Discovering the Cross Shaped Life

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“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save their life will lose it but whoever loses their life for me will find it. ” Matthew 16:24-25

Jesus isn’t a ‘get me out of hell free card’ or a get rich quick scheme. He demands something of us. In fact, he turns our formulas for success and self promotion upside down: we gain through loss and we live through death.  To follow Jesus ultimately means that our lives reflect Jesus’ path to the cross, his death and eventual resurrection.

To often, though, we let our life ambitions and goals get in the way thinking they will lead to fulfillment in life. This ultimately frustrates us and leaves us feeling jaded.

Jesus, however, is in the business of redefining where true life is found. Lets be clear, its not in the American dream and upward mobility. Being a Christian has nothing to do with making life more comfortable or convenient. Following Jesus is decidedly inconvenient. True Christianity calls people to lay aside their devotion to any thing that stands between them and Christ, such as: money, power, prestige, careers, loose living and etcetera. In many ways, we must die if we desire a true and meaningful life.

Ultimately, Jesus calls us to  ”cross-shaped living.” This involves daily exerting our efforts and abilities for Christ’s interests–the glory of God and the welfare of others (Phil. 2:1-11)– over our own. To accomplish this we must align ourselves with sacrifice instead of gain, dishonor instead of honor, humility instead of pride and loss now for future reward.

A cross shaped life radically reorients our focus from self-centeredness to other-centeredness and from love for self to love for God.

Anyone who claims to follow Christ needs to hear this–me most of all. We aren’t called to honor, prestige and self-advancement. Life isn’t about what we get–it’s about what we give. We’re called to daily self-sacrifice by laying aside our ideal in favor of Christ’s ideal. Today, ask yourself what that might look like. This is, after all, what following Jesus or ‘being a Christian’ entails.

Insecure? Join the club.

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We all have those moments: a word, an action, a reaction or a thought that sends us spinning into a world of insecurity. In those moments we can feel small, angry or flat out dejected. Often we tell ourselves, “its no big deal,” we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and move on. In our worst moments we turn to addictions, inappropriate relationships or consumerism.

I understand why people react like this. It’s far easier to run from insecurity than to stare it square in the face and deal with the foreboding questions of our existence. The more and more I think about it, though, I wonder if God uses insecurity to draw us closer to him.

Psalm 139 and Philippians 2:1-11 are two passages that convince me of this more than any others in scripture. Together they teach two powerful truths: one, God knows more about us than even we will ever know about ourselves; and two, despite knowing us at our worst he still loves us enough to die for us.

He knows us, he’s entered our existence and suffered with us through Jesus. God (whether you believe in him or not) authored your life, occupies it and experiences it with you. Your insecurities are safe in his hands.

Pain and Presence

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Certain seasons in life are riddled with deep, unbearable, crushing pain. We cry out to God, question his justice, fairness and sovereignty, but often find little to no answer. We can easily begin to think that God isn’t there, or worse–he just doesn’t care.

In the Book of Genesis we learn about Joseph’s pain and disillusionment: he’s betrayed by his own family, left for dead in a pit, sold into slavery in Egypt, falsely accused of assaulting his master’s wife, and left to rot in a rat infested Egyptian jail. He’s wounded deeply and repeatedly for years, and the crazy thing is, God let it happen! If you read Genesis 37-50 you’ll not find God saying much at all. He is silent. Thankfully though, Joseph’s story didn’t stop in prison. He was eventually freed and became second in command to the king of Egypt. But, still, God was not speaking.

Joseph’s story reaches a fever pitch when he stands before the brothers who betrayed him. He possessed all the authority in Egypt to exact his revenge, but instead, he recognized God’s movement in his life and showed mercy to his betrayers: “You intended me harm, but God intended it for good,”(Genesis 50:20).

How powerful! Despite God’s silence, he saw the hand of God in his circumstances, turning the evil of his brothers into something that preserved his entire family and began the nation of Israel. In other words, God worked incredible good out of incredible despair.

Though it may not seem like it, God is working through our pain and disappointment. Even though the pain seems unfair, inexplicable and insurmountable: God is there. Even if he seems silent: God is there. Even if we turn our back on him in bitterness: He is still there.Like Joseph’s, I don’t believe that our story has to end in pain and heartache. Yes, heartache is real and can be so deeply profound! I don’t begrudge anyone the right to grieve. Even Jesus mourned (John 11:35). Nevertheless, in painful seasons, when God’s silence seems deafening and the pain is deep, I urge us all to trust in his abiding presence. Your story is not over. It may not end like Joseph’s, but God hasn’t forgotten about you! He is there.