ADVENTures Day 8–Unimaginable Peace

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
    or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.  Isaiah 11:1-10 (NIV)

This passage is so packed full of greatness–I’m not sure where to start!

I’ve only had a little bit of time to dig into the details here, but what I have learned is interesting. The end of chapter 10 is the prophecy of the destruction of Assyria, who had carried Israel into captivity. Isaiah describes Assyria’s fall as a permanent one. God Himself would fell the cedars of Lebanon, which in this case symbolically represent the Assyrian army.

See, the Lord, the Lord Almighty,
    will lop off the boughs with great power.
The lofty trees will be felled,
    the tall ones will be brought low.
He will cut down the forest thickets with an ax;
    Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One. Isaiah 10:33-34 (NIV)

What I would never have known had I not looked it up for the sake of this post, is that cedar stumps do not produce shoots. In fact, a felled cedar will die slowly. By contrast, an oak tree stump will grow “sucker” stems. David’s dynasty came crashing down, but unlike Assyrian rule, this is not the end! From David’s line comes the Messiah.

It’s also interesting that Isaiah does not specifically mention David in verse one, rather he reaches one generation back to Jesse. Why? I don’t know what the scholars have to say, but here’s my take. The stump can create a bunch of shoots–not unlike Jesse who had a gaggle of sons. If you recall the story, Jesse had not bothered to call David in from tending the flock when Samuel came to anoint the king. David was the youngest and seemed the least likely candidate for so lofty a position. Now, what about the birth of Jesus? Who would have supposed that a child born so poor was divine, a king whose reign would never end?

The passage continues to describe how the Holy Spirit would rest on the Messiah. Jesus would house the character and identity of God, not just be intermittently inspired by the Holy Spirit as the ancient prophets were. His rule, then, would bear the qualities you would expect from God. He would be wholly just and righteous, being an advocate for the oppressed and slaying the wicked.

My favorite part of the passage is what follows. Again, I haven’t done a ton of study, so I’m no expert. But one commentator described this section as a description of the church of Jesus Christ. From that perspective, the different animals represent the diversity of the body of Christ. Even more telling, the violent and the victim come together for worship, and they are completely at peace with one another. Jesus’ reign, having been initiated by grace and forgiveness at the cross, will be one of unimaginable peace. It is so unlike anything we’ve ever known that it can only be described in terms that are almost laughable. A child reaching its hand into a snake’s nest? Ridiculous!

But that’s what we’re in for, followers of Christ–peace which can only be achieved by the supernatural moving of the “Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

As I continue through these Advent readings and unravel the levels of history and prophecy, I sense God’s voice saying, “I have done great things. I AM doing great things. I will do great things.” What does that mean for you? If you are a follower of Christ, that means that you are a part of great things brought about by a great God whose love rescued you from great peril.

If you don’t know the Lord, ask yourself if you want unimaginable peace. Then place your faith in the Lord Jesus and be a member of His family.

Christmas tree 2

Friends, I pray that this Christmas, more than ever before, you will be confounded by the power and love your Savior. May we all enjoy a silent night with sweet dreams! More tomorrow.

New blog post: ADVENTures Day 6–Gaining a little perspective . . .

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.  For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name.

I fell into a bit of a funk today, friends. I’ve had a little trouble getting in the right frame of mind to write. Everything seemed kind of dreary and colorless, and I was depressed! The weather’s cold and wet, which kind of makes me want to curl up in bed anyway. I have a lot of work to do, but even though I stayed pretty busy, it feels like I didn’t get much accomplished. That always aggravates my stress level.

Then I had planned on going for a run after school–and probably it would have improved my mood–but I decided I could do cold but not wet. So scratch that idea. On the way home, my girls let some giggly rough housing  in the backseat turn a little violent, and the next thing I knew everyone was in trouble and I was growling at them and ordering people into their rooms. This is the fifth or sixth recent discipline event (always either to or from school) that’s left me feeling pretty inadequate as a parent. I was already running on fumes. That took the last of the wind from my sails.

Later I scrolled through my news feed and read a few headlines. Here’s what I know. Lots of people are sick–even little children with illnesses that will take their lives unless God performs a miracle. People are grieving–from past losses and from very recent ones. And the world is so violent and so full of hate. Sad, broken world.

