Thursday, June 23, 2011

Accepting the Cross Like Jesus

Jesus’ life (and our lives)

Mark 8:31-38

 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 

After accepting the position of “Messiah” by his disciples, Jesus had to explain what that meant.  It meant rejection by the Jewish leaders, shame, suffering and death on a cross.  The disciples couldn’t accept this, for that path was the opposite of being the Messiah for Jesus.  But Jesus declared that God’s way was the way of the cross.  Then he declared that anyone who wanted to follow Jesus would have to accept rejection, shame, suffering and death.  That was the way of Jesus. That is the only way to gain true life.  Jesus not only accepted it, he insisted on it for himself and everyone who followed him.

Mark 14:35-36

He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will." 

Jesus did not have an easy time accepting the cross.  It was a hard trial to accept.  No one wants to face rejection, shame, suffering and death on their own.  Jesus didn’t want it.  But he accepted it because it was God’s will.  He struggled all through that night, but he endured and passed the test.

Hebrews 5:7-8

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.

Jesus cried and begged to be released from death.  But in the end, he accepted it, because it was the proof that Jesus was obedient to the Father.  And because of this, his cries were heard and he was delivered from death after he had passed through it.

Our Lives
Acts 5:40-41

After calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them  So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.

The apostles were happy that they had been beaten.  Not because they were masochists, but because it proved that they were worthy of Jesus.  If they had not been worthy, they never would have endured through the beatings.  But because of the beatings, they proved that they were righteous.

Acts 14:22

"Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." 

If we wish to enter the kingdom of God, we must endure through tribulations and difficulties and trials.  We need to accept these trials for the sake of us entering God’s kingdom.

Romans 5:3-5

We exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;
and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts  

The sufferings we have in Christ are to be acceptable to us—not only acceptable, but we are to be glad when we have them!  If we didn’t have the sufferings, we couldn’t prove our righteousness through enduring through them.  If we couldn’t prove our righteousness, then we would have no confidence that we will be raised from the dead.  But if we stand with God through our trials, then we know that we will be raised, even as Jesus was.  So let us be glad when we suffer for Jesus and endure!

Jim Elliot wrote years before he became a missionary and endured any kind of suffering, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Later, in presenting the gospel to murderous tribesmen, he died.  He did not die in vain, though, for God kept his life preserved for the kingdom of heaven.

The early Anabaptists and Waldensians were considered heretics by all those around them, even though all they were doing was preaching the word of God.  But wherever they preached the word, they were arrested and maligned and tortured and executed.  They had their tongues chopped off, their backs whipped, their families taken from them and their wives and children slaughtered before them.  They were drowned, hung, beheaded and burned.  All for being faithful to Jesus’ word.

Living It Out
q Do not return evil for evil
(Romans 12:17)

q Submit to evil authorities, even to their oppressive punishments
(I Peter 2:18-20)

q Disobey authorities when they tell you to disobey God
(Acts 4:18-20)

q Tell people the truth of Jesus, even if they hate you for it.
(Matthew 10:27-28)

q Do good to everyone, especially those whom society tells you to hate
(Galatians 6:10; Luke 15:1-10)

q Find good to do to those who hate you.
(Romans 12:17; Luke 6:35)

q Don’t talk back to people’s scorn and hating remarks.
(Romans 12:17-18)

q Recognize that such trials will come
(II Timothy 3:12)

q Rejoice in trials, for you will gain God’s approval and maturity through them.
(James 1:2-4)

What Does It Cost To Follow Jesus?

Jesus was at a party and he gave a speech.  Hearing him, one of those listening announced, “How wonderful it will be for those who are at the party of God!”  Jesus replied with a story: “There was a man planning a party and he sent invitations out.  As a reminder, he sent one of his employees out at the time of the party to all those invited.  But they—every one—offered excuses instead.  One said, ‘Oh, I just bought some real estate and I need to go look at it.  So sorry, but I’m just too busy to come.’   Another said, ‘I just bought five work trucks and I need to test them out.  I’m really sorry, but I’m too busy to come.’  Another said, ‘I just got married, and, well, we’re just too busy.  Sorry, can’t come.’  So the employees returned to their CEO and explained all this to him.  He fumed and he told his employees, ‘OK, fine.  Then go downtown and invite every beggar—the bums, cripples, winos and indigent.’  After a bit, the employees reported back to him, ‘We did as you requested, sir, but the hall still looks pretty empty.’  So the CEO said, ‘Then go out of the city and collect the passers through, all the immigrants looking for work and other foreigners.  Convince them to come in until the banquet hall is completely full.  But I swear to you, not a single one who was invited will have even a bite of my feast.’”

