Jesus said that if we are to truly be His disciple we are to “take up our cross daily and follow Him” (Luke 9:23). But what does that mean?
To understand that, we need to understand the meaning of the cross in that time and culture.
The cross has lost most of its original meaning today. It is shrouded in religiousness and mystery. It has become many things, from a religious icon to fashion element.
When we see the cross today, it is a symbol of faith, particularly the Christian faith.
But in the time when Jesus made that statement, He had not yet died on the cross. So, in its original context, the cross was a symbol of death.
In fact, it was the symbol of a very cruel death. The Romans reserved it for the worst criminals. It was a form of torture and humiliation, ultimately leading to a long and painful death.
A radical symbol
Why would He use the cross to illustrate what it meant to follow Him?
Jesus intentionally used a gruesome symbol to get the people’s attention. He did this to say that following Him was not “child’s play.” It is not a game and it is not easy. In fact, it will cost you to follow Him as a disciple.
But, on the other hand, it will cost you more not to follow Him.
What is the cross we are to bear?
What does it mean to “bear the cross” today?
Often, we hear people say that they have a “cross” to bear. They will say, “My cross is my parents!” Their parents would probably say, “Our cross is our children!”
They identify whatever problem or obstacle they have as their “cross to bear.” But that is not what the cross means.
To bear the cross is to die to self
The cross symbolizes one thing: dying to self.
It really is a paradox: by “dying to self,” or “losing your self,” you “find yourself.” Through death, you find real life.
What does it mean to “die to self?” So much could be said, but allow me to give you a few practical examples of how this would work in day-to-day living.
- To bear the cross means forgiving, instead of harboring that grudge.
- It means resisting that temptation to do what everybody else does.
- It means not having sex before marriage, and being faithful to your spouse after.
- It means putting down the remote control and picking up your Bible.
- It means praying when you would rather be sleeping.
- It means “swallowing your pride” and telling someone about Jesus.
- It means doing what God wants you to do, instead of what you want to do.
Now let me ask you, “Are you dying to yourself and taking up the cross?”
The fact is, when we do this, we experience joy and overflowing life!
Paul summed it up well when he wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
We have all heard the expression, “You need to get a life!”
Well, Jesus would put it another way. He would, in effect say, “You need to lose your life if you want to find it!”
I am talking about the topic of discipleship in my blog this week. So far, we’ve already seen that the disciple must love God more than anyone or anything else.
Here is the second requirement of being disciple.
2. The disciple must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus.
Luke 14:27 says, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
Elsewhere in Luke’s Gospel, He says, “If anyone desires to come after Me [that is, if anyone would be His disciple], let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).
God’s trade-in plan
I know this can sound pretty unappealing. You imagine yourself living in this miserable, sacrificial, unhappy condition.
But the fact of the matter is that nothing could be further from the truth. Note that Jesus says, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it!”
Think of it as “God’s trade-in plan.”
I’m trying to find myself!
There are people today who say they are trying to find themselves. BTW, I cannot stand that expression.
One makes that statement usually before doing something really selfish, like walking out on a marriage.
They might say, “You are no longer meeting my needs. I am unhappy, so I am going to leave you because I need to find myself!”
Could anything be more cliché, and wrong?
In essence, Jesus says, “You want to find yourself? Then lose yourself.”
Do you want to find life, purpose, and personal happiness? Then say, “Lord, here is my life, my plans, my aspirations, my dreams, as well as my weaknesses, shortcomings, and sins. I believe that Your plans are better than mine in the long run.”
But what does it mean to “take up our cross and follow Him?” This is explained in Luke 13:33: “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”
Literally, this means: “You must surrender your claim to, or say goodbye to.”
That does not mean that to live as a disciple of Jesus one has to take a vow of poverty and give every possession away. Jesus meant that we are to surrender our claim to our possessions. In other words, we are not to be possessed by possessions.
It’s fine to have clothes, a car, a house, and a career. It’s fine to have friends, hobbies, and interests.
But the true cisciple should not be obsessed with these things. The only obsession a disciple should have is for Jesus Christ. He must be the most important pursuit in our lives. He must be more important than our career or our personal happiness.
The fact is we will find the personal happiness we want not by seeking it, but by seeking Him. Why don’t you do that today?
More on what it means to take up the cross tomorrow.
I thought I would recap a few things from my message on discipleship this last Sunday, in case you missed it.
In the Great Commission, Jesus told us all to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. But what does that mean to make disciples? And more to the point, what exactly is a disciple?
As I have stated before, every disciple is a Christian, but not every Christian is necessarily a disciple. So, before I can make disciples, I have to be sure that I myself am one, because it takes one to make one.
In Luke 14, Jesus laid out His requirements for discipleship. Let’s look at one of them here.
1. The disciple must love Jesus more than anyone or anything else.
Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).
I know that statement sounds shocking to us today. We ask, “Is Jesus really asking me to hate my family members to follow Him?”
In the light of the New Testament, we see that Jesus was not demanding an unqualified hatred. He could not command us to honor our fathers and mothers and then also demand that we hate them.
