I'm sitting down to do the study for my Life Group, and all of a sudden, I'm thinking, these are hard questions.
First, we look at the story of Peter and John, who get thrown into prison for healing a man who can't walk. (Acts 3-4) Their trial the next day gives them the opportunity to share their faith. Filled with the Holy Spirit, these "unschooled and ordinary men" (4:13) give an courageous, impassioned, educated defense, and more people commit their lives to Jesus. The elders and the leaders can't figure out how to punish Peter and John so they let them go. Happy ending.
But then we look at Hebrews 11:35-38. Not every story has a happy ending. Some followers of Jesus Christ ended up in chains, stoned, beaten. Some were sawed in two. They went about "destitute, persecuted, and mistreated" (verse 37). Definitely not a happy ending.
To complicate matters, Romans 8:28 tells us that "God works for the good for those who love him . . ." It's hard to see how sawed in two pieces can be good.
And Jesus himself tells us that we should deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him. (Check out Luke 9:23-25.)
I grew up in a church where taking up our crosses meant putting up with whatever garbage life threw at you while smiling. Seriously. No complaining. You've got a cold? Lousy parents? Rude husband? A rotten boss? Be joyful. This is your cross.
I'm thinking that people who don't follow Christ also experience illness and dysfunctional relationships.
The people listening to Jesus in the first century knew what a crucifixion was like. I don't think they had the same images we do. And if there is any doubt that this is a radical call to serve God, he continues: "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his own soul?"
And so my Life Group study asks me, "What does it mean to take up my cross? What does it mean to lose my own life?"
Honestly. I'm not sure I want to answer the question because that means that I'll have to start listening more carefully to God's voice and less to my own desires.
And I guess that's the answer. For Jesus, this meant actual physical death. You remember his anguished prayer, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. . . . My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
Living for God's purpose instead of my own. Actively and passionately seeking God so that his goals become my goals. Even when it doesn't look good for me.
And even when it doesn't look good for me, it is good, because God reveals his greatness through my struggles and my losses.
Can I walk into that with open arms? Rejoicing in God's purposes and his plans? Do I want to do that, or do I want to hang on to a few things that are just for me?
I think that sometimes, instead of carrying my cross, willing to stop and plant it into the ground and be nailed up on it, I try to protect myself from getting hurt. Through circumstances. By other people.
Obviously, God already knows that, and there is no condemnation in Christ so I'm not ashamed of my failures, but that doesn't mean I'm excused from this radical call to faith. God's still pushing me to more.