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It wasn’t supposed to be this hard.

No one told me it was going to be this hard. Or, if someone did tell me it was going to be this hard I didn’t listen, or perhaps I wasn’t in a position to listen.

Maybe I was just fooled by the commercial advertising that everything was going to be alright in the end if I just signed up for the program. Everyone in the commercial seemed happy. There were lots of beautiful faces. Everyone was smiling. Life was grand. Problem is, commercials never tell the whole story. I must have fallen for the marketing plan hook, line, and sinker.

Truth is, it wasn’t supposed to be this hard.

I was baptized at twelve years old. I won’t claim it was some great repentance story, because it wasn’t. I was born into church, and have believed my whole life. Still, it was a faith shaping moment. I was making my own commitment to God. My youth minister told me this was a life-long commitment. My church family surrounded me afterward, sang songs with me, and prayed over me. I knew I had to remain faithful for life.

Still, I didn’t know discipleship would be this hard.

We don’t often talk about Lordship often. We sing songs about Jesus is Lord, and we may even declare together as faith communities from time to time that we confess Jesus is Lord, but we don’t often explain what that means. It’s more than just saying Jesus is in charge, or Jesus is the one we follow. Instead its complete devotion. It’s submitting fully to God and God’s desires. It’s self-denial; self-sacrifice. In essence, its death to self; death to my plans, my dreams, my likes, and my desires.

Truth is, that’s hard.

It’s hard to die to self; especially when so many things in our culture encourage us to gratify our desires. It’s hard to die to self because it means that we can’t choose our actions and activities solely based on what pleases us, or even what pleases our friends and family, but we must also make our choices based on how we can best love others. Self-denial is difficult, yet it’s vital for discipleship, because it’s the way of the cross.

At the end of Luke 9 Jesus confronts some would be followers and challenges them to take faith seriously. While most of us would never turn away volunteers, Jesus isn’t afraid to lay out some serious ground rules before allowing others to follow. Jesus says family, possessions, and desires are not allowed to keep one from discipleship. If one is not willing to give any and all of those up, one is not ready to follow. As Jesus says, we must be willing to take up the cross and follow.

Later, in chapter 14, Jesus returns to the subject. Now he claims we must be willing to hate father and mother, sisters and brother or we can’t be disciples. We must be willing to give up all of our possessions or we can’t be followers. And again he says, if we aren’t willing to take up the cross, we can’t follow.

Often we want to think of the cross as some hypothetical burden. My cross is that I may not be popular. My cross is that I may have a sickness. My cross is that I can’t watch R-rated movies or drink lots of alcohol. But Jesus’s call to take up the cross is much deeper than just some hypothetical “I might be willing to do if…” question. Jesus’s call to take up the cross really is death, and that’s not easy.

In one sense, taking up the cross means that we must enter the broken and hurting areas of life and bring hope. We aren’t allowed to just stay on the safe side and send thoughts and prayers. We can’t just escape to our Christian commune. Instead, we must enter into the brokenness. We must become vulnerable. We must share in another’s pain. We must be on the front line opposing injustice, caring for the vulnerable, loving the outcasts, and providing for the destitute. That’s hard because we want to be safe and protect our own. But we are compelled to bring light to the darkness.

In another sense, it means that we can’t give up with our own struggles and sins. We can’t just walk away from a poor marriage because it’s hard. (Obviously, if there is abuse in the marriage, that’s a different subject.) We can’t become content with our own sins. (No amount of gossip is acceptable. No amount of racism is acceptable. No amount of pride is acceptable.) We can’t just follow God for a while and then give up. The cross means death; and it’s only through death that we can experience life.

Christianity, discipleship, if taken seriously, is not easy. It’s a hard life. It requires us to sacrifice all the way to the cross. We need to count the cost before we enter. Because it’s hard.

But, it’s also the only life worth living.