Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Your Cross

The prayer in the Garden feels like betrayal. On the one hand, we betray our flesh if we do not admit what we are truly feeling. On the other, we betray our God if we do not recognize that He is speaking a truth into our empty hearts. In the end, we can only make one betrayal.

And it is crucial that we decide what that betrayal will be.

Because here's what happens when we don't: we come to the courts, where a decision must be made, and we take up our cross because a cross must be taken up, and we walk around aimlessly until we figure out what to do with it. So many of us are walking around burdened, carrying our crosses because we're supposed to carry them, but not really knowing where we go from here.

We carry our cross because this feels like our burden. It feels like the thing we are supposed to do. And we have not decided to betray our God, so we cannot simply lay them down. We sort of want what God is calling us to; we're not ready to give up on the idea that God might be doing something bigger than we can imagine. Yet we have not decided to betray our flesh, so we aren't even looking toward Calvary. We're not headed to the place where we die; we're not ready to give up on the idea that we're doing a pretty big thing, too. So we carry our crosses faithfully, not really going anywhere, not really doing anything, and hoping one day, we'll get our lives back.

Hoping one day, life will look like something we can recognize again. Maybe a little better. It would have to be, right? Otherwise, what are we carrying our cross for? For the most part, we're content to lug around our burdens for a sufficient amount of time until maybe they don't even feel like burdens any more and then we can just get on to living the way we sort of already were. We can get back to life as we know it. We can go back to doing the things that matter to us. These burdens, this cross...this doesn't matter a whole lot to us. It's a distraction. It's a diversion. This way of the cross? It's a detour.

And if we ever decide we are ready to die, it is not for the cause of Calvary; it is exhaustion. It is defeat. It is giving up, not giving in. It is our weary bodies deciding they cannot take even one more step, our tired lungs refusing to draw another breath. It's our spirit giving up on our flesh, though neither has given up its claim on our cross.

It's one of the great tragedies, really, of our faith. We've made nothing more than a spectacle of the cross. We've made nothing more than a show of it. Pay attention to Christian circles and you'll see it - you'll see the way we applaud one another for how we carry our crosses. The admiration we have for someone who can face cancer and not bat an eye, although we're all just waiting for the day the cancer cross no longer bears any weight. The day cancer, and not the cross, is defeated. The day life gets back to normal. 

We applaud those who can rejoice in the face of grief, though we see the heavy burden they carry around as the living. And we're just waiting on the grief to pass so life can once again be as it was intended to be. So things can get on as normal. We look up to those who don't even limp when they carry their cross, who you can look at and never know they're fighting a battle at all. Like it's some amazing glory to be able to carry a cross and not even flinch. Until such a day as you're relieved of that cross and get to get back to living.

Sorry - it doesn't mean anything. Do you understand how pointless it is? Do you understand how ridiculous it is to watch a bunch of Christians carry a cross when they're not in the slightest interested in Calvary? When they aren't even looking toward death? When they haven't even recognized the chance this is to die?

I want to look around and see in Christians the same face Jerusalem must have seen in Jesus - this broken-hearted determinism, this trembling discipline, this haunting hope. I want to see eyes dance between hesitation and surrender. I want to see knees buckle but press on. I want to see us taking one faithful step after another toward Golgotha, the invitation to die a burden on our shoulders. I want to see us make a choice to betray our flesh and go after the bigger thing. Or if we can't, to betray our God and lay it down. One way or the other, to figure out what we're doing with our crosses. One way or the other, to make them matter. One way or the other, to embrace the burden for what it is - an invitation to make a choice.

God doesn't say simply to deny yourself and take up your cross; He says to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him. It's not about learning to live burdened; it's about learning to believe. It's not about being weighed down; it's about being lifted up. 

It's okay to feel the tension between hesitation and surrender. It's only natural. We're pulled first in the direction of trusting ourselves and struggling with God and then being confidently assured of God and questioning ourselves. It's okay to pray in the Garden and speak both, to be unsure of which way you're going, to not know whether you have the strength to do it. It's okay to be torn. It's okay to want both, even to want both desperately. Jesus dripped beads of bloody sweat because He was so torn between what His flesh said and what His Father said. It's okay. 

But know this: the cross is coming, too. And at some point, you have to make a choice. You have to decide whether you're going to Calvary or you're going home. You have to decide whether you're trusting God or you're relying on self. You have to decide whether you lay yourself down or lay your cross down. You have to decide whether you believe more in life as you know it or God as you hope for Him. And you have to decide whether you betray flesh or Father. 

You have to decide because, if you don't, you're going to bide your time, not bind your wounds. You're going to burden yourself, maybe even break yourself. You're going to carry around a cross for no good reason at all until you just can't do it any more, and you're going to crash. You're going to come to a place where you just can't stand any more. Where your feet fail you and your hands fall limp. And there's nothing holy in that. There's nothing meaningful in that. The cross is a pretty good show, but it doesn't matter much in the streets of Jerusalem. It only matters on Calvary.

So let me ask you this: where are you going?

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