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Bea Your Cross

Bear Your Cross

It has been a week-and-a-half since this year’s Vacation Bible School. What a wonderful event it was as we celebrated Jesus’ miraculous mission of saving the world.

VBS officially ended last Sunday as we thought about the fact Jesus the Savior reigns. We will remember that the fact Jesus reigns gives us the responsibility of obeying Him, Including being His witnesses in the world.

As mentioned last Sunday, we are not to even try to be witnesses for Him using our own power. We are instead to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. But with the Holy Spirit, we are to do the work of representing Jesus in our hometowns, in our state, among those who are outcasts, and to the end of the earth.

When the idea of serving Jesus everywhere comes to mind, it is so easy, at least for me, to think of the positive aspect of doing that. The aspect of pleasing the one who loves us so much He became the Savior. To think about only that. However, there is another aspect of serving Jesus that is not so happy. It is the aspect of another responsibility we have. The Lord’s call to bear a cross when we follow Him.

It is not a literal cross to which Jesus calls us, but a cross of course elicits the image of suffering. It is that aspect we will think about in this message. We will begin by looking at one of the Bible passages where bearing a cross is taught. There are a couple examples to share of God’s people bearing a cross. We will then think, at least briefly, about how this might relate to the future of this, our congregation.

The Bible passage is Luke 14, beginning with verse 25.

The passage records a conversation Jesus had fairly late in His earthly ministry. He had, by that time, gathered a following of many people, all of them anxious to be near Him and hear Him. At that time, they were with Him on His way to Jerusalem, where He would suffer greatly. He would be arrested, tried, and crucified on a cross He Himself would bear.

Verse 25 of Luke 14. “Now great multitudes accompanied Jesus. Jesus turned to them” and had some serious words for them. 

Remember the point a moment ago that the followers wanted to be near Jesus and hear Him. Apparently for several of them, that was as far as it went. For those people, they had not yet made the decision to actually follow, as in doing what they heard Jesus teach when they were near Him.

So it was Jesus had some serious words to say. Jesus turned to the people and said in verse 26, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, he cannot be My disciple.”

The purpose of Jesus in today’s passage was to inform the multitude of people around Him of what would lie ahead for them if they decided to do more than just be near Him and hear Him. What would lie ahead if they made the choice to be fully committed to Him. Actually, His own ministry showed the dangers of following Him. The dangers He Himself faced, like long days, hard work, and persecution. Now He was promising the same for His followers. That is what He warned them about, including the call to, as it is worded, hate family members.

I will admit I have trouble with this verse, including the word “hate.” There are a number of reasons for that.

For instance, we are taught over and over again other places in the Bible that hate is wrong, including the teaching that parents are to be honored, which will not happen if they are hated.

And hate my wife? I don’t think so. In fact, other places in the Bible I am taught to love her. Plus, almost 48 years ago I promised, before God and others, to love, honor, respect, and defend her, doing so in all circumstances at all times, including sickness and health, wealth and poverty, for better and for worse.

Hate my parents? Hate my wife? Hate my sister? My sister and I did not get along very well when we were growing up, but hate her? None of that makes any sense. So, do you suppose the word “hate” in verse 26 refers to something other than what we think of as hate?

It seems to me that is the case. Here is my explanation. I am to love my wife. I did love my parents. I love my sister. But I am to love the Lord even more.

A bit later I have a couple examples to share of people who bore their crosses. I will mention one category now, though. The category of people putting their love for Jesus above their love for their family members.

I am thinking of people in some parts of the world who, when they accept Jesus, are banished from their families. That has to be very difficult, but those people love Jesus more.

I am also thinking of a missionary. I do not remember which one, but a missionary we know who, when she told her family what she was going to do, which was to go overseas to do the work of the Lord in a foreign land, was spat upon by her brother. How demeaning that was, but that missionary loves the Lord more.

Jesus challenged the people with Him to love Him more than they loved their own families and, verse 26 continues, more than their own lives. 

The wording again is “hate.” We are, according to the verse, to hate our own lives, which again makes no sense with our understanding of hate. I mean, we are taught that life is a gift from God.

Again the meaning is to love the Lord more than we love our own lives.

That has been seen throughout history as some have chosen to stay true to Jesus at the expense of their own lives. How many Christians over the years have been martyred? How many have allowed themselves to be martyred, choosing the Lord over their own lives when forced to make the choice?