He could not command husbands to love their wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her, and then advise them to hate them. He could not tell His followers to love their enemies and hate them at the same time.
The fact is that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and love one another as Christ has loved us. That is what Scripture teaches.
How can I hate and love at the same time?
So what gives with this statement about hating father, mother, wife, children, etc.?
Jesus was using the method of sharp contrasts, essentially saying that your love for God must be so strong, so intense, that all other loves would be like hatred in comparison.
Another way to say it would be, “If you want to really be My disciple, and live your Christian life to its fullest, you must love Me more than anyone or anything else!”
Again, more than anything or anyone else. You must love God more than your career or your possessions. You must love God more than your friends. You must love God even more than your family!
You might say, “My marriage is the most important thing in my life! My wife/husband is my No. 1 priority!”
As noble as that sounds, it is the wrong No. 1 priority. Marriage is important, but it should not be the most important thing in your life.
Jesus should be.
The fact is that when you make Jesus the center of your life, you will be a better spouse.
Others might say, “Our children are the center of our life!” Listen, Jesus should be the center of your life! In fact, if you want to ruin your children, make them the center of your life.
The best thing we can do for our children is to show them how to make Jesus the Center of their lives because He is the center of yours.
That’s what a disciple does. More on this tomorrow.
Perhaps you have seen those side-by-side photos in magazines like People or US Magazine that ask, “Who wore it best?”
You see pictures of two celebrities wearing the same outfit, and the readers are encouraged to vote on “who wore it best?”
It’s usually a no-brainer, since one is usually quite a bit more attractive then the other.
Allow me to take that same question and apply to a different area of our lives–our acceptance of sin.
The telephone pole in the eye
It’s funny how we can be so outraged when we see a person committing a sin when we ourselves have somehow managed to rationalize that same sin in our own lives. In our minds, “we wear it best,” or at least it is acceptable for us, while it is outrageous for the other person.
I suggest to you that it is always easy to notice certain compromises and sins in others, because we are far too familiar with them ourselves. It’s the old “I can’t see the speck in your eye because I have a telephone pole in mine” syndrome that Jesus spoke of during the Sermon on the Mount.
Sometimes, we are actually guilty of something far worse than the sin we are criticizing our Christian friend about.
Time to change clothes
So, back to the original question: who wore it best? Neither, if it’s any kind of sin or compromise.
Instead of wearing that today, let’s do as the Bible says and . . .
“Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13:14).
I am sure you will wear that best of all.
That question is the topic of my message tonight in Orange County.
It is my belief that every disciple is a believer, but not every believer is necessarily a disciple.
So what exactly is a disciple of Jesus? We will look at that together this Thursday and also Sunday at Harvest.
Time to grow up
The reason we need to know about discipleship is because Jesus told us to “go into all the world and make disciples . . . ” (Matthew 28:19).
But how can I make one if I am not one myself? It takes one to make one. It’s called “growing up” spiritually.
The Christian life is more than simply praying a prayer and getting “fire insurance.” It’s following Him, not only as your Savior but also as your Lord.
He wants to not only be your friend, but also your God. And some don’t seem to see that.
No prolonged infancies
Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 that God gave us pastors, teachers, and evangelists to help us mature and be equipped for the work of ministry. As one translation puts it:
“No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything” (Ephesians 4:14-15 THE MESSAGE).
I like that term “No prolonged infancies.”
Some believers are “stunted in their growth.” Well, it’s time to grow up!
We will look at that together.
We must learn to forgive others.
Why? Because as flawed people, we will hurt one another, be it intentional or unintentional.
Husbands will offend wives, and wives will offend husbands. Parents will hurt their children, and children will hurt their parents. Family members will offend one another.
That is why we must learn to forgive.
Jesus said, “So if you are standing before the altar in the Temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there beside the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23–24 NLT).
Taking the hand of your enemy
In my last post, I began to tell the story of Corrie Ten Boom. Incidentally, I recommend that you read her amazing autobiography, The Hiding Place. Her story was also made into a movie of the same name by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
After surviving the Nazi concentration camp at Ravensbrück, Corrie traveled the world, ministering to people.
She tells this story in The Hiding Place:
It was a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbrück. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there–the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.
He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.
I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
An example to follow
Corrie Ten Boom gave us an example to follow. The example of forgiving people, whether we feel they deserve it or not.
One final thought. When you forgive a person, you set a prisoner free . . . yourself!
We have all heard of various oxymorons that are commonly used. For instance . . .
- Freezer burn
- Jumbo shrimp
- “Found missing”
- Deafening silence
- Genuine imitation
These are all self-contradicting terms. I have a new one to add to the list . . .
If you are a true Christian, then you must forgive others. Forgiven people must be forgiving people.
That’s because, as fatally flawed people, we are going to sin. We are going to hurt one another, whether it be intentional or unintentional.
Husbands will offend wives, and wives will offend husbands. Parents will hurt their children, and children will hurt their parents. Family members will offend one another.
Why should we forgive?
