Social media and memes. They seem to be made for each other. If you’re looking for laughs, they often give great comic relief, particularly in this difficult time we are facing.
But as I’ve seen many of the memes that regularly get posted and shared, I felt compelled to share a few thoughts. This is the main one:
🔊“Never get your theology from memes.”
Typically memes are short, to the point statements that, on the surface, may seem to encapsulate a current issue, and they claim to shed some grander truth about the issue at hand.
There’s an old saying though that stated “inquiring minds want to know…” But there’s a deeper truth, that Jesus reminded us of, and that we should consider particularly when memes are involved:
💡“Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” John 7:24
With this in mind, there is a meme that is making its way around social media this week. Yesterday a pastor in Florida was arrested because he chose to assemble his congregation, in spite of precautionary health advisories by the local governing authorities. Without arguing the merits of the case that he will be mounting with the help of Liberty Counsel, I’d like to share some thoughts from the Bible, versus the Constitution.
The meme here would seem to correlate the “assembling” that occurs at Walmart, where people are buying food and supplies, with the “assembling” at church. I would suggest though that conflating these two examples is like comparing apples with planets (versus oranges).
Walmart and such establishments are physical buildings that house physical products that we must all have to function physically. Without securing these products, at some point we will die physically.
But the building in this meme, while depicting a church, is not THE church. Rather, it’s just a building. The Bible, from where our theology should flow, is very clear that we should “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” But the church is not a place or a building, rather it is the body of believers in Christ, locally as well as all over the world. Assembling can occur in many different manners and sizes. This has been the case since the book of Acts, when the first assembly of believers began. And to this day, believers in nations all over the world, are sometime forced to meet even secretly, in their homes, for fear of death or persecution.
But there’s another aspect to this meme that I believe flows from the spirit that is implanted within the DNA of most Americans. It is the spirit that asserts our rights above all else, and the attitude of ”no one is ever going to deprive me as an American of my rights.” But is this the “right” attitude to have about rights, if you and I are followers of Jesus? Are we first Americans, or is our citizenship a heavenly one, that should shape and guide all of our responses?
To answer that question we should look to the one we claim to follow: Jesus. His example, and the examples of the “founding fathers” of our faith, the 12 Apostles, reveal a very different attitude about rights than the one that Americans consistently demonstrate, including my own.
We demand. They gave up.
We complain. They gave thanks.
We gripe. They praised God.
We protest. They accepted.
We resist. They submitted.
We live. They died.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that there is not a place for organizations like Liberty Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom, and others, to pursue justice in our courts. I know the men who lead these organizations, and they are good men, and followers of Jesus. From a purely American Constitutional standpoint I’m sure that Liberty Counsel will represent their client well and will insure the pastor’s constitutional rights are followed.
But there is a difference between an organization appealing to an earthly judge, to enforce the laws of the land, and appealing to The Supreme Judge of the universe to protect and sustain us. The Apostle Paul was beaten many, many times, and once he actually asserted his Roman citizenship to avoid an unjust beating. But besides Paul’s limited example, we see Jesus, and the twelve apostles consistently and repeatedly giving up their rights, submitting to an evil governmental system, and in every instance, except for the Apostle John, they all were executed for their faith.
Americans are big on rights, demanding everything enumerated in the Bill of Rights and more. But true Christianity is about giving up one’s rights. And it’s also about loving our neighbors. When we irresponsibly gather in large groups, we place others, including our neighbors, at risk.
It seems this is an opportunity for the church to humble itself, pray, confess, and serve, not rise up, gripe, complain, and demand.
So I’m less concerned personally about demanding rights, that we can voluntarily relinquish as our spiritual forefathers did, than I am about the church not suffering a black eye as we attempt to be the light in this present darkness.
My point is we are missing the big point of what is going on, in my view, if we simply focus on demanding a “right.” What if we responded like Daniel when his government demanded that he stop praying to God and that he could only offer prayers to the king? Daniel simply went home, without griping and complaining, he opened his window, and kneeled in humility to God and began to pray. No building. No congregation. Just Daniel and God.
