Why I wear a cross

Do you wear a cross necklace? If not, you probably know someone who does. Do you ever wonder why?

I’m not going to debate whether a cross is a pagan symbol for various Sun-deities. Nor, am I going to debate whether Christians should or shouldn’t wear a cross. I’m also not going to debate whether Jesus was crucified on a “cross” or a “stake.” A case can be made for the later from some Greek translations of the New Testament, but that’s splitting hairs and we’re not going there.

It’s true, the cross symbol predates Christianity centuries before Jesus was crucified. It wasn’t until around 430AD that crosses began to be seen in churches. Over the centuries, this symbol has been both celebrated and perverted by religions worldwide.

In today’s culture I believe the cross has been domesticated…tamed to the point of being irrelevant. It appears on so many things, and its original intent (pagan or sacred) has been largely lost in translation. We see celebrities and athletes adorn themselves with crosses….sometimes in numbers that would cause drowning if they ever fell into deep water. They must be super religious, right?

I have a small cross I wear pretty much 24/7, but not as a fashion statement or good luck talisman that protects me from bad juju. There are no special powers about this piece of gold. I don’t pray to it or worship it in any way.

Soooooo, why do I wear it, you might wonder? After all, a cross or crucifix is representative of one of the most horrific methods of execution known to humankind. History states it was probably the Assyrians and Babylonians who originated this method of torture; but it was the Romans who perfected the art around the first century. It was so torturous that, by decree except in cases of treason, it was rarely used on Roman citizens.

According to Britannica.com:

Usually, the condemned man, after being whipped, or “scourged,” dragged the crossbeam of his cross to the place of punishment, where the upright shaft was already fixed in the ground. Stripped of his clothing, he was bound fast with outstretched arms to the crossbeam or nailed firmly to it through the wrists. The crossbeam was then raised high against the upright shaft …. Next, the feet were tightly bound or nailed to the upright shaft. A ledge inserted about halfway up the upright shaft gave some support to the body. Over the criminal’s head was placed a notice stating his name and his crime. Death ultimately occurred through a combination of constrained blood circulation, organ failure, and asphyxiation as the body strained under its own weight. It could be hastened by shattering the legs with an iron club, which prevented them from supporting the body’s weight and made inhalation more difficult, accelerating both asphyxiation and shock.

If the sacrificial death of Jesus was needed to redeem and reconcile humankind back to its creator, there surely were less gruesome ways other than crucifixion to make that happen; surely there were quicker methods that would have accomplished this atonement. Why so much brutality? Why so much savagery? Why death on a cross?

What’s missing from our 21st century view of the cross is exactly that….the raw realization of that brutality and savagery Jesus experienced….for his creation. Why did Jesus, the incarnate God, choose to suffer to this extent at the hands of evil? Why…since at any point he could have stopped all of it by simply stepping down off the cross…did  he voluntarily endure six hours of pain, broken bones, thorns pressed into his head, and eventual suffocation of his human form? Would blood from a finger prick make the same statement? It surely could have sufficed for a blood offering. How about a quick spear through the heart? Surely that would have been preferable to six hours of agony.

Which makes this historical event all the more an epiphany moment for me. The cross is representative of both darkest evil and radiating goodness. It’s message is one of both humble surrender and powerful victory. For six hours, evil was unleashed and allowed to do its damnedest against God the Son. And in the end, it appears evil was successful in silencing both Jesus and the movement.

Until three days later when the seemingly impossible happened. Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection are the perfect bookends to show his sovereign power over sin and death. And, the fact that so many people witnessed and encountered the risen Christ after the fact makes this seemingly impossible event all the more relevant. The authority of the empty tomb trumped the agony and savagery of the cross. It was the ultimate statement that evil did not, could not and will not win in the end. And, that is why this “movement” exploded during the centuries that followed. Too many people witnessed the impossible and Christianity became impossible to stop, despite continued torture and crucifixion of its followers.

