Ultimate values: "Don't throw your life away!"

Luke 9:23-25; 17:33; Matthew 16:24-27

9 23 Then [Jesus] said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?"

17 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.

16 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

Week 15 (April)

She was blonde. She was cute. And she was in two of my classes in the Guthrie, Oklahoma high school.

Unfortunately, I have to confess I don't remember her name. Too many years have gone by for me to remember.

In the summer before my senior year, my father had moved to Guthrie to pastor the Church of the Nazarene there. It was in that last year of high school that I met the little blonde.

I was a little sweet on her. I'm not sure she ever was sweet on me. But at least we did get to know each other. One day she found out I was planning to be a missionary.

"A missionary?" she exclaimed. "Oh, Howard, don't throw your life away!"

Throw it away? That stunned me. Having grown up as a pastor's id, I thought missionaries were people you looked up to. You read their books. You prayed for them. You loaded up cars and went to zone rallies where they spoke. Missionaries, to me, were heroes.

That day in Guthrie I ran head-on into values different from my own. That little blonde and I weighed life with two totally different sets of scales. And that day our value systems collided.

Jesus, through His story of the rich man and Lazarus, pointed up this difference in values. The rich man was not guilty of great crimes. But he apparently regarded life as one continuous party. He didn't seem to understand the real values, the high stakes we play for in life. As he came face-to- face with his grave miscalculation, the rich man pleaded with Abraham to aid his brothers in seeing the light.

It is easy for us to see some of the applications of this parable in the extremes of human life. But we also should be asking ourselves: What does the story of the rich man and Lazarus say to me, to my life-style?

Far too often the devil successfully tempts Christians -- good ones -- to accept the value system of this world.

For instance, during one Home Assignment period, I met a young Nazarene pastor who confided to me: "If you don't make it in the church by the time you're 40, you don't make it."

Make it? What kind of language is that? Where does that kind of thinking fit into kingdom values? This is not some kind of corporate ladder we're trying to climb, is it?

Once in a while the devil comes around to me and whispers, "Hey, you could be making a lot more money in a U.S. church. You could have a lot nicer home, drive a much better car."

It's those moments that I have to remember what value system guides my life. My standard of living is a good deal above that of Lazarus, and it was he, not the rich man, who knew the true values in life.

The author wrote these devotional thoughts while a missionary in Italy. They originally appeared in Standard, a weekly take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes published by what is now called The Foundry.

    -- Howard Culbertson

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Other devotional articles:    Year-long series in Standard    Reflections with illustrations from ham radio    Are you ready for Christmas?    Come Ye Apart    Come Ye Apart devotionals on pastors

Rookie Notebook: Our first nine months as missionaries in Italy     10/40 Window map and explanation     Seeking God's will?    African martyr's commitment    Mission trip fundraising   Ten ways to ruin your mission trips    Nazarene Missions International resources