About once a week I go and meet one of dear friends and heroes. Frank Barnes, 86, is currently the pastor of Shady Grove Church in southern Oklahoma. He was the 2nd Baptist church planter in the state of Washington and has led and planted churches across the northwest. One of his most important accomplishments is a red book that he wrote for his discipleship class that became the standard for much of the way we as Southern Baptists work today. I don’t know why I told you all of this except I want you to see how fortunate I am to have a Baptist legend to learn from on a weekly basis.
This morning I met Frank at McDonalds and we talked over a cup of coffee. We both shared and thought through our sermons for Sunday with each other. After about 20 minutes of conversation, Frank asked me one of the best and most difficult questions I have ever had to answer. He said “The bible tells us to take up our cross, what does that look like in real life for my people?”
I thought for a second and considered all of what the cross symbolizes… shame, disgrace, humility, pain, obedience, and even death. To tell you the truth, Christian’s lives here in America are hardly marked by those characteristics. In fact, we see ourselves as a privileged class. What would taking up a cross look like in America today? I could not think of any example of a commitment so great that it would encompass the cross. Our sickness is not our cross to bear. Our struggles at work are not our crosses to bear. The picture of the cross is of giving yourself over in complete humility to torture, pain and suffering because Jesus matters that much. What would it look like today?
The only think I could think of to my friend’s question was of a man (whom I will call Bob for his safety) I met in south east Asia. I met him once on a trip to take a few pictures of groups of indigenous people for the IMB. Bob was a born again believer who lived for Jesus in a public way. I learned his story one morning while we had breakfast together (notice all great meetings happen over breakfast). In his country one’s faith directly affects their place in the social order. The party of influence there is the communist party and membership into that party gives you a foot up in life. The problem in joining the party is that you must accept the communist ideals, one of which is atheism. Not knowing all of this I asked Bob why he didn’t just join the party. He looked at me and said in a very gentle way, “Wes don’t you see that God’s word says that we can’t serve two masters.” For Bob, following Jesus meant that he would never make more than minimum wage. For Him it meant that his kids would not have the opportunities of other’s their age. For him it meant humility and a life of poverty. What does it mean to take up your cross? For my friend Bob it meant that Jesus was worth more than anything else in this world.
I wonder what it looks like here. What would happen if we valued Jesus more that all of the pleasures that we chase? You tell me, what does taking up your cross look like?