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The Cross in Our Generation

In my last post, we saw Jesus explaining to His disciples the need to give up their human, fleshly way of thinking.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Mark 8:34

Remember, the Lord had just called Peter an accuser and told him to “get behind me.”  Now Jesus uses that exact same word and says “if anyone would get behind me…”  Getting behind Jesus, following Him, requires taking up your cross.

What does Jesus mean by this?  I’ve heard people use it in a lot of different ways.  Sometimes they’ll use this term in talking about an ongoing illness, or even their spouse.

“That’s just my cross that I have to bear.”

Is that what it’s all about?  I don’t think so.  Carrying a cross is a sign that you’re about to die.  Very soon you’re going to be laying down your life.

In the next few verses, Jesus makes it clear what He’s talking about.

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Mark 8:35-37

The Lord is speaking about giving up the temporary in order to gain the eternal.  The word, life, that He uses here is the actual word for soul.  It’s the seat of who you are as a person; your personality, likes, dislikes, desires, and experiences.

We have to lay all of that down if we’re going to experience God’s destiny for our lives.  That’s the only place where we can experience true fulfillment.  It’s the kind of life where we can look back a million years from today and say that it was all worth it.

But there’s more to it than just that.  There’s a tougher part that needs to be laid down.

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Mark 8:38

I believe that this speaks directly to where we are as God’s people at this point in history.  The word, generation, could also mean a people group.  So Jesus is talking about being ashamed of what He does or says in the midst of an adulterous people group.

Hear what He’s saying.  In order to be adulterous, you have to be in a covenant relationship.  The Lord isn’t talking about the unsaved here.  He’s talking about those who want to follow Him within a church that’s following after the world’s way of living.

There’s a huge segment of the church today that’s ashamed of what Christ does and says in the Scripture.

“Oh, no, we don’t talk about that subject in our church.  We don’t want to offend anybody.”

I thought that the Good News of Christ is that we are headed in the wrong direction – eternity separated from God because of our lifestyle.  But now because of what Christ did on the cross, we can be reconciled to God and CHANGED by the power of the Holy Spirit placed within us.

Father God, I pray that you give your people the boldness to proclaim Your message and to accomplish Your work.

Question: How have you experienced shame over the ministry or teachings described in Scripture?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

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Posted by on April 9, 2018 in Ministry, Revival, Spiritual Walk, The Gospel

 

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The Spirit and the Cross

We’re continuing our study through the book of Galatians.  Now that we’re in the final chapter, Paul is beginning to wrap up his teaching.

In this letter, he deals with the false teachers who said that you needed to come under the law in order to be saved. There were people trying to convince the church that Christ forgives your sin, but the law makes you acceptable to God.

Paul had an answer for these people that we need to take to heart in this generation.

See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!  Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.
Galatians 6:11-12

If our focus is on the outward behaviors, then we’ll avoid the cross at all cost.  In spite of this, we still want God’s grace to work in our lives.  We want to see God’s blessing on our finances, health, jobs, and family.

At that point, our mind tells us that there must be something we can do to obtain God’s blessing.  So we put ourselves under all kinds of rules and regulations in order to earn the grace of God.

Here’s why that approach doesn’t work.  Under the law, you can live for yourself by invoking a string of technicalities.  It’s the same thing the Pharisees of Jesus’ day would do.  You simply tell yourself, “I’m okay.  I go to church, read the Bible, and live a good life.”

In reality, these people want to avoid the fear of the cross.  The word persecuted in the above verse comes from a root word that means to run away or retreat.  That tells me that these individuals are cowards who have decided not to embrace the cross.  Instead of running from it, we must live in its shadow.

Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh.  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Galatians 6:13-14

Instead of trying to avoid being worldly by our own willpower, we must embrace the cross.  Think about what Paul is saying here.  The world is nailed to a cross.  I’m nailed to another.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t get over to that other cross.  Neither can the world get to me.

That’s what we do to our flesh by invoking the power of the cross in our lives.  When we nail our flesh to the cross there’s a power that’s released to work God’s righteousness in us.  It’s not a struggle to keep pure, but reliance upon the Holy Spirit in us.

But we need to remember, we nail our flesh to the cross by the spiritual walk.  The more I pray in the spirit, the more my flesh is dealt with.