That symbol of torture is my reminder of hope; it’s my reminder of how much pain Jesus suffered for my sake; a reminder of how much my life means to God.

A finger prick could never mean as much.

Playing along with others over at Peabea’s Pictorial Tuesday.

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Redemption and those dark places in your soul

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Texture by Kim Klassen; Follow, 2 layers at 100% soft light with selective masking

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. ~1 Peter 5:7

Well, Peter would certainly know about anxiety.

I’ve done a character study on Peter before but he is just so much fun to pick on. The Peter in the bible is such a mess of contradictions: bravado and cowardice; pride and shame; total moral collapse and restoration. The list goes on.

We know him now as the one of the patriarchs of Christianity. Born Simon, Jesus renamed him Peter (aka The Rock) and foretold he would build his church on him.

Peter, the one who denied Christ not one…not two…but three times to save his own hide. The same man that boasted he would never leave or deny Jesus.

But have you ever put yourself in Peter’s shoes? Have you ever thought what he went through during that last year of JC’s life? Have you ever stopped to realize just how dark a place his soul was in after betraying his Lord by denying his affiliation with him?

Guilt and shame. That’s probably what Peter was feeling that day after JC’s arrest and sham of a trial. And after the crucifixion, can you imaging the level of guilt and shame that Peter felt?

But while they are often linked together, there’s a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is acknowledging we’ve done something wrong. Shame is feeling we are wrong and not of any value because of our actions.

A healthy dose of guilt will keep us from repeating wrongdoings. But shame destroys the soul. Shame puts us in dark places where we question our worth as an individual.

And that’s probably where Peter was. His bravado the night before in the garden when jumping in front of a Roman guard, brandishing his sword and cutting off his ear turned to cowardice when confronted after JC’s arrest. By his own moral standards, he had sunk to a new low.

Build his church on such a failure? You’re kidding, right?

But JC was not kidding. Not in the slightest. He’d told Peter he knew he would deny him before the rooster crowed the next morning. He knew he would cut and run as soon as the situation got scary. But not only did Peter refuse to believe him, he also lost faith in himself when it did happen. Shame and embarrassment over what he did began to devour his mind and heart.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. ~1 Peter 5:8

But Jesus wasn’t ashamed of Peter despite his actions and failure as a disciple. He didn’t need Peter to advance his message….he wanted him. He wanted Peter even though he betrayed him.

Sounds like a serious contradiction, doesn’t it? We’re all about shutting out those who betray us. We turn our backs on those who hurt us. We wash our hands of people who don’t live up to our standards.

But JC sees things a bit differently. After his resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples, meets Peter in that dark place and has a few choice words for him.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

Grace is resistible. Through fear or pride, we often ignore God’s grace in our lives…especially after we screw up and fail in the faithfulness department. What JC did with Peter during this interchange was to meet him in that dark place of guilt and shame and rescue him….redeem and restore him spiritually.

And once Peter realized his shame was not going to keep Jesus from loving him or forgiving him, he became the champion of champions for God’s message. Heck, he became the poster child for forgiveness of screw ups and failures.

So, once again, we learn from Peter. We learn not to avoid those dark places. The dark places where guilt and shame eat away at our souls and keep us from a close relationship with our Creator. We need to own our failures, face our failures and know that we can be forgiven and enjoy the same redemption Peter did.

Because the Creator of the Universe doesn’t need us….he wants us.

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O Holy Night

Christmas Eve. There’s something magical about the night…that has nothing to do with Santa Claus.

candle in ornaments
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

This year, Christmas is stained with the recent, horrific events in Newtown, Conn. I’m sure every parent who tucks their child into bed on this night in anticipation of Christmas morning won’t not think of the pain and anguish the parents of those children are experiencing. The bedtime hug will be just a little tighter, and the kiss goodnight will be held just a little longer.

Christmas Day is certainly a feature event for Christians around the world. But Christmas Eve is held in our hearts as a holy night filled with the soft glow of candles as the Advent season closes in anticipation of the promise fulfilled.

