Carrying the Wrong Cross

I was brought up believing that carrying my cross was accepting the ailments and heartbreaks in life and drudging forward. I shake my head and sigh when I think of the time between my old and new testaments. Jesus carried His cross, and I must carry mine. He loved and trusted God with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength. Crosses are about obedience and trust, and no one understands that better than Jesus.

A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.

“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’

“Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.

“Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (Luke 14:25-35 NLT)

Christ didn’t have to take up His cross and carry it. He chose to. He didn’t have to die. He chose to. Obedience is up to me; it’s my cross. I used to think I had to save others. Again, I’m shaking my head in disbelief. Trying to carry Christ’s cross instead of my own left me depleted and discouraged. Carrying the wrong cross is a common problem among Christ’s followers, and it leads to frustration and violence.

An older gentleman told me last week that Christians were going to have to start fighting. I reminded him that the Crusades didn’t go well. He insisted that we had to do something about muslims in our country. He is a good man at heart, so I was surprised by his words. I was disappointed that he thought I would appreciate his ideas of violence toward muslims. When we try to take up Christ’s cross, frustration leads to anger and violence.

I don’t want to be a flavorless follower, and I don’t want to join an angry mob. Jesus was not on either end of that spectrum. His love was at the center of His cross, and His love must be at the center of mine. It is up to me to obey God, but I cannot do that on my own. Christ’s precious love keeps my heart and my walk centered and focused upon God’s love. I didn’t hear that love in the conversation last week, but I hear it in His words.

The cost of carrying my cross is giving up my need to carry Christ’s cross and obeying when I’m not sure where He is leading me. Discipleship is never easy, but it isn’t as hard as carrying Christ’s cross for Him. He already carried His cross, so I only need to worry about carrying mine, and He will help me with that.

Help

 


Possessing Perfection

Paul pleads with the Philippians to stay focused and not forget the progress they have made. He shares his desire to press on in hopes they will do the same. He knows he won’t reach perfection until he is with Christ, but that doesn’t stop him from reaching for it. Paul wants “to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.” So do I, but before I can experience a resurrection, I have to die to self.

I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made. (Philippians 3:10-16 NLT)

Paul sees the progress made by the Philippians slipping away in the midst of arguments. Possessing perfection is not the goal; pressing in the direction of Christ is. Following Jesus is about transformation, and that means becoming spiritually mature. Growing up. Holiness is the goal, and that does not mean perfection. The word  translated as ‘holy’ means maturity, ripeness, or readiness in Greek. Christ wants us to be ripe, not perfect.

Those who follow Christ argue over the inane. I can give myself a different name, adhere to a different doctrine, try a new denomination,  and take pride in my piety or my mess. It doesn’t matter which end of the spectrum I come from, I still must press toward Christ’s love. Perfection is in His precious love. It possesses my heart in a powerful way that makes me want to love as He loves.

Christ is perfect so I don’t have to be. God is a loving Father who loves His children and wants them to grow in His Son’s precious love. That’s as perfect as it gets in this world.

Photo Credit: Anne Bradshaw
Photo Credit: Anne Bradshaw

I’m More Hungry!!

Jesus knows why the crowds are following Him. He fed them, and they want more. My granddaughter, Lillyann, is always hungry, and so am I. My father said I was born hungry and would die hungry. I told him that was true, and I planned to eat all I could in between. I frequently tell Lilly that she has just eaten when she tells me she’s hungry. Her response is, “But Gigi, I’m more hungry!!” I have to smile because I can relate.

I feel for the folks following Jesus because I imagine they were physically hungry. Food is a basic need, and Christ understood. He also knew they needed more than the fishes and loaves He had given them. He wanted them to be hungry in a different way. He wanted them to find the love God had for them.

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the far shore saw that the disciples had taken the only boat, and they realized Jesus had not gone with them. Several boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the Lord had blessed the bread and the people had eaten. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went across to Capernaum to look for him. They found him on the other side of the lake and asked, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. (John 6:22-26 NLT)

I don’t think Jesus was angry with the people, but I do believe He was frustrated by their lack of understanding. I used to read my Bible through in a year, and it blessed me. I don’t do that anymore because the structure took away the joy of feeding on God’s Word. It became a task I had to do rather than a wonderful, unexpected, meal. Now, I relax and let God lay the “food” I need before me. I use the lectionary for guidance, but I keep my heart open for all the food God has for me. God places scriptures in my path in many ways, and I’m filled beautifully or humbly depending upon the passages and the lessons God has for me.

I’m learning to relax and enjoy the fare God provides. It’s never what I expect and often not what I want to hear, but it’s always exactly what I need. I love that about God’s Word. It’s alive as no other literature I have ever read, and I’ve read a lot of literature. The scriptures are never the same when I digest them because I am never the same when I read them.

My heart is hungry, and I pray it always will be. Jesus told His disciples to feed His sheep because He knew they would always be hungry.

Hungry

Love’s Legacy

My legacy will become my son’s inheritance when I die, so what I leave behind is very important to me. The rich fool in Christ’s parable has a legacy that will most likely consume his heirs the way it consumed him. The value of a life is measured in many ways, but I measure mine by what I treasure. Such was the case of the rich fool.

Jesus tried to warn the man of his folly, but I doubt he listened. Few of us do. Greed is a cruel master that cuts off communication with the ones closest to its victim. Riches have a way of getting in the way of relationship, and Jesus is trying to show that to the son asking Him for help with his brother.

Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.”

Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”

Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods.  And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” (Luke 12:13-21 NLT)

Riches make a fool of the wisest man, but lust and love go in opposite directions. A heart cannot serve both. Lust disguises itself as love, successfully fooling many. In Christ’s story, God recognizes the trap ensnaring the rich fool and tries to warn him before it is too late. Jesus is hoping to do the same for the two brothers and for us.

Love is the true measure of a rich life. It cannot be stored or counted; but it is the only thing I can count on. The riches of the man in Christ’s parable will most likely go to someone like the arguing brothers, and the legacy of lust will be passed to the next generation.

God’s legacy is love. Christ is His heir, and His precious love allows me to share that inheritance. The value of my inheritance grows if I share it with others, but it dwindles when I keep it for myself. The sons are worried that one will receive more than the other, and many of God’s children have the same fear when it comes to approval and love. God’s love is for all, and it grows as it is shared. That’s the biggest difference between a legacy of lust and a legacy of love is that lust divides while love multiplies.

I hope Christ’s precious love is the legacy I leave for my son and his beautiful family. It’s the only thing I can carry with me into eternity and leave behind in the hearts of those I love.

Photo Credit: yayabme.wix.com
Photo Credit: yayabme.wix.com

Follow My Heart

To treasure is to love or value greatly. If you want to find my treasure, follow my heart. It’s tempting to store up earthly treasure, but Jesus warns that earthly treasures are physical in nature and do not last. He suggests a different treasure that involves a change of heart.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.  Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”

“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!”

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:19-24)

In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates verses 22-23 this way:

“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!

I can relate to the terrible image in verse 23 because I pulled the blinds and stayed hidden in the dark for too long. God is opening my eyes wide in wonder and taking the blinds off my heart so I can see the true treasure of His Son’s precious love.

Dark cellars are safe places for hearts and treasures. I learned to hide my heart at a very early age and kept it hidden for most of my life. Jesus knows love only grows in openness, and I’m learning the same.

If you had followed my heart during most of my life, you would find a safe, dark cellar. If you follow it now, you’ll find an open window.

Photo Credit:  twomaisons
Photo Credit: twomaisons