The Cross is a Heavy Burden to Bear

Today I got a VERY SMALL taste of what Jesus went through. I carried a cross.

I have been helping a friend build a float for the Beaverton parade. One of the components of the float is a cross to symbolize Jesus. The sponsoring church had two large crosses stored on an adjoining property that I could use. I had to deliver a cross to my work site to be sure it would fit in the wood structure.

I have lifted crosses many times before. My beloved Ethnos Church had a very cool Stations of the Cross event for a number of years, and the last two years I was heavily involved in the event. Even on Sunday services we would often decorate with large props like crosses, and I was part of the service set up team. Needless to say I carried some crosses!

Ethnos Church Stations of the Cross - Jesus Bears the Cross
Here is the page out of the booklet I designed for Ethnos Church Stations of the Cross. I couldn’t find a good photo of the station itself.

Among the fourteen Stations of the Cross is one where you can lift a full size cross to get a sense of its weight. The point is to feel the weight of what Jesus Christ did to pay the price for our sins. The event offers many other similar activities which are useful for stimulating introspective thought, thanks and worship.

Lifting one side of the cross for a brief moment at Stations of the Cross is very different than carrying one a few hundred yards down the street. We intentionally used one of the lighter crosses for the previously described station at Ethnos Church… just big enough to give a small sense of heaviness. The one I carried today was much bigger and heavier. Ugh!

Cross stored by shed
Here is the cross in its original storage place.

Today I had perhaps three choices when I saw this cross sitting by the shed:

  1. Call a friend and have them help me carry or truck the cross to my work site.
  2. Carry it but think nothing of it or imagine what others would think – a funny and bizarre sight to see someone carrying a cross down the street – and laugh at myself a bit.
  3. Take it as an opportunity to reflect and pray.

I chose #3. As I carried the 8 foot cross down the street (huffing and puffing, taking very frequent breaks, and it killed my shoulder!), I once again considered when Jesus carried the cross long ago. According to a quick search, He carried it a distance under a mile – let’s say a half mile. This after being beaten nearly to death, with deep and gory lacerations all over his body and severe blood loss. He lacked proper sustenance. People screamed at him and mocked him. The mental and spiritual anguish must have been great! The rugged beam that Jesus carried most likely weighed over a hundred pounds. I don’t think my cross was that heavy, though wimpy me imagined it was! I had to stop a bunch of times and change positions a lot.

Taking a break while carrying cross down the street
I took many breaks while carrying the cross down the street.

After getting the cross to my work area, I was pretty tired. After the delivery I had to pick it up and lay it down a dozen times while fastening various supporting braces around it. Each time I lifted the cross it seemed to get heavier! I finally finished the supporting structure.

By the end of the evening, after six or seven hours of work, I hadn’t taken the cross down yet. Before leaving I thought it good to lower it to the ground to lessen the chance people might “mess with it” during the night. This meant lifting it out of a very snug slot perfectly gripping its sides all around with massive friction.

Lifting the heavy 8 foot cross out of that tightly wedged hole was literally one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I was so physically drained after finally removing it that I immediately had to go to the ground. Fortunately my incomplete float structure made for a perfect “altar”. I placed a board under my knees, “Catholic style”, and literally laid face first upon the makeshift altar. My head was pounding with pulsing ache, and I was exhausted.

Cross wedged in parade float structure
Cross wedged tightly in parade float structure

This exercise, though not pleasant, was a very good time of reflection. I believe God carried me through it, and my back endured it all. This float building experience has been a very spiritual one from the start. Many analogies have come to mind. Here I am, building a boat in the heat of summer. At least two friends who helped provide tools and company commented something about Noah and the flood!

Can you imagine how insane Noah looked to his neighbors? In today’s society (maybe especially “weird” Portland), people often ignore weird stuff. No one stopped to look, smile or ask questions. I even carried the cross on the sidewalk closely past a lady and her dog. She didn’t even say anything or gesture my existence at all. The dog probably reacted more than her master! Not that I was looking for attention (not at all), but I find it funny how oblivious and distant people have become these days. Community and neighbors aren’t what they used to be! People are losing their social skills and getting all paranoid or too busy to interact with others. OK, let’s recover from this social commentary rabbit trail.