One day not too long after my dad died, I was in about this same place.  I said, a little bitterly, to my husband, “The world is just a giant ant hill, isn’t it?”

Todd didn’t hesitate when he said, “Yes, but God chose to redeem the ant hill.”

Nice, Rev. Excellent answer.

The world is cursed because of sin, and if I choose to give too much attention to the curse, the world will seem quite out of control. But our Advent scriptures keep pointing us to God’s purpose–His plan to redeem. In today’s scripture we see prophesied the coming of Christ–a prophet who speaks God’s very words. In John’s gospel, Jesus says a number of times that He only does what He sees the Father doing, that His teaching is from the Father, that He came to finish the Father’s work, that He speaks for the honor of the Father who sent Him. We have only to look at Jesus to know our God. He loves. He is merciful. He is compassionate. He heals. He restores. He teaches. He has a purposeHe did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him (John 3:17).

The Israelites in our passage did not get to hear from Jesus, God’s Word. In fact, they had told Moses that they didn’t want to hear from God directly and to get rid of that pillar of fire already. Really??? How blessed are we that eyewitnesses like John wrote all about Jesus? So that we can actually study Jesus’ words–words that came from God? We can read and know for sure that the predictions of our Advent prophecies were fulfilled in Christ.  You see, when we consider God’s purpose, and all that has already been done to accomplish His purpose, the world no longer seems to be hurtling chaotically through space. We–and this rock we call home–are all part of God’s purpose.

For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:38-40)

I’m so grateful that the baby born in Bethlehem came with a purpose–to redeem this sad, broken world–and that He would not lose any of us that He’s been given!

ADVENTures Day 5: The exceeding great reward to those who believe . . .

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”  He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Day 5! I’m enjoying this so much. It has not been at all convenient to write these last couple of days, but I’m so eager to do it anyway. One thing that I like about Advent scriptures is that they bring so many concepts together, and yet it all relates to Christmas. My sweet momma taught me that everything in scripture points to Jesus and, more specifically, to His work at the Cross. We tend to study all the different components of God’s story separately, but Advent is feeling a little like a crash course in how it all meshes.

Every time I read today’s scripture, I wonder why God opens with, “Do not be afraid.” Is Abram scared? After reviewing the back story a little, I wonder if Abram was just feeling a little disillusioned. God had already told him that He was going to make Abram a great nation, that his descendants would be like the dust of the ground. Though Abram had become quite wealthy, he was still vulnerable. He had come, at God’s calling, to a land that had long belonged to others. He was a foreigner. In chapter 14 we have the story of Lot’s capture, and Abram fighting four allied kings to set his nephew free. It may be that he was feeling uneasy about his situation. I wonder if he was just lying awake in his tent one night, toying with doubts that had quietly taken root in his heart. Did he give life to those doubts–so that they sprang to life and taunted him, “What if God brought you all the way out here to abandon you?”

God doesn’t stop with never fear, He reveals Himself, “I am your shield, your very great reward.”

And then–I love this–Abram doesn’t waste any time, “Right, God. About that reward. Exactly how does that work?”

I absolutely love how God reassures Abram. He walks him out of the tent to show him the night sky. I imagine God’s arm sweeping from one horizon to the other. “See that? You can’t even count it, right? So shall your offspring be.”

stars in the sky 2

On the two other occasions when God promised Abram that he would have many descendants, Abram’s reactions are recorded as “So Abram left . . .” (Genesis 12:4) and “So Abram moved . . .” (13:18). He heard what God had to say and did something, but other than that, there’s no indication of how much confidence he had in God to deliver the promise. But this third time, we are told, “Abram believed the Lord.” He just . . . believed.

Click.

Did anyone else just have a light go on? No? Just me? Holy smokes, that all just came together in my head as I was typing.  I can think of scores of times I acted in response to God’s Word, but faith had so little to do with it. In fact, I ached for a baby for a lot of years, all the while exhausting myself being “obedient”, or so I thought. If I had spoken honestly with God, in a tone that truly reflected my pain and disillusionment, it would have sounded something like this: “Listen up, God. I’m working myself to tatters down here! I am doing my stuff–YOUR STUFF. Where’s the payoff? When do I get something out of this?”