Jesus noticed that a crowd had gathered, outside the party, listening, so he said to them, “Many of you want to follow me, and be a part of my school.  You can learn to do miracles, to be holy, to obtain God’s kingdom.  But listen carefully—you can’t be a student in my school until you hate your father, hate your mother, hate your wife, hate your children and brothers and sisters.  You can’t be part of my school until you hate your very life.  To be a part of my school, you’ve got to be ready to be branded a rebel and killed as a traitor.  Look, if you are going to paint your house, you want to know how much it will cost ahead of time, don’t you?  Because otherwise, you get halfway done and run out of money to buy more paint and anyone passing by laughs at you and says, ‘Look, this guy started something but he couldn’t finish it.’ 

"Suppose two countries were at war.  The presidents of the countries would certainly sit down and make sure that their army was large enough to defeat the other.  But suppose that one found that his army was only half the size of the other.  Wouldn't he begin working out a negotiation of peace, surrendering everything he had to prevent this war?  Even so, God is coming, and you aren't ready for him.  If you want to be in my school, and so be ready, you must surrender all of your possessions, just like that king.

"You may think that you are different, the salt of the earth, the stuff of which the church will really make a difference.  But if salt has no flavor—if it’s just the same as everything else—then how can you make it useful again?  It is pointless—not of any use for food or anything else.  So we just throw it out.  What do you think God will do with “salt” that is the same as dirt?  If you’ve got a half a brain, then understand this."

Translation of Luke 14

Sunday, June 19, 2011


I'm not sure Jesus would approve of Star Wars, but it is so cool.  Still, it's appropriate for the Switchfoot song, which Jesus would approve of.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Jesus' Instructions To His Leaders

"Instead of a Show" by Jon Foreman

"Bishops and professors and TV preachers and apostles have given themselves the authority of the Christ. So listen to them, obey them, but whatever you do, don't follow their actions.  They talk about some good things, but they don't do them. They talk about love and righteousness, but they don't live it out.

"They load people up with ideals and responsibilities as if the poor folks were semi-trucks, but they are all about making others do the work they won't do themselves.  I'm not saying they don't do things-- sure, they pray, they preach, they lead, they administrate, they command, they comfort, they rebuke, they budget-- but it is all about themselves.  They work for their own name, for the growth of their power, for their church they are building. They love to be noticed.  They wear large crosses and have robes and collars so they will be seen as religious leaders.  Why?  So they can be noticed in assemblies and the pastor lunches and the charity meals.  They dress so they will be seen as their title.

"How they love titles!  They love to be called Reverend and Bishop and Father and Elder and Apostle and Pastor.  But don't you be called Reverend for only One is be revered above others. Don't you be called Bishop  for only One directs men's souls.  Don't be called Father, for there is only one Father and He is in heaven.  Don't be called Elder, for that takes from the glory of the Eldest who created the world. Don't be called Apostle, for those who take on such titles were not sent.  Don't even be called Pastor for Christ is the true shepherd and His Holy Spirit alone leads along still waters.  Remember, not one of you us above the other.  Christ alone is the head and you are all equal in each other's eyes.

"Do you want to truly be greater in God's eyes?  Then be a servant without calling yourself Minister.  Clean toilets for the brothers, clean the dishes of the hungry whom you just fed, shelter the homeless, clean the vomit of drunks and wash the clothes of the filthy. Do the most demeaning tasks and thank God for them. For only the most humble will be raised by God.  But those who try to impress others by their pride will be crushed by the Defender of the Poor."

(Updated version of Matthew 23:1-12)

Jesus and Sinners

Jesus said, “At a church service, the preacher called people up front, and two of them came up.  One of them was an employee at Focus on the Family and the other was a heroin addict.  The good Christian prayed aloud to himself, ‘Father in heaven, I praise your name because I have been chosen by You to be holy.  I am not a thief, a sinner, an adulterer or a junkie like this man.  I pray and read the word daily and I tithe all my net income.’  The addict stood away from the altar, bowed his head and whimpered, ‘God, I’m a screw up—help me, just help me.’  Listen here—the addict left the church with a relationship with God.  The churcie didn’t.  Because God raises up everyone who lowers himself, and he pushes down everyone who pulls himself up.”

Someone around Jesus reported to him the news about some criminals whom the police beat up.  And he responded to this, “Do you think that these criminals were worse than anyone else because they were beat up?  On the contrary, if you don’t repent, you will have as bad happen to you and worse.  Or what about the drug house that collapsed on those who occupied it—do you think that they were worse people than those who lived around them?  Listen to this: unless you repent, you will all be destroyed in the same way.

“Someone had an apple tree in his backyard, and one day, during apple season, she came out back and there were no apples!  So she spoke to her landscaper, ‘For three years I’ve been hoping for apples from this tree and I’ve got nothing!  It’s useless. Why don’t you dig it out?’  The landscaper replied, ‘Ma’am, if you would just be patient and forgive it this fault this year so I can care for it.  By this time next year, if you find no fruit, fine, we will dig it out.  But if it gives you apples, then it will be worth it.’ “

All the homosexuals and the homeless and the drug dealers and sex workers and meth addicts and convicted child pornographers came to Jesus to listen to him.  And the conservative evangelicals and the Bible scholars denounced him, “He is opening the door of the church to the wicked.”