I’m very thankful that God became a man – Jesus – and took the punishment for my sin. The rightful punishment from God for even one small sin is DEATH. This is why all men die – we have inherited the nature of the first sinner, Adam. Otherwise we would all walk with God and live forever. I’m thankful that Jesus conquered death by coming back to life after His death. I’m thankful He returned to the Father and offers His Spirit to live in and guide us.

The deeds of God require a response. We must believe all His words, repent from our sins, and follow Him. It’s what we were ALL made for – by Him, for Him and through Him! Unfortunately very few people realize their purpose and even less choose it. I hope not to miss my purpose. I hope the LORD counts me among His family. I believe it is true because He said so. The rest of my life I will continually attempt to allow His fruit and His Spirit to be born and grown in me. And I wish the same for everyone, for so does my Master.

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 2 Corinthians 1:5

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Romans 5:6-11

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Luke 9:23-26

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” Matthew 10:34-40

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. eloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 1 John 3:1-6

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I am willing to accept all the ridicule that comes along with saying I am His follower. Why should I be ashamed of the name of the Almighty Creator, the Highest King who has claimed me as His son? Good questions. Sometimes I don’t act as if those things are true. That is a shame. Change my heart, oh God.

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” John 1:43

God, I AM… Considering Suicide

I read a few verses at the beginning of Mark chapter 1 and came to a conclusion regarding the end of days for a man’s natural life. Though I’m dreadfully tired, I feel compelled to express my idea while it’s fresh. Yet another late night coffee shop visitation. May the God of all creation protect and guide my thoughts, inspire my writing, and project eternal hope to your soul.

No one should ever commit suicide in the standard sense. There is a better way to die. I propose a different flavor of suicide I doubt you have duly considered. If you are truly so desperate that taking your own life seems like the only option or escape, I will tell you how to do it. What?! Yeah, I said that. Stop thinking dark thoughts and entertain mine for a minute. I have a method of death to offer that every single human being not only deserves, but sensibly should seek. Everyone at some time or another leads a meaningless life full of emptiness and void. If you are considering suicide, you are merely responding naturally to the reality we all live with. I wish more people would wake up, face reality, and listen to some good old fashioned common sense!

Human souls are everlasting. Your body will die eventually, but your soul continues. Once God breathes life into you, there is no choice to escape your everlasting state of being. God Was and Is and Is to Come… yet graciously He grants “Is” and “Is to come” to us as well. You might say, “That’s not fair! I didn’t ask to be created. Isn’t there an ‘off switch’? Sometimes I feel it is worse to exist and see what this ‘life’ is all about. I’d rather be null and void.” Do you wish God had chosen a different person to exist in your place, someone who would likely be happier and more successful with the “gift” of life?

Guess what? God created YOU on purpose. He ordained Your days from the beginning. No, not from the beginning of what we know and see in the universe, but from His beginning. God never began. He is the Alpha. Before all was, God IS. God not only knew you from present time minus infinity, but He irrevocably commanded WAY BACK THEN that you would come into being. He carefully planned a specific sperm to unite with an egg among trillions of “conceivable” possibilities. There was a 100.0% chance that your unique genetic code and personality would emerge from your parents’ bodies.

No one can divert God’s plan. There is 0.0% chance that any combination other than the product of YOU could have resulted from whatever led up to your conception. If God IS then “probability” = a stupid and antiquated notion. If God knew and planned YOU before He began creation, and someone else accidentally resulted, then God would say “Whoops, I guess I was wrong. That image I had in mind for that special person is lost forever. Now what to do with this random result? Oops, a boy instead of a girl, a mullet instead of a mohawk, a mad scientist instead of the world’s first seven foot tall ballet dancer. I guess I’ll have to make due with what ‘nature’ served me up!” Such a weak and reactionary “god” is not God at all and doesn’t exist. Yet God IS that He IS (He made sure we understand this by describing Himself with such a name). Therefore, you ARE no mistake. You are a miracle that breaks all the laws of the highest mathematics you will ever learn. Oops. What? Is this bait and switch? Where’s the suicide methodology? Sorry, I’ll get to that. I just wanted to first prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is impossible for you to be a mistake.