Abram had packed his life, left home, and had no clue where he would end up. I’ll bet he did wonder, “I’m doing my stuff–YOUR STUFF. Now where’s that thing You promised?”

But God’s Word says that this time, Abram “believed the Lord, [who] credited it to him as righteousness.” Do you know what that means? God considered him righteous–that is, in a right relationship with Him.

Do I see something pointing to Jesus in this? Certainly I do. Besides that fact that Abram became the nation which would give the world its Savior, I see John 1:11-12:

He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, TO THOSE WHO BELIEVED IN HIS NAME, he gave the right to become children of God.”

I hope you are having a joyous December in anticipation of Christmas Day. I also hope that you have time to reflect on how great a gift we have–that we can receive Him and believe in His name, and be made righteous.

More tomorrow, friends. Sweet dreams.

ADVENTures Day 4–Competition or Contentment?

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:8-15 (NIV)

I had kind of a rotten day today. It began when my clock was mysteriously set an hour ahead. I had been up and making the kids’ lunches, going about the business of getting myself out the door on time, when I realized it was 4:45 AM. I’d gone to sleep after midnight to begin with. The day went steadily downhill from there.

My eyes are crossing, but I want to write!!!

It wasn’t too long ago when I noticed something about Satan and Eve. He tempted her with the same thing that got him into trouble with God—he wanted God’s status. Poor Eve. She and Adam had all they could ever want or need from God—He even walks out to them in the garden, for crying out loud. Life for them wanted absolutely nothing. But all the devil had to do was imply that God was holding out—that there was something desirable that He was jealously guarding—His knowledge.

Go on. Take it. You surely will not die. God just knows it will make you divine, that’s all.

We could become all judge-y about Eve’s response to this temptation. Certainly we would never give in so easily to FRUIT. She sets a pattern, though, which we all—every last blessed one of us—have followed. She chose competition over contentment.

We may not consciously think that we can compete with God, but we do have our prideful hang-ups, right? This morning, as my day unraveled, I was awash with a familiar sense of failure. It is the plague of perfectionism. I screw up—then I’m an emotional pile for a few hours at best. At its worst? Sometimes it takes me a week or two to rebound. Repeatedly God convicts me that this is an area of my life which competes with my devotion to Him. Feeling driven to have things my way and accomplished in my strength is an addiction to bringing glory to me. And, believe me, every single time I crash and burn, I miss the contentment of looking to God for strength and being “called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). It feels good, first of all, to be in such close fellowship with Him that I’m a part of what He’s doing rather than setting my own agenda. Even better, it takes the pressure off. There’s a reason that He’s God and I’m not.

Today’s scripture shows how God allowed Eve to play a small part in His plan for Satan. The Savior will be born from Eve’s offspring. The act that redeems us from evil defeats evil. Jesus will crush the devil with the Cross. Check out this scene from The Passion of the Christ:

I’m tired, but I’m loving this Advent thing. More tomorrow.

 

 

 

ADVENTures Day 3–He carries us close to His heart . . .

Go up on a high mountain, O herald Zion!
Shout out loudly, O herald Jerusalem!
Shout, don’t be afraid!
Say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
Look, the sovereign Lord comes as a victorious warrior;
his military power establishes his rule.
Look, his reward is with him;
his prize goes before him.
Like a shepherd he tends his flock;
he gathers up the lambs with his arm;
he carries them close to his heart;
he leads the ewes along.   Isaiah 40:9-11

Maybe I didn’t know what I was getting myself into—posting each day. If I were capable of just writing a little blurb about the scripture—600 words or less—this wouldn’t be a problem. But once I start breaking a scripture down, I’m sucked in! Call me a nerd, but I love this stuff. I like to research and study. I love history and God’s word. So, the two together? It’s a feast, I tell ya. I’ll have my bible and eight websites open at once. That’s really not practical for a post a day!

Isaiah fascinates me because his prophecies easily speak to today’s church. He describes judgment and exile for Israel, which had continued in religious activity but was still not righteous. They marked the sacrifices and feasts prescribed in the law of Moses, but they also sprinkled in practices from pagan nations (2:6), including the sacrifice of children at Gehenna. Isaiah refers to Jerusalem, once “the faithful city”, now as a “harlot” (1:21). Among Isaiah’s charges against Judah is social injustice, neglecting the “oppressed . . . the fatherless . . . the widow.”

