Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ignoring the Cross

This is embarrassing, for reals. Every once in a while the Twitterverse delivers a thunderbolt, and I was struck this past weekend.
One of my regular readers--a person whom I don’t think I’ve ever met--sent me this direct message on twitter: “I could not find an entry on your blog about ‘carrying our cross daily.’ I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Had some confusion lately.”
Immediately I thought, “That can’t be right.” I checked the labels at my site and sure enough, the word “cross” doesn’t even appear. About twenty minutes later I received another direct message: “I did find a few entries with a closer look.“ My Twitter correspondent was being generous: the tally came to three sentences about the cross. How could this be? How could I blog for two years, more than 200 posts, and never address the role of the cross in the life of a disciple?
Jesus was pretty clear on this subject. All three of the synoptic gospels. Smack dab in the middle of Mark, so you can’t miss it:
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. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8: 34-38)
Luke’s gospel (chapter 9) adds the word “daily” to the passage, and Matthew’s gospel (chapter 16) introduces “reward” to the mix. Clearly, this is an important part of following Jesus. The epistles contain 13 overt references to the cross and who knows how many implied references. Here at Students of Jesus? Three. In two years, 228 posts, Eleventy gazillion words.
After the two-message twitter conversation my immediate thought was, “no problem: I’ll just write something up and post it.” The Holy Spirit was kind enough to suggest that if I hadn’t considered the cross of Christ in two years, what insight could I gain in four days?
So here is what I have learned in four days: I have ignored the cross of Christ. I’ve embraced the image of taking the yoke (check the URL and the tag-line at the top),
perhaps because by taking the yoke I can remain alive, but embracing the cross means learning how to die. Daily.
I’ve come too far with Jesus to fall into the trap of beating myself up. Instead, the Father graciously nudged another one of his kids to send me 140 characters via social networking to call my attention to what is still lacking in my life as a disciple. I immediately dug in and began to attend to the cross.
In these first few days I’ve imagined possible responses to the words of Jesus, and I’d like to share my first pass at that. What are the possible responses? Maybe we can start with these four:
  • Reject the cross: In which I understand the call, count the cost, and fold before I must pay the price. Better to indulge in religious activities--perhaps even do some good--but remain the master of my fate: build my ministry, increase my readership, secure my future. I don’t think that’s me, but I can imagine pastors, evangelists, and various religious professionals taking this. Then again, when is the last time I fasted? Jesus probably isn’t amused by my standard line, “the only thing I ever got from fasting is skinny.”
  • Mortify myself in an attempt to take up the cross: I’m no church historian, but there are plenty of examples of those who believed that by literary imitating the suffering of Jesus they were somehow following his example. It’s true that no one took his life from him: Jesus gave himself to the cross, but I don’t think he intended us to inflicted controlled pain in order to find affinity with him. (But then, after only four days’ reflection, what do I really know?)
  • Ignore the cross: I think this is where I’ve been living. Love Jesus? You bet. Worship and Adore? I’m in. Serve him? I’d like to think that’s what I’ve been doing. But with respect to the call to embrace the cross--it’s imagery and reality--I’ve been a no-show. Like the disciples in Ephesus who had never heard of the Holy Spirit, I’m the disciple who’s never seen the cross. And honestly: how could I miss it? The cross is the primary sign of Evangelical Christianity. Who’s ever heard of a church without a cross? (Answer: mine)
  • Embrace the cross: Now, I’m just four days into this but it seems to me that Jesus loved the Father, saw what he was doing, and partnered with him. Jesus demonstrated a life of purity and obedience. A life so vivid and compelling that some people followed him and some killed him. A life so loving he was willing to be lifted up in shame in order to rescue those who neither loved him nor understood him. I’d like to learn to live that kind of life.
There. That’s the first pass. It won’t be the last, and it shouldn’t be a monologue. There are probably plenty of you who have thought and lived deeply toward the cross. Here’s your chance to teach, encourage and, if you must, chastize. I eagerly welcome your instruction. Why not leave a comment, point me toward your blog post that deals with the cross, or set me straight in general. I need it, and my friend on Twitter is still waiting for an answer.

EDITOR'S NOTE: It's Saturday,and in turning my attention to the cross I came across a Good Friday post from 2009: Still, it's not enough for a discipleship blog. And, gentle readers, I'm still looking for your comments.


  1. Ray,
    286, bottom paragraph:
    Bottom line is that you aren't alone. Welcome to America.

    We're working on it, though, by God's grace...

  2. Well said, Jason. Let's try to change that, shall we? Yes, by God's grace.

  3. Thanks for sharing this revelation! It takes a lot of humility to not only take advice from a tweet but also to admit it so openly. That willingness to change focus really demonstrates a big part of what it means to be a student of Jesus

  4. Well said, Jason. Let's try to change that, shall we? Yes, by God's grace.