My heart aches. It is a twisted, steady ache, that cannot be contained alone by my heart as it works its way down to my gut, into my now clinched fists and reaches up to my tight, ruffled brow. This sorrow must escape, so the tears flow, somewhat expectantly– slowly down my cheeks, for something must be done. Really, I don’t want to hear one more story of one more war, tragedy or broken life. You probably know the feeling– when the heaviness of your heart refuses to be ignored; yet it must, or the anger, fear and intolerable sadness of the world will press in, confine and suffocate. What is burdening you right now, if you really pause and allow your heart to feel?
It started upon the hearing of news– the toddler-child being left behind with the great-grandparents. I know these people well. It isn’t the first time a child is abandoned for other things– relationships, drugs, promises of different work and a different life. I have seen it before… up close. Brokenness left for brokenness. The different life promises freedom and happiness– with no strings attached, like a balloon that has escaped the grip of a child’s hand on a bright sunny day. An illusion chased and a child left behind. There is no surprise when illusions are chased. Don’t we all find ways to be soothed and comforted with temporal things? Brian and I knew it was bound to happen, it was more a matter of the “when” becoming reality. Balloons eventually pop. The pattern is just that, a pattern. There is the mother, the boyfriends, the running away, fast-income, the drugs, lies, the left-behind children, a cycle perpetuated… Then there is also the children, the drugs, the girlfriends and boyfriends, the failing marriages, the lies, the running, the left behind great-grandchildren, the cycle… Life is heavy here….
I carry it around…
Life is heavy here. Life is also heavy over there. One of our interns asked the women on our team to read an article about the beheading of the “people of the cross”– 21 of them. We did the only thing we could do after the words were read aloud, we bent our hearts and heads in prayer. I had heard about it days before, the same day the news of the abandoned toddler came to my ears. Once again, the familiar, incredible heaviness, sadness, and mourning began sinking my heart as we began to bow our heads. How many tragedies can be endured?
Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burdens,
The God who is our salvation. Psalm 69:19
But we read the article. I was reminded once again that each person had a name and a story- just like the children that are abandoned each day, just as the toddler has a name. The 21 of the cross left their wives, and babies and parents to find work.
A father to the fatherless, and a judge for the widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
God makes a home for the lonely;
He leads out the prisoners into prosperity,
Only the rebellious live in a parched land. Psalm 68:5-6
They were sacrificing for those they loved. It is right they are associated with the cross- the symbol of One who freely sacrificed and gave all.
Perversion is a Diversion
Obama says that Islam has been “perverted.” I am not sure. But the word “perverted” is a word that has stuck with me– swirling around and around in my head. One word, pregnant with meaning, reveals much about our world– the world we find home in each day. For, perversion is the normal road of evil and brokenness. Perversion is the trademark of the enemy. Perversion should be expected this side of heaven. From the beginning, sin bargained with a lie, masquerading it as the truth. Empty. False. Twisted. Bitter. Temporary. Yet, disguised it, as the enemy so cunningly does. Full. True. Straight. Sweet. Lasting. The apple was bitter, not sweet. Perversion corrupts with a plot leading the characters to death. There are stings attached. The balloon will pop.
Whether we admit it or not, we are easy targets. Our natural inclination is for peace, comfort, happiness, significance, acceptance, control and relief. In our own brokenness we can go to great lengths or to easy, everyday habits to be pacified, soothed, secure, valued, wanted and loved. The lies are crafty and deceptive. We believe just a little more will be enough. We think the shopping trip will make us happy, or the new “toy” or better salary will satisfy. We justify a comfortable life, a bigger home, time to ourself, or even a busy life. We trade the affections which belong to Jesus and willingly give them to one of our many loves which flirt with us: be it food, images of women, control, religion, time wasters, money, job security, freedom… Natural things, but twisted
So, money is hoarded, children are left, women are objectified, family redefined, indifference is lived, indulgence is a right, devotion is demanded, religion becomes submission. In reality, each is part of Perversion’s plot: stealing and cheating people of fullness and life. False, empty claims offered, all while death is masquerading and lurking about.
An Illusion or the Real Deal
The 21 were accused of having “illusions” of the cross in their heads. People of the cross carrying the cross. What does the cross I wear around my neck mean anyway? So I look to the One who carried the cross. I look to Jesus. Did Jesus offer an illusion, or the “Real Deal?” The apostles, those who lived day in and day out with Him, said there was no sin in Him, the holy and righteous One. Jesus claimed,
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one come to the Father but through me. John 14:6
Being identified with the cross is being identified with this Jesus. As I think about Him, who better to be identified with? I like to think about Jesus and what is true about Him. I love the story of the woman at the well. He knew her life, of her many husbands, her brokenness, yet He still offers Himself to her and for her. He doesn’t demand her affections. Their are no threats. I don’t hear fear in her response. Only His love, grace and mercy could have motivated her to return and tell everyone about this Jesus. He is the Real Deal. Her other loves masqueraded as love, affection, security and satisfaction. They give emptiness in return. Jesus gives fullness and life– His life. He is the Real Deal, not an illusion.
