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Give up your way, take up a cross and follow Jesus

I read about a helicopter ride for pastors and church leaders. The concept is to fly over the community and gain a new perspective while at the same time praying for the area you serve. What a great idea.

We can easily be wrapped up in our own local environment. We see everything from a perspective of what goes on inside our family, our community or our church. But there is a much larger world, and our mission is to impact that world for Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)

Three huge challenges: 1. Give up our way. 2. Take up a cross. 3. Follow Jesus.

It is one thing to hear, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up the cross and follow me.” It is quite another to literally give up our own way, physically pick up that cross and make those sacrifices as we focus on following Jesus.

This goes way beyond, joining a church, attending worship, serving on a committee, singing in the choir or preaching in the pulpit. Our tendency is to define the church as a building where church happens. We participate by attending, giving and serving. If the overall church experience is good, then you come back. If the experience is not good, you may seek another church or find something else to do. That is a consumer mentality, and it’s pretty ingrained in our culture.

But that is not how Christ defines the church. If there is one thing this COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it is not to be too dependent upon our building. There is so much more to consider as we: 1. Give up our way. 2. Pick up a cross and 3. Follow Jesus.

Scripture describes the church as a body of believers. I would add, the church is a body of believers who choose to 1. Give up their way. 2. Pick up a cross and 3. Follow Jesus. No building is ever mentioned.

The Bible goes on to define our role in the body we call the church. You are a vital part of that body whether it is the hand or eye or liver depending upon your unique gifts and talents. Without you and your contribution, the church suffers. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. (Romans 12:4-5)

We have different roles and gifts but the same mission. Give up our way, pick up a cross and follow Jesus. The result will be a happier and more contented life. Picking up the cross is not always a burden that we must bear. Following Jesus can be a gift and a joy provided by a loving God. Maybe we should look a little more closely at what Jesus is saying.

Give up our way — Our way may be keeping us too busy to read the Bible and pray, listening for God’s guidance. Our way may be to keep quiet when speaking up is called for. Our way may be to avoid thinking about how our time and finances can be better used to serve others. Giving up our way to prepare for God’s way is obviously important, but what is God’s way?

Pick up the cross — This is about commitment and what you feel God urging you to do in your life. You have a God-given purpose, and you are put on earth to discover and fulfill that purpose. God’s church is usually the best place to provide encouragement and support.

If I stopped here, you would likely think, “No one can do all that. This is too hard. Change my habits, pray more, read the Bible, serve in a ministry or mission? It is too much. I can’t do it.”

And we haven’t even gotten to the third part yet? Hang in there. The best is to come.

Follow me — I used to think this is where Jesus poured on the guilt. Follow me was the painful commitment. But after anguished prayer, I learned something. Taking up the cross is our commitment, but the third step is about grace. “Follow me” is the promise of Jesus that you will never walk alone. You may be picking up a heavy cross, but Jesus will be by your side. Christ will forgive you, and he will pick you up when you stumble and fall.

Jesus is not adding guilt at all. Christ is extending grace by giving you a path to follow and a guide to walk alongside you.

Give up your way, take up a cross and follow Jesus trusting Christ to give you a path to follow and a guide to walk alongside you every step of the journey of life.

How do I know? Listen to what Jesus said next: 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. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Matthew 16:25-26)

If you try to hang on to what you have, you will lose it, but if you are willing to give up your life by trusting God, the wonderful promise is that God will replace your way with something far better.

When you take that helicopter ride, you see everything from a different perspective: Give up your way, take up a cross and follow Jesus, trusting Christ to give you a path to follow and a guide to walk alongside you every step of the journey of life.

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.