Monday, August 27, 2007

Take it or Leave it - What do we do about the cross?

I have been calling myself a Christian for the past 18 years. My relationship with Christ began, in part, because of the miraculous works He has done in my life. While He performed His life changing work, those who watched and prayed for me at the time may have said something like, “How can God bring him through such suffering?” or “If I could only take away some of his pain, I would.” Those days were often long, tedious and hard. And if I had the ability to say, “Lord Jesus, Stop!” I may have just done it.

But since then, despite a few consistent and persistent challenges, my life has been a bed of roses. It turned out to be a little more ‘normal’ than it had been before, and my spiritual life, just like my physical one, became passive and bland. I was now walking down easy street with few bumps and bruises. Suffering seemed to be a thing of the past. That is, until I recently read the words of A.W. Tozer.

“The cross of Roman times knew no compromise. It never made concessions. It won all its arguments by killing its opponent and silencing him for good. It spared not Christ, but slew Him the same as the rest .... With perfect knowledge of all this, Christ said, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me. (Matthew 10:38)’”

After re-reading these words several times, I began to wonder, What has the cross done in my life? How does the cross continue to change my life? What am I doing with the cross? What does this mean?

As you are reading, you may be asking the same questions. “Deny myself?! Why, I’m happy with my ‘easy street’ life. Besides, I am a well educated, observant Canadian. I try not to deny anything, because that would mean, I am ignorant. And to ‘deny myself’? Christ must be off his rocker! And this, ‘take up my cross’? I work hard from 9-5, five days a week. Isn’t this enough stress? Christ’s words don’t include me.”

But in fact, Christ’s words are inclusive of everybody no matter how old, smart or well off they are. Each cross is unique and different, and as we grow, the crosses we bear change along with our circumstance. As a child, the cross might look a lot like a younger sister who has just taken away your favorite toy and will not give it back. As a student, the cross may look like a four year psychology degree you do not feel capable of completing. As a single adult, it may be loneliness or busy-ness personified. And as a parent or grandparent, the cross you bear may come in the form of anxiety in the face of great responsibility and exhaustion. The stress of the cross is gigantic, almost enough to bring our lives to an end.

In fact it is. As Tozer continues, “the cross not only brought Christ's life to an end, it also ends the first life, the old life of every one of His true followers.... This and nothing less is true Christianity. We must do something about the cross.”

Your response may be, “That makes sense. I accepted Christ ten years ago, myself. So, I have done something about the cross. I go to church every week, I tithe, I work hard to encourage others around me, I even volunteer for Sunday school. This must mean I’m a true Christian.” But Christ’s question still remains the same, “what have you done about the cross?” Have you taken it up upon your shoulder every day, or have you left it in a corner somewhere, hoping that someday, somehow, it might just go away and the stresses that come with it might just leave as well?

But like the inescapable problems we see all around us, this will not happen. Now that we have seen it, it is our responsibility to do something. We are no longer ignorant. But what can we do?

In a parable that many of us can see ourselves in, a “man distraught by all the pain and suffering he saw all around him broke down and banged his fists into the dirt. His head turns upward and he yells at his God. ‘Look at this mess. Look at all this pain and suffering. Look at all this killing and hate. God. Oh God! WHY DON'T YOU DO SOMETHING!!’ And his God spoke to him and said ‘I did. I sent you.’” In a similar light, Tozer concludes,”there's only one of two things we can do [about the cross] - flee it or die upon it!” What is your choice?

We must maintain a sober but optimistic realization that the cross is still there, ready and willing to kill. But though the cross inevitably brings death, Jesus, the author of life, said we must carry our cross daily, not ignore it, leave it at home or “flee it”. If we take up our cross, seek our Lord Jesus in prayer, and endure the temporary trials of this world, we can remain optimistic that life is waiting for us, just around the corner.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Parable of the Carrot, Egg, and Coffee

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs and the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word. In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me, what do you see?" "Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied. She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, "What does it mean, mother?"

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity--boiling water--but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water they had changed the water.

"Which are you?" she asked her daughter.

"When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?"

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength? Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart? Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you can get better and change the situation around you with God's help. How do you handle adversity? When adversity strikes, ask yourself...ARE YOU A CARROT, AN EGG, OR A COFFEE BEAN?

Parables taken from:

Monday, August 20, 2007

“Me, Special?”

The other day, I received an e-mail, which said: “I've been rating your intellect, wit, drive, sense of humor, and other attributes. See where you stand, and rate me too with ‘Compare People.’” I immediately thought about a paradox that rages war in me every day. “I want to be seen and approved of by others, and I need to hear good things about my character. But, if the review is tarnishing, what will this do to my self-esteem? Shouldn’t my self-worth be worth more than the thoughts of somebody on the internet? After mulling this over for a few moments, I quickly, but carefully placed the unread e-mail in my ‘Deleted Items’ folder but thought, “I won’t empty this folder just in case I want to read what this person has to say about me.”

This summer I lived at Keats Camps, a camp for children, teenagers and families named for the island on which it is located. This was my seventh summer on staff and I arrived at camp anticipating another fantastic summer, though I had not set foot on the island in six years. It did not take long for me to realize that things at the camp I loved so much had changed. There were a few new buildings; the staff was both newer and larger than I had ever seen, and a new generation of campers would soon arrive. I was anxious about being able to adapt to these changes, yet excited about the new things that God would do.