Hate family members, in the context of loving the Lord more. Hate our own lives, in the context of loving the Lord more. Both are examples of what Jesus described in verse 27. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple.”

We know the cross represents suffering, as in being in pain and being humiliated. Jesus Himself was about to experience that very thing. He knew it was coming

He taught - He warned - that suffering will be the lot for those who are more than with Him just to hear Him. That is the lot of those who choose to be fully committed to the Lord. Those who will indeed come after Him. Those who will follow Him despite the suffering of the pain and humiliation. 

By the way, does this passage seem strange? There was Jesus of course wanting people to follow Him. To really follow Him. But instead of making promises that would seem to promote that, such as promising joy and happiness and ease of life, Jesus warned that people who are committed to Him will suffer. Will be expected to suffer.

The passage does seem strange, but what a wonderful display of the honesty of Jesus. He never stooped to false promises. He was very honest about what those fully committed to Him would and will face.

Of course there are many good things that happen in the lives of Christians. Present lives, such as blessings from God, and future lives in Heaven. Those things cannot be defeated by anyone or anything. However, Jesus suffered. We His followers have to expect at least some of the same. That is what Jesus told people in today’s passage. 

His point? “Count the cost.” Consider whether it is worth it.

And yes, it is worth it because without being fully committed to Jesus, there is no way we can know blessings now and be in Heaven later. But consider the cost. Is it worth it to you to suffer for the Lord? If so, then be prepared for what is ahead.

How wonderful is the honesty of the Lord.

It is important to count the cost. Verses 28 through 30. “For which of you, desiring to build a tower [this probably refers to building a tower to protect a vineyard] does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it. Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’” When we decide to be committed to Jesus, we need to stay true to that decision, even in the midst of whatever difficulties we face.

Verse 31. “Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand.”

Listen. It is tragic to refuse to make the decision to be committed to Jesus. It is tragic, as is implied in verse 32, to make a pact with the devil instead. The ramifications of such a refusal and such a pact are horrible. Never gaining blessings now or Heaven later. So Jesus was not and is not inviting anyone to turn away from Him. But He is telling us what to expect as followers of Jesus, and His challenge is that when the decision is made - when, as verse 33 has it, the choice is to renounce all that we have, which again means loving the Lord more than anything or anyone - be ready for what lies ahead, willing to accept the Lord’s help to stay committed to Him.

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How about some examples?

I think Biblically of Abram in the Old Testament. He is told about early in the Old Testament, about the halfway point in the Book of Genesis.

Abram was a wealthy, well-known, settled man in the Middle East area called Haran. One day God appeared to Abram, telling him to leave where he lived. Where he was wealthy, known, and settled, and, by the way, at least beginning to age. God told him to leave where he was and head toward another land. God did not tell Abram where that other land was. He simply told Abram to leave. To start a journey. God would tell Abram when to stop.

God promised Abram that if he obeyed, he would be the start of a great nation, but to obey the instruction would be difficult, including leaving his extended family, which also lived in Haran.

I do not know if Abram questioned God, but I assume he counted the cost of obedience. The cost of a difficult journey, the destination not known. The cost of leaving extended family. The cost of being in an area where he would not be known. The cost of maybe losing his wealth.

I assume Abram counted the cost. Despite the high cost, Abram put God before himself. He did, with his immediate family, leave and yes, he did become, through his descendants, a great nation.

I think Biblically of the apostle Paul in the New Testament.

Paul was a Pharisee. A respected member of that elite group of Jewish leaders. He became known as a dedicated, energetic, vicious enemy of Christians. He observed the stoning of at least one Christian. He himself entered homes in Jerusalem to search for Christians, sending any he found to prison where they would either renounce Jesus or be killed. His intent was to expand his search beyond Jerusalem. In fact, Paul was on his way to the city of Damascus when he was met by Jesus, who invited him to change from being an enemy of the Lord into being a servant of Jesus.

With that invitation, Paul had a big decision to make. He was well-known. He was successful. It seemed, in a worldly sense, he had everything that could make anyone happy. All that would change if he himself became a Christian.

Paul made the correct decision. He did indeed accept Jesus. From that moment on he became a servant of Jesus rather than an enemy of the followers of the Lord.

And yes, that involved bearing his cross, which had a lot of nails in it. He was no longer a Pharisee, which was a sacrifice socially. He would have been rejected by fellow Jewish leaders. He no longer fought against Christians, which was a sacrifice of direction for his life. It is at least suggested Paul lost his wife, which would have happened if she did not like the change in Paul, which is likely since he would no longer be prominent in the Jewish community.

