Following . . .

Then Jesus called the crowd, along with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to become My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and for the gospel will save it.”
Mark 8:34-35 NET
“Follow The Leader” was a challenge for me . . . I’m an “8” (Enneagram fans).  In this game, a “head of the line” is chosen, then others line up behind the leader. The leader then moves around and others have to mimic the leader’s actions. Any players who fail to follow or do what the leader does are out of the game.  Most of the time I wanted to lead . . . a lot of the times, I was out of the game.
Following Jesus means He is leading and I am not.
Jesus gathers a crowd including His disciples and gives them clarity and commission.  If you desire to follow, this is what you need to decide . . .
Deny Self.  We associate denying self with self-denial.  For many, it’s giving something up in order to show our commitment to Christ.  Denying self isn’t about what we do but Who’s we are.  Paul reminds the Christ-followers in Corinth, “You are not your own; you are bought with a price,” (1 Cor 6:19-20 NIV).  Jesus has ownership rights and responsibilities.  Ray Steadman writes, “this is denying self – deny our self-trust, deny our self-sufficiency, deny our feeling that we are able to handle life by ourselves and run everything to suit ourselves.”  Howard Butt, in the article, “The Art Of Being A Big Shot” writes, “It is my pride that makes me independent of God. It’s appealing to me to feel that I am the master of my fate, that I run my own life, call my own shots, go it alone. But, that feeling is my basic dishonesty. I can’t go it alone. I have to get help from other people, and I can’t ultimately rely on myself. I’m dependent on God for my very next breath. It is dishonest of me to pretend that I’m anything but a man — small, weak, and limited.”
Die To Self.  How do I “take up my cross?”  People think that a cross is a trial, hardship or handicap we have in our lives . . . an annoying relative, a needy friend or some kind of limitation.  We often exclaim, “That’s my cross to bear”.  Jesus had his own hardships and handicaps before the crucifixion.  This cross is something different. The cross identifies with shame and humiliation. Steadman writes, “It was a criminal’s cross on which He was hung. It was a place of degradation, where He was demeaned and debased.”   Our cross is the experience of being humbled, offended, shamed, wounded and hurt.  And, sometimes its undeserved and unwarranted.  As one colleague writes, “Take up your cross, accept it, glory in it, cling to it, because it is something good for you. It will reduce you to the place where you will be ready to receive the gift of the grace of God.”   Paul reminds us, “My grace is sufficient for you.  My power works best in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9 NLT)
We want to escape, Jesus says to embrace.
We want to avoid, Jesus says to accept.  
We want to take up our cause, Jesus wants us to take up His cross.
Determine to Follow.  Following means someone else is leading.  Its obedience.  If we agree that life without Christ is marked by disobedience . . . then life with Christ must be marked with obedience.  Be assured . . . it’s not perfection, but purpose.  We decide and determine to live for Him.  This is tough.  Without exception, obeying means denying self and dying to self.  It means doing life God’s way . . . “Love your enemy,” (Matt 5:44). “Pray for those who hurt you,” (Matt 5:44). “Forgive those who offend you,” (Matt 6:14-15).  “Be kind to the ungrateful and the selfish,” (Luke 6:35). “Bear one another’s burdens,” (Gal 6:2). “Freely you have received, freely give,” (Matt 10:8).  This is my “to do list” today.
In the original language, these three thoughts . . . deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me are in a present and continuous tense.  We just don’t decide once, we decide daily.
A disciple is defined as a Christ follower.  He leads . . . and I’m right behind Him.

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