I've been reading "The Body Style: The Church as described by Jesus" written by Gayle Erwin. This is my night time book to read before heading off to lala land. Last night I read a few paragraphs that changed my whole perspective on one of my life verses... yes, I have a few, lol, don't judge me! It may seem long, but so worth it.
Chapter: Find Your Life
Matthew 16:24, Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."
This serving statement of Jesus also reveals a highly misunderstood yet extremely straightforward requirement for the Kingdom of God- self denial. We reword this mandate by stating, "Let man deny himself something." The addition of something makes this requirement far less than what Jesus said. Indeed, I find it easy to deny myself some thing. In fact, we easily institutionalize this practice by designating a certain time of the year to play this little game. Lent makes us feel religious but totally misses the point. While self denial may include some things, it brings me face to face with something far more serious.
The most ungodlike, Jesus oppposing trait I carry is my self centeredness. My greed and lust (characteristics of my selfish being) rule until I invite the Creator to rule my life. Whe He rules, my nature gradually changes to others-centered thinking. If I simply deny myself something, I escape without denying my self. It is precisely that lost self that Jesus came to rescue.
This brings up a most interesting aberriation that exists in the church world. When governments or other counting bodies attempt to divide the world into different religious groups, Christian becomes anyone who is not Muslim or Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist. [skipping a few sentences] Being American or Methodist or Catholic or Baptist- make the list as long as you want- does not make me Christian. Policticians form broad lists of various groups as the Christian world, but these lists lack something most important- the category does not necessarily denote a relationship with Jesus.
Jesus made two more statements that provide foundation stones in this same sentence: Take up your cross and follow me. Many things, often humorous- such as husbands and halitosis- pile into this sack we call the cross. Amost anything we consider miserable from spouse to job to inescapable situations we tend to call our cross. Keep in mind that when Jesus made this statement to the diciples, he had not yet been to the cross. No such connotations existed.
Whe Jesus said, take up your cross, an immediate image flooded the disciples' minds. Thousands of people had died on crosses by that time at the hands of the Romans. The hatred all Jews had for Romans meant that each person carried the realization that, in Roman terms, he was deserving of crucifixion. The concept of the cross also carried the ultimate reality of physical death. Consequently, this cross to be carried was a constant reminder of guilt (deserved) and death (physically inescapable).
In the face of guilt and death, what shall you do with your life? What goals and actions become worthwhile?With a gun to your head and permission to do your last deeds, what would they be? Jesus provides the answer, "follow me."
The statement, follow me, wonderfully simplifies my world. Following a person is so much simpler than following directions. Many people think Christianity is following a set of rules or principles. When I hear people say, "I try to live by Christian principles," I want to jump in and say, "Principles didn't die on the cross; a person did."
(almost done here.)
I can follow even when I don't understand the directions. Often, in my travels, I am in countries that use our alphabet and within a week, I have developed a traveler's understanding of signs and the language. However, I also travel to countries whose writings baffles me. The symbols look like someone with a mouth full of chocolate sneezed. How can I learn that or follow directions in such foreign scratchings? I tried once and finally gave up, calling a friend on the phone and saying, "I can't find you."
His question worsened my situation, "Where are you?"
"I don't know."
I wanted to say, "I am at the corner of WALK and DON'T WALK."
So he asked me what buildings I could see. When I described them, he responded, "I know where you are. Stay there. I will come and you can follow me home." Alriiiight! I can follow even when I don't understand the directions.
This is why even a child can be a Christian. We do not need a Ph.D to be a follower. All we need do is focus our eyes on Jesus himself and follow him.
The wonder of following Jesus is that more is demanded of us than any other system, yet we are the ones whose leader occupies us and actually meets the unmeetable requirements in us. Any other teaching is a reduction of the words of Jesus.
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