MANURE plus the Cross… equals MATURE.

MANURE plus the Cross… equals MATURE.

Romans 8-9

So now there isn’t any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. – Romans 8.1

Eugene Peterson in his book called “Tell it Slant” writes about how Jesus used everyday language to communicate the Gospel. It is through the comical expression of manure that Peterson communicates the forgiveness of the Gospel. Peterson reviews the comical topic of manure in Luke 13:6-9 and equates the use of manure to forgiveness.

Then he [Jesus] told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ” – Luke 13:6-9

At first I was both attracted to and repulsed by Peterson’s attention to the manure in the story. I just couldn’t figure out why he was interested in the manure under the tree. But I was sensing a tug at my heart toward this story, and I paid attention to it. He further illustrates how manure is a slow solution to the growth process. And, he further points out Jesus’ “fondness for the minute, the invisible, the quiet, the slow – yeast, salt, seeds, light. And manure” (Peterson 70). Manure is the condition of silence, submission, and relinquishment to the things of God. Manure is preemptive forgiveness with no preconditions. It is the language of the cross. It is the sound of prayer. It is the cry of Jesus on the cross saying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

God wants us to tend others by digging around them and putting a little compost at their roots. We are to invest in the lives of others who are struggling to produce good fruit in their lives. Good fruit is produced as the believer submits to the redemptive transformational work of the Spirit within them.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. When we come into the justifying grace of God, our thoughts, words, and deeds come under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Our hearts are set free from condemnation for our past. Those whom God justified walk according to the Spirit of God and not the flesh. First, we believe in his name – the name of Jesus. Second, we do not continue to live in sin but are transformed into the image of God. This sanctification is a process. Some people do not have victory over areas of their lives until they meet Jesus. When we belong to Jesus, we have the power and authority to crucify the flesh with its passion and desires abstaining from all sorts of sexual sins and emotional immaturity that belong to the carnal nature. Those who walk with Jesus no longer satisfy the cravings of their stomachs but trade in their appetites for loving others more than themselves (fasting). As Christians we are called to a permanent FAST relinquishing our old conduct to live in holiness.

God holds no record of wrong for those who have been justified and receive Jesus as the Christ. Our hearts behold the sprinkling of Jesus blood. We carry the testimony of Jesus in our hearts. We experience the adoption of God and our spirit cries out, Abba! Father! We have peace. We choose to relinquish behavioral expectations of others. The fruit of a mature Christian is not measured by the shade of one’s hair but by the quality of our words and behavior. Unconditional love without retribution. Joy unspeakable that is not imparted by illicit alcohol or drugs nor pharmaceuticals. Patience with others who are not like us and whom we deem as unworthy of our friendship. Kindness and generosity that demonstrates the same kind of grace that God has given to us. Faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are evidence of a life given over to the working of the Holy Spirit.

When one walks with God, there is no condemnation in regard to past sins. Those who experience God’s grace no longer possess a sense of guilt or shame nor dread of death. Present sinful behavior no longer condemns the believer but moves us to seek transformation in light of God’s grace. We will continue to struggling with inward sin but we are not to yield to these desires. God knows. God knows our defects, and so do we. Our struggles are not in vain but are to be brought under the authority of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, mind, soul, and strength.

God made Adam in his own image, and Eve came forth from Adam. God gave to Adam and Eve the Law of love written on their hearts. They walked with God and talked with God until one day they disobeyed God. Sin came into the world through this act of disobedience. This act of disobedience was repaired through the God-Man Jesus. The existence of Christ is the foundation of justification by faith. When we are justified, we are made right with God himself and our relationship to him is restored.

Further, we are freed from the accusations of the accuser and the indictment of God’s law. God does not see us as something better or different from who we are but that Christ has covered our payment. Our past sins of thought, word, and deed are blotted out never to be remembered or mentioned. Our sinful actions have been atoned and pardoned, and our sinful nature begins the process of maturing in holiness. As we grow in Christ we are continually called to repentance and right living. Each of us will be held accountable for every careless word we utter.

