Saturday, July 14, 2007

Carrying the Cross; Our first value

The following is a devotional memo that I presented to our staff here at The Voice of the Martyrs earlier this week:

This cartoon speaks far more truthfully to our lives than we are often willing to admit. The cross that we are called to carry always frustrates and undermines our efforts which is why we rarely want to carry it very far or for very long.

What does it mean to carry the cross? Unfortunately, I suspect the sense that the early church had of this saying is largely lost on us today. The "cross" of the believer has been trivialized into meaning pretty much anything that is unpleasant. But this is not the meaning that Jesus had when He said these words!

The "cross" is not ordinary human troubles and sorrows such as disappointments, disease, death, poverty, and the like. Nor, on the other hand, is the phrase "taking up the cross" to be completely spiritualized, like too many have done. Having never had to suffer persecution, we take the phrase and give it some mystical, existential meaning that is totally removed from the reality of first-century Christianity (and that faced by persecuted Christians around the world). Such examples of this would be referring to carrying the cross as "dying to self," "self-denial," or "giving everything to God," as important as these concepts are. The important thing for us to understand is, what did Jesus mean and how would the disciples have understood it?

There is no doubt that the cross was understood exclusively as an instrument of torture and execution. Jesus' call was to take up their cross (not Jesus' cross. No where in scripture are we called to carry Jesus' cross; we carry our own). We need to take Jesus' words very literally. The demand of Jesus is to tread the path of martyrdom.

If they are going to follow Him, Jesus told them, the disciples must deny themselves, renouncing their right to life, take up their cross and follow Him on the same path to death. They must be prepared every day to face death in their allegiance to their Master, after His example. Even more than that, they throw themselves into the purposes of God to such an extent that sacrifice at any level becomes the accepted norm. This is the cost of following Christ.

This is the same call that each of us face here at The Voice of the Martyrs. Jesus' call is for each of us to live each day in radical commitment to Him and His mission. If we are not prepared to pay that cost, we should not even start on the path of discipleship. Jesus has enough half-hearted "hangers on" who claim to follow Him but refuse to carry their cross.

This is why one of our values here at The Voice of the Martyrs is an Uncompromising Faithfulness to God. We are committed practicing and modeling the truth that a cross-centred gospel requires cross-centred messengers. Is your life characterized by the cross?

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