Mark 8:34-35 (NIV)
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
How do I get myself into things like this? Why would I ever agree to set my alarm on a Saturday way before dawn? How could I do this? I don’t want to get up let alone load a bunch of junk in my truck and head to my mother-in-laws house. But I agreed to do it, she is counting on me. My daughters are certain this will be the motherlode of wealth that they need to overhaul their summer wardrobe. I really just want some sleep and to unload some of the stuff from my home office. I have a new job. I just need some space and quiet to do it. It does not require getting up before the sun. Nevertheless I promised, so I must deny myself. I will not be so dramatic as to compare getting up to do a yard sale to taking up my cross to follow Christ yet it is the little things in life that often speak the loudest.
There was a time in my life when I would have come up with a great excuse not to attend such as the fact that it is supposed to rain midmorning, but I can’t do it anymore. Just like yesterday I wanted to call in “sick” and take a mental health day to dive into my new part-time work, but just couldn’t do it. Something inside me keeps saying do the right thing and finish strong. My life is no longer my own. Christ lives inside of me. There is a purpose in every task that I take on as it is my job to do all things to the Glory of God now. I made that choice when I decided to follow Jesus Christ. It was that moment, point in time that everything changed or at least should have beginning with my motivation in life. Now I live to please no one, but God (and that includes me, myself and I). When I am considering a choice that is not what the Lord would have for me, His Spirit will give me the urge to do the right thing and I must deny myself to follow the Lord. This is the greatest message of the church. Men and women of God who deny themselves to follow Jesus. Sadly, in most cases, it is a forgotten one.
James 3:13-16 (NIV)
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
We have been given the “mind of Christ.” (I Corinthians 2:15-16) We do not judge things according to man but must evaluate and compare them to Christ. It is important how we live. His Spirit lives in us to do the work of God in us that Christ died to do. There should be a change in us with the knowledge of Christ. Who is wise? Who has understanding? Let them show it by their good life. Deeds done in humility as we lay our life down for Christ by loving other people, doing the right things and in many instances denying our flesh to follow the wisdom of Christ that is given to our heart and mind by His Spirit. You know exactly what I am talking about today, it is your selfish man inside that is causing you right now to act like it has no idea what this all means. When we make a choice contrary to God’s Word, we feel it. It is on the inside trying to work its way out as our flesh battles to have its own way. As believers, we do not begin to see the kind of results we are after until we learn to deny ourselves for others and live that good “God” life. To have the wisdom of God and live contrary to it is considered to be “earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.” Don’t get mad at me. James wrote it under the Power of the Holy Spirit that is voicing His Opinion inside of you right now. We must live wisely. We must live by the understanding placed in us by God called the Holy Spirit. Ignoring Him, doesn’t change the truth but rather keeps us from the promises that we are after.
2 Timothy 2:11-13 (NIV)
Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure,
we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.
I love this. Even when we mess up and don’t get this whole God life and deny-myself thing right – God is still faithful. The Lord does not change just because we refuse to sometimes. But rather each morning, He deposits new mercy for me to try again and see if I can get it right. (Lamentations 3:22-23) He still keeps working His Plan just waiting for me to get on board wholeheartedly. (Jeremiah 29:11-13) He keeps working every detail of my life for good even when I am doing nothing good for Him. (Romans 8:28) It is in that moment that we begin to deny ourselves and turn to follow Christ that we see that nothing changed. His Love is faithful. He is true. He never leaves us or forsakes us. See because even though we can deny Christ, He can never deny who He is.
Romans 6:18-20 (NIV)
You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.
We choose how we live our life. We decide the ambition of our heart by deciding what or who we are after. If we want to remain subject to our sin forever, the Lord will not deny us although I know it breaks His Heart. Righteousness, right-standing or even right living are a privileged choice offered to the sons and daughters of God by faith. It allows us to live according to the hope we have rather than the ordinary circumstances and consequences of life. I have a half-brother who is currently incarcerated until 2032. He was convicted of his third strike a few years ago. He was in prison twice before. For some reason, when he got out of prison he only returned to the life that he had before his freedom was taken away. Following his flesh has cost him his marriage, his child, even our mother who recently passed away while he has been there. I believe as Christians that we decide if we remain imprisoned day by day. Just as he had a choice to repent and enter society a changed man, my half-brother decided that he wanted his old life back. The Lord allowed him the freedom to do so. He has paid the price for that choice.
I have decided to follow Jesus. He did not force me, but invited me to deny myself and follow Him. I have to make the choice that I want what the Lord is offering me and change the way that I live to have it. The Lord, thankfully, does not change. He waits for me to have a change of heart and want what He wants for me. We offer ourselves to the Lord by repenting and choosing righteousness. But if our choice does not result in change especially in our everyday, ordinary life then was there ever really a change of heart or commitment in the first place. Chasing God for His Stuff is nothing new. Chasing God with our heart is where we find everything we ever wanted and never where we were before.
Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The word “sacrifice” is not as dramatic as people make it out to be. It is simply giving our life, day by day, moment by moment and choice by choice to Jesus Christ. The norm is to conform to this world. A lot of people go to church on Sunday in full agreement that they want what Jesus has to offer but refuse to come to Him to get it. I do a lot of buying and selling on online “yard” sales. I love them because you can shop without getting up at ungodly hours and driving all over town. If someone likes what I am selling and wants to make a purchase, I have two locations on either side of town to meet that they can choose from. If they do not show up to get what they want from me, then how can they be mad when they don’t have it. We do it all the time. We pray for things or about certain situations but do nothing to seek the Lord for it. Sometimes we are not seeing results because God is not doing anything but because the Lord is saving us from ourselves. It is in following Christ that our lives are transformed and we begin to see our life through His Eyes. So-called missed opportunities and unanswered prayers may actually be the answer in disguise but because we did not deny ourselves we missed the answer when it came to us. Now as we learn to live in alignment with Jesus and the wisdom of His Spirit, our life begins to make sense. I must test and approve every attitude and action in the course of a day to deny myself and follow Jesus IF all I want is Him.
I am headed out to gather my belongings and two grumpy girls who hate mornings to go help my mother-in-love spread out her wares and make some extra money. The time spent with her will bless her heart because the greatest joy in her life are those two attitudinal adolescences who I may actually price and try to sell too. Thank you Lord for this day even if the rain washes away our profits the wealth of this good deed will sow seeds of righteousness in our life. May we bless someone today if they are in need whether with our words of encouragement or the items they need but could not afford. May we do your “good, pleasing and perfect” will in all we do today, Jesus as we deny ourselves to follow you!
Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV)
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Colossians 1:9-12 (NIV)
We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.