If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

Luke 9: 23

Jesus is talking about actually living in the manner that many people say that they want to live. He is telling us about the foundational approach that we need to take if we are going to wear or display symbols of Christian faith such as a cross, a fish decal or ornament on our car, or a few years ago one of those too common WWJD bracelets while actually mean it as a symbol and a reminder of our desired impact on the world. You see, Christ wants us to be fully aware of just what we have signed on for in agreeing to follow Him, for that is not the easy way to live, and it is certainly not the safest way, either.

When Jesus speaks about taking up our cross, He is saying that His road of righteousness and love requires its travelers to carry a heavy load; since, we need to be willing to set aside our desires and the things that make us feel safe in order o do what God sees as right and as needful. This path leads up a hill that is littered with the skeletons of past good intentions and that seems to get too steep to climb at times; additionally, the top is shrouded in a mist that leaves our view of the finish obscured. So, we need to continually trust God’s word in order to move forward. On top of all of that, there is no promise that the days get easier as we progress along our journey; thus, it is necessary for us to continually seek God’s will, surrender ours, and deliberately set out on His road.

If this all seems daunting, well, it is, for Jesus is telling us about life as it is. There is no deception and no holding back. However, here is the good part; for, Jesus also promised that He would never send us someplace where He has not been before, that He will never leave us, and that He always sends us straight to the center of God’s will. This is the place in life where all true peace, joy, and love reside. Also, an amazing thing happens during this journey; for, the daily cross is itself a very heavy object, and when I am focused on its weight and on the difficulty of the road ahead, that weight can become overwhelming, but when I look outward and upward and focus on the Lord’s desire for my day, that same load becomes as light as air and the same trials and challenges are made more than manageable. 

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In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith— more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire— may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1: 6 & 7

You may have heard that you should not store up treasures on this earth, but there is at least one form of such valuable possession that is truly worth seeking after in this life. That valuable object is our relationship with Jesus Christ and the salvation that comes to us as a result of Christ’s great love and the amazing sacrifice that He made for each of us. This thing that we call faith in God may seem to be a bit vague or to even lack substance, form, and shape; so, it might cause us to wonder about its reality or to go about life acting as if it were not a real and valid aspect of who we are. Yet, that sort of view of Christ and of His salvation is ill-formed and lacks in comprehension of who Christ is and of what He has done for His followers.

Knowing Christ is not just something that we claim as a form of identifier in much that same manner as we might list out country of citizenship, gender, race, or even name. People around the world have come to refer to themselves by religious categories such as Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and other similar labels. These statements of identity may mean something significant to the person who states it or it may be nothing more than a convenient part of the way that they self-describe. Yet, there is something far more profound and tangible to be found in identifying with Christ, for in Christ, we have a living and an active being that has always been God and that is still reigning in Heaven as God. In Christ, this same eternal one comes to dwell within the being of every person who enters into a relationship with Him in a manner that permanently and substantially transforms that person into a redeemed and holy child of God.

As we are indwelt by Christ’s Spirit, He provides us with wisdom, guidance, strength, and comfort to relay upon in all situations and through each of the seasons of life. Christ walks with us so that we have the capacity to stand up through all that comes our way during our days. This may be illness, poverty, the grief of loss, and the failure of our minds and bodies. Still, despite all that we encounter in this world, the great treasure that is Christ’s presence in me and in you remains in our possession. It does not fade with time, it does not melt away under the heat and the pressure of trials, it is faithful even when we are not, and in the end, Christ is there to call us home to the glory that He has set aside for each of His people. We can lay down, set aside, and count as worthless everything that we have owned throughout our days on earth and still be wealthy beyond imagining with Christ as the treasure that lasts throughout this life and continues on into eternity.   

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.