Let’s be like Daniel in the midst of the greatest crisis of most of our lifetimes. Let’s be like the Apostles, who submitted themselves to a cruel and evil system, that ultimately took their lives. And let’s be like Jesus, who we are told:
💡“He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” 1 Peter 2:23
And then let’s follow Solomon in doing what he suggested His people should do when they found themselves in the midst of a calamity:
💡“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
The government has been talking about fiscal responses and solutions to the nightmare the coronavirus pandemic is wreaking in our nation and world. Those responses include multi-trillion dollar price tags. Given the panic and hysteria that we see from across this nation, does anyone really know whether such responses will help, or just postpone the inevitable collapse of an economy that has been propped up, for too many decades, by destructive credit policies? Is it possible that the coronavirus is simply the proverbially, “straw that finally broke the camel’s back?”
A couple of weeks ago, in a knee-jerk response, the current administration offered a $1 trillion “mini solution” and the markets tanked as it was being announced. Then, a week ago, the President suggested the idea of stimulus checks of $1,000 to every American, with a price tag of approximately $1 trillion dollars. But Trump had no more gotten that idea out of his mouth, when others were suggesting that wasn’t enough. Now, that “measly” trillion dollars has ballooned to $3-4 trillion and the individual stimulus checks are several thousand dollars for most citizens. And if I were a betting man, I’d wager we still haven’t seen the upward limit of the free money that is going to be printed up and distributed to a populace in need.
There is no doubt that our families, neighbors and citizens are in need. Consider that 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and millions of our neighbors have now lost their jobs for an indefinite period of time because of the closure of their employers by our government. The ability for these unemployed families to even pay for toilet paper (if it were available), but more importantly bread, eggs and milk, is not just limited, but unlikely.
▪️Is Government Liable?
So, if the government, in its estimation, believes that shutting down businesses is the best course of action to protect lives, then it seems that government is liable for making the affected workers (and perhaps businesses) whole. Without debating the decision itself, I believe under any other circumstances, this would likely be the conclusion of any court were it to be adjudicated in front of a judge.
There has never been a scenario like this in our history, of which I’m aware. But the bigger issue is this. Even if the government is liable to the individuals it is harming by its efforts to protect lives, how does our government cover its liability? In an ordinary situation between two parties, if one party harms another, the offending party must make the offended party whole, OUT OF ITS OWN RESOUCES.
In this case, the government is the offending party (in an effort to save lives, which I happen to agree with). The unemployed citizens are the offended party. So what are the government’s resources? Resources equal assets. But one cannot ignore liabilities when discussing resources. In the case of our nation, not only do we have a current national debt of $23,000,000,000,000 (that’s trillion), but we have additional unfunded liabilities for things like Medicare, Medicaid, and such, that total over $150 Trillion in debt. We don’t have the ability to pay the $23 trillion in current debt, so do you think we can pay the $150 trillion that is coming due in the upcoming years?
So where are the trillions going to come from to cover these stimulus checks and bailouts that are forthcoming? Yes, I’ve read that some of the amounts extended by the Feds will be in the form of loans, but that begs the question. Where do all the trillions of dollars come from? The answer is they will come from the same unsound credit policies as the Feds have used for years to cover their previous trillion dollar deficits.
▪️Your Rich Uncle
Consider this though. If you were living lavishly for decades off of a credit card that had an unlimited credit line from your rich uncle, and your uncle finally stepped up and said, “No More!” what would that do to your lifestyle? Particularly, what would you do when the uncle demanded you pay the credit card balance, when you had no ability to do so? Can you say BANKRUPTCY?
In this case, the “rich uncle” for America has been the exceptional privilege America has profited off of as the world’s reserve currency. Other nations and investors have extended credit to us for decades because we were perceived to be a better risk than any other option out there. But more and more, our stellar credit status has been dropping. And again, if I were a betting man, I would wager that this vast Ponzi scheme that our Federal government has been engaged in for years, with the help of both political parties, is about to come to an end.
