In Luke 9: 23, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
When I was about 8 years old, a friend and I decided we would go into the roadside flower business. So, we went out to find our inventory. We picked every kind of flower we could find. There wasn’t that much choice during the summer in west Texas, but we gathered what we could.
I remember one kind of “flower” that we picked from a neighbor’s garden had a rather offensive, pungent odor. Looking back, I realize it was the flower of an onion plant. That is not the kind of fragrance we were really looking for, but, hey, we needed inventory.
After gathering our flowers, we stood on the side of the street waving “bouquets” at passing cars and calling out, “Flowers! Flowers! Flowers for sale.” We never sold any. I know I never had the urge to sell flowers again, much less a desire to make it a career.
At another time, my brother and I sold pine cones at Christmas. Around Thanksgiving, our family went on a trip to New Mexico, and we had gathered a lot of pine cones in one of the forests there. We brought them home, spray painted some gold and others silver. We left others in their natural state. We fixed up shoe box lids to serve as display trays for an assortment of them, and we went door to door trying to sell them.
We had better luck with the pine cones than I had with the flowers, but neither my brother nor I decided to go into that business as a career either.
When I was in college, a fellow talked me into joining his “summer work program” in which I was promised that I would make tons of money. Turns out the “summer work program” was selling Bible story book door to door for the Southwestern Book Company.
As soon as school was out for the summer, we were sent to Nashville to go through their training program. For the whole week, we spent 16 hours a day becoming familiar with our products, practicing sales talks, listening to “inspirational” speakers, learning how to mooch our lunch off our clients, learning how to get “free rent,” and learning numerous techniques for outwitting “Mrs. Jones.” I loving dubbed that experience as “Hell Week.”
At the end of training, I was packed off with the rest of our team to Flint, Michigan. Here I was, a boy from West Texas who had never been north of Oklahoma City, trying to sell religious books to Yankees. Although I did OK, I did not make that ton of money that I had been promised. And although I learned a lot, I also learned that I did not want to make a career selling books door to door.
Perhaps you or your children have participated in such entrepreneurial endeavors. Maybe it was a lemonade stand? Chances are, you did not make a career of selling lemonade.
But you know what? Some people have. Go into most any mall, and there is probably a venue in the food court that sells nothing but lemonade and corn dogs. Any fair, any festival, any carnival will have a food trailer that sells only lemonade. And they make a good living doing it.
How did someone get to the place that they made a career out of lemonade? Perhaps they started small as a kid—one lemonade stand out in front of their house in the summer. Then, they got invited to sell lemonade at the little league baseball games. Later they decided to try the county fair. Things went well, and the business grew. Perhaps they had so much demand for lemonade stands that they had to hire their friends to help.
Whatever happened, the person who made a career out of the lemonade business had to come to a point of decision. Am I going to make a career out of this or not?
That happens in our relationship to God as well. In Luke 9: 23, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
There comes a point where we all have to decide if we are going to be followers of Jesus or not. We may say we believe in Jesus. We may even say we trust in Jesus. But there is a difference in believing and actually following Jesus.
Followers have decided that they will do whatever is necessary to follow Jesus. Even if it means a cross.
(The Rev. Al Henager is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Heber Springs, Arkansas. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)