Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
– Mark 8:34-38
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
– 1 John 2:15-17
“Any appeal to the public in the name of Christ that rises no higher than an invitation to tranquility must be recognized as mere humanism with a few words of Jesus thrown in to make it appear Christian…
“Christ calls men to carry a cross; we call them to have fun in His name. He calls them to forsake the world; we assure them that if they but accept Jesus the world is their oyster. He calls them to suffer; we call them to enjoy all of the bourgeois comforts modern civilization affords. He calls them to self-abnegation and death; we call them to spread themselves like green bay trees or perchance even to become stars in a pitiful fifth-rate religious zodiac . He calls them to holiness; we call them to a cheap and tawdry happiness that would have been rejected with scorn by the least of the stoic philosophers…
We can afford to suffer now; we’ll have a long eternity to enjoy ourselves. And our enjoyment will be valid and pure, for it will come in the right way at the right time.”
– Rev. A. W. Tozer, Born After Midnight (excerpts in Tozer for the Christian Leader)
My Dad was not a philosopher, but he was stoic. He was taciturn. I wish I could crank the clock back 25 years and ask what he meant…
A little background may be helpful first. My sister moved into the house that I grew up in, where we were living when she graduated high school (the farm house), when her husband retired from the Air Force. Actually, she moved a year earlier. Her husband had an isolated tour of duty for a year in Alaska before he was allowed to retire. My parents moved to the ancestral home one half mile down the road. That had been my grandparent’s home when I was growing up.
My sister living next door is significant in that my mother would call her when we came to visit. My mother would sit in her rocker in the living room and we were to entertain my mother with our collective wit and wisdom. It had to be fresh, topical, and sophisticated. My mother rarely spoke other than to condemn a topic for being below the bar.
While my mother was holding court, my Dad disappeared into the bedroom. He’d recline his chair and watch a sporting event. He was a great sports fan, but he’d watch cake decorating or a show on planting flowers to escape what was going on in the living room.
Thus, to hear words from my father, it would be rare. He was silent when in his presence, and he avoided family gatherings. But on about two or three trips to visit my parents in the late 1980s, he would start to cry and say, “Mark, if you would only accept Jesus as your savior.” He never allowed anyone to see any emotion unless it was angry. He was good at that one. He could laugh easily. That one was okay, but sadness to the point of crying? And tears? Wow! Make that a double WOW! And two or three trips in a row.
The presence of tears on his face would always cause him to shut down. He’d never go further.
The conversation usually stemmed from my lack of success after leaving the Army in the early 80s. By this time, the company that I worked for had learned my talents and my willingness to do a mid-level management job (I thought temporary to prove myself) at a lower than average entry engineer pay. I was not happy, because I could not save due to the bills piling up faster than the pay raises (16 month cycle instead of 12). Yet, I was doing a job that others were paid twice what I was paid to perform. I was really hinting that, due to the lack of cash flow, the 1,000 mile round trip visits cost too much, but that was always dismissed.
I think, what my Dad saw was a young man who was loving the world (1 John 2:15). My Dad saw a young man who thought that he should have the world as his oyster (A. W. Tozer).
I was offended. I will admit that when my Dad first heard my testimony in 1969, things did not go well, but I still followed Jesus from that point on. But my Dad could see that my lack of reward in this world was a sign that I was not on the path of God’s plan for me.
At the time, I had to follow the pay check. If I had been debt free and we owned our house without a mortgage, maybe…
I got a job near my parents in Mississippi in 1990, but the site closed in 1993, then Washington state, then SW Pennsylvania. Then after a forced retirement, I started doing what made me feel good rather than what made money for someone else.
Through my working career, I tried to glorify God in my work. I looked at the world and the shift in the emphasis of the various denominations. Tozer’s words were first published in 1959, but the ‘church’ moved more toward tranquility than Truth in the years that followed Tozer’s words being published. The church chased numbers as membership dwindled. I rejected all of that, but I was still frustrated. God was whispering, but I was talking too loudly to hear Him.
Sure, the pay at the end of my employment led to the level of Social Security that we receive today, but I am not going to dwell on those years of wasted time except this…
If you have accepted Jesus as your savior and you are facing a brick wall in life, spend days, weeks, months in prayer. There will always be suffering, self-abnegation (rejecting self), pain, and cross-bearing. But there should not be frustration.
The old joke goes, “It hurts when I do this.” The patient would then make an arm movement or some odd gesture. The doctor would reply, “Then don’t do that.” But I wonder. If God wants us to do that, we should keep going through the pain. We just have to rely on God to give us the strength to endure the pain and the wisdom to know that it is part of God’s plan.
With that wisdom, there should be no frustration, outside of our own flawed humanness. We should have Joy.
If I could say one thing to my Dad right now, it would be, “Dad, if you are looking down from heaven, I hope that I interpreted your plea correctly.”
Glory be to God.