Has it ever struck you that there are key points of truth in the Scriptures that at the core are quite obvious to the honest reader, yet somehow they get lost in the day to day practice of faith amidst the minutiae of life and the overwhelming scope of information and content offered?
Today it is all too easy to get lost. When we recognize that we are lost, one of the practical and wise courses to take is a return to simplicity or as many like to say, “return to the basics.”
I don’t plan on offering new or profound insight in what I’m calling “Master Of The Obvious (MOTO) Theology” though I hope over time to work out some of those key things that are fairly simple and obvious, yet ignored or dismissed far too casually for a variety of reasons. As I write I’m mindful that it is part of the spiritual warfare of the enemies of God to hide most obvious and central things behind a veil of other information and ideas, good though they might often be, to undermine our consistent reflection on that which is central and vital to living faithful and holy lives. I don’t know how often I’ll post along these lines, but here’s the first post.
In my reading last week I was struck by the simplicity and obvious central commands in this teaching of Jesus to his followers in Luke 9:23,
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
The more I reflect on this passage in the context of contemporary culture (in the west especially) and Christian culture in the west, the more I’m blown away by just how peripheral this truth and command has become, routinely resting in the shadows of much religious activity or simple day to day living.
Whether it be in the area of finances, exercising influence from position of power, relationships including marriage, cross-cultural tensions, or even personal habits – so much of the advice out there given in the name of Jesus doesn’t seem to call people to the kind of commitment of faith and sacrifice that rests at the foundation of a life of obedience.
We’re in a personal rights culture and that seems to be the case in the Church today as well – yet such an ethos is in direct conflict with the call of Jesus – “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Denying all of our “rights” and embracing the suffering that comes with serving others in love, faith, and obedience is not an attractive message to many – yet it is the path to true beauty.
After reflecting on this theme I came across a poem called “The Cross” by John Donne (early 17th century) in Ben Witherington III and Christopher Mead Armitage’s The Poetry of Piety and this is what they offer in their reflection on “The Cross”:
“…Christians are called to be cross bearers, not merely cross wearers, and we must cross out the selfish and self indulgent tendencies that are antithetical to following Christ’s example.
…there is no gospel of self-indulgence or health and wealth or conspicuous consumption, despite what is being preached from some pulpits today.
Yet it is possible for us to willingly make sacrifices so that we see ourselves in true perspective and also imitate the one to whom all lesser cross patterns point. Paradoxically, only a self-confident person is able to step down as Christ did and make sacrifices for others, however humiliating the act may be.”
Denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily in faith is an obvious and central truth to what discipleship to Christ means. It’s simple in some ways. Yet denial of self and cross-bearing are anything but simple. Willful suffering for the sake of Christ and others is not simple. Pain never is. Yet nonetheless, that is the path of discipleship and fortunately we have a Savior who has shown us the way, lived this life in perfection, and given us a great power to live this life despite the calling of the world to make sure we get what we’re “owed.”
There’s so much I and so many others feel entitled to in this life. It’s a hard truth indeed to digest as I try to put myself in the crowd when Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Have we forgotten that this is part of the core DNA of following Christ?
I know I forget this all too often and am so thankful for God’s mercy and grace as we persevere in the journey.