Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, 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, NKJV).
I was thinking about the verse above this morning and asked myself, "What is my cross to bear?" Is "cross-bearing" just about persecution? Or is it something more? Jesus said the above words right after he asked his disciples who they thought he was. Peter said, "The Christ of God." (Luke 9:20) And Jesus immediately commanded them not to tell anyone and followed that with the news that he would suffer, be killed and rise again on the third day. This would quite literally be his cross to bear. It had a purpose (our redemption and eternal salvation). But he had to put aside his desires and endure excruciating pain, rejection, and humiliation so that we might be saved. Jesus then lets his disciples know that to follow him, they also had to deny themselves by taking up their cross "daily." As Jesus' disciples, this also applies to us. But what does it mean to deny myself and what, more importantly, is my cross?
My cross is probably different than yours, and it has gotten heavier over the years, but it is something that I am only now learning to take up daily. It does, however, have a few chunks missing where I dropped it a time or two. It has, at times, been painfully heavy to bear, but for the most part, it has stayed with me. My cross has been trying to teach me for over 30 years not to complain about it. I have failed miserably at this and had the splinters to prove it. Each one reminding me of where I failed. By complaining about my cross, I haven't been a good witness or "cross-bearer" to my children. By thinking about my burdens, I have become bitter over what my life was like, compared to what it is now. Cross-bearing is not for the faint of heart. That's why Jesus told us first what it could look like.
But I have learned that not everyone bears the same cross. And not everyone has realized they are even carrying one. Some people look at the problems in their lives and say, "Why, me God?" And they blame God for everything that is wrong with their world. Others say, "Why not me?" And take up their burdens and push on toward the day when they can stand before God and hear Him say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."
I don't want to be someone who keeps dropping my cross on the ground because it becomes too heavy. I want to keep my eyes focused on Jesus and be one of those people who says, "Why not me?" So today I sat down and drew a cross. And on that cross, I placed the burdens Jesus told me to give to him. But something strange happened. I realized while I was doing this, that my burdens were also my cross to bear. Yes, Jesus said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). But he followed that with, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29). In other words, we can learn from our burdens. We can grow into the people God intends us to be if we daily take up our cross and follow Him. And we can find rest and fellowship with God even when life is difficult and stressful.
This is what my cross has looked like over the years:
Like I said, my cross to bear is different than yours. But it is mine to bear. I have an incurable disease which makes me gain weight at an alarming rate. It is resistant to diet and exercise, and it is called lipedema. It also affects my lymphatic system, so that it doesn't work correctly. Currently, I have stage 3 lipo-lymphedema. Right now I have congested tissue in my legs that is heavy and about as big as a five-pound bowling ball on each leg. It is like this because my lymphatic system is shot. To control my lymphedema, I must sit for an hour a day in something called a lymphapress (think blood pressure cup, but for your legs). It squeezes my legs to get the lymph fluid moving. It is a very painful process, but when the lymph fluid doesn't move it builds up into congested tissue (hence my bowling ball legs!). It is excruciating to walk, yet that is one of the suggested therapies for me so that the lymph fluid will move. However, at the same time, I am told the best way to control the lymphedema is to sit with my legs elevated. So, for the most part, I am stuck in my house all day with my legs up, because leaving them down for too long is quite painful. And walking on them to get the lymph fluid moving is just as bad. What a conundrum! I can no longer put my socks and shoes on by myself because I can't bend my legs. Nor can I clean my house as I used to (some might say that's a blessing), but when dust builds up it drives me crazy!
All that to say this - sometimes the troubles in our lives (especially if you have a chronic illness, debilitating disease or even a terminal one) can be all that we see, and we forget that others are suffering too. We forget to join in with the living because we are so bowed down in just dealing with life. While my cross to bear is a painful, incurable disease, my husband's cross to bear is (sad as this sounds) taking care of me. He is the one who now has to do the work I used to do, like the laundry, cooking and cleaning. While I try to do what I can, it isn't long before the pain overtakes me and I have to quit. Adding yet another burden to his cross, which adds guilt to mine.
