During my sermon series on the cross of Jesus, I used a painting by Florine Cantrell, a woman who served the Christian Church (Disciples) as a missionary to Mexico in the mid-20th century and was a friend and colleague to my parents and grandparents. She gave this painting to my father, and it is now displayed in our home.
Henry Suso, 1295-1366 He was so in love with Jesus that he is supposed to have inscribed the name of Jesus on his chest with a knife (I do NOT recommend this)
FOREVER TRIUMPHANT, Day 30—Lenten Devotional
11 “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12
This is the final devotional article in this series inspired by my Grandfather’s book Forever Triumphant. The victory that we share was won by Jesus on the Cross. We share in a victory that was not won through our effort. We do well to realize that, in the ongoing struggle between God and the enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil, the greatest victories will continue to be won by God and belong to God. Our victory, as though we were athletes sitting on the bench on the sidelines, is to share in the victory won by the efforts of another. What this means in practical terms is that we don’t represent God very well when we attempt to fight God’s battles for him, especially by using the politics, advertising, and arguments that the world offers. Indeed, God’s greatest victories are won when His people seem to be losing. The church is at its best when it is persecuted, powerless, poor, and ostracized. By saying this, I am not celebrating persecution, ostracism, poverty, and injustice—but I am finding great hope in the recognition that what I experience as defeat may in fact bring great honor to my God. There can be no victory greater for me than that my life honors God. This can only happen if I allow God to defend me, and I don’t allow my anger to defend myself.
FJ HUEGEL: Henry Suso, the great German mystic (a Dominican friar), once hear a knock at his door. A strange woman stood there with a babe in her arms which she thrust into his arms, saying, “Here you have the fruit of your sin.” Suso had never before seen the woman. He was as innocent as a dove. The woman hastened away leaving him with the babe. The news of what had happened went through the town like a flash. “So this is the man we had revered as holy! What a hypocrite, what a fraud.” Suso was crushed. He groaned like a dying man. What was he to do? He withdrew to a desert place and called upon the Lord saying it was more than he could bear. “What shall I do, Lord?” he cried in his pain and shame. “Thou knowest that I am innocent.” The answer comes to him with perfect clearness and finality. “What shall you do? Do as I did; suffer for the sins of others and say nothing.” Suso saw the Cross. Peace came to his troubled soul. He returned to his home; took the child and sweetly, humbly cared for the waif and reared it as if it were his very own, never saying a word in self-defense. Years later, the unknown woman returned to publish abroad Suso’s innocence. But the work was done. Suso had been conformed to the image of God’s Son.
PRAYER: Dear God,
The victory of Jesus on the Cross has freed me from condemnation, given me a new relationship with you, has given me joy in adversity, the presence of the Holy Spirit, joy in the victory of others, and the assurance that your discipline will bring from my life many wonderful dividends. This has been the victory of Jesus offered to me. Now I offer my life to You, asking that I would share in your ultimate victory, even though it may seem that in this life I do not win. Through me work justice, mercy, and righteousness, in such a way that whatever share I have in your victory may be in humility, simplicity, and acceptance of your Will. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.
"The Adoration of the Lamb" from the Ghent Altarpiece, Jan Van Eyk, 1432.
Notice how the Lamb is bleeding into the Communion cup, prepared for all the different kinds of Christians!
FOREVER TRIUMPHANT, Day 29—Lenten Devotional
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
Revelation 12:10-12 (RSV)
We conquer our enemies—the flesh, the world, and especially the Devil—“by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.” What does this mean? Our enemies cannot harm us unless they have a ground to accuse us. That ground can be that we broke the law, that we are hypocritical in our religion, that we have engaged in sexual immorality, that our theology is heretical, that our entertainment is self-indulgent, that our finances are not transparent, that we are abusive toward family members or coworkers, or any number of flagrant sins. Make no mistake, we are vulnerable to these accusations, and we live in an age where social media make accusations especially abundant and pernicious. It is very hard, in this day and age, to keep sin secret. “The blood of the Lamb” and “the word of our testimony” make us invulnerable, but how?
The death of Jesus, and the regular commemoration of that death in the Lord’s Supper (communion, eucharist, or the mass), is a constant reminder that Jesus has removed God’s condemnation from my life. Without God to back it up, no accusation against me can ultimately “stick.” On a regular basis, at the communion table if nowhere else, I bring my life before the Holy Spirit for His examination and for my repentance. At the moment of my repentance, I am forgiven. This, of course, gives rise to a new accusation—“You are taking advantage of God’s grace as a license to sin.” But grace is not a license to sin. It is God coming near, so we can invite Him to clean us, to change our motivation, to change our behavior. “The word of our testimony,” is our witness to this experience of grace. We now bring any accusation before God, and if there is any truth to the accusation, God uses it not to condemn us but as an occasion for repentance, change, and renewed victory over sin. The result is the elimination of any ground for accusation.
