June 26, 2013 by Pastor Ben McIntire
Soon we will celebrate Independence Day, the birth of our great nation, our freedom, and our democracy. Johnny Carson who defined democracy like this: “Unlike communism, democracy does not mean having just one ineffective political party; it means having two ineffective political parties.” That’s as far as I’m gonna go about politics. But whatever you feel about the faults of our nation, I think most of you would agree with me that there’s no other country you would rather call home. This is America, we love it, and we give God thanks for the many blessings we enjoy as citizens of this nation. And as Americans, it feels like we have a lot to brag about in our great country.
I suppose that bragging and boasting are part of human nature. We boast about our children and our grandchildren. We boast about our work. We boast about our athletic accomplishments; we even boast about our favorite teams, whose success we fans have little to do with in reality. We boast about the places we’ve been and the things we’ve done. And on July 4, we boast about the United States of America.
I heard about the time when Ole first met Lars, after they had both immigrated to America. Ole was from Norway and Sven was from Sweden. Ole asked Sven, “Vhere did you come from, den?”
Sven replied, “Da greatest country in da vorld!”
And Ole says, “Dat’s funny, I’d have guessed you vere a Swede!”
It’s human to brag about your school, about your team, about your family, about your country. However in the letter to the Galatians, St. Paul says that there’s only one thing worth really boasting about and that is the cross on which Jesus Christ died. Paul writes, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)
Paul had many things about which he could have boasted. He could have boasted about his Roman citizenship, just like we think it’s wonderful to be an American citizen, in those days it was great to be a citizen of Rome because Roman citizens had special rights and privileges wherever you were in the Empire. Or he could have boasted about his religious upbringing. Nobody had a richer background in the Jewish faith than Paul. In Philippians, he notes that he was “a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee; as to zeal a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law—blameless.” But then Paul adds in this same passage, “Whichever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He could have boasted about his education because Paul studied Jewish law in Jerusalem under the famous rabbi, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). That’s like going to Harvard for the serious student of the Jewish faith. Paul was a man of extraordinary credentials and extraordinary talent. He could have boasted about many things. But quite simply he writes, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .”
In the United States, we have a nickname for tow trucks. We call them “wreckers.” But, in Great Britain they’re not called wreckers. U.K. tow trucks have one big word on the side that says “Recovery.” Isn’t that interesting? It’s the same vehicle and the same function, but a totally different perspective. We say, “There goes a wrecker.” They say, “Here comes recovery.”
The cross is all about recovery. Paul knew that, because he was one whose life had been recovered and radically changed. And so, there was only one thing that Paul bragged about though he could have boasted about many things. It was the cross upon which Christ died. The cross was an offensive symbol to the world, a sign of public humiliation and punishment; but to Paul it was everything. He knew that without the cross he would have been lost. What does the cross mean in your life? Is it a decoration, a trinket on a necklace? Or does it mean salvation? A changed life? Is it something you can brag about?
Heavenly Father, thank you for the blessings of freedom. For those with freedom in their nations, I thank you and celebrate their ability to worship You in safety. For those who are not free to show their Christian faith, I pray for change and release from oppression, and continued strength in the underground church. Help me to boast only in my freedom in Christ, that Jesus’ cross might be the sign of this costly gift that He gave to me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.