Here is October’s article that I wrote for the Multnomah Voice. I hope you enjoy!
Johnny & Paul & You & Me
Most people don’t know that the Apostle Paul and Johnny Cash actually have a lot in common. For one thing, Paul had his life changing experience on the road to Damascus. Johnny had his while lying in the road, in front of Hank Williams’ house. Also, both had to fight the stigma of being named Sue (Saul , of course, being the Anglicization of Paul’s real name.) And, even though Paul’s Live from Herod’s Praetorium never sold as well as Johnny’s Live from Folsom Prison, both men did appear on one of Billy Graham’s Christmas specials. Finally, both Paul and Johnny Cash lived in the shadow of charismatic figures, Jesus and Elvis, who died tragic deaths and left behind controversial relics, the Shroud of Turin and Lisa Marie Presley, respectively.
I’m only kidding, of course. But Paul and Johnny really do have something in common: both found their primary identity in following Christ and bore, in one way or another, the marks of Christ’s crucifixion. Paul tells us in the second of his letters to the Corinthians that “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:7b-12)
So, Paul tells them that he and his companions considered their sufferings, as well as the scars, literal and figurative, that resulted, to be a sign of their solidarity with Christ and their participation in His new life. Jesus turned himself over to death and in doing so entered into eternal life. In the same way, when Paul submits to the many struggles, trials and pains of a life of following Jesus, he is submitting to the Lord Himself, who then brings Paul into participation in the joys and glories of eternal life with Christ in Heaven. Paul knew, because of Jesus’ example, that the only way to life was through death and so he wore the marks of crucifixion and death proudly “for Jesus’ sake.”
Johnny Cash famously wore nothing but black clothes. In his song “Man in Black” he explains that he wears it to remind the world of “the poor and beaten down,” “those who’ve never read or listened to the words that Jesus said,” “the sick and lonely old,” “the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold” and “the lives that could have been” (a reference to soldiers lost in fighting in Vietnam). So, Johnny Cash too wore on his own body the marks of the suffering of the world and the need for redemption through Christ. He showed immediately to everyone who met him his solidarity with Christ and his identification with those who suffer.
Cash wore his black suits, Paul suffered public persecution and everyone saw that he “carr[ied] in [his] body the death of Jesus.” How then, I began asking myself recently, am I showing my crucifixion and new life with Jesus in my body and in my daily life? Would someone I see in my day-to-day life think of me as someone who is “being given over to death for Jesus’ sake” or “carrying off a little darkness on my back”? The answer, without a doubt, is no. So, the question I am asking myself in this season, and which I encourage you to ask yourself, is “How am I being crucified daily with Christ and how I am participating in his eternal life? How is how I live commiserating with or alleviating the suffering of others for and through Jesus?”