It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? That the people chosen of God and the recipients of His favor should fall so far—even to the point of continuing in their sacrifices to the LORD while also giving themselves over to idols. But, is the American church so different? Have we not seen blessing upon blessing of God’s favor? Yet, churches will spend millions upon millions on themselves—buildings and programs and fluff—and neglect the needy right outside their doors. In doing so, who is our idol? We are. Alright, now what about child sacrifice? Did you know that the views on abortion within the church mirror secular views on abortion? I just gave a cursory glance to a web article defending a “Christian” view in favor of abortion. It’s okay if your theology allows for it. Wait– what??? Does God’s feelings about sin–murder, even–fluctuate because of the theological views we choose to adopt? That’s absurd! Again, look no further than yourself to determine which idol you worship if you can be convinced that God accommodates this sin. To that writer, I say, read Isaiah’s laundry list of horrors in store for Israel and then get back to me.

Where I see the most obvious parallel between Isaiah’s prophecies and the modern church is what we’re willing to call worship. Too often, church membership and attendance is flashed around like some kind of Jesus talisman. I attend. I sing a few songs—but only if they are the songs I prefer performed only by certain instruments. I hear a little lightweight preaching and call it good for the week. What is neglected is devotion—a devotion that can only come about in a heart that knows it has been rescued.

Which brings me to our scripture.

I haven’t had a ton of time to study up for this post, but if I can believe the notes in my NIV Study Bible, I’ll assume that chapter 40 is written for the time when “the Babylonian exile is almost over.” God’s people endured years of suffering, which He intended as a purging of the evil they had absorbed into their community. But even as far back as chapter 1, Isaiah gave the people God’s assurance that despite the prevalence of their evil acts, their “scarlet” sins would be made “white as snow” (1:18). What I love about chapter 40 is the softer tone of the language. “Comfort, comfort,” it says in verse 1, and in verse 2, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem . . . her hard service has been completed.”

Looking specifically at our verses for today, 9-11, I love the contrast between God’s power (v.10) and His care (v.11). The good news for the people in exile is that God in all His power will come to lead them back home. In love, He will not only lead as a shepherd, but “carry them close to His heart.”

What does this say to us? God will have His kingdom, made up of a people who are righteous— that is, in a right relationship with Him. This can only come about because of Christ, because He rescues us from evil. I believe God will purify His church of the drivel—the teaching that accommodates sin, the ho-hum worship of a people who barely realize what was done on their behalf, the preaching that amounts to little more than life coaching rather than conviction. He purged the people of Israel to make them righteous. He wants to purge us of our sin–of the way we’ve let the world’s theology creep into our worship. That kind of purging is painful.

If you claim faith in Christ, it doesn’t hurt to evaluate your worship. If it accommodates you, your preferences—or worse, your sin—then make this Christmas a time to re-devote yourself to Him. There’s no reason to adopt a theology that accommodates sin—the Lamb shed His blood to make those scarlet sins white as snow. He came for you, to gather you up like a little lamb and lead you home, cancelling your debt in the process. Does your worship reflect a gratitude for your rescue?

Maybe you don’t know God. Maybe you feel conviction over the things I’ve listed above. Abortion, maybe? Know that He also came for you. He simply doesn’t accommodate your sins—but He pays the price for them with the blood of His Son. Our sin would separate us from God forever except for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Here’s some really amazing news—no sin (that’s right, not even abortion) is so great that you can’t be redeemed by God. You see, the worth of Jesus Christ is incalculable—His blood’s power to rescue cannot be exhausted by the number or depth of your sins. He will scoop you up like a little lamb and carry you close to His heart.

lamb chop

We celebrate the birth of a little baby on Christmas Day. Now, imagine. That little baby came with power to rescue you. It is the “good news of great joy that will be for all people”. Receive the Lord Jesus and be at peace.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God . . . [your] sin has been paid for . . .” Isaiah 40:1-2 (NIV)

Adventures in Advent–Day 1

Thanksgiving was kind of late this year, so forgive me if I’m impatient for hauling out the holly and such. It’s time–I’ve been waiting since Dec. 26th for this! I’ve been scrolling recipes and planning all the yummies I’m going to make for my favorites. In fact, I need to rescue that recipe with the sausage and cream cheese filled croissants from my news feed before it gets buried, never to be recovered. The good Rev agrees that it will make a fine addition to Christmas breakfast—along with lots of coffee, wassail, monkey bread and whatever else I pin between now and my last trip to the store.

