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:

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