There’s a woodworker inside us who won’t let the cross of Jesus remain the cross of Jesus. It’s raw material for a new, “improved” creation. And here are two of his favorites.
On Good Friday, Jesus cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 22:1). When you hear those words, what do you think of?
In this article we follow the wise counsel of Lewis by giving ear to the past. We encircle the cross with a few of the church fathers. Stand between Justin Martyr and Cyril of Jerusalem. Listen for a few moments to Augustine and Irenaeus and Gregory.
She’s cooking breakfast when he stumbles through the back door of their humble Arkansas home. Eyes bloodshot. Shirt unevenly buttoned, as if done in darkness, and in haste. She doesn’t turn around. No need to. More times than she cares to remember, my great-grandmother has seen my great-grandfather looking like something the cat drug in.
We all exit the womb with certain tendencies: we eat a lot, cry a lot, poop a lot. And we’re convinced the universe revolves around us. We make-believe we’re little gods.
When we stand east of Eden with Adam and Eve because we couldn’t keep our hands off forbidden fruit, weeping over lost loves, lost chances, lost lives...
There are questions about ourselves that are easily answered, and there are other questions that present more of a challenge. If someone asks me, “Are you a husband?” I can show them my ring, present my wedding certificate, point to the woman standing next to me who shares my life and my last name. Yes, I am 100% sure that I’m married.
It can seem, in times of violence, when people are calling for political, cultural, and legal changes, as if the church is largely irrelevant. Worse yet, the church can make herself seem irrelevant if she embroils herself in political, cultural, and legal changes, and forgets her primary calling: the preaching of Christ and him crucified.
The church is an old pro at discovering new and creative ways to avoid preaching the cross. Each generation is like a sneaky cleaning lady. While dusting the cross atop the altar, she glances left and right, and, seeing no one looking, replaces the true cross with something else. No radical change. The replica is a near lookalike. You have to look closely. But it’s not the cross. It’s a cross-like idol.
When we stand with Adam and Eve, east of Eden, looking back on the gardens we have destroyed because we couldn’t keep our hands off forbidden fruit; when we weep over lost loves, lost chances, lost lives; over and above all the sounds of shame and accusation and judgement ring these words, “With Christ I have been crucified.”
Yesterday I stopped at McDonald’s on my lunch break to grab a cup of coffee and write about the victorious Christian life. I had just cashed several checks from folks who’d ordered my book of sermons and meditations. As if divining that my wallet was full of cash, twice the number of local homeless people stuck out their filthy hands to me as I walked from my truck to the McDonald’s. But, by God, I was eager to write, so I just quickened my step and played deaf.
No sooner did I get my cup of coffee, find a table, and begin to type my ideas into my iPhone than out of the corner of my eye I spotted a pair of long tan legs, crowned with hot pink shorts, saunter into the establishment. I was three sentences into my article when my train of thought totally derailed in a crash of testosteronic proportions.
While my eyeballs were still locked on the legs, I reached for my cup of coffee but, not looking where my hand was going, I hit the side of the cup, tipped it over, and spilled half the hot java all over the table, and even on my lap. Now this was a public place, of course, so I was forced to settle for an under-my-breath, profanity-riddled implosion of anger at my lack of grace.
I grabbed some napkins and began sopping up the mess. Some of the coffee had splashed on my iPhone, so I worked on it first. As I dried it, I pushed the button to open the lock screen and saw there the date, April 25. I didn’t need to see that, not at this moment. I don’t care for this month. You see, every time the fourth month rolls around, I get to hear, for thirty days, all day long, in various contexts, the name of my ex-wife, April. Already frustrated from the coffee mishap, seeing her name did nothing to improve my mood. Indeed, I found my mind retreating to another, much bigger mess, marked by black days of heartache and fury.
With only a few minutes left in my half-hour lunch break, I strong-armed myself back into the article on the victorious Christian life. Then, wouldn’t you know it, my phone rang. I saw the number. “Dear God, not him,” I mumbled. It was my least favorite customer, the type who always finds a dark lining in silver cloud. He alone has the knack of making me wish I had a different job, a better job, one in which I could be bossing people around instead pretending to be patient with the likes of this scrooge. So I ignored the call. I had work to do.
Then I saw that I had three minutes left on my lunch break. Three whopping minutes. So I threw my coffee-soaked wad of napkins into the trash, shoved my caffeinated phone back into my pocket, and marched past she-of-the-tan-legs into the hot San Antonio sunshine. I walked over the asphalt, climbed into my Freightliner, and sat there ruminating.
I’d meant to use my lunch break to write a critique of the so-called “victorious Christian life,” the warped view of dynamic Christian living in which the believer daily overcomes one sin after the other, until his bio consists of one long string of spiritual conquests.
As I sat in my truck, I realized, for the millionth time, that my own bio consists of one long, string of spiritual defeats. The hungry I ignore. The women after whom I lust. The anger I indulge. The past I cannot seem to get past. The people I despise. I sin more in thirty minutes than those of the “victorious Christian life” supposedly sin in thirty years.
But I also realized, for the millionth time, that that’s okay. They can have their life of faux spiritual victories. For as much as I sometimes hate myself for the stupid things I do, the destructive words I speak, the immoral thoughts I entertain, there is one who does not hate me. In fact, he loves me through it all. He has already conquered the sins against which I daily struggle. He has already washed away the filth of anger and lust and ingratitude in which I find myself wallowing. Jesus—he is my victor, no matter how many defeats I suffer. On that bloody cross, in his own seeming defeat, he made me a victor by welcoming me into his kingdom of grace and mercy.
And that, dear reader, is the only victorious Christian life I will ever live.