“Take Up” not Roll!
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. – Luke 9:23-26 (NIV)
I saw him the other day while getting my exercise…. You’ve probably seen him or someone who has a similar commitment… a “disciple” who was taking this text literally and walking with a literal, wooden cross. This one looked to be made of landscape timbers, but I’ve seen them made of a lot of different stock. And usually these folks are on some sort of promotional trek or a spiritual pilgrimage… maybe to a particular place to make a statement or to sort out some sort of life crisis. Maybe it’s a walk across the US or their state to signify their desire to see the land be reclaimed for their version or understanding of God’s purpose.
Mind you, even though I may find this practice to “showy” for my taste and a little misguided, I am not belittling this man or any other person who has taken up a literal cross and tried to make this world a better place in Christ’s name. After all, I like to think that this is one of the reasons I do what I do!
But… If you’re gonna take up your cross and bear the burden for Jesus, so to speak, you might rethink putting the wheel on back end. I mean the symbolism you’re trying to invoke of being like Jesus and bearing the burden of another is lost when you have a modern wheel carrying most of the load and a pad on your shoulder! Jesus didn’t have a wheel to help Him carry the load… and the image He uses in His discourse focuses on we as disciples picking up the burden of the cross… not on figuring out some way to ease that burden.
But then again… without being too cynical… maybe this is a picture of modern Christianity or even of the American Church. We’re willing to make a show of picking up the cross, but we want to use modern convenience to make the burden a bit lighter, the task less difficult. No need to actually visit the sick and risk infection or endure the awkwardness of encountering not only the mortality of the patient but also our own. You can just Facebook an emoticon to show you care? Or why actually prepare food for the homeless and interact with them personally when you can just give them a gift card to McDonalds? It’s still a witness.
But then, beyond the burden of this social ministry we are called to engage as His church… His followers, there is the way the church engages our proclamation of the Gospel. Why bother to take time to share with others personally what your faith in Him has meant to you and your understanding of the life-giving love of Christ when you can simply put an icthus (fish) on your car, wear a piece of jewelry shaped like a cross or a Christian T-shirt? The gospel is readily available in our modern culture, after all. There’s a Gideon Bible in every motel room and lots of information on the internet (it’s such a reliable source and sooo convenient!).
Okay, maybe I’m a little bit cynical!
Yet, while I may be stepping on the toes of the modern, American church, I fully recognize that I am also pointing out the log in my own eye… the log in the eye of every believer since Peter’s confession of Jesus and response to Christ’s sharing His impending sacrifice… “Surely not Lord… Surely this will never happen to you” (Matt 16:23).
We want to believe that being a follower of Jesus does not have to be that difficult or that inconvenient.
But Christ Himself tells us, that it is.
Jesus tells us that if we are to follow Him, we must pick up our cross… give up our own desires… and follow Him. But He also says that when we do this, we will not only discover Him, but that we will find the fullness of Life that only He can give.
Prayer: Lord, the last thing I want is to pick up a cross, another burden, another task. But even more than this, Lord, I don’t want to lose the precious gift of LIFE that you have given. So, help me to follow you: faithfully, fearlessly and fully. Help me to pick up my cross. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran