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Take up my what?

June 6, 2023

Daily Scripture

Mark 8:31-37

31 Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One [or Son of Man] must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” 32 He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. 33 Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”
34 After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 35 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. 36 Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? 37 What will people give in exchange for their lives?

Daily Reflection & Prayer

When Jesus told his closest followers that he faced suffering and death, Peter (outspoken as usual) tried to talk Jesus out of the idea. Perhaps he thought Jesus was just being too negative. Or maybe he was fending off the fear in his own heart as he saw that following Jesus might cost more than just his fishing career. But Jesus said he calls ALL his followers to “take their cross.” When Jesus said this, a cross was a horrific tool of torture and death that “respectable” people avoided at all costs.

  • Peter, like most first-century Jews, expected a Messiah who had overwhelming human power. That made it hard for him to grasp Jesus’ understanding of his self-sacrificing mission. What beliefs about life, success and greatness do you have that make it harder for you to accept Jesus’ teaching about a truly great human life? What has helped you move beyond those innate cultural assumptions?
  • The five habits this series calls us to are simple, but not always easy. Pastor John Ortberg quoted columnist Garret Fiddler as writing, “Really, the cross does not belong on the Christian; the Christian belongs on the cross.” Ortberg added, “The cross is a reminder that there is something in me that needs to die.” * What do you believe it means for you today to “take up your cross” and follow Jesus? What is there in you that “needs to die”?

Lord Jesus, so many voices tell me that avoiding pain and sacrifice is the way to a good life. I want to answer your counter-cultural call. Let my lesser self die, so that a greater self shaped by you may be born. Amen.

GPS Insights

Denise Mersmann

Denise Mersmann

Denise Mersmann serves as the Care Coordination Director for the churchwide Care Central department at Church of the Resurrection.

Some people have a tendency to make things harder than they need to be. If you did a survey of my family and close friends, there is a high likelihood they would say I am the poster child for that. A lot of that comes from being a person who likes to control things, who wants to know in advance what is going to happen, and who wants to be prepared for when things don’t go as planned.

As I consider Jesus’ words to His followers to “… say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me,” I wonder what that means for me in today’s world.

While it is a long way from “taking up my cross,” when I think of following Jesus, I think about some of the really simple things we are called to do in order to live out our faith. And how my incredible talent for making things harder than they need to be really impacts this.

For example, I love worship. I like singing hymns, thinking about Scripture in new ways, and the peace that comes from sitting in that holy space. Yet I manage to turn this into something much more difficult than it needs to be. As we sing, I find myself obsessing over how loud I am singing, and wondering why God gave me such a great love for singing, yet absolutely no talent to do it. As I listen to Scripture, I question how I could go all these years never realizing what a particular passage really meant, and of course, being a little distracted worrying about spilling my Chai tea all over the floor.

Then there is praying. I love God, I love to talk, and I know that prayer is my chance to build a stronger relationship with Him. This is a chance to share my burdens, celebrate my joy, and listen for Him to speak to me through people, thoughts, Scripture, and experiences. But as I start to pray, I find myself contemplating if my words sound dumb, if I am asking for too much, if I am adequately giving God the glory He deserves. Then, suddenly, I am off track. More concerned about how I’m doing than what I’m doing and why.

Serving and caring for people is something that brings me so much joy! I love spending time with people who just need a little love, providing meals, working with our partner schools, and actually getting dirty and physically exhausted cleaning up storm damage. As much as serving gives me all the good feels, even in these settings, I find myself doubting my abilities. Would the meal I provide be something they enjoyed, could I have worked harder mucking out a home, how much impact did I really have as a reading tutor?

You see, even in these very simple acts of faith, I tend to stumble. To doubt myself and to lose focus on what I should be doing, instead honing in on how I am doing it–usually directed at how I am doing it wrong.

And that’s when I realize that I am not saying “no to myself.” In fact, I am spending more time thinking about myself than “taking up the cross and following Jesus.” The first step into really saying no to myself is to stop making myself the centerpiece. If I am following Jesus–worshipping, praying, and serving His people–He isn’t looking at how I failed, but how I loved. And He isn’t looking at me, but at my actions and my intentions.

I may not “carry my cross” as far or as fast as the next person, but every day, if I get up and concentrate on doing just a little better than the day before, perhaps my actions will help me say “no to myself” and shift my focus to carrying the cross. There is no question that if I stop overthinking and set aside my desire to control each moment, my focus can be more fully on God and my faith will be forever changed!

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* Garret Fiddler, Yale Daily News, April 21, 2011 quoted in John Ortberg, Who Is This Man? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, p. 192.