A court ordered mandate enforced the removal of a cross from the top of a Christmas tree in Indiana this week. The man that filed the lawsuit said it caused him “irreparable harm”. Just seeing the cross as he drove was a source of “unwelcome contact.” It was so unwelcome by him that he went through legal proceedings to have it removed. Imagine the harm Jesus actually endured on the cross for you, for me, and for the man insisting the cross be removed. Jesus is so gracious. His response to the man would be something like, “Father forgive him, for he knows not what he is doing.” He’s way more grace filled than I am. I can think of a lot more colorful, defensive, self-righteous responses. But, thank you Jesus for the Holy Spirit, which enables us to do what we can not do on our own strength. Often He helps us do and say nothing. Phew! Keeping our mouths closed takes divine intervention.😉
The thought of us “not knowing what we are doing” percolated through my mind as I considered the cross. My first thought was, Jesus how can you claim that we don’t know what we are doing? I mean seriously, did the Roman guards not know it was barbaric to beat you, whip you, hurl insults at you, while leading you to a torturous death on the cross? How could they not know??? How brainless did they have to be not to know that kind of behavior is wrong….even if you weren’t the Son of God? But you were…and they did. And Jesus, seriously, how can that man not know getting a court order to remove a small cross from a big tree is…wrong…and lame? Oh, but then the conviction set in. In the words of John Bradford, “There but for the grace of God, go I”.
The thing is, there was a time I was completely blinded to the truth….spiritually blind. I remember rolling my eyes at Christian friends as a teen; laughing at their pursuit of this unknown God. The cross carried no value for me until I met Jesus. In fact, I was agitated by it and felt antagonist toward it…though there was no rational explanation for my feelings. I truly did not know what I was doing.
Even while walking with Jesus, I’ve gotten lost along the journey, and needed Him to set me back on track. I get uncomfortable with the cross too, like the man in the article. It confronts my own behavior, selfishness, judgements and offenses. So much about the cross makes me uncomfortable, but the Bible says to pick up our crosses and follow Him.
When we carry our crosses, we can’t carry much else. There was so much love demonstrated on His cross, such selflessness. At times I’m so overwhelmed by His love that I’m eager to pick mine up. Other days, I’m ashamed to admit, I’d rather remove the cross from the tree, so I can focus on how offended I feel, how wrong someone else is, and throw myself a little pity party. Yet, Jesus so willingly gave it all for me and you, that there isn’t room for petty offenses, grudges, or self-righteous behavior in light of His love. Though my humanness tries to persuade me to speak out, get angry, push back when offended, I can lay the offense down knowing He called me to a different way of living; to carry my cross.
How do you handle the offenses of others? It’s going to happen, a lot, especially this time of year. Christmas can bring about lots of expectations while visiting with family; fuel for big offenses to occur. We have in our minds how things should be, people should speak and behave. Here’s what I know for sure; an offense + a defense = a relational train wreck. If we choose to get defensive and offended by every offense we encounter, we are headed to a very un-merry Christmas.
Our closest friends and family can often feel like our biggest offenders, since their opinions tend to carry greater value than strangers or acquaintances. Great expectations can leave us feeling greatly offended. We expect that they are going to speak and behave differently than last year, but they don’t. We expect they will offer concern, care, or even just a little kindness to us, wrong again. We expect everyone will get along, enjoying all the food and festivities, much of which took weeks to prepare, but that awkward tension remains….it’s like cutting through caramel, only not as sweet. 😬
I’ve felt offended and unknowingly have offended family and friends more times than can be remembered. Unfortunately, I have a pretty good memory, so offenses can often be churned again and again in my mind, leaving a curdled mess in my heart. Nothing good comes from sour thinking.
Jesus set an amazing example for us when it comes to feeling offended. He laid down his life for us while we were still sinners. Think about how offended and defensive He could have been. He was perfect, and yet constantly accused. He offended people by loving them, healing them, working on his day off, caring for the marginalized in society, waiting on His Father’s timing, and claiming to be who He was….God. The gossip train was out of control when Jesus walked the earth, and yet, Jesus refused to hop on. He did not get defensive, wasting energy on what wouldn’t change. He stayed on course; headed toward His Father’s will; a pain filled, arduous journey that no one else could endure. His love fueled that train which lead to His death as He welcomed the cross.
Are you prepared for the possible “unwelcome contact” you might have with family over the next couple of weeks? Will you collide with your offenders, offering up defenses, finding flaw in them, hurling insults, withdrawing emotionally, or starting your own gossip train? There’s a better way. Offer grace, offer forgiveness, offer Jesus in those moments. It will keep you on track and you will be blessed beyond the circumstance by remaining close to the conductor of your soul. You’re bound to have moments of feeling offended this Christmas…just remember the cross atop of the tree. He is why we celebrate. Let Him be why you forgive, offer grace, and understanding. The offense is just a blip on your travel plans. Offer your loved ones the greatest gift, His unconditional love. They don’t need your stuff, wrapped in pretty packaging. They need His grace and if you know Him, you have it to give. Let’s carry our crosses into Christmas. You can do all things through Him!
Luke 23:34~Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Matt. 16:24~Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
1Peter 4:8~Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Proverbs 19:11~Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.