FJ HUEGEL: A student in our seminary came one day to talk with the president, saying that he could no longer continue his studies. Life was unbearable in the seminary as the students were forever razzing him. They gave him no peace. The president asked the young man to hang his hat [there were hats in the 1950’s!] on the wall. Now there was no peg or nail to hang it on. The young man remonstrated that he could find nothing to hang his hat on. He was told to hang it anyway. It fell to the ground. The president ordered the young man again to hang his hat on the wall. When again it fell to the ground, the young man said, “Sir, what do you mean by this?” The answer was, “If the students did not find in you so many susceptibilities, so much regard for self, so much secret vanity, they would leave you in peace.” The student saw the point and left the room a changed man. The students molested him no longer. If Satan can find anything in us to hang on to, he will surely knock us out in the testing time.
PRAYER: Dear God,
Send your Holy Spirit to employ the grace of Jesus in my life in such a way as to render me impervious to any accusation. Grant that when accused, my response would not be defensive self-righteousness, aggressive return accusations, or stupid comparisons (what I did was not as bad as what you did). Instead, may my response to an accusation be to look to the “blood of the Lamb”, how Jesus released my from condemnation on the cross, and the “word of my testimony”, how my experience of your grace is leading me to repentance and to greater surrender to your work in my life. I pray this in Jesus’s name. Amen.
"Hand of God" by Yongsung Kim, Foundation Arts https://www.lighthaven.net/the-hand-of-god
FOREVER TRIUMPHANT, Day 28—Lenten Devotional
20 But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21 keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. 22 And convince some, who doubt; 23 save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh 24 Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25 to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen. Jude 20-25
We share in the victory that Christ has won at his own initiative. We are saved by His grace, not by our effort or deserving. We are sustained in the Christian life in the same way. But we are not reduced to robots. God is pleased to allow us to live the Christian life as a learning experience, and like any learning experience, we learn from our mistakes. This is why Jude exhorts us to build ourselves up in faith, to pray, to convince, to have mercy—while at the same time praising God who, by His own initiative, is able to keep us safe and pure.
FJ HUEGEL. This [life of victory] does not mean that there will never again be tempestuous surgings of the life of self. The so-called “wheel of nature” might be set in motion at any moment by some subtle assault of the enemy. Our frail bark is out on a stormy sea. There are sudden and fierce squalls. It is always possible to get out of focus in this position of utter ascendancy. The reason, of course, is not in our perfect Savior who is “able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,” but in us; for, like Peter, we get frightened because of the waves and take our eyes off Jesus, whereupon we begin to sink.
We can always come back to our center, nonetheless. We can reaffirm our position. We remember that we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. We can always wash our garments and make them white in the precious blood of the Lamb. We expect a fresh application by the Holy Spirit of what has been called “the radium of the Cross,” to the freshly discovered cancer of self-life—it is the function of the Holy Spirit to expose sin-“He will convict the world of sin.” A great peace settles down upon our being. We are free once more.
PRAYER: Dear God,
I know that in Jesus I have the victory without effort on my part. Yet, you are pleased for me to experience learning with a sense of effort, and you allow me to experience mistakes and setbacks. Thank you that the assurance I have is that although I may stumble, you will not allow me to fall. As I begin to sink, you will reach out to hold my hand. Thank you for that assurance in Jesus. Amen.
"Salvation" by Ron DiCianni http://www.tapestryproductions.com/product/salvation-artwork-by-ron-dicianni/
FOREVER TRIUMPHANT, Day 27—Lenten Devotional
20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20
One of the great verses of the entire New Testament reminds us that our victory is not due to our own effort, our own goodness, or our own achievements. Instead, when we consider ourselves united to Christ, not for the sake of the blessings, exaltation, or power that He might offer, but for the sake of the Love that sacrificed it all for us, then we enjoy the victory of actually being united to Him!
FJ HUEGEL: Here is where we must clarify matters. When we accept this position of cocrucifixion (simply because God says it is ours, whether we feel it or not), then it is that the Holy Spirit has the needed instrument to make victory the supreme fact of our lives. He does not work independently of Christ; He works through the Cross. As A.B. Simpson used to say, “He is the divine undertaker to take us to our graves.” He will make Roman 6 and Ephesians 2 and Galatians 2:20—that is, the fact of our identification with Christ in death and resurrection—an unshakeable reality in our experience, and we will come into a glorious liberation, a triumphant ascendancy in which victory is ours, not through struggle, but through the participation of Christ. In such an ascendancy (seated with Christ in heavenly places) little things that formerly defeated us are like the waves that beat against Gibraltar and have no more effect than these.