I can never crucify the flesh with its wants and desires by my will-power.  My flesh can’t change itself, no matter how good my intentions are.  It can only be accomplished by cooperating with the Holy Spirit.

This is the path to all that God has for you.  I’m talking about healings, increase, miracles and the provision of God.  It’s everything you need for life and godliness.

It will only come in its fullness as we embrace the pattern laid down by the Lord.  We must follow the path of the cross by a walk in the spirit.  Allow the Lord to work His pattern of salvation in us.  It’s the way to freedom in Him.

Question: What would the church look like if we all embraced the path of the cross?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
 

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Freedom in the Cross

Have you ever had your words twisted by someone?  They accuse you of saying something that you never meant to say.  It’s not a new thing.  The Apostle Paul had to deal with it as well.

In the early church there were a group of people preaching that to be a good Christian, you needed to obey the Law of Moses.  In order to give themselves some credibility, they said that Paul was preaching the same message.

Look at what the Apostle has to say about them.

Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?  In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
Galatians 5:11-12

The fact is that Paul was being persecuted for preaching about our freedom in Christ.  The Judaizers followed him from city to city, stirring up riots and dissension.  That in itself should have proven that his message was different than theirs.

He says that if he was preaching the Law, then the offense or scandal of the cross would have been rendered null or idle.  What does he mean by that?

In simple terms, it’s the cross that gives us our freedom.  It may not sound like that on the surface.  I’m convinced that we’ve missed the full impact of the cross.  We’re taught misconceptions and partial truths.

I’ve heard those who try to make it so hard to serve Christ.  They explain how Jesus said that in order to follow Him, we need to carry our cross (Luke 9:23-24, 14:27).  What they fail to mention is that He said this before He went to the cross.

So we were to pick up our cross, follow Christ to His cross, then to the grave, and then to the resurrection.  We are to identify with Him from death to life.  The cross was simply the doorway to the resurrection!

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
Colossians 2:13-14

I don’t know what this sounds like to you; but it sounds like life, victory, and freedom in Christ to me.  The Law does not reign over me.  I need to submit to the Holy Spirit, not a written code of behavior.

That’s the offense of the cross.  It offends the self-righteous to be told, “No matter what you do, you’re not good enough.”  They like to think that their “holy” lifestyle is winning God’s approval.

The Apostle Paul has very little tolerance for these people.  I believe that the NKJV does a better job of translating Galatians 5:12 than the NIV.

I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!
Galatians 5:12 (NKJV)

This is kind of a play on words in the Greek.  The word, trouble, literally means to force out or remove from home.  So Paul is saying that he wished the ones who were removing you from your place of rest in Christ would actually remove themselves.

Knowing the full message of the cross brings freedom in knowing who we are in Christ.  You can’t cling to both the cross and the Law.  They’re mutually exclusive.  As for me, I choose the freedom of the cross of Christ!

Question: How have you found freedom in the message of the cross?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2017 in Legalism, Spiritual Walk, The Gospel

 

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Short-Lived Champions

TrophyI live in the Boston area. I have to admit that I was excited when the New England Patriots won the Superbowl. That probably doesn’t sound very spiritual.

A couple of days ago the Patriots celebrated their victory with a parade in Boston. Everybody seems to be feeling good about it.

Actually there’s a truth here that we need to understand. It hurts me to tell you this, but now that the Superbowl is over, both the Patriots and the Falcons are tied for last place. (Along with every other team.)

When you look at the world of sports, the game gets reset every year. What you did last year doesn’t mean anything during the next season.

From this point on it’s all about winning next year. In our society, championships are a temporary thing. You can be a world champion today and scraping the bottom the next season.

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.
1 Peter 3:18

I’m glad Jesus wasn’t this kind of champion. The victory that He won was once and for all. There will be no rematch, no do overs, and no replays. It is finished.

Under the Old Covenant it was much different. The death of a bull or goat today had no power to help you a year later. The sacrifices had to be repeated over and over again.

The work that Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross will never lose its effectiveness. It will never fade or wear out. The Lord is eternally victorious.

But there’s more to the story. Christ has passed this victory on to all who will trust in Him.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:57

As I said before – I’m glad the Patriots won. The problem is that their victory didn’t do anything for me. After the Superbowl, my health, finances, and attitudes were the same as they were before. They got the glory, and I got to watch.

