May 15, 2019- Life Saver, Lose Your Life, Pick Up Your Cross- Luke 9:23-27, Hebrews 13:14, Galatians 2:20

Jesus carrying the Cross on Good Friday

And he (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:23-27 (ESV)

The teaching of Jesus is amazingly counterintuitive. “Eat, drink and be merry,” the world tells us.  “If only you buy this product or do this activity or drink this brand of beer, your life will be wonderful!” Jesus says, “Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Lose your life.”  Jesus tells us exactly the opposite of what we want to hear, and instructs us to do exactly what we instinctively don’t want to do.

We want what we want when we want it. We want to pursue pleasure and avoid pain.  Nobody left to his or her own devices is into denying his or her desires and passions.  Life left to strictly human nature is all about self-preservation and self-aggrandizement.

Life as a hedonist (one who pursues pleasure) might be wonderful for a little while, at least until the money runs out, or age and disease and chronic pain take over. All the material things and all the money in the world cannot change the fact that we will age and we will die.  Even the very oldest humans after the Flood have not managed to live beyond 120 years. Modern science has not progressed human health to the point where people are consistently able to live beyond 100 years.  In the timeline of history one person’s lifespan is a rather insignificant period of time.  Nobody gets out of life alive, to quote Axl Rose.  Living for the temporary pleasures of this world is ultimately unsatisfying and unsustainable.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14 (ESV)

When we try to build a legacy in this world, we have to ask, how long do buildings, and even empires last? What are we working for?

The old Adam really wants to believe the serpent’s lie: “If you eat of the forbidden fruit, you will be as God.”  In reality it was the beginning of separation and of enmity with God.  The Fall sparked a rebellion that save for the grace and mercy of God in Christ, would land Adam and all his progeny in the fires of hell.

Jesus teaches us that our life in this world – life with its trouble and pain and loss- is fleeting and temporary. Our true life is bound up in Him. The way to this true life, eternal life, is in Christ alone, and it is found only in the cross.  He gave His Blood, shed to cover our sins. His Body was broken, given to strengthen us for our earthly sojourn.  He gives us the faith and the strength to follow Him.  We cannot follow Him in the power of our own decisions or in the strength of our own will.  We cannot carry the crosses we are given- save by His grace.

Death came to humanity in the Garden of Eden. Life was promised to humanity in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The curse of death was broken as Jesus declared from the cross, “It is finished!”

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20

May we always find our identity in Christ and give away our life in the way of the cross as the apostle Paul did.

May 5, 2017 – Gone Fishing -John 21:3-4

fishing

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.  

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize it was Jesus. John 21:3-4 (NIV)

This story sounds like us so much of the time. We have a hard time seeing and experiencing the presence of God all around us, so we just do what feels comfortable or right, or what we always have done.  We live our lives, and do our thing, and we don’t see Jesus even when He is right in front of us.

Sound familiar?

So many times we wonder where Jesus is in those “dark nights of the soul,” those times when we are frustrated or in pain or despair. If only we could see that He is right there in the center of it all, and that He knows our disappointments, our fears, our doubts and our frustrations, but so many times we just don’t see Him.

The disciples had the same problem, and these were guys who hung out with Jesus for years. They ate with Him, walked with Him, lived with Him, but they still couldn’t see Him in plain sight.

So why sometimes do we just give up on the plans God has made for us and decide to go do our own thing?

Do we lose our patience with God’s timing and His way of doing things? Or do we see His way of doing things as just being too unreasonable or too difficult, like the prophet Jonah, who didn’t want to go to Nineveh and tried to run away from God instead? (See Jonah 1-3)   Do we really think that running away from God is even possible?

Thankfully Jesus meets us where we are even if we just give up and “go fishing.” He meets us not to shame us or make us feel guilty, but to encourage us, and to put us back on the path for which He created us.

January 30, 2017- Here and Now, and Not Yet-Mark 8:34

follow-jesus

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Mark 8:34 (NRSV)

Now, as always, there’s some bad theology out there in which people are led to believe that following Jesus means that He magically solves all our problems, pays for all our stuff, and makes our lives all sunshine and rainbows.

The only problem with that is what Jesus really said, and what Jesus really did.

Jesus was born into this world, which is a place in which God’s Kingdom is here, but also is “not yet.” We go through trials to refine and build us.  If we follow Jesus we are going to encounter trials and difficulties just as He did.  The difference is that He brings us through those trials.

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

John 16:33 (NRSV)

On one hand we are part of the Kingdom of God as we were named and claimed by Him in the waters of Baptism.  Yet it is interesting that in Mark’s Gospel Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, and then BOOM- he was sent into the wilderness for forty days.  (Mark 1:9-13)

If you follow Jesus it means, God names you, claims you, calls you Beloved, and He is well pleased with you- then He plunks you out in the wilderness to work out what that means.

God equips us for where He sends us, which is both a comfort and a challenge.

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

Mark 9:35 (NRSV)

He does not call us to sit around and be judgmental of others, or to pat ourselves on the back for stuffy and artificial moral prudery, or to play games with who is in and who is out. He does not call us to be anything we are not. He does call us to put Him first.  Jesus says to us, follow Me- serve others, love others, be that light in the darkness.