“Take up your cross and follow Me.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?[l] Is anything worth more than your soul?.
The other day, I was working on a special Thanksgiving podcast episode for the Real Cool History for Kids Podcast Show, featuring the story of the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving. As I read through my primary sources (in this case, a set of history books published in the early 1800s, written by the great-great-great grandchildren of the early colonists), I came to the place in the story where the group had been living in Holland for eleven years.
The leaders of the group were beginning to feel an urgency to move the group to America before there was no group left. You see, many of the Pilgrims, who originally had called themselves the “Separatists” because of their desire to separate from the Church of England, had settled and put roots down in their new home. They had once faced prison and even death for their faith, but now, they were beginning to loose that defining edge.
Perhaps they felt they deserved some comfort and peace after the affliction they had endured at the hands of the English government and power-hungry King James.
At any rate, after more than a decade of living in Holland, the Separatists weren’t so separate anymore; they had adjusted to the relative ease of life there. Their children, who had been quite young upon their arrival in Holland, were now grown. Many of them had married Dutch spouses and were beginning families. They had profitable businesses or jobs. Yes, life was good.
There were those among the group who, when confronted with the reality of what they might be facing, chose not to go to the “New World.”
Who could blame them?
Why would they want to trade it all in, sell all of their worldly goods…again, and move lock, stock, and barrel, to a wild, unsettled wilderness? No one knew for sure what was in those woods, after all. There wouldn’t be houses waiting for them. There would be nothing at all waiting for them. No welcoming committee, no restaurants, not even a grocery store with food ready to buy for supper or kitchen to cook it in, no jobs or businesses, no churches, no schools…nothing but the unknown.
Why in the world would they choose to go?
As I sat on my couch, my feet up on my ottoman, my thick, fleecy blanket spread over my legs and feet, with the warmth of the fireplace and the furnace wafting around me, I realized something.
As much as I love Jesus, trust Him with my life, and give Him everything I have, I would have been one of that hesitant number.
I know I wouldn’t have been the first to jump to volunteer to leave my comfort zone. I wouldn’t have wanted to leave my friends, my snug home, my library of books, my creative studio, my beautiful green and white kitchen, my coffee pot… But if I had felt the call to go, would I have allowed “my life” to keep me from following it?
I thought back to when Jesus walked the dusty soil of this earth. I thought about His call to follow Him. I thought about the religious leader (in Matthew 8) who tells Jesus he will follow Him wherever He goes.
Jesus responds to the man with this reality check, ““Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay His head.” In other words, I’m homeless!
Jesus was asking: Will you be willing to follow Me even if it means being homeless? Will you follow Me where there is no earthly comfort? Will you follow Me in that area of your life where you hang onto control? Will you follow Me there? Will you follow Me now?
My guess is that this answer wasn’t exactly what the religious leader had expected. We don’t hear anything more about him.
I sat staring at the account of these comfortable, hesitant Pilgrims who decided to stay in Holland, and I realized something else.
Because they chose not to answer the call to America, they forfeited their part in something much bigger than their own lives. Yes, they kept their comfort and safety, but they weren’t part of the heritage of religious freedom that was integral to the founding of this country. It’s not the account of their sacrifice and work that made history.
I empathized with this group of hesitant Pilgrims as I thought about all of the areas of hesitation in my own life. Areas where I’ve dragged my feet or clinched my hands – afraid of what it would cost in the terms of comfort. Areas where I have allowed my own will and comfort to call the shots in my life.
We know that Jesus doesn’t call all of us to sell everything we have to move to an uninhabited land. But He does still call ALL of His followers to live every single day “giving up our own way, taking up our cross, and following Him.”
As I dug further into the story of these Pilgrims, I read on about the group who decided to risk it all, in spite of being scared and hesitant.
These brave people, who would set the precedent for religious freedom, faced unbelievable hardship and peril to be part of something so much bigger than their comfort. The phrase, “Faith of our fathers,” took on a whole new meaning. [By the way, if you have never listened to the hymn, “Faith of Our Fathers,” I encourage you to do so. Sobering.]
I love Thanksgiving. This year, I am especially excited for our feast because we are hosting a number of our clan. But, as our family and friends gather for turkey and all of the fixings, I know I will be seeing the day a little differently than I did before.
I will remember the part of the group who came and forged their way in the wilderness back in 1620, but I will also think about the other members who decided to choose to stay in Holland. I’ll breathe a prayer of thanksgiving for both groups and the lessons they can teach us even today.
This Thanksgiving, I challenge all of us to ask hard questions about our allegiance, loyalty, and love. What does “giving up our own way, taking up our cross, and following Him” look like in each of our lives? One universal truth for all true followers is this: following Jesus always takes us outside of our own ability and comfort.
So, will we, like so many heroes of the faith, be part of the hesitant but courageous group who will choose to give up our own lives and ways to follow Jesus? Or will we allow the gifts and blessings of our lives to be our safe yet ineffective comfort zone?
“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?”James 2:14
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Jazzed-up Green Beans!
Traditional green bean casserole is boring…at least that ‘s what my kids told me many years ago, before I began making my “jazzed-up” version for Thanksgiving. Most green bean casseroles have a minimal number of ingredients, which, as my kids declared, makes for bland and boring. Prepare for the “Yum! More, please!”
This “recipe” makes about 12 good-sized servings.
I start with (about 10 cups) frozen, organic green beans. Costco has my favorite, whole-bean kind, but any good frozen green beans will work fine. (Make sure there are no ends or stem pieces!)
Pre-boil the beans until they are el donte. While they are cooking, stir together one can of cream of mushroom soup, one can of cream of chicken soup, and one cup of sour cream. Add pepper, seasoning salt, onion powder, and garlic powder to taste. (I don’t measure these, but if I did, it would be about 1/2 tsp. of each.)
Strain the green beans and place them in a large casserole pan. Add your sauce and stir to make sure all of the green beans are completely covered. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the combination. Sprinkle French fried onions over the entire pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the green beans are tender and the sauce is bubbling.