Out with the Old and In with the New
“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” William Shakespeare – Merchant of Venice
“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Mark 8:34-35 (NIV)
As a personal fitness trainer I have people walk through my door who want to change some aspect of their health. Eating right and exercise can offer a host of positive changes: fat loss; muscle development; strength; flexibility; endurance; cardiovascular conditioning; a sense of over all well being; longevity; decreased pain; reduced need for medication; better sleep; look better; feel better and disease prevention. I have come to understand that what all of my clients want is something different.
One of the first questions I ask new clients is do you want to change and are you willing to do what I tell you to do to get what you want? I have not had one person say no to that question. But honestly, I am shocked at how many of my clients just keep doing what they’ve been doing and consequently they keep getting what they were getting. Often, I’ll ask these folks why they need me. Change doesn’t happen by osmosis. Everyone is excited at first (expect those who were in my office because someone else thought they ought to be, which never works). The most successful are the ones who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Right out of the chute I tell them they will have to deny themselves certain things they may enjoy and that while permissible, may not be beneficial. Sacrifice is involved and work must be done and at some level, pain endured. One client asked me after a month if she was going to have to think about eating right and exercising for the rest of her life and my reply was, “absolutely.”
Change means out with the old and in with the new.
As a follower of Jesus Christ I chose to follow Christ because I wanted something different in my life. Following Jesus can offer a host of benefits: eternal life (take a pause and chew on just that concept for one moment); forgiveness of my sins (things that separated me from God and kept me chained to stuff like anger, fear, resentment); true freedom; transformation to who I was created to be; peace that passes understanding; honesty; patience; kindness; courage, love, joy, better relationships and more. Most people come to faith in Christ because they want something different. Everyone is excited at first (expect those who come to Jesus because someone else thought they ought to, which never works). The most successful seem to be the ones who are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Our text lays out just what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Baptism into the body of Christ symbolizes that I die to my old self and come up out that water a new creation in Him.
In other words I have to die. To myself.
Many believe Jesus is simply this nice gentle guy that loves children and lambs and he does, he loves lost children and lost lambs most of all and he goes to great lengths to seek us out. But following Jesus reads easy and does hard; he lays out some very difficult standards if I want to go after him. First off he says I must deny myself. Make no mistake that means doing what he says which includes giving up the things that are unhealthy whether or not I want to. I have to obey him and I have to give up living in and justifying my sin which means doing things differently than I have been. All things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23). If I don’t he may just ask me the same question I ask my clients when they don’t do as I say, why do you need me? Change doesn’t happen by osmosis. He emphasizes sacrifice is involved and work must be done and at some level, pain to be endured.
Take for example praying for and loving my enemies. In the current toxic political environment how many of you are doing that? (Followers of Christ only here, if you don’t follow Jesus you are off the hook) Jesus says it’s easy to love those who are nice to you and love you already, but what reward is there is that? (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36). That means denying myself what I really would rather do to my enemies which may include hating or disparaging them, gossiping behind their backs, tearing them down or belittling them and the like. Doesn’t mean we can’t challenge other beliefs, we can and we can certainly disagree, but respectfully, is the key word. Hard, hard, hard but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me! (Philippians 4:10). There are times I have wondered if I have to follow him every day for the rest of my life and the answer is always a resounding yes! (Deuteronomy 6:1-9)
Our text says that if I want to follow Jesus I have to take up my cross daily, not when I feel like it or once a week on Sundays or when someone is watching; it says daily, and most especially when no one is looking except God. I have to be prepared to do the hard stuff, like forgiving those who are unkind or treat me unjustly – like Jesus did from the cross praying, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). And we have to be prepared to bear burdens we don’t feel we are due. Reads easy, lives hard, but by losing our life to Jesus we save it.
With God all things are possible and the reward is great for going after my Savior: anger fades; I love God, self and neighbor more authentically; resentments disappear; truth rises to the surface; and most importantly others see the light of Christ in me and lives can be won to Christ as I begin to taste what it is like to live out who God created me to be. And why wouldn’t I want that?
Change means out with the old and in with the new.
Be joy filled always,