Who are the People of the Cross?

It was just a few days before Lent – a season for Christians around the world to humble themselves, focus more deeply with a hope of understanding the message of the Cross – when a “Message Signed With Blood for the People of the Cross” went out. Twenty-one Egyptian Christians were beheaded in a mass killing, intended to be a message to Christians around the world.

Who are the people of the Cross?

When Jesus arrived on the scene some 2,000 years ago, He was rejected by Israel — the very nation He arrived to share the Good News with first.

Israel’s rejection of the Gospel was not a flippant “Mmmm… I don’t think I really like what this Jesus guy is saying” kind of response — His words and His ways were turning their worlds upside down and it was more than they could handle.

While the Jews saw riches as the blessing of the Lord, Jesus told the rich young ruler who approached Him to give it all away and follow Him to find eternal life. (Mark 10)


While the Jews had kept the Passover faithfully for more than a thousand years — this mark and preservation and remembrance of their entire nation being delivered from 400 years of bondage in Egypt — Jesus turned the Passover tradition upside by breaking the bread and saying “I am this bread” and by taking the wine and saying “I am this wine.” This is and always has been symbolic of Me, and I will be broken and poured out for you.

While other rabbis only selected the best of the best who approached them and sought to become their disciples, Jesus was the Rabbi who went out looking for, and chose men every other rabbi would’ve rejected. Men for whom the door of discipleship had long been shut, for whom their religious education was finished, for whom the only open door was continuing in the trade of their fathers before them.

While other rabbis wouldn’t be caught dead teaching a woman, Jesus invited Mary and Martha to sit at His feet and learn from Him.

While those other rabbis prided themselves in the heavy yokes they and their disciples carried for the sake of keeping the law, Jesus said, “Come to me. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

While the Jews saw greatness as sitting at the head of the table and being served, Jesus equated greatness with service and said, “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. Even I didn’t come here to be served — I am here to serve and give My life up for many.” {Mark 10:43-45, my paraphrase)

After 1,500 long, heavy years of being identified as the people of God, steeped in tradition and history, carrying the burden of making sure the legacy was passed to the next generation so that their entire race would not be wiped from the face of the Earth — it seemed too much to ask, for the Jews to allow someone to arrive on the scene and turn it all upside down.

It was too counter-cultural. Too radical. Too difficult for those who loved and celebrated tradition and hard work and earning righteousness. How could it be a gift now?

And who are the people of the Cross?

While many of the people of Israel rejected Jesus — to the point that they downright crucified Him — still, a faithful remnant understood Him to be the Messiah, the Christ they’d been looking for, waiting for.

And it all seemed turned upside down again, when they realized Jesus was not just a light to the Jews, but the Savior of the Gentiles as well. He came to seek and save the lost — and there was no one on Earth who didn’t fall into that category.

The Son is the Gift, and together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, He is also the Giver.

Today — 2,000 years later — on one end of the Earth Christians are standing up for their faith, at the peril of losing their lives. Thousands of miles away, what could we do to say “I’m in, no matter what. Jesus, You can turn my world upside-down, too.”

Who are the people of the Cross?

What would it mean for Christians on this side of the world to live in solidarity with our faraway brothers and sisters being persecuted, even killed for their faith?

What would it mean for us, the wealthiest, most privileged, most educated, most capable generation of Christians who ever lived to decide we will stand together with the world’s poor, the way Jesus told us to?

What would it mean for us to follow in the footsteps of our Savior, to walk into dark places where people are being abused, women and children are being trafficked, lives are being enslaved, and every ounce of hope seems to be extinguished?

What if we’re not called to keep building comfortable homes and comfortable lives? What if we’re not called to keep finding comfortable jobs with comfortable salaries in comfortable areas where our children can receive an education that will help them stay comfortable too?

Who, who, who are the people of the Cross?

Many of us are going. Many of us are doing. Many of us are laying down comfort and convenience, counting the cost and following a Savior who dove into the darkness to turn on the Light.

