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Guest Column: Crosses

July 1, 1993

Guest Column: Crosses

By Dr. Robert R. Kopp

I’ll never forget shopping for a cross about 25 years ago in a big mall jewelry store near Edison, N.J.

When I asked the salesman if he’d let me see the store’s stock of crosses, he asked, “Do you want one with or without the little man on it?”

For too many years, I laughed that off as just another gross example of our culture’s spiritual ignorance.

But about three years ago, while struggling with my personal Pauline angst to overcome carnalities with holiness to honor God’s saving grace in my life through Jesus (see Romans 7:7-8:1), I began to ask myself, “How real is my faith? Is it with or without practical obedience to Jesus?”

I realized too much of my life had been a pathetic yes to the hymn’s rhetorical question: “Must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free?”

Like too many believers who think God’s grace is license to ignore behavioral expectations for believers, exemplified in Jesus and explained in the Bible, I wasn’t serious about the hymn’s prescriptive answer: “No, there’s a cross for everyone, and there’s a cross for me.”

Unlike too many of today’s clergy whose persecution for righteousness’ sake barely exceeds complaints for hymn selections and liturgies resembling sacred laundry lists and personal sacrifice compromised by obsessive attention to vouchers for anything from facial tissue supplies to mileage reimbursements, German Lutheran pastor and professor Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood the cost of discipleship.

Captured for conspiring to assassinate Hitler because he believed it was not only his responsibility to care for the victims of a mad motorist but also to do all in his power to remove the madman from the wheel, Bonhoeffer was executed at Flossenburg’s extermination camp on the direct order of Himmler on April 9, 1945.

Assured of eternal security because of Jesus, Bonhoeffer whispered with incontrovertible confidence to young English Captain Payne Best just steps from the gallows, “This is the end, for me the beginning of life.”

Bonhoeffer’s behavior confirmed his belief in Jesus, who promised so clearly, concisely, and conclusively, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).

Less than a decade earlier, Bonhoeffer wrote about walking (behavior) the talking (belief) of Christianity: “The cross is laid on every Christian…When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die…Suffering is the badge of true discipleship…That is the only path to victory. The cross is his triumph over suffering” (The Cost of Discipleship, 1937).

Summarily, I think of it as thesis 1 for life and ministry: “Remembering you’re going to live a lot longer with Jesus than anybody else makes establishing life’s priorities a no brainer.”

Practically, other rhetorical questions have emerged; providing daily accountability for my life and ministry:

l Do I live like Jesus is Lord of my life?

l Do I live like I know what I say and do express

what I believe; and what I believe has eternal

consequences?

l Do I live like Jesus is still dead and buried or

risen and reigning as Almighty God with Father

and Spirit?

l Could I prove my faith in a court of law?

l If love for Jesus were a crime, would I be

convicted?

l If a gun were held to my head and I was told

to deny Jesus or die, what would I do?

l And knowing there are opportunities to ally

myself with Jesus or deny Him every day, how’s my report card?

So I wear two crosses.

One is made of nails to remind me of what He did for me and what I must do for Him to prove faith’s veracity.

The other was given to me at ordination nearly 30 years ago. It’s beautiful. It’s the cross used as the seal for my old denomination (The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America). A prominent Celtic cross is surrounded by porcelain inlays of other symbols highlighting God’s sovereignty, Holy Spirit, biblical revelation, and mission.

The porcelain has chipped over the years.

So have I.

John 3:17 comes to mind: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

That’s why I feel compelled to take up His cross.

Salvation compels service.

Paul put it this way, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).

It’s a no brainer.

It’s how we cross rhetorical questions.

Dr. Robert Kopp is the pastor of Bethany Presbyterian Church, Loves Park.

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