Take Up Your Cross

Mark 8:34 says, “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’”

As someone who has grown up in the church I have heard this phrase quoted at least dozens of times. “Deny yourself. Take up your cross and follow him.” If you pressed me for where that was in the Bible, I probably would have guessed one of Paul’s epistles. At the very least I have always thought of the phrase in terms of AFTER Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are to emulate Christ by taking up our cross and following him.

Jesus’ statement probably gets conflated with the saying, “It’s my cross to bear.” So we’re left with this vague notion that if we are to follow Jesus we must pick up our cross (whatever our cross is) and follow him. There’s probably a thorn in everyone’s side and they must endure that to follow Christ.

BUT

When I read the quote in context it hit me like a freight train! The original audience is hearing this without any reference to Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus called these people to pick up their cross and follow him BEFORE his death and resurrection. People were not expecting a Messiah to come and die, and especially not one who would die on a cross.

So, the question becomes, when Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” How did the original hearers understand this? The cross had no religious significance at the time. If a person was carrying a cross, they were convicted of a crime and heading to their torturous death. Jesus is basically saying, “Deny yourself, and follow me down death row to sit in your electric chair.”

In the context of Mark 8 Peter had just declared him the Messiah. Jesus tells them plainly of his forthcoming death and resurrection. Then to everyone he basically says, if you want to follow me you must follow me to death, to martyrdom. And that is exactly what many of his disciples did. They took up a literal cross and followed Christ even to their death.

Do you have that kind of faith in Christ? The kind of faith that will cause you to deny yourself and follow him, even if it means death for his sake? Do I? I pray the Holy Spirit would give me the courage if I am ever put in that situation. Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who daily live in this reality: choosing Christ means choosing death.

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The Mind and Marriage

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Col. 3:1-3

My first two years of college were spent at a small Christian school in Georgia. I have a vivid memory of driving across town and having a discussion with at least two others about Christians and divorce. I don’t remember who said this, but it has always stuck with me. He said, “My mom once told me that when she gets angry with my dad she focuses on what she loves about him, even if – at that moment – the only thing she loves about him is the way he ties his shoes.” This woman, had spent her marriage training her mind to love her husband.

I wish I could that this anecdote stuck with me in such a way that I have spent the last 14 years training my mind to love my husband, but that isn’t the case. Instead, when I am angry I tear him down in my mind and list everything that frustrates me. I can tell you from experience, nothing good comes from this practice.

Another thing that gets in the way of training my mind to love my husband are my emotions. People often talk about how women are much more emotional than men and how they are led by their emotions rather than their minds. When I hear these things I’m slightly offended. I like to think of myself as an intellectual. And in some areas of life, I am. However, I also know that I am very emotional and sometimes irrational. There are have been times where I have accused Aaron, “You don’t love me.” And he would respond, “That’s a lie.” Or I might say, “I don’t feel like you love me.” And he might respond, “Well, your feelings are wrong.” I’m sure you can imagine how frustrated his responses have made me. However, his responses were true. My feelings and my thoughts were wrong and they needed to be reigned in by my mind.

God gave us our minds to learn about Him and to worship Him. Before we get to Colossians 3, Paul tells the Colossians that he prays for them asking that they be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (1:9) and that they will increase in their knowledge of God (1:10). He points out that before they were reconciled to Christ, they were hostile in mind (1:21). Paul explains that he became a minister so the word of God would be fully known (1:25). Paul’s desire is that they would reach a full understanding and knowledge of Christ in whom are hidden all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge (2:2-3). He warns them NOT to be deluded with plausible arguments (2:4) nor be taken captive by philosophy and empty deceit according to human tradition and the world (2:8). He warns that anyone trying to disqualify them in regards to the ceremonial law is puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind (2:18) And finally that while regulations (read legalism) may have the appearance of wisdom they, in fact, have no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (2:23).

It is with this backdrop that we come to chapter three verses one and two. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” This word “seek” is an action word. Instead you could say, “keep seeking”  “continually seek” or “don’t stop seeking” the things that are above. And then verse two tells us to set our minds on the things above.

We should be fixated on, oriented towards the things above. I was thinking about this idea of setting my mind or fixing my mind to something in terms of driving. When I’m driving down the road, where should my attention be? On. The. Road. If I turn around and start rummaging for something in the back seat or type an text on my phone while driving what’s going to happen? Nothing good! But when I drive I keep my eyes on the road. I may glance at the person in the passenger seat, turn on the radio, or look in the rear view mirror but my attention is being continually refocused on the road. At the same time, just because I’m driving doesn’t mean I can’t do anything else. I could listen to music. But the fact that I’m driving and focused on the road might change what type of music I listen to. I might not choose a slow, soft, melodic song that soothes me to sleep. Just like remaining focused on the road affects my behavior and choices while I’m driving so should setting my mind on the things above. And just like I continually refocus my attention to the road, I need to be continually refocusing my mind on the things above.