Jesus said to them, "You know that I'm a healer.  People who are healers don't hang around healthy people-- that'd be pointless.  They hang around the sick.  Even so, why should I offer healing to you people who think you've already got it? If you've got the salvation market cornered, then you don't really need me, do you?  I came to receive the screw-ups."

Jesus told them this story, “Look, if you had a hundred cars and one of them was stolen, wouldn’t you forget about all the other ninety nine and just focus on the one until it was found?  You’d call the police, call your neighbors and be generally freaked out—not about the ninety nine, but for the one that was lost.  Then, when it is found, you would drive it home proudly and happily.  And you’d call your neighbors and the police and say, ‘Praise God!  My stolen car was found!”  It is this very joy that God has when a single sinner repents and comes back to God, away from his sins.  He loves that more than ninety nine church-goers who only ever say the right things.

 “Suppose there was a woman with ten coins, worth a thousand dollars each and one of them came up missing.  Wouldn’t she take out her flashlight and turn all the furniture upside down until it was found?  Then, once it’s found then she calls up her neighbors and say, ‘Yeah, I had lost this expensive coin, but praise God, now I’ve found it.’  Even so does God rejoice over one sinner who turns back to God away from his sin.”

“There was a father with two sons.  The younger son said to his father, ‘Dad, I can’t wait for you to die to get my inheritance, so give it to me now.’  So the father divided all of his wealth and gave the two sons their own share.  A few days later, the younger son collected his belongings and traveled to a godless nation and wasted the money, living by his impulses.   After all his money was gone, an economic depression came upon the nation and he was in desperate need.  After begging for a job, someone hired him to clean up rooms in a brothel, picking up needles and cleaning soiled sheets.  No one actually ever paid him, so he began to starve, finding the crumbs left in the rooms to be appetizing.  Finally, he came to his senses and said to himself, ‘Even the laziest of my fathers farmhands eat to their fill, and here I am starving to death?  I know what I’ll do, I’ll go back to my father and tell him how evil I have been and then ask him to hire me.  After all, I’m not worthy to be his son.’  “So he left that place, traveled back home and came to his father.  His father saw him from a distance and felt his heart leap within him and he ran to his son, grabbing him and hugging him desperately.  Once he could catch his breath, he said to his father, ‘Father, I have done evil before God and yourself.  Don’t take me as a son—I don’t deserve it.’  His father, though, called his workers and said, ‘You—go into my room and get out my best clothes and shoes and give them to my son.  You—get the necklace with the family crest on it and bring it here, and put it on him.  You—get into the kitchen and prepare a feast with steak for everyone.  Because this is my son the one who died.  Now his come back to us from the dead—he was lost, but now he is returned.’"

(Passages translated and updated from Luke 18, Luke 13, Mark 2, and Luke 15)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Answering Challenges Like Jesus

Jesus’ Life
Mark 2:23-28
The Pharisees were saying to Him, "See here, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" 
And He said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he was in need and became hungry, he and his companions... 
The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."

The Pharisees challenged Jesus about the disciples breaking of the Sabbath.  Now, the disciples were not actually breaking the Sabbath, but the traditions that the Pharisees had in place concerning the Sabbath. But Jesus did not apologize for their practice, or tell the disciples that they should just stop it until the Pharisees were gone.  Instead, he confronted the Pharisees and their wrong attitude about God’s righteousness.  He said that the Sabbath was made for mankind and so that man should determine the application of it—for what was best for people.  And hunger is never best.

Mark 7:1-8

The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?  And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. 'But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.' 
Again, the Pharisees challenged Jesus because the disciples didn’t wash their hands.  Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to do it.  Instead, he confronted the Pharisees with their concern about tradition rather than God’s command.

Mark 10:2-9

Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."
The teachers of Jesus’ day had an argument about divorce in God’s law.  Both acknowledged that divorce was acceptable, because of God’s command about it.  But some found it acceptable in just about any situation possible, while others said it was only acceptable in some circumstances.  The Pharisees wanted to make Jesus’ enemies by putting him in one camp or the other. When challenged in this, Jesus’ focus was on the righteousness of God and the need to not hurt another.  He made himself enemies in both sides by saying that divorce was unacceptable in any circumstance and it was a capitulation by Moses, acknowledging the rebellion of the Israelites. 

Mark 12:18-27

 Jesus said to them, "Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures, or the power of God?"
The Sadduccees were a group of Israelites that didn’t believe that people would be raised from the dead in a new body.  They gave Jesus their argument, which was complicated, but made sense in the law of Moses.  Jesus cut across the entire argument by speaking to the unspoken assumptions they had behind the argument and destroying them.  Again, Jesus made himself enemies here, but spoke the truth of God.