What do you love or like about Jesus? Is it His compassion for those who were neglected, sick, alienated– like the woman caught in adultery or the son healed from demons? Is it His authority over creation, the unseen world, and those with position and power? Do you love how He spoke with His Father with familiarity and even in an intimate and personal way? Are you enamored with His call for regular men to follow Him or how He elevated and esteemed women? Is it His grace, mercy, compassion, justice or simplicity that you love? Our affections will fall on something. Jesus is the most worthy thing for our affections to follow. This is the real deal. He is the Real Deal. The enemy’s desire is to distort and manipulate, or call this an “illusion,”– anything to keep people from the Real Deal– be that a false religion, violence, success, self-absorption, or freedom.
The cross and the 21 are a picture now of what separates the real deal from an illusion. The cross: one thing I am thankful for, for it is the one thing worth living for. The evil “over there” reminded the world of this: of the cross– of One who laid down his life. Jesus says,
The thief come only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. ‘I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.’ John 10:10-11
Yes, everyday evil is perverting the truth– twisting, deceiving, calling evil good, naming it an illusion. More often it is in the more subtle whispers of, “Preserve your life.” “There are many ways.” “To give or take life is your own choice.” “Be first.” “Do what you want.” Or, “Just be happy.” However, we see Jesus demonstrated a much different way. The Real Deal, lays down His life. Isn’t that what we want to follow and give our affections to?
The Intersection of the Cross and our Life
Our world is on a precipice. I feel helpless. Will I embrace the cross daily? Paul says,
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I live on the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20
He asks me to come to Him, His life becomes my life. The reality of the cross is it is not an illusion, for I am asked to give my life each day. Jesus said,
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will gain it.” Matthew 16:25
Life comes through death. It was His life for ours. Our life lived for Him.
Will I show the world the cross daily? Our flesh will be tempted to live as if the cross is just an illusion, and not to be carried by people of the cross. Will we be cookie cutters of those next door, instead of following Christ’s path for us? In our media driven world, will we give into the temptation to make a name ourself, our church, our favorite “whatever” with the kingdom tagged to it? Will we allow our time to be spent or our future to be clutched? Will we choose things to build like our resume or boundaries with those difficult to love or different from us? Is our goal the illusion of comfort: a must and necessity in our homes, where we live, in our income, with the right education, a secure career, vacations and rest?
Instead, the cross gives us life through giving up of ourselves. It calls us to follow Jesus, lift up His name, promote others, invest our life, love our enemies, choose life, and lose ourselves. For this is what Jesus, the Real Deal, did. We cannot lose sight of the lowly, the stranger or those lost without Jesus. We must be people who walk by faith, give generously and display fruit that is beautiful. We also must speak Jesus. How will they really know the “Real Deal” if we do not only give of our lives, but also speak His name and of the cross.
My good friend has a tender heart and often feels the weight of the world, not just for those things way over there, but also for her own community. As she fosters a baby I watch her with him, as she baths, feeds, talks with and snuggles him. I asked her what she calls herself to this little guy. She said, “Mom or Mama.” That is right. She is loving him as his mom. If someone asked me what a mom is like, I could point to her as she takes care of this guy. She is the real deal to him. Her life speaks Jesus and I hear her words often speak Jesus to those who are lost without Him.
Can I keep saying, “Yes, Lord.”? Each day I am called to give my life away, to set my affections on Jesus and be one of the people of the cross.
The Cross for Here and There
Here and there– I see the pain. As I look at the toddler or the atrocities somewhere else, I feel the pain and frustration. And I know Jesus sees. He knows. His perfect life was given for those here and there. I do not have to look far to see brokenness. I don’t have to look way across the ocean, into the dusty, dark places to see evil and sin. The selfishness in my heart reveals how close it is. I need Jesus.
I am glad I am reminded again of the cross, and that nothing compares with Jesus– He is the Real Deal. He cannot be diminished and His cross is not an illusion, as the enemy would like to pervert. He showed the world what real life and love is like– with the cross. I look to Him. This is a sign of the Real Deal: that I also lay down my life each day. When they accuse the 21 of being people of the cross, there is really nothing higher to be called– people like Jesus.
A Simple Cross
I wear a simple cross. My mom bought it in recent years in a visit to a small Catholic college that my dad went to for a couple years while they were dating. The cross is plain and could be easily overlooked. Often the “real deals” in life are like that. They do not demand our affections, make us submit, draw attention or offer empty claims. They are the things that draw us to Jesus, give full life, walk humbly and love good. They live and speak Jesus. For He is the Real Deal.