So, then the question becomes what are the things above? I believe verse 1 answers that question, “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” Our Lord and Savior is above seated at the right hand of God the Father. So, how do we focus on the things above? For that let’s skip down to verse 16 which says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

So, how do we set our minds on the things above? There were four ways listed in verse 16. The first is to let the word of God dwell in us. How do we do that? We read it. We memorize it. We study it. We listen to it. Doing those things will lead to us meditating on it.

Have you ever watched a tv show or read a news article and found yourself thinking about it the next day? In a sense you’re meditating on the show or article, you’re reflecting on it, thinking about it, processing it. I find that the more I am in the word or reading good books and articles or listening to talks/podcasts/sermons the more my mind thinks on godly things. I recall what I read or heard and process it again. I talk about it. I share it.

The second way to set your mind on the things above is to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. When you teach someone, you first have to learn something and learn it even more deeply and thoroughly. One definition of admonish is to advise or urge someone earnestly. (Kind of like I’m doing right now, about setting your minds on the things above.) Regardless of whether you are teaching or advising, it forces your mind to think and learn about what you are going to talk about! And lest we do so in our own folly, the verse says to teach and admonish in all wisdom. Where can wisdom be found? In the Bible. Again, focusing on the Bible so you can teach or admonish others, helps you to set your mind on the things above.

The third way to seek the things above is by singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. If I said “shake it off” I venture to guess that the majority, if not all, of you heard Taylor Swift in your mind, and if you’re like me you started dancing a little. Music sticks in our minds and hearts. Songs get stuck in our heads. What’s better to be stuck in your head, “Shake it Off” Or “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe.”? While I am currently in a stage of life where I value and prefer silence, I have to admit that music simply lifts my spirits! I have a Spotify playlist of my favorite worship songs that I’ve picked up throughout the years and occasionally I’ll turn it on while I clean. And every time I do I think to myself, “Why don’t I turn on music more often.” It soothes my soul. It reminds me of the promises of God and the great things Christ has done for my life! I worship God for how great he is and the way he has turned a wretch like me into a righteous saint. Music is a gift God!

Finally, we set our minds on the things above with thankfulness in our hearts to God. Complaining and thankfulness are mutually exclusive. They are opposites. You can’t complain and be thankful at the same time. Aaron is one of the most thankful people I know. For example, I start to complain about having to take the van into get an oil change and he’ll immediately correct my attitude. “Stacie! Why are you complaining about this? Be thankful that you have a van that needs an oil change and money to get it done. That van has kept us safe and driven us across the country and back. We have amazing memories in that van. Be thankful that God has blessed us with such an amazing vehicle!” Again, while in the moment this can annoy me (I just want to complain about my routine being interrupted by an oil change.) he is right in pointing out to me the ways God has blessed us. He is helping me to train my mind and heart to be thankful.

Now, you may be thinking what does any of this have to do with marriage?! I’m going to jump backwards now to verse 12. I believe that setting our minds on the things above will consequently help us to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience as Paul is urging us to do. It will help us to bear with one another and forgive each other. It will help us to put on love so that we may be bound together in perfect harmony.

Remember this was written for the church. When we see the one another’s in scriptures (and there’s a lot of them) it is especially speaking of our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Well, who is your closest brother? Your husband! We are to have unity in the church, yes, but even more so as husband and wife! We are not two people but we are one flesh.

So, imagine your marriage, if both of you had your minds focused on Christ and so your lives reflected compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness and love, then do you think it would be difficult for you to submit to him, as we are commanded in verse 18? Or would your husband would have hard time loving you and being gentle toward you as he is commanded in verse 19? I humbly submit to you that it would not be. The more my husband grows in Christ the better he treats me and the easier it is to submit to him. The more I grow the easier it is for him to be sweet to me and love me.

Now, I know there may be husbands that are not setting their minds on Christ, but let me encourage you to do so all the more. 1 Peter 3 encourages us by saying that husbands can won without a word by the conduct of their wives. So win your husband by setting your mind on Christ and allowing the spirit to sanctify you.

If we set our minds on the things of Christ, it will be easy to train our minds to love our husbands. It will be easy to forgive them, it will be easy to admit our own wrongdoing.  So the next time you and your husband get into an argument, train your mind to love your husband. Stop tearing him down and begin to thank God for him and list everything you love about him and I bet the marriage will be the better for it.

 

John Turns 11

I’m not even sure where to start. John is 11. How did that happen?! He is the one that paves the way for the girls and where Aaron and I learn new things in parenting!

