Crossroads Connection for the Week of December 9
 
 
 
Article #1
 

Perseverance for Success

"And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Rom. 5:2-4).

Perseverance is the key to every great accomplishment because nothing of lasting value has ever been achieved without it. Industrialist Henry Ford is one of the great success stories of American history, but he failed in business five times before he succeeded. A Ford Motor Company employee once asked his boss the secret of success, and Henry Ford replied, "When you start a thing, don't quit until you finish it."

The path ahead of you is strewn with obstacles. People will oppose you. There will be financial setbacks, time pressures, illnesses and misfortunes. Some of the biggest obstacles will be inside of you: self-doubt, insecurity, procrastination, and worry. You must give yourself permission to succeed.

When we persevere through adversity, we win the approval of our Lord Jesus Christ, who told the suffering church at Ephesus, "I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. . . . You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary" (Rev. 2:2-3). That, I'm sure, is the same commendation Joseph received from God when he passed the perseverance test.

Perseverance is a refusal to quit. It's falling down 100 times and getting back up 101 times. We need to remember that perseverance is not a matter of forcing doors to open; it's standing in front of the doors as long as it takes before God chooses to open them.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. The race doesn't go to the swiftest, but to those who don't give up. We need endurance in order to deal with the stress of adversity. We must maintain a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and get plenty of rest. People give up or give out when they feel depleted - when they physically, emotionally and spiritually run out of gas.

When going through adversity, watch out for pessimists, blamers and toxic personalities. Beware of people who try to talk you out of your dreams and goals. Spend time with optimists and encouragers. Seek out people of faith.

Persevere to the end.

 

 

Article #2 

Feel the Burn

By Skip Heitzig

How is your spiritual exercise program? How seriously do you take the words of Paul the apostle, who said, "Bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things" (1 Timothy 4:8)?

Going off the example of Paul after his dramatic conversion in the book of Acts, there are four big spiritual exercises that you ought to engage in. Why? Because God's plan and purpose for you isn't just to save you. He wants to do a work in you and then do a work through you, making you a profitable tool in His hands.

The first of these spiritual exercises is prayer. After his conversion in Acts 9, we see Paul—Saul of Tarsus—on his knees praying (see v. 11). Now, Saul had prayed before—he was a religious man—but I think this was different. This wasn't something that was recited or memorized; I believe it was from the depths of his heart.

The second spiritual exercise is partnering with other believers (see vv. 17-19). Notice Saul went from private prayer time to making a connection with other people in the church. Your strength as a Christian is directly proportional to these two things: devotions and connections. Devotions is spending daily time with the Lord in prayer and reading the Bible. But after devotions comes meaningful connections with other believers, where everybody uses their gifts to build each other up.

The third spiritual exercise Saul engaged in was preaching (see vv. 20-22). Verse 20 tells us he began doing this immediately. Why? Because what happened to him was so real and transforming that he had to tell others (see 1 Corinthians 9:16). This is God's plan for us: He wants us to, with the strength and instruction we receive from Him privately and from other believers corporately, share the gospel publicly. So Saul got on his feet preaching.

The fourth spiritual exercise is a result of the third: Saul had to go on the run (see vv. 23-26). The persecutor became the persecuted. But that's the natural progression: engaging in prayer, partnering with other believers, and preaching the Word publicly will make you a target inevitably. But take heart, because "He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). The power of God will sustain you in every one of these spiritual practices.

And the grace that brought you new life is the same grace that will continually change and transform you into God's vessel. The salvation of a soul is the miracle of a moment, but the making of a man or a woman of God is the task of a lifetime. So take a moment to evaluate your spiritual exercise program, and decide today to be transformed by private time with the Lord and meaningful connections with other believers, so that you can passionately share Jesus with a lost world, even when it means persecution.

Copyright © 2018 by Connection Communications. All rights reserved.


 
Article #3
 

You Were Made to Feast, Not Starve
Amy Carroll
AMY CARROLL

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” 1 John 4:9 (NIV)

My childhood Christmas season always began with a feast. A love feast.

