“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
You’ve probably heard the expression, “It is my cross to bear” as someone bemoans the road ahead of them. That “cross” is usually referenced as a burden of a responsibility yet to be realized, or a relationship that is particularly difficult to manage or a health issue that is troubling with uncertainty about how to treat and/or deal with the reality of it. This phrase has also been used to perpetuate abuse, keep the status quo of inequitable power structures in place, or empower an inward self-aggrandizing martyrdom meant to either impress or shame others.
None of these sentiments capture what Jesus is actually calling for us to do. To Jesus, the cross is the fulfillment of his mission by his complete handing over of himself for the sake of those he loves. As a gift given and received, the cross becomes our embodiment of agape to share – by offering that same self-sacrificial love to others without any sense of what it may cost us personally.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Discipleship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 4 [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996], 87. An older translation reads: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die”).
In “taking up our cross,” Jesus isn’t asking for us just to fill a seat in a church building for an hour when it fits our schedule. He is asking for us to love him (and the people we encounter) so recklessly that it may cost us our very lives. Cross bearing holds nothing back wherever the road ahead of us leads. Taking that cross upon ourselves is an invitation to enter the suffering of others to love them like Jesus does.
The love found at the cross is what Jesus invites you to experience, live and share. It is a gift that calls us to die so that in Christ we live.
Who do you know that could use that kind of love right now?
What are you willing to deny to follow Jesus and the love of the cross?
What is holding you back?
“(Jesus) was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan.” (Mark 1:13a)
Matthew and Luke share more details about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness than Mark does (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). In those Gospel stories, Satan openly exposes Jesus’ food insecurity, how dangerous the world could be to his personal safety, and how a compromise of his true authority could lead to a quick rise to power. In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus is defiant – directly resisting Satan’s ploys to undermine his mission.
Mark’s Gospel is always on the move; racing at breakneck speed; telling us that Jesus was tempted for forty days in one short sentence. As a reader I am left wondering if that temptation was an ongoing threat as Jesus begins calling people to “repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).
The Gospel of John doesn’t mention a temptation in the wilderness at all – yet the struggle between the darkness and the light is ever-present.
Sometimes the things that draw us away from who we are called to be and what we should be doing are blatant and require direct action and resistance. Other times the attack is ongoing and hostile; it is only through perseverance and a clarity of mission that see us out of the wilderness. Yet most of the time the struggle is subtle, in the background of our lives, present but real behind the scenes of our day to day routines and experience. These can be the most dangerous kinds of temptations where one can slip into new or bad habits that keep people (myself included) from being the version of our selves we long to be.
Lent is a good time to refocus. For some, it is a time to intentionally weed out bad habits or distractions. For others it is an opportunity to pause and reflect or take up a new practice. Whatever you decide to do across these 40 days in the wilderness, remember that Jesus is right there with you and you are not alone. We all walk together toward the cross.
Let’s encourage each other along the way.
Do you give up something or take up something for Lent? If so, what are you doing this year?
“He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” (Mark 9:6)
I have made it made known on an annual basis that Transfiguration Sunday is my least favorite day on the liturgical calendar. I’m never quite sure what to do with what I call “glow in the dark Jesus” or how to apply his revealing transformation into my own life.
It is good to know I stand in good company, because Peter, James and John do not know what to do or what to make of Jesus either. Rather than celebrate that they are witnessing something spectacular, they are terrified. Initially, Jesus is also unclear how to deal with their fear or what to say to confront their unease.
I can relate to those feelings of uncertainty – how about you?
That’s where God’s Word breaks-in – to bless and instruct them, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:7)
When we are confused, afraid, anxious and left speechless, God’s Word breaks-in to show us Jesus.
Now that’s worth celebrating!
In the midst of trouble, fear and uncertainty, how might we approach this Jesus who shines in our darkness?
Better yet, what might this Jesus (the Word made flesh who breaks-into our lives [John 1:14]) do with us?
How might you show others, Jesus breaks into their lives too?
A few weeks ago I was really struggling. It felt like all areas of my life were out of place. My wife and kids were sick, I wasn’t feeling 100%, the house was a mess and I had more than 100 emails to respond too.
I needed to get away for awhile. I felt the world closing in on me. I could not stay at home because I was reminded of all that needed to be done at the house. I could not go to the church because I knew I would get interrupted or have someone add another thing to my already long to do list.
I had to find a place to go and pray.
I got in my car, I turned it on and I sat there. I did not know where to go! If I ever have a need to connect with God I would go somewhere by myself in my house or at the church. So I started to drive. Eventually I found myself at Dunn Pond, a state park that my family frequents during the summer. It never crossed my mind to go there in the winter.
I got out of my car and I went to the water. I took a deep breath and I let the spirit encompass my entire being. Then I prayed.
There is something about the water that brought me life. I felt a connection in that moment that carried me the rest of the week.
My problems did not go away but God gave me the strength to continue and I knew that God was with me.
Do you have a place that you can go to reconnect with God?
What are some of the ways that you deal with stress in your life?
“Have you come to destroy us?” (Mark 1:24)
At some point every leader faces this question. Sometimes it is asked by detractors. Other times it is asked by a leader’s most supportive constituents. Implementing and sustaining change can be incredibly difficult, and most people resist it even when it good for them. That is probably why most New Year’s resolutions have already failed and it isn’t even February yet.
I wonder why this is.
1. Perhaps the goals of change are so far out of reach they seem impossible to achieve. For example, we often say things such as, “This year I am going to lose 50lbs” without a tangible incremental plan to get there. Rather than do what we need to do to lose the weight – we instead lose interest, undermine our best intentions and get discouraged by our inability to follow-through on what we know would be beneficial to us.
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And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1: 17- 18)
This passage becomes a rallying cry in many congregations. Jesus went to ordinary people doing ordinary things and he calls them to follow him. The amazing thing is they don’t even think about it! Immediately they drop everything and they follow Jesus.
When we read this passage we imagine ourselves as the disciples. We picture ourselves hearing Jesus’ voice and then we drop everything we have and we follow Jesus. The thought of acting like the disciples and following Jesus makes us feel faithful and committed to the mission of God.
But Jesus is not the only one who says “Follow me.” There are many people, organizations, and obligations calling out to us to follow them. Because of this we become confused and we don’t know who we should follow.
We have a choice, we can follow Jesus, and we can become excited and committed to our faith. Following Jesus gives us a mindset of abundance and we learn a practice of welcome and acceptance. Or we can follow outside influences that exclude others, have a mindset of sacristy and can tear others down.
Who are you following?
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)
It is easy to disparage somebody else’s hometown or neighborhood. It is a way to knock people down and not take them seriously without attacking them directly. People believe highly in their heritage, pedigree and credentials. We tend to rely on these things as a way of proving our worth or bolstering ourselves ahead of others. Rather than look to the content of people’s character or cultivate our own, we find it much easier to be destructive.
Jesus shows up on the scene…from Nazareth of all places. Why would anyone take him seriously? Nazareth was a small overlooked town in the backwater of the empire. It was a place no one would expect to produce anything significant or worthwhile. Nothing was expected to come from Nazareth, at least nothing good.
Yet there he is: Jesus of Nazareth.
What will people do when they encounter him? Listen? Follow? Ignore? Dismiss?
What might it take for people to take this Jesus seriously in their lives?
What might it take for us to take him seriously in ours?