Gaining and Losing

My grandson is fascinated with what my life was like when I was growing up. He thinks about this a lot, and he has a million questions about my childhood. He wants to know things like what my favorite Marvel movie was when I was a child, or did we have cars. (Geeze kid, I’m not THAT old!!) Recently he asked me, “Nana, what do you miss the most about being a kid?” I quickly responded, “My metabolism.” Gone are the days when I could eat anything I wanted and not carry it around with me for the rest of my life!

Who among us has not gained and lost weight over the years? Did you ever wonder what that the total poundage in each category would be? Speaking for myself, the numbers fluctuate daily. And as I’ve aged, I have had to accept that the ideal weight of my youth is not a realistic or attainable goal anymore. I have had to accept a new plateau. (Somehow that makes it sound better, right? “Plateau.” If you throw a little French accent on it, it almost sounds delicious.) In our younger years, it seems as though a few weeks of self-denial is all that it would take to get things back on track. Not so in the latter years. It’s the battle of the bulge, and the bulge is winning.

Jesus had an interesting conundrum to present to his disciples. It was also a matter of gain verses loss. But in this case, a few instances of self-denial would not be enough to turn things around. He was asking them for a life of a total abandonment of self:

Matthew 10 (Common English Bible)

39 Those who find their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives because of me will find them.

Matthew 16 (Common English Bible)

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 

When Jesus stated that coming with him not only meant saying “no” to themselves, but also taking up their own cross, he wasn’t playin’. The disciples would have instantly recognized what that meant. The cross was an instrument of torture. It was a place of humiliation. It was an invitation to join Jesus on death row.

25 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. 26 Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives?

But oh, the benefits of that choice! The reward for total self-emptying is the fullness of grace. The plateau that we reach when we take up our crosses and follow Jesus is a place of eternal life that is filled with joy, devoid of pain, and there is not a weight scale in sight. Heaven has no calories, hallelujah! Tacos, here I come.

We are invited to this same promise. Following Jesus means walking away from our sinful selves and walking toward a Savior who leads by example. This life is filled with service to others, obedience, compassion, kindness, worship, prayer, imitating the mind of Christ, and loving as he loves.

Want to come along? You have everything to gain.

Heaven to Gain by Wende Pritchard

Belonging

How many groups do you belong to? Over the course of a lifetime, we belong to many things. We are part of an elementary school class, then a work team, we participate in community efforts, we join social groups, we play on a sports team, we connect with alumni groups, and hopefully we belong to a community of faith. We even join rewards clubs so we can earn extra points on our purchases. Hello, Sky-miles!

Each group comes with a different set of membership requirements. Even on Facebook, you have to answer some questions before you can join a specialized group. Some groups have a low threshold, such as a neighborhood book club that simply asks that you read the book before coming, and some have a high bar, like having to take classes prior to joining, such as volunteering for the local fire department or hospital. Sometime churches require taking a membership class in order to join.

I have never regretted the day that I became part of Jesus’ group. Belonging to Jesus is a life-long process of walking with him. All are invited to follow him. Those who share a common belief that Christ is Lord belong to each other, and God invites us to lose our life in order to find it by living for his son.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul describes what belonging to God looks like. This is a pretty high bar. He suggests to the Romans that being a part of this group means that they don’t live for themselves anymore:

Romans 14 (Common English Bible)

We don’t live for ourselves and we don’t die for ourselves. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God. This is why Christ died and lived: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

What does that mean for you today? Does it seem like a big ask?

I think the beauty of this passage comes in the reciprocal nature of what Paul is describing. Christ died for us so that we might live for him. Which is the harder task? Our living or his dying?

But more importantly, whether we live or die, we belong to God. That means we share in the glory of knowing the son up close and personal. That means we share in the glory of a promised new heaven. That means we participate in the glory of the resurrection.

That means we are never alone.

Are you feeling vulnerable right now? Do you feel alone? Are you struggling with a burden that is too big to carry by yourself?

Never forget that you belong to God. He calls you by your name and he prepares a table before you. All you have to do is follow.

Reflected Glory by Kathy Schumacher

Push Out Into Deep Water

Our Scripture today is a true classic. You will recognize it as soon as your read it. Now that I live on the Outer Banks, all the fishing stories in the Scriptures have a different meaning for me. I am surrounded by boats, water, fishermen, nets, and beautiful ocean sunrises.

(Okay, in complete transparency, it is my friend Michelle who gets up at o-dark-thirty to capture the sunrises, but I live vicariously through her photography. When I get up. Two hours later.)

Luke tells the story of Jesus encouraging the fishermen to go back out to the water and try again to catch some fish after a long day of fishing with no results. This is a little like that time your Dad told you to try again when your legs, arms, or brain were too tired from your fruitless exertion as you attempted to do something. Whether it was learning how to ride a bike after countless falls, pitching poorly in the eighth inning in the Georgia heat, or having to re-take your SATs, Dads are always pushing frustrated kids to try again. Jesus is just like that here:

Luke 5 (The Message)

 1-3 Once when he was standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, the crowd was pushing in on him to better hear the Word of God. He noticed two boats tied up. The fishermen had just left them and were out scrubbing their nets. He climbed into the boat that was Simon’s and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Sitting there, using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd.

The fishermen only scrub their nets at the end of the day, so you know they were over it. Finished, pooped, kaput … they were DONE.

When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.”

So now Jesus tells them not only to try again, but to push out into deep water, which meant rowing farther and harder than they had all day. I’m sure there was an eye-roll or two among them. Didn’t he notice that their nets had returned empty? Come on, Jesus!

5-7 Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.

Oh, my goodness. Pushing out to the deep as Jesus instructed resulted in a bounty of fish so great, it took two boats of tired fishermen to haul it back to shore.

8-10 Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. “Master, leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.” When they pulled in that catch of fish, awe overwhelmed Simon and everyone with him. It was the same with James and John, Zebedee’s sons, coworkers with Simon.

10-11 Jesus said to Simon, “There is nothing to fear. From now on you’ll be fishing for men and women.” They pulled their boats up on the beach, left them, nets and all, and followed him.

Where is God calling you to ”push out into the deep?” Is he telling you to move beyond your comfort zone to do his will or his work? Do you feel unworthy, like Peter? We all do. But this story is a great reminder that when you are obedient to God’s instruction to ”try again,” he will multiply your blessings.

All you need to do is follow him.

Pushing Out by Michelle Robertson