Cross Purposes

22 Mar


Yesterday spring found a chink in winter’s armor.

My cheeks are still warm from a full day of sunshine, reminding me on this 35-degree morning that yesterday was really real.

Wanting to be outside and last fall’s undone garden chores intersected beautifully under the blue sky. I like working hard, especially when I can step back and see results, so I plunged in with a happy heart.

The first to go– dead stems from the perennials that will grow anew and be covered in color again this year. Next up were the branches pruned by the blades of the fierce windstorms that blew through the midwest this winter. The ruthless gardener had not been neat, and they were scattered cattywumpus all over the yard, on the roof, in corners by the chimney, and inside the shrubs.

At first I had a hard time determining which branches were legitimately part of the bushes and which were dead windfalls from the tree above. They looked practically the same without leaves to tell them apart.

A crooked branch caught my eye. I looked more closely and found lots – enough for a good start for a bonfire! The bush’s branches were all going the same way–  from main stems toward the sky. Dead windfalls were scattered in at cross purposes with the bush’s branches– ones that would soon welcome spring for real by putting out tiny pink flowers.

Being involved in church life, and specifically worship ministry, is never dull! Glorious times of worshiping God together are interspersed with difficult situations – criticism, arguments about musical style difference, and others’ expectations. It’s easy to get discouraged and give in to distractions that lead away from the main thing.

Last week I overheard someone say that not every difficulty we face is spiritual warfare. I’ve been thinking about that comment, and I’m not sure I agree.  We live in this temporal, physical world, which does make seeing what’s happening in the spiritual world difficult, but the heavenly world is just as real, and vastly more crucial to every situation, than this one. Everything in this world – every conversation, decision, thought, situation – is also intrinsically of eternity.

Everything is spiritual warfare. Not every difficulty is demonic or a spiritual attack, but every situation is part of eternity. Until we are in heaven, there are opposing values, ideas, and perceived realities in conflict.

If you’ll allow me a pun in the midst of a serious thought… the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of Heaven are at cross purposes.

One is interested in self, the other in Jesus.



In the big conflicts of life it’s easy for me to discern which kingdom’s value structure is driving the situation. In re-thinking everything– even the more mundane and seemingly inconsequential– from an eternal perspective, it’s tougher.

  • In a conversation with someone from the congregation who doesn’t like the musical style of our worship– what is really going on? Self-centeredness?  Further conversation and several questions often reveals that there is a lot more to the story. Sometimes, however, it was simply a thoughtless remark.
  • Making a decision about which songs to sing on Sunday– do I choose the one I just wrote or go with a well-known standard? What’s my motivation– self-aggrandizement or allowing people to worship God with Truth. Maybe my song fits better.

These are just two examples of many, many ordinary opportunities for me to have a positive affect eternity as I live in both kingdoms.

The question is: how do I discern what’s going on?

How can I be “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work”? 2 Timothy 2:21

The answer: look for direction.

Is the heart-motivation going toward Jesus? Toward the cross of selflessness?

Or is it a dead, crooked branch that will be lifeless come spring, and only good for a bonfire?

Everything pointing somewhere besides the cross has to go. The first part of 2 Timothy 2:21 calls us to be cleansed from everything that is dishonorable.

Direction is everything.

One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14


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