There is a passage of Scripture that, as I get older, becomes less threatening and more promising. The words were first spoken by Jesus to his followers, and I believe they were given as an invitation. Jesus said, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26). "Denying yourself' means to say no to yourself in order to say yes to God.
As I look at these verses, it sounds like Jesus is asking a lot. It sounds crazy to ask you to get off the throne of your own life and allow him to become the king of your life. But do you know what brings this unto unbelievable focus for all of us? When you attend a funeral. You can attend a funeral, and suddenly this passage of Scripture becomes crystal clear.
Because at funerals, we don't celebrate how many buildings he built. We don't celebrate the lavish parties she threw. We don't celebrate golf scores. We don't celebrate, "Oh, they sent their kids to private schools" and all the things that just consume our time and life. We don't celebrate any of those things.
You know what we celebrate at funerals? We celebrate the very things that Jesus promises when he says, "Follow me and I'll take you there." Character. Good father. Great mother. Wonderful son. Sympathetic. Generous, would do anything for anybody. There is an eternal thing, a sense of character, that gives life meaning -- and at every funeral, we focus on it. Because we all know that's what we should celebrate about a life well lived, not all the other stuff to which we often give our lives.
I pray that, at the end of our lives, we would look back and breathe a sigh of relief that no pastor would have to stand over our grave or ashes and try to come up with something positive to say. May our lives effuse the character of Jesus Christ, who made us like himself, as we choose to forsake ourselves and follow him. It's really the opportunity of a lifetime.
In the name of the One who can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
Bruce Jones, Pastor and Co-Creator,
Imagine Church of the Carolinas