Am I a doomsday prophet? No. I’ve been writing about this coming collapse for years. And it’s not because I have the mental wherewithal to figure it all out, but rather because there are people much smarter than me who have been warning of this for decades as well. But no one is listening.
▪️Where is the Hope?
But you may ask, “so if there’s no fiscal solution, where is the Hope?”
Well, while I don’t believe there is a permanent solution to the fiscal nightmare we are now living through, I do believe there is Hope for each of us individually. But it will require each of us to think outside the box; to consider options we haven’t considered before; to prepare for what could happen. And if, by some providential move, we are granted another brief period of reprieve from the inevitable coming economic collapse, we should not be lulled into believing that our genius leaders have saved the day. When a doctor causes a fatal wound, but he then puts a bandage on the hemorrhaging gash he caused, you wouldn’t then sit back and start enjoying your “bon-bons” believing that the negligent doctor saved the day, would you? You also wouldn’t congratulate the doctor on a job well done.
▪️What to do?
So what should you and I do? In a minute I’ll share what my first step would be. But here are a few suggestions:
I would prioritize the welfare of my family and loved ones, and then my neighbors, if possible. If you could rewind your life 30-45 days, knowing what you know now, what would you have done then to prepare for where we are today? Likewise, if you took a few minutes to consider where things might be in 30-90 days, if things not only don’t get better, but rather they get exponentially worse, what would you wish then that you would have done today?
In other words “Prepare.” The old “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” should guide your steps.
Nearly a decade ago a group of my friends and I began meeting over the course of a year or so to “Prep” for the possibility of an economic collapse. We put together checklists and discussed steps we should all take in the event that something like we are seeing actually occurred. At the time many would have suggested we were alarmists or worse. But those meetings were extremely helpful in preparing us for what did finally occur these last few weeks. (See the three hyperlinks above for the documents we prepared then.)
Now I don’t share this to suggest that all the items on my checklists in 2011 and 2012 were addressed. I wish I had some more toilet paper perhaps! But the “ounce of prevention” philosophy is one I can encourage you to consider as well. If you’re stuck at home, you now have time to consider what you would do for your family to prepare for what could occur in the future.
Our nation’s fiscal situation has not improved in the last 8 years. In fact, it has gotten exponentially worse. And that was before another several trillion dollars is being borrowed, printed, or created out of thin air, by the big spenders in Washington. So, if the coronavirus is in fact the straw that’s finally exposing our fiscal foolishness as a nation, what could that next straw be? I don’t know. But I also don’t want to be unprepared.
▪️Our Ultimate Hope
So I mentioned I’d share what my first step would be and here it is. I would turn my heart and mind to God during this dire crisis. The greatest threat to you and me today isn’t the COVID-19 virus. Rather, it’s the universal virus that we all share, one that entices us to replace God our Creator, with our own false gods. The gods of wealth, sports, entertainment, politics, pleasure, career, business, travel, or whatever else might be in the forefront of your life and mine. It’s a universal temptation to elevate something temporal, that does not satisfy, in place of the One who is eternal, and completely satisfies.
God is speaking through this crisis. In fact, I would suggest this is God’s crisis. Throughout the Bible we see that it is God that brings both “calamity and good” and “He controls the course of world events.” He does so to get our attention, to disrupt our lives, in order to turn our hearts back to Him. We are a proud people and an even prouder nation. But God resists the proud and even humiliates them. But He also elevates the humble. Could there be any greater example of God humiliating a proud nation and even world than what is happening now as all those “gods” we worshipped are crumbling before us?
So, if there is one silver lining in all this, it is that we all have time to turn back to Him. We have time to open His Word. We have time to fall on our knees. And as we do, we will begin to hear what it is God is speaking to us individually, so that we can repent and turn to Him. As we do, we will find the Hope and Encouragement that is so desperately needed “for such a time as this.”
