Sometimes We See What's Not There
We are always thankful and encouraged when Cattlemen, Ranchers and others donate cattle, equipment, feed, seed and other supplies to help us grow and maintain our Cattle for Christ cattle herds in AL and TX. In fact, we could not do the work of the ministry both here at home and around the world if it were not for the cash and non-cash donations of those who give sacrificially to make our work possible. It was on one of these trips to pick up donated cattle more than 500 miles from home when I found myself on the road during Easter weekend.
This gave me a good excuse to visit overnight in the home of a young family that I rarely get to see, but that I love very much and who live near the farms where I was scheduled to pick up cattle early the next Monday morning. As we were getting ready for bed on Saturday night, the Father of the home asked me: "Guess what little Johnny says he wants for Easter?" I replied: "I don't know. What?" Little Johnny replied with a smile: "I want a cross necklace."
That response really made my heart glad, especially since I had been praying for little Johnny and his family for a long, long time. In fact, he and I had just returned home from going out by ourselves to see an Easter drama at a local church in his home town. As we watched the realistic drama of the last week of Jesus' life, I identified each character and we discussed every scene as they played out according to the Gospel of Mark. I knew that since the family rarely attended church, that little Johnny had not been adequately exposed to the Gospel message and that many of the words and stories would be unfamiliar to him.
In fact, one of the primary reasons that I planned my trip so that I could visit with this family on Easter weekend was so that I could intentionally expose this little boy to the story of Jesus and remind his parents of the importance of the cross in their own lives. I also hoped that since I was there on this special weekend, that they would all attend church with me so that they could be in a setting where they could better sense the presence of the Holy Spirit and be reminded of just how much God loves them and desires to have a renewed relationship with them. I hoped that by attending church for the first time in a very long time, they would be reminded of what they were missing by not being actively involved in Bible study, private and corporate worship, Christian service, and fellowship with other Christians.
The daddy of this little boy I had known and loved since he himself was just a child. He had been a student in one of my youth groups many years ago and I had personally had the privilege of leading him to faith in Christ. Through the years, I had witnessed him growing and maturing in his faith and sharing his faith with others. I still remember many of the Scripture verses that he had memorized as a child and teen that had a great impact on his life. I had seen the hope and joy he once knew when he was in the center of God's will for his life. I had also seen God work many miracles in his life through the years that affected not only his life, but the lives of many others--including mine. I knew that he had once committed his life to Christ and that he knew what it was like to be in right relationship with God, with himself and with the Body of Christ, but I also knew that somewhere along the way, he had lost his way and was now in a place that was a dry and foreign land. Somewhere along the way, he had lost sight of the cross and when that happened, he also lost much of the the love, peace, joy and hope that only the cross of Christ can provide. He had also lost sight of the calling that God has on his life and of the plans that God has for his life and the lives of his wife and son; plans to prosper them and not to harm them, plans to give them hope and a future--plans that never change!
Now back to my story. The next morning, we awoke to find that little Johnny's mother had made sure that the Easter bunny came to visit while we were asleep. That was a good thing, because his Dad and I had not thought a thing about it. Mixed in with a large basket full of candy, there was also a small box that contained a silver necklace just like the one pictured here.
Little Johnny could not wait to show me the cross necklace that he had received in his Easter basket. I know that his mother had nothing but good intentions and that she picked out what she thought was the beautiful, sterling silver cross necklace that her son had asked for, but I could not help but notice something unusual about this necklace that made a good spiritual point. Though it was pretty and shiny and at first glance looked to be a cross necklace, it was in fact a necklace without a cross! The sterling silver rectangle was there, but the cross itself had been cut out and removed. It was a 'cross-less' necklace! It was void of the cross.
I wonder how many of us who believe and profess to be Christians, actually live a cross-less life. A cross-less life may look good at first glance, but it is void of and lacking the power, peace, joy, love, purpose and hope that only comes through a true, steadfast and fresh relationship with the Christ who shed His blood and gave His life in exchange for ours on the cross so that we can have eternal life. Without the cross, there is no real peace, joy, love, power, purpose or hope for this life or for eternity.
I do not mean that we do not believe in what Christ did on the cross, but that unless we stay focused on that atoning work of Christ on the cross and stay in close, right relationship with Him, we allow anything and everything to replace the cross in our lives. Take for example this picture. If the cross is removed, anything we put in its place can become the object of our worship and what we put our faith and hope in. Nothing can replace the cross, but most anything can be put in its place! It may be money, it may be our profession, our baptism or confirmation, our family, a hobby, other relationships, our good works, our self righteousness, community service, church membership or even our local church itself that we use as substitutes to fill the void, but nothing can replace the cross of Christ in our lives!
If we do not guard against it, we will find ourselves satisfied with something like a nice shiny object that looks the part but is absent of what is most important. We will find ourselves preaching a cross-less Gospel that is without cost or that is culturally pleasing and inoffensive, but that does not have the power to save, to change or to bring hope to our lives and our world.
The Bible says: "...without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." (Heb 9:22). "And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." (Phil 2:8). "Then He said to them all, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.'" (Luke 9:23). "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." (John 3:17-18).