Christ, on the other hand, allowed me to share in His victory. Even though there was nothing I could to do to help, I benefit from all that He did. All I had to do was to trust in Him as my Lord and Savior.

…for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
1 John 5:4

In one decisive act, Jesus Christ accomplished freedom, salvation, healing, and restoration for all. We just need to get in on it by faith in Him.

Spend some time with the Lord today. Let His victory spill over into your life. Don’t walk around as if you’re defeated, hoping to win the next round. You can walk in his freedom right now.

Question: How has the victory of Christ been effective in your life?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2017 in Faith, Power of God, Spiritual Warfare, The Gospel

 

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Forgiveness – God’s Greatest Idea

heart CrossForgiven – I keep coming back to this word. Each time I do; I realize I know less and less about it. Forgiveness is tied to so many things in the Scripture. Debts, healing, relationships, redemption, blessings, etc.

I’m convinced that as believers, we need an understanding of the forgiveness of God. Not only that, but we also need to understand how He calls us to forgive others – and ourselves.

Even defining forgiveness is a hard thing to do. It seems that this generation has lost the understanding. Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary has 4 definitions. What I found is that the first two, and last, line up with the Scripture. The third is how we define it in practice. I want to take a few posts to talk about the concept of forgiveness.

The third definition says, “To cease to blame or feel resentment against.” I think that this is the way our modern society looks at it. It’s kind of like a get out of jail free card. When someone reminds us of the past, we say, “I thought you forgave me for that?”

Remember, as Christians we’re not a part of this world system. We shouldn’t act or think the way the world does. Our understanding of things should be higher than the way society thinks.

Forgiveness is one of those areas. Of all people, Christians should understand forgiveness more than anyone else. The big question is; what exactly is forgiveness?

When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Luke 5:20-21

Let’s be fair with the Pharisees and teachers of the law. If you study the Old Testament, you make a very important discovery. The word forgive is only used by God. That can only lead to one conclusion.

Forgiveness is God’s idea.

So if that’s true, then the only definition that matters is God’s definition.

Please understand, the command to forgive is a New Covenant truth. But nowhere in the Old Testament is there a command for people to forgive each other. Why? Because forgiveness is more than just feeling better about someone.

That brings me to the first definition that I found in Webster’s Dictionary.

“To cease to demand the penalty for, to pardon.”

The simple fact is that we all sin. We all miss the mark of who God wants us to be. With that comes a penalty.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

The penalty for sin is death. How can a human being have the ability to forgive? It would be absolutely impossible. That’s because forgiveness of sin requires a penalty to be paid.

That’s why the only time we see forgiveness in the Old Testament is in relation to the sacrifices.

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Hebrews 9:22

Forgiveness only comes when the penalty is removed. That’s the only time God can “cease to demand the penalty for” what we’ve done wrong.

It’s a spiritual truth that forgiveness is only purchased by blood. There had to be a substitute to pay the penalty. Under the Old Covenant it was an animal.

Praise God for what Jesus Christ did on the cross. I can now walk confidently in the forgiveness of God. Christ could forgive us, because He was took the penalty of all our sins on Himself.

Question: How does God’s forgiveness change your outlook on life?

© Nick Zaccardi 2016

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2016 in Encouragement, Power of God, Spiritual Walk

 

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True Repentance and Forgiveness

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe sometimes give the impression that the story of Jesus is all about the resurrection. As important as that is, it’s only a part of the whole picture of Christ. The work of the Lord definitely culminated when He rose from the dead. But we need to understand the entire revelation of God’s plan.

He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
Luke 24:46-47

The whole work of Christ on the cross was needed to bring us repentance and the forgiveness of sin. Do we really understand what this means? Or have we watered this down in our desire to get on with what we want to accomplish with our lives? I need to know how the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord affects me.

The first word that catches my attention here is repentance. In the vocabulary of our present society it simply means to say, “I’m sorry.” Many times we throw out this phrase and never even mean it. We only want to placate the one we’re apologizing to.

