I really dislike fill in the blank notes in the bulletin. Sure, the speaker has his points already decided and the flow of his communication is to take you to visit each, but sometimes, well, most of the time, I like to find my own path. I prefer the adventure.
This Sunday was no different.
Our text was Acts 4. Peter and John had been arrested for teaching about Jesus' resurrection. After being threatened that the authorities might not be so understanding should they be caught again, they were released and told to stop preaching. When they reunited with other believers, they prayed, including in Acts 4:29, for their deaths.
I pray, a bit. I pray for others. I pray for God's message. I even pray for opportunities to be a part of God's adventures. But I have never, ever prayed for my death.
I know. They weren't praying for their deaths, not exactly anyway. They were praying for persecution. They were praying to earn the death penalty. They were praying that they would stir up some major trouble.
Does this sound like any of your prayers? Yeah, not like mine either.
But it does sound like an idea I have come across...dying to self.
Then he said to them all:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and
take up their cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever
loses their life for me will save it." Luke 9:23-24
I am not good at denying myself. I want what I want when I want it. I work hard for all that I have. Isn't Jesus just talking about a spiritual denial, anyway?
Well, I might agree with that, if this passage wasn't Jesus speaking about his actual death and his actual resurrection.
Disciples followed their masters closely to learn every way that he reacted, thought, moved, so that they could react, think and move like him. Becoming more and more like Him.
I am uncomfortable when I fast. I get weird looks when we are out to eat and choose to pray. Some think it is weird that I won't go see the latest movie that objectifies strippers. That's my cross, right?
I wish it were that easy! I think about Christie and George at Ekubo Ministries in Uganda, fighting witchcraft and child sacrifice in their village while loving those villagers, bringing God's good news to them. I think of the persecuted church, where people actually die for believing Jesus is God. And I know that being a friend to the friendless is not that big a price that I should think twice about it.
But, as the idea that truth speaking is the same as hate speech spreads and post-modernism becomes the worldview of the nation, we might find ourselves in a different place. When praying to be bold would be praying for our death warrants. May we, in that time, remember this from the prayer in Acts 4:
They [those who persecuted and betrayed and judged] did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
Nothing reaches me that does not have the consent of my Master. He is still in control when it feels out of control, when I am out of control, when it makes no sense. He understands and leads; I learn and follow. Amen.