PRAYER: Dear God,
Through your Holy Spirit bring this passage to mind often. Grant me to consider myself united to Christ in His death and resurrection. Make this the cornerstone of my identity. Because Jesus indeed loves me and because You have sent the Holy Spirit into my life to make that love shown on the cross real to me, convince me that I do, in fact, “live by faith in the Son of God”. Amen.
Greek Athletes Training. Attributed to Euphiletos, c. 530 BC in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
FOREVER TRIUMPHANT, Day 26—Lenten Devotional
4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons?--
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor lose courage when you are punished by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:4-11
Here are the six dimensions of Christian victory as I see them in the Scriptures:
This last aspect of Christian victory is not one that we typically celebrate very loudly or often. Perhaps to many discipline seems merely another name judgment and condemnation from which we have been freed in Christ. This passage in Hebrews bids us look at discipline in a different light. Because spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible reading, Sunday worship, etc), the frustration of our desires, and even interpersonal conflicts are filtered through God’s will for us, if we accept such experiences as expressions of His love, they become occasions for growth and maturity in a way that a perpetual state of blessedness could not produce. God’s discipline is perhaps the single most important confirmation of God’s victory in our lives. Let me say it again forcefully, if you feel that God is stretching your faith and strengthening your endurance, that is the single most important experience of God’s victory in your life that you can have.
PRAYER: Dear God,
I am no different than anyone else. I do not consider discipline, from you or anyone else, to be pleasant. Athletes train. They say “no pain, no gain.” I can see that the Christian life is no different. You have made it clear to me that you want me to be a victorious Christian. For that reason, I invite you to exercise your discipline in my life, as gently as you can, but as firmly as necessary. This I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Jesus Washing the Feet of the Disciples by Giotto, c. 1305
FOREVER TRIUMPHANT, Day 25—Lenten Devotional
42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 (RSV)
What are the key elements of a victorious life that are available to us in Jesus Christ? Here are the ones we have seen so far.
5. Jesus offers us find our greatest satisfaction in seeking to promote the victories of others.
In one sense, Jesus did not come to triumph over sin, death, the world, or the devil. From his position in heaven next to the Father from all eternity, he was not subject to being affected by any evil or agent of evil. Seen from this angle, what Jesus came to do was to give US the victory over sin, death, the world, and the devil. It is a victory that WE needed, not Jesus. This Father that Jesus opens the door to, wants us to do well, wants us to be free, wants us to be successful and victorious in all the ways that will bring us closer to Him and to each other.
And one important way that we will become successful and victorious is when we enjoy the success and victories of others more than our own. Parents can sometimes feel this because if their children succeed beyond them, then it reflects well on the parents. But in Jesus, we can humbly enjoy the success of another, even if it does not reflect on us at all. We are happy if it reflects on Jesus.
It turns out that the victory of freedom from condemnation entails a victory of freedom from envy, as well as a victory over “having to win at all costs.” This is no small victory, because the kind of person that can truly and enthusiastically celebrate the victories of others is the kind of person that will inspire and motivate all to do their best. Like Jesus.
PRAYER: Dear God,
Thank you for Jesus who came to give me victory over death, sin, and evil. Grant that I may experience the victory of setting others up for victory and success, as well. I pray this in His name. Amen.
FOREVER TRIUMPHANT, Day 24—Lenten Devotional
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; 22 and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Eph 1:15-23 (RSV).
In Jesus we have the opportunity to live victoriously. Jesus offers us victory in the experience of a new kind of relationship with God, which in turn frees us from all condemnation (even when we are the ones tempted to condemn). This freedom in turn results in the possibility of Joy that triumphs even in the midst of terrible adversity. Now
#4 WE BRING GOD’S VICTORY TO BEAR ON OTHERS THROUGH PRAYER
The epistle to the Ephesians was likely a circular letter to various congregations in the vicinity of Ephesus. Although Paul was the founder of the church at Ephesus, he seems not to have known many of the people in the surrounding congregations. He evidently had a report about them and began to joyfully pray for them. He prayed confidently, believing that God would use his prayers to increase the new Christians’ knowledge of God, to experience the hope that God offered, to enjoy the riches of the inheritance of the saints, to sense God’s power at work in their lives, and to make their churches outposts for the victorious Lordship of Jesus.
For Paul, prayer is a powerful tool to extend the victory of God in Jesus Christ into the lives of all the people with whom we come into contact. The Christian not only experiences a personal victory which is already his in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; the Christian also receives from Jesus a ministry of intercession for others that is part of the great intercession of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26). This intercession in which we participate, actually mobilizes God’s active will to defeat the triple enemy of flesh, world, and devil. Yes, sometimes we struggle in prayer for a person or a situation for years. Yes, sometimes prayer seems powerless to defeat evil. But patient, persistent, searching prayer is truly powerful, and those who have practiced it bear witness of great walls that have been brought down by it.
