Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Take Up Your Cross

I have been ruminating on a thought/passage for a few weeks now. I have been studying Jesus' command to those wishing to come after Him, saying, "let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." (Mark 8) Traditionally, when the church hears or speaks these overly used (out of context) words to "take up your cross," it is in reference to what Paul would call "momentary light afflictions." (1 Corinthians) We use pithy statements like, "oh, this is just my cross I have to bear," while referencing regular occurring life circumstances like stubbing your toe, or struggling to pay your rent. I DO NOT believe this is what Jesus meant when He gave this command to His disciples. If we continue to reference this passage in this way, we will be reducing Jesus' command for salvation to whatever portrait suits our fancy, so that we do not really have to take up a cross. Yes, literally take up a cross.

In order to understand the meaning behind this text, we have to understand what discipleship looked like to a first century Jew. Typically, boys would become disciples around the age of 13 or 14 by choosing which rabbi they would follow. Jesus' disciples follow a similar pattern, yet very different as well. Rabbis were traditionally given an opportunity to have followers once they reached the age of 80. As we know, Jesus was in his thirties at this time, and the disciples did not pick Him as the rabbi they would follow, He chose them. Talk about counter-culturalism. That's another story. Anyway, a disciple would be someone that would literally mimic every move of the rabbi. Almost like a contemporary game of Simon Says, or Follow the Leader.

Prior to Jesus explaining what must happen, the disciples had a misunderstanding of the King that they were expecting, as well as what they were expecting Him to do. At this time, the Jews were being oppressed by Rome, and they needed a King who would regain the throne, and deliver them from oppression. Peter, believing and confessing that Jesus was the Christ, had his own expectation of what must happen for their deliverance. Upon Jesus' explanation that "the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected...and be killed, and after three days rise again," Peter was thrown off. Peter began to rebuke Jesus privately (funny), immediately followed by Jesus rebuking Peter publically (funny).

Now that we understand what is going on here, as well as know the expectations of a disciple, we will see the importance of Jesus saying that "the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected...and be killed, and after three days rise again." As a disciple, they should very well know the expectations that are placed before them, are to mimic their Rabbi, or as we would say, Follow the Leader. Obvioiusly, Peter was not expecting this, but even more so, he knew of the possibility that he may have to do the same. Finally, Jesus says that "if anyone wants to come after me (follow the leader), he must DENY HIMSELF, TAKE UP HIS CROSS, and FOLLOW ME. Now would be the time to be somewhat afraid if you were one of His disciples. Jesus is not speaking from a metaphorical standpoint, merely saying that it might be somewhat hard at times, He is demanding that His disciples take an oath of death, but not just any death, the most shameful of all deaths. This is the cost of following Jesus. He is saying, I am going to do this, and I want you to follow me, and do the same.

This is validated in multiple places, but here are a few examples: Mark 10:35-45, James and John are telling Jesus that they want to sit at His right and left in His glory. Jesus says, "you do not know what you are asking, are you able to drink the cup that I drink," referring to the very same cup that is mentioned in the garden of gethsemane when Jesus is asking the Father for another way, and to take this cup (death) from Him. James and John say, yeah, we are able and will do whatever. Jesus' response is awesome, saying, "Yes, the cup that I will drink, you WILL drink." I guess they asked for it huh? Later we see that both James and John, as well as Peter, drank that very cup.

Now that we see that "take up your cross" is a very literal phrase, and that Jesus requires us to follow Him, to the point of death, even death on a cross, we begin to see the cost of following Jesus. This is very difficult to grasp as Americans, knowing that we are in a place where there is almost zero threat of death, persecution, or even the slightest loss for following Jesus. Typically, one would receive much praise and approval at the decision to follow Jesus, which brings us to a problem. How can we understand this passage according to its' original intent? How can we know the cost, count the cost, and follow Him accordingly, when there seems to be no cost? Maybe it IS hard for a rich man to enter His Kingdom!? We are very quick to have much pity on people in places where there is little food, little comfort, much violence, yet filled with true followers of Jesus, who actually had to make sacrifices to follow Him. My pity is beginning to shift. I pity those who have everything they need, yet do not have Christ. Maybe we are lacking in Christ's afflictions. Maybe we are racking up treasures that will be destroyed by moth and rust, while walking in ignorance to the gospel. It is a dangerous place to say, "Jesus Paid It All", if by saying that you mean, "I have nothing left to pay." I believe Jesus would say otherwise. I pray that He will show us the cost, so that we would not be blinded by the god of this world to the light of the gospel of Jesus. Here lies the seperation between those who profess to follow Christ, and those who follow Christ.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Prayer Substituted

As I drive to Graham Texas every Wednesday, there is a particular church that stands alone on the side of the road, that grabs my attention every time I pass by. The first few times I drove by, my immediate response was one of comic relief and laughter. I wanted to laugh at just how silly what I saw was. After a few times, the Lord began to stir in me a brokenness for what I was seeing.

