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Cross-less Christian Lives?


Cross-less Christian Lives?

No one commits to playing SEC football for the glory of February through July. There is much more pain in the weight room and sweat on the practice field during the offseason than there is the thrill of the Saturday afternoon game. But any coach will tell you that you won’t be lifting the national championship trophy at the end of the season if you’re not lifting weights now. In order to celebrate then, you’ve got to sacrifice now.

No one travels to Paris to see the Mona Lisa for the beauty of waiting in line at the airport or outside the Louvre. But if you live on this side of the Atlantic, trying to skip either of those lines will result in your not getting to see the Mona Lisa at all … you’ll never get in front of her! To enjoy the beauty of that experience, you’ve got to wait in line, endure the long flight, wait in line again, and suffer through crowded museum exhibits.

Sacrifice and pain come before victory and joy. The Easter season reminded me of that spiritual truth again this year: Crucifixion comes before resurrection. You don’t have the joy and victory of the empty tomb without the pain and agony of the cross. It was certainly true of the life of Jesus, and our Savior says our lives should take the same shape as his—going down before going up: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). This is Jesus’ clear and consistent teaching: Being one of his followers means a cross-shaped life of sacrifice, suffering, and self-denial.

Skipping Straight to Resurrection
But I tend to prefer the version of the Christian life that feels like joy, victory, comfort, and safety—I want the new resurrection life without the painful struggle of the crucifixion. It’s easy to criticize Joel Osteen and “your best life now” theologically, but I find the same assumptions in my own heart—that avoiding pain, suffering, and weakness is what I want my Christian life to look like. I’m so thankful for a Savior who suffered, and I would like to “follow” him—except often not exactly where he went. Let’s be honest: when not having cable makes your list of Top 10 sacrifices in your life, you can hardly claim to be “suffering” like Jesus.

And yet, it’s the path Jesus calls us to walk in his steps. The Bible is clear that the new life we are called to is developed in us through suffering. We are told that being perplexed, afflicted, and struck down is the process of having the life of Jesus formed in us (II Corinthians 4). We are told that if we follow after Jesus, we will certainly be persecuted (II Timothy 3). We are even commanded to be proactively sacrificial even when others aren’t attacking us (see passages above).

Protecting Our Kids
The area I’m most convicted about forgetting this reality is with my kids. I’m supposed to be pointing them to Jesus, which means helping them learn to suffer while trusting God, to sacrifice while believing God is worth it, to deny themselves while the culture tells them to deny themselves nothing they want. Well, most days I find myself trying to keep them pain-free and happy enough that they don’t whine and ruin my life!

Where am I teaching my children that true life is found? How have I modeled and taught the value of sacrifice and self-denial? We as parents do have a God-given role in some sense to protect our children, to guard their hearts against the lies of the evil one and the dangers of the world, the flesh, and the devil. But is it possible that what I’m actually doing is protecting them from Jesus?

Meeting Jesus
The reason I suggest that in protecting my children from pain and suffering I may be protecting them from Jesus is that we find that we actually meet him there. If we miss the cross-shaped pattern of our lives, we may miss Jesus altogether. The Suffering Servant still weeps with those who weep and draws near to the brokenhearted and oppressed. The path Jesus took had crucifixion before resurrection, and we meet Jesus when we walk that difficult path. In fact, Romans 8:17 says that part of our connection with Christ that prepares us to be connected with him gloriously forever is being connected with him in suffering.

We dare not miss Jesus by skipping the cross on our way to victorious resurrection life. It’s good and right to long for Easter—for the newness of resurrection life, for complete freedom from the influence of sin in our hearts, for the glory of healed bodies and relationships. We don’t have to seek pain or call things that are evil good. But it’s wrong to expect to skip over Good Friday and all the other days before it—the pain, the patient endurance, the suffering that God promises will be on the path to the life for which we ache. When we suffer great loss or sacrifice things we thought would fulfill us, we meet Jesus there—and in knowing him find a truer and more fulfilling life than we could ever find apart from the cross.

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When Jesus Met Me…
by Robert Stanfield

My relationship with Jesus began in December 2005 when I was 19. At that time I could not have imagined the consequences my family and I would face because of my life before. In January 2007 I was sentenced to six years in prison for a crime I committed when I was 18. I didn’t understand why Jesus would allow this suffering to enter my life. I prayed, as did hundreds of others, that Jesus would allow this trial to pass over me.

A week into my incarceration the verse that led me to Jesus became more real than ever. In Isaiah 41:10 God tells us not to fear, that He is with us and will guide us. By the strength and power of the Holy Spirit, I understood that God allowed this for a reason and He was going to use my mistakes to advance His kingdom. In my suffering God drew me to Him.

You know that saying that God never gives us more than we can handle? It’s a lie. God regularly allows us to suffer more than we can handle to drive us into His arms. My family and I were given far more than we could bear, but Jesus drew us to Himself in an irresistible way and taught us how light our burdens are when we let Him carry them. I believe by the grace of God He did not give me a choice to turn from Him during this time of suffering. My faith and relationship with Jesus was strong and unshakable. Inmates experienced Jesus through me, and my situation brought about reform that influenced thousands and brought me home early.

Doubt is a constant struggle for me. I listen to the enemy when I am suffering, especially today. I often believe the lies that God does not love or care for my marriage, that He is not there for us, and that we don’t need Him. I have truths and experiences to prove the enemy a liar because of the suffering I endured and the way Jesus met me there. That is where I find my hope and strength.

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What He Has Done For Us…
by David Clark

I stare at the index cards in my hand, each with one word in black Sharpie: FOOD, FAMILY, FRIENDS, CHURCH, HOME.

Gracie and I are surrounded by other DHR Foster-Parenting Class students. Each potential foster parent has the same 5 words in their hand. The classes run from 7pm to 10pm. I pull out my thermos and pour some Guatemalan Quetzaltenango coffee and sip. Warmth seeps in.

“Now, choose one thing you think you can do without”, the teacher instructs. I consider. HOME flutters to the floor. Next… familiar FOOD. The instructor keeps on going. “Throw away another card.” 

What do I “give up” next? Family? Friends? Church? Not okay!  Eventually I make a choice, uncomfortable. 

“Choose another one to give up.” 

“I can’t!” some exclaim. The instructor is unusually forceful, demanding that we discard one. 

It is only a piece of paper, right? 

The instructor forces another decision. Some people are crying now. Myself included. I can’t! I WON’T! Others rebel, outraged. But the instructor is inexorable, and finally all of the pieces of paper flutter to the ground. 

“That is what it is like to be a foster child. Your family, friends and familiar surroundings are all stripped away from you in a frightening moment, and you are thrown into unfamiliar surroundings disconnected from all you have known.”

That was not only a sobering group exercise, it also was daunting as we decided to become licensed as foster parents. What would it be like to have a little child in our home who had such a disruption tearing their hearts apart.

And the truth is it was more difficult than we imagined it would be. 

But in the middle of foster parenting, God was also showing us that this was exactly what he had done for us. His Son had been stripped of His familiar surroundings, and eventually was even shunned by His Father. For us. In the middle of providing a suitably safe place for children, I began to see how rich His love is. He would give up all things for me so that I could have all things.