Devotion Graphic

Although not Moravian, my church adopted their traditional Love Feast, and the Christmas season didn’t officially begin until this service. My memories are filled with the warm sight of glowing candles, sparkling Chrismon trees and evergreen wreaths. My taste buds still tingle with the long-ago flavors of sourdough bread and creamy coffee, a ceremonial part of the gathering. The sounds of old carols sung by a full choir ring through the halls of my mind.

But mostly I remember the way I felt, wedged tight between my parents, full to overflowing with the anticipation of everything surrounding Christmas — family time, gifts and laden tables. Snuggled there, I felt safe, secure, and most of all, loved.

Love. That’s what Christmas is really about. In that first Christmas before all our modern trappings existed, the meaning was found in a baby who came to show God’s immeasurable love for us.

When the Apostle John wrote his Gospel, he told us exactly why Jesus came: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NIV). Later, when he was old, John was compelled to write again to remind us: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).

One day I was reading through dictionaries and lexicons to research the meaning of the word love. In both of these passages, the Greek word agape was used. Agape is an expression of God’s lavish, unconditional love. That definition held true, but there was more. As I read down the list of meanings, the word “feast” jumped out at me. Yes, agape is the mystery of God’s boundless love, but it’s also a feast. A love feast.

That stopped me in my tracks, reminding me of the abundance of my childhood Love Feasts — the fragrant surroundings, the bounty for my eyes, but mostly the delicious tastes that filled me.

God sent His Son to bring a feast of His love. We are meant to be filled to overflowing with it, but often we’re starving instead. The table is laid, but we hang back, sure that we’re unworthy or uninvited. The mountains of nourishment beckon, but we choose the deprivation of our aching, hollow hearts because of our skewed view of God. The enemy of our soul makes us think, Surely God can’t be as good for me as He is for others.

But He is! In sending His Son Jesus to be born, to live a sinless life and then to trade His perfection for our sin on the cross, God shows us His true nature. God is a feast-thrower, not a crumb-giver. He offers us a full life in Jesus that will fill our growling souls.

This festive season is also a feast season, so let’s use every meal as a chance to remember. God sent Jesus to fill us in ways that our seasonal food never can. Through Jesus, God gives a love feast to show the world just how much He longs to satisfy our starving souls.

Lord, thank You for this beautiful season. I’m grateful for all the sights, sounds and scrumptious foods that remind me of Your abundance. But mostly I praise You for the feast that You sent in Jesus, the only food that satisfies me from the inside out. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


Truth For Today

1 John 4:10, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (NIV)

John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (NIV)


 
Article #4
 

Shepherds and the Good Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Psalm 23:1

The story is told of a graduate of a top-tier, Ivy League college who took a vocational placement test. He was sure he would find himself suited for being a banker, doctor, lawyer, or executive of a huge corporation. When he read the results, to his embarrassed surprise, the test indicated he was best suited to be a shepherd.

A few thousand years earlier that could have been a badge of honor—it was normal for kings, priests, and other leaders to be referred to as shepherds. God certainly referred to the leaders of Israel that way (Ezekiel 34). But due to their failure to shepherd God’s people, He told them He Himself would become their Shepherd. How fitting, therefore, that the angels of heaven chose humble, Bethlehem shepherds as the recipients of the announcement of God’s incarnation on earth—the incarnation of the One who would become the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-21).

Psalm 23 is a wonderful Christmas meditation—the image of the Lord as Shepherd of His sheep. If you belong to His flock, then He is leading and caring for you.


 

 

 
 Article #5
 

Offering Isaac

By Kurt Selles

Scripture Reading: Genesis 22:1-19

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
Genesis 22:8

We’ve taken several camping trips over the years with our children. We gather our gear and anticipate the thrill of being in the woods together.

That’s not how it feels with Abraham and Isaac’s camping trip. Dread hangs over this dark story as soon as they set out. Somewhere along the way, Isaac points out the obvious: they’ve forgotten something essential, and it’s not tent stakes. It’s the lamb for the sacrifice. Abraham chokes out an assurance: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

When the moment comes, and Abraham raises the knife over his only, beloved son, we feel his horror and grief. We wonder, as Abraham must, what kind of God would ask such a terrible price?