My job was a challenging one. Though I had the responsibility of encouraging the staff with a devotional after breakfast most mornings in staff meetings, it was up to me how I would fill in the rest of my day. How can I keep my mind focused, work hard for my co-workers, my God, and not be a slacker? What is the most effective use of my time? These were some of my questions, and these were some of my answers.

Before most of the camp awoke, I would join a small group of cottagers and pray for the needs I knew. After staff meeting, I would walk around the camp, offering assistance in areas that needed it, and remained willing to share the story of what God had done in my life [see “Miracle on Fox Street”] during Bible study in the morning, or Crew Talk in the evenings.

Some days were busy, full of people asking for assistance, wanting me to share with their kids, or just to talk with them. Some days were empty, with little action, and it was hard to encourage anybody as hard as I tried. As the summer progressed, I did my best and asked God to fill in the gaps.

Two weeks in, I went home on a day off and brought a well loved children’s book back with me. I hoped to find time to read it to some kids, encouraging them in the way they viewed themselves and others.

“You are Special” by Max Lucado is the story of Punchinello, a member of a village of wooden Wemmicks made by a man named Eli. A Wemmick’s day consisted of judging the looks and abilities of others, rating them with either grey dots or golden stars. Because Punchinello was not ‘a good Wemmick,’ he quickly became overwhelmed with dots and the discouragement that comes with not being appreciated.

As the days passed, Punchinello became more discouraged. Things slowly began to change when he met Lucia; a Wemmick with no stickers of any kind. “That’s the way I want to be,” thought Punchinello. Punchinello soon worked up the courage to ask Lucia why she had no stickers.

“It’s easy,” Lucia replied, “Every day I go see Eli, the woodcarver. Why don’t you find out for yourself? Go up the hill. He’s there.”

Punchinello spent one more, lonely evening at home, watching the Wemmicks present each other with stars and dots. “It’s not right,” he thought and decided to meet his Maker.

As he followed Lucia’s directions into Eli’s shop, Punchinello was thunderstruck at how large everything was. He felt small and insignificant. “I don’t like this feeling,” he thought, “I must leave.”

But as if the bearded man behind the work bench could read his thoughts, Eli called his name. “Punchinello, how good it is to see you. Come and let me have a look at you.”

Punchinello turned slowly and looked at the large bearded craftsman. “You know my name?”

“Of course I do, I made you.”

Eli stooped down, picked him up and set him on the bench. “Hmm,” the maker spoke thoughtfully as he looked at the grey dots.

“Looks like you have received some bad marks.”

“I didn’t mean to, Eli, I really tried hard.”

“Oh, you don’t have to defend yourself in front of me, child. I don’t care what the other Wemmicks think.”

“You don’t?”

“No, and you shouldn’t either. Who are they to give stars and dots? They’re Wemmiccks just like you. What they think doesn’t matter, Punchinello. All that matters is what I think. And I think you are pretty special.”

Punchinello laughed. “Me, special? Why? I can’t do anything. I’m not a good Wemmick, Why do I matter to you?”

Eli looked at Punchinello, put his hands on his shoulders, and spoke very slowly. “Because you’re mine. That’s why you matter to me.”

Punchinello had never had anyone look at him this way before- much less his Maker. He didn’t know what to say.

“Every day I’ve been hoping you’d come,” Eli explained.

“I came because I met someone who had no marks,” said Punchinello.

“I know, she told me about you.”

“Why don’t the stickers stay on her?”

The Maker spoke softly. “Because she has decided that what I think is more important than what they think. The stickers only stick if you let them.”


“The stickers only stick if they matter to you. The more you trust in my love, the less you care about their stickers.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

Eli smiled, “You will, but it will take time. You’ve got a lot of marks. For now, just come to see me every day, and let me remind you how much I care.”

Eli lifted Punchinello off the bench and set him on the ground.

“Remember,” Eli said as the Wemmick walked out the door, “you are special because I made you and I don’t make mistakes.”

Punchinello didn’t stop, but in his heart he thought, “I think he really means it.”

And when he did, a dot fell to the ground.

There are some things I felt like I did well this summer. There are also some things I know I didn’t do so well. When I came home, I had a number of dots and stars on my conscience, given to me either by myself or the people I spent my summer with, that encouraged or discouraged me about the past month-and-a-half.

You inevitably also have stars and dots that you have been given this summer. How do they make you feel? How important are they to you? What are you going to do with them? Whatever you did or didn’t do this summer, your Maker says “You are special, “because I made you, and I don’t make mistakes.” It may have been important or unimportant in the eyes of your friends, but your Maker says “what you did was special, because I worked in you.”

This blog is dedicated to the Keats Camps staff of 2007 where I learned again that whatever remark, phone call, comment or e-mail I receive that effects my conscience, my Maker says “You are very special,” and His words must take precedence.

I have just emptied my ‘Deleted Items’ folder.

“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

Hebrews 6:10

Book Referenced: You Are Special ©1997 by Max Lucado, Crossway Books