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I had been running away my whole life. The Lord had been working on my heart but I kept on running. Then one night I found my way to a little church in the city. I had been out walking for hours when I came to its front door. It was unlocked and I stepped cautiously through. I found my way in the darkness and sat in the front pew. I looked up at the altar. Moonlight shone through the window and lit up a simple, wooden cross.
I had heard that message a thousand times before, but this night it was like a beacon of light in the dim light of that church, as if the cross itself was speaking just to me. I felt a burden lift from my heart. Tears filled my eyes and I knelt down and wept. At that moment I accepted the Lord and was saved. Saved forever.
I spent a long time in that pew, gazing at that cross. I felt my life change and I left that church a new creation.
The next few weeks were wonderful. I made a new start in so many ways. I often went back to that little church in the evenings and looked up at that simple cross from the front pew, just like I had that first night.
One evening I was joined in the pew by a middle-aged man. He prayed a little and then turned to me.
"You've just been saved, haven't you?" he said warmly.
"Yes," I replied. "Is it that obvious?"
He chuckled. Then he gave me a hug. "Welcome to the Kingdom," he said.
"Thanks," I replied, and I felt warm, knowing I was part of such a fellowship of believers.
"Where do you go to church?" he asked.
"No place right now," I said. "A friend invited me to his church Sunday morning. I think I'll go there."
The man frowned. "Let me show you something," he said. He brought out his Bible and began to read me verses, lots of verses. Then he produced a pamphlet that talked about the Sabbath. There seemed to be some question about whether the Sabbath was really on Sunday, or had actually been intended to be on Saturday, just like in the Old Testament.
"You see," he said, "God intended us to worship on Saturday. The sign of real Christians is that they worship on God's Sabbath, not man's. Your friend's church is probably well-intentioned, but they are in error. Look it up for yourself."
He handed me the pamphlet. "Take this and study it. The address to my church is on the back. We'd love to see you there this Saturday. In the meantime, I'll leave something here for you, to remind you of what is important."
He pulled something out of his coat pocket. It was a banner, which said in big, blue letters, 'SATURDAY SABBATH.' He reached into another pocket and pulled out some tacks and a small hammer. He walked up to the cross and tacked the sign on one of the crossbeams.
"See, that's better," he said. "Now when you gaze up here you can know the truth."
After the man left I pocketed the pamphlet and again gazed up at the simple cross. The banner hung a little crookedly, and covered some of the wood, but the cross was still beautiful.
The following week was hectic as usual, and I found the need to return to the little church. Coming to that simple cross could calm me down, no matter what. I sat in the front pew and looked up. The banner was still there. As I was praying, a woman strolled by the altar, carrying some flowers. She stopped in front of me.
"New believer, huh?"
nodded my head.
"Welcome to the Lord's house," she said, and her voice sounded like music.
"Thank you," I answered.
She sat down next to me. "Let me say a prayer for you." She proceeded to pray, and I prayed with her, feeling the warm presence of God's love. I finished and gazed up at the cross. She continued to pray. After a while she switched to a tongue I didn't recognize.
"What is that language?" I asked.
She stopped and smiled. "I am speaking in tongues," she said. "Have you spoken in tongues yet?"
"I don't think so," I answered.
"Oh, but you must. That is the sign of a real Christian. It's God's language, a most wonderful thing."
She explained how she was able to speak in a tongue, and how I might achieve the same thing.
"I tell you what," she said encouragingly. "You work on it and I'm sure you'll be able to do it before long. Then you'll see the light. In the meantime, I will leave something here to remind you."
She produced a banner. It simply said 'TONGUES' in big, red letters. She walked up to the cross and tacked it up on the crossbeam opposite the other banner. She waved to me and left.
I tried to make my tongue form words it hadn't formed before. Nothing happened. I tried some more. Still nothing. Finally I went back to looking at my cross, feeling a little bit frustrated. The shape of the cross was becoming obscured by the banners, but I knew there was simple wood underneath. I calmed down.
