Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Our Cross to Bear

I heard it a lot when I was growing up.  Usually it was said by someone who was referring to parenting us kids.  "Oh, it's my cross to bear, I guess."  I heard it so much it made me sick at heart, wounded in spirit.  It was so NOT that person's cross to bear - the meaning of that term completely escaped not only that person, but every person I ever heard use that kind of statement when I was a child.  Of course, at the time, that's the only context in which I heard it, so I didn't know any different.  

Now I do.  A "cross to bear" does NOT mean some sort of situation that is inescapable, seen as a punishment or (at best) a test from God.  That would be what is known as a "trial" and as I've said before, those happen to everyone, Christian or not - and it's our response to them which can repel or attract another person from or to the God we serve. Certainly the statement (and tone) I heard growing up was NOT one which would attract someone to God. The only ones who were attracted to it were those who also considered their children to be a punishment from God for having (worse yet, enjoying) sex.  Pardon my bluntness.  

But it had nothing to do with having a cross to bear.

A cross to bear - in Jesus' day - meant certain death.  It wasn't (as is the trend today) some ornate decoration hung around the person's neck on a 14K gold pendant.  It was the harbinger of doom.  It was the guarantee of execution. It was bloody, gory, and repulsive.  Nobody wanted to think about the cross.  Yet - Jesus told His followers, "Unless a man (He's talking in the generic sense here) deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow Me, he can't be my disciple." Those who heard that were affronted - they were in this for the glory of the coming kingdom when Messiah would overthrow the Romans and set up His kingdom on earth.  And Jesus was saying they'd have to pick up a cross?  the very symbol of the ultimate victory of Rome?  

Of course He didn't mean that they (or we) should all be crucified literally.  They were on a hillside, and Jesus wasn't carrying a cross at the time.  Jesus spoke much of the time in metaphor. He was talking about a heart-attitude - as He usually did.  The attitude He spoke of was one that was:

1.  Single-minded.  Following Jesus takes commitment to going wherever He leads, no matter what.  Even if He leads to places that can be uncomfortable. Or even dangerous. Here I'm not talking about suffering for suffering's sake.  I'm saying that the choices we make as Christians may put us in conflict with the world system, and this might turn out to cost us something - either financially, socially, or - in some cases - physically.  Some of Jesus' followers actually WERE crucified after He went back to heaven.  Some were martyred in other ways, the ways limited only by human imagination, all throughout history.  Some even today have lost jobs, families, freedom, even their lives for the sake of spreading the message of the gospel (the good news.)

2.  Self-sacrificing.  Again, here I'm not talking about making a show of giving up this or that thing in our lives and "playing the martyr" to get attention or some sort of reward.  I'm talking about giving up our own selfishness (this only made possible through the power of the Holy Spirit) and choosing what He would have us to do.  Some people call this "doing the next right thing."  It means admitting when we are wrong, and taking steps to make amends where necessary.  It means being honest with ourselves, with God, and with others.  It means "putting to death the deeds of the flesh."  All that means is that we give God the final say over our desires, our motives, our life-focus. As we do that through His empowering presence inside of us, not by enforcing a lot of outward rules and regulations but allowing Him to guide us, we will find that self-seeking will slip away and we will be more interested in serving rather than in instant gratification.   

3. Sustained.  The more we allow God to lead us and to move in our lives, the more we will realize that we cannot do anything... ANYTHING ... in our own strength.  We will come to understand that it is God's strength alone that allows us to continue at all, because trying to live this life He has set out for us in our own strength is absolutely impossible.  Only His indwelling presence - and a daily all-day-long application of that presence - can give us the power to carry out His will. We can't just up and say, "Okay God, I think I got this licked - I'll take it from here," because every time - every single time - we will fall flat on our faces.  It never ceases to amaze me the number of ways that that completely selfish part of me rises up and tries to delude me into thinking I'm letting God run my life, when it's actually me behind the curtain with the remote control pushing buttons and levers like crazy. (It's like the Wizard of Oz, saying, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!")  And then I wonder why God's not coming through for me.  During the rare times when I single-mindedly sacrifice what I want on a continuous basis to Him and to what He wants for me, the power is there - inexplicably - to live life fully, in love, joy, peace, faith, and so much more.  

And the most amazing "God-moments" happen without me trying to "make" them happen.

My cross to bear is not one of duty-based deprivation or of penury (pauperism).  It is an honest, open, and willing acknowledgement (which bears fruit in action) that in every situation, God is God... and I am not.

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