But we are capable of so much more. Financially, we are able to eradicate extreme poverty. Yes, truly we are. In this generation.*

Strategically, we have the man power and brain power to stop human trafficking dead in its tracks. We are so incredibly well educated and resourced. This is SO possible.

We can support the widows, care for the orphans, love the least of these fully and wholeheartedly.

We could change the face of the planet.

What should we do in the face of extreme evil? How should we respond, as the people of the Cross?

In the face of evil, we should keep on doing good. Keep on shining light in dark places. Down the street from us, and around the world. To widows. To orphans. In the rough part of the towns we live in, and in the slums of Rio and the townships of South Africa.

What will the world see? And what will the world say?

What will we do with the opportunities in front of us?

How will we say yes to the God who loves us so deeply, so dearly, and still has a mission for us beyond what we are expecting or imagining, for the brief moments we have on this Earth? Will we say yes?

What can we say yes to? What can we say yes to today?

Will we answer the message to the People of the Cross, by choosing to truly be the People of the Cross?

Paul wrote it to the Ephesians nearly 2,000 years ago: Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. {Eph. 5:15-16, NIV}

Let’s respond by making the most of every opportunity, saying yes to the Gift and the Giver — if we are the people of the Cross, we will keep on taking up the Cross, keep on laying down our lives, keep on doing good.







* See Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel, if you’d like to more deeply understand how little we’re doing in comparison to how much we are capable of.  {Available on Amazon: The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World – affiliate link}

Choosing the Path of Most Resistance

I went for a jog yesterday afternoon and was surprised by how sometimes doing some of the most simple things in life can teach you profound truth if you’re paying attention. We’ve moved into a big secure complex in Gordon’s Bay with houses and apartment buildings that sit on a beautiful harbour. There are lots of boats and geese and palm trees and the views of the nearby Hottentots Holland mountains are spectacular when the sun sets. There’s a boardwalk and brick path around part of the harbour that makes a great walking or jogging circuit.

On this particular afternoon I went out for a quick jog – I normally do this in the morning but the Bear woke me up during the night the night before and I was too tired at 6:00 am to get out of bed for a jog! The weather was a bit windy, but still nice and mild. There aren’t so many people here at this time of year, because so many people who own property in the complex just use it for a month or two out of the year. So besides a very occasional “Hello” or “enjoy” here and there, it was mostly me, my shoes and my thoughts.

A view from our new place. See the sweet wee harbour?

A view from our new place. See the sweet wee harbour?

And one of those funny moments showed up – totally out of the blue – where you just start thinking, “Man life is good. This is so lovely. I’m in such a beautiful place. I am glad to be alive. God is good.” I kind of marvelled at ‘the moment’ showing up and just smiled thinking – wisdom has taught me – these moments never last long!

Then I turned a corner to continue the jog out onto the jetty wall which encloses the outermost section of the harbour and what should meet me but BLINDING GALE FORCE WINDS HOWLING PAST MY EARS AND ATTEMPTING TO STOP ME DEAD IN MY TRACKS… or blow me into the water. And as life often does, so I was presented with the choice, out onto the jetty as intended, or turn around and enjoy the wind on my back for a while. It’s an Irish proverb after all.

I instantly thought about the moment before. When everything seems to be cheesecake and chocolate soup, you will often come across a bump in the road or a fork in the path. There you meet the opportunity to take the path of least resistance, and it is especially tempting when you are afforded opportunities that will require you to work harder than you want to.

This challenge immediately translates to many areas of life – choosing to tell the truth regardless of the consequences, choosing to act according to what you know is right, instead of what everyone expects of you, or what will be easiest. It may mean fighting for a marriage that seems like a losing battle, or standing up to your boss when you know he’s doing something that isn’t right. Earlier in the day, for me it meant dealing with areas where I was holding offences against others, and asking them to forgive me. Especially if you want to live for what is right — you are consistently going to meet obstacles.

These opportunities are defining moments in our lives. The moments when we choose the path of most resistance, because it’s the right path, are the moments when our true character is revealed – the moments when it’s clear what we’re really made of.

