Haven't you ever just longed to be invited to that most special of events? I remember the early days of Troy's and my marriage. We were pretty financial strapped (okay poor). Just out of college. Right before our Air Force life began. First jobs and not making much money. We became friends with a group of people pretty far out of our income bracket. They were friendly kind Texas people. Young and newly married like us but without any financial restrictions. They were always attending some sort of gala, ball or fancy charity fundraiser. They had the prestige and the money to "worthy" themselves the invite. In my mind, they were in the favored position in society. None the less, we were all friends and hung out. But once or twice, they had us put on the invite list to THE parties in town, as their guests. I was so excited. I longed for these invites to feel included in with THE incrowd. Troy wasn't so hung up on stuff like that but he was a good sport. I fretted over what to wear, who all would we talk to. Would we be out of place because they had to have known who had money, family lineage, the country club memberships, etc.. Troy worked at the country club. I worked for an interior design firm. These were our customers, not our peers. We knew how to fit in in pretty much any social setting but would someone question why we deserved to be there? We went and it was nice. But you know what? Now, I remember very little about it. Mainly I remember just trying desperately to blend in. Seem like I was one of them. Be charming and witty and use the right silverware with the appropriate food.
Isn't it wonderful and amazing that Christ's invitation sent from the Cross to us isn't so wrought with social implications and segregations? We are all invited no matter where we come from or what we've done to deserve or undeserve to get there!
If you have been around many churches for very long you have probably noticed a little booklet sitting on a table as you enter or exit. It's a small monthly devotional titled "Our Daily Bread". My dear dear friend, Tami, in Phoenix was also our pastor's wife. She always had an little issue of the latest "Our Daily Bread" in her purse or car. And she encouraged me to read the daily lessons when I didn't have the time or energy for much less with regards to Bible Study. They are short but many times have little nuggets of truth and a scripture reading for the day. A "snack" in terms of real Bible study. But, all of us frazzled busy moms out there will take whatever spiritual vitamin we can get our hands on to get us through the days.
I grabbed one this past Easter Sunday as I was leaving church. It was a special Easter addition. We spend so much time gearing up for Easter Sunday and then it seems over so quickly. So it has been nice to continue to read a little more about this most meaningful of seasons. Today's devotion was titled "Taking the Cross". It is based on the scripture reading about taking up our cross and following Jesus.
"He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me"
I quote from the lesson; "The cross. We see it today as the rough wooden instrument of death for Jesus Christ. But before His followers had even a faint idea that Jesus would die that way, He spoke of the cross. The men didn't associate the cross with Jesus' approaching death, but they kinew what a cross signified. Crucifixions were a common method of execution. The disciples had a vivid picture of the agony, punishment, and misery that a cross represented. Taking a coss mant walking life's toughtest road. So why was Jesus promoting cross-bearing? Because He wanted disciples who were willing to face the difficulties it would take to serve His cause. That's still our challenge today. Are we willing to take the cross and serve Christ in self-denial? The task is great- but it is eternally rewarding.
I am finishing this blog weeks and weeks after I began it. What was April has now turned into May. What was the Easter holiday is now almost Memorial Day weekend. Life and its’ numerous obligations have stood in the way of me writing lately. But after last night, when our guests drove away, I knew I couldn’t have finished it properly without knowing them first.
The couple’s names are Sarah and Brad. I had never even heard of Sarah and Brad until the end of last week. Though, through the graciousness and mercy of the body of Christ, they had heard of me and prayed for me. During the time of Troy’s accident, they were stationed in Korea with some mutual friends, the Grevens. John and Wendy Greven will always hold a very special place in my heart. Not only for their loyal friendship to Troy and I during the time we were all stationed together in Italy but for their gift of quiet strength and service in the body of Christ. At no time was this more evident than when they showed up, all the way from Korea, to come to Troy’s memorial service in Phoenix. I can’t imagine the expense, time, planning, and jet lag that went into that quick turn-around trip for them. It just meant the absolute world to me and always will.
Sarah and Brad brought me and the kids, strangers to them, before the throne of Christ to ask for His help and healing for us. Now it is my turn.
