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WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, AUGUST 31, 2020

Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s verses are Matthew 16:24-27, where Jesus says,

24 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

THE PARADOXICAL PROMISES OF ETERNAL LIFE!

Being a believer in Jesus involves some of the great paradoxes in life. We trust a living Savior who died on a cross. We follow a Savior who tells us that having abundant life IN HIM is about denying ourselves and picking up our own cross in service to others on His terms. The paradoxical call to faith in Jesus alone makes life worth living no matter the circumstance.

By way of contrast, what good is gaining “the whole world” if it results in losing one’s eternal soul? This world is hell-bent on teaching you how to have your 15 minutes of fame. This world claims that “having it all” means material abundance. This world claims that no boundaries or self-sacrifice should ever get in the way of your pursuit of pleasure and happiness. Yet Jesus calls people to “take up their cross and follow me” (verse 24). Those words tend to fall on deaf ears more and more today. But the truth is still the truth. We are sinners in need of a Savior and there is no one like Jesus. This teaching calls for faith. It calls for us to follow the one who makes the offer. This is not merely some whimsical discussion about the meaning of life. This is following the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). It’s an invitation to “taste and see” that He is good (see 1 Peter 2:3). It’s a summons to listen to Him and to struggle with His Word because He is the crucified and risen one. Following the crucified Savior on His path toward eternal and abundant life is the great paradoxical promise of life forever with Him. Follow Him because you can trust Him, because you can entrust your life to Him, and because He loves you with an everlasting love.

One of the great stories in our family history is about my mom when she was in grade school. She, her sister, and her brother had to get to school in those dog days of January and February in the winter wonderland of Ironwood, Michigan. If you’ve ever been in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the “U.P.”), you know how brutal the winters can be. Sometimes the snow comes not in inches, but in feet. It can form drifts that cover the whole front of one’s house. Because there was so much snow, “snow days” (which cancelled school) were very rare. Many days just getting to school each morning was dangerous work. Enter their super hero, “Grandma Beth!” That’s right. On those crazy days, my mom’s mom took the risks necessary to ensure that things were indeed safe for her grandchildren. I loved listening to grandma tell of those mornings so long ago. She said that after massive snow falls, she would wake up early the next morning and “test the snow.” Here’s how those days went: if grandma stepped out the door, placed one foot in front of the other, and fell through, then NO SCHOOL THAT DAY! (And there were days that she fell through, ?). But if there was the necessary “ice-crust” on top, one that could hold her, then it was safe for the children too. If she didn’t fall through, then my mom, her sister, and her brother would follow in grandma’s footsteps, walking safely to the bus stop. Every time I think of my grandmother waist deep or higher in the snow, it makes me smile. She was willing to take the risk to find a path so that everyone could make it safely to school.

Obviously, Jesus does more than this when He forges a path through the cross. But this life of following Him by taking up our “cross” is often is wrongly caricatured as a joyless march through life. I think that misses the point. When Jesus talks about taking up our cross, it’s not a punishment. In fact, “for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross” where he took all of the punishment for our sin and buried it (Hebrews 12:2). I don’t think His call to take up our cross means a somber, “grin and bear it” life. Instead, Jesus invites us to follow in His footsteps by joyfully sacrificing for others, as He has done for us, so that they too might know His love, forgiveness, and mercy. He wants us to rise up and even find joy in the challenges of loving others the way that He loves us. He wants us to be willing to “test the ice,” to sacrifice for others so that His love and life can be received and shared. The Christian life may be a paradox of sorts. But it is an exciting adventure of receiving God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus as 100% gift and then sharing that gift with whomever God brings into our lives. When I see my grandmother laughing as she told stories of “testing the ice,” it gave me a glimpse of the joy on Jesus’ face when He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him.

So don’t forget that when Jesus died on the cross, he did more than test whether we could walk our own path safely in this life. He did way more than that. He became that path; He became “the way, and the truth, and the life” for us (John 14:6). In a world that yearns for a sure path to follow, that needs loving parents who make sacrifices for their children, and that desperately needs sacrificial love to overcome hatred and despair, we thank God for a Savior who has done all things well for us, and who gives us the gift of eternal life to be lived for others in His name.

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, thank You for walking the path we couldn’t walk in order to suffer the hell we couldn’t bear, and for giving us the life that we don’t deserve. You did all that so we might know the joy of following in Your footsteps, bearing any cross that comes so that others might also know Your love! AMEN.

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