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“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

January, 2018

Chef and restaurant owner Kaiser Lashkari operates Himalaya, one of the best and most popular Pakistani restaurants in Houston, TX. After he visited, superstar chef Anthony Bourdain became a fan.

Beyond Lashkari’s samosas, nan, kababs, biryanis, curries, and his charm as a host, the restaurant has another striking feature, a huge painting of a Latin market scene that covers an entire wall. It’s a remnant of the space’s previous days as a Colombian restaurant. The painting includes a cross as part of an archway.

Lashkari explains that, “In Islam, you can’t remove a picture that has a cross in it. That was my wife’s understanding. . . . And she said. ‘Don’t ever remove this.’ And this restaurant became very lucky for us. We, from being hand to mouth, we became self-sufficient, so this proved to be a lucky painting. Plus, this was a colorful painting and it was all we could afford at the time. So we want to keep it and we want to keep the cross as long as I’m alive and kicking.”

I don’t know whether Lashkari’s wife is correct but his refusal to remove a cross should be an example to us. Hebrews 9:22 says “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (NRSV). In Old Testament times, “the shedding of blood” was accomplished by sacrificing and slaughtering animals. People gave up—“sacrificed”—something valuable to them in order to show penitence. But for us as Christians, blood represents Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

There are some Christians who are very clear about everything leading to the cross. You can hear it in sermons: “He was born in a manger—and then he grew up and died on a cross!” These are people who apparently aren’t interested in how Jesus lived or what he did, only in the manner of his death. But Jesus had a remarkable birth, lived a remarkable life, and died a truly horrible death. Every moment of his life brought him closer to the cross—and to the resurrection beyond it.

We’ve just celebrated Jesus’ birth but we can never forget that his birth was the beginning of a life that led to his death on a cross, and the amazing, incredible resurrection that followed. Without the cross there is no atonement for sins and without the resurrection there is no hope. If we attempt to remove the cross, we fail to acknowledge our helplessness to overcome our sin. Jesus told a would-be follower, “‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9:62 NRSV).

Paul wrote that “. . . the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18 NRSV). Those who don’t share our faith “don’t get it” when it comes to the place the cross holds in our faith. To them, it’s just another symbol or decoration like the cross in the painting on Kaiser Lashkari’s wall. But as far as we know, Jesus spent his entire adult life looking toward the cross. We don’t know how much he knew about his destiny but he could probably see the cross in the distance as surely as a runner sees the finish line (Luke 22:41-42). And the cross must be our destination as well. Paul wrote to his friend Timothy that, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, . . .” (2 Tim. 4:7-8a ESV).

If we “run the race” as people who have the cross before us, it will make a difference how we run, and others will see. If we remain focused on the cross, we can point the way, as long as we’re “alive and kicking.” Everything we do and say will reflect the reality of our savior, Jesus. He nailed our sin to the cross (Col. 2:14) so that we can live as forgiven people, purchased by his blood (Acts 20:28, 1 Cor. 6:20, Gal. 3:13).

“The world behind me, the cross before me;
 the world behind me, the cross before me;
 the world behind me, the cross before me;
 no turning back, no turning back.” (“I Have Decided To Follow Jesus,” vs. 4.)

Copyright © 2017 by David Phelps