Tag Archives: cross

A LOOK BACK: Denial and the Cross

Read  Mark 8:34-38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

REVDRMLKJRIf you are Christian you have, no doubt, come across today’s scripture reading before. In one fashion, or another, you have heard that following Jesus means that we need to deny ourselves and pick up our cross. Part of the problem of being a Christian is that, all of these centuries later, we hear Jesus’ words in ways that I believe he never intendeded them. For instance, when we come across today’s Scirpture passage we often interpret it in ways that both trivialize the cross and demonize ourselves into something less than valuable in the eyes of God.

An unhealthy understanding of Bible passages such as these can lead to an unhealthy, and perhaps damning perception of self, of neighbor and, ultimately, of God. So let me begin by stressing what this passage is NOT saying. First, this passage is NOT saying you should hate yourself or deny yourself your basic needs. It is not saying that at all! God created you and God does not create junk or rubbish. God created you, and all, with a divine and holy purpose in mind. Thus, Jesus is not telling us that in order to be his disciple we need to hate ourselves, look down upon ourselves, or neglect to take care of ourselves. To do such would be sinful and would not be in line with God’s will for us. After all, God calls us to be good stewards of God’s creation (in which we are included) and to go against that would be to go against God’s call.

Second, this passage is not intended to trivialize the cross. There is a TobyMac song called Irene, in which TobyMac sings “Pick up your cross and where it everyday.” This is both a reference to Luke’s parallel passage (Luke 9:22-25) and to the trinket people often where on a necklace fastened around their necks. But this is not what the passage is referring to at all. It’s not referring to a necklace, nor is it referring to a lamented obligation, or a personal challenge one has been going through; rather, Jesus is referring to the instrument of capital punishment he would be affixed to as a means of painfully and humiliatingly exterminating his life.

What Jesus is ultimately saying in this passage is that, if anyone wishes to be his follower, we must deny any part of us that would hold us back from following him. Regardless of what those things are (e.g. our sins, our hangups, our fears, our desires, our hopes, our dreams, etc.) we must be willing to put them aside and be willing to pay all costs for being associated with Jesus. Even if the cost is our very lives, we must be willing to give it all to follow Christ. It has nothing to do with self-loathing, though. It has to do with one’s identity! If one truly identifies as a Christians, and sees him/herself as belonging to Christ, then that will be the most important thing to him/her over and above anything else, including his/her own life.

There are numerous examples of people who saw Christ as being at the core of their identity. This week it behooves us to look at the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was a disciple of Christ who denied the fears and things that held him back from following Christ. Dr. King certainly picked up his cross, the burden of fighting for equality and freedom for all people regardless of their skin color, and ended up paying the ultimate price for doing so. When we look at Dr. King we see a man who certainly denied himself, picked up his cross and followed Jesus.

The question for us today is this, will we let our fears and our desires keep us from accepting Christ as our Lord? Will we refuse to pick up our cross because of the possible consequences? Will we deny Christ, or deny the parts of ourselves that keep us from accepting Christ? Will we be ashamed of Christ, Christ’s message, and the way of the Cross because it is more convenient for us to do so? Or will we deny our own convenience for the sake of Christ, for the sake of others and for the sake of God’s Kingdom? The choice is ultimately yours and I pray that your response is one of affirmation rather than one of denial and embarrassment. The world could use more disciples of Christ and the hope, healing and wholeness that such disciples bring in Christ’s name.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
When we deny the poor and the vulnerable their own human dignity and capacity for freedom and choice, it becomes self-denial. It becomes a denial of both our collective and individual dignity, at all levels of society. – Jacqueline Novogratz
PRAYER
Lord, I give me the strength to deny the things that hold me back from you, to pick up my cross, and to follow you at all costs. Amen.

The Power of Faith

Read Hebrews 11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”  (Matthew 17:20, NLT)

As you can see, I have been concentrating on horror movies throughout the month of October because that is Halloween month. For me, Halloween is not just a day, it’s an entire season. So, I spend at least October, if not parts of September and November watching horror films and listening to gothic and atmospheric music. This is a yearly ritual for me as Halloween is one of my favorite holidays…EVER.

