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.

 

Unconditional Love

While the Bible never mentions the word “trinity” the concept is in there and with it we learn about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They each share attributes, but also have different roles. We are taught about God the Father’s love for us in that He loved us so much, that he sent God the Son to be the once and for all sacrifice that was needed to cleanse each of us from our sins. If we trust in Jesus as our savior, we are no longer held liable for our debts (sins) and are now seen as righteous (sinless). The Father loves us. He loves me.

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The Bible draws analogies for God the Father and our earthly fathers. In Matthew 7 Jesus reminds us that we as parents (fathers) know how to give bread instead of rocks to our children, and asks how much more would a holy, perfect Father in heaven know how to give good things. And so our relationship with our earthly father becomes an analogy for our relationship with our Heavenly Father. If we feel loved by our earthly father than we should have some type of understanding of the love our Heavenly Father has for us.

That might be easy for those of us with good earthly fathers. Unfortunately, we live in a broken world. A world where kids don’t have fathers or they have abusive/neglectful fathers and so this analogy can be difficult for some people.

However, there are three people who have taught me more about God’s unconditional love for me than my earthly father has (and I’ve got an amazing earthly father). Those three people are my children.

Children love their parents unconditionally. I can really mess up. I sometimes get really angry at my kids and yell at them and say things that may be true, but in an unkind way. I’m being sanctified in this area. However, when I do mess up, I ask my kids for forgiveness and they instantly forgive me, and not only is their forgiveness immediate, our relationship is instantly repaired. They truly have forgiven and forgotten. They don’t keep a record of wrongs. And I’m not alone in this. Even children of abusive and neglectful parents love their parents!

Now, I understand that these children will continue to grow up and at some point in time it becomes harder to forgive quickly and forget easily but for now they do. And right now they are teaching me about my Heavenly Father’s unconditional love.

My children don’t care if I’m slightly overweight, out of style, and wear no makeup, they love me and think I’m beautiful. They are happy when I’m happy and show compassion and comfort me when I’m sad. They love spending time with me and would love for me to give them even more attention than I do. But even when we just don’t get a whole lot of time together, they still love me. And like I said earlier they are so quick to forgive me, even when I have a hard time forgiving myself.

All of those qualities are true of my Heavenly Father. He doesn’t care about my size, my fashion sense, or how much makeup I wear. He loves me and thinks I’m beautiful. He wants me to have an ultimate happiness and has compassion and comforts me when I’m hurting. He loves spending time with me and wants to spend even more time with me. And he’s so quick – so quick – to forgive and to see Christ in me.

So if you’re having a hard time feeling God’s love, think about your young children. Think about how they love you. How their eyes light up when they see you and how they long to spend time with you! Even if you don’t have a tangible “feeling” of God’s love, know that He does.

 

A New Kind of Legalism

What do you think of when you think of legalism? I think of self-righteous people who look down on others for *gasp* drinking beer, or dancing, or playing cards, or… I think of people who look down on a woman who has a sexual past because they can’t seem to understand that the broken woman is a new creation in Christ. To me, these issues seem to be a thing of the past. I don’t live in the Bible belt, so I assume this problem still exists. However, I am surrounded by amazing believers who understand the grace of the Bible. We’re all gross and disgusting sinners. How dare I look down on a sister for her sexual past when bitterness has stripped joy from my life in years past?

However, it seems like there’s a new wave of legalism out there. It’s not about looking down on people for the bad things or sins that they are/were caught up in, but rather it’s about judging others because they’re not DOING something. (And that something is specifically tied to whatever the person is passionate about.) Don’t get me wrong, as Christians we SHOULD be loving others. However, there’s a movement of restless people who think, “If you’re not adopting/working to end human trafficking/feeding the hungry in third world countries/etc. then there’s something lacking in your Christian faith.” or “Look at me, look at what I am doing/did for the gospel, what are you doing?” It’s a haughty, self-righteous attitude.

There are a handful of new books floating around that have changed people’s lives and have spurred them to do amazing things for the gospel. But these same books are fostering this attitude of self-righteousness. They spurn middle-class life and basically say there are no excuses for not doing what they promote as a worthy cause. This is a new burden placed on believers.

Here’s the thing though. Outsiders don’t necessarily know what’s going on within the family. What about…

  • the family who is strategically sharing the gospel with their middle class neighbors
  • the family that provides bread and milk for the less fortunate down the street
  • the family that gives up autonomous life and works to support and live with a disabled family member
  • the family that fosters children
  • the wife who’s desire is to serve others more, but needs to submit to her unbelieving, or less mature husband
  • the family that sacrifices family time for misc ministry purposes
  • the family that still lives well but donates 1/2 their income
  • the woman who cleans the church weekly
  • the man who is faithful to stack chairs, etc.

The point is, is that sometimes the Christian life does not call people to travel to a foreign country, adopt a child, or even evangelize on the street. Sometimes the Christian life calls people to labor where they are, for the people already in their circle of acquaintance. They are called to do the invisible jobs. The Bible calls us to live in such a way where the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. So, if you are a disciple of Christ who has been called to something public (like adoption, I mean, it’s really hard to keep that secret) that’s AWESOME! But don’t become self-righteous and look down on others who don’t have a heart for [enter your passion here]. Assume the best of your brothers and sisters in Christ. God has (or will) more than likely burdened their hearts with something, but you may never hear about it. It may be something that is only between them and God and you will never know of the sacrifice they have given.

