I don’t know if you’ve ever done this or not, but when I was a child, hand shadows often entertained my brothers and me. Growing up in rural and small-town America, there wasn’t much to do when the sun went down. Sometimes, we would take a flashlight and cast shadows on the wall. We worked as hard as we could, manipulating our hands and fingers to see how many animal images we could make. We created shadows that looked like fish, birds, deer and my favorite, the octopus. An octopus wasn’t difficult to make, but living in mid-America, it was about the most exotic thing we could think of.
Today, I’m training 108 students to live the lifestyle of a missionary. Over the next 35 days, this will continue on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. These students want to go a step beyond the cultural Jesus to embrace the biblical one: “Then He said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me’” (Luke 9:23).
Our summer teaching centers around the three parts of that verse: deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him. The incredible truth is that when He calls us to follow Him, we get to be with Him. Part of the students’ training this year is to walk with the cross my team and I carried up Mt. Kilimanjaro. From the time they put it on their shoulder until they pass it on, a transformation takes place. Most of the time, they can’t speak a word. Sometimes they will say, “All I could think of was Jesus did this for me.” The cross has a life of its own.
Since I’ve returned from Kilimanjaro, I’ve led a number of groups to take a journey with the cross. On the climb last August, its shadow mesmerized me. I watched for days on end as it shifted and changed. One of my favorite pictures of myself was taken from behind the cross and its shadow.
As I walked, I would watch the shadow lengthen or shorten with the time of day. It would start on one side of the trail and, hours later, end up on the other. I loved the way it would snake over the rocks and down a ravine so effortlessly. And unlike me, it had no difficulty in making the journey
The shadow also spoke to me about the Christian life. Here are some of the truths it taught me:
1. All ministry is done
within the shadow of the cross
We teach our students to take on the ministry of Jesus. One of our team members will ask, “What are we going to do tomorrow?” and the group will reply in unison, “Jesus Ministry!” We have youth ministry, children’s ministry, and senior adult ministry—but Awe Star does Jesus Ministry. When you get away from the shadow of the cross, you are no longer doing Jesus Ministry, but your own. Power and blessing come when you serve within the shadow of the cross.
2. In the shadow, I am on the cross
It took me awhile to understand this one, but the more I watched the shadow of the cross, the more I understood Gal. 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me.” The “deny” part of Luke 9:23 is about us crucifying our thoughts, our desires, our hopes, our dreams, our relationships and our everything to Him every day. In the shadow, I am always on the cross—right where He wants me to be.
3. The shadow’s reach depends
upon the sun, or the shadow’s reach depends upon the Son
Two thousand years ago, the cross was planted and our Savior was crucified, buried and resurrected. From that day forth, the shadow of the cross began to spread out across every nation, tribe and tongue.
Why does Jesus ask us to take up the cross daily? Because that causes the shadow to push forward. And do you know one of the best things about the shadow? When you find it, you can always make your way back to the cross. If you feel far away from God and distant from anything spiritual, look around, my friend. The shadow is near you and will lead you home. Today, I’m trying to raise up another generation to extend the reach of the cross.
You might say that as a grown man, I’m still looking at shadows. Only this time, my favorite is not an octopus, but the shadow of the cross.