I pressed out onto the jetty, all the way to the end, where I could give the fisherman a good afternoon and a wave, then turned around and started heading back. Although my character may not have vastly improved by that simple decision, choosing the path of most resistance will make me a little stronger for the next run, and perhaps even able to stand when the real gale force winds blow through our little housing complex, here in Gordon’s Bay. So my encouragement for you? Choose the path of most resistance today. And let me know what happens.

INVINCIBLE or Pwetty Pwetty Pwincess

The story of Esther always gets me excited. It’s like the Old Testament Jewish version of the Princess Diaries with Anne Hathaway. Sometimes you just need a reminder that if God is for you, no one can stand against you. And in Esther 6, I enjoyed that reminder today.

The backstory is, the Amalekite called Haman worked for the king, and he had a major superiority complex. Haman got a big promotion, and the king decreed that people would have to bow and pay homage to him. However, Mordecai (Esther’s cousin) would not bow down and pay homage to Haman, because he would only worship the true God, the God the Jews believed in. Haman was, shall we say, ‘bovvered’ and began conspiring to take Mordecai out — and the rest of the Jewish nation with him. Not long before that, Mordecai had discovered a conspiracy to assassinate the king — I know, the story just keeps getting better! And he alerted the king’s men, so that the plot was foiled. Meanwhile, Esther (who has risen to the position of Queen because the previous Queen wouldn’t honour the king, and was deposed) is trying to figure out how to save the Jews.  So that should catch you up, basically.

In Chapter 6, the king finds out that Mordecai saved his life, and realises, “Ugh, guess I oughta do something for the fella who done saved my life.” So he asks Haman for some suggestions. Since Haman thinks the king must want to honour him, (a la, “Who is more honourable to the king than me, awesome Mr. Haman?”) he comes up with this awesome idea to parade the fellow the king wants to honour around the town in a royal robe the king has worn, and on a horse the king has ridden. And one of the most noble princes should go before him saying, “This is how it’s done when the king wanna honour someone!”

So, guess what? Mordecai receives the honour that Haman thought he was planning for himself, and Haman ends up being the guy who has to holler all around town, “This is how it’s done when the king wanna honour someone!” Haman is totally ashamed and runs home to his wife to cry his little eyes out.  When he shares the whole story with his wife, and his wise friends, their response is this (pay attention this is the best part!) “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him but will surely fall before him.” The people in Haman’s day recognised that the Jews had a certain invincibility — the blessing of God was on them, and the curse of God was on their enemies. Haman was actually a descendant of the Amalekites, who were enemies of the Jews in generations previous — so he basically stood no chance.

This was such an encouragement to me because the promise of God for His children thousands of years ago is the promise of God for His children today! Even the things your enemies might fashion against you, God can use to bring about good for you.  (See also Psalm 91. If you read on in Esther, you’ll see how amazingly well all this comes together). Carrying on from the theme yesterday, God is able to work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. And as the story continues, He does, in amazing ways, in Mordecai’s life. That means that we can trust God, even in situations that look difficult, even in situations that are hard, awful, sad or even life-threatening, because He intends to take care of His children, whom He loves. And He will!

Mordecai loved God and risked His life in obedience to Him. God honoured him, and brought about the demise of his enemies. Take the tough route today! Honour God no matter what doing so might cost you, and trust Him to bless you for it. If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land. That’s a promise.


Are YOU cool enough for the Pagans?

I have come across this way way too often lately to overlook it and not give it some thought. A church somewhere puts on a conference, or a worship service, and somehow, the video of that service gets on youtube. Oh no. The people are worshiping by spinning their socks or shoes in the air to a Christianese remake of a secular song, or they’re dancing to some random song about victory with these out-of-date 80s moves, or heaven forbid, the name of their band is “Sonseed” and they’re kicking “Jesus is a friend of mine” like it’s the hippest tune to hit the airwaves since kumbaya. And then…the real ‘Christianity’ starts coming out.