Biblical repentance is a whole other matter. It’s about desiring a change of direction in your life. I don’t like where I’m at. I have all this baggage that I’m carrying with me – the guilt and regrets of the past. It’s like I’m stuck with a heavy backpack full of junk that I’d just like to shake off.

The problem is that this backpack is locked onto me. I can’t shake it. I’ve tried so many times to remove it in the past but nothing works. I want a new life. This is the spirit of repentance. It’s all about the desire to change.

The next word we have a bit of trouble with is forgiveness. We read into it the definitions given to us by our society. When we talk about repentance and forgiveness the truth gets lost in our preconceived ideas.

We do something wrong and say, “I’m sorry.”

The person we wronged replies, “Don’t worry about it. I’m okay with you now.”

Our misunderstanding comes from the fallacy that sin is only evil. The fact is that sin means that we have missed the mark of God’s perfect will. Of course, evil falls into that category. But there are other things that are sin as well. Not doing the good work that the Holy Spirit is prompting you to do is a form of sin. Sin is only evil when it’s done on purpose.

When we talk about forgiveness, we’re not talking about God saying to us, “I’m okay with you now. Try harder next time.”

The word, forgive, in the Bible literally means to pick up and throw away. God’s work of forgiveness is the total removal of the sin from our lives. That’s why a true understanding of repentance is so important. If all you want is to “make God happy with you,” then you’re not really repenting. True repentance is the desire for true forgiveness – the removal of sin and restoration to purity in Christ.

It’s like what the trash man does at our curbside every week. He shows up and removes our trash completely. When he’s done his work, you never see that trash again. Think about what life would be like if he took it back to your house the next week just to remind you what you threw away.

The blessing of serving our God is that the removal is permanent.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Psalms 103:11-12

This is what the cross and the resurrection are all about.

Question: How does a repentant heart today change how you live tomorrow?

© Nick Zaccardi 2015

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2015 in Power of God, Revival, The Gospel

 

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Avoiding the Cross

 

 

Cross SunsetIn my last post I talked about the pattern of living that the Apostle Paul handed down to his churches.

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Philippians 3:17-18

The unfortunate truth that Paul saw in his day, and is an epidemic in ours, is that many believers live as enemies of the cross. Please understand. They’re not really enemies – they would never think to put it into those terms.

They actually think they’re followers of Christ. But in reality, enemies try to avoid one another at all costs. That’s how many treat the cross.

You can see it in a church service. When the sermon starts heading in that direction, eyes start to glaze over.

“Yes, Pastor, we know we need to take up our cross. But I’d rather hear something that will get me a better job.”

Paul describes these people in the next verse.

Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.
Philippians 3:19

Actually, this verse isn’t as bad as it sounds. What’s translated as their destiny is destruction isn’t talking about spending eternity in hell. What it means is that the destination of the road they’re on is ruin and loss.

It’s talking about what happens in this life. So much of the church is wallowing in ruin and loss. We spend so much time trying to come up with teachings that merely put a Band-Aid on the problem.

He also describes the objects of their focus. It’s all about their stomach, their shame and earthly things. Christians are involved in so much these days – a lot of them are healthy pursuits. Restaurants, gym memberships, sports leagues, and hundreds of other things.

Many of us give great sounding reasons for what we do. We want to be well-rounded people. Our lives need to be in balance. We want the world to see that we’re regular people. Paul, however, sees it from a different perspective.

Through the eyes of Christ, the Apostle breaks through our excuses and zeroes in on what’s really going on. It’s all about us. Our god is our stomach. Our desire is to fulfill the lusts and desires of our flesh. We look at the world around us and get jealous of all that they experience. We want to partake of the same things.

We glory in our shame. This is a hallmark of our society. I’m ashamed that I don’t look like the actor on TV with those washboard abs. I have to start a program at the gym to try and work on it.

My heroes are the singers on American Idol, so I need to take voice lessons. I want to be like the athletes I watch at the stadium, so I join a basketball league. Now, I’m too busy to do very much for Christ.

It all boils down to the last statement Paul makes – their mind is on earthly things. It doesn’t matter how good you make it sound. The things that distract us from pursuing Christ will only pull us down to ruin and loss. It’s time for the church to wake up.

Question: How do we break free from the distractions of the world?

© Nick Zaccardi 2015

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2015 in Revival, The Church

 

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