So the challenge is this: As we take up our cross, and follow Christ, don’t forget the importance of the first part – deny yourself. Let us ask ourselves the question, “Am I denying myself, or am I getting distracted along the way?” Satan is clever. I hardly think that if he straight said, “Put down your cross and don’t follow Jesus”, that many of us would be convinced. But what if he honed in on something appealingly personal, more particular to our individual weaknesses?
Remember, Satan didn’t tell Eve, “Hey Eve, stop walking with God!” So... You really think he’s going to be so blatant with you? Can’t you here the echo of similar devil devices in your own lives- “Surely God didn’t say…”, “Surely God doesn’t want us to deny ourselves completely, or at least not all the time”. Then comes in the subtle lie, “He just wants all your attention on him, not allowing you to enjoyyour own life!” Cue distraction- “Hmmm, this fruit tastes good”! We start feeling secure, and proud we didn’t deny ourselves. Then, we hear God call out, “Where are you”. Crippled by the fear of the reality of where we are, we look around to find ourselves naked and empty-handed. We realize we set down our cross and stepped away to indulge ourselves.
Now, go back for a second, and have another look at feeling “secure” and “proud” in your decision. Another word for it might be pride. I think you see where I’m going here. Pride comes before the “fall”. A sign, if you will- bells ringing, sirens blaring, and a robotic voice sternly shouting “warning, warning”! But seriously, does the “Fall of Man” ring any bells? For reasons that were completely false (taken on good word from Satan), Adam and Eve came to think God did not have what was best for them. Even despite all evidence to the contrary (hello perfect garden and nightly walks with the Creator), they felt it necessary to look out for themselves and look to something “better” than what God commanded.
Of course when this happens, we aren’t doomed to life without God, he makes a way just as he did for Adam and Eve- but not without repentance, and often times, consequence. Of course, he is still our loving Father, with new mercies for us every day. But the point isn’t to escape unfazed, it’s to see it for what it is before we wander. We aren’t supposed to stay twenty-somethings forever, we are called to grow up. Mature in our faiths.
Remind yourself in those moments (big and small) of “should I” or “shouldn’t I”, that God is good. We are called to deny ourselves, yes. But if you keep reading, Jesus says that it is actually for the sake of saving our life (Mark 8:35). Fully finding ourselves in him, not losing ourselves completely. He has a plan for each one of us, something personal and perfect just for us. Something that we, as his individual children, are personally equipped to do.
Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.” “For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
So, do you really think you have a better plan, a more perfect “Eden” in mind than what the All-Knowing God has created for you? No answer necessary. Moving forward, in the times of good, bad, and (oh, yes) ugly – Deny Yourself. Go “boldly to his throne of grace”, confess your self-reliant thoughts. He gets it! Then, receive his mercy and grace, and walk in confidence with him in the garden, knowing that God is right beside you in every time of need.
Hebrews 4:14-16 “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens – Jesus the Son of God- let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.”
Interestingly, the passage doesn’t tell us God will “fix our problems” or “ease our difficulty”, but that we will receive mercy and find grace because that is what actually helps us in times of need.
We are solution-oriented individuals. However, scripture tells us we are to be a Christ-focused family. If left unto ourselves, we will choose to try to fix our problems, and get what we think we need.
If Christ is our high priest, and he was “tempted in every way but without sin”, what does that actually mean? Did he always get what he felt his flesh needed? Well, he had difficulty with his friends, constant harassment from community leaders, and then there was that 40 days without food thing… but, amongst the other things, let me go straight to the obvious big one. Not to be vulgar, but when he was faced with being unjustly tortured, ending with certain distressful death on the cross, I doubt his flesh was in total agreement. Seriously, the bible tells us he was fully human and also fully God. (John 1:1-3, 14 and John 8:58) So… basic human nature is self-preservation. I would have to draw a scripturally lined arrow, and suggest that Jesus’s flesh was no different. However, he literally denied his basic self-interests, and took up his cross.
And, in Mark 8:34, he commands us to do the same: …”If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”.
So what is denial? Merriam-Webster says it is “a refusal to satisfy a request or desire”. Perhaps the Google dictionary strikes a bit closer with “the action of declaring something to be untrue”. In other words, “the bible says that God has a good plan for my future to give me hope (Jer. 29:11), but I don’t know if I believe that, so I’ll keep trying to make my own way. Besides, doesn’t the bible also say ‘God helps those who help themselves’?” (Nope, actually that was made famous by Benjamin Franklin, and last I checked his writings were not included as God’s Spirit-inspired words.)
