Sunday, January 25, 2009



The older guy at the ordination was repeatedly admonishing the new minister to "stay close to the cross". No one told the new minister how...just do it! I knew a similar phrase from an old Baptist hymn: "Jesus keep me near the cross" but honestly I didn't know what it meant in the day of its origin. Driving home that night, I wondered who said it first! Jesus? Paul? The hymn writer?

The Gospels record Jesus using the word "cross" in confrontations with his followers, especially with Peter. (See Matthew 16:21-25) But Jesus also used the same word with the rich young ruler in Matthew 10:17-22. The rich young ruler was loved by Jesus (verse 21) and he was obedienct to the law. Honestly, the young ruler seemed a better choice on the outside for a disciple than some of those other guys, especialy Peter. But Jesus cut through the exterior and went straight to the "one thing you lack" teaching: "Sell everything you have, give it away and come follow me!" The young ruler went away grieved because he had great possessions. Not only was the young ruler's identity in his wealth, but so was his trust. To lay down what he really trusted in was a step he couldn't take.

Laying down what we trust in requires trusting in God's provision and direction instead of our resources, talents and pre-set agendas. We like predictability because it is so compforting. Yet it is so limiting.

Among the Greek meanings for the word "cross" is "self-denial". Jesus couples this invasive directive as a pre-requisite to following him. Trust precedes knowing God's direction for our lives. The rich young ruler had the rules figured out. He had crossed all the "t"s and dotted all the "i"s but Jesus wanted more than a starched shirt, He wanted followers. He wanted trust.

Predictability does not root out of our character the stuff that Jesus wants to deal with in His followers. Letting go of our security blankets and taking hold of him digs deeper into where our trust level really is. The older minister at the ordination knew what Jesus requires through a long life of servie. He was trying to warn the younger minister that being a follower is a daily commitment and necessitates trusting Jesus 24/7.

By self-denial, Jesus does not picture his followers with sour and somber expressions on their faces, dressed in rags and paranoid of screwing up every day. Religion pictures Jesus' disciples that way, but scripture does not. Looking to Jesus as author and finisher of our fatith, we see our Savior confident, enduring the cross because of the joy He set before Him. Being transformed into His image spares us much heart ache. Following Christ is not about the rules, it's about something much deeper. It's about following someone else's vision, direction, purpose, priorities, and it most definitely is about trust.

Self-denial begins with humilty. Why? Because humility releases God's grace. We need the enabling power of His grace. In the Greek, the spiritual meaning of the word grace is:
"the divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life"!
Yes, it is unmerited but it is also enabling, empowering, supernatural, strengthening and over-the-top amazing.

Our trust level wavers whenever our grace level dips! Both are spiritual indicators of our heart condition. Jesus set the example. He followed Father in words and deeds and He did it joyfully from the heart. Religion has so distorted this concept that we are often robbed of the joy of daily taking up our "self-denial" and following Christ. It's liberating not to be in charge. It's like finding a whole new life...that's why Jesus said "lose it (your own) and you'll find it (His)"!

Keeping ourselves near the cross comes down to keeping ourselves humbled before him. Keeping ourselves humbled empowers us with grace to run this race on a daily basis. We set the joy of our salvation before whatever is called for and like Paul we look at whatever comes and say:
"None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto
myself, so that I might finish my course with joy and the ministry,
which I have received for the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the
grace of God." Acts 20:24 (KJ)

It's not walking on egg shells in fear of an angry God. Following Jesus is a great adventure for those who trust fully in Him. Living on the edge keeps us near the cross. As Andrew Wommack says: "I you're not living on the edge, you're taking up way too much space!"

Stay near the cross.

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