Christians, one after another — including myself — start passing the link to the video on to each other, and commenting on the site: “Check out these idiots.” or “Seriously, this is the worst worship service I’ve ever seen.” or “I am so embarrassed to even be a Christian right now.” And these posts turn into arguments even — back and forth one kid saying “I go to a Christian school and my teacher says this is the worst worship service ever and we watched it in class.” Meanwhile another is saying “Go, you guys!  That was really cool. Praise God!”  Odds are if you have been on the internet anytime in the last two years, you’ve seen some of these videos, commented on them, passed them along, or at least laughed at them.

But seriously. Is that what this Christian thing is about?  Why are we, as Christians, so frustrated when we come across videos like this? Why do we make fun of them, and feel it’s important to let the ‘world’ know that we don’t approve and that real Christians are way cooler than that? The question I’m getting to: WHY do we feel the need to be cool enough for the pagans? (And forgive this terminology — we can discuss it in another post.) Is anyone flocking to your church because the people dress cool and the worship is well-stylized and it’s, like, the happening place to be seen? If so, then they’re flocking for the wrong reasons.

It seems to me that this generation will be more impressed by seeing people so passionate about their faith that they don’t care what anyone thinks. And if that means (even though this isn’t really my personal favourite) grabbing a contemporary song and turning it into a song about Jesus, and worshiping to it, jumping up and down with your socks in the air, then by all means. If that means doing a totally random 70s-80s style dance in front of this weird backdrop with the weirdest choreographed solo ever, then so be it.  The point is — these people are doing their best with the talents they’ve got to bring honour and glory to God. Who are we to decide what might or might not be pleasing to Him?

If they’re preaching that Jesus is not the Son of God and that He didn’t die for the sins of the world — okay, here’s where we do our best to step in and say “Wait, wait, that’s not what Christians believe!” But if they’re doing the funky chicken to a faith-filled rendition of a Destiny’s Child song, maybe we should just let it be. The more ‘together’ the body of Christ is, in saying, hey, we worship this One, Amazing God, the better.

This spills over into some other areas as well — being critical of certain pastors and their preaching “The tallest trees catch the most wind” — and someone, obviously a Christian, takes the time to post a preacher’s sermon on youtube, and put verses over top of it that demonstrate how it disagrees with Scripture.  Where does this stuff come from?

Here are my thoughts, if you’re interested.

1. John 13 — Jesus said “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” I don’t think I need to explain that.

2. The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 12: 24 – 30) — Yes, the enemy is constantly sowing “weeds among the wheat” but we are not instructed to try to go out and pull up weeds right now. Jesus (the farmer) said we shouldn’t go out and try to pull up the weeds, because in doing so, we might accidentally pull up the wheat at the same time. Instead, both the weeds and wheat will grow up together, and at the harvest — at the judgement — the reapers will separate out the weeds from the wheat. Understand this — God will judge the thoughts and deeds of each of us, because while we can only look at outer appearances, He can look at the heart. Let God separate the weed from the wheat — we should go about the business of studying the Scriptures so that we can be faithful to do what He has told us to do, for example, go back to number 1.

3. Paul’s Example (Philippians 1:15-18) People were preaching Christ for selfish reasons in Paul’s day, and perhaps they are doing the same thing today. Some were preaching in hopes of adding affliction to Paul, others out of love, knowing that Paul was truly a disciple. His response: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.”

The Sermon in a Nutshell: I am absolutely preaching to myself here. I am quick to criticize a brother or sister with whom I disagree, a sermon that I’m uncertain of, or, especially, some goofy Christians worshiping in a way that doesn’t seem cool. But my conviction is that if we say we are Christians, we need to love each other. We get enough persecution from the world without adding to it by beating each other up. Yes, we will often disagree, but let’s rejoice in the common ground — Christ is being preached and glorified — and that’s the business we’re here to be about.


