And he said to them all, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. Luke 9:23 KJV
Last night I had one of those “aha!” moments while we were watching our favorite television show, “Better human, better dog” with Cesar Milan. I love watching Cesar walk into a home where people have uncontrollable dogs, who are barking, biting and lunging, and in just a few moments, slip a leash around their neck and get them to sit down quietly next to him. Cesar calls this transformation “Calm surrender” and it reminds me of today’s verse. Just like those uncontrollable dogs, I sometimes struggle with what the master expects of me and end up barking at others, hurting those closest to me and in general making a mess our of things. I know what choices I need to make, but the problem isn’t the knowing, it is the trusting God enough to surrender to it.
Now the good news for those like me is that while Cesar Milan may be the dog whisperer, Jesus is the people whisperer! He isn’t at all intimidated by our lunging at our leashes, snarling and making a ruckus. He knows what we need most of all is calm surrender. But in order for that calm surrender to happen on the inside of our hearts, there must first be an invisible transaction of faith. We must trust him enough, every morning, to allow Him to slip the leash around our neck. We do that when we believe that God’s leash, called the cross, is not put meant to strangle us, but to lead us. We can calmly surrender our lives to Him, because we know He has come to give us a better one. When we lie down quietly at His feet, God can drop the leash, because He knows that what keeps us connected to Him is not that leash, but our hearts. Then when we calmly surrender, God can open the door and lead us out to all the good things He has planned for our daily walk with Him!
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross. Colossians 2:14 KJV
When I was about twelve, my mom separated from my stepdad and took my sister and I to move hundreds of miles away to live her parents. Leaving behind all that was familiar, I was eager to make new friends, so when I found three guys about my own age in our new neighborhood, I immediately joined their circle. Just down the street from my grandparent’s home was an elementary school with a playground where we liked to hang out. Right next to that playground was a house which the school had bought, with the plan of tearing it down to make room for an addition. Since the house was soon to be demolished one of the guys in our group wondered who would care if we broke a few windows. We were astonished at his brilliant and exciting plan! Wasting no time to think of things, such as the town hall and police station being only blocks away, we quickly filled our pockets with stones and began a contest to see who could break the most panes. Of course, it wasn’t long before someone called the police, and soon the sirens and flashing lights of two patrol cars came racing up and we all ran inside the house to hide. It didn’t take the officers long to round us up and trot us all into the elementary school. There they lined us up in the hallway just outside the principal’s office. By the time it was my turn to enter, my knees were shaking and though I forget what was said, I remember that the principal took out a black book where he had written our names. Then he showed me that he was marking a large black circle right next to mine. I had no idea what that meant, but it felt as if I was doomed for life!
Looking back on how we were then simply released to slink quietly home, I am pretty sure that all of our parents were in on the elaborate ruse. It really was a great plan, because not one of us got into any trouble again that summer! In fact, we did not even have the courage to speak about our moment of infamy to each other! That time reminds me of today’s verse. Just as we each received a black mark next to our name, so everyone who has ever lived has been caught by the justice system of God. We have all sinned and the penalty for our sin is death. We have broken, not only the windows of heaven, but also the heart of God. He has sadly marched us in and one by one placed a black mark by our names. But unlike in my childhood experience, God’s plan did not end there. Instead, God sent His only son, to die in our place, so that He could erase the black mark. And the even better news of the Bible is that instead of simply releasing us to go to our own homes, God has invited us to come to live in His forever!
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Romans 5:10 ESV
These days there is much talk about spiritual warfare (and rightly so), with the emphasis on our battle against the devil. But what is often overlooked in this matter is the origin of that war and that is the warfare between us and God. From the moment Adam and Eve took the fruit that God had forbidden, all of us became traitors, chose independence from God and declared war on our creator. By unanimous consent we decided that our way was better than God’s and we chose rebellion and separation from our Heavenly Father in order to follow our desires. Of course, the devil does tempt us in order to enlist us in his battle against God, but what he did not count on was the Almighty God’s strategy and how Jesus came to counterattack and defeat him through the cross. Until the cross we really had very limited options on the spiritual battlefield. We were slaves to sin and by nature marched along to the commands of the enemy of our souls. But at Calvary, the devil’s uncontested claim over us was broken. As Jesus cried out in pain and weakness, “It is finished!” we were at once presented with a choice. We no longer have to be the enemy and betrayer of a Holy God. Now we can be His children, because the amazing, astonishing and powerful good news is that while we were still at war with God; Jesus died for us! What an amazing battle plan. What a hope we have. Now we can joyfully choose to surrender to Him and then by the power of His Holy Spirit we can win the warfare against anything the enemy throws down against us today! With God as the Captain of our unit, that’s a spiritual war worth fighting because our eternal victory is assured by the blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!