The tree is already up–because I wanted my halls pre-decked when I get home from Thanksgiving at the farm. We jump-started the season a few weeks ago with some sweet friends who joined us for a holiday-ish dinner. Then we lovingly unpacked all our old ornaments, hung (Or hanged? All those years teaching English and I even googled it, but it sounds wrong!) the stockings by the chimney with care, and watched my new favorite, Arthur Christmas. It’s a must see. The reindeer with the cone of shame is my favorite.

I’ve already dreamed up 101 crafty ideas to make my holidays more festive . . . or impressive, maybe. Realistically, I have neither the talent nor stylish taste to bring any of those lofty projects together. The time is already so short that I have predestined myself to feel like a total loser for not getting a Christmas card mailed for the fifth year in a row. Every year I intend to do something special for my students. It never happens. Ever since Eden’s first Christmas, I planned to put together an Advent calendar and do a family devotional every night. You guessed it. Never happened.

Like every year since we had kids, we’ll make a plan to stick to some kind of a gift budget. Then we’ll find some excuse reason not to—usually because we’re in the middle of buying for each other and find just the right thing to push us over the limit. Furthermore, I will completely stress out over one or two gifts, and I will get NOTHING in the mail on time.

It’s not even December 1st, and I’m already tangled up in a list of to-do’s which I will either to-do late, to-do wrong, or simply to-don’t. Except for the food. I pretty much nail that every year.

I don’t usually think of myself as the person who sells out Christmas for materialism, and I really don’t overload my schedule so much that I don’t enjoy myself. But that’s not to say that the things I do for Christmas have any greater purpose than glorifying the season—not glorifying the Son.

I’m not going to pretend that my usual routine will happen any differently this year. If I make any promises or come anywhere near setting a goal, then I’ll get all perfectionist-y (my husband’s word) and make myself feel horrible for falling short. What I can do is—what’s the word? change my settings? I’ll reset myself for Advent—and place a special emphasis on its purpose—preparing my heart for the coming Christ.

I don’t think that means that I’ll buy fewer gifts. We buy almost nothing beyond necessities for our kids throughout the year. I don’t think I’m slighting Jesus if I buy them jammies with penguin slippers that squeak when they walk, and books (lots of books), and a special toy for each curly headed girly. I’m sure I won’t change my cooking routine. I mean, that’s just crazy talk. That’s the one thing I do with any measure of success during the holidays. Plus, that’s just punishing the family and how would that bring any glory to God????

The purpose of Advent is affirming and celebrating the past, that God came and walked among us—and looking expectantly to the future, that He is coming again. From the looks of things (globally speaking), that day may be not be far off. All the more reason to have a heart prepared. All the more reason to make the most of this coming month—when Jesus is on everyone’s lips and placed decoratively everywhere—and exhaust ourselves proclaiming the truth of Christ. He became man to save man.

In an attempt to reset my holiday traditions with more purpose, and in hopes of sharing some of that journey, I plan to post each day between now and Christmas. My personal hope (not goal—that makes it too much about me!) is to mediate on the scriptures and look expectantly each day to Christ, and in doing so make each holiday activity rich with the purpose of pointing to Him and His invitation to salvation. I am eager for whatever insight God has for me. Here’s the first scripture–

“Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
and her sins are pardoned.
Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over
for all her sins.”

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
“Clear the way through the wilderness
for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
for our God!
Fill in the valleys,
and level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves,
and smooth out the rough places.
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
The Lord has spoken!”

He came—for you and me.

He’s coming—for you and me.

Christmas picture 2

My sad days are gone. My sins are pardoned. Comfort and joy! Let’s do this!

 

I lost my mind. I don’t much miss it.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.   Matthew 16:24

Like any Christian, I struggle with how much is enough. “I gave this up, God. Isn’t that enough? What??? You want more??? C’mon!!!!”

