Without the cross, would there be a Christian religion? If Jesus had lived, preached, performed miracles, taught His disciples, and then went off to a quiet retirement, would He be remembered today? If Jesus had died on the cross, but not been resurrected, would the cross have the same meaning? If Jesus had been stoned, like Stephen, and then raised from His grave, would we be wearing polished stones around our necks? Was Paul changed from Saul because of the cross, or because he had a physical encounter with the Risen Christ?
Paul certainly preached the cross and Him who died upon it. Since before Christ, the cross was, indeed, a symbol. Just as the author described it. The cross was a Roman symbol of death, torture, and humiliation to all who opposed Roman rule. So, does the cross lose its power by becoming a Christian symbol? I think not. I think the power of the cross that so many of us wear around our necks, lies in its symbolic resonance. Where once the cross was a symbol of death, because of Christ, it became a symbol of life. And of life everlasting. And thus, the world was overturned.
In Romans 8:5-7, Paul explains the difference between those who walk in the flesh and those who walk in the Spirit. Paul sets a tough standard for us to achieve. We spend an hour or two in church, being reminded of the Word of God, then we spend the rest of our week in the clutches of the world, being reminded of all the wonderful things we can have and do, if we ignore the will of God.
Left to our own devises, we will always fall prey to the temptations of the world. We are not strong enough, in the flesh, to avoid the traps set for us when we become children of God. In Romans 7:15, Paul admits to us his struggle to keep this high standard: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate”. Still, we are not helpless and alone. As Paul tells us in Romans 9: “But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you”. Each of us, then lives in a personal civil war, a war between the states. The state of the flesh gives us the urge to go along with the crowd, to fit in, to succeed. The state of the Spirit reminds us whose we are, that we were bought at a price, no longer held hostage by the world.
We are, as children of God, in the world, but not of the world. Therefore, as we mature in Christ and recognize the presence of the Spirit inside of us, we become free from the assumptions of the world. As we rely on the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside us, we can see our place in the world with greater clarity. We can live our life according to the plan God has prepared for us. We can live according to our higher purpose. We can live in the Spirit.
Within our first years in our church, I was forced to close my business of twenty years. I found myself another job, but my wife and I went through a stressful bankruptcy. We managed to keep our house and car, with some help from the church’s discretionary fund. We ended up losing our house a few years later, because we couldn’t get a bank loan to rebuild our roof. When we lost our house, we became homeless. Almost all of our possessions ended up in a self-storage shed.
At first, we lived with my sister. Then, our church friend, Margie, asked us to become her house-sitters. Eventually, we ended up moving in year-round. To this day , we live in Margie’s home, surrounded by all of Margie’s photographs, artworks, nick nacks, and furnishings. All our possessions are still packed away in our storage shed. We have no need for them.
We didn’t willingly give up our possessions, but we certainly live a wonderful life without them. We don’t go shopping for stuff that we don’t need. We don’t have any desire to clutter up our lives. We are privileged to be able to live a simple life. Because we live in Margie’s house, she has the freedom to spend half her year as a missionary in Costa Rica. The other half of the year, we are privileged to spend our meals in conversation with Margie.
When you give up your stuff, you get a much better idea about what is and isn’t important. This wasn’t the way we planned our lives, but maybe God had a better plan.
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27)
It was our family’s custom, over many years, to meet on Sunday morning at my sister’s house. My father always brought a danish. We would discuss the news of the previous week and our plans for the coming week. When Shelly and I started attending church, things began to change. The more seriously we took our commitment to the church, the harder it was for us to set time aside for our family get-together. We had to make a decision. We chose the church.
We didn’t consider our decision “hating our family”, but my parents considered it a slap in the face and didn’t understand how we could do it. We were changing our life priorities and our extended family was taking second place, behind Jesus. It strained our relationship with my Mom and Dad for quite a while. My parents continued to spend Sunday morning at my sister’s, but we rarely again did.
Now, I don’t claim that we were carrying our crosses for Jesus. I don’t claim that we are great, or even good disciples of Christ, but that decision was our first step. It was our first step in turning our back on the values of the world and accepting our servanthood in the name of Jesus.
When I first became a Christian, I found that I had many roadblocks to spiritual progress. First of all, I had a terrible memory. When my wife would ask me over Sunday lunch about my reaction to the morning’s sermon, I had to ask her to give me a few hints. When it came to meditation, I generally fell asleep. I have never been competent in the art of praying. Even now, my attention wanders when my wife takes more than 30 seconds to say grace before a meal. The Bible says to pray continuously, but I could not even figure out a way to pray occasionally. I was the man with a grasshopper mind…continually distracted.
I found two remedies to my shortcomings. First, I started to memorize my favorite Bible passages. The process of memorization allowed me to concentrate on important parts of the Bible, line by line and even word by word. Once I had a passage memorized, I needed to run it over and over in my head to keep from forgetting parts of it. This was a great way to develop self-discipline and mental control. It also helped me to discover details in the passage I would normally overlook. The second remedy was to take my memorized passage and turn it into a song.
By putting Bible verses to music, I was able to put passages into my own words and personalize my response to the message I was given. I called that ‘working out my salvation through music and lyrics’. Also, I had an easier way to remember what I learned. It was easier to keep a tune in my head than a long line of Scripture. Once the song was cemented into my brain, I could repeat it as many times as I wanted. I was continually meditating on God’s Word. Soon, my main method of Bible study was song writing. It has been my spiritual practice of choice for about a decade now. I recommend it.