Take Up Your Cross

crossWhen we think of taking up a cross, we often think of Mrs. Martha saying that her recent battle with the flu is her cross. Or perhaps, we think of musicians peddling snazzy shirts and necklaces of the symbol of death. But is this what Jesus meant when he commanded us in Mark 8:34  to “take up our cross.” Is taking up our cross nothing more than patiently bearing with life’s disappointment while engaging in some Christian marketing?

I think it is more. I think being a Christian, having true faith, and being a real follower entails more than the above definition.  To take up our cross, we must be willing to radically and to practically live our life for Christ joyfully bearing all the reproaches, condemnation, and attacks of men.

To understand more about what taking up our cross means, we need to peak back a few verses. In Mark 8:31 Jesus says he will die on the cross because, “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the scribes.” Jesus’ death was a direct result of his obedience to God. Jesus was not talking about all the aches and pains that all experience in this life. He was talking about the persecution that we would face if we deny ourselves.

If we deny ourselves and pursue Christ, we too will suffer. As Jesus said in John 15:20:

Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.

We may miss great job promotion because we desire to honor our marriage vows. We may not be invited to the family summer vacation because we want to obey God by avoiding drunkenness. And our kids may get benched because we value hearing the word of God preached more than the 3 spot in the order. Bearing a cross means that we embrace the cost of following Jesus. Bearing the cross means we are willing to be rejected and mocked by our peers. Bearing the cross means we are willing to live radically obedient lives even if we may lose our life in the process.

And Jesus’ initially hearers clearly grasped this reality. They saw the cross not as an ordinary part of life. They did not view it as an accessory. The saw it for what it was: a vile instrument of torture and death. The crowds had seen the Romans execute thousands upon thousands of Jews with the long nails and wooden planks. Jesus’ hears had watched their fellow Jews slowly die from affixation after days of agony. They knew Jesus was not calling them to endure the normal hardships of life well. They knew Jesus was calling them to deny themselves up to the point of death. They knew Jesus demanding their all.

Are we willing to radically follow Jesus? Are we willing to daily die to ourselves? Are we willing to sacrifice earthly comfort, our success, and our worldly hopes for the gospel? Are we persecuted for our faith?

Again, I do not think that every day of our life will be marked by suffering for the gospel. Our lives could be this way. We have many brothers and sisters who daily face death because of their commitment to Christ. The persecution we may come our sister, our fellow PTA members, or from a recreational softball team.  The question is this: Do we face any persecution or is our life so in line with the world that we never stand out?

3 Truths From Bunyan That Will Help Our Kids Survive Today’s Intolerant Culture:

religious-intoleration-blogGod never intended for our religion to be a personal, private thing. Yet, we are increasingly told by our society to make it so. Our kids are told to avoid prayer and religious conversation. What is good in the home is now deemed evil when it becomes public discourse. Talking of Christ is deemed to be divisive and hurtful by our culture.

How do we respond? Do we encourage our kids to obey their authorities? Or do we encourage them to rebel and protest?

The pastor and theologian, John Bunyan, faced a similar complaint several hundred years before us. He was encouraged by the legal system of his day to keep his religious beliefs within the confines of his “family.” When he refused to keep his religion to himself, Bunyan was thrown into jail. From his life and testimony, we can learn three things about how to respond to lack of religious toleration in the 21st Century.

1. What is good for the home is good for all:

The soul that clings to Christ will increasingly become more loving, kind, patient, and caring. And since talking about God and the Bible helps knit our souls and character ever closer to God’s Word, we must make it a point to talk of Jesus in our home. And since it is good for us to talk of Jesus in our home, we must be willing to talk about him in our school. Does this mean that everyone will like us? No. Does this mean some will be offended at our words? Yes. But if we truly believe God’s Word has life within it and that it possesses the power to change people for their and our society’s good, then we must share it with others even when teachers and lawmakers tell us not to speak. As Bunyan said,

If it was lawful to do good to some, it was lawful to do good to more. If it was good duty to exhort families, it was a good to exhort others.

2. Don’t hold anyone captive:

Bunyan spoke boldly for Christ. Some estimate that thousands of people would come to hear the tinker’s sermons, which were often delivered in a barn or field. But Bunyan was very clear. He did not force anyone to listen to him. He was gracious to all. As he told his judges,

I shall not force or compel any man to hear me; but yet if I come into any place where there is a people met together, I should according to the best of my skill and wisdom, exhort and counsel them to seek of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the salvation of their souls.

In short, Bunyan did not attack anyone with the Bible. If they would not hear him, he left them alone. But if they would hear him, he would boldly proclaim Christ. We too must respect the wishes of others. If they ask us to let them be, if they ask us to stop sharing Christ, and if they tell us no thank you, we must respect their wishes. But if they will hear us, we must preach Christ. We should always be ready to preach and counsel like Bunyan was. But we must never force anyone to hear us against their will.

3. We must remember our allegiance is to Christ:

If we stand on the gospel, we will not be popular with all people. They will ask us to stop even our respectful communication of truth. Our kids very well may be threatened with bad grades, expulsion from school, or banishment from the starting roster. But when the time comes, we must stand with Christ. This world and all its honors are passing away. If we conform our faith to the will of those around us, we will deny Christ and find only despair. But if we cling to Christ as Bunyan did and experience our own prison sentence, we can trust that God will take care of us. As Bunyan wrote,

Let the rage and malice of men be never so great, they can do no more, nor go any further, than God permits them; but when they have done their worst, We know all things shall work together for good to them that love God.

Our allegiance first and foremost must be to Christ. Are you and your kids ready to follow Him?

Are We Being Honest With Our Kids?

girl blog picBelieving in Jesus and making a confession of faith is super easy! Truly, all we have to do is confess Christ with our lips and believe in our heart that Jesus is Lord. When I became a child of God sixteen years ago, I did exactly what Paul wrote in Romans 10:9. I got on my knees, repented of my sins, and began following Christ!  

But salvation is also a ridiculously hard thing. To become a Christian requires us to die to self and to willing embrace the reproach of Christ. No one can do this apart from the work of God! When we present the gospel to our children, we need to present all of it including the hard truths.

Yes, believing in Jesus will give our kids unimaginable joy, hope, and peace. It will give them eternal life and the ability to do good things. But claiming Jesus will also cost our kids a lot. They have to stop cheating at school, stealing candy, and (yes, worst of all) they have to start loving their brother. They also have to start proclaiming Christ to a world that will degrade, attack, and hate them. In the United States (not to mention worldwide persecution), chaplains are being disciplined for speaking against premarital sex, television hosts are being fired for publicly endorsing the Bible, and college students are being denied the freedom to worship on college campuses. Faith, God, and Jesus are no longer popular terms in America. And we shouldn’t be too surprised. Jesus told this would happen, “because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). We need to be honest with our kids. Faith is costly. 

I love meeting with kids to talk about how God is working in their life. Such conversations are the highlight of my ministry. But as we talk about following Christ into the waters of baptism, I always want to make sure they know that the way to Christ is profoundly simple, and yet extremely costly.

Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple – Luke 14:33