💡“God controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars.” Daniel 2:21
💡“Who can command things to happen without the Lord’s permission? Does not the Most High send both calamity and good? Then why should we, mere humans, complain when we are punished for our sins? Instead, let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn back to the Lord.” Lamentations 3:37-40
Last month the author of the best selling Christian book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” announced that he and his wife were filing for divorce. As if that wasn’t sad enough, on the heels of that announcement, Josh Harris shocked the world by stating he was leaving Christianity. In his renouncing of a faith that he had practiced over multiple decades, Harris also recanted the views that he had affirmed and defended in his book, read by millions.
But in reality, the “gospel” according to Harris, as he eloquently authored, didn’t survive even 3 decades, much less a lifetime or a millennia. Yet many who also reject the Bible and Christianity will now point to Harris as some sort of authoritative basis for affirming their own skepticism, and attacking Christianity.
As I was pondering Josh Harris’ about face, in such a profound and public manner, it started me thinking about the Bible. No, my faith in the Bible was not shaken or challenged by Harris’ rejection of God’s Word. Rather, Harris’ flip-flop reaffirmed and strengthened my belief in the authenticity and inerrancy of the book millions embrace.
You might ask, Why?
Books come and go. Premises, thoughts and philosophies also rise and fall. This reality stands to reason since men do the same. The thoughts and theories of man are at best brilliant, but in themselves men are fallible and frequently contradicted with new discoveries. Sooner or later the words of the best men are diminished and even forgotten.
But if the Author of a book is eternal, then it would seem reasonable that His words would be eternal as well. That’s what we see with the Holy Bible, God’s Word. Consider these facts about the Bible:
Written over a span of 1500 years, By approximately 40 men, In multiple languages, Made up of 66 mini-books, Is cohesive and consistent, Banned by emperors and nations, Remains the best selling book of all time.
Beyond these facts, God informs us in His Word:
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)
The Bible is a spiritual book, but it is also historical, philosophical, archeological, scientific, and poetic. Yet, the more years that pass, the more the non-spiritual facts are validated.
One way we see this is the way in which the Bible describes scientific facts that are contrary to man’s understanding. What we see over time is that these “unproven” truths are ultimately validated as man’s knowledge and comprehension increases. (By the way, when a skeptic takes the time to investigate this reality, he may walk away amazed by this truth, but pride often prevents a person from actually doing this.)
If the Bible was just a book written by men in their own power and wisdom, sooner or later, many of their thoughts and assertions would be displaced as new information and facts are discovered. However, if the Bible is made up of God’s words, penned by men who were inspired and led by God’s Spirit, then its authenticity and inerrancy will forever be affirmed, even though its oldest words were written 3500 years ago.
The Bible stakes many claims, but some of the most important are those it makes of itself. Note these Truths, about how the Holy Book was actually written:
“…no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
Josh Harris’ about face does not disprove God’s Word. Rather, his recanting of his marital vows, and his previous spiritual beliefs, merely reveal a man who is broken and struggling, with himself, the people he loved, and the One he at one point worshipped. He needs our prayers.
I cannot look into Harris heart and know his deepest struggles, but I can know that no man’s belief or rejection will change God’s Word, or the ultimate Truth claims the Bible makes.
So the Bible is either true or a lie. The Book is either infallible, God’s very Word, or it’s fallible, simply words of men. Ultimately what you and I do with the Bible and its Truth claims will determine our eternal destiny.
Just as Jesus Christ, referred to as “the Word” in the gospel of John, is “the same yesterday, today and forever,” so too is the Bible. It does not change. It does not wilt. And it remains immutable, regardless of shifting winds or flip-flopping authors. So when everything else around you seems unstable and in constant change, hold on to the only Book that has stood for millenniums, and make it a part of your everyday life. It’s the only Truth that will always stand firm.
I’ve been a user of Microsoft computers and apps for over 3 decades (although I’m a Mac guy at heart). So, I was recently disappointed, but not surprised, when I received one of the emails I regularly get from the tech giant. The email, which is displayed below, had nothing to do with technology, or computers, or the Microsoft products I use. Rather, it was a “prideful” endorsement and promotion of the lifestyle choices of LGBTQI+.