As a young adult, I thought the ultimate sacrifice was allowing God to make my decisions—where to attend school, what career, who to date, how to date, to marry or not to marry, and on and on. It’s convenient that I often found God leaving room for my preferences back then. Disciplining myself in the world of dating was possibly the most difficult, but aren’t I lucky that He chose Todd Beasley for my husband and that I was like-wild-attracted to him?

If I were to be completely honest, most of the decisions of my young adulthood were simply my preferences submitted to God for His approval. When He didn’t give His approval, I waited for something else I strongly preferred and gave Him a chance to say yes. It took a little trial and error until I happened upon the things I most desired, but I could soothe myself with the promise that good things come to those who wait.

I left very little room for God to say, “Nope. Absolutely not. You’re not getting married. You won’t so much have a career as a ministry, and I’m thinking maybe in Africa. Pick up that cross and let’s roll.” It’s as if I convinced myself that not hearing God ask me to make a sacrifice meant that He didn’t require one. And yet, in those days, I would have told you that abstaining from sex as a discipline in dating was the pinnacle of taking up the cross. That, ladies and gents, is denying yourself. Amirite?

As I get older, God makes it ever clearer that taking up my cross is an abandonment of me. It’s not just giving up a worldly behavior or waiting for God to say yes to something better. What I think I need, what I think is best, whatever rationale I use for my prioritizing is rubbish in light of the cross. I need the mind of Christ. So I’d better get busy losing mine!

One day as I was reading Matthew 16:24, I envisioned the effort it would take to shoulder the cross. Jesus had nothing else with Him. Just a cross, a crown, and blood. Philippians says that He “emptied Himself. . . and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” To follow Jesus’ example, I also have to set everything aside. If I am to pick up that cross and walk with it, anything else in my hands has to be left behind. It is physically impossible for me to continue on with all my stuff, my junk, my baggage, while carrying that cross behind the Lord.

Carry the cross

Now that I see the meaning of the verse more clearly, the question becomes so obvious. What are you carrying that must be dropped so that you can manage the cross of Christ? In moving to Arkansas to plant a church, Todd and I have had to set aside the traditional notion of the American Dream. If I choose Christ, there is no promise that I will achieve prosperity equivalent to or in excess of the Joneses. It’s a lesson I continue to learn. I felt entitled—that my age and effort should naturally graduate me to a higher tax bracket. Entitlement competes with my devotion to Christ. And Christ is better.

What competes with your devotion to Christ? Is it your children? Is your number one desire for them to be successful? Or for them to be spiritually transformed into the likeness of the Lord Jesus? Leave it–the ridiculously overcrowded schedule, attending every sporting event even at the rather pricey cost of neglecting church, giving in to their every whim, breaking the bank to give them the best of material things. Lay it down, and lose your mind for the mind of Christ. Jesus loves our children infinitely more than we do. We give them the very best by teaching them how to follow the Lord by carrying the cross.

What prevents you from committing to Him completely? Your job? Are you shouldering your career with ease but dragging the cross along behind? Have you convinced yourself that you need the money to live, when really you just don’t want to live on less? If you feel secure in your job, then your faith is dangerously misplaced. The Lord Jesus, who is the very Word of God, promised that He provides when we seek Him first. Set it down and take up the cross. You might find it is easier to bear than your worries over money.

What chip sits on your shoulder in place of the cross? Is it pride? Bitterness? Has someone or some circumstance so injured you that your love for the Lord has long since been choked out? His love for you is boundless, matchless, nothing in your past or future alters it, and no power can break it. He is priceless and died for you. He died for you because you needed him to. Of what, then, do you have to be prideful? What wrong have you suffered that His cross can’t right? Don’t take another bungling step —struggling to manage the cross and your baggage.

Is it a decision? Has God brought you to a crossroads and now you must choose which way to go? Every atom in your being screams, “Do what’s best for you!” But obedience is costly. It always requires yielding to God the “right” we feel we have to make our own decisions. Whatever the choice is, you must ask Jesus which way He is going. He will give you an answer and invite you along. But don’t be surprised if He says, “But we aren’t going any further until you lay all that stuff down. Not another step. Grab that cross and let’s go!”

Lay it down, leave it, and lose your mind. You may find that you don’t miss it much.