Friday, March 2, 2012

My Cross (Part 1)

This edited story, written on July 12, 2009, is reprinted from another blog.

I am not a "sign guy." But two things have happened in the last twenty-four hours that has caused me to reconsider my position.

Yesterday I read a local newspaper article about a man in my community named Willie Young. As the picture reveals, Willie Young is a "sign guy." I've seen Willie on various corners throughout our community, for years. When I saw him, I would just smile and wave.

I found the article to be well-written and it portrayed Willie in a positive light.

This morning an evangelist by the name of David Cougle posted a video on Facebook. The video, which is just a few minutes in length, showed David and a couple of evangelists walking onto Bourbon Street. What drew my attention was the cross one of the evangelists was carrying. Because of the noise and chaos on Bourbon Street, the cross is used as a beacon to draw people to the evangelists, helping them to distribute tracts and engage people in conversation.

Yes, I am engaged in evangelism, in one form or another, almost every day of my life. Evangelism long-ago stopped merely being something I do. Evangelism is a way of life, for me. It's not what I do. It is who I am in Christ. It is who He has called me to be. I have learned what it means to live both sides of the coin that is God's will--exceedingly great joy accompanied by an extraordinary sense of responsibility. But reading the article about Willie Young and then watching the video about David Cougle and his friends stirred my heart to the point of asking myself, "Can I do more? Am I doing enough to proclaim the gospel?"

Now, I readily admit that I am a "work-aholic." My tongue-in-cheek motto (albeit likely to be viewed as unhealthy by most): "I can rest in heaven." Yes, I see every goal attained as an opportunity to set new, higher goals. When I shared on Facebook that I felt convicted to do more to further the gospel, I received the expected response by some of those who know me: "You gotta be kidding me!"

Try to psycho-analyze me if you feel the need to. You can even question my motives if you feel like it. But I genuinely believe that there is more I can and should do to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world.

So, with the before-mentioned article and video in mind, I thought to myself, "Maybe it's time to re-evaluate some of the forms of evangelism I said I would never do."

Immediately, my thoughts turned to my office, which is located in our HOA's clubhouse. In my office, hanging on the south wall just above the air conditioner, is a 4-foot wooden cross.

Several years ago, I pastored a small church plant, which met in the HOA clubhouse. One of the young men in my church who was handy with a hammer built the cross to hang behind my pulpit during our times of corporate worship. When we closed the doors of the church for the last time, I kept the office in the clubhouse; and I kept the cross.

For seven years that cross has hung on that wall, serving as little more than a memento and an ornament. I knew it was time to take that cross off the wall.

The thought scared me.

I walked to my office before we left for church. I took the cross down from the wall and placed it on my shoulder. It was heavy. The weight of it came from more than just its mere mass. When I shouldered that cross for the first time, I also felt the weight of what I knew in my heart I was going to do with it.

I felt a particular closeness to my Lord as I stood with the rest of my church family to worship.

After worship, Michelle (my eldest) stood before the congregation to share her testimony. I was so very proud of her. Mahria was moved to tears as Michelle explained to the church the confident assurance she had that God would use the physical challenges she has faced to allow her to minister to others.

Pastor then stepped into his pulpit and began to preach. He continued his series of messages based on 2 Chronicles 7:11-22. This morning he focused on verse 14. "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves..."

"Humble themselves."

My thoughts were taken far afield from the context of the passage. They were taken to my little, windowless office where on a white-painted brick wall hung a wooden cross. And as my thoughts wandered momentarily away from church, carried among them was the thought of humility. Was a lack of that essential Christian character trait what discouraged me in times past from carrying a sign? Would I let pride keep me from shouldering that wooden cross?

No sooner did I consider these things then did Jesus' words consumed my thinking. "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily me and follow me" (Luke 9:23).

While apart from the cross Jesus Himself would bear the verse has nothing to do with standing on a street corner while holding a wooden cross; it most certainly speaks of self-denial to the point of welcoming physical death in order to follow Christ.

"Humble themselves." "Deny himself."

As soon as we got home from church, I took Mahria to my office. I wanted her to look at the cross--a cross she had seen countless times over the last ten years--and help me make a decision: what to write on the cross beam.

I thought of affixing the phrase "What If?" to the front of the cross. The phrase, displayed in other ways, has been useful in the past for soliciting and initiating spiritual conversations. But as I took counsel with my wife, another phrase came to both our minds.

"Are You Ready?"

We agreed that would be the phrase placed on the front of the cross. Our hope was that for the unbeliever they would see the cross, read the phrase, and ask themselves if they are ready to stand before Jesus Christ, face-to-face. For the believer, our hope was that they would see the cross, read the phrase, and ask themselves if they were truly denying themselves and daily taking up their own crosses to follow Christ.

The decision having been made, I ran to a nearby craft store to pick up some vinyl lettering.

I drove around town hoping to find Willie Young on a street corner with his signs. My plan was to find him, introduce myself, and stand with him--holding my cross. It was 103 degrees, even at 5:00 in the evening. Willie wasn't at any of his usual locations.

I continued to drive around town. But now, instead of looking for Willie, I was praying for courage and trying to decide where I would stand and hold the cross. It didn't take me long to choose a location.

Stay tuned for Part Two.

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