We all have a cross to bear. Some of those crosses are horrific, and my heart cries for those of you suffering under the weight of them. Maybe, like me, you were looking at your problems with the wrong perspective. Cross-bearing is not just about being persecuted for your faith. It is also about how well you can stand up under the weight of your cross. Will you give up and say, "Sorry, God but this is too much!" and throw down your cross? Or will you continue to carry it, despite its weight? Knowing that every day that you do so, you testify to God's saving grace and you grow a little bit more like Jesus.
Not sure what your cross is all about? Download the PDF below, fill in everything that is a burden to you. Give it to Jesus, then take up your cross daily, and follow Him without complaint.
Read Jeremiah 21:1-14
As I have been reading through the book of Jeremiah I was once again struck by the timely message it holds for our nation's leaders. In the previous chapter Jeremiah was thrown in the stocks because of his prophecies. In this chapter, Pashhur the son of Melchiah, and Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah, whose father was a priest, are purposely seeking him out for guidance. They are on a mission for the king (whom Jeremiah has been prophesying against) and their actions seem to acknowledge that Jeremiah is a true prophet from God.
So they asked Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord on what they should do about Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, who was making war against them. In other words, they believed (or rather King Zedekiah believed) that if they begged God for help He would ignore all the warnings Jeremiah had been prophesying about and Nebuchadnezzar would leave them alone. Up until this point in time Jeremiah's prophecies about their coming destruction at the hands of the King of Babylon, were met with derision. But suddenly those prophecies started coming true and so they rushed to Jeremiah for advice on how to make it stop. They believed they could bargain with God.
They were wrong.
Jeremiah gave them startling news. They weren't just going to war with the King of Bablyon, they were going to war with God Himself.
Thus says the Lord God of Israel: “Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, with which you fight against the king of Babylon and the Chaldeans who besiege you outside the walls; and I will assemble them in the midst of this city. I Myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger and fury and great wrath (Jeremiah 21:4-5, NKJV).
For years they had ignored Jeremiah's warnings to repent and return to God before it was too late. Now, when all seemed lost instead of repenting, they were looking for an easy way to escape the coming judgment. And God provided it, but it was costly.
“Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes out and defects to the Chaldeans [Babylonians] who besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be as a prize to him" (Jeremiah 21:8-9, NKJV).
The Lord decreed that those who remain in the city would die by sword, famine and pestilence, but if they willingly went out of the city and defected to the Babylonian side, they would live. So the people of Zedekiah's kingdom had a choice to make. Reject their allegiance to him and their beloved Jerusalem and defect to the Babylonian side, thus saving their lives, or stay and fight a losing battle. As for King Zedekiah, his fate was already sealed.
The Lord reminded King Zedekiah that since he was from the Davidic line he had a responsibility to execute justice in his land for the oppressed. But Zedekiah was a wicked and arrogant king and the Lord knew this, so He told him he would be punished for his wickedness and Jerusalem would be destroyed. He knew King Zedekiah would never bow to another king and pledge allegiance to him. He would never defect to Babylon. He couldn't. He was the king of Judah, his pride wouldn't let him. He would fight against the Lord and lose.
It doesn’t matter how rich you are, how powerful you are or who you are related to, in the end God judges our hearts and our actions. King Zedekiah was a covenant king, responsible for the welfare of the people and ensuring that God alone was worshipped and glorified. But he was wicked and his arrogance lead him to believe he was untouchable. Imagine his surprise when the Lord waged war against him through the King of Babylon.
Governments from all over the world today act much the same way – with arrogance. Unafraid of the consequences of evil deeds. We need only to look at the current wicked President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, to see arrogance and defiance towards God and man in action. We see this kind of arrogance from leaders all over the world. Like Vladimir Putin, who long ago should have had sanctions against him because he has supplied the arms that contributed to Assad's murderous reign. We see it in terrorist groups like ISIS who are constantly shaking their fists at God by bombing churches and beheading Christians - just daring Him to stop them.
And one day He will, and those in power will have to answer to the King of Kings face to face for their wickedness, unless they heed the warning Jeremiah gave to King Zedekiah to repent and return to God.
As we draw closer to the Lord’s return, it is becoming more and more apparent how arrogant and wicked our leader’s in government are. They make decisions that affect millions of people and lead their nations further and further away from God. Today, I thank God for godly leaders but pray for those who do not acknowledge Him, to repent and return to Him before it is too late. Will you join me?
Read Jeremiah 20:1-18