The Cross in Shadows

This is my message from our “Journey to the Cross” worship service on February 14, 2018. This begins a journey with the life of Joseph at Eastbrook Church throughout Lent both in our weekend sermon series and through a daily devotional.


Coventry Cathedral cross.jpg

In the book of Genesis, we read about the creation of the world, of the overwhelming flood in the time of Noah, and the life stories of the first fathers and mothers of our faith. When you read their stories, you quickly realize that there are many things we can hold up as strengths and more than a few things we see as weaknesses. Still, again and again, God uses their flawed human lives to display His strength, infusing His grace into their frailty, and shedding His light into the midst of the dark places in their lives and the world.

One of the most notable stories is that of Joseph. Joseph is the son of Jacob and Rachel, and the great-grandson of Abraham and Sarah. In Joseph’s life, as told in Genesis, chapter 37-50, we not only see someone go through the ups and downs of life, but also develop a deeper life with God in the midst of it.

At times Joseph seems to bring suffering down upon himself, while at other times he endures unjust suffering. Throughout his story, he interacts with characters who are for him – like his father and the king of Egypt – and others who are against him – like his brothers and a woman who falsely accuses him. Throughout Joseph’s life, God is at work, sometimes readily visible and at other times apparently hidden.

Over these next six weeks, we are going to journey with Joseph in our weekend sermon series and through a daily devotional. As we walk with Joseph we will see again and again that God uses flawed Joseph to display God’s strength, that God infuses His grace into Joseph’s frailty, all the while shedding divine light into the midst of dark places.

Near the end of his life, Joseph responds to some of those who brought suffering upon him with words of great depth:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)

It is good to consider this question: how do we become people who can speak like Joseph does there?Read More »

Dirt: Beginning the Journey to the Cross

Here is the text of my message from our service last night at Eastbrook Church, beginning our Crossroads journey through Lent. I hope it is an encouragement to you as we begin the journey with Jesus to the Cross.

In the book of Genesis, we are told that God “formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). Human beings were created by God from the dust of the earth. This is of course why one phrase from an old funeral prayer says: “Ashes to ashes – dust to dust”

The story of Genesis continues with the turn of human beings from God in disobedience, the entrance of sin into the world and human experience. The curse of sin touches upon the life and existence of men and women, and the Bible says that even “the ground is cursed because of” sin (3:9).

Jesus steps into the cursed dirt of humanity. He does this by taking on flesh and bone in the incarnation.

But He also steps into the dirt by inhabiting our sinful context. The same beautiful world that is also the weary world in which we live – Jesus steps into it. He experiences the goodness and the evil, the kindness and the injustice, the gentleness and the violence. Jesus steps inside that dirty context.

Even more, Jesus runs face to face into the full power of the dirt of sin. In the New Testament book of Hebrews we read: “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

In this conflicted place, Jesus named evil, sin, and wrong. He confronted it and defeated it. One of the most vivid pictures of that in the Bible is Jesus’ journey into the wilderness for 40 days of temptation. He waits, seeks God, fasts, and encounters the powers of evil. He steps into the dirt.

Lent is a journey like that into the dirt of the cosmos; into the dust of humanity. During Lent, we journey with Jesus through the messy spaces of human experience to the Cross.

  • We watch Jesus name sickness and bring healing
  • We watch Jesus name oppression and bring freedom
  • We watch Jesus name injustice and bring the favorable year of the Lord
  • We watch Jesus name offense against God and bring forgiveness
  • We watch Jesus journey to the Cross

Lent is a journey with Jesus into the dirt. With Lent, Jesus reminds us that something needs to die in order for something to live.

We see that truth as Jesus spends time with His disciples. Hel tells them the real life comes when we turn from ourselves and turn to God. There’s a word for that – an unpopular word – but an important one: repentance.