But how hard is it to see that promise these days? We live in a culture of violence. It’s everywhere. It permeates every aspect of our lives from our movies to television to video games. The news is famous for showing us a ring-side seat to the violence and hate in every part of the world.

Where is the promise of peace on earth and goodwill towards our fellow men and women? Where is the joy to the world? So much of the time, the world stumbles in darkness looking for some semblance of hope.

And yet….

Every year, the world is reminded there is a light in the darkness. That, even though there are tragic happenings everywhere, there is hope for better days ahead.

This hope comes in the form of 26 Christmas trees delivered in memory of 26 lives. It comes from a man in California buying cups of coffee for everyone in Newtown. It comes as 26 stuffed animals delivered to a children’s ward at a hospital. It comes through neighbors who trek out onto a snow-covered highway in the middle of a blizzard to bring stranded travelers blankets, food and coffee. It comes as an extension cord drug out to a gate with power strips and sign inviting anyone who needs to recharge their cell phone after a hurricane.

Yes, hope is everywhere and there are lights in the darkness. And every year on Christmas Eve, we look to the ultimate hope of life of unprecedented joy. A time when there are no more tears. No more sadness. No more darkness. A time when love and peace prevail.

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees!
Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night, O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night, O night divine! 

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
Noel! Noel! O night, O night divine
Noel! Noel! O night, O night divine!

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQWXfHzOKUU’%5D

Merry Christmas to you and yours. May the light of hope shine brightly in your life.

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White as snow

It wasn’t the trifecta snowstorm I long for every January, but 8-9 inches was enough to keep me home for the day. Entrepreneur braved the single digit temps and plowed our Hyundai SUV through the subdivision on his way to the office. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds…No. Wait. That’s the post office. It does apply to him too.

Back at the homefront, Tanner and I didn’t waste any time enjoying the lovely white mantle outside. We enjoyed it for about 20 minutes before my fingers were stinging from the cold…even through gloves.

Snow.

A pure, white blanket covering the imperfections of the ground. When it started on Wednesday night, I was almost giddy with anticipation. I watched it gently cover the yard until darkness set in, and then I watched the flakes glisten in the light of the backyard floodlight. I went to sleep listening to it blow against the window.

Snow.

It falls thousands of feet from the sky, yet makes no sound when it hits the ground. It melts and paves the way for new growth in the spring. When the sun shines on it, it’s blindingly bright. Even though in a few days, life’s dirtiness is revealed, for a brief time, everything is clean and perfect.

And I thought about how we, as flawed creatures, could really use a white blanket to cover our imperfections. Snowflakes are said to be unique. No two are exactly alike. So it is with us. So, yes, we are all a little flaky…

Okay, okay, back to being philosophical.

Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. ~Psalm 51:7

Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. ~Isaiah 1:8

As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow… ~Daniel 7:9

Do you see the trend?

Just like the imperfections of the ground, I am covered with a mantle of white. The sins I commit are covered by a robe of white that hides my dirtiness. My sins are still there, but just as the snow covers the imperfections of the ground, so my imperfections are covered. With this covering, I glisten in the light of the sun.

I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. ~1 John 2:1

It doesn’t matter how dirty my heart is. Every single time, it’s covered. Just like new snowfall silently covers the ground. Every. Single. Time. Not remembering the last time it fell.

Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”…And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. ~Revelation 7:13-14

Snow is in our forecast.

I can’t wait.

Rags to Redemption

Redemption.

Andy Dufresne found it at Shawshank.

Jules Winnfield found it in Pulp Fiction.

Paul found it on the road to Damascus.

And now, it appears Ted Williams has found it on Interstate 71 in Ohio.

Ted Williams is the homeless man with the golden voice. Many of you probably have already heard about this story or seen the video. I heard about him yesterday and watched an interview with him this morning.

It is truly a story of redemption, and unless your heart is stone cold, I think you will agree.

A prime example of “Social Media” in every way possible.