Luke 22: 31, 32

Most of us are probably aware of this moment in the life of Peter, the Rock upon which Jesus was to build His church, when he was anything but solid, stable, and granite-like. This is the night of great turmoil when all of the world would be shaken, and the faith of those who had been closest to Jesus was to be tested in ways that are hard to imagine. Jesus turns to this strong willed and greatly gifted leader among the group of His disciples and He warns Peter about what is to come. I think that the Lord wanted to get Peter’s full attention and also that He desired to convey the fact that at that very moment Peter was standing on the balance point wherein his decision to follow Jesus was going to be put to its ultimate and definitive test. I can almost hear the tone of voice that Jesus used when he says with quiet intensity, “Simon” and then, after a dramatic pause when the Lord looks with piercing intensity into Peter’s eyes, He repeats the given name but with a slow tempo and far greater volume and intensity, “Simon!” Then Jesus turns His eyes to the rest of the disciples near by and declares Satan’s desire regarding all of them, for the you here is plural.

This testing of Peter and of the other disciples at the moment of Jesus’ arrest is not unique to their time and place. Satan has done this sort of thing throughout humanity’s history on earth. He attempts to shake our faith in God, and as he grabs ahold of us and does exactly what he asked to do with Peter and the others there in Jerusalem on that fateful night, our faith is put to the test. The methods and the circumstances of the sifting vary greatly, but the violent nature of the action, at least as it is felt by our hearts, minds, and spirits is unchanged. He grabs ahold of us and starts to shake and toss us about in the hopes that we will abandon the torturous journey and recant our decision to follow Christ. Then, when this fails, Satan often continues to grasp the sifting basket that is life and aggressively rock it back and forth so that doubt and fear might overtake our grasp on the Lord. What Satan did not count on with Peter and fails to consider still is the utterly tenacious and unstoppable way that Christ holds onto us. He never tires or ceases in His loving embrace of His people, and His victory over Satan is already accomplished, sealed, and delivered.

These hard and challenging times, these days, weeks, and sometimes years of sifting, have a purpose in God’s view of our lives, and they are important for us to endure, too. Peter was never the same after his experiences on that night and the days to follow. He had not been so low in spirit as he was when that rooster let forth his crow, and he had never been so high as he would be on the morning of the discovery of the empty tomb. Although Peter’s journey of growth and his final commissioning to service to Christ were still to come, his new understanding of the fact that his only true strength was to come by and through Christ had transformed him into a person who could serve others and lead this new church effectively. We will all endure times of sifting. Some of them are severe and others are rather mild, but they are all real and valuable tests of our endurance and our faith in Christ. Regardless of the nature, duration, or severity of these tests, we can be assured that Christ is with us in them and through them all of the way to their conclusion. We can also take comfort in the fact that the Lord does have a plan for us and that each of these times of sifting has a purpose that He will reveal to us in due time. Satan’s methods and approach have not changed at all since Peter’s day, and Jesus is still Lord over him, engaged with each of us intimately, and will take us through it all to the glorious victory that Christ has already secured for us.       

On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Revelation 19: 16

Among those of us who experienced the election of new leaders that happened yesterday in the United States, some came away feeling exalted by victories in races that mattered to us and some had the opposite reaction to the outcomes. That is the nature of the process, and frankly, this is the way that it should be, for we are a very diverse people and our governmental representation should be similarly varied. It is not easy to win one of these elected offices. The process of running for office costs money, time, emotional capital, and personal sacrifices of many types. Candidates are exposed to public scrutiny that can be very harsh and even cruel, and their families are also placed under that same intense lens of public examination as is the candidate. Seeking office is not a genteel game or a casual pastime in our age. As God ordained order in our human realm and gave us civil governance as a part of the method for achieving that order, He also cares about the way that we go about ruling over ourselves, and He cares for the people who hold these various leadership positions.

The scene that John is describing in Revelation is one wherein Jesus has returned to earth, and He is completing the process of setting right all that has been corrupted by the presence of evil in our world. As Christ goes about this great and terrible work, His position and authority are important to keep on view. He has the right to cleanse Creation of its sinfulness and purify it so that all shame and guilt are washed away. Christ was granted this authority by God the Father, and He was sent to our world with this reclamation mission as His purpose and His intent. So, this is an account of the end of these current times here on earth; yet, there is an indeterminate expanse of years to go until these events happen. During these intermediate days, we are charged with the task of ruling over the world. We can choose to do this in a manner that reflects the heart and the mind of God, or we can do it so that the will of people and our flawed wisdom are what set our course.

