Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Coming After Christ

One Way Highway Sign, image courtesy of ricesigns.com
We need to hear from you
We need a word from you
If we don't hear from you
What will we do
Wanting you more each day
Show us your perfect way
There is no other way
That we can live

I love the early morning just before the break of dawn. The house is quiet, the dawning sun has not yet appeared but I am ready to talk with God. More importantly, I’m discovering the importance of being silent as the Holy Spirit washes over my thoughts; allowing me to reflect on the mercies, goodness and graciousness of Almighty God. Often, I will find myself singing a song that comes to mind. It was during my Morning Prayer and meditation that the Holy Spirit brought this passage of scripture to mind:

And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.’”1

As I thought about this, I found myself looking out the window into my back yard. I could see a butterfly hovering around a fruit tree. I then watched several birds land to the ground and eat their fill.

I then thought about a medical research story I read last year which reported that researchers at the Tokyo University of Science successfully created what they call a “tooth germ” containing genetic instructions and then subsequently implanted it inside the tooth socket of a mouse. One month later, a new tooth appeared above the gum line. After 11 weeks, the new tooth contained the same properties, shape hardness and response to pain and stress as a natural tooth; the tooth also was used for chewing by the mouse.

This got me to thinking about the long-term implications of merging science with technology. Medical Science is now using the term, “programming” which was formerly used exclusively by IT Technologists. The idea that germs or cells can be “genetically programmed” to follow a set of instructions (either one-time only or until a conditional interrupt occurs) is a radical leap from how most view science and medical research.

I suddenly got the thought that butterflies, birds, and even germs function based on their coding; it’s in their DNA so to speak. I then wondered why as a Christian I struggle in areas of my life while a bird never concerns itself with the next meal.

A bird follows the life of a bird.

A butterfly follows the life of a butterfly.

Germs and cells follow the life of germs and cells.

Who do I follow?

Christ says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me”, there are three steps to take:
  1. Deny myself
  2. Take up my cross daily
  3. Follow Christ
I’ve discovered that the more things I have, the more difficult it is to deny myself. I derive a measure of pleasure from things. It’s strange when I think about it but I live a life of redundancy. Perhaps it’s because money was tight growing up with a working Mom and four brothers. If I have something, you can be pretty sure I have two. When I shop for groceries, I seem to always pick up two items; redundancy. Perhaps it’s as I said growing up with very little disposable income. Working in IT has only seemed to reinforce that pattern of thinking. If you are architecting a computer system, one of the issues to address is failure. If you have a redundant system, you protect yourself from failure by just switching to the redundant system if the primary fails.

Things get in the way of denying myself.

The problem with denying myself is that I love me. I love everything about me. I don’t mean there are aspects of my life that I prefer not to have, but I find it difficult to get upset with myself over anything I do. If I am disappointed, it is quickly forgotten and once again, I love me. It occurs to me that the love I have for myself is unconditional love; I don’t have to do anything to love me, I just do.

I used to believe that absolutely no one loves unconditionally. People only love me as long as they were getting something in return. When I look back at this belief system I valued, I realize I was actually defining my method of loving others. I hope you can see the flaw in this belief because it sets you up to be manipulative, deceptive or ultimately frustrated. I did things to get things; my relationships were predicated on what someone had of value that I wanted.

God has demonstrated to me that His love is unconditional and I must admit that was a difficult concept for me to grasp. I conducted my life as if it were a software program coded by an IF THEN ELSE condition clause. If I do this, then God will do that or else. There is a scripture which is so appropriate for that kind of thinking:

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.2

In my mind, if God didn’t answer my prayer it was because I missed an instruction step in my flawless program, all I needed to do was debug it, correct the problem, and re-run the code. Early on in my studies of programming languages, I learned the phrase, GIGO, which means, Garbage In, Garbage Out. It never occurred to me that I was following the wrong set of instructions; after all, this was my code!

I don’t know about anybody else but this thinking was constructed out of a concept that God was a kind of genie. Now I didn’t refer to God as my own personal genie, but it strikes me that this is how I essentially viewed Him. Rub-a-dub-dub, say a prayer, and presto change-o, my prayer would be answered by God. Problems began to mount as I experienced unanswered responses from my genie...errrr God. This led me to become frustrated with God, and when that happened, I cut off His access to me. As silly as this may sound, I thought I was in control of this relationship with God. I would teach Him a lesson, either do as I say, or You get nothing from me. I was certain He’d get my message.

I really didn’t understand the concept of God’s sovereignty. Because of this, I didn’t understand that God had another kind of routine running in the background of my life (the Holy Spirit). One thing I’ve learned from a career in IT is that software routines which run in the background (or behind the scenes) are actually more critical to the ability of software running in the foreground; allowing them to function correctly.

I won’t bore you with geek-speak but something as simple as the movement of a mouse requires software code that maps a display screen so that anytime you move that mouse, you see the display symbol of where your mouse is pointed. What you see (and care about) is where the mouse points on the screen, what you don’t see is the background software (set of instructions) that indicates movement of the mouse.

