by Ricky Chelette
It’s hard to believe that life is not about us, isn’t it? We are constantly reminded that our greatest good is to satisfy the longings of our heart – no matter what those longings might be.
If you are hungry, super-size it.
If you are hurting, medicate it.
If you are lonely, connect to it.
If you are happy, indulge in it.
If you are attracted to it, embrace it.
But whatever you do, don’t endure discomfort, in any form, and don’t even contemplate the idea of submitting your feelings to some greater good. We are a pleasure-seeking people.
As I read the Scriptures I see our pleasure-seeking as a war between selfishness and selflessness. I see people in Scripture – from Adam and Eve in the garden of the Old Testament to the apostles walking with Jesus in the New Testament – in a constant battle between meeting their personal desires and denying those desires for some great good – particularly the good of the Kingdom.
When I look at the call of Jesus to his followers in Mark 8:34, the call seems so simple, but incredibly difficult: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This is a radical call in three seemingly impossible directives: Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.
At our annual retreats 120 individuals participated. Our theme: It’s Not About Me, focused on Mark 8:34, “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” As faithful followers of Jesus, we are to live out His radical call.
For those struggling with unwanted same gender attractions, this means that despite the very strong sexual feelings we have towards those of the same gender, we must align our lives with not simply what we feel, but what we see revealed in the Word of God as truth.
This is really not any different than what all fallen and sinful humans have to do. We all feel all kinds of things each and every day. We deny certain foods when we want to lose weight. We deny feelings of rage when someone treats us unfairly in traffic. We deny unwanted sexual attractions to others to whom we are not married. We deny our feelings to go 100 mph on the highway when we are late to work. Denial is really a very big part of what it means to be civil, obedient, and live in civilized community. We all cannot simply do whatever we feel, whenever we feel it. If we did, we would all live in anarchy.
Jesus seemed to understand our predicament clearly in giving this command and it became the very bedrock of what it means to truly follow Him. If we are not actively denying something in our lives (sometimes many things) I do not know that we are truly following Jesus with radical, saving, abandon and faith.
Jesus also says that we have to take up our cross. People today seem to equate “our cross” with particular inconveniences or difficulties they might experience in life: an illness, a wayward child, a difficult boss, or a financial struggle. Though these things are all significant in any of our lives, I do not believe this is the meaning Christ intended in His call. You see, the ancient world understood the cross with a singular meaning: death. The call to take up our cross is really a call to take up death and what a blessed call it is! Paul grasped the magnitude of that call when he wrote in Romans 6 of the freedom only found when we fully embrace what it means to be in Christ and to be partakers in the death of Christ.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:5-7, ESV)
Our denial of self allows us to then submit to all that Christ demands which, in turn, allows us to identify with Him in His death. When we mortify the flesh, we are no longer bound by its sinful demands – we are set free!
And finally, Jesus then commands us to “follow me [Jesus].” A brilliant conclusion to this radical call for we are truly unable to follow such a selfless, other-centered Savior, if we do not first deny ourselves and take up death. When we are loosed from the encumbrances of this earthly flesh, we are truly free to follow Jesus.
Some might argue all this denying and dying is so limiting, so restricting, and so unfulfilling, but I would argue the very opposite is true. It is only when we completely surrender and follow that we are truly free and no longer enslaved by the fleshly desires that are at constant war against the Spirit. Jesus put it this way, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:35-36, ESV)
The picture at the top of the page shows sky lanterns we released one night at the retreat. Written on each lantern were things we did not want to let go – things we refused to surrender. As our lanterns floated into the night sky we released whatever it was we were clinging to, and surrendered it to our faithful Lord.
At Living Hope Ministries we believe the Gospel is a radical call to submit all we are to the control and leading of God. We believe it is in this surrender that we not only find who we really are, but we discover the richness and beauty of who He has created us to be. Really, it’s not about me: It’s all about Jesus and His glory!