It's a lovely morning here, although this mama is exhausted. Long night with the baby..but now he's napping and Xander is enthralled in Curious George, so I'm hoping I have some time to give this blog my undivided attention.
My plan from here on out is to post at least once a week, usually in coordination with my weekly Bible study. But because I just recently decided to share this with the blog world, I need to play a little bit of catch up. My next Bible study is in two days, and I'm hoping I can do 2-3 posts before then basically going over the important things I've learned so far.
I'm entitling today's post "Die to Live". It's my first post because I believe it's the most important step in following God, and arguably the most difficult. This isn't necessarily just a study concept, although we did touch on it at one of my first Bible studies. It's more of an ongoing lesson, a backdrop for everything else.
Think of it like this (this idea borrowed from a lady at church):
As we enter into Spring, we see new life being brought to all things. All the plants that are beginning to thrive..all the flowers that are beginning to bloom..we know this is only possible because of the death and decay these same plants experienced in the previous Fall and Winter. The beginning of new life and new things is beautiful..something we all like to admire. But the decay that takes place in the previous months has it's own kind of beauty as well, shown in the rustic colors of the fall leaves.
We see the transformation in animals..a caterpillar must become a butterfly. Predator must eat pray in order to live and thrive. One thing must die so another can live.
Why should we believe that we are the only creation of God's that is exempt from this process?
Luke 9:23-26 says this: "Then he said to them all 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory of the Father and the Holy angels.
Now, upon reading this, I think most people (myself included) have a huh? reaction at first. But when we really sit and think about it, we realize that Jesus is saying here that if we are willing to sacrifice our lives to live for him, then we will have a life with him eternally. However, if we choose not to live our lives for him, we will not have that.
First, we must ask ourselves "What is my life?" It seems like an easy enough question, but really, it's not. Luke 9 says we must deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily and follow him. What does that mean?
For me, my life is my kids, my husband, my family, and friends. But my life is also other, less important, and perhaps shameful, things. My life is TV, the internet, and my cell phone. My life is food. My life is cussing, making fun of people, being lazy, etc. My life is getting frustrated, saying things I don't mean, avoiding situations that make me uncomfortable. My life is selfish, arrogant, and prideful.
Some of those things are good..some of them are bad. Some can be both.
When the kids are screaming and my husband is in a bad mood and I think I'm at my wits end, my initial reaction is to get snappy..possibly yell at the kids or make a snide comment to my husband. In this situation, I need to deny myself, deny those feelings. Take a minute to breathe, and follow him. I need to ask God to bring me comfort, instead of looking for that comfort in releasing my anger, or eating, or neglecting my kids' or husband's needs in order to focus on my own. (And ladies, I'm not saying God doesn't want you to have "me time" or ever focus on yourself..that's another post all together, but God loves you..and he wants you to be taken care of too.)
When I'm not having a great day..maybe I'm tired, maybe I'm in a bad mood, overwhelmed, etc. and someone calls me asking me to do them a favor..my initial reaction would be to make some excuse for not being able to so I can get out of it. But Jesus asks me to deny myself. To give unto others.
On a deeper level, and perhaps maybe veering away from "mom problems"..maybe you're going through a time in your life when you feel unwanted. Maybe you seek sexual attention from others to boost your self-esteem. Jesus asks to deny yourself..deny those feelings, take up your cross, and follow him. Your cross is something that might be difficult for you to bear. Maybe it's difficult not to give into sexual temptation..or to find comfort in wracking up your credit card debt on some "retail therapy". Maybe it's difficult to discipline your children the way you know you should, because (let's face it) sometimes it's just a lot easier on us if we just let them get their way. But taking up our cross is not only giving ourselves daily time with God and his word, but denying ourselves of the easy route..or our initial feelings, in order to do what God would want us to do.
Sometimes it's hard to sacrifice our lives. We get caught up in the daily grind. Our minds are focused on our spouse, our kids, our job, our friends, TV shows and social networking. We forget about God. Sometimes losing our lives means being the outcast. Your friends sleep around. Your friends go out and get drunk to the point of not being able to control their actions. Your friends don't think it's a big deal to hurt someone else, or to not hold up their obligations because they don't feel like doing them.
We get so sucked in to fitting in and worried about what others think that we stop caring what God thinks.
Denying ourselves & losing our lives means not just believing in God, but making every effort for him..to love him, love others, and rid ourselves of sin (not entirely..no one is perfect but Jesus himself. God expects us to sin but we should make every effort not to).
So what is sin? Of course we all know to follow the ten commandments, but following God is more than that.
Mark 7:20-23 says "He went on. 'What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person's heart, that evil thoughts come--sexual immortality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.'"
Reading that verse was very difficult for me because it really made me examine who I am on the inside. I realized I need more work than I thought.
So, how can we keep from sinning? We have to first recognize our own sins. I know I struggle with being selfish & deceitful. I have to deny myself of these things and follow God. I have to do what He asks of me, which is to love him & others above myself, even if it's difficult.
It's hard because being selfish, arrogant, deceitful, sexually immoral, etc..those things are the norm in this world and are unfortunately, often what it takes to get ahead. But as Luke 9 stated, what good is it for us to gain the world if we lose our very selves? How far would we go to get "ahead"? To get that promotion, to make others like us, to get revenge? Is it worth sacrificing our very selves? Whether we live like it or not, we're children of God. That's who we are and we belong in Heaven with him. Our life here is short compared to eternity. Is it worth taking the easy road?
For Jesus said if we lose our lives for him, we will in fact gain life in him..but if we are concerned about saving our lives as we know them, we will eventually lose them. He can give us the gift of eternal life, but only if we follow him.
1 John 2:15-16 states "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever."
So, is it easy to deny ourselves? Of course not. As I said in the beginning of this *extremely long* post, it's the hardest part of following God. It's not easy, and it's not even 100% doable. We will all make mistakes. I'm pretty new to this way of living and I'm finding more and more things to deny each day (lol), and admittedly, I don't always deny them like I should. I don't always get quiet time to read my Bible, talk to God, and take up my cross daily. I am making effort..now I'm working on making every effort. Nothing comes easy, but the reward is eternal life. It's hard to keep our eyes on the prize, but if we do, we realize that promise from God is worth the sacrifice.
I hope my readers take away something special from this post..and anyone has questions feel free to ask..or comment in the comment section.
Have a great day and be blessed!