So in my case, God has (a kind of software routine called) the Holy Spirit running in my background which I was totally unaware of. The routine wants to bring me to a point of true submission, to a place of dependency, to the presence of God; but before that can happen, it must deal with the viruses running around in my mind.

One virus which was particularly problematic was my view of God. God had to rid me of the virus of conditional love and replace it with unconditional love. This would mean that I needed to first accept that God loves me unconditionally; I also needed to recognize that my understanding of this belief was unimportant. I say this because there are many things in life which I don’t understand and yet, I accept the belief in their existence and operation.

For example, I don’t have to understand the internal mechanics of a combustion engine; I just need to accept that a unique key will start my car. I don’t have to know if the pilot flying the plane I’m in has twenty years of experience or two months, I simply need a boarding pass to believe I will arrive at my destination.

So I accept that God loves me unconditionally but I also had to learn to accept that answers to my prayers weren’t based on anything I said or did; which meant accepting the sovereignty of God as well. God isn’t required or obligated to answer my prayers in the way I want.

I had to learn to accept that God could say to me,

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.3

...And yet, still love me unconditionally.

God isn’t obligated to explain why He chooses to act or not act on my behalf. I had to learn to accept this aspect of our relationship. But just as I had to accept God’s unconditional love, I had to learn how to give love unconditionally. This background routine of God’s has been running in the background for years but the thing I realize now is that it was a scheduled routine that initiated when God called it to run. It has been running for a long time but I find that I am only now at the fountain that quenches my thirst.

In order for me to deny myself, I must love unconditionally. I can place no constraints on the relationship I have with God or others. There is nothing they can do to get me to love them. It is something I choose to do.

Everything in my life can be failing but not God’s love and now I can finally say, “Not my love for Him”. Those in my life, family, friends, peers and those whom God needs me to interact with will receive my love unconditionally; I choose to freely give love.

This then for me is denying myself.

I’m thankful that the Holy Spirit is running in me, ensuring that I’m available when God calls me, that I’m open to go or do what He asks. Not because I’m looking for something in return, but simply because I love God and for no other reason.

It occurs to me that I’ve said much already and I’ve only talked about denying myself to follow Christ. I hope that you will allow me to continue this discussion tomorrow. I certainly appreciate the time you’ve given me today.

Father God,

You have established a covenant with us through Your precious Son, Jesus Christ; a covenant built upon Your tremendous love and grace. The words of Christ echo in my thoughts but they echo throughout all eternity as well; follow Me. You demonstrate the magnitude and depth of Your love and You invite me to drink and partake in the marvelous ministry of salvation. I submit my life to you wholly and without reservation. I am Your's forever. I can never buy or repay Your goodness but I can love you without conditions. Thank You for freeing my life in this area. I invite You to create in me the attributes that truely demonstrate one who follows Christ. Amen.

  1. Luke 9:23, NASB
  2. 1 Corinthians 2:14, NASB
  3. Isaiah 55:9, NASB
  1. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, By James B. Strong, S.T.D, LL.D., Riverside Book and Bible House, Iowa Falls, Iowa 50126
  2. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6
  3. We Need to Hear From You, Lyrics by Andrae' Crouch, 1982, Light Records
  4. From Stem Cells to Tooth In the Mouth of a Mouse, Written by Jeremy Singer-Vine, August 10, 2009, Wall Street Journal


Sharon Kirby said...

Only one way - HIS WAY!

A picture truly CAN paint a thousand words!


Merana Leigh said...

OH SO MUCH TO SAY...but I gotta print this off at work tomorrow to reference. Actually, that might end up being a post in itself. I'll just say this much. One of my favorite quotes is from C.S. Lewis..."there are those who say, 'God's will be done' and then there are those to whom God says, 'alright then, have it your way'." I LOVE that! I'll e-mail ya the rest! Hugs ~ Merana

MTJ said...

Sharon: Yes it can.

Merana: I've admired the writings of C.S. Lewis for years. That's a good quote you cite.

DC said...

This was a lovely meal Daddy! Thank you!

MTJ said...

DC: I pray today is much better for you; no migraines.

Dean Spencer said...


I absolutely love your insights. I'm not a computer geek (IT) but I do understand what you're talking about. The analogy you present regarding the Holy Spirit as the "kind of routine which runs in the background" is especially interesting. I haven't thought of God working in us that way.

It makes sense, though, if you think about it. God is continually rewriting our "base codes" (if I'm using the terminology correctly) in the form of sanctification.

I have yet to read the second part of your post, but I look forward to it.

This is a great post! God has definitely inspired you in your writing because it certainly shows in my opinion.

God bless!

MTJ said...

Dean: I appreciate that God has enabled our paths to cross (virtually speaking). I also appreciate that you are a fellow brother in Christ with a passion for the Lord. I'm enjoying your examination of Romans (one of my favorite books in scripture).