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Lent is a time for Christians to fully examine their relationship with the Lord. Through prayer, sacrifice and service, we develop an understanding of what it means to "take up your cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34) As Christians, we are called to live Christ's life- not to study the life of Jesus and try to be like Him, but actually let Him live through us.

In my own journey this Lent, Our Lord is asking me to fully understand His love. Through several prayer experiences, I hear him calling me to this deeper understanding of His love- not just with my head, but with my heart. And the key to understanding that amazing love is to understand His suffering. My intellect understands that the Lord suffered, but I have never explored His suffering with my heart. His love is greater than His suffering, but how great was that suffering?

I am participating in an independent Threshold Bible Study called People of the Passion by Stephen J. Binz. In this study, I will explore the meaning of discipleship through the people who encounter Jesus during His passion. These people witness and are impacted by the suffering of Jesus. They saw the suffering of our Lord first hand. It is my hope that by going on this journey through their eyes, I will have a better understanding of His suffering and then of His love.

Please know that I am not a scholar. I have no formal education in theology, philosophy or church history. I'm just a regular person trying to make sense of what Jesus is asking me to do- to love like He loves.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day 22- Simon of Cyrene Carries the Cross

Mark 15:21-11

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus.  Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull).

Romans 16:13

Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother- a mother to me also.

Binz tells us that Simon of Cyrene is a Jewish man from Northern Africa (Lydia) who was making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the passover feast.  He arrived just in time to be ordered by the Roman guards to help Jesus carry the cross.  Jesus was weakened by the severe scourging and the soldiers knew he could not make it all the way to Golgotha without help.  At first Simon was very reluctant to help Jesus.  Binz states that "it was a terrible indignity" to carry the cross of a condemned man.  But that indignity became Simon's moment of glory.  Because, Simon encountered Jesus and his life changed forever.  Historians speculate Simon's family was among the first Christians in Rome.  We see that theory supported in Paul's conclusion of his letter to the Romans where he affectionately refers to Rufus and his mother, Simon's wife. 

Have you ever been asked to do something you really didn't want to do?  But while you were doing it, something happened that you were not expecting to happen?  Did you grow out of that experience?  That is what happened to Simon.  He really didn't want to help.  He was just happened to be walking by.  Helping a criminal in this manner was rather humiliating.  But, probably out of fear of the soldiers, he helped.  And in the process, he encountered a man whom he came to know as his personal Lord and Savior.  That moment, when he helped the Lord carry his cross, changed Simon forever.  And it changed his whole family.  They all became disciples and contributed to the fabric of a courageous community of Christians in Rome.  Simon was a true disciple to Jesus in his greatest suffering.  While the original 12 fled the Lord, Simon was there to help Jesus- to take some of the heavy load from our Lord's shoulders. 

Jesus tells us, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34).  So, what does that mean? I think our crosses are the sufferings we encounter in our lives.  When we encounter suffering, we have a choice.  We can either wallow in self pity or we can turn to God.  We can either blame God or partner with God.  We can either grow closer to God or allow our suffering to pull us away from God. 

Simon did not ask to help the Lord.  He did not want to suffer.  He did not want that cross.  But once he took it, he figured out the meaning to his life.  He found his heart's desire.  He found his Lord.  We do not ask for the sufferings we are burdened with in this life.  We do not ask for cancer or financial problems or divorce but sometimes that is exactly what we get.  How we choose to deal with the suffering is where we will meet or not meet our Lord.  I hear a lot abut the fairness of life with regard to the existence of God.  Isn't fair that a young person dies of cancer.  It isn't fair that a child is left with out a parent.  It isn't fair that a family must live in their car.  If God exists, how can he allow these things to happen to people?  That is a hard question.  And I am not going to pretend to have an answer.  But I can say that the purpose of our lives is to find God here so that we may share in His life when we leave this earth.  The purpose of our crosses is to aid us in that process.  If we truly take up our cross and follow him, then we will find our purpose and encounter the Lord.  But if we take up our cross and don't follow him, we may find ourselves crushed under its weight.

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