If we do desire to govern in a manner that follows God’s method and way, then we need to realize and to accept the fact that the title that will be given to Christ at the end of days is already His. Thus, each and every one of the people that we elect to office is ordered under a higher authority and, in fact, receives her or his right to lead from the only eternally reigning sovereign in the universe. This idea may seem theoretical or conceptual at such a high level as to be pure fantasy, for what person who is operating in today’s world would actually look to Christ as the giver of all wisdom and direction and for guidance in ruling in a just and a righteous manner? The answer to that question is found in people who decide that they desire to govern in a way that is pleasing to God and with the power and the authority of the Lord of the Universe as their foundation. We have elected people to office whose influence and scope of rule range from the small and limited to the great and expansive; yet, for each of them the same reality exists, they will either follow their King and bow down to their Lord or they will listen to the counsel of man and so risk ruling as a blind fool who ignores the great and eternal wisdom that was offered to them as a free gift from Heaven.   

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.

1 Peter 1: 22, 23

It is my fear and concern that we have become very careless with our words. We say things about others that are harsh, mean, crude, and intended to cause harm, and we really don’t seem to care much about the outcome of these statements. People in positions of power speak out about people and about situations with demeaning statements or with inflammatory ones that are either not well considered at all or that may be very well crafted for the very purpose of causing disagreement and for stirring up unrest. This is a world that has turned to incivility as its outward expression of an unhealthy social order. God did not give us the gift of language with this sort of use in mind. God has communicated with people by the use of language since the first days of the existence of humanity, and He has sought out our expressions of who and what we are in response to Him. The Lord also desires for us to engage with each other by using the words that He has given to us and the ideas that form their meaning as a tool that brings us closer together and that forges bonds of understanding and peace.

Perhaps the problem lies within the nature of what we are seeking to craft from the use of the language that God has given to us. We seem to have demoted the words that we use from the place of lofty value that their God-ordained origin grants to them so that now these once noble ideas have become nothing more than common, coarse, and too often profane. When we say something about someone or state our opinion of a concept or an idea we are placing that person, concept, or idea on public view with the descriptor of our language attached to them in such a manner as to make it hard to disassociate the description from the entity. This may seem harmless or even to have a certain whimsical and laughable quality to it, but when the ideas that are spoken are negative or derogatory in nature, they tend to have a tenacious duration to them that will continue to color the way that people view their object long after the original statement has been lost in time and forgotten by its original speaker.

All of this gives Peter’s original comment in these verses more weight in our world wherein words are spread rapidly and widely with amazing facility. God’s truth is far more demanding of us than the form of truth that most of us have framed up for ourselves. He requires that what we hold as true be something that will endure beyond the moment and that it possesses value that endures into the unforeseeable future. The Lord commands that the truth that should inform what we speak and the manner of our expression of our ideas is all formed and expressed in an atmosphere where love is the foundation and where the desired outcome is the building up of others into a form of unity of spirit and purpose. This is an idealistic standard to set for the world at large, but it is an imperative for followers of Christ. What we say has impact into eternity, and how we speak to and about others exposes the nature of our relationship with Christ to full public view. So, every word that comes out of the mouths of people who claim Christ as Savior and Lord, needs to be clearly related to its only valid source that is found in the Word of God alone.    

I will sing to the LORD,

   because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 13: 6 

When David set out these words, his life was not going well. We don’t know the exact circumstances that surrounded him, but we certainly are aware of enough hard and challenging times that came his way for us to understand that he could be at the end of his ability to handle whatever it was that he faced. Yet, the song that starts out, “How long, O LORD, will you forget me forever?”, ends with this statement of recognition of the Lord’s care and provision and joyously hopeful note of thanksgiving. Had something changed in David’s life during the time of his reflection, or was it more a matter of his working through his fears, doubts, and concerns so that the Lord could respond to him with words of truth that bring with them the encouragement that his heart so badly needed? 