Let’s be clear. This grouping of letters stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and “plus” (which represent other sexual identities including pansexual, asexual, and omnisexual). So it’s literally a collection of every alternate and unnatural sexual lifestyle. Noticeably absent is the one sexual union that accounts for the very existence of each person who embraces the rainbow colored flag that they “pridefully” display. Yes, heterosexuality is the sole sexual relationship that God designed, and pronounced His blessings upon, within the confines of marital fidelity.
You would have to be living in an alternate universe to not know that our nation, and much of the Western world, have aggressively endorsed, promoted, and demanded acceptance of these aberrant sexual choices in recent years. In addition to our government at all levels pushing the full LGBTQI+ agenda, there is a barrage of big and medium sized businesses doing the same. Microsoft’s email was just one example of a literal tidal wave of LGBTQI+ promotion and coercion. While flying Delta this week, I was also confronted multiple times with the world’s largest airline’s overt promotion of homosexual relationships via posters and video commercials (see below).
The coercive message from all those on the side of “Pride” is this: “You must and you will embrace our agenda or you are hateful and a bigot. If you choose to resist, we will not only humiliate you with our words, we will break you economically if you’re a business owner. We not only demand lockstep, but we insist that you reject God in the process.”
Of course, these folks would never openly admit that their coercion seeks to force the rejection of God. But if one spends any time in God’s Word, there is no disputing our Creator’s view of sexuality. God is abundantly clear that sexual activity outside of marriage, both heterosexual as well as LGBTQI+, is condemned and will be judged.
It’s clear that God is angered when mankind perverts the blessing of sex, particularly when an entire culture or nation begin to embrace and promote same sex relationships. As if to emphasize the priority of this issue, God dedicated numerous passages and examples in the Bible that address the repercussions to a culture or nation that does what Microsoft, Delta and America are doing.
The Apostle Paul, inspired by God, penned a poignant warning in Romans 1 about the repercussions to a society which embarks on the path our nation has taken. Note these tragic words, which describe precisely what we are seeing at this moment in America’s history:
💡“But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them… Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools… So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved. Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.” (Romans 1:18-19, 21-22, 24-32)
As the LGBTQI+ movement appears to have gained a stronghold in America’s psyche, permeating every aspect of our culture, there is a dangerous warning that is prominent in the passage above:
“God abandoned them…”
There is likely a no more hopeless phrase than this one. When God, the Author of Life and the Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, chooses to abandon a person, a people or a nation, there can only be one of two options at that point.
The hopeful first option would be a humble repentance and returning to God by those who shook their fist at their Creator. But the second, and more likely, option is utter chaos as a people or nation reject the standards and order that God designed. On the heels of that chaos is certain destruction of the individual and nation who refuse to acknowledge and return to God’s good and perfect standard.
Hate & Bigotry?
No doubt some that read this will feel their own anger growing, towards the one who penned these words. And they will immediately respond, either internally, or openly, with labels of hate or bigotry, or some other derogatory terms. But such accusations couldn’t be further from the truth based on my knowledge of what resides in my heart. Consider this.
I disagree with my wife, children and business partner from time to time. But no one has ever accused me of hating any of these individuals. Why? Because disagreement is not synonymous with hatred, or bigotry, or some other outrageous and irrelevant explanation. In reality I love my wife, children, and business partner.
Similarly, I disagree with the sexual choices of those engaged in LGBTQI+ behavior, but my disagreement is not rooted in hatred or bigotry, or in a demand that they agree with me. Rather, my disagreement is simply based on what God has to say about such behavior. And my expression of this disagreement is based on my belief that I will be held accountable by God someday as to whether I shared His Truth or kept it hidden and remained silent.
