Where you come from helps shape who you are. Whether it be in you following in the footsteps of your predecessors or choosing to run the opposite direction hoping to never turn out like the ones who walked before you.
Me, I come from a LONG line of preachers, I’m talking LOOOOONG, like all the way back to the circuit riding preacher days! There’s some baggage that comes with that fact along with a heavy burden to live up to the expectations associated with that role. I’m thankful for my dad who planted a seed for a new family tree and, though it wasn’t always the case, I can say with certainty now that he has freed me from any expectation of perfection and is one of the most authentic pictures of grace I have ever seen. He has achieved things on his journey of grace that I used to swear up and down were impossible, and for me are still a far-fetched dream.
So now, dad has started a family tree of grace and even though it is still a sapling, it’s comforting because, in the words of Eric Church, “I come from a long line of sinners like me.” I am surrounded by grace in my church, at home, and around my friends. It’s very real and very tangible to me. So much so that I forget how it used to be, how I used to hear things so spiritually depressing and think, wow that is hard truth everyone needs to hear that! However, I live in a world driven by that system so I do have reminders of that old life.
Such a reminder greeted me this weekend in the form of a church flyer. On it was this verse, “Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” That is Luke 9:23, a verse I have heard probably 50-100 times in my life and have believed it to mean exactly what the flyer said it did. “Jesus makes it very clear that unless you are willing to deny yourself and take up your cross daily, you cannot be His disciple.” Those were the words that burdened my heart as I read them to myself. They unleashed a flood of memories from that life and the emotions of them came rushing back. It goes on to talk about the cross as an instrument of death and our responsibility to sacrifice daily and die to ourselves daily as our way of seeking to please God.
My heart is heavy as I write this. I used to believe that… I used to passionately defend that mindset… but all I found in it was emptiness. If your goal is to please God by sacrificing yourself, I have news for you… you will fail every single time. The point of the cross was for Christ’s sacrifice to make us right, to set us free, and to bring us life. The point of Him taking on the cross was so that WE DON’T HAVE TO.
Let’s add verse 24 in there and I’ll tell you what I think this verse is really saying.
“Then he said to them all, ‘If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’”
What if Jesus’s point was not for us to be crucified daily, do enough daily, or nail ourselves with guilt when we fail? What if Jesus’s point was that we should deny ourselves (our efforts, our sacrifices, our expectations, and our duties) and take in daily that his sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, was enough. Maybe that’s why he goes on to say that if we try to save our life through our own efforts or sacrifices we will lose it, we will never be enough.
When we let go and accept him as what makes us pleasing to God, whew, now that has saving power! Jesus knew it would be a daily struggle, he knew the world would scream at us that we need to be doing more to get from God, He knew it would be painful and frustrating and difficult to accept because our flesh is in constant warfare with His spirit that tells us we are perfect in God’s eyes.
I understand the struggle, I still fight the battle, thinking I need to sacrifice more to gain more of God’s favor. My heart aches for those who look at this flyer and believe, as I once did, that it is powerful truth. I tend to create controversy at times with what I write here in this blog and I am sure this time will be no different. My motives are not ones of aggression but of peace. There is so much peace out there for you if you just stop trying to gain something that you already have.
There is rest from the weariness of sacrifice. There is hope from the brokenness of failure. There is freedom from the reality of unmet expectations. My heart for all of you is to see how incredibly, unconditionally, and incomparably much that God loves you. Take in that love and dare to plant little saplings of grace in the lives of those around you. Grace and peace be with you all.