God Bless Me and My Bank Account

In Matthew 10, Jesus has a really special heart-to-heart with the disciples where He begins to tell them what they can expect in the future.  He specifically predicts trouble for them, but He also prescribes counsel and comfort in reference to the trouble they should expect. Although this might scare some folks away from following Him, this was a really cool thing for Jesus to do. Since they knew they were going to suffer for His Name, it wouldn’t be a surprise, after He was gone, when some big-time suffering began. Instead of being a shock to their faith, it would be confirmation of their faith: “Jesus said this was gonna happen, brothers, and here it is.”

Not only did He tell them they were going to suffer, but He got pretty specific about what this would look like.

  1. They should expect to be hated.
  2. They should expect to be apprehended and arraigned like criminals.
  3. They should expect to be put to death because of their faith.
  4. They should expect to be called awful things.
    Interesting side note on that point: (thanks to Matthew Henry) Satan’s sworn enemies are often represented as his friends, ie., the apostles were tearing down Satan’s kingdom, but they were called servants of Satan. At the same time, Satan’s sworn servants would be thought to be his enemies, while they are actually some of his best workers. Often those who paint him on other’s clothes have him reigning in their own hearts. Feels like a history lesson. At any rate, I found it an interesting observation.
  5. There will be division because of their faith.

What does all this mean? A few things come to mind: first, if you’re following Jesus, you are like a sheep among wolves. Jesus told you that already. Wicked men are like wolves, devouring and destroying is in their nature. God’s people are of a contrary nature and disposition, but they are exposed to the world, and easy prey. Jesus sends His children out into this world, but He will protect them, and bear them out, because He is the Good Shepherd over His flock.

Here comes the challenge. A lot of us — I might say especially in western society — are a lot like the disciples. The disciples thought Jesus was going to be kicking off a new kingdom on the earth, and that all his followers would be given wealth and power. Very appealing. They were expecting to be made princes in His kingdom, but Jesus was telling them they would be made prisoners.  Jesus said, (v. 34) “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” This sword imagery is prevalent throughout Scripture — He brings His followers His Word — the Sword of the Spirit spoken of in Ephesians 6, the only offensive weapon mentioned in our spiritual armor. We have this sword, this truth, to fight against the lies of this world, as Jesus fought against Satan with it (Luke 4:1-13) We fight the lies the enemies whispers to us with it…we use it to discern what’s really in the heart of a man (Heb 4:12).

Now, there’s not really a sword fight if there’s only one sword. The sword fighting against the children of God, is what Jesus spoke of here, the sword of persecution.  Those who don’t believe God’s word are cut to the heart by it (Acts 7:54) — they are tormented by the testimony of Christ’s witness (Rev 11:10). When two people are given the same information, and one believes and the other doesn’t, the faith of the one who believes and trusts condemns the one that doesn’t. There is no enmity like that of the persecutor, no resolve like that of the persecuted.

What’s the point of all this, Caroline? Jesus has warned us of the persecution we are very likely to receive if we follow Him. My concern is that many of us, in western society, are sharing a message of the Gospel that says God’s full intention, if you follow Him, is to make your health perfect, your life pretty, your bank account in top-shape, and maybe, if you’re extra blessed, you’ll even get a new car every year or two. If you do have those ‘blessings’, great…maybe. They might be the very thing that distracts you from truly following Jesus. And the pursuit of more of them — whether you have them or not — can be an even bigger distraction.

The question: Are we following Jesus so that He can make our lives super-duper happy clappy, or are we following Him because we believe He’s the Son of God, and we’re willing to fellowship in His sufferings in this world, walk through the challenge of persecution, and stand firm no matter what the consequences. I am sometimes afraid to speak to the people around me about Jesus because I don’t want to be persecuted for my faith. But God has given us a spirit of power, of love, of a sound mind, and an incredible weapon (which we need to sharpen) in order to live the kind of life Jesus came to show us. Praise the Lord for His mercy: we have all fallen short of the glory of God. Praise the Lord for His power: we can move forward, and look more like Jesus with the fresh opportunity that every day brings. So let’s step out of our box, get our eyes off our worries and our checkbooks, and trust the God who created us to supply our every need, while we follow after Him!

“The good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.” 2 Timothy 1:14