Jesus describes the discipleship journey as a fundamental turning from ourselves to God in this way: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23)

In our lives, there are things that need to be named as dirt:

  • Sin – our offenses against God – need to be named as dirt
  • Brokenness – our twisted inner lives and the twisting we do to others – needs to be named as dirt
  • Evil – the ways in which we speak or act wrong – needs to be named as dirt

Those things need to die so that something can live in us. We need to get rid of the dirt in our lives. And Lent is a great time to do that. To join in with Jesus in naming things as dirt, getting rid of them, putting them to death, so that God’s life can spring up in our lives.

But it’s not only true that something needs to die in order for something to live…actually, someone needs to die in order for someone to live.

When Jesus ministry turns from Galilee toward Jerusalem, three times He tells His disciples that suffering and death are coming next:

  1. Luke 9:21-22 – “21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’”
  2. Luke 9:43-44 – “While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples,44 ‘Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.’”
  3. Luke 18:31-34 – “31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

Every time, we are told that “the disciples did not understand” what Jesus was talking about. It was too overwhelming for them to truly consider that the Messiah – the promised One of God – would suffer and die.

Even if they understood that He had come to enter into the dirt of human experience, the leap from incarnation to crucifixion was almost too big to understand. Someone had to die in order for someone – “someones” – to live.

Jesus was the Messiah, but a Messiah who would suffer. The cross is the centerpoint of the life and ministry of Jesus. He would suffer. He would die. He would become like dust and dirt, so that the things humanity called ‘life’ could be shown for the dust and dirt they were. He would enter into death, and bring life up from the soil of death. At the Cross, Jesus would open wide the pathway to life through the dirt and dust of human sin, evil, and death. Someone has to die for someone to live.

The cross is the centerpoint of the life and ministry of Jesus, and it is the centerpoint of our own lives. At the Cross, Jesus takes our dusty, dirty selves into His hands and transforms us. He sets us free from the power of evil, bringing us out of the realm of darkness and into the realm of God’s glorious light. At the Cross, Jesus liberates us from the power of death, triumphing over it in the resurrection so that He is now alive and we have hope of eternal life in Him. At the Cross, Jesus opens the channel of forgiveness and grace, restoring our broken relationship through reconciliation with the Father.

Something has to die for something to live.

Tonight we will respond to the journey of Jesus with two actions intended to express our recognition of the gift of Christ.

Dirt – The first of these is that we will take a cup of dirt and pour it into the staged areas. This is a sign of us naming our sin, evil, and brokenness as the dirt that it is. This is a sign of us repenting. This is a sign of us getting rid of our dirt in order for Christ’s life to spring up in us. It is a symbolic way that we take up your cross. Jesus said:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

Communion – After doing that we will participate in communion. [read 1 Cor 11] Communion is our remembrance and encounter with Jesus’ journey to the crossroads. We reflect with sobriety and celebrate with gratitude the gift given in Jesus. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Let God speak death to things in our lives that are not life-giving so that the resurrection power might take root in our lives in new ways. It’s about refining and purging for life to grow, all in conformity to Christ and not just our own efforts.

Jesus’ death was the way to life and our own death to self with Jesus is a pathway to life.

Someone has died that we might live. Let us draw near to celebrate.


Journey to the Cross

Today marks the beginning of the season of Lent, and the beginning of our six-week journey to the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we begin our journey together, we are asking all who are able to pray and fast during the day. We will break our fast together as Eastbrook Church with Communion on Wednesday night at the Journey to the Cross service from 7-8 pm in the Worship Hall.

Fasting is one way of telling God that we want Him alone and we are willing to abstain from things we love and/or need (food in this case). Through fasting, we acknowledge that we love and need God more than anything; He is our life. Let tomorrow be a time to confess and rededicate yourself to Jesus, asking Him to remove any “dirt” from your life and cleanse you with His precious blood.