Mark 14:55-64

The high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, "Do You make no answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?" But He kept silent, and made no answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, "Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" And Jesus said, "I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven."
This time, the challenge before Jesus was a matter of life and death.  These people could kill Jesus if he spoke the wrong word.  First they claimed that he wanted to destroy the temple, and Jesus said nothing, neither confirming nor denying it.  When they asked him if he was the Messiah, the king, however, Jesus spoke the Father’s promise to him—that Jesus would sit at the right hand of the Father and that all these judging him would soon be judged by him.  This was unacceptable to them and declared that he must be killed.

Our Lives

Matthew 10:24-28

Do not fear them, for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.
Jesus said that we are to listen to him in order to understand what he is saying.  And then we are to clearly communicate it to others.   This means that we will have opposition and hatred coming against us—because many are opposed to the truth of Jesus and the ethics he taught.  In spite of that, we are to be bold and openly declare his teaching.  Even if they kill us, Jesus says, we are to fear God more than them because if we deny God’s truth then he can send us to hell, while people can only kill our bodies.

I Peter 3:14-16

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.

Peter overcame his earlier difficulties (see the following story) to be a staunch defender of Jesus in the face of opposition.  In light of his experience, he is saying that we need to defend Jesus in the face of opposition, no matter what the cost.  Most people won’t kill us or cause us pain, but they might reject us or think badly of us.  No matter what, we are to defend Jesus and declare God’s righteousness.  If we are hated, rejected or hurt then we are to just accept that as part of the cost of being a Christian.

When Jesus called Peter, he was a lot of talk, but little action.  He claimed that he would suffer for Jesus, even die for him.  But when directly challenged, he would instantly turn to a lie.  When asked about whether Jesus paid a certain tax, he said that Jesus did, even though he didn’t know.  When he was afraid he would be arrested, he denied he knew Jesus three times.  With every challenge, he was so afraid of people that he would let them determine what he would say.  After Jesus rose from the dead and Peter received the Holy Spirit, then Peter had the boldness he needed to stand up for Jesus, even in the face of opposition.  He spoke about Jesus openly and when the ruling council of the Jews told him to stop, he openly refused.  Because of this, he was arrested and eventually crucified, but he feared suffering at the hands of men no more, knowing that it was better to be honored by God.  Matthew 17:24-27; Mark 14:66-72; Acts 3-5

Living It Out

Be aware of the difference between disagreement and challenge

In all these circumstances, Jesus was being told that he was in the wrong and that he should change.  In defending himself, he was firm and wise.  However, we must not act in such a way when someone is simply asking a question or simply wanting us to clarify.  In those cases, Jesus spoke in compassion and gentleness.

Don't be ashamed of God's truth

Be committed to speak God’s truth in Jesus whenever you have the opportunity.  If someone speaks against what Jesus said before you, take the opportunity to speak the truth in Jesus.  In may not be comfortable to do so, it may not feel right, but Jesus wants you to speak out for his sake.  If you do not speak, then the person may think that you are in agreement with them—it is better to speak than to let them live believing a lie that will send them to hell.

Don't fear opposition
Many people won’t like what we say if we stand for Jesus one hundred percent of the time.  Some people will yell at us or blame us for what other Christians have done. But that is no reason for not speaking the truth.  No matter what, we need to stand for Jesus, even as he stood for us, no matter what the cost.

Be prepared for opposition

If we speak the truth of Jesus, people will hate us and try to harm us.  They will speak against us and challenge us.  This is the promise of the New Testament.  Since this is the case, we need to be ready for these attacks.  We can have arguments ready, but more importantly is to be emotionally ready for rejection and verbal attack.  We need to “steel ourselves up” for opposition and be ready not to back down, but to speak what the Holy Spirit leads us to.

Defend the glory and righteousness of God

We are to seek God’s glory and to defend his reputation.  We are to seek God glorified through his people’s lives and speech.  We need to keep Jesus’ name cleared of false teaching and evil deeds.  In this way, we are to honor God with our speech by defending him before others when they speak something against him or his ways.

You don’t have to go out of your way to seek opposition, unless God calls you to

This doesn’t mean that if a group that teaches falsehood is in your area, that you need to confront them.  Jesus did not confront groups unless they confronted him.  There was a group in Jesus’ day called the Essenes that taught something wrong about God’s word, but we have no word that Jesus’ confronted them.  In fact, he seems to have ignored them completely.  Even as he ignored the Sadduccees until he was in Jerusalem.  That is because they never confronted him.  Unless God calls you to confront a certain group or person, our focus is to defend God with those who challenge us.  We don’t have to go out of our way to challenge others.