Every time I drive by this church, they have something new and creative on their sign, that shows itself as a desperate attempt to grab peoples' attention, and place them in the pews. The majority of the signs are just plain silly. "Come in for a faith lift;" "The person who is steering the boat does not have time to rock it;" "You Think It's Hot Here?" As I said, at first glance my response is that of laughter. But as I began to think on these things, I have been shown all over the place in ministry, that PRAYER IS TOO OFTEN SUBSTITUTED WITH ATTEMPTS OF CREATIVITY. I found that this often rang true in my own heart as well. God began to work a lot in my heart about this.

I am too easily convinced that I have to create new and exciting ways to grab peoples attention, while the Lord is sitting on the throne waiting, and saying, "Just Ask!!!"

Psalm 116 reads:
"I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me, therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live."

James 4:8 reads:
"Draw near to God and HE WILL draw near to you."

John 14:12-14 reads:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it."

Hosea 7:13-14 reads:
"I would redeem them, but they speak lies against Me. And they do not cry to Me from their heart when they wail on their beds; For the sake of grain and new wine they assemble themselves, they turn away from Me."

Could go on forever with the scriptures. Consider the call to pray over your ministry first!!! See what He does!!!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Repentance: A Tradition of Words?

Too often, I have found that professing Christians, very much including myself, are filled with repentant words that are chained down by an unrepentant heart. The evidences of this are as follows: 1) Ill-concerned attitude towards sin and its' offense to a pure/holy/righteous/glorious---God. 2)Continuance in sin (typically excused with presumed notion that we are NOT "more than conquerors," and that we have no choice but to keep on sinnning) 3)An assumed (comfortable) idea of who we want God to be, almost as if we have made God in our own image.

First of all, what is repentance? Simply stated, it is a turning away from something, coupled with a turning toward something. In this case, we are referring to the turning from sin, and the turning towards Christ and His beautiful cross. If you were raised in church or are under the influence of Bible Belt christianity, you probably understand repentance as more of a TRADITION than a transformation of the heart. It has turned into one of those Sunday School answers that everyone would be quick to respond with, while typically having little meaning in the hearts of those who claim to be repentant.

In the church as a whole, (not nessecarily the local church), sin is almost meaningless. "No big deal," or "it's ok, i can just ask for forgiveness." I find that because of the cultural/christian influences that I have experienced, sin does not weigh enough in my own heart either. Sin is too often, not a big enough deal in my heart than it needs to be. My heart is my heart though, so it would be unfair to blame culture on my own unrepentant heart. I would caution Christians to be weary of repentance becoming merely A TRADITION OF WORDS. That's a scary place to be, seeing that the very BASIS OF OUR SALVATION is on repentance, unless easy-believism is your preference, which would indicate a heart that could very possibly be flattering their way to an eternity of punishment. 60-70 good years, at the expense of an eternity. Be weary.

I will give what I believe to be a good example of what true repentance looks like. Psalm 51. Read it. David was caught, and immediately fell to His face in anguish, BECAUSE HE KNEW GOD. Anguish? That can't be right; I'm supposed to be happy...FALSE!!! If we truly know God and His character, we understand the offense of sin against His holiness. It makes sense though; when you've grown up trusting in a God that freely hands out grace coupons, it's easy to begin to claim that as His character, which makes sin not a big deal.

I wish that I could interview a bunch of Christian people's hearts, instead of interviewing a bunch of Christians mouths. I think that if I asked their hearts questions about sin and repentance, I would find answers like these: 1)I believe I am a slave to sin. 2)I believe sin doesnt matter that much. 3)I am not repentant for my sins. ...But we don't have that option, so matters of the heart are left as our own responsibility, and flattery will continue to play its' course in sure destruction. I don't believe you can truly understand His unending love and grace until you understand the weight of sin.

So where do we go from here? Be willing to look at your heart, more than what you say. Beg for God to be gracious, and to transform your heart. Beg for God to blot out your transgressions. Beg for God to create a clean heart in you. Beg for God to renew a steadfast spirit in you. Beg for the Holy Spirit to intercede on your behalf, and to plead your cause for you (Psalm 119:154). And this one's tough---Beg for God to put you in anguish over your sin!!! Scary prayer, but true joy and true freedom are generally born in anguish. Think of the focus we can have on sharing Christ, when the sin in our own hearts is truly addressed.