Two weeks later I was back. The banners were still up there on the cross, but I guessed it was good I should be reminded of important things. I prayed for a while and watched the cross.
A man in a nice business suit sat down in the pew behind me.
"Just recently sanctified?" he asked.
I wasn't sure what that meant, but I nodded my head anyway.
"Praise the Lord," he said.
"Praise the Lord," I answered.
He asked me for my testimony. I told him a few things about my life, how I had been running away from the Lord for so long. I told him about a night in a bar when a stranger had witnessed to me, and how what he said had stayed with me, even though it had been a year later before I finally came into this little church and saw the cross. I told him how I wished I knew that stranger's name, because I would love to thank him now.
"That's wonderful," the man in the suit said, and he put his hand upon my shoulder. "It's a wonderful thing that that fellow risked his soul for you by going into such an evil place."
"Of course. The bar. Christians have no business in a bar. They must abstain from alcohol altogether." He produced a Bible and read me some verses.
"Well, now that you're saved," he said, "I'm sure this won't be a problem for you any more. The Spirit has set you free from all of that. But just in case, I'll leave you a reminder on this cross here."
He produced a sign that said 'NO ALCOHOL' in bold, orange letters, and tacked it up to the center beam of the cross. "There," he said. "That's better." He smiled and walked away.
I went back to gazing at the cross, but it didn't calm me as much as it had in the past. I figured I must be just tired, and I stood up. I glanced at the cross one more time over my shoulder as I walked down the aisle towards the front door. I shook my head and left.
In the next weeks I went back less and less. Each time I went, someone would come along and tack up another banner. Pretty soon there were banners of all types draping the cross, overlapping each other and shouting their words until there was just a jumble of paper. There was a banner that said 'NO AMPLIFIED MUSIC.' Another said 'SUITS AND TIES ONLY.' Yet another said 'APPROVED LITURGY A MUST.' And on and on.
I stopped coming altogether. My life settled into a routine and I didn't feel the need to come there anyhow. I could get by just fine. I was saved, after all.
I began to feel sad most of the time, and pressures built inside of me. Finally, late one night, I could no longer resist the need to go to that little church. I had to come to the cross.
I walked down the aisle of the church and saw that all the banners were still there, tacked to the cross. I sat down in the front pew. Well, I told myself, I guess all those rules are important, and if I study them long enough, I can become a good Christian.
I stared at the banners. I said their words aloud, over and over. My mind was muddled, as muddled as all those banners hanging there. Finally, in frustration, I closed my eyes. I began to pray.
I must have prayed for an hour that night. As I prayed, a picture formed in my head. It was a picture of a cross - a simple, wooden cross, with an even simpler message. I remembered how that message had sounded to me, the first night I had seen my cross, in this very church.
I opened my eyes. The banners fluttered in a soft breeze and the sound was loud in the quiet little church. I stood up on shaky legs.
Slowly, I walked up to the altar. I reached out my hand and then pulled it back. I reached out again and touched one of the banners; I don't remember now which one it was. I grabbed a piece of it and pulled, tearing the paper. I saw wood underneath - beautiful, simple wood. I grabbed a larger piece in my fist and pulled as hard as I could. There was a loud ripping sound as the whole banner came away in my hand. I crumbled it up and tossed it aside. I grabbed another banner and tore it to shreds. Pretty soon I was ripping and tearing like a madman, until there were no banners left. Crumpled paper was scattered all over the floor like snow. I gathered it all up in a big ball and threw it down the aisle as hard as I could.
I turned back to the cross. Moonlight shone through the window on the simple, rough-hewn wood. It was again the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I touched the cross gently and fell to my knees. Tears filled my eyes.
"Thank you, Lord," I whispered, and I prayed that everyone could see the cross this way - simple and so very beautiful. I stayed on my knees that night for a very long time.
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