If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself
and take up his cross and follow me.”
-Jesus, in Matthew 16:24
According to the latest issue of “Christianity Today,” church attendance has dropped by the millions in the United States. Here in LA, almost every pastor or Church planter I have talked to has lost 50% of their congregations.
What is happening in American Christianity?
Are people leaving the faith? Were they ever Christians to begin with? Have people found the church useless? Is it the infiltration of secularism on the left? Or Nationalism on the right?
The biggest reason for most (if they are like most people who leave the faith throughout history) is that they have never “Taken Up The Cross.” To Take Up the Cross means you look at the journey of your life as one who bears that shameful cross. Come hell or high water, “We will bear it.” Sometimes when we bear His cross a church gets built and people are baptized into freedom. Other times, we might only see small glimmers of hope over 20 years of faithful ministry, and still other times people are mocked and martyred. All of these can be cross bearing.
Sometimes we are unashamed and passionate to bear the cross, sometimes we don’t want to bear it at all. At times, it seems the cross is bearing us. In times of disappointment, we collapse and weep and the cross falls on top of us. But when we are done, Christ is there to stop smile and strengthen us for the long journey ahead.
He hears our concerns and promises us his presence. We don’t know what is down the road, but he does and most of the time that is enough.
Bearing the cross is actually just simple faith,
but faith is a free gift that costs you everything.
Jesus calls us to follow him with the mark and load of the cross. This is to die, deny self, crucify the flesh with its passions and desires. It means to bear the shame of the cross, to be publicly marked by Jesus.
In our weekly schedule, it also means to gather with the others who have taken the cross to themselves. Christianity is surely more than church attendance, but it is never less than church attendance. Church attendance is the weekly taking up of the cross that appears with bread and wine and is heard in gospel preaching.
Every Sunday the cross is planted firmly in our week and its shadow falls graciously over the remaining days of our weekly journey.
On the other side of this death (Taking Up the Cross), is life with Him. He is good, kind, forgiving and empathetic to your situation. His cross covers your guilt, his words encourage your soul, he meets you at the end of your rope.
He has not promised riches, or success, or whatever you consider to be happiness, but he has promised to never leave you. He will also provide you with many blessings, creation, a home, family, a church, friends, work, food, but he has never said you are entitled to any of it.
He may also take some good stuff away.
He knows you and he knows what you need and he insists on you continuing the path of sanctification through suffering. This means continuing to Take Up The Cross even when no one else does. Even when we are shamed by the left and mocked by the right, even when the diagnosis comes, when the job is lost, when the relationship ends. He is there bearing the cross as well, recreating the world and your life with his words and grace.
I applaud all of you who choose to Take Up the Cross and come to be part of the church and even witness publicly to the reality of the resurrected Jesus.
May God strengthen you as you continue the journey with the cross.
Grace and peace,