As a side note, if the ridiculous notion that “God doesn’t exist” is true, then everyone may as well kill each other right now. The fact that the end of mankind hasn’t already happened is a proof of God’s existence, by the way. If there is nothing beyond the empirical and nauseating blob of flesh we call our species, then I agree: Life is entirely meaningless. Get it over with. Yet again, God IS, and therefore we still have the option, reason and commendation to cherish life.

Now is the season to listen to my end-of-life instructions. Do you know what Bible verse inspired this investigation and prescription last night?

“I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:8 ESV

What does baptism have to do with suicide? Much. I don’t think it is possible to make the connection any clearer than by writing out the words of a song by Don Francisco, Let the Waters Roll. Don has a prophetic voice to our age as evidenced in the consistent depth, amazing detail, and thoughtful arrangement of his songs, praise be to God. I’ve listened to one of his albums, The Power, every night for the last few months as I doze off to sleep, and I never get sick of it (there’s a story behind that too). Meditate by imagining yourself at the shore of the Jordan River. Put the words to this song in your mouth to describe one possible experience. Realize there is a “better baptism” than mere water.

Let the Waters Roll
Don Francisco, The Power

When I heard You call me I could not say no
Now the joy that You’ve given I can’t help but show
And I feel it grow stronger each time I obey
To fulfill Your commandment I stand here today

My brothers and my sisters are here by my side
As I show all who watch me that old things have died
I’m buried with Jesus like a seed that’s been sown
And I’m raised up with Him to His heavenly throne

Let the waters roll over my sin and desire
Baptize me in Spirit, baptize me in fire
In the name of the Father, the Spirit, the Son
My old life has ended, the new has begun

So baptize me now, ’cause I’m ready to die
And I’m ready to live for my Master on high
Til spirit and soul from this body divide
Or until He returns like a thief for His bride

Baptism is your answer. What, dip in a pool, and all your problems will be washed away? Hardly. Baptism represents a death and rebirth. Jesus Himself was baptized to fulfill God’s will for Him as directed by the Father. By the power of the Holy Spirit He was declared to be the Son of God. Don’t ask me if Christ “became” the Son when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, when he was baptized and the Spirit lighted on His shoulder, or when he defeated the frailty of death by a Power so superior that Light shown in the worst possible darkness. I don’t know. The point is, the same awesomely divine process is availed to us as mere human beings. We can become sons and daughters of God!

We have the privileged opportunity to die to ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t your standard suicide method. There is nothing you can do to achieve this death. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. If Jesus is the Great Physician, think of it as “doctor assisted suicide”. I know, a controversial subject and a shocker of a play on words, to be sure. It is that profound, however, the reality of the death you experience in Christ. In order for you to have a new life, you simply MUST die!

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23 ESV

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 ESV

Every single man, woman and child receives a death sentence. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we all automatically inherit their defiled seed (flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit). Stop for a moment and realize how tragic this bad news is. Everyone is spiritually dead! The death sentence must not only be pronounced, but fulfilled in order that God be pleased with a just punishment for our sins. And we have ALL sinned. A single sin merits death and separation from a Holy God who can bear NO sin at all, not a single shadow to be seen in Him or near Him.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Romans 8:13-14 ESV

Here is the ridiculously Good News, once again (never gets old). Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth 2000+ years ago. He became a human being with the destiny to die the death that we all deserve so that we can live with His righteous life affixed and credited to us, His Spirit to empower, His eternal life to sustain, His joy to ever grow, and His love impossibly deep and close forever. All YOU need do is die with Christ. As He reaches out, with a blood-stained hand, He pleads that you join in His crucifixion. You don’t have to experience the same pain and punishment He took for you. You simply have to believe in your heart that He did this and confess Him as your Lord. I assure you that Jesus, the second Adam and His seed of new life, has infinitely more power to save than the first Adam’s seed has to condemn to death.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 ESV

