indulgence v death.

There’s a tattoo on my left arm as of about a month ago. It says “nevertheless.”

The idea behind it is twofold – first of all, it’s a reference to Jesus in the garden of Gesthemane – He knows what’s coming: He’ll be beaten, whipped, pierced, striped, nailed to a cross, He’ll suffer for every breath, and He’ll die innocently in the place of billions of sinners. He begs the Father: “If there’s any other way, let this cup pass from Me. But nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done. He subsequently goes to the cross and all of the former happens.

The other half of the coin is this: it’s a model for Christian discipleship. Jesus guaranteed suffering, and because of His sacrifice, we are to approach suffering and, realistically, any circumstance with this mindset. Nevertheless, Lord – even if my finances are failing, I’ll follow You. Nevertheless, Lord – even if my life is threatened, I’ll follow You. Nevertheless, Lord – even though You ask me to die to myself daily, I’ll follow You. May there be no circumstance under which I choose to stop following You and chasing You with everything in my being.

Oh, wait.

I didn’t really think about that last one. See, I’m almost convinced that external persecution is the easy part. If someone wants to imprison me for my faith, or punish my body, that’s all well and good. But I’m increasingly convinced that the hardest part about following Jesus is dying to my desires for convenience versus inconvenience, solitude vs community, service vs indulgence, and generosity vs selfishness.

this is when I have the hardest time following Jesus: when I’ve been at work for 12 hours and someone needs something from me. When I’m at home and all I want to do is relax as opposed to being out and involved with people. When my work requires me to stay a few minutes to an hour longer to take care of some much-needed stuff, especially when there’s a soccer game on my DVR that I really want to watch. Following Jesus is hard for me when it requires having conversations with people about their biggest struggles in life and I have to think about issues I don’t deal with. When I realize that Jesus demands that I carry other people’s burdens instead of just my own.

And the less I follow Jesus in those situations, the more the vicious cycle repeats itself, because here’s what I hate the most about disobedience: it results in self-consciousness. The more I disobey, the more I feel like a bad Christian. The more I feel like a bad Christian, the more I feel like I need consoling and reaffirmation. The more I feel like I need consoling and reaffirmation, the more I think about myself (the affirmed) and not Jesus (the Affirmer.)

And that’s just the problem – I forget just Who it is who affirms me. I forget that Jesus is full of grace and truth (John 1:14.) Not only does He correct my sin, but He also tells me who I am – I am not my failure.

I’m convinced that there is something about the real love of Jesus that not only drags us out of our mire but spurs us on to good works. I read this this morning and it has me sure of this: in Philippians, Paul says that if there is any encouragement in Christ, the fruit of that is looking not only to my own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:1 supplementing Phil. 2:4 in context.) Somehow being loved and comforted by Jesus causes me to get my eyes off of my self and onto others – His love spurs me on…

…which makes me think my perspective hasn’t been wide enough. I’m so focused at times on feeling good myself that I don’t go beyond feeling loved by God, and then I wonder why I’m not bearing any fruit: it’s because I’m not considering all of the implications of what it means to be loved by God. To be loved by God means to subsequently love others. They’re inseparable realities.

So here’s where I’m at: I’m frustrated with myself. I’m frustrated because I’ve been so selfish – not just in my actions, but because my actions stem from a limited perspective of the love of Jesus. I’m too caught up in being loved to love, which makes no logical sense.

In Ephesians 3, Paul states that he prays for the Ephesian church, that they may have strength to comprehend the breadth, length, height and depth of the love of God, that they may be filled with all the fullness of God. And what is the fullness of God? It’s who He is! It’s selfless love and service to others. That’s what I want. That’s what I seek to grasp. And I know that the first step must be to die to myself and to give up my desires when it’s necessary.

Lord, I’m tired of being selfish with the resources You’ve entrusted me with: money, time, food, space, even what little knowledge I have. Teach me to be less selfish. Teach me that affirmation leads to loving others. I am starting to see that I can’t just sit there and be loved by You and not go on to love others myself. Help me with this: it’s my biggest hindrance right now. I know I’ll never be perfect, and I may have to learn this lesson time and time again, but let’s start now because I’m not doing You, me, or anyone else any good by having such a limited perspective of what Your love is for. Thanks for always teaching and correcting and loving me and Your whole church. I need You and I love You.

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