As modern Americans, we love our individuality, those things that make us different, unique, special – or so we hope.

And we blanch at the mere thought that anyone – particularly those with some measure of authority – might come along and tell us such traits may be less than edifying (to put it nicely.)

Consider restaurants. Today, anyone can walk into just about any American eatery and custom order most anything on the menu. Don’t like the dressing? Just put it on the side, or substitute something else entirely. Don’t like an unusual sounding ingredient? Simply asked for it to be removed, even if it might ruin the entire dish.

Yet some menus include the dreaded phrase: “No substitutions.” While your experience may be different, we have witnessed some people absolutely, well, lose their lunch, so to speak, over a waitstaff’s refusal to let their lowbrow customer tinker with a dish.

And just consider what happens in the modern world if someone dares tell another human being something they are doing or some trait they declare to be immutable may be harmful or at least a bit less defining than they assert.

For many believers, this same behavior extends to our relationship with God.

While we call ourselves Christ followers, we so often refuse the simplest , yet most demanding, command ever given by the Son of God to any human being, anywhere:

The two word command, “Follow Me.”

Jesus first said those words to a handful of fishermen mending their nets on the shores of the Sea of Galilee more than 2,000 years ago. And those men got up, left behind everything and followed the man they would soon come to know as Teacher, Friend, Master, Messiah and, ultimately, Lord and God.

But through the following process, Jesus’ disciples, those who loved Him most dearly, who defended Him most vigorously, who stuck by Him most loyally, continuously ran into one near insurmountable obstacle over and over.

For while other teachers and masters of Jesus’ day may have called disciples to take up his mantle, Jesus called His disciples to take up their cross.

It is striking imagery, one which we in our convenient, sanitized First World environment struggle to understand. Certainly, all of Jesus’ disciples were familiar with the imagery of the cross – men nailed to a cross beam of wood, beaten and hung up to slowly suffocate to death over the course of hours, sometimes at the whim of a Roman governor, military commander or puppet potentate.

So, one can only imagine what went through their minds when Jesus said no one can truly follow Him unless they first take up their cross.

Yet their puzzlement over the command still trips us up today.

For Jesus is not commanding us all to suffer the same gruesome death He did on that blessed day at Calvary.

Rather, He commands us to put to figurative death those ideas, behaviors and, yes, traits and lifestyles we allow to interfere with our spiritual development as believers, which hold us back from fulfilling the ultimate desire of Christ, when He comes to us, in our current situation, our current environment, and beckons us with that simple command to “Follow Me.”

While He calls us to come just as we are, Jesus also tells us there is no going back. For those who follow Christ, there must be death:

Death to self. Death to pride. Death to lust. Death to greed. Death to selfishness. Death to ambition. Death to anything that would prevent us from becoming all that He has created us to be, the much more real version of ourselves that we can never become on our own, clinging to the broken promises, broken dreams and broken tokens offered by this world.

But here’s the rub: We can’t kill any of these things ourselves, for we are – all of us – sinners, and these things are part of our nature – immutable, unchangeable traits, if you will. But if we let Him, God can and will kill them, leading to something truly wonderful.

For Jesus promises that those who die in Him will also rise with Him. For all the so-called treasures we sacrifice to Him, He will give so much more, and so  much better.

For He promises that those who follow Him will become like Him.

Jesus conquered death. He conquered pride, lust, greed, selfishness, ambition, loss, pain.

And He promises, in the end, He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Today, we invite you to start that journey. Take the first steps toward your new, forever life. There’s no substitute. Find life. Find hope. Find purpose. Follow Jesus. And don’t look back.