Loving while Disagreeing
My Chief Mentor commanded me 2000 years ago to “love my neighbor as myself.” This Mentor, Jesus Christ, has instructed me that He will someday judge me, and all of mankind, for our individual choices and behavior, including whether I displayed love to others, while not running from His Truth. When we speak Truth that is offensive, that does not equate to hate. Rather, Love compels us to speak Truth, even though it is sometimes hard to hear.
Jesus did not shy away from speaking Truth, including when addressing sexual matters. One day He was speaking with a woman who had been married five times and the man she was living with then was not her husband. He confronted this woman’s aberrant behavior head on, and she understood from His words that her behavior did not conform to God’s perfect standard. But rather than rebuke Jesus for daring to speak Truth into her life, she responded in humility and repented of her lifestyle. She then, in her excitement, shared God’s Truth with her neighbors. There is no doubt that today Jesus would also be called a hater or bigot, given his unpopular message.
But it’s in the same spirit that Jesus shared Truth with this woman that I seek to share this Truth. I do not wish to condemn anyone but to simply speak Truth in love. The real truth is that we all have struggles in our lives, so my words are not hurled as condemning stones, but rather as somber warnings.
Pride Goes Before Destruction
In closing, it’s ironic that the LGBTQI+ proponents have adopted as the rallying cry the word “Pride,” suggesting that there there should be no shame or guilt surrounding an identification with such sexual choices. But as I was writing this article, a verse in the Bible came to mind:
💡“Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)
Clearly, the connotation of “Pride” in this verse is related to conceit and haughtiness. But there’s a parallel application, which while not intended from Scripture, is nonetheless relevant.
God judges all sin, and He has clearly characterized all sexual activity outside of a heterosexual marital relationship as sin. Additionally, God’s pattern of judgment, throughout the many biblical examples, is that He destroys cultures, civilizations, and nations who embrace and celebrate their sins. So as America has embraced “Pride” as the buzzword for the LGBTQI+ movement, in a sense they have predicted their own ultimate outcome: Destruction.
There is risk these days in writing an article like this, that is so out of line with the tidal wave of sexual “freedom” that allows for anything and judges nothing, except those who would share God’s Truth. But should one with Truth remain silent when being coerced to embrace a lie? Or does Truth demand we stand firmly when others buckle?
History is replete with examples of both, yet the ones we remember the most are those who stood for Truth, even if it meant standing alone.
So I hope, as you consider these meager thoughts, that you will discover God’s words of Truth, and that He will give you the courage to also follow and stand for His Truth.
Stand Firm. Speak Truth. In Love.
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rates, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved. And to be steady on all the battle fields besides is merely flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.” Martin Luther
Simon rolled over as he heard the rooster crow. It was still dark outside. He lay there recalling the dream from the night before. It was the same recurring dream he’d had over the last year, since the previous time he had visited Jerusalem. He had dreamt of the man they called Jesus, who had so captivated his attention. This man who attracted such large crowds, and was somehow able to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf, had invaded his dreams. And just as all the other dreams, he would hear the voice of Jesus saying,
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”
Through his dreams over the last year, those words from Jesus had become so familiar to him. But he wondered, what did they mean? Take up your cross? Follow Jesus? Give up your life? Good News? What good news? Gaining the world? Losing your soul?
He lay there pondering… wondering… and then the rooster crowed again.
He jumped up and hurriedly dressed. He had a busy day ahead of him. But as was his custom each morning, he opened his small scroll. On it he had written key passages from the prophets that had always been an encouragement to him. He skimmed down the parchment and read these words from the prophet Isaiah:
“He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:3-7)
Some had told Simon this passage referred to Israel’s coming Messiah but he struggled to understand why He would be oppressed. If only Simon’s Messiah would come during his lifetime. What a joy that would be.
Simon reached for some bread as he left the small inn he frequented when visiting Jerusalem. He needed to take care of some business while in Jerusalem that day. Tomorrow he would visit the Temple for Passover before beginning his journey back to Cyrene the following week. He was eager to return to his family, and be reunited with his wife and sons, Alexander and Rufus.
