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The Guy on the Middle Cross

Did I ever tell you about the time I attended a rodeo as a bull rider?

For exactly one semester, I lived with a rodeo guy. He was a great friend, but we were pretty different. I grew up out in the country, but rodeo wasn’t something we did. My roommate claimed he was born in a rodeo clown barrel. He had been a bareback bronc rider since he was little, and I eventually learned he was really quite good.

He was determined to get me to a rodeo. Once I finally agreed to go, he couldn’t stand the thought of me attending a rodeo wearing my baseball workout clothes. So, I had been properly outfitted with a spare pearl snap shirt, dirty jeans, boots with spurs, cowboy hat, and a rodeo belt buckle the size of a trashcan lid.

We were about 30 miles away from a rodeo in Childress, TX, when the thought crossed my mind that it might cost money to get in. My bronc riding companion assured me I could get in with him through the back where all the competitors came in. He was right…mostly.

As we approached the back entrance, we were met by a gruff looking cowboy with a clipboard. My roommate stated his name and then said “bareback broncs.” The cowboy scribbled on his clipboard and then looked up at me. It was at this moment that I felt my soul slip away from my body and then these words came out of my mouth: “Chris Craig. Bull rider.”

One side of the cowboy’s mouth broke into a smile as his eyes turned to my friend. My roommate’s expression instantly turned to bewilderment as he burst out laughing. Once he caught his breath, he said, “He’s with me.” The old cowboy looked me up and down, shaking his head with an expression that told me he was resisting an outburst of laughter himself, and said, “Good luck, bull rider.”

Like many of you, this past week I’ve done a lot of thinking and reading about the events leading up to Jesus’ victory over death. One of my take-aways is the bit about the criminals on the crosses next to Jesus. You can read about it in Luke 23.

The first criminal challenged Jesus, essentially asking Jesus to prove himself by saving both himself and the criminals. The other criminal rebuked this challenge and asked to be remembered when Jesus came into His kingdom. Jesus told the second criminal that he would be with him in paradise.

I’m amazed at the words and perspective of the criminal that asked to be remembered. I assume his pain was considerable, remorse overwhelming. Death was near. Completely aware of who he was, what he’d done, and what he deserved, he didn’t ask for rescue but rather to be remembered.

I have no idea why, “Chris Craig. Bull rider,” came out of my mouth. I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess in the moment I assumed I needed to have a better answer. “I’m with the bronc rider,” didn’t strike me as enough.

I suspect if that second criminal found himself standing at the gates to eternity, getting looked up and down by the gruff cowboy, Saint Peter, he’d say something like, “I’m with the guy on the middle cross.”

He’s all we need.

Grace to you,

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