Let’s get rid of the old legalism and let’s get rid of the new legalism. Let’s get rid of this, “What are YOU doing?” mentality and remember that the Christian life is often about doing, in that by doing we’re loving others, but it’s also about being; simply resting in who Christ is and what He has done. I don’t HAVE to DO because of what He has DONE. And the only reason we DO (read love) is because I am FIRST loved. Don’t be impatient with those who are behind you on this amazing road of Christ. Meet them where THEY are but keep in mind, they might be ahead of you because of the secret sacrifices they’ve made that you’ll never know about.

A Culture That Hates People

From Pinterest

Recently I’ve found the humor boards on Pinterest. It’s an easy way at the end of the day to kill a little time when you don’t have a book to read. However, it’s also a huge commentary on society.

It’s become apparent to me how people, in our culture, think other people are stupid, or need to be punched in the face, or how they don’t want to be around people, how much they hate people, or share pictures of people simply to make fun of them.

Now, I’m an introvert. I understand wanting to hide in my home or enjoying the comfort of my bedroom rather going out and meeting new people. However, I don’t hate people. I might hate crowds or traffic. I might get irritated at the person who cut me off or is driving recklessly, but I don’t hate people. In fact, it’s sinful to hate people. It’s sinful to assume stupidity when you simply disagree (this gets especially bad during election season.) It’s sinful to degrade others for the purpose of making yourself feel better.

I don’t know the percentage of Pinterest-ers that would consider themselves Christ-followers, but as Christians we need to be aware of falling into this worldly trap of thinking poorly of others. God created humans after His own image. ALL people Christians and non-Christians alike are worth something to Him. As His ambassadors we should treat other humans with love, patience, grace, and dignity. We WILL get frustrated with each other. We WILL have days where customers, co-workers, family, friends, and strangers drive us crazy, however, our life mantra  should NEVER be one of “I hate people.” – no matter how “cool” it is.

“When am I ever going to use this?!”

I’m sure that is a question that is asked in almost EVERY math class in America. Possibly it is also asked in science, English, and history classes as well, but I’m not sure. Math, however, seems to get the short straw a lot. People “hate” math, they are horrible at it. Math is hard. Students head to college unprepared for STEM degrees/jobs, which are the most in demand.

However, as I was studying with my 1st grader his science test about matter I asked myself, “When was the last time I used the fact that there are three states of matter. Sure, I boil water to cook spaghetti and freeze water to make ice, but I don’t need to understand the properties of matter to actually boil and freeze water.”

The bottom line is that we do NOT educate students so that they can go through life with the minimum of knowledge. For 7 years I was a stay-at-home mom. In order to get through life I needed to be able to read and do arithmetic, I needed to know how to use scissors (those all-important coupons), and the basics of cooking (nope, I didn’t even really need to understand fractions, although it’s helpful). I needed to know how to drive and the rules of the road. I needed to know how to do laundry and clean a house. I needed to know how to soothe a crying baby/child and how to find directions. NONE of those things did I learn in high school. I’m not even sure my high school offered a home ec class, and if they did I didn’t take it.

The truth is, outside of our careers, we don’t use the majority of the information we learn in high school and core college classes. I don’t remember the year the US entered WWII, but I know that the war took place in the late 30’s and 40’s. I haven’t read Shakespeare since I was in high school and don’t remember anything outside the basic plot of Romeo and Juliet. And while I could probably still balance a chemical equation, I haven’t done so in over 10 years since my college Chemistry class.

The point of secondary education and beyond is not to get our students to a point of simply being able to survive life with minimal skills, it’s to teach them a plethorah of information so that they can be:

1. A well-rounded individual.

2. Exposed to many different topics so that they can see what interests them and what they’re good at.

3. Once they do choose a career they have all the background information they need to move forward in learning and specializing.

4. To exercise their brain muscle and teach students how to learn and be life-time students.

I teach my students Algebra not because I think they are going to be sitting around their kitchen table solving equations every day, but because I want to open a door to them. I want my students to be grounded in the basics of upper level mathematics so that they have the ability to choose a STEM career, or go into business and use math modeling to make a business successful, or even to major in a non-math related subject that requires Calculus.

My guess is that history, science, English, foreign language, etc. teachers teach for the same reason. It’s not because you’re going to be using this information every day of your life, but rather so that their students have the ability to choose any career that they find themselves passionate about.

1000 Declutter Challenge

So I’ve been following the blog, Miss Minimalist, for a while now. I’m not as radical as some of the minimalists that she has had post for her real-life minimalist series or as radical as she is herself. However the blog is very motivating to live a less materialistic life. Also, living in a 1400 square foot house with a lot of junk leads to a very cluttered house. I’ve also learned that I get over stimulated visually and aurally. So, I’d really like to pare down my life.

With this in mind I’m giving myself a challenge this summer. My challenge is that I get rid of 1000 things in my house. And here are kind of the rules I’ve given myself.

1. I count everything I get rid of, no matter how small. This includes trash that is found under beds or behind furniture or something. So if I get rid of a toy that’s +1.

2. If I bring something into the house, it counts against me. When John gets a new toy for his birthday that will be a -1.

3. If I don’t want to count it as a -1 coming in, than I can’t count it as a +1. For instance, if I count a grocery bag going in the trash, then I’d have to count the grocery bag coming into the house. (However, hopefully I’ll remember my reusable bags more often!)

I think that’s about it except that my challenge to myself is to get rid of 1000 things before school starts. I’m not sure exactly how hard it will be, but I shall see! 🙂