The Diminished Cross

GUWG-Cross-Light

Each year about this time I lament my disappointment as I once again embark on a futile search for a place to observe Good Friday among my protestant based churches.  Mind you not all have done away with such observances, but with each passing year the offerings become fewer and fewer.  In a feel-good age of cheap grace and victorious living, the message of suffering, forbearance and surrender of self, becomes increasingly diluted if mentioned at all.  The challenge of taking up one’s own cross and submitting to the unpredictable and uncomfortable life of following our Savior in His suffering and death is being largely replaced with the more popular theology of living your best life, tapping into God’s treasure trove and living a free-style life where all is covered by grace and a high five is preferable to a lowly stature of humble prayer and reflective remorse.  The cross is only relevant as a piece of jewelry or a favored tattoo and not a reminder of our sinful roots.

The cheap form of grace that some brandish about like an infinite well we didn’t have to dig was provided to us at a high cost.  In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dierich Bonhoeffer reminds us of the cost of this grace:

“such grace is costly because it calls us to follow. It is costly because it costs a man his life and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. Above all it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son; “ye were bought with a price”, and what cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

That cost was paid on a cross.  There would be no Resurrection Sunday without the horrendous events surrounding Good Friday.  In fact there would be little value at all in an empty tomb except that given it by the verified death just three days earlier.  It is the cross that empowers the message of the resurrection-it is the bloodshed and the suffering and the ultimate show of sacrificial love by means of the cross that gives life and hope to the message of redemption and eternal life revealed by the empty tomb.  But somewhere in our attempt to make more palatable the message of hope and forgiveness many have left out the call to obedience, suffering, discipline and selflessness that the cross represents. A 30 second Sinners Prayer void of a call to total submission under the weight of a daily cross would be to hard to receive and would turn many away, so it is left off the buffet of inspirational anecdotes and dessert blessings lest the people may not come.

While I enjoy the freedom of our worship styles I am never drawn away from the integrity of the old hymns.  One of my favorites was written by Isaac Watts over three hundred years ago, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.  The descriptives held within the lyrics paint for us an undiluted picture of the price paid on the cross and the eternal value that lies within the solemn observance of that first Good Friday;

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count as loss and pour contempt on all my pride. 2. Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God; all the vain things that charm me most I sacrifice them to his blood. 3. See, from his head, his hands, his feeet-sorrow and love flow mingled down; Did e;er such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown. 4. Were the whole realm of nature mine that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, deserves my soul, my life, my all.
I am the least of those to point out how we overlook the cost of the cross as we pass Go and head right to the empty tomb and collect our $200. My life is not one of submissive discipline and I fall short of understanding and living out the combined message of the tomb and the cross. But I am deeply grieved and concerned at how through the generations the high cost paid for the grace we boast has been diminished to a nearly unmentioned detail having little significance compared to Living our Best Life Now. It is the blood shed up to and on the cross that provides our healing.  It is the lashes and the nails on the cross that provide our forgiveness. It is the carrying of the cross by our King that provides us the best example of meekness and humility. And most importantly, it is only the death on the cross that made possible the glorious resurrection we celebrate at Easter.  One can not be separated from the other; one can not be observed properly as a single event without knowledge of the other. And one can not glory in the risen Savior and the empty tomb with giving glory to the crucified Lamb and the price of death paid for our redemption.
There is no shortage of scriptural texts to instill in us the ever relevant importance of observing the work accomplished on the cross.
1 Peter 2:24; He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness”
Hebrews 12:2; For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the Father.
Galatians 6:14; May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.
1 Corinthians 1:17; Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom or eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Although they gave it their best effort, not even Hollywood with all their special effects could adequately capture the horror, the level of pain, the sense of abandonment nor the depth of so great a love that was displayed that Good Friday on the cross we so reluctantly acknowledge. Christ took upon his body the eternal punishment for all evil, for all hatred, for all martyrdom in his name, all terrorism, all extremism, for every lie, indiscretion, theft, for every person who has walked the face of the planet he created. The source of all life became death; the embodiment of all that is good became all that is evil so that even his own father could not look upon him in his deepest and most agonizing hour on the cross. How can we so easily brush aside the infinite sacrifice in favor of the glorious outcome? Is it because the cross reminds us of our worthlessness and our own sinfulness but for the high price paid for our grace? With all that is left of my shattered life I will attempt to find glory and worth in the cross and pray that its significance is never lost on me.

