prayer and reading of the Bible, our eyes will be opened wider to the dangers that seem to be everywhere.
In an age of rampant permissiveness, it is more difficult than ever to stay focused on living life in a decent, moral manner, observant of God’s guidelines for our behavior.
We must set the boundaries for our behavior and our thoughts, then we must keep our eyes open so we can be on guard against temptations and also to see the beauty and joy that can come from living as a good Christian.
Obviously we must close our eyes to sleep, but we should never close them to excuse bad behavior. When we were children, hiding under the covers worked. If we couldn’t see the monster, the monster wasn’t there.
but we all know that was childish.
Come out from under the covers, open your eyes, and watch where you are going.
a good day to ask yourself, “When did I last spend some quiet time with God?”
“Be still and know that I am God…” Psalm 46:10a NIV
Finding quiet time to spend with God can be a challenge in these busy times.
We are all in a hurry to get here or go there; to run this errand or fulfill that obligation; rushing to work and even rushing off to play. We find it difficult to find time for our spouses, our children and ourselves.
We all should be aware of the consequences of not finding time for ourselves and our families. When we don’t find time to spend with those we love, those relationships suffer tremendously. Husbands and wives become unhappy, disgruntled, and may harbor feelings of resentment or abandonment. Divorce may follow, which is not good for anyone.
When we neglect our children they are going to have only the influence of their friends to guide them, and not ours, and the gap between us and them grows wider.
When we don’t find time to interact with those we love, the relationship suffers, affecting everyone. Time to play, time to work, and time to just sit quietly and enjoy the presence of those we love are all extremely important.
A family needs to share all that life has to offer in order to be healthy.
God needs quiet time with us as well.
Can’t find the time? Everything we have or have available to us we have because of God. Our very lives and the lives of our spouses and children are possible because of God. How can we possibly deny something that costs us nothing to the one who gives us everything?
Don’t have the time?
How much time will we spend today playing computer games? How much time will we spend today reading an entertainment magazine? How much time will we spend today letting people we don’t even know become aware of every little thing we do? How much time will we spend today engaging in idle gossip?
Hopefully, we are all becoming aware that we really do have time in our days for everyone we love, and God should certainly be included in that group.
God gives us everything and asks so little in return. Use God’s gift of this day and spend some time with Him.
“Who is this that questions My wisdom with such ignorant words?” Job 38:2 NLT
Some of us are old enough to remember an old television show called “Father Knows Best.” While the head of that TV family may not have really always known what was best for all concerned, the Father of us all certainly does!
It is relatively easy to obey God when we agree with Him.
How many of us have found it harder to obey when the issue at hand involves denying ourselves something that we have enjoyed for many years? How many of us have indulged in habits or behaviors that we have told ourselves, “Don’t hurt anyone,” or “Don’t bother anyone,” or “Doesn’t hurt anyone but myself.”?
These situations are more likely to be encountered in those of us who have only recently come to the Lord or who have lived lives outside the teachings of our youth for many years, but they can apply to anyone. The saying “Old Habits Die Hard” is very true for many of us, and in our struggle to maintain a tenuous grip on some of our “old habits”, we might make the mistake of trying to justify what we are doing or fool ourselves that what we are doing is alright with God because we are such good people in all other respects.
We are kidding ourselves, because we certainly are not kidding God.
If we think we know better, or we feel that it is acceptable to question God, we might want to think back to when God confronted Job with, “Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.” (Job 38:3 NLT).
That is not a position we should want to put ourselves in, for as Job found out, there is absolutely no way that we can prove to the One who created us that we know what is best.
Some of us may think, “Well my only vice is pornography and they are just pictures and I am not hurting anyone.”
And yet, how many who think this way are married, have children, and have responsibilities that should not include taking time away from our families and responsibilities to look at pictures that should not have been taken in the first place?
The truth is that anything we could possibly do under the banner of, “It doesn’t hurt anyone” actually does.
It hurts our lives because time spent in sinful pursuits could be better spent praying, reading the Word of God, or helping someone less fortunate than ourselves; it hurts our families because it takes away time from them and sets a bad example; and it hurts God, because He knows what is best for us.
We may be the mothers and fathers of our children, but God is our Father, and Father always knows best.
“I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for Him, as I should.” Ephesians 6:20 NLT
Even while imprisoned, Paul’s focus was on serving others and teaching them the path to God led through Jesus Christ.
In his humanness, Paul reached out to others for help. Did he want help getting out of prison? No. He simply wanted others to pray to God on his behalf for the continued strength he needed to focus boldly on delivering God’s message.
For God, creating the world was effortless. For God, wielding the paintbrush of life that gave His world personality, beauty, and character was not tiresome or challenging.
But for those of us created by the brush strokes of the master, daily life as children of God can, indeed, be taxing, frustrating, and difficult.
God places people all around us for a number of reasons.
A very significant one is so they are available for us to reach out to for help. Perhaps we need their physical help in performing some task around the house. Maybe we need help getting to work because our car is in the shop. Perhaps what we need is more important, but less demanding physically: perhaps we need their prayers as we go through a difficult time or to help us cope with a significant loss.
