Like an old tin pirate’s toy chest with a rounded top. Not every pastor with an AARP card can boast of having one in his office, but mine sits under the window across from my desk. I can still recall the day in 1965 when my parents bought it at the old White Front store in Sacramento, California. Leaving the store, I cried because they didn’t buy me the Bible I’d seen there. Dad turned the car around and went back inside for that white Bible with the gold zipper. Yeah, I still have it, too. First Bible I ever owned. And the only white one.
I’ve got some unlikely treasures.
One that I hold closest is hard to explain. If you’ve got one like it, you will immediately recognize it by my description. But if you don’t, I’m not sure I can make you comprehend its value.
This treasure you can’t see, but I take it everywhere I go. My parents and pastors and Sunday School teachers all helped me shape it, but it never belonged to either of them. It was designed exclusively for me.
It requires a lot of my time. If I don’t hold it every day, it begins to feel a bit awkward and cumbersome. If I ignore it for a while, I forget how much it cost, and the treasure it holds.
This unlikely treasure, this unseen prize, is my cross.
Not a shiny silver one dangling from a chain around my neck. Not a carved wooden one decorating my wall. Mine is just as real as those, but you can’t see or touch it.
But I can.
Its timbers rub rough against my hands and heavy on my shoulder as I navigate life’s path, its weight an unlikely comfort like the heavy quilts on Grandma’s winter bed. But it’s not its comfort that I yearn for, neither does its uniqueness make it priceless. What few know about this cross, and what makes it an unlikely treasure, is it is a key to a whole new world.
Surprised? So was I!
All my life, I’ve been told what Jesus said. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” All my life, I thought that was a command.
But it wasn’t a command. It was an invitation. An invitation to a brand new world. And it’s the cross that gets you in.
Plenty of folks are willing to let Jesus save them, but His invitation was not just about escaping hell. It was a call for radical change. To leave fishing and tax collecting businesses to become fishers of men. To trade the secure and predictable for the unknown and uncharted. To make His work our work. To lose our lives in His.
It’s the cross that gives meaning to that call.
He who saves his life shall lose it. He who loses his life will save it. The first shall be last. The greatest shall be the servant of all.
None of that, without the cross, makes sense.
Not everybody wants their own cross. That Jesus had one is enough for them. To try to carry one, others claim, is to insult grace.
But I felt compelled to try. What I thought was a sacrifice became a doorway into a relationship that deepens every day. The cross that I thought was intended to keep me from certain places and things, was designed for just the opposite: to provide access into God’s inner sanctum.
My cross reminds me that it was His cross that made it all possible.
Some may think it an unlikely treasure, but I’ve found my cross to be the one most prized.
God laid upon my back a grievous load,
A heavy cross to bear along the road.
I staggered on and lo! one weary day,
An angry lion sprang across my way.
I prayed to God, and swift at His command
The cross became a weapon in my hand.
It slew my raging enemy, and then
Became a cross upon my back again.
I faltered many a league, until at length,
Groaning I fell, and had no further strength.
“O God,” I cried, “I am so weak and lame!”
Then straight my cross a winged staff became.
It swept me on till I regained the loss,
Then leaped upon my back, again a cross.
I reached a desert, o’er the burning track
I persevered, the cross upon my back.
No shade was there, and in the cruel sun
I sank at last and thought my days were done.
But lo! the Lord works many a blest surprise –
The cross became a tree before my eyes!
I slept; I woke, to feel the strength of ten.
I found the cross upon my back again.
And thus through all my days from that to this,
The cross, my burden, has become my bliss.
Nor ever shall I lay the burden down,
For God some day will make the cross a crown.