Even when God does provide a sacrificial ram at the last moment, our relief is tinged with horror. The child’s escape from death was too close to forget, and rightly so. Many lambs are sacrificed throughout the Bible’s story, but not a son. Not until Jesus, the one whose birth we celebrate. All of this points to Jesus’ sacrifice for us. God himself provides, and it’s his own Son who dies in our place, paying the price for our sin.

As you prepare your heart for Christmas, keep in mind the depth of God’s love, how far he goes to restore us to himself. Thank him and live for him!

What wondrous love is this, O God, that you would send your beloved, only Son to die for us? We are eternally grateful. In his name we pray. Amen.



 

 
A Physician Analyzes the Crucifixion

A medical explanation of what Jesusendured on the day He died
by Dr. C. Truman Davis

Severalyears ago I became interested in the physical aspects of the passion, orsuffering, of Jesus Christ when I read an account of the crucifixion in JimBishop's book, The Day Christ Died. I suddenly realized that I had taken thecrucifixion more or less for granted all these years - that I had grown callousto its horror by a too-easy familiarity with the grim details. It finally occurredto me that, as a physician, I did not even know the actual immediate cause ofChrist's death. The gospel writers do not help much on this point. Sincecrucifixion and scourging were so common during their lifetimes, theyundoubtedly considered a detailed description superfluous. For that reason wehave only the concise words of the evangelists: "Pilate, having scourgedJesus, delivered Him to them to be crucified ... and they crucified Him."

Despitethe gospel accounts' silence on the details of Christ's crucifixion, many havelooked into this subject in the past. In my personal study of the event from amedical viewpoint, I am indebted especially to Dr. Pierre Barbet, a Frenchsurgeon who did exhaustive historical and experimental research and wroteextensively on the topic.

Anattempt to examine the infinite psychic and spiritual suffering of theIncarnate1 God in atonement2 for the sins of fallen man is beyond the scope ofthis article. However, the physiological and anatomical aspects of our Lord'spassion we can examine in some detail. What did the body of Jesus of Nazarethactually endure during those hours of torture?

Gethsemane

Thephysical passion of Christ began in Gethsemane. Of the many aspects of Hisinitial suffering, the one which is of particular physiological interest is thebloody sweat. Interestingly enough, the physician, St. Luke, is the onlyevangelist to mention this occurrence. He says, "And being in an agony, heprayed the longer. And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down uponthe ground" (Luke 22:44 KJV).

Everyattempt imaginable has been used by modern scholars to explain away thephenomenon of bloody sweat, apparently under the mistaken impression that itsimply does not occur. A great deal of effort could be saved by consulting themedical literature. Though very rare, the phenomenon of hematidrosis, or bloodysweat, is well documented. Under great emotional stress, tiny capillaries inthe sweat glands can break, thus mixing blood with sweat. This process alone couldhave produced marked weakness and possible shock.

AlthoughJesus' betrayal and arrest are important portions of the passion story, thenext event in the account which is significant from a medical perspective isHis trial before the Sanhedrin and Caiaphas, the High Priest. Here the firstphysical trauma was inflicted. A soldier struck Jesus across the face forremaining silent when questioned by Caiaphas. The palace guards thenblindfolded Him, mockingly taunted Him to identify them as each passed by, spaton Him, and struck Him in the face.

BeforePilate

Inthe early morning, battered and bruised, dehydrated, and worn out from asleepless night, Jesus was taken across Jerusalem to the Praetorium of theFortress Antonia, the seat of government of the Procurator of Judea, PontiusPilate. We are familiar with Pilate's action in attempting to shiftresponsibility to Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Judea. Jesus apparentlysuffered no physical mistreatment at the hands of Herod and was returned toPilate. It was then, in response to the outcry of the mob, that Pilate orderedBarabbas released and condemned Jesus to scourging and crucifixion.

