Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:34-37)
By Randy Bloom, Vice-Chair Board of Directors
Faith Forward is our 2021 slogan, which focuses on the Faith Avenue of healthy church life. During this year we will focus on the “making disciples” aspect of the church’s purpose as it participates in Jesus’ life among people. Helping people become and grow as Jesus’ disciples entails helping them not only learn about Jesus but helping them mature as his followers—participating in the life of Jesus in every aspect of their lives.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve often found his words about being his disciple in Mark 8:34 a bit, well, disturbing. His words disturb the comfort and peace I have as a follower of Jesus. Jesus said his disciples “must deny themselves and take up their cross” and follow him. Jesus is talking about his followers being willing to bear grievous burdens as he has, as they experience life in him, even to the point of loss of life.
From a fundamentally human perspective, if I’m honest with myself (and I don’t think I’m alone in this), the idea of “taking up my cross” is not something I’m readily inclined to do. It is a daunting and, dare I say, frightening concept. Especially if doing so has any similarities with the way Jesus took up his cross. I am not made for such things. But more about this later.
Years ago, I read Life of the Beloved, by Henri J. M. Nouwen. He wrote about what it means to be the beloved of God, which is what we are as Jesus’ disciples. He uses the action of Jesus at his last supper, sharing the bread of communion with his disciples, as a way of helping us grasp the fullness of life we share with Jesus as his beloved disciples. Nouwen speaks of us as “the bread” that is taken, blessed, broken and given. He wrote about how we tend to love the idea of being “taken”, i.e. chosen, selected, by God, as his beloved people. We certainly revel in the idea of being blessed by God, don’t we? And being “given” by God, that is being given to the world as emissaries of his love, grace and truth, is also very appealing. But what about the “broken” part? That’s something that often gets overlooked as we celebrate the love and joy of communion. That’s the tough part of it all. Who likes the idea of being broken?
I tie being “broken” with taking up our cross. It isn’t easy. All too often this aspect of discipleship gets glossed over or tossed out (unintentionally) as a platitude. I’d like to be real about it. As I say, the idea of being “broken” with/for Jesus, taking up my cross, sounds more than a bit scary. How could it play out in real life for me? I have read many accounts of people suffering untold pain and horror as Christians. I’ve sat at the bedside of countless victims of deadly disease and accidents, trying to help them “bear their crosses.” I’ve stood at too many gravesides alongside broken grieving families. I’ve ministered to families dealing with crippling financial burdens and broken marriage and family issues.
And I can vividly recall instances in my own life when I experienced brokenness and “cross carrying.” I’m not in a hurry to relive the experiences and frankly I’m not anxious for new ones.
Yet this is what Jesus said we would experience as his disciples. We could expect it. He even indicates “cross carrying” is something we should be willing to do. What do we do with this?
Well, I do not believe we have to go looking for trouble. Plenty will come our way in the due course of life. But what we can do is remember some things when the cross-carrying/brokenness experiences come along. We can remember:
- The passages I’ve referred to (and many others) affirm God’s love for us above all. We are his beloved. No matter what happens to us, no matter what we do to ourselves, no matter what we do to others, God always loves us.
- Jesus is with us in all our experiences. He has lived through them and knows what it is like to be broken and to carry the ultimate cross. He understands the pain we are enduring. He knows how hard it is for us and he ensures we do not live the experience alone.
- There is redemption in all our sufferings. We learn from them. We grow deeper into Christ, experiencing more of his life because we are sharing in his sufferings as he shares in ours.
As I said earlier, I’m not made for carrying crosses or being broken. But I have to remember that Jesus was “made” for it (Hebrews 2:9-10). And it is in him that I can deal with whatever comes my way. My life isn’t my own. I live and breathe and have my being in him—and so do you. My life and yours is his. And that is why you and I can bear whatever cross we have with faith and hope. Because of him we are and always will be his disciples. As you carry your cross, remember: though you may not carry it well, and there will be many times you do not, you are never separated from God or out of favor with him. You will never carry your cross alone. He carries it for you as he carries it with you. That is why he says that this is what you will do as his disciple.