One of my favorite vampire films from the 80s is one called, “Fright Night”, with William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall and Chris Sarandon (aka Susan Sarandon’s brother). I love the film because it brings back memories of being a kid in the 80s and watching that film and others during the Halloween season. There is something about horror films in the 80s, with their blend of camp and over the top special effects that just draw me right in.

Anyway, this film is about a boy named Charlie who notices strange goings on next door after it is purchased by a strange, enigmatic man. As it turns out, Charlie becomes aware that his neighbor is a vampire because he sees him biting a woman through the bedroom window. He also saw his neighbor and a helper carrying what looked like a coffin into the basement of the house.

At first he tries to tell his mom; however, she thinks he had a bad nightmare and doesn’t believe him. His friend and his girlfriend don’t believe him either and Charlie feels at wits end because the vampire made it clear that he knows Charlie is on to him. To make matters worse, the neighbor, whose name was Jerry Danridge, was invited over to his house by his mom, which means that Jerry could now enter the house anytime he wants and harm his family.

Out of desperation, Charlie sought out a movie actor who portrayed his favorite vampire slayer, Peter Vincent. Of course, Peter was not REALLY a vampire slayer, but just an actor; however, to make a long story short, Charlie did eventually convince Peter that his neighbor is a vampire and that he needed Peter’s help. There is one scene where Jerry approached Peter Vincent to attack him and he pulled out a cross to ward him off. To Peter and Charlie’s surprise, Jerry  laughed at them, grabbed the cross, and crumbled it in his hand. “You have to have faith,” the vampire mocked, “for this to work Mr. Vincent!”

As he bent down to bit Peter, Charlie, with a fire in his eyes, lifted his cross. You could see that HE DID BELIEVE and, as a result, Jerry hissed backwards and ran away. Charlie, because of his faith in the power of the cross…the power of Christ…was able to save his hero’s life. Charlie and Peter both learned a valuable lesson that day. There is great power in faith.

The Bible teaches us that “faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1, NLT). Charlie had hoped that by raising the cross he would be able to stop the vampire from doing harm to Peter. He had no evidence that it would work, and he couldn’t physically see how a cross could stop such evil; however, he believed that if he raised that cross, it WOULD WORK. He had faith and, because of that, he was able to overcome the evil that was attacking him and Peter Vincent.

While we live in the real world, where vampired don’t exist, we still are called to stand up against evil and oppression. Yet, how can we do that? How can we, who are sinful human beings, ever resist the forces of sin, evil, oppression and death? Christ calls us to have faith, to believe in HIS power to overcome such things through us. It’s not we who have the power, but HE who lives within us who can stop evil in it’s tracks and make it cower before the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ as expressed both on the cross and in the empty tomb.

This should challenge us to grow in our faith and to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Like Charlie, not everyone will believe us, nor will they believe in what we believe in. Some may even mock us and most will not join us in our effort to do what is right despite the overwhelming odds. None of that matters if we keep our focus and our faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. It is him who will lead us to rise up against and resist evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” – D. Elton Trueblood

PRAYER
Lord, I do believe. Help me with my unbelief. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Denial and the Cross

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. This is the month of retreats for me, so as I am busy leading them, here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

Denial and the Cross

Read  Mark 8:34-38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

REVDRMLKJRIf you are Christian you have, no doubt, come across today’s scripture reading before. In one fashion, or another, you have heard that following Jesus means that we need to deny ourselves and pick up our cross. Part of the problem of being a Christian is that, all of these centuries later, we hear Jesus’ words in ways that I believe he never intendeded them. For instance, when we come across today’s Scirpture passage we often interpret it in ways that both trivialize the cross and demonize ourselves into something less than valuable in the eyes of God.

