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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Taking Up a Cross

In our Sunday morning worship services we are following Christ through the book of Mark from His baptism to the empty tomb. So far in our journey we have been dealing with the question, "Who is this man?" We have seen that He is the Son of God, that is, God in human flesh who has power over the devil, forgives sins, and even controls the weather. We will see that He is not only Lord of the spiritual realms and the creation, but that He is also the Lord over our lives as well. Through His gracious life, death, and resurrection He has done what is necessary to save us, and He then has called us to take up our own cross and follow him. In other words, He has called us to be disciples.

But what does that actually mean? What is discipleship? And how do I take up a cross? To be saved and called a disciple is to be radically changed by the Holy Spirit. It is an entire new way of being. It is a change in the way our lives operate. Once we encounter the Son of God's radical forgiveness we cannot help but be changed. Our lives are suddenly oriented in a different direction. We are no longer living for our own holiness and for our own righteousness. No, those things have been given to us freely as gifts from our encounter with Christ. Our lives are so radically altered that we are no longer concerned with ourselves, for we have died to ourselves, and we live the life we have been given by God (Mark 8:34; Romans 14:8).

Being dead to ourselves and alive to God in the power of the Holy Spirit, we endure a cross. We take up a cross and follow Christ. That is, we live lives of sacrifice to our neighbors. When Christ took up His cross, it was to die for the sins of the world. It was the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of others. We were bound to die for our sins and Christ took on our bondage and died our death. He rose again to free us from the clutches of death and gave us new life!

It is in this new life we take up a cross and follow Jesus in His sacrifice. That is, as those who have received the benefits of His sacrifice, we now live lives of sacrifice for our neighbor. We die to our selfish wants and desires (Mark 10:17-27), we die to our own personal aspirations to righteousness and holiness (Luke 18:10-14), and we serve our neighbor for their sake, just as Christ served us by dying on the cross for us. Christ's cross served all humanity by taking the burden of sin and bestowing forgiveness. Our cross, though nothing compared with Christ's, serves our neighbor in love and service. We give all of who we are so they will be blessed. We no longer need worry about ourselves, God has us in His hands (Matthew 5:25-33). We take up our cross to serve our neighbor. As we enter into this new section of Mark, let us pray that the Lord would give us the strength and faith to take up our cross, to find our neighbors, and serve them in love, always trusting in Jesus' righteousness which He has graciously given to us!

Pastor Bob

Speaking of Jesus: February 2009

Many times when we talk about Jesus, we find ourselves getting into arguments to prove to our unbelieving friends that Jesus is God or that the Bible is reliable and true. We get into the argument game and we think if we can just "win" the argument, we will "defeat" our opponent and prove God right. Though I firmly am convinced that there is a time for argument and debate when it comes to discussing the faith, we must be careful when we set out to talk about Jesus that we don't set out to prove bad ideas wrong. We have the truth and we know it and that gives us great confidence. But often, confidence in truth can turn into pride in being right. And when this happens, we lose sight of the real purpose in talking about Christ, faith in Jesus.

Romans 10:17 says that "faith comes through hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." Well, we must ask, what is that message? What is that word? It is the message of forgiveness, the word of salvation. When we set out to talk about Jesus, our end goal is to proclaim that Christ was crucified for and forgives sinners, including the one we are speaking with (that is, from one sinner to another). Such a message creates faith according to our verse. It is through that proclamation of grace that the Holy Spirit convicts and convinces hearts of the gospel.

However, that word is tremendously offensive to some, "a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (I Corinthians 1:23). Some don't believe they are sinners, some don't believe Jesus died and rose again, some don't know if He ever even existed. It is in these situations where we want to be prepared to have an answer to the objections they raise, as St. Peter says, an answer for the hope that is within us (I Peter 3:15)! We want to be able to have informed and intelligent discussions that take the questions and objections of our loved ones seriously. But we must never believe that once we have answered their questions and corrected their misunderstandings that we have done our jobs. We must ultimately proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus name (Luke 24:47). It is in these words that the Holy Spirit works. We don't need fancy arguments or silver-bullet answers to prove anyone into the faith. We simply say what Christ does for sinners, he forgives them. And the Holy Spirit convicts of that truth and turns hearts to Christ! What an awesome and humbling thing to know that we are sent by God to carry that message, to proclaim that good news!

Pastor Bob

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