I was watching a reality television show last night in which the contestant, who had been stranded on an island all by herself said, “Being in solitude for ten days makes you realize what things you really value.”
This was a very insightful and introspective comment.
All too often we become attached to and dependent upon so many inconsequential and non-life giving things that we lose sight of or take for granted those things that are of the utmost value and have the most meaning in our lives.
As I sit here and reflect, my wedding ring is a great symbolic illustration of this idea. My wedding ring means everything to me. It represents the commitment my wife and I have with each other. It represents the union we have that will never be broken. It represents the vows we took and depth to which our love will always endure and never fail. All of that and more in a simple ring. It’s absolutely beautiful.
Yet the truth is that on a daily, and even more indicting, a weekly basis… I don’t even think about my wedding ring. It has become so commonplace in my life that it can’t compete with the million other things I have going on in my life or the million other things that I think about on a daily basis. I would even be willing to say that these other thoughts and pursuits pale into comparison to the importance and significance of my wedding ring, yet I never think about it.
So does the fact that my wedding ring has been buried by my lack of attention to it take away it’s symbolic value and power? Absolutely not.
Does it’s symbolic value and power lose influence in my life on a daily basis when it is rarely (if ever) thought about over the course of my daily routine? Sadly yes.
It’s completely possible that the most important things- those things that we hold to be most dear, those things we hold to be most valuable, and those things that remind us of who we are, can become quite ordinary and even forgotten when having to compete with the clutter and interests of lesser things in our lives.
I have had this principle ring true for me over the last 18 months since I stepped down from leadership at our church and began a significant time of rest and flying under the church radar, which I have jokingly referred to as our “40 years of wandering the concrete desert of Columbus.” And little did I know how much I needed the desert to rediscover what is most important to me and what I value the most.
But it is in the solitude of the desert where God strips away everything- everything we think we are, everything we think we know, our attachments, our false identities, our idols, and those things that are inconsequential and non-life giving- and then reminds us of those things that God values.
The last year and a half caused me to ask a ton of questions about who I am and what I value as God began to strip away everything.
What’s the point of it all?
Why do I do what I do?
Does anything ever really change?
Am I wasting my time?
Does any of this even matter?
Do I matter?
Amidst the difficult questions, the seemingly aimless wandering, and the solitude of the desert, God had finally stripped away everything. And it was in that place where I stood naked and alone with only God and God’s love surrounding me, reminding me of the one thing, the most valuable thing, that answers all of my questions… the cross of Christ.
Sometimes we need the desert to find our hearts and souls… and to remember who we are and what our purpose is. And no matter the endless circles and varied pathways we take in this desert life, the point at which they all converge is at the cross. For it is when we come to the cross that we choose to no longer go our own way.
But I really wish there was a way to write about the cross that isn’t weighed down by all of the religious baggage it has accumulated for so long. And I wish there was a way to introduce you to the cross for the first time without you thinking of it as a throwaway, anachronistic icon. Much like my wedding ring, the cross has become so commonplace, to the point of being lost as a ancient relic of another time, that it can’t compete with the million other things we deem as “important” in the 21st century.
I wish I could write about the cross in a way that isn’t shackled by religious baggage or buried by a mountain of inconsequence, but rather in a way that truly means something for you today and that impacts your life and your relationships. If I could do that I am certain that every person (Christ follower or not) would see the cross’ simple and symbolic beauty and importance… and how it has the power to transform individuals, families, and communities.
At it’s very core, the cross represents a confrontation and revolt against anything that puts us, rather than God, at the center of our own lives. Picking up our cross and denying ourselves daily is the pathway to holistic and abundant living in perfect union with God.
And why would anyone not what that?
Can you imagine what the world would look like if every person would pick up his or her cross, deny his or her self, and follow the selfless and other-centered way of Jesus?
Can you fathom a world in which we give up all of the gimmicks, fads, and self-help schemes and simply picked up our cross daily and denied ourselves?
Can you envision a world where entire communities are redeemed and look to the interest of everyone else in grace, humility, mercy, and love… by simply deciding to pick up our cross and deny ourselves daily?
Can you comprehend a world in which real power is demonstrated by sacrificing ourselves in grace, humility, mercy, and love for the sake of others by picking up our cross and denying ourselves daily?
The cross is the power of God to put to death and then bring to life- first in Christ and then in us.
To put to death curses and bring to life blessings.
To put to death impatience and bring to life patience.
To put to death indulgence and bring to life self-control.
To put to death hostility and bring to life compassion.
To put to death blame and bring to life mercy.
To put to death neglect and bring to life care.
To put to death excuses and bring to life honesty.
To put to death busyness and bring to life balance.
To put to death pride and bring to life selflessness.
To put to death hard-heartedness and bring to life kindness.
To put to death negativity and bring to life positivity.
To put to death resentment and bring to life forgiveness.
To put to death division and bring to life unity.
To put to death labeling and stereotyping and bring to life seeing the beauty in every person.
To put to death complaining and bring to life praising.
To put to death entitlement and bring to life contentment.
To put to death brokenness and bring to life wholeness.
To put to death bitterness and bring to life joy.
To put to death war and bring to life peace.
To put to death hatred and bring to life love.
To put to death defeat and bring to life victory.
To put to death my kingdom and bring to life the Kingdom of God.
That is why the world would be a better place if each of us would pick up our crosses and die.
There is so much of me… so much of us… that needs to die. And so much more that God wants to bring to life in each of us.
The cross of Christ is so much more than a nice symbol, a holy representation, an obscure necklace piece, or an optional wall fixture in a church building.
The cross demands blood and sacrifice. The cross promises that there will be pain. The cross beckons you to come and die.
For without death… there is no Life.
The cross is the very pattern and shape our lives should take demonstrated by Jesus Christ. And that is the pattern and shape for a new and better humanity… the pattern and shape of a new and better world.
What is keeping you from denying yourself and picking up the cross of Christ daily? There is no better time than to begin it than today. See how your life, your relationships, and the world around you begins to change.