Most of us wouldn’t think twice about asking a neighbor for help moving a piece of furniture or with some other physical chore. But it might not ever occur to us to ask for their help in more important ways. When we remind ourselves that helping each other is a requirement of God, it becomes easier to turn to them in times of our greatest need and ask for their prayers.
Seeking the help of others to petition God for support and strength on our behalf should be as easy to us as asking for a lift to the store.
Use the resources God has placed around you and seek the help of others. Whether you need a lift, an ear, a hand, or a prayer, use what God placed all around us to help us.
“The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.’” Luke 1:30 NASB
Grace is God bestowing favor upon a sinful humanity.
We cannot earn it, He gives it freely. We can thank Him for it, in fact, we should do so. We can ask for it, and we will receive it, but sometimes He picks people to bestow His grace upon, as was the case with the choice of Mary as the mother of the Messiah.
It would be years before the enormity of that honor would become evident. At first, Mary had much to endure: those around her would reject and ridicule her; her fiancée would come to the brink of leaving her in disgrace; and the child she gave birth to would grow up to be rejected by many and, ultimately, be murdered by those who did not believe His message.
But in the end, through her Son would come salvation for the world. Through her pain would come the one who could help the world ease its pain. Through the grace God bestowed upon Mary, the entire world was given hope.
One of the world’s most enduring and recognizable spiritual songs is “Amazing Grace.”
It is a beautiful song and was written by John Newton who used to be a captain on brutal slave ships. Newton not only found favor with God, he thanked Him by writing one of the most recorded pieces of music in history. He also encouraged William Wilberforce, as a member of the English House of Commons, to fight to end the slave trade in England.
Maybe our individual purpose in this life is not as remarkable as that of the mother of Christ or the man who gave us beautiful music. But God’s grace is available to us all, and today is a great day to realize just how amazing His grace can be.
“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead…” Philippians 3:13 NASB
There is probably no better example of God’s ability to transform a person’s life than the example of Saul’s transformation to Paul. As Saul, he stood by and watched the coats of the men who stoned Stephen to death.
“When they had driven him out of the city, they began
stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a
young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:58 NASB).
Following Stephen’s death, Saul was a dedicated persecutor of anyone proclaiming to be a follower of Christ. After his encounter with Jesus, Saul… now Paul… would go on to be second only to Christ Himself in importance to Christianity.
“Who are You, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ He replied.” (Acts 9:5 NIV).
Talk about a wake up call.
Hopefully, none of us has been as bad as Saul, but many of us have done things that we are ashamed of and some of us may find it difficult to let go of the past so that we can move forward. This is, in fact, a common struggle, especially for those who have good hearts and are essentially kind, gentle souls. Those who have hardened hearts are not nearly as troubled as those who do not.
Regardless of where any of us fits in, each one of us has a part to play in the transformation of humanity.
If you have sinned and have trouble moving forward, you must study closely the transformation of Paul. If God can overlook his past and use him as His most ardent supporter, then surely He can overlook anything you or I have done.
Those who think they have lived decent Christian lives and have had a good relationship with God through Jesus Christ, must encourage, support, and forgive those who are trying to find their way to the Lord, for we are all sinners. Far too many of us look at another individual’s transformation with skepticism, cynicism, and doubt. We must remind ourselves that if God can forgive and fill someone with His spirit, who are we to doubt, ridicule, or stand in the way?
And all of us must pray for God to work to soften the hearts of those whose hearts are hardened and resisting transformation. We must all work to let it all go so we can move forward on the path God wants us to walk.
Taken from “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, (C) 2013 Tony Casson
“Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up
my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ –
and You forgave the guilt of my sin.” Psalm 32:5 NIV
Why do we need to confess if God is already aware of everything that we do?
Is it even necessary that we confess our sins to the Lord?
The answer is an emphatic, “Yes!”
Confessing our sins to God is not revealing to Him something that He already knows. It is acknowledging that we have sinned and it is confirming our agreement with Him that what we did was wrong. When we do this, we are also acknowledging our awareness and understanding of God’s desire to forgive us and our need for that forgiveness.
When we confess, we are also asking God to help us strengthen our resolve to forsake sin and follow Him. We are admitting to being human and seeking the Lord’s wisdom, strength and courage in resisting sin in its many forms.
Confession has the same cleansing effect on our soul as using soap and hot water does in removing dirt and filth from our bodies.
While it is true that the number of rules God wants us to live by is relatively small, those simple rules manifest themselves over and over throughout our daily lives, weaving their way in and out of everything that we think, say, or do. It is only through intense focus on God’s simple truth (and even then it is pretty much impossible) that we are able to get through any 24-hour period without having something that we need to bring to God and confess.
In other words, life in a world in which evil roams presents us with hundreds of opportunities each day in which it is possible to sin. When we are aware that we are doing something that is sinful, we need to acknowledge it to the Lord and agree that we need to work harder and rely more upon Him to help us be better followers.
We wash our hands many times a day. Our souls could use a healthy scrubbing often as well, and that should be something we can all agree on.
Taken from “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, (C) 2013 Tony Casson
NOTE FROM AUTHOR: Today is my sister’s birthday, so please join me in saying, “Happy Birthday, Kathy!”
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