Tomorrow also marks the beginning of the “Crossroads” Lenten Devotional. Find ways to access the devotional below:

Read the “Crossroads” Devotional in 1 of 5 Formats:

  1. Online—Visit each day for the reading, or connect with the online version through Eastbrook’s social media channels.
  2. Daily Email—Sign up for a special email list that will send you each day’s devotional at 4 am each morning. Sign up here.
  3. Mobile App—Download the Eastbrook Church mobile app and use the “Devo” tab to read each day. The devotionals will be published each morning at 4 am.
  4. Printed Book—A limited run of free devotional books are available at Eastbrook Church (5385 N. Green Bay Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53209).
  5. Digital Download—Download the PDF of the book for us with your tablet or to print out at home here.

This day is traditionally known as Ash Wednesday. For a look at what Ash Wednesday is all about, read “What is it?: Ash Wednesday and Lent?

5 Reasons I’m giving up social media during Lent

People talk about all sorts of things you can give up during Lent. For the past three months, I’ve sensed that it would be spiritually upbuilding for me to take a break – a sabbath of sorts – from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and more. In the past, I’ve utilized my blog and social media as a tool for inviting others to be God-focused throughout Lent (my series of posts last year entitled “40 Days” are an example of this). However, I think I need to do something different this year.

So, I’m giving up social media during Lent and here’s five reasons why…

  1. From Distracted to Present: My daily routines are often filled with many things. I have rhythms that shape my days, some related to daily time with God, some related to work activities, and some related to happenings with family and friends. In the midst of all these things, I also give a lot of attention to social media. This allows me to stay connected to people and the world around me through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and more. I love this but sometimes I become distracted. Sometimes I become more than temporarily distracted but become characteristically distracted. I sense the need to take a different routine than that for a while so that I can be fully present with people. Hopefully, this season will enable me to grow deeper into Psalm 86:11, “give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”
  2. Turning Off the Information Tap: Social media makes me aware of so many things I might not otherwise know,and this is good and bad. I know about events in Somalia and Ukraine faster than ever, so I’m motivated to pray. I read up on the latest research about learning styles or urban life, and it shapes how I approach my work. I can keep up with distant friends and relatives’ lives and loves each day. So much of this information is fun and intellectually stimulating. At other times, I feel like I’m too informed about too many things without actually being able to think or consider what that information means. During Lent, I am stepping away from social media in order to intentionally limit what comes into my mind. “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).
  3. Cultivating Appropriate Quiet:: When we take something away during Lent, true spiritual transformation only happens when we put something of value in its place. The corollary to turning off the information tap is cultivating appropriate quiet. If I am going to reduce the flow of connectivity and information, then I must intentionally replace it with another practice. This season of 40 days is intended to stop th high level of connection to others so that I can live from the center of things and have needed space for reflection. Lent is a good time to live into the words of Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
  4. Less Self-Consciousness: By its very nature, social media is centered on the presentation of facts, photos, questions, or information related to ourselves or our interests. Because of that, social media makes me more conscious of how I present myself to others. While that may be good in some ways, that self-centered presentation at times serves to reinforce my own tendencies toward stultifying self-consciousness and people-pleasing that are neither helpful for me nor honoring to God. Lent is a good time to step back from that self-consciousness in order to become more God-conscious. I believe that stepping away from social media during this season will be a good practical practice for me in that direction. I hope it will help me to grow in Jesus’ summary statement of God’s desires for us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27).
  5. From Hearing Voices to Hearing God’s Voice: With all the voices coming my way through social media, whether friends or various colleagues or news feeds, my inner mind often feels like cavern reverberating with the echoes of others’ words. It becomes harder to reflect and, many times, harder to hear God’s voice. Lent is intended to be a focused time for self-reflection, repentance, and purification under the penetrating voice and astute hand of God. It is my aim that consciously eliminating some of those voices for a season helps me to hear and respond to God more truly and vigorously. The prophets constantly called the people to just this, as Hosea declared: “Hear the word of the Lord” (Hosea 4:1).

I will continue to post on my blog occasionally, which automatically posts to my social media accounts. However, I will not be active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram from Ash Wednesday (March 5) through Resurrection Sunday (Easter, April 20). If you need to contact me, please email me.