CHANGE ME, oh God,
Into a tree in autumn.
And let my dying
Be a blaze of glory!
–Esther Popel, “October Prayer”
“Am I ignitable? God deliver me from the dread asbestos of other things. Saturate me with the oil of Your Spirit that I may be aflame. But flame is transient, often short-lived. Canst thou bear this, my soul—short life? In me there dwells the Spirit of the Great Short-Lived whose zeal for God’s House consumed Him. And He has promised baptism with the Spirit and with the Fire. Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God!”
Martyred at 28
“When Christ calls a man, He bids him ‘come and die’.”
The Cost of Discipleship
The Cross is a radical thing. From ancient times, it has been feared as an an instrument of torture and death. First century disciples would probably stare on in disbelief to see how we’ve silver-plated and adorn our necks with them. Even pagans and rock stars add them to their accoutrements. You aren’t fully dressed unless you add that diamond-studded crucifix to your low-cut evening wear, or so it seems.
In the rough-hewn days of the first century, Jesus and the Twelve toured the altars and shrines of Caesarea Philippi, a neo-pagan culture of diversity and religious pluralism, and among the litter of temples there, Jesus turned to His men and made them decide once and for all Who He was (see Mark 8:29). That out of the way, He then told them He was going to Jerusalem. No, Peter, not to take up arms and call down fire on the Romans and send the buggers packing. No, Simon, not to set up My Kingdom. No, Judas, not to seize the wealth of Herod…
Much to their dismay, the Master told them He was going to give His Life away. No, John, not ‘metaphorically speaking’… And He would do it on a Cross, no less. But what He said next must have pushed them past the extreme edge of their sensibilities. “If any of you choose to come along behind Me, you have to deny yourself utterly (literal Greek), take up your Cross (Luke adds “daily”) and follow Me.”
They must have been standing there, holding their collective breath, waiting for the punchline.
Guess what, child of God? The same interplay is going on in our day and time. We stand in the tradewinds of cultural diversity and religious pluralism and among the crumbling ruins of the best that man can do without God. It is incumbent also on us to decide: do we follow Christ “outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13) or do we stand at the line in the proverbial sand, say thanks but no thanks, and head back to the milktoast world of cultural christianity?
As the terrible machinery of the Third Reich rumbled through Europe, many Christians and Jews were crushed beneath its wheels, ground to dust and disposed of. Among these was a young Lutheran minister, appalled by the ‘look the other way’ posture the organized church of his country was taking in response to the evil empire that was emerging. Surrounded by lukewarm pastors and passive Christians, Deitrich Bonhoeffer was part of the ‘confessing church’, the ones who would not bow their knee to baals, fuehrers or storm troopers. Arrested in 1944 for being a threat to the Reich generally and the Fuehrer particularly, Bonhoeffer was hanged just days before Germany’s surrender to the Axis powers in the Spring of 1945.
Among his writings which have survived his young but fruitful life is the discipleship anthology, “The Cost of Discipleship.” Dietrich felt that persecution was a necessary badge of genuine discipleship and that those who confess Christ yet never suffer for His sake can have no claim to Him.
“Suffering then is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master… If we refuse to take up our cross and submit to suffering and rejection at the hands of men, we forfeit our fellowship with Christ and have ceased to follow Him. But if we lose our lives in His service and carry our cross, we shall find our lives again in the fellowship of the cross with Christ. The opposite of discipleship is to be ashamed of Christ and His cross and all the offense which the cross brings in its train.”
He didn’t mince words, did he?
While Christ’s cross was for sin, the cross He bids us carry is for self. We will never know true spiritual union with Christ unless we deal with the cumbersome load of self we are carrying around. Self cannot be tamed, trained, coaxed or coddled. Self must be crucified. The work of crucifying self is done so we will be liberated from ’soulishness’ (living out of our soul, our will, desire and senses) so we may be freed to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). This is the victorious Christian life!
Are you dying for change? It will take some pain, I assure you, but well worth it. It will take the work of the cross to break the soul’s independent streak but those who take it up daily, going with Christ outside the camp, will know the freedom of the empty tomb and live in the outflow of Pentecost. This is what the world is dying to see: Christians who are dying for change.
MUST JESUS BEAR THE CROSS ALONE?
Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone,
And there’s a cross for me.
The consecrated cross I’ll bear
Till death shall set me free;
And then go home my crown to wear,
For there’s a crown for me.
Upon the crystal pavement down
At Jesus’ pierced feet,
Joyful I’ll cast my golden crown
And His dear Name repeat.
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
When Christ the Lord from heav’n comes down
And bears my soul away.
—Thomas Shepherd, 1693