We might ask, “What if the person who has hurt does not deserve forgiveness?”
My response would be, did you deserve to be forgiven by God? The answer is no.
Therefore, since God has so graciously forgiven you, you should in turn forgive others. The Bible tells us, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
A real-life example
You may have heard of Corrie Ten Boom. She tells her amazing story in the book, The Hiding Place.
During World War II, Corrie, along with her elderly father and sister Betsy, were sent to concentration camps by the Nazis for hiding Jewish people in their home. Corrie’s father rightly believed that the Jews were God’s chosen people and that, as a Christian family, they should do what they could to help them as the extermination of Jews began throughout Germany.
The Gestapo became aware of the Ten Boom family’s activities and told them to turn over the Jews they were hiding and stop offering sanctutary to them or else risk being sent to the concentration camps. The Ten Booms refused, and they were all arrested.
Corrie’s father and sister both died while incarcerated. But Corrie was released because of a “clerical error,” which was really God’s providence. She went on to live a long life traveling the world as a self-described “tramp for the Lord,” telling people that there was no pit so deep that God was not deeper still.
She also spoke on the topic of forgiveness, for she had to forgive the cruel men who took the lives of her father and sister.
Tomorrow, I will share with you an amazing story about the time when Corrie came face-to-face with one of her Nazi captors who extended his hand to her in friendship.
What would you do if you were in her shoes? What she did was an example of what we all ought to be–forgiving Christians.
This Sunday at Harvest in Riverside I am speaking on the topic of prayer. This is the final part of our three-part message called “Secrets of Spiritual Growth,” which is part of our larger series Essentials.
We will explore the second half of The Lord’s Prayer. We looked at the first half last Sunday.
One thing we saw together in our last message was how important God’s will and timing is.
One person put it this way:
If the request is wrong, God says, “No.”
If the timing is wrong, God says, “Slow.”
If you are wrong, God says, “Grow.”
But if the request is right, the timing is right, and you are right, God says, “Go!”
So how can we see God say “Go” and “Yes” more often? Are there secrets to answered prayer?
I believe the answer to that is yes, and we will discover them tonight in Scripture.
I am speaking in NYC!
Dont forget, I am speaking in New York City this coming Saturday for a spiritual growth conference. For more information on that, click here.
Why should we pray? There are many things I could say in response, but here is another reason why.
Prayer is the way by which God helps us to overcome our anxiety and worry.
We all know that life is full of troubles. We all struggle with concerns about our health, safety, family, finances, etc.
In light of that, what should we do? Answer: Pray!
It’s been said, “If your knees are shaking, kneel on them!”
God’s cure for worry
So, the next time you are suddenly gripped with worry, turn it into a prayer.
The apostle Paul reminds us, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Notice that Paul doesn’t say, “Pray about everything . . . if you do this, your problems will go away.” Rather, it says, “If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand.”
Now that is not to say that God cannot or will not remove your problem (or problems) because He sometimes does just that. But often, He will give us His strength and peace in the midst of the problem. In other words, we are able to put things into the proper perspective.
If you have a “Big God”–by which I mean that you see God for who He really is–you will have “small problems.”
It comes down to this:
- Big God/small problems
- Big problems/small God
I will speak more on this important topic on Thursday night in Orange County. For more info, click here.
Also, I will speak on the same topic this coming Sunday at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside. For more info on that, click here.
I am coming to NYC this weekend!
I am speaking in New York City this coming Saturday, September 19. I will be joining my friends Raul Ries, Bob Coy, and Mike Finizio for a spiritual growth conference called How to Walk.
For more info on that, click here.
One of the clear marks of a true Christian is that they pray . . . a lot!
After his unexpected and radical conversion, the notorious Saul of Tarsus began to pray.In fact, when the Lord sent Ananias to go to him with words of encouragment, He said, “Behold, he is praying” (Acts 9:11).
Are you known as a person of prayer? The Bible tells us that we are to be “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).
We should pray always
This verse tell us we should be praying with “all prayer.”
We use the word “pray” a lot. It is a pretty general term. But know this–you can pray publically and privately, verbally and silently. You can be kneeling, standing, sitting, laying down, or even driving. You can pray with your eyes open or closed!
You can pray anywhere!
The main thing is to pray! You can pray in any position, at any time, anywhere.
Sometimes we think that the Lord will hear our prayers better if they are prayed in a church building. But that is not necessarily true.
- Daniel prayed in a lion’s den.
- David prayed in a field.
- Peter prayed in (and on) the water.
- Jonah’s prayer was heard from the belly of a whale!
Surely God will hear your prayer wherever you are. The main thing is that you are “praying always.”
Don’t stop praying
The word “all” in this verse speaks of the frequency of prayer–morning, afternoon, and evening. We are to “pray without ceasing, for this is the will of God . . . ”
Daniel had enemies who set a trap for him because they knew he prayed. So what did he do after this decree was signed that no one could pray to God?
“But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God” (Daniel 6:10).
Do your enemies know you pray? Let’s all look for opportunities to pray this week.