There is real value in doing what David did in this song, for speaking out to the Lord about the things that are troubling us is more than simply therapeutic. This act of engaging in honest conversation with God gets thoughts and feelings that we have working on our inner beings and it sets them out into the clear air of God’s realm of providing us with reason and order. The pain that we are experiencing, whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, may not end at that time; however, talking it all over with the Lord does tend to grant a form of respite from the burden of carrying whatever it is that is so heavily weighting down the heart. The ability to manage pain, to calm a mind that is swirling in turmoil, or to find order in a jumble of confusion and chaos is something that comes most readily from the source of all order and peace in the universe, and that creator and source is God.

It seems to me that David is actually suggesting that he will sing a song of thanksgiving to the Lord even though the issues that are troubling him are still present and very real to him. There is no process of resolution mentioned in these six short verses; instead, we see David’s personal resolution to take all that is troubling him to the Lord with his mind and heart focused upon the many ways that God has taken care of him in the past and with genuine anticipation of the way that this same God will deal with what is going on at this time. This is an example of faith that is active and realized in the middle of the crisis. David expresses a form of trust in the Lord that grants its bearer the realization of peace that allows for him to think more clearly and to endure the moment more readily than would be the case without this tangible understanding of the presence of the Lord with him. David sings about God’s bounty as it has been poured out upon him over the course of his life, and he invites us to do the same as we travel hard roads and navigate the churning waters of our own times of asking, “How long?”  

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

1 Peter 4: 10

As a result of the many years that I have lived as a follower of Christ, there is at least one thing that I am very clear about, God is very generous. He has given me gifts that are remarkable, wonderful, and beyond measure in their scope and scale. God pours life into His people, and He grants gifts of His Spirit to us. The Lord is also the type of Father that builds a confident sort of strength into us. He lets us go and gives us space to roam this world and to explore its wonders; yet, He is never all that far away should we need advice, counsel, encouragement, or rescue. All of this generosity is founded upon one overwhelmingly great gift that was given to us in the person of Jesus Christ and that was fully unveiled upon the cross and made complete in Christ’s resurrection. Even His return to the Father in Heaven was not a loss for people on this earth, for Christ gave His Spirit to us and in the presence of the Spirit we are each granted gifts to use in service to our Lord and for the sake of His kingdom.

The work of service that we are called to perform is highly varied. It is designed by God to fit the needs of this world as it is in our time, and it is also tailored to be the perfect fit for each of us at that moment. It is important for us to remember that these gifts are not given to us in order to build us up or to create any sense of superiority on our parts. Although they are great and wonderful, and some of them seem to be more significant, important, or powerful in human terms, from God’s perspective these gifts are all of equal worth and none of them are intended to set an individual apart as greater or more valuable than other followers of Christ. The gifts that we are given are intended to be given away in full, and we are called to serve others with all that the Lord has granted to us. There is no need to hold back anything or to attempt to protect these gifts from overuse or from depletion by virtue of giving them away. These gifts and the grace that was poured out upon us by Christ in granting them to us flow out of an unquenchable fountain of blessing that God has freely opened for His people to drink from.

As we have received from God, so we are to give away all that we possess with the sure promise that we will be replenished as we need that resupply. There are times when the burden and the effort of this giving into the lives of others can become very heavy and we can become weary or worn down. These are days when we need the help and the support of other people who claim the same faith in Christ. These are times when we can lean into Christ’s body, the church, and allow others to walk with us, to grant us a safe place to rest, and to provide insight and encouragement that come directly from God’s Word and are poured into them and into us by His ever-present Spirit. Even with the Spirit within us and the gifts that God has granted to us at hand, none of us are intended by the Lord to walk through this life on our own. His design, plan, and intent for the journey that He sends each of His people on is for us to do this traveling with companions and in the gathered strength of His body of fellowship. In this setting, the grace that we require to sustain us can be found, the wisdom that is needed to assess each day is gathered together, and the opportunity to serve others as we allow them to serve us is granted full expression.