I boast not or works or tell of good deeds for naught have I done to merit his grace

All glory and praise shall rest upon him so willing to die in my place

I will glory in the cross, in the cross, lest his suffering all be in vain

I will weep no more for the cross that he bore-I will glory in the cross.

May you have a blessed, reflective and completely cognizant Easter celebration as we acknowledge the whole Easter story from the incarnation to the passion, from the death to the resurrection and from his ascention to his eventual return, all made possible by his obedience to the cross.

 

 

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Meekness-It’s Not for Wimps

wave-break

We just returned from our favorite spot on Earth-the Pacific Coast of Southern California.  Each year my wife and I make a point of vacationing and beach hopping from Huntington Beach to Newport to Laguna to Dana Point. When it comes time to plan our trip we weigh and consider our vacation options and always choose to go back to what we love most.  If Heaven is no better than our beaches, we will be most content with our reward!

The waves in Huntington Beach are particularly powerful.  It is called Surf City for good reason; the US Open of Surfing is held there each year because the area produces some of the best scoring waves for competitive surfing.  It is not unusual for my 6’4″ 200+ pound frame to be standing in two feet of surf and be taken down by a powerful wave that seemingly developed from nowhere.  The best total body workout I could come up with would be to stand or walk against the power of these small waves as they pound the shoreline.  After my first day back on the beach I could barely walk that evening.

People visit the beach for various reasons and each one takes away something different from their experience.  For me, I feel close to God when I see the force of these waves and hear the thunder of their voices as they break on the beach.  But this year I took something a little different away from my visit.  I was impressed with the concept of meekness.  One may have a hard time understanding the meekness of a wave that can knock a 300 pounder off their feet, but that is because we have a misconception sometimes of that word.  Meekness is often defined or understood as being lowly, humble, subservient or gentle in spirit-all attributes perhaps.  But a better understanding of this term is to control or restrain one’s own power or strength. When I see how the waves that have historically capsized ocean liners and large sailing vessels lay themselves down under restraint and submission as they reach the shorelines comprised of tiny insignificant grains of sand and curtail their strength as they reach the toes of a toddler enjoying their first beach experience, I see for myself the full living definition of meekness and I am in awe!

All of us have a spirit of pride within us that is not always healthy and which constantly wages war against our spirit. Social media has made all of us experts on everything and we constantly look for ways to prove our debate skills and intellect on matters that, well, don’t really matter. I write this blog each week with the sincere desire of speaking words that offer advice and give glory to Christ, but I often find myself checking to see how many likes or shares it gets or how many different countries it reaches with each new post-a result of a prideful spirit, and certainly not the essence of meekness.  In Matthew 5 Jesus speaks to those assembled to hear Him and tells them “Blessed are the meek For they will inherit the earth”.  Other versions say Blessed are the humbled or those content with who they are, no more and no less. These aren’t hapless individuals who are the walking mats of society He is referring to. On the contrary, these are those who get slapped in the face and can stand tall like a grizzly, flex their muscles  but take another blow.  Jesus showed all of us who pay attention what meekness looks like when they came to arrest Him and when asked if He was Jesus, his response of “I AM” knocked everyone off of their feet-just the words from his mouth-restrained power-submissive strength-displayed superiority, meekness defined.

The author of Philippians describes meekness by citing the example of Christ for us:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord-MEEKNESS!!!

This is how I want to live my life.  I want to be a meek gentle giant, strong enough to defend, meek enough to submit and wise enough to know my strength comes from God who has much larger muscles to flex than I do. Yes, that’s what I received from my visit this year to the beach-that and a nice Summer tan.