The sun was shining through the clouds as Simon made his way into Jerusalem. While there were always many people coming and going, he detected that something was different. There was a huge commotion up ahead and he quickened his pace to draw closer to see what all the yelling was about. He rounded a corner in the road and all of a sudden he came face to face with a threatening group of Roman soldiers. They were stopped and screaming at a man who had fallen to the ground with a large wooden cross pinning him to the ground. The man hardly looked human, and his clothes were soaked in blood as he struggled and moaned.
As Simon took this all in, he heard the taunts and yells of many of the religious elite along the road. He recognized some of them from his time in the Temple. He wondered what would cause these men to express such anger and hatred towards the man who had stumbled and fallen beneath the weight of the large cross he was bearing.
As he was processing all of this, Simon was immediately jolted from his thoughts by one of the foreboding Roman soldiers, who grabbed Simon by the arm. The soldier’s grip was powerful. Simon was tempted to confront the Roman, but he quickly thought better as he counted the number of Roman soldiers that surrounded him.
The soldier barked out his order: “Hey! You! Get down there and pick up that cross. Give a hand to Israel’s King and Messiah,” the soldier mockingly jeered. The order was clear and threatening. Simon had no choice. It was either acquiesce or perhaps meet the same fate as this poor soul, who was clearly headed for his own demise soon.
Simon leaned down, pickup up the wooden cross, and began to heave it onto his broad shoulders. Simon was no small man, but the weight of the burden was a challenge, even for him. As he began to rise, he caught a quick glimpse of the disfigured and bloody man who was attempting to get back up to his feet. He looked familiar. Had Simon seen him before? How could he have?
Simon fell in behind the condemned man as the soldiers led the way up the hill. As Simon trudged along, all of a sudden the wounded, struggling man in front of him spoke out:
“Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children…”
The man continued speaking but Simon was no longer listening to his words. Rather, he was trying to place where he had heard that voice before. The face was familiar. Now the voice was also. Simon struggled under the load of the cross…
The cross! That was it!
Those recurring dreams all of a sudden burst into Simon’s mind. The voice and face in his dreams. They were the same ones as the man struggling to walk in front of him. Could it be that this was Jesus, the one whom Simon had heard over and over in his dreams, yet he had never met?
As they turned a corner, the bloodied man in front of Simon turned ever so slightly and Jesus’ eyes caught the eyes of Simon for a brief moment. In that millisecond he knew that Jesus understood everything about him. The battered and bloodied man knew Simon’s innermost thoughts, secrets, struggles and failures. Simon shuddered. He felt ashamed. He felt needy. It was as if God Himself had just peered into the very recesses of Simon’s heart and soul. Yet, he also sensed a deep love from that glance from Jesus. But how could that be?
As Simon neared the hill that everyone knew as Golgotha, he realized that this was their destination. He wondered how it was that the man who had performed such wonderful deeds and miracles for so many could now be facing this brutal fate? What could Jesus have done that could have been worthy of death by crucifixion?
All of a sudden the soldiers barked out some orders and Simon’s thoughts were interrupted. They had arrived at their destination and he eagerly dropped the heavy load on the ground and carefully backed away from the soldiers. As he did so, the words of Jesus all of a sudden resonated in his thoughts: “Take up your cross and follow me.”
Simon fell back into the crowd of onlookers. His clothes were stained with the blood of Jesus that covered the cross. His body ached. His mind was swirling. He had literally taken up the cross of Jesus and followed him. But is this what Jesus meant when He challenged so many with those words a year ago and in his dreams so many times? As he continued to try to reconcile the events of the morning with the words of Jesus, Simon heard Jesus pleading from the cross,
“Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”
By now it was midday, but for some unexplained reason, the sky was growing dark and black. It was as if night had descended on the world. Fear began to grip Simon, as did many others watching this gruesome execution. Simon could stand it no more. As the tears welled up in his eyes, Simon turned to go down the hill, and as he did, he heard Jesus cry out one final time,
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
As Jesus’ lifeless body hung silent and still, it seemed as if the world was coming to an end. The ground began to shake and rocks on the side of the hill began to split and tumble down. People were running and screaming. Simon was terrified. He began to run as well.
