Christianity can be like any other club out there, a group of people united by unnecessary membership fees, dress codes, and unattainable standards. The church can easily turn into a club where everyone talks about the Bible in terms that don’t upset or challenge anyone. I know of a church in Wichita that preaches the truth but decided to never preach about money because that made people uncomfortable (even though Jesus talked about money and wealth).
But the other fact that makes Christianity like a club somtimes is the jargon.
If you’ve been around the church for any amount of time, you probably don’t even know half your vocabulary is made up of churchy phrases that no one outside the church will understand.
Phrases like “accept Jesus into your heart” or “take up your cross” or “passing the plate” don’t mean anything to someone who’s never read the Bible, but Christians throw them around all the time and then sneer at people who don’t understand like there’s something wrong with them.
That’s one of the many reasons I love my pastor — he talks straight. I’ve listened to many preachers who can wax eloquent on salvation or a multitude of other biblical topics, spouting off florid verbiage that sounds both poetic and overdone. I have little patience for communication that doesn’t accomplish anything other than making the pastor look impressive for his vocabulary.
So, when I read the verse this morning, my mind immediately jumped to the many sermons I have heard using this text as reference. Even if you haven’t grown up in church, you will recognize the cliches and church-speak all throughout this verse:
23 Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. 24 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.
There are many phrases in this verse that passionate repetition has turned to cliche. The one that catches my eye mostly is “take up your cross.” You will hear this phrase everywhere, in every denomination almost. Take up your cross! Or sometimes it’s said that we all have our cross to bear.
In all honesty . . . I don’t think I’m studied enough to tell you what it’s probably supposed to mean. I used to know. But I’ve been out of a traditional church for so long most of my knowledge of cliches and church-speak has faded. I’m pretty sure it means that you should take advantange of misfortune and try to use it for good . . . or it’s part of the concept of salvation, that your old self is crucified with Christ and is dead . . . . or it’s part of understanding what it means to live a Christian life, accepting unjust punishment and prejudice without complaint. I know I’ve heard all of those explanations for that phrase, but is one of them right? Or are all of them right? I can’t tell you.
I can only tell you what it means to me now . . . and maybe it’s different for every person. That wouldn’t surprise me. It’s different for me now that I’m older than it was when I was young. That’s the miracle of the Bible. It grows with you . . . .
Whenever I think of Christ bearing up under the weight of the cross during the long, agonizing trek to Golgotha, I remember that He did that for me. No one made Him do it. He chose to die painfully to make a way for me to have a relationship with God. The Jews didn’t kill Him. The Romans didn’t kill Him. He gave up His own life. He could have stopped it at any moment, but He chose to keep going.
Jesus bearing the cross, to me, is a picture of selflessness, of a willingness to sacrifice His life for other people. He hadn’t done anything wrong. All He had done was speak the truth and heal people, both physically and spiritually. He was fully, totally, completely innocent. But He chose to give up His comfort and His position and His very existence to pay for sins He’d never committed. Jesus lived His life for other people, just like He died for all people.
To me, that’s what “take up your cross” means.
Take up your cross daily. Every morning when you wake up, remember that your life isn’t about you. God put us on earth for a reason and He keeps us here to accomplish something.
The church and religion has taken this phrase and turned it into something commonplace, but “take up your cross” is the furthest thing from common that there is. It’s hard. It’s beyond hard — it’s excrutiating. Because no matter if we have chosen to believe in Christ, we still want to live for ourselves. That’s how we’re wired. But that’s not what Jesus did.
But we throw it around like all the rest of English idiom, like it’s just a string of words that doesn’t mean anything. We all have our crosses to bear, don’t we?
Taking up your cross daily — living for other people — is a lifestyle. It’s a picture of what it truly means to follow Christ, to live like Christ, to give up your life. It’s one of the most difficult things we can chose to do as believers.
Can we believe in Christ and not follow Him? Of course. I’ve met a lot of Christians who are right there. There were many Christians in the New Testament who believed in Jesus but didn’t follow Him. But you’ll see if you read Scripture that they didn’t start making a difference in the world until they gave up their lives, until they sacrificed their dreams, until they turned over their wishes and desires to live for other people.
We can struggle and fight to achieve something great for God in this world, but until we learn to live for other people, we won’t accomplish anything. Until we learn that our lives aren’t about us, God won’t use us — not the way He wants to.
What are you holding on to today?
I can tell you I struggle with turning my writing over to Him. I want to write what I want to write. I want to make a difference with my stories and my plans and my ideas, but who are those stories and plans and ideas for? Me or other people? My dream was always to get a book published and reach as many people as possible. But what if His plan isn’t for me to reach a lot of people? What if His plan is for me to reach one or two people? Am I okay with that?
What about you? What are your dreams? Financial security? (I’ve had that one too.) A relationship? (Ditto.) A house? A car that runs consistently? A job you love? Why do you want these things? What is driving you to accomplish your dreams? Are your dreams for yourself?
I had to come to a realization many years ago that my dreams weren’t as important as God’s plans. And it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I had to surrender my dream to God. And I can tell you from experience that my dream hasn’t come true yet — at least, not the specific dream I had. But God has answered part of my dream . . . . .
You’re reading this devotional, aren’t you?