Brad and Sarah just got stationed here in San Antonio at Randolph AFB. They are high school sweethearts and just 28 years old. They are the darling, fun, Christian military family. They are just begininning life, for all purposes. They haven’t even moved into their home yet or received their belongings from their last assignment in Japan. A few months ago Sarah found out she was expecting their first child. A few months ago Sarah found out she has Stage II breast cancer. All in the same week. Joy and Sorrow. Excited expectation and disappointing dread.
As soon as Jim and I heard about them, we wanted to meet them to help them in any way we could. But we wondered whether they would be encouraged by us. Would we give them hope? Would we give them fear? We just wanted to love on them and encourage them. Last night, they came over as complete strangers but left just hours later as friends and true brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet, I think they encouraged us more than we encouraged them. They are young in age but mature in their faith. They are putting all their hopes and dreams right where they belong, in Christ. They are trusting the Lord more than I believe I could ever hope to in such a situation as theirs. Sarah was thinking of ways she could minister to those she knows she will be in treatment with. An incomprehensible thought to the world. But the world doesn’t understand that her strength is not her own. Her strength comes from the Maker of Heaven and Earth.
Just three hours ago, they entered the chemo room for the first time. Sarah, with their unborn baby tucked inside, is picking up her cross. Brad, her husband, is standing beside her, praying for many miracles and that God would give her the strength to carry the baby, carry the cancer and carry the cross He has asked her to. Everything in the world that is precious to him is sitting in that chemo Lazy-Boy. Praying that the poison will kill the cancer and leave his wife and baby unharmed. Jim is on his way to meet them in the same chemo room he sat with Andrea in.
Back to my earlier devotional lesson in Our Daily Bread, this one titled “Dying to Live”. It says: “The cross in Roman times was designed for death. It had no other use. So what did Jesus mean in this verse?:
“Then He said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must denu himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. “
He wasn’t saying that we must all be crucified. The “cross” to which He was referring is the act of putting to death our own heart’s desires (and dreams, emphasis mine) and quietly submitting to God’s will (whether or not it makes sense, emphasis mine).
Such dying is denying our need for larger homes, more compliant children, more accommodating mates. Such dying is accepting unchangeable circumstances, unthinkable horrors, lack of physical healing or safety in the skies. Such dying is loving despite misunderstandings, hurts and broken relationships. Such dying is walking forward without your life’s partner into a lonely world, with only your children by your side.
Each of us has or will have our own cross to carry. Our prayer should be that God would give us the strength not only to carry it for the journey but to willingly lay down upon it and accept it in order to pick it up in the first place. I witnessed in Sarah, a young woman with a very spiritually strong back.
The devotion says, “Jesus said we must take up cross daily. We are to rise each morning and cheerfully (not easy, Lord!), bravely (even less easy, Lord!) shoulder our load, because there is something else that is “daily”. It is the continuous, sufficient grace of the One whose strength is made perfect in our weakness.
Paul writes in:
II Corinthians 12:8-9
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it (the undisclosed thorn in his side) away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
In Matthew, Scripture tells us even Jesus, knowing God’s perfect plan, and desiring to do the will of His Father became “sorrowful and troubled” with the trial of suffering, humiliation and agonizing pain God was asking Him to endure at the Cross.
“Then He (Jesus) said to them (His disciples), “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cupn be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”
I believe the hardest thing is to say to God, with total trust and confidence, not my will but Yours be done. And then to take His will and allow Him to shine through us.
We can rest in the fact that Jesus paved the way before us. The deep groove in the road was carved out by the heavy weight of the burdenous cross He carried so we wouldn’t have to carry ours alone. And we certainly won’t have to carry them forever.
II Corinthians 1:3-4
“Praise be to the Lord and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our t4oubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferiengs of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”
Missionary and poet Amy Carmichael wrote “In acceptance lieth peace.”
Peace be with you today, all who are standing up for the first time with that unfamiliar weight of your new cross. The God of all compassion will not leave you today; not alone as the red chemo drips through the tube in that room or walking behind the flag-draped coffin at that cemetery or anywhere else you never thought you'd end up.
“…Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
The answer is nothing. Nothing that Jesus didn’t save us from in the past or walk with us through now and in the future.