PRAYER: Dear God,
I want to make a difference for you in the world and in the lives of those that surround me. Teach me the art of prayer that moves in concert with the Holy Spirit and with your will. Grant me to learn patient and effective intercession, so that those who touch my life may in turn be touched by your gracious presence and your dramatic work in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let there Be Light by Bill Bell.
FOREVER TRIUMPHANT, Day 23—Lenten Devotional
For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:6-11
The life of victory in Christ involves, first, a new relationship of communion with God, and, second, a life that is free from condemnation. Since God does not condemn us, the Spirit works to keep up from self-imposes condemnation from the condemnation of others or our own condemnation of others. Now we come to the third aspect of victory in Christ.
#3 VICTORY FOR THE CHRISTIAN IS JOY IN ADVERSITY
Jesus came, lived, died, and rose again so that the light of God would shine into our world. This light enables us to experience God in a completely new and different way, as a gracious and loving Father rather than as an exacting and strict judge. We find a new freedom and purpose in this light, a freedom and purpose that the Spirit turns toward victory.
But victory without adversity is cheap. Winning can happen where there is no challenge—the Dallas Cowboys could certainly win if playing against my son’s middle school team—but one would hardly feel that there was much victory in such a win. In the case of Christians, even though our victory in Christ has already been won through no effort of our own, it is still not a cheap or easy win. We have already seen the strength of our adversaries—the world without, the flesh within, and the devil beyond. Those adversaries produce great and grave difficulties: disappointment, disease, persecution, suffering, affliction, and physical death.
In all of these circumstances, however, joy is available to the Christian. At every moment, we feel our spirits meet the joy of the Holy Spirit within us. Suffering is not meaningless, disappointment is not eternal, and even death leads to life. Jesus has been through it all before us, and at the very moment of despair (“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”) met victory (“It is finished!”).
PRAYER: Dear God,
As a mortal human I fear pain, illness and death. I worry that I will be defeated in life, that some disaster will steal from me prosperity, possessions, and position. But in Jesus Christ the loss of anything, health and life itself included, is great victory because any loss I suffer merely draws me closer to Him. Grant me to rejoice, then, in all circumstances. If I am blessed with health, position, or things, because I am so blessed. If I lose health, position, or things, then because I gain Christ. Amen.
FOREVER TRIUMPHANT, Day 22—Lenten Devotional
8 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:1-6 (RSV)
I am in the midst of explaining the six dimensions of Christian victory and how to live in them.
2. VICTORY IS LIVING LIFE COMPLETELY FREE OF CONDEMNATION
Because we have an entirely new relationship with God, we have received grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. His sinless life and death on our behalf fulfilled the requirement of the law, so every person who has given their life to Jesus Christ is free from condemnation. This is a great victory.
The flesh constantly tries to return us to condemnation. It does this by chaining us to judgment—not God’s judgment for that is ended in Jesus—but judgment of ourselves by ourselves, judgement of ourselves by others, and our own judgment of others. This engaging in and acceptance of condemnation is precisely the reason why so many Christians live defeated lives.
What is the antidote? To realize that you are already free from God’s judgment (the only one that counts), and that God’s Spirit in you will awaken and protect your desire to live free from condemnation. The Spirit takes the awareness that you are free from condemnation and your desire to remain free from condemnation, and begins forming in you new habits, attitudes, and actions that produce life and peace. You find that the effect of inviting the Spirit to work is: 1. You will not allow yourself to engage (at least not for long) in any activity that makes you feel condemnation, 2. You will not receive any condemnation from another, especially when it seeks to enslave you to their will, 3. You will not allow yourself to place another under condemnation, as though you were their god.
In my life, I knew that God had forgiven me and freed me from condemnation, but for many years I allowed myself to harbor habits and patterns of thought that made me feel condemned, and I allowed others to get what they wanted from me by placing me under condemnation, which in turn seemed to justify me in the attempt to try to enslave them to my expectations. The realization that Christ had set me free from all condemnation and that in the Holy Spirit I had power to reject all condemnation was the greatest spiritual victory I have ever known.
PRAYER: Dear God,
Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the grace which He inaugurated, you have set me free from all condemnation. Forgive me because I have allowed my flesh to perpetuate the fiction of condemnation in my life. I invite your Holy Spirit to awaken in me the desire to be free from all condemnation—those habits and attitudes that make me feel condemned, the acceptance of the condemnation I experience in the criticism and manipulation of others, and my own attempt to change the behavior or attitude of others through my condemnation of them. You have set me free from these. Grant me to live free. This I pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.
David Huegel is former pastor of First Christian Church in Smithville.