A videographer from the Columbus Dispatch went in search of a man he’d seen on the side of the road with an unusual sign. It read:

“I have a God given gift of voice, I’m an ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times. PLEASE! any help will be greatfully appreciated. Thank you and God bless you. Happy Holidays.”

I love the spelling of “greatfully.”

And found him he did. As did thousands of other people once the video went viral overnight.

Once with a career in radio, Mr. Williams found himself homeless after cocaine, crack and alcohol ravaged his professional and personal life. The slippery slope turned into a mudslide. On the streets for ten years, Mr. Williams lived in shelters and with family and friends. He had arrests, and served time in prison for theft, forgery and drug abuse.

He’d become a homeless addict, fueling his habits through crime. His conduct around local businesses was offensive and crude. Anyone looking at him would say, wow, now there’s a loser. Society had written him off as one of the many destined to live and die on the street.

And then he speaks. And it truly is divine.

Did God or Youtube save him?

I’m not sure why the two must be mutually exclusive. If you are one that believes everything happens for a reason, and there are no coincidences in the world, it’s an easy answer. What brain slapped me this morning was his demeanor. There’s a noticeable genteelness about him that I didn’t expect from one living on the streets. Despite more than a decade of living hell, cocaine, crack and alcohol. Despite the obvious lack of personal hygiene. Despite reducing his body to only a shell of its former self, miraculously his voice was spared. Evidently he had a “come-to-Jesus meeting” of the minds at some point. Whether his God Bless You’s on the street were just lip service or heart felt, something about this man…over and above his voice…is different.

And when he spoke, he gushed praise to God. In his former circumstance, he had no reason to offer praise to God. In fact, he had every reason to curse him for allowing the chain of events to happen. Bitterness and resentment could have just as easily replaced thanks and praise. He had everything. Career. Family. Fortune. And then he had nothing.

One of my biggest prayers that I sent out was that (my mother) would live long enough for me to see me rebound or whatever, and I guess God kept her around and kept my pipes around to maybe just have one more shot that I would be able to say, ‘Mom, I did do it before,’ — I might pass away before her or whatever, but my dad didn’t get a chance to see this. But God is good.

I always said, ‘God, you’ve never seen fit to take my voice in spite of all the flames and everything that went down my throat.’

It is rare for the mainstream media to give the spotlight to someone so obviously touched by the Spirit. But after the newspaper’s YouTube video went viral, he went from panhandler to prince within hours. He’s on all the major news networks. The video was at 12 million views as of this morning. Job offers are pouring in. The Cleveland Cavaliers basketball organization offered him an announcing job. The NFL’s film production office is chasing him. Voice-over contracts are piling up.

Will history repeat itself?

Only time will really tell if he’s sincere. Mr. Williams will be thrown head first back into the very type of success and lifestyle that fueled his previous addiction. There is no doubt the man has a unique gift. Whether it was through a series of happenstance events or an orchestrated plan, Mr. Williams has been given a second chance. A second chance to be the kind of man he should have been the first time around. Perhaps he had to be completely broken before he could truly be everything he’s suppose to be in this life.

The difference between my successes of years gone by is that I didn’t acknowledge the Lord or thank him for anything before … This time around, I have God in my life, acknowledging him on a daily basis. I’ve found a new sense of spirituality now.

Redemption.

Like Andy, the rain that poured from above after he crawled through the sewer pipe with all its…well, you get the idea…was symbolic redemption after 17 years of prison. The washing away of the past to face the future with a clean slate. It’s the story of the transforming power of tragedy and adversity.

In reality, redemption is rarely achieved easily. We all must struggle to find real meaning to life. And most of the time, the process of surviving the abyss is how we discover who we really are deep down in the dark places of our soul.

“Andy Dufresne, who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean.”

Ted Williams has certainly crawled through his river of shit. Redemption greeted him and handed him another gift. I hope he continues to be amazed at what happened in his life these past few days. I hope he never forgets the depths to which he sank, and why. I hope he uses his second chance to make a difference not only in his life, but the lives of others.