Tag Archives: Self

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.

15 Ailments of the Church #13: Wanting More

Read Matthew 16:24-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” (Philippians 4:12 NLT)

money-grabAh, lucky number thirteen. Yes, you heard me right, I just love the number thirteen. I was born on the thirteenth and have always felt that the number thirteen was kind of my lucky number. It is true that the thirteenth chapter of Revelation is the chapter about the rising of the beast that is to be known by its number, six hundred and sixty-six. It is true that many since the eradication of the Knights Templar have held the superstition that Friday the 13 is an unlucky day. But the truth for me has always been that thirteen is a great number, and there for I am excited to be writing about Pope Francis I’s thirteenth ailment of the church.

Ailment of the Church #13: Wanting More. We are living in a culture of excess. There is nothing, relatively speaking, that we do not have in terms of materialistic stuff. We have nice houses, easy access to whatever stores we want, cars to take us from point a to point b in no time at all, and we have technology to do practically everything for us. We have our food grown and/or raised for us, harvested and/or butchered for us, and often times cooked for us at any one of our many choices of restaurants. Our holidays are feasts that could feed third world countries, our houses have enough power to light up said third world countries, and our lifestyles literally gorge on the vital resources that could majorly benefit third world countries.

With all of that said, we are living in a culture that is literally eating iteslf to death. No, I don’t merely mean this in a literal sense with the high rates of obesity, heart disease, and preventable cancers (though that is a part of it); rather, I mean this in a much more all-inclusive way. We are so full to the brim with everything we could ever want, and yet we are always hungry for more. What’s sad is that this is not just pervasive in our society; however, this sort of disease is prevalent in the church as well.

As the church, we should be content in all things. Whether we have tons or we have nothing, we should be grateful for everything. We have been given, literally, the keys to eternal life and the power to usher the Kingdom of God into this world; however, that’s not enough is it? We have found ourselves wanting of more. We want bigger churches, with bigger and more sustainable budgets, and higher attendance. Individually, we the members of the church want the same sort of lifestyle found in the world. We want more stuff, we want more status, we want more power. But Christ, has called us to deny such things, to pick up our cross and to follow him.

So, which is it? How long will we continue to be mired by the stuff that consumes us and, if we continue to be stuck in this mire, how much longer can we really call ourselve Christians? Are we still Christians at this point? Are we still followers of the Christ who forsook all status and power in order to bring us redemption and life? Christ is calling us to something better than the stuff we are seeking after! Christ is calling us to something better than the mire we find ourselves in. Christ is seeking to heal the disease that we have brought on in ourselves through our covetous desire to have more. Today’s challenge, perhaps our life’s challenge, is to stop coveting, to stop wanting more, and to be content in all things.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Happiness consists not in having much, but in being content with little.” – Marguerite Gardiner

PRAYER

Lord, create in me a contentment in all things that I may move forward and being a living example of the abundance that is in you. Amen.

Trading Twilight for Sunlight

Read Romans 3:10-233

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24-25)

twilightJust recently my girls were re-watching the Twilight series. Do you remember that movie series, which ended a couple of years ago with “Breaking Dawn.” Before “New Moon”, “Eclipse”, and “Breaking Dawn” came out, I had read all of the books. I guess I found the movie “Twilight” captivating enough to read the books. My favorite of those books, to this date, is “New Moon” because I love the character development of one of the supporting characters, Jacob Black. In that book, he goes from a boy to a man and, though ending up on the short end of the stick in terms of getting the girl, I would argue he would be the better for it if it weren’t for the author’s contemptuous ending.

But that is neither here nor there. I have a love/hate relationship with that book series. I thought the author did a great job in capturing teenage love, to a “T”, and really transported the older readers back to High School, which for me was more of a nightmare than a pleasure. But still, she did do a good job of that. WIth that said, the entire series, minus one section of the last book, was completely written in the first person. The story is being told as if it were the thoughts of the main character, Bella Swan. SIDE NOTE: Bella means “beautiful” in Italian, so her name really translates to “Beautiful Swan”. Mein Gott!

Despite her name, being inside her head was anything but beautiful. It was in there that I saw her justify manipulating people such as Jacob Black. She used him in order to fill a void in her life that her boyfriend Edward couldn’t fill. And, when she was finished using him, she dumped him like a bag of hot coals. But it wasn’t enough for her to dump him, she had to make him feel guilty for not just wanting to “be friends.” I also saw her manipulate her other friends, her father, and even Edward in order to get the things that she wanted.

I could go on and on about this, but it should suffice to say that being inside her head made me feel trapped. I wanted to get out of in the worst way. Let me pause here, because I don’t want to be too unfair to Ms. Swan. She may be a flawed character, but which one of us arent. Every day we live inside our own heads and every day, we think and do things that aren’t always the most virtuous things to do.  It is the nature of being subjective human beings, isn’t it? We know what we are thinking and feeling, and those thoughts and feelings always take precedence over what others are thinking and feeling. After all, we really don’t know what others think and feel…it’s kind of out of sight and out of mind.

Even as I sit here and criticize Bella Swan for being manipulative, I fully recognize that I, too, have been manipulative in the past. Which one of us hasn’t been? If we are honest, we will readily admit that none of us are perfect. As Paul writes, we “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). But Christ calls us to move beyond our shortcomings and to enter into a new life of living in Christ’s mind as opposed to ours.

Today’s challenge is to step outside of yourself. Begin to see, feel and experience things as Christ did. How do you do this? By entering into a relationship with Christ, one in which you hold yourself accountable to his teachings and to his way of living. Ask the questions, daily, what did Christ do? Then, without a moment’s hesitation, step out and start doing what Christ did. Start caring for the poor, the sick, the differently-abled, the imprisoned, the homeless, the naked. Start being a presence of HOPE, HEALING, and WHOLENESS in the lives of others and you will see that you are no longer trapped in your own head, but are free in Christ’s. Go forth, live and die for others as Christ did.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.” – St. Francis of Assisi

PRAYER
Lord, help me to conquer being stuck in myself and give me your mind, filled with love and compassion for others. Amen.