Why was this happening? Did the death of Jesus cause all this? Simon ran back to his room at the inn where he had been staying. He was overwhelmed with emotion and his mind was swirling.
Simon entered his room and collapsed onto his bed, sobbing as if his own soul had been torn in two. As he lay there for what seemed like an eternity, Simon was processing the events of the day. He recalled the soldier mocking Jesus, referring to the bloody man as “Israel’s King and Messiah.”
The words from his scroll that morning came to mind.
“Despised. Rejected. Pierced. Crushed. Beaten. Whipped. The Lord laid on him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.”
Over the next three days, Simon remained close to the inn where he was staying. He was overwhelmed with the crucifixion and the role he had played in it. Yet, as he remained transfixed with the event, the mystery was becoming more and more clear to Simon, almost supernaturally.
Jesus was the Messiah! His coming as Israel’s Savior, and death as their Redeemer, was predicted 700 years earlier by Isaiah, the prophet. Jesus had willingly taken up the cross that He knew would ultimately bring His own death. But it was necessary because of Simon’s sins. That’s why he had felt so ashamed, and also loved simultaneously, when Jesus peered into Simon’s eyes along the road to Golgotha, the hill where Jesus died.
But how could a dead man be the Messiah? Jesus seemed to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy perfectly, but if He was dead, what purpose did His death serve? How could Jesus be Israel’s Savior?
Simon decided to revisit the place that had caused his entire life to come to an abrupt pause. Perhaps by returning to the place of death he could make sense of life.
On his way to Golgotha, Simon’s route took him by a garden that he recognized as a place to bury the dead. As he passed the entrance, he tossed a quick glance into the lush garden. But what he saw next stopped him abruptly in his tracks. Just 30 feet away, he saw a large round tombstone rolled away from the entrance to a tomb. At the entrance, a man glowing in a radiant white was speaking to a woman who had fallen down at the man’s feet.
Simon recognized the woman as one of the ladies who had been at Golgotha just three days earlier when Jesus was crucified. She was shaking uncontrollably, but he wasn’t certain whether it was out of fear or joy, or perhaps both. As Simon’s eyes moved from the woman up to the man with the glowing face, he nearly collapsed. His heart stopped. His eyes were affirming that the man he was peering at was Jesus. But his mind could not process what he was seeing. How could this be? He had seen Jesus die. But now here He was… ALIVE!
And then, in a millisecond, Jesus turned his gaze to Simon and their eyes met. In that instant, Simon’s eyes, mind, and heart affirmed the truth of what he was seeing. The same gaze that three days earlier had looked deep into Simon’s soul as Simon bore the bloody cross of Jesus, was once again looking into Simon’s heart. Simon fell to the ground, in submission and adoration, and as he did he yelled out, “Jesus, my Lord and my Messiah!”
The dreams now made sense. Simon understood that following Jesus might mean losing his life, but his soul would be eternally saved. He knew that there was nothing more valuable than his soul… not his business, not the prestige he sought, not even his wife and children. He would pick up his cross from that day forward and follow Jesus, no matter what it might cost him. How could he do less when Jesus had given His all?
Years later, the Apostle Paul referenced a man named Rufus, and his mother, in Romans 16:13:
“Greet Rufus, whom the Lord picked out to be his very own; and also his dear mother, who has been a mother to me.”
Tradition suggests that this Rufus was the same Rufus that Mark described as the son of Simon, the Cyrene, who carried the cross of Jesus, in Mark 15:21:
“A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.)”
So while much of this Easter story involves my own imagination, it’s entirely possible that the personal encounter between Simon and Jesus on the road to Golgotha may have in fact led Simon to “pick up his cross and follow Jesus.” And if so, his example likely led his wife and children to follow Christ as well.
So what about you? Will you this Easter make the greatest decision you will ever make, and choose to take up your cross and follow Jesus?