January 15, 2010.
Luke 9:23 If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it… 26. For whoever is ashamed of Me and My word, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory…
Okay… I’ve heard people preach this over and over, all my life, and I always tended to assume that if they were preaching it they must really feel that way (unashamed… happily ready to lose their life)… and of course in their sermons they would illustrate it with stories… like the one I heard as a little girl, and could never forget, about this woman in some communist country who refused to deny Christ, and they dug a grave for her while she was still alive, and sat her down on the edge of it while she nursed her baby one last time, and then they brought the edge of the shovel down hard on her head and her brains gushed out and she tumbled into the grave… and I guess those stories were supposed to encouraged us to be faithful and happy to lose our lives for Christ’s sake, and to not be ashamed of Him…
But, to be honest, as a child I would find myself trying to think of things I could say (or do) in a circumstance like that, in order to avoid persecution and death, and save my life…. And later, when I became a teenager, of course I wanted to be cool and accepted by my friends… and boy oh boy, I have to admit that sometimes I really was “ashamed of You and Your words” (as my actions and words clearly indicated, though I would probably have tried to excuse myself if confronted about it…) because I did not like being labeled as a “holy roller” or whatever… and I’ll be honest, all my life, I’ve struggled with this whole thing, to one degree or another.
It’s been a lot easier, in some ways, to accept it since I’ve really understood that You really love me and that truly I am Your child, but even now it hovers around the edges of my thoughts… and I do often “lack boldness” to speak up for You – especially among those who are my friends and family, those, I suppose, who would be hardest for me to “lose” if my stand for You turned them away from me!
Maybe that’s one reason why “mass evangelistic meetings” have been a popular way of spreading Your word, along with “churches in buildings on Sundays” … vs each of us actually taking the “great commission” personally in every moment, every aspect, of our lives… it’s perhaps “safer,” somehow, to “preach” to the strangers, to the crowds, than to stand strong for You among those we know and look to personally for love and/or companionship and/or approval.
It’s easier to “rock the boat” more or less anonymously than face-to-face, one-on-one, fearing the “loss” of those we love, depend upon, seek approval from… and yet…
Luke 9:48 … whoever is least among all of you, this is the one who is great
(but Papa, it’s hard to be “least” …) … and..
Luke 9:62 … No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
(I so often feel like a total failure in these respects… I wonder if this is a common struggle? I bet it is – but not one we’re encouraged to admit to! If we admit to struggles like these, of course, there’s always the fear that “the church/ other believers” (even the world) will look down on/ disapprove of/ judge us… and yes, fear that You Yourself will not find us “fit” … as if not admitting these things could hide the fact of them from You! …)
**** And then… the moment after I wrote all that, I turn to the next “reading for today” and the first verse I read is (surely You speaking to me! Wow! Thank You!):
Galatians 5:1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
You never meant for our walk with You… and the joy of inviting others into Your kingdom… to be a “yoke of slavery!” I have to say… when I have struggled with these issues over the years (since I was small), I have always felt like I was being “constantly watched and judged” and “under orders – obligation, compulsion – to preach the gospel” – although, oddly enough, when I have shared You with other just because I’m excited by You, it’s always been a thing of joy!!!
Okay, I so often felt like I was under pressure to “build the numbers and success and popularity of the organization” (church, Christian club, organization, etc) – always “in the name of Jesus” of course… - and/or to be “under judgment” if I didn’t hop to it (especially if I had feeling of fear or embarrassment or whatever)…
But there have also been times – especially since I really have come to understand Your love for me, and have been walking close with You, hearing Your voice… that I have, finally, “stood firm” – FREELY!!!! Joyfully! Happy, dancing with joy, with You!!! And, without a doubt, that’s what You desire, that’s Your plan and purpose, that’s what You died for, to destroy the fear and slavery of sin, and of “Law” – You came to bring freedom! In Yourself!
Look! I often, in my early years, heard many, many sermons warning about “falling from grace” – backsliding! – and the solution was apparently (as I understood it…) to repent (be shamed, sorrowful, beg forgiveness… and turn… and obey… well, obey the “rule” … be “good” and “serious” and so on… And while there is some truth in there, there was, it seems to me, also a lot of bondage…
Galatians 5:3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision [or any believer who “receives obligation” to any teaching or belief-system which is, at heart, “law-bound”], that he is under obligation to keep the whole law. 4. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by Law; you have fallen from grace. 5. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. 6. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision [or anything else one does to “earn” God’s love, forgiveness, etc] means anything… but faith working through love. 7. You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? … 9. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.
Ha! See? Anything – even things that are “good,” that are meant to be a joyful part of life with You, can be “twisted” into slavery, into rules and regulations, that drag us out of freedom in relationship with You: hmmmm… “standing firm” is not about following “goods rules and regulations” that will supposedly make you – or prove that you are – a “good Christian” … its about BEING, constantly, in the freedom of Love relationship with You, who IS – ARE! – LOVE!
BUT, BUT, BUT…. I hear voices ringing in my ears… what if you fall? You need rules and regulations and creeds, without them you aren’t strong enough to stand; and if you aren’t following rules and regulations, how will the world see Jesus in you? and so on and so forth….
True, I myself am not strong enough to stand… even with all the possible rules and regulations! But oh, I have YOU! Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit… and YOU are ALL STRENGTH! And ALL LOVE! And ALL GOODNESS! Ha!
Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren… through love serve one another. 14. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word… “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” … 16. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh… 18. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law… 22. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23. gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Yes! I am free! Oh Papa, Jesus, Holy Spirit – please keep me standing firm in the freedom You have given me! In the power of Your Spirit, by the sacrifice of Jesus, and the love of Father! Amen!!
Freedom!!! (Thank You! Amen!)