Denying Self, Delighting in Grace

20130211-231543.jpgA couple of weeks ago I wrote about a vacation my family and I were getting ready to go on. We felt we could use some recharging and so we were really looking forward to the trip. Bringing our special needs boys on this vacation wasn’t initially in the plans, but we happened to find a cruise at a major discount that offered on-board babysitting. We were thinking it would be perfect.

*A word of caution to cruise-goers with young children: things that wear you down as a parent at home, may be amplified on a ship when your family occupies a room the size of a closet. And for the record, it doesn’t matter how difficult it gets, or how important you think you are, they’re not turning that boat around for anyone. Once you’re on, you’re on and riding it out. Count the cost my friends.

For us the difficulty was this.  It was a child who went missing for 15 traumatic minutes, every parent’s worst nightmare. And then enduring the attention of observers as we struggled with our kids at dinner, struggled with them staying seated in the theater, struggled waiting in lines for special activities, and struggled taking family pictures. It was the constant feeling we needed to explain or apologize to others for our disruptions. And then there was protecting my wife from the screaming parent upset that our autistic five year old hit their kid. It was the not being able to leave our kids in childcare because of their conditions. And then when we were assured by cruise staff that they would take good care of the kids, it was the calls minutes later to asking take them out because of behavior problems. What we had hoped to be relaxing and enjoyable week, seemed rather never-stopping, never-giving-up, un-breaking, always and forever…struggle.

Why was this happening? We’d worked so hard for this to go right. Why were other parent’s kids seemingly so perfect at dinner, in lines, at the theater, and everywhere else? Are we the only one’s dealing with young ones wandering from the table or flipping full plates of food? We just wanted to relax and enjoy the trip. I just wanted some time with my wife. We just wanted a few minutes of fun. We just dropped them off. Why are they already calling me? Why isn’t God doing something about all this?

He was.

During a brief moment of sanity, I was reminded that God didn’t put me on that boat to be self-indulgent. Jesus said once to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24). I’m fairly certain that a post about self-denial isn’t going to help my readership stats much. I’m sure you’d rather have me share some tips on being a better dad, a better husband, a better man. But truth be told, that Roman crucifix that the savior was hung from speaks a hard word against us.  The cross exposes, not our abilities and rights, but our desperate plight!

1. I am nothing, in fact I am worse than nothing…I am a sinner

2. I can do nothing, in fact I do worse than nothing…I spoil things

3. I deserve nothing, in fact I deserve worse than nothing…I deserve God’s wrath

4. I am dispensable

With all the food and activities  the opportunities on a cruise for self-indulgence are almost endless, and I was being denied!  As I sat on the edge of our bed, somewhere in the Caribbean  stewing in a moment of discontent, Jesus’ reminder to me was, “This trip was not about you getting filled up.  This trip is about you dying to self, and truly delighting in my grace.”  Ironically, those endless opportunities on-board were the Lord’s ordained context of learning self-denial.

Grace is not adverse to self-denial. Actually, as Scotty Ward Smith put’s it, “God’s grace is the only way self-denial is possible.” Who could stand a Christianity that revels in self-deprivation? That’s not even biblical (Col 2:20-23).  Self-denial is opposed to self-indulgence.  Self-denial in not opposed to delight in grace.  So…

1. Though the cross shows me I am a sinner, the cross also shows me God’s forgiveness. I’m not just a sinner, I am a forgiven sinner.

2. Though the cross shows me that I spoil things, the cross also purchases a perfect record of obedience for me. Though even my good deeds are corrupt, the righteousness of Christ is credited to me. And even more, the Holy Spirit now empowers my life and produces God’s work in and through me.

3. The cross shows me that I deserve wrath, but it also shows me a savior who bore that wrath in my place. I now have his favor with God. God no longer calls me his enemy, but his friend.

4. And though the cross shows me I am dispensable  it also shows me that in Christ I am eternally secure and promised that all grace will abound to me. I am dispensable, but God has eternally adopted me. I am a son in his family and that will never change.

From that point forward, the circumstances of the trip didn’t change much. We were still pretty glad when the boat returned to port, and we were able to get back home. But remembering both the hard and comforting words of the cross changed me that week.

Are you going through a difficult season? Are you finding it difficult to find joy as you endure? Perhaps remembering the hard words of the cross would be helpful. Not to add insult to what you are currently experiencing. But for a better purpose. That you can also delight deeply in all that God has accomplished for you through his Son’s death.

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