Preparationsfor Jesus' scourging were carried out at Caesar's orders. The prisoner wasstripped of His clothing and His hands tied to a post above His head. The Romanlegionnaire stepped forward with the flagrum, or flagellum, in his hand. Thiswas a short whip consisting of several heavy, leather thongs with two smallballs of lead attached near the ends of each. The heavy whip was brought downwith full force again and again across Jesus' shoulders, back, and legs. Atfirst the weighted thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blowscontinued, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first anoozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin and finally spurtingarterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles.

Thesmall balls of lead first produced large deep bruises that were broken open bysubsequent blows. Finally, the skin of the back was hanging in long ribbons,and the entire area was an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. Whenit was determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner was near death,the beating was finally stopped.

Mockery

Thehalf-fainting Jesus was then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement,wet with his own blood. The Roman soldiers saw a great joke in this provincialJew claiming to be a king. They threw a robe across His shoulders and placed astick in His hand for a scepter. They still needed a crown to make theirtravesty complete. Small flexible branches covered with long thorns, commonlyused for kindling fires in the charcoal braziers in the courtyard, were plaitedinto the shape of a crude crown. The crown was pressed into his scalp and againthere was copious bleeding as the thorns pierced the very vascular tissue.After mocking Him and striking Him across the face, the soldiers took the stickfrom His hand and struck Him across the head, driving the thorns deeper intoHis scalp. Finally, they tired of their sadistic sport and tore the robe fromHis back. The robe had already become adherent to the clots of blood and serumin the wounds, and its removal, just as in the careless removal of a surgicalbandage, caused excruciating pain. The wounds again began to bleed.

Golgotha

Indeference to Jewish custom, the Romans apparently returned His garments. Theheavy patibulum3 of the cross was tied across His shoulders. The procession ofthe condemned Christ, two thieves, and the execution detail of Roman soldiersheaded by a centurion began its slow journey along the route which we knowtoday as the Via Dolorosa.

Inspite of Jesus' efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam,together with the shock produced by copious loss of blood, was too much. Hestumbled and fell. The rough wood of the beam gouged into the lacerated skinand muscles of the shoulders. He tried to rise, but human muscles had beenpushed beyond their endurance. The centurion, anxious to proceed with the crucifixion,selected a stalwart North African onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry thecross. Jesus followed, still bleeding and sweating the cold, clammy sweat ofshock. The 650-yard journey from the Fortress Antonia to Golgotha was finallycompleted. The prisoner was again stripped of His clothing except for a loincloth which was allowed the Jews.

Thecrucifixion began. Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild analgesic,pain-reliving mixture. He refused the drink. Simon was ordered to place the patibulumon the ground, and Jesus was quickly thrown backward, with His shouldersagainst the wood. The legionnaire felt for the depression at the front of thewrist. He drove a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deepinto the wood. Quickly, he moved to the other side and repeated the action,being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexion andmovement. The patibulum was then lifted into place at the top of the stipes4,and the titulus5 reading "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" wasnailed into place.

Theleft foot was pressed backward against the right foot. With both feet extended,toes down, a nail was driven through the arch of each, leaving the kneesmoderately flexed. The victim was now crucified.

On the Cross

AsJesus slowly sagged down with more weight on the nails in the wrists,excruciating, fiery pain shot along the fingers and up the arms to explode inthe brain. The nails in the wrists were putting pressure on the median nerve,large nerve trunks which traverse the mid-wrist and hand. As He pushed himselfupward to avoid this stretching torment, He placed His full weight on the nailthrough His feet. Again there was searing agony as the nail tore through thenerves between the metatarsal bones of this feet.

Atthis point, another phenomenon occurred. As the arms fatigued, great waves ofcramps swept over the muscles, knotting them in deep relentless, throbbingpain. With these cramps came the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging bythe arm, the pectoral muscles, the large muscles of the chest, were paralyzedand the intercostal muscles, the small muscles between the ribs, were unable toact. Air could be drawn into the lungs, but could not be exhaled. Jesus foughtto raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, the carbondioxide level increased in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the crampspartially subsided.