One might even say that if you piece those definitions together, the best antonym of self-denial, is self-relial. Ok, I made that word up, but at least let’s call it self-reliance, or self-sufficiency.
Now hold on, you may say, isn’t being self-sufficient a good thing? Sure! If you are a twenty-something and are forging ahead into the world and out of your parent’s house. But if you are married (newlyweds or decades deep), the single-focused act of being “self-reliant” will present certain doom for that sacredly united relationship. You can’t stay bonded to your betrothed and put self, first.
Spoiler alert, we are the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:31-32). So, as we approach God’s throne of grace with boldness, shouldn’t we do so hand-in hand with Christ? When you walk with somebody, your steps are in sync, you are unified. As we have been raised with Christ (hope for the eternal as well as renewed daily hope for purpose and part in bringing God glory), we must first have allowed our flesh to “die” with his. You don’t get one without the other. Just let yourself go already, and then you can truly start to live!
Balaam. The name may not be familiar, but if I mention the story in the Bible with a talking donkey there’s a chance you might recall him. In short, Balaam is referred to as a prophet of God who speaks freely with the God of Israel, even though he’s not numbered among the Israelites. His story is all about how a neighboring king (Balak), afraid of the approaching Hebrew nation as they mover through the wilderness, desperately tries to get Balaam to pronounce a curse on God’s people as though that might give the king some advantage in battle. However, no matter what the king does, Balaam can only produce blessings for gods people! So you seem to complete the story found early in the book of Numbers, thinking that Balaam ended up pleasing God.
However, just a bit later in Numbers 31:8, you find Balaam listed as someone put to death by the Israelites while they were carrying out God’s instructions to attack the people of nearby Midian. And if you keep reading far enough, at the last book of the Bible you’ll find Balaam mentioned it again this way:
Here’s the point: many people of faith try to live purely on good feeling, intuition, and on their personal ideas about God or the Bible, often made up of just little snippets of reading here and there. Any time we open the Bible to read is better than not reading, but I want to encourage you to KEEP ON READING! Many of the stories in the Bible develop across chapters, and sometimes across whole books. Balaam’s story starts early in the Old Testament and you get the last word on it in the last book of the New Testament! I know it can seem overwhelming, but the point is that we continually keep at our reading of scripture, asking the Holy Spirit to help us understand the full story, get the facts straight, and and comprehend the spirit in which He wants us to live these things out!
Balaam’s story is a warning about the persistence of evil in our life, and the temptation to think the story’s over before we’ve read the ending. In other words: it’s a challenge to stay on your toes!
Keep reading! Keep looking at the truth! Keep living the truth! We tend to have short attention spans, and even shorter memories: God is working in you today – make sure you give Him your full attention! Keep at it!
“So these are the results of the registration of the people of Israel as conducted by Moses and Eleazar the priest on the plains of Moab beside the Jordan River, across from Jericho. Not one person on this list had been among those listed in the previous registration taken by Moses and Aaron in the wilderness of Sinai. For the LORD had said of them, “They will all die in the wilderness.” Not one of them survived except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.” - Numbers 26:63-65
In a time when it was crucial to stand in their faith, Caleb and Joshua had refused to be swayed by their culture, their peers and the prevailing attitudes of the day. 40 years later, they are still standing with their greatest days ahead of them. They were the exceptions in their day and have proved to be exceptional in the light of history. Their names are being discussed - you are thinking about them right now 3500 years later!
Today, don't give in to that feeling of feeling like who you are and what you are doing is small and meaningless. You don't have the benefit of God's long term view of history - who knows how huge your impact might be? The thing you do have is the same God to trust in that Caleb and Joshua have.
Did you notice that last sentence? I said "have" - not "had". Jesus pointed out in Matthew 22:31-32 (go read it when you get a moment) that "God is the God of the living": Caleb and Joshua are standing before him right now. Their faith continues. You - stand on your exceptional faith in your epic God today! Stand with those exceptional people of faith in history who understand that public opinions come and go but it is always right to stand with our God even when you feel like the odd person out. Time will bear out this truth: your God is worth honoring and trusting. You - be exceptional today!
what is "spark"?
Its a small thing - like the flash on a spark plug that hopefully ignites something bigger to propel you forward.