John Wesley, like the Apostle Paul, understood that salvation came by faith alone and that justification came without the requirement of good works. Wesley experienced God’s grace to be the catalyst for the process of good works that we call sanctification. We cannot earn our way to heaven; it is a gift that is received by faith. We can champion the cause of Christ by modeling justification in our lives as unconditional love with no requirement for good works. Loving others who cannot offer you anything in return is being like Jesus Christ. To be sure God saves those who are utterly ungodly!

Justification is for those who are bound in sins dark night and groan in their own consciousness about their sinfulness. When a person comes under conviction of their sinfulness, you can bet that justification is not far behind if they choose to accept Jesus’ atonement on the cross. Once you have accepted his atoning sacrifice, then and only then do we begin the process of being changed from the inside out. Our spirit, mind, will, emotions, character, personality, and memories are impacted the coming deposit of the infilling Holy Spirit. The only remedy of being a holy person comes by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. The question is have you been saved to the utter most?

Have you come to the place of conviction of sinfulness in your life? Glad to hear it. But salvation is not a one time deal. Are you still being convicted of sin? Are you still repenting? When was the last time that you opened yourself up before God to be examined? You don’t get cleaned up to come to church, instead you open yourself to being cleaned up in church. No one is good apart from God himself. If you think of yourself as better off than others in your behavior, you need to repent. There’s room for you at the cross with the rest of us sinners.

Death becomes the hallmark of the Christian experience. We are to experience the dying and rising with Christ. We are buried with him. We have been united with him. St. Paul’s illustration is one of practicality not theology. Basically, we know that we cannot go on willingly sinning by relying on God’s grace but understand this: you are called to a higher level of obedience. The old self dies having been put to death in our acceptance of Christ’s atonement. We have been crucified with Christ in our baptism. This new life we live is not idealistic or perfectionistic in its endeavors but a reality that is to be lived out. The deposit of the Holy Spirit is not simply an idea but a real and tangible lived out experience. Sin not only in theory has no hold over us, but in practice! Sin, death and the Law no longer hold dominion over us. The Law has shown us the proper way to live, and now the Holy Spirit enables us to practice righteousness. To be sure the Law misleads people to believe that all one needs to defeat sin is a good moral code, right ethical thinking, and a will to follow the good – however good might be defined. Many feel that all one needs to succeed as a Christian is to have a good head on your shoulders and you will go far in life. But the truth is that Christ demands more.

To preach the cross is to preach atonement for sin that is both personal and communal. Most of us Christians understand the concept of personal sin at least at the surface level. I dare say many of us after the initial confession of Christ Jesus as our Lord or our Confirmation experience intentionally take time out of our day to give the Spirit an opportunity to examine our hearts. But when personal sin goes unconfessed or unaddressed, personal sin will spread into the family system and outward to friendship making what was personal, a communal problem. Community sin issues are hard to address because there is an experience, “we are all in this together.” Guilt then spreads throughout the community to its many parts. There are issues that are enmeshed in communities that seem to lack resolution because the line of accountability goes onward and upward – passing the buck until no one has made the change necessary to correct the systemic wrongs. Sin grows and evil becomes a tangible force to be reckoned with at not only a physical reality but in a spiritual reality as well. Even in Jesus’ day public opinion played a large role in Jesus’ death. The crowds were manipulated by people who possessed power but impure motives.

The cross has confronted and disarmed the enemy. The cross publically exposed them and made them look foolish. The cross has outwitted and conquered – triumphed over powers and principalities of darkness. Our victory stands completed in the cross. The only way you and I can break free of our sinful mind, our bad attitudes, and our fallen nature is to die with Christ. The benefits of the crucifixion come to us by way of dying to ourselves daily taking up the cross of suffering love. To acquire the benefits of the crucifixion necessitates our willingness to be disciplined, to offer unconditional love and forgiveness, and to surrender whole-heartedly to the God-Man Jesus Christ as the only way to eternal life. Mark’s Gospel says it this way, according to Jesus, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Mark 8.34).

In the cross we must identify that Christ alone is the atonement for our sins. We must die to our self-efforts to earn our righteousness. The cross becomes the place of our daily self-denial – by way of prayer, fasting, repentance, and self-control. We choose to pursue holiness of heart and life by way of self-humiliation and a relinquishing of the fear of rejection by family, friends, and peers who do not understand your call to a humble position at the cross where confession must take precedence. The cross requires a relinquishment of self-identity to become an imitator of Christ. We are to choose the process and pathway of conformation to Christ.