Paul also suffered physically and emotionally. He suffered from things listed in his second letter to the Corinthians. Listen to the list. Being lashed. Three times beaten with rods. One time stoned, almost to death. Three times Paul was shipwrecked. Another time he was adrift at sea. As he traveled, from then on for Jesus, he was often in danger from nature and from people, including both robbers and Jews who were out to silence him. Paul suffered from hunger, thirst, and cold. And when he began to start churches, he had the people in them to worry about.

Talk about loving the Lord more than anything or anyone else. Paul showed that he loved the Lord more than position, popularity, and yes, maybe his wife. Talk about bearing a cross. Paul certainly did that in many, many ways.

That is what we are called to do. That is what we must do to stay strong in our faith so when faith is threatened, we will keep on building, and so when our time on earth is done, no one will mock us for not completing the building of our faith. Instead, we will be congratulated by the Lord for putting Him first. Being congratulated will continue forever, which makes it very, very worthwhile to love Jesus most. Very, very worthwhile to bear whatever cross the Lord gives us as we go after - as we follow - Him.

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One more thought for this message. A thought based on a request from our Pulpit Committee, which has been formed to search for the next generation of pastoral leadership. A request for us to think about a pastor’s role from a Biblical point of view. According to the Bible, what  a pastor is supposed to do.

I will answer that request a few times,  including in this message, which seems to fit very well with the passage about loving the Lord and bearing a cross. Let’s think for a moment about I Timothy 3:1-3.

This is Paul writing. “The saying is sure. If anyone aspires to the office of bishop [for our vernacular, this applies to the office of pastor], he desires a noble task.” 

And here are the requirements. He must be “above reproach,” which means living in ways no one can criticize. That is likely an unattainable standard, especially since there will likely be at least some disagreements about what is preached. But the goal of a pastor must be purity in all things. “The husband of one wife. Temperate, sensible, and dignified. Sober in all things [including thought], prudent, and well-behaved.”

A pastor must be “hospitable [and] an apt teacher,” not only by word, but by action as well. “No drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money.” Being a lover of money refers to loving money m0re than the Lord.

I hope I have and do display at least an interest in all those requirements. Of course, like just every other minister, I have from time to time been criticized, and I think I am not as hospitable as I could be, but I hope I have lived up to at least trying to meet the requirements in I Timothy. Including when doing so has involved loving the Lord most of all. Including when doing so has meant bearing a cross of suffering for the purpose of following Jesus with all I am.

Let’s pray that the next generation of pastoral leadership will meet those qualities. That the next pastor will love the Lord most of all and be willing to display what it means to bear a cross spiritually. Let’s pray for the Pulpit Committee, that they will find such a pastorD. Let’s pray that as you have helped me in my role, we will encourage the next generation to know and fulfill the Biblical requirements of pastor. With all of us displaying love for the Lord and a willingness to bear whatever cross the Lord has for us to bear, together we can and will build our faith until it is complete in Heaven.

Let’s pray. Lord, You are worthy of our love. Help us to love You. As discussed, not at the expense of others, but so that we prove we love You more than anyone or anything else. When called upon to suffer, give us the discipline and the strength to bear the cross You give us to carry. Keep us going as we follow You.

As discussed, there are Biblical examples of that. As discussed, I hope I am an  example of that. we pray that the next generation will do the same.

We ask for Your strength and direction for the Pulpit Committee and for ourselves. Amen.

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Today’s closing hymn is Help Us, O Lord, to Learn. May this be our prayer that the Lord will make us and keep us strong in our Christian lives, on good days and difficult days alike.

Help us, O Lord, to learn 

The truths Thy word imparts;

To study that Thy laws may be

Inscribed upon our hearts.

Help us, O Lord, to live

The faith which we proclaim,

That all our thoughts and words and deed

May glorify Thy name.

Help us, O Lord, to teach

The beauty of Thy ways,

That yearning souls may find the Christ

And sing aloud His praise

Lord, the benefits You promise those who really and truly follow You are wonderful. Thank You for them 

Thank You as well for Your honesty in letting us know that following You - accepting You and obeying You - will also bring us some difficult times. At those times, help us to love You most. Help us to be able to bear whatever cross we have. Help us to keep building our faith until we reach Heaven.

And yes, we do pray for the current and future leadership of our congregation, that each one will display active faith. Amen.

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