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Discipleship and Living Under the Sign of the Cross:

A Lenten Journey - Part Two

From last month's article, who is the Roman Empire today? Who seeks to destroy today by means similar to a cross? How does God's Word overcome this today?

Markings of incivility.

The "ism" of the absolute.

The "ego" of conceit.

The actual "cross" does not exist in our society. The closest symbol we have today is the electric chair and death by injection. I suppose if you are familiar with the movie "The Green Mile", you might have some horrid impressions of what the electric chair can do? Yet, we still do not have anything that compares to death by the cross. There are still some societies that do inflict all kinds of torture on the enemies of the state. These have also been inflicted on many Christians because of the threat of their witness in that society. There are still some places where Christians are targeted for harm and even death today.

Our society has a history, however, that is marked with the "isms" of absolute power. These "isms" that create an undo cross by demoting some people to a lessor and often an abusive situation. These are known by such names as "racism, "chauvinism", "sexism" "materialism", and so forth and so forth. The one "ism" that lifts one person above the rest is "individualism" or more familiar "egoism". The is where we place ourselves above everyone and everything else. The corporate level of this "ism" can be "nationalism" and "patriotism" that puts ourselves above the good of the whole global community.

Finally, incivility is when the worldly or national climate is marked by distrust in any form of authority or law that puts the community at risk because of the "ism's of any one individual or group. In accordance with the book, "The Fourth Turning", we are moving into that fourth out of four turnings of the cycle of social order. It is called the "Crisis". This is likened to the crisis of 1929-1946 where we lived through a depression and a second world war. Out of that crisis, following the war, we moved into the first turning called the "high" where there was a return to "institutions" to provide stability to a world torn apart. This period was 1946-1964. It was a remarkable period of confidence in the systems that seemed to work well. We then entered the "Awakening" turning where the new generations began to question the absolutism of the governing institutions. It was the time of Vietnam and the civil rights movement. This was the period of 1964-1984. It was the era of protest and the dismantling of the institution so important in the period before it. This gave way to the third turning of 1984-? Which is marked by what is called the "low"? Whereas the "high" turning is marked by trust institutions, the "low" puts its trust in individuals. We follow the cycle between institutionalism to individualism. It paves the way for incivility to become the marking of the times. Our schools, once safe havens, became threatened from within; our country which seemed so secure was disrupted by September 11. Politics is marked with all kinds of talk but little action. "Terrorism" has become the "war" of today. We have probably entered the fourth turning which is again the "Crisis". It is within this period that we will return to the need for our trust in institutions. So once again we will try to organize to get us out of this "crisis" phase.

Yet even in our "high" turning, we were still faced with "isms'. Even the period of 1946-1964, we were a nation faced with racisms and sexisms. We also became enamored with a division of "capitalism" and "communism" that built up a nuclear arsenal and the beginnings of a germ warfare threat. We are living within an era now that is the result of the last "high". So when we move beyond the crisis and create a trust in institutions, the cycle wil continue by a generation who will question the authority. This is the natural way of disallowing any absolute to take on an internal form.

The cross is the emptying of ourselves before the throne of God as individuals and as institutions and nations. The cross puts our wisdom and our need for power to defeat. The foolishness of God and the weakness of God become the basis for a new life, a new creation. Chaos and death are seeds for a new creation and new life.

The church needs to be aware of our absolutes as well. We will always face the need for reformation as Luther's time when the church became absolutized in "institutionalism". It was marked by the inquisitions that authorized church officials to torture and put to death those in opposition to the church as an institution. In the name of Jesus and under the sign of his cross, the institutional church led crusades in the middle ages.

Even today, we are trying to transform our church trusting in the absolute form of institutionalism. So we lift up the call to discipleship and the call of each individual to take on your "spiritual" growth which includes your commitment to Jesus Christ within the context of the church.

We are endangered, however, when we make this an absolute form of individualism called spiritualism. The word "spiritualism" comes in many forms that suits the "individual". This, in its absolute form, leads to a disconnection with creation and God's of justice. It is signaled by the masses of individuals leaving the church in her present institutional form today to find their spiritual growth elsewhere.

It is the community of the body of Christ that lives under the sign of the cross that holds the balance between individuals and institutions. The focus is on the center of the cross where Jesus died. It is pointed upward to the heavenly realm of God's rule yet firmly rooted in the earth where God's work is done. The arms of Jesus extend to embrace all as individuals and as institutions that empty themselves to his Grace and Love. When Jesus is the focus, then all of our "isms" are are transformed so it is no longer my individual "egoism" but Christ who lives in "me" and it is no longer our nationalism or our institutionalisms but the global Body of Christ, the living organism. We are grafted to Jesus just as the "branch" is grafted to the "vine".

There is no such thing as a "lone" Christian but a community known as the body of Christ. We forget what it means to be a Christian when we make the church into an absolute form that lives for its own self.

The True Christian is one who lives under the sign of the cross as one who surrenders all sense of authority and power to the one who came to us in weakness to "raise us up" to walk in a newness of life. We do not walk this alone. We walk together as one global community led by the one who was raised by God and who sits at the right hand of God with true power and authority. Only when we surrender to his Grace as individuals joined together in his body will we experience the power of the Resurrection.

We are baptized who "daily" die to our sinful self, the "isms" as individuals and as institutions and groups. We are to daily confess those sins to God and pray that the Will of God may lead us in everything we do.

I personally worship God, pray and study the scriptures on a regular basis not in order to impress my God but as the means of seeking the ways of God to be lived out in my life and the life of the church. So my worship and my prayer and my study are not just for myself but is done within the community of God's people who are also seeking out the will of God for our lives together. When we translate this on a global scale, it is the whole church on earth that seeks out together the will and purposes of God for our place and our time. Will you genuinely seek to grow under the sign of the cross by joining us regularly and frequently? It means you have to surrender your time and gifts to the glory of God. But only then will God be able to overcome our personal "isms" that direct each of our lives.


Pastor Tim





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“If any want to become my disciples, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”               Mark 8:34b-35

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