Let me share the story of a community that struggled with personal and collective sin. A book entitled The Cornbread Mafia was published in 2013 by the local grocer whose name is Larry Higdon. I share some of his research here because it is apart of my own community history. I had grown up in the small community of Marion County where organized crime had been the foundation of the community for as far back as 200 years. In 1785 a Catholic family settled into the community we know as Holy Cross, and there began to distill whisky that would later be named Old Granddad. The first Catholic church west of the Appalachian Mountains was established in a little town called Holy Cross just five years later in 1790. Distilleries dotted the county countryside – nine to be exact – until prohibition came in 1919. The Lebanon Enterprise would report gangster activity that was absurd from riding running boards to weapons fire to foolhardy car chases to busting up stills for the 13 years of Prohibition.

To this day  major distilleries continue to dot the Kentucky countryside in this region to be sure including Jim Beam (1795), Maker’s Mark (1865), and Very Old Barton (1792). In fact my uncle worked 30 years at one distillery, my dad worked a short time at another in his early 20s, and my brother worked at yet another distillery. My community history is steeped in moonshining, fast car chases, shoot-outs, and the like. My grandfather loved to brag about those days of making big money and living large while children ended up being probated after “stills” were busted up by the feds and men were sent to prison.

Growing up in a community with a history that reveled in the glory of secret distilleries and selling homemade liquor across the state to prominent people even through the 1950s and 1960s shaded the line between what was right and what was wrong. At an early age I decided to follow Christ out of this corrupt manure, and began to make good choices for Christ that I might one day become mature.

To be sure the ties between liquor sales and the Catholic faith are inseparable in my mind as I grew up in this community just like the author of The Cornbread Mafia, Larry Higdon, reported in his book. As a child I can remember the confusion between the issues of organized crime and my faith beliefs. As I was growing up in the community of the later nicknamed the Cornbread Mafia, I observed the great despair between the church and the community life. When I was a child, we all attended church gathering together including mass, socials, picnics, weddings, etc. I could see the strange mixture of community sin and religious faithfulness that as a child I could not understand.

Between the years of 1985 and 1991 young men that I grew up with in Marion, Washington, and Nelson counties would find themselves behind bars, in rehabilitation centers, killed or suffered brain damage in drug related car accidents, and suicide incidents. After a while, I gave up counting the number of dearly departed souls as my grief was overwhelming. The scars on my young adult community were unrepairable. The death toll significant from my faith community.

M – Trade in the selfish mind for the mind of Christ!

A – Trade in the corrupt appetites to possess a righteous attitude!

N † – Trade in the fallen nature for the nature of Christ Jesus, and apply the cross! Then you will become mature!

U – Accept the undeserved grace God gives us in Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit for sanctification!

R – Repent of your personal wrongdoing so that it doesn’t become communal sinfulness!

E – Remember the reward of Eternal Life waits for us on the other side dying to ourselves daily taking up our cross and following Jesus!

I chose to follow Jesus right out of my corrupt community, but it has taken me a lifetime of getting the community out of me. I left my hometown to attend college, married, and never returned. However, the storytelling and the experiences have impacted how I live as an adult. I have sheltered my kids from that sort of lifestyle and sought to teach the process of sanctification to everyone who will listen. My desire to teach others to live out better choices in their lives has stemmed from having lived in that corrupt community. I have made many decisions in my life, but the one I am most proud of is make a new community for myself apart from the sinfulness that I observed as a child in Marion County. If I can make that decision to follow Christ Jesus in right living, so can you!

Christ Jesus provides the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit that gives us the strength we need to be over comers. If you have not experienced the infilling of the Holy Spirit, then seek God for this transforming experience in your life. When we lack the power to over come sin, we can reach for Christ Jesus who supplies us with his strength in times of trouble. Dig deeper in your prayer life and Bible study. Dig in your heels and just say no to sin when it comes your way! Healing is a journey that doesn’t happen over night but over a lifetime of choices. Choose wisely!

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