Just recently I fought a bought with esophageal cancer. The ordeal started December of 2006 with some swallowing problems. I was diagnosed July 31 and went through radiation and chemotherapy for five weeks in late August and through September. During my treatments I was in Stamping Ground, KY, the town near our church, when a woman from a neighboring congregation approached me to ask me how I was doing. A comment that she made toward the end of our conversation caught me dead in the heart. The comment? She said, "Now you know the cross the Lord wants you to bear."

I struggled with my emotions in response to her remark. I felt a mixture of rage and pity. Then I realized it. This woman had obviously never willingly made a sacrifice for the Lord in her life. Her crowning jewels of her faith were probably diseases and sicknesses and problems she had endured. She saw her cross as something bad for her that was forced upon her without any choice...like a disease. Perhaps there are others who feel this same way. Fortunately, God's Word makes it very plain for us if we just pay attention. There are three distinct admonitions from Christ Himself concerning cross bearing and none of them have anything to do with disease.

One of the most notorious is the conversation Jesus had with a rich young ruler who was seeking justification for his brand of goodness. The story is related in Mark 10:17-22. The young man approached Jesus, calling Him, "Good Master." Perhaps he expected a like greeting of, "Good sir," in reponse. Instead he was reminded by Jesus that none is good but God, followed by Jesus' recounting of the heart and soul of moral goodness. He was thrilled because he could then take pride that he had kept all Jesus had said. Then came the hammer. His title, his comfort and his fortune were all in the way of true goodness. He must make the conscious sacrifice of surrendering them in order to take up the cross and follow Jesus. He just couldn't make that sacrifice. It was his choice, not a forced decision.

In three separate scriptures Jesus is quoted as giving the admonition for His followers to take up the cross. In Matthew 16:24-26, Mark 8:34-36 and Luke 9:23-26, Jesus uses language such as, "whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it," and "what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul." These were tied to Jesus' instruction that, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." Again, the challenge of self denial tied to cross bearing. A decision as opposed to a disease.

The last one is one that hits home with too many of us. We consider our families as one of God's greatest blessing, yet, Jesus bluntly tells us that our adoration for our families must seem like hatred when compared to our love for Him. In Matthew 10:37-39 and Luke 14:26,27, Jesus plainly states that our mere acceptance of His sacrifice is not enough to make us worthy of His life in us. We must hate our families in order to be worthy of Him. The implication is that His purpose of saving the world must be ours over all other purposes. If we are to be His disciples, His followers, we must take up that cross even as Jesus did. That's not a disease, not a sickness, not a problem; it's a decision.