The LastWords

Spasmodically,He was able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen.It was undoubtedly during these periods that He uttered the seven shortsentences that are recorded.

Thefirst - looking down at the Romansoldiers throwing dice6 for His seamless garment: "Father, forgive themfor they do not know what they do."

Thesecond - to the penitent thief7:"Today, thou shalt be with me in Paradise."

Thethird - looking down at Mary Hismother, He said: "Woman, behold your son." Then turning to theterrified, grief-stricken adolescent John , the beloved apostle, He said:"Behold your mother."8

Thefourth cry is from the beginning ofPsalm 22: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"

Hesuffered hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps,intermittent partial asphyxiation, and searing pain as tissue was torn from Hislacerated back from His movement up and down against the rough timbers of thecross. Then another agony began: a deep crushing pain in the chest as thepericardium, the sac surrounding the heart, slowly filled with serum and beganto compress the heart.

Theprophecy in Psalm 22:14 was being fulfilled: "I am poured out like water,and all my bones are out of joint, my heart is like wax; it is melted in themidst of my bowels."

Theend was rapidly approaching. The loss of tissue fluids had reached a criticallevel; the compressed heart was struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish bloodto the tissues, and the tortured lungs were making a frantic effort to inhalesmall gulps of air. The markedly dehydrated tissues sent their flood of stimulito the brain. Jesus gasped His fifthcry: "I thirst." Again we read in the prophetic psalm: "Mystrength is dried up like a potsherd; my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thouhas brought me into the dust of death" (Psalm 22:15 KJV).

Asponge soaked in posca, the cheap, sour wine that was the staple drink of theRoman legionnaires, was lifted to Jesus' lips. His body was now in extremis,and He could feel the chill of death creeping through His tissues. Thisrealization brought forth His sixthword, possibly little more than a tortured whisper: "It is finished."His mission of atonement9 had been completed. Finally, He could allow His bodyto die. With one last surge of strength, He once again pressed His torn feetagainst the nail, straightened His legs, took a deeper breath, and uttered His seventh and last cry: "Father,into Your hands I commit My spirit."

Death

Thecommon method of ending a crucifixion was by crurifracture, the breaking of thebones of the leg. This prevented the victim from pushing himself upward; the tensioncould not be relieved from the muscles of the chest, and rapid suffocationoccurred. The legs of the two thieves were broken, but when the soldiersapproached Jesus, they saw that this was unnecessary.

Apparently,to make doubly sure of death, the legionnaire drove his lance between the ribs,upward through the pericardium and into the heart. John 19:34 states, "Andimmediately there came out blood and water." Thus there was an escape ofwatery fluid from the sac surrounding the heart and the blood of the interiorof the heart. This is rather conclusive post-mortem evidence that Jesus died,not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure due toshock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium.

Resurrection

Inthese events, we have seen a glimpse of the epitome of evil that man canexhibit toward his fellowman and toward God. This is an ugly sight and islikely to leave us despondent and depressed.

Butthe crucifixion was not the end of the story. How grateful we can be that wehave a sequel: a glimpse of the infinite mercy of God toward man--the gift ofatonement, the miracle of the resurrection, and the expectation of Eastermorning.

1Incarnate
2 Atonement
3 Horizontal portion of the cross
4 Vertical portion of the cross
5 Small sign stating the victim's crime
6 Gambling
7 The one who felt remorse for his sins and asked Jesus to help him.
8 As Jesus was dying, He gave his trusted friend responsibility for the care ofHis mother.
9 Taking our place by suffering the death penalty for our sin.

Dr.C. Truman Davis is a graduate of the University of Tennessee College ofMedicine. He is a practicing ophthalmologist, a pastor, and author of a bookabout medicine and the Bible.

Editors'note: If Jesus had remained dead, Christianity would be nothing but an emptypromise. But three days after His death, He rose again from the dead. This isthe miracle of resurrection, which is what Christians celebrate at Easter. Tolearn more about the resurrection, read John chapters 20 and 21.