As John prepares to start 6th grade next month, I am reminded of dropping him off for Kindergarten. I remember visiting APA when he was still 4 for a tour, seeing the sixth graders in a line and the tears welled up in my eyes thinking I wasn’t ready for that yet. I IMG_0729also was not happy at the thought of dropping off my little 5-year-old kindergartener off at the school where there were super big 6th graders! But now, my mama-heart is so happy that he’s not yet headed into junior high and that I have another year to prepare for that milestone.

John is a great kid. He has an infectious laugh and reads… all. the. time. And he reads quickly too! If I had to buy every book he read, we’d be poor! We lived at the Sandy house for most of this past year and if he wasn’t in the house, he was more than likely on the hammock, reading.

He also loves Minecraft and Civilization, Star Wars, Adventures in Odyssey and LEGOs. He loves to make other people laugh and will try to find the best jokes to repeat! Oh! And he loves science. One time he had a friend over and they burned a CD (with parent permission) just to see what would happen. He has a curious mind and a great imagination. And while his sister annoys him quite a bit, he also plays really well with her. He is a great big brother!

While it’s hard to let go as your kids get older, you know it’s necessary. We can’t make them stay small forever. So I keep stretching my limit of what I’m comfortable with when it comes to letting go and giving him new responsibilities. One day, Lord willing, he’ll be a man providing and protecting his wife and kids. I can at least let him ride his scooter around the block! 🙂

Hannah Turns 3

Hannah is incurably happy. That’s what Aaron always says. She really does have a smile on her face more often than not!

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Dancing on the table!

Highlights from this past year have been:

  • Dance with Me – A mommy and me dance class that was the highlight of our week.
  • “My best friend Wade.” Hannah and Wade have a love-hate relationship! They are always so excited to see each other, but then get upset because one doesn’t want to share a toy — especially when that toy is, specifically, Wade’s doctor kit.
  • Speaking of doctor kits… Hannah’s favorite toy was her (or even more so Wade’s) “wishenscope.” Better known to everyone else as a stethoscope. 🙂
  • She loves being Super Hero Hannah! “I’m here to save the day!” She loves wearing capes and masks and pretending to have super hero powers.
  • She left behind Daniel Tiger as her favorite show and instead prefers Doc McStuffins and PJ Mask.
  • Hannah LOVES music! She always asks for music in the van. And at night when I sing a song (the majority of the year it was Twinkle) she’ll sing at the top of her lungs right along with me!
  • Hannah is also officially potty trained! While it took longer than I thought, we made it and there are no more diapers in our house.

My sweet little Hannah! How I have loved every minute of her growing up. She is so talkative and smart! She is adorable when she gives me a thumbs up – which is quite often. She loves twirly dresses, dress ups and pretty shoes. She loves puppies and always asks to pet them when we see them in public. She is a sweet girl with a happy attitude and is quick to change her bad attitude when it appears. I can’t imagine life without her!

Lydia Turns Nine

Lydia is my bright, bold, beautiful little girl. She is silly and active and social. Every time we’ve moved these past few years she finds a friend as quickly as possible! Then she begs to go play with that friend as soon as homework is finished. She likes having other people around and playing games together or doing some activity.

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Lydia being silly with frosting on her nose!

Lydia is finishing up the 3rd grade with Mrs. Provstgaard. She has worked so hard this year. We’ve studied for history and science tests together and worked hard on math homework. She loves reading A-Z Mystery books, but she’d rather be playing games with a friend.

She has been taking ballet classes from En Pointe School of Ballet and this year gets to be horse and pull the carriage in the ballet Cinderella. She has been so excited about her roll since the beginning of the year. Soon she’ll start track and she’s super excited about getting to run!!!

Lydia loves animals and takes our neighbor’s dog on a walk when she can or brings the dog to our yard while she plays outside with his son. She loves Splashlings, Shopkins, Littlest Pet Shop, and American Girl doll stuff. She had a great birthday party at All Stars with laser tag, bumper cars, and arcade games! She has some good friends Olivia D, Olivia F (who she doesn’t get to see often enough), and Evangeline.

I’m excited to watch this little girl grow up over the next few years.  To see the vivacious young woman that she will become. I pray that the Lord helps me to raise her to be a woman who loves Jesus and lives to serve him.

Envy of Eve – Quotes

The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World by Melissa Kruger should be required reading for all young college/career women! While coveting and lack of contentment are not sins only women struggle with I do think women struggle with the comparison game more than men. I’m pretty sure that’s why there are “Mommy Wars” and not “Daddy Wars.”

 

I know I have struggled with lack of contentment in my life phases: when I was single I wanted a boyfriend, once I had a boyfriend I wanted to be engaged, once married I wanted children, etc. The cycle continued. I recognized my lack of contentment but struggled with what the secret to contentment was that Paul talks about in Philippians.

 

Years ago as I awaited the adoption of my 3rd child my covetous heart was out of control. Thankfully God eventually got a hold of my heart, but when I think back on those dark years I think about the wasted time and energy. I’m not sure if I could have been saved from the pain of my coveting had I read a book like this, but if young women could read this book in preparation for a life that, without a doubt, will bring trials in one form or another maybe it could prepare their heart and they could walk with God in a much better manner than I did.