An unhealthy understanding of Bible passages such as these can lead to an unhealthy, and perhaps damning perception of self, of neighbor and, ultimately, of God. So let me begin by stressing what this passage is NOT saying. First, this passage is NOT saying you should hate yourself or deny yourself your basic needs. It is not saying that at all! God created you and God does not create junk or rubbish. God created you, and all, with a divine and holy purpose in mind. Thus, Jesus is not telling us that in order to be his disciple we need to hate ourselves, look down upon ourselves, or neglect to take care of ourselves. To do such would be sinful and would not be in line with God’s will for us. After all, God calls us to be good stewards of God’s creation (in which we are included) and to go against that would be to go against God’s call.

Second, this passage is not intended to trivialize the cross. There is a TobyMac song called Irene, in which TobyMac sings “Pick up your cross and where it everyday.” This is both a reference to Luke’s parallel passage (Luke 9:22-25) and to the trinket people often where on a necklace fastened around their necks. But this is not what the passage is referring to at all. It’s not referring to a necklace, nor is it referring to a lamented obligation, or a personal challenge one has been going through; rather, Jesus is referring to the instrument of capital punishment he would be affixed to as a means of painfully and humiliatingly exterminating his life.

What Jesus is ultimately saying in this passage is that, if anyone wishes to be his follower, we must deny any part of us that would hold us back from following him. Regardless of what those things are (e.g. our sins, our hangups, our fears, our desires, our hopes, our dreams, etc.) we must be willing to put them aside and be willing to pay all costs for being associated with Jesus. Even if the cost is our very lives, we must be willing to give it all to follow Christ. It has nothing to do with self-loathing, though. It has to do with one’s identity! If one truly identifies as a Christians, and sees him/herself as belonging to Christ, then that will be the most important thing to him/her over and above anything else, including his/her own life.

There are numerous examples of people who saw Christ as being at the core of their identity. This week it behooves us to look at the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was a disciple of Christ who denied the fears and things that held him back from following Christ. Dr. King certainly picked up his cross, the burden of fighting for equality and freedom for all people regardless of their skin color, and ended up paying the ultimate price for doing so. When we look at Dr. King we see a man who certainly denied himself, picked up his cross and followed Jesus.

The question for us today is this, will we let our fears and our desires keep us from accepting Christ as our Lord? Will we refuse to pick up our cross because of the possible consequences? Will we deny Christ, or deny the parts of ourselves that keep us from accepting Christ? Will we be ashamed of Christ, Christ’s message, and the way of the Cross because it is more convenient for us to do so? Or will we deny our own convenience for the sake of Christ, for the sake of others and for the sake of God’s Kingdom? The choice is ultimately yours and I pray that your response is one of affirmation rather than one of denial and embarrassment. The world could use more disciples of Christ and the hope, healing and wholeness that such disciples bring in Christ’s name.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
When we deny the poor and the vulnerable their own human dignity and capacity for freedom and choice, it becomes self-denial. It becomes a denial of both our collective and individual dignity, at all levels of society. – Jacqueline Novogratz
PRAYER
Lord, I give me the strength to deny the things that hold me back from you, to pick up my cross, and to follow you at all costs. Amen.

A Time to Reflect, part 1

Starting with last Friday, this week (Friday to Friday) is the week of retreats. As such, I decided to change things up for this week of devotions. Rather than publishing two full devotions this week, and rather than publishing two previously written devotions, I have decided to publish two scriptures and a couple of reflective questions. Read the Scripture, more than once even, and ponder the questions that are asked in regard it. If you are reading this on lifegivingwaterdevo.org, feel free to comment with your answers and/or reflective thoughts. If you are reading this in print somewhere, or on some other site that is publishing it, then perhaps write your answers and/or reflective thoughts on paper and save them to look back upon.

Next week, I will write two brand new devotions based off of the two Scripture passages and the reflective questions being asked.

Today’s Scripture:

Mark 8:34-38

bench1He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

  1. What does Jesus mean when he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves…”?
  2. What did it mean for people in Jesus’ day to pick up their crosses? What does it mean for you to pick up your cross?
  3. What does Jesus mean by “those who are ashamed of me and my words” and why does Jesus call his generation “adulterous and sinful”?
  4. Do you feel uneasy by Jesus’ words in this passage? If so, why does it challenge you? If not, why doesn’t it?

Look for next Wednesday’s devotion in order to see the full devotion on Mark 8:34-38.