I beg you to die with me in this manner! I plead that you subject yourself to this death. It is the ONLY way for your eternal soul to live on. Without this death and rebirth, you remain in death. Your soul will continue to exist once your body passes away, but you will be sent away from God to a place of everlasting punishment. If you do not accept the love and forgiveness of the Son, you take a stand with the very ones who crucified Him. The weight of all your sins was mercifully put on Jesus. He simply asks that you receive the gift and be baptized in His name. Trust me, you don’t want to face God as a man who crucified His precious Son. You want to face Him clothed in the holiness of His Son. Die to yourself, give up your pride. You have sinned. You cannot attain life on your own merit. All your best efforts are filthy. Jesus has done the work for you. Accept and receive.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 ESV

If you are ready to die, if all hope seems lost, I console you in this. I myself have gone through many hardships in life. I’m one of those weaker souls who is greatly affected by every small thing. The fact that I’m still alive is a testament to the power of the resurrected Christ. Without His Spirit living in me, comforting and guiding me, I might have withered under the load of the world or made the choice to end my life. Conventional suicide is NOT an option. If you are that desperate, in your hopelessness throw yourself into the powerful arms of God Almighty who cherishes you enough to give up the life of His only Son for you. He cries out your name even now with arms outstretched, ready to save. You only have to stop looking down. Realize that, yes, your life isn’t worth a hill of snot. There’s nothing worth living for except for this. Yes, fear the chasm beneath and the earth that quakes and breaks in pieces, falling into the rumbling void. But don’t worry, He will never let you go. Take this one last chance with me. Call His name. Look up. Grab His extended hand.

Don’t rob God of a human soul that has more potential than you can possibly imagine. If you are the type who even considers dark things like suicide, I argue you are of extraordinary value. God is more likely to use a person who is at the end of his rope than a person who has found happiness, fulfillment and success in this world. God sees what is inside, while man looks at the surface. He knows your potential. Your possibilities are greatly increased when you are worthless, lame and without ability in the eyes of men. For when you are weak, there is potential for God to inhabit you and do crazily awesome things in POWER. This should get you excited, losers and ugly people. I’m one of those, and I can vouch for this principle. God is able to do astonishingly powerful things in and through me because I am so pitiful in of myself. In this I am blessed to be created among the simple. As long as I realize and embrace this, I can do anything through Him that gives me strength!

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29 ESV

All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. Isaiah 66:2 ESV

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18 ESV

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:17 ESV

Matthew 5:1-12 ESV, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57:15 ESV (Phil says “WOW!” The most amazing contrast possible!)

There are countless examples all throughout Scripture where God used the weak and despised to accomplish His best. In fact, it might prove impossible to find very many examples of Him greatly using anyone who is great in their own eyes or in the eyes of the world (though He is sovereign over ALL). He rarely chooses to speak His message or deliver His promises through the lofty and best! Humble yourself, and you will be lifted up. Give up your life, and you will gain it, etc, etc, etc.

Moses couldn’t speak well and was timid. King David was a small shepherd boy and quite sinful. Paul was literally the worst sinner who lived, for he tried to destroy the entire movement of Christ, approving of the killing and arrest of Christians. Jesus came as a weak baby to a common, unwealthy family. He came to common shepherds. He spent all his time with the sick and rejected, the sinners. Jesus was despised, rejected. He was spat upon, insulted and killed. Seriously! If you fit in with “the worst”, you have higher potential in God’s eyes than the best of the best, the beautiful, the successful, the famous… you have only to take one more step into the oblivion that is humility and brokenness: turn to Him.

More than this, through acceptance of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, infinite value – the value of God – is stamped on me. That’s right, there is no end to the value I have because the price paid for me is immeasurable. Add a million zeroes to the cost and perhaps you’ll scratch the surface. What was truly worthless in every possible way is now accounted “unfairly” to be a priceless treasure through grace, the blood of Jesus shed for you and me. You too have this same potential. Confess your sin, believe what God says about Himself in the Bible, and unashamedly declare Jesus as your Lord. What have you to lose, your life? Hardly. It’s already forfeit. You only have life to gain, not death. Read it and weep or read it and seek. Your choice.

If you are desperate, I plead with you from a love for your life miraculously spawned in my heart by Christ Himself, a love far stronger than your spouse or mother can alone employ. Profound in their beautiful simplicity – etched on my heart forever – follow my late sage Grandpa’s advice:

“Give your life to Jesus… See what happens!” ~ Pastor Ward Honey