 

There is so much Biblical wisdom in this book! It ministered to my heart in so many ways. It stretched me, convicted me, and encouraged me. I highly recommend it!

 

Let me share some quotes:

“Coveting is the antithesis of Christ’s command to ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ because our neighbor becomes our enemy simply by possessing what we desire. We cannot love well those whose lives or belongings we covet.” pg 29

 

“Our lack of contentment primarily flows from unbelief regarding God’s sovereignty and goodness in our lives.” pg 48

 

“A heart softened by the Spirit can respond to the Word preached. However, a heart hardened by sin’s deceitfulness will only grow harder still upon hearing the tidings of God. Only God’s Spirit can awaken a heart to believe the message of sin and redemption.” pg 49

 

“The serpent tempts Eve to doubt God’s Word and His goodness to her. He stirs up discontentment in her heart, as well as a longing to rule, rather than be ruled. Do not miss the fact that Eve, even in the middle of all the goodness of Eden, finds herself longing for the one thing forbidden. In the midst of perfect circumstances, unbelief can still arise.” pg 73

 

“Satan wants us to believe that we cannot control what we long after or that if we have a longing, it must be good, in spite of God’s instruction. It is one of his most damaging lies, keeping us enslaved to years of worthless pursuits. Although we cannot always choose what we see, we can choose what we set our heart upon.” pg 75

 

“Our incessant cravings suggest to others that we worship a God who is not able to satisfy.” pg 88

 

“If we desire to fight Satan’s attacks, we must immerse ourselves into God’s Word and seek to understand the full counsel of the Bible.” pg 100

 

“Our joy, peace, and hope do not flow from perfect circumstances or gaining all that this world has to offer. Instead, these items are fruits of spiritual growth. They are often born in the furnace of trials and afflictions, but they lead to a hope that is imperishable.” pg 104

 

“Our outward grumbling is a sure sign of inner coveting.” pg 134

 

“We need to bring our good and right desire for relationship together with an understanding that no earthly relationship can mend the brokenness in our lives. Pg 147

 

“A content woman can share with friends and the Lord her honest struggle. However, she does so in a way that demonstrates her belief and trust in the Lord. In contrast, the covetous woman believes her outward circumstances are proof of the Lord’s failure to be good to her. She complains and grumbles, seeking others to join her in her lament. She cultivates discontent and soon, she becomes a woman who takes from those around her.” pg 209

 

“Such a person hides her own sin as she thinks to herself, ‘My situation is so uniquely difficult that I am allowed to be miserable. Anyone facing what I am facing would be just as discontent as I am.’ Paul speaks to the fallacy of this type of thinking when he writes, ‘No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful’ he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.’ (1 Cor. 10:13)” pg 211

 

“As we spend time with the Lord each day, slowly our desires will transform and grow into new hopes. Even as we long for circumstances to change, our greater longing will be for contentment in any and every circumstance.” pg 215

 

“As we sacrifice our own lives to give to others, we should expect to feel worn out, tired and spent. The call of the gospel is not one of self-protection, but of self-denial.” pg 243
There were so many more quotes I could have added or ended up deleting from my list to make this shorter. I’m telling you, this is an amazing book… Go read it!

A Failed Adoption – Two Years Later

We are coming up on the 2nd anniversary of our failed adoption and I still think about it.

Almost two and half years ago we were matched with a birth mom in Florida. We spent 5 months thinking about this baby, anticipating, praising God that he had heard our cries and that He was, after such a long wait, growing our family. While I do believe that God protected my heart during this time, I still got attached to the little boy. In my head I call him Matthew James. Aaron and I had definitely agreed on Matthew and I figure I would have won him over to James as a middle name. 🙂 So, Matthew James is the name of the little boy that I was expecting to raise.

However, his mom decided to keep him. And that’s ok! We knew that was a possibility. And she had every right to do so! I do not begrudge her in any way. But, I do think about Matthew James, sometimes – at random times. I think about how he’d be almost two. I wonder what his exact birthday is. I wonder what he looks like. I wonder if he’s happy. I wonder what milestones he’s hit. I wonder if he’ll grow up to know Jesus. I wonder what his favorite toys are. I wonder how big he is. I just wonder about him and who he is.

God has healed my heart from the pain of the loss of this expected child. He gave us a daughter instead, only four, short months later. God has blessed us immensely. I can imagine that these years – wondering about Matthew James – would have been harder if we didn’t have our joyful Hannah Pi. But God also reminds me to pray for little Matthew James. Wherever he is, whatever his real name is, he is still on my heart. I hope he is safe and knows that he is loved by the creator of the world. He’ll never know about me, but I’m here, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget about him.