Walking in the woods one groggy and misty morning,
I happened upon a crossroad not seen before
I had walked this path before
Perhaps the ivy had covered the cross
Perhaps the mildewing leaves
Perhaps my preoccupied thoughts of grandeur and worry and pain and listlessness

Just the same—

It stared at me.

 

This cross
road

 

No, it beckoned me these two paths that split from my routine path
It called my name to travel to the left
The narrow path
But should I go to the right?
What should I do?
So I sat and thought and worried and reasoned.

I closed my eyes.
Held my breath.
And ran to the left.
I ran.
I sprinted.
I stumbled.
I fell.

Looking up I see a chasm.
A cave.
A dwelling in the side of the hill.
I descend to its darkness and gasp for fear

I descend. Into the darkness. Into the wonder. Into the pain. Into the mire. Into the pit.

There’s a strangeness here. A comforting strangeness.
As though this is my home and yet a place I have not visited before.
A place where no light was left on to lead me.
A place where my heart yearned to go.
Like the smell of hot chili on a cold night. Or baked apple pie on the window sill.
But I find dead men’s bones who have ventured here before.

Still.
In the stillness.
In the death.
I find a comfort.
I find the soil breaking forth with light and heat and life.
As a stalk of wheat pushing through the soil.

To this I was called.
This beckoning.
Like a Father soothing the fear and a mother wiping the tears.
I weep.
Not like an uncontrollable sobbing.
But definitely not contrived.
A deep hurt. A deep cut. To the bone.
Dividing marrow and sinew and ligament and soul.

Breaking.
In the breaking.
In the pain.
I find a healing.
I find the roots of joy spreading deep in the earth with grace and peace and resolve.

This chasm and pit and pain and remorse
For what I have done
For that I have left undone
This darkness.
This emptiness is where I find the filling.

The Spirit welling up from within and spilling without
—Without me
In spite of me

In my death, there is my life
In my pain, there is my solace
In my hurt. Darkness. Chasm.
Therein the deep wells of my Maker.

No amount of trite answers
Superficial balm
Earthly comforts
These cannot stave the pain of the hunger I have longed to fill

 

It is in the emptiness that I am full.


NOTE: For some reason WordPress doesn’t transfer the spacing of the lines. I believe this conveys my intention better. So here is a .pdf of the poem. I hope it blesses you.

First Sunday of Lent 2018

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Blessed is the One Who Comes in the Name of the Lord – Isaiah 50.4-9

 

You and I are in great danger this morning. Comforts and Confronts. Cuts and Heals.

If you’re anything like me, you like comfort. You like pleasure. You like things to go your way and get a little hot when they don’t. Too often we choose to go with the flow rather than to swim upstream.

But if we’re honest with ourselves, we know deep down inside that’s not where life happens. As we’ve been talking about for the last four weeks, we are called to die so that our lives might expand and grow and become more than a mere seed. If we’re honest with ourselves, the most alive we have felt is when we have taken risks or stepped into the unknown. When we didn’t have it all figured out.

As one mentor of mine has said, “Comfort zones are where dreams go to die.”

If we opt for comfort, then the big dreams God has placed in our hearts. The fully alive human beings that he created us to be will be lost forever. By saving our lives, we lose them. By giving them up, we gain them.

Our passage this morning is often called the Third of Four Servant Songs in the prophet Isaiah’s message to us. This morning as we walk through this passage, I want us to consider, “Why would this Servant do the things he does in this passage?”

Isaiah 50.4-9

4 The Lord GOD has given me

the tongue of those who are taught,

that I may know how to sustain with a word

him who is weary.

Morning by morning he awakens;

he awakens my ear

to hear as those who are taught.

5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear,

and I was not rebellious;

I turned not backward.

6 I gave my back to those who strike,

and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;

I hid not my face

from disgrace and spitting.

7    But the Lord GOD helps me;

therefore I have not been disgraced;

therefore I have set my face like a flint,

and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

8 He who vindicates me is near.

Who will contend with me?

Let us stand up together.

Who is my adversary?

Let him come near to me.

9 Behold, the Lord GOD helps me;

who will declare me guilty?

Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment;

the moth will eat them up.

As I said, we are in great danger this morning. The New Testament makes it clear that this Suffering Servant finds its fulfillment in the life and death of Jesus. If the Christian life is one of more and more conformity into the image and life of Jesus, then we must be prepared for pain and suffering. We are intended to grow and become more than what we are. More accurately, we are to become all that God intended us to be.

When we look to Jesus, his life is not just outside of us. Something done in one time and place. But his work must also be done inside of us. In the very fabric of our lives.

So our roads to Calvary are modeled after the Perfect One who suffered on our behalf. And this suffering is not an altogether horrible thing. It is the friction that happens in life when we live in light of a different King.

The life we see in the Suffering Servant is one that he received from the hands of God. There are three times the covenant-keeping God is mentioned in this passage.

Verse 4: The LORD God has given me teaching. The calling he received was just that…received. It wasn’t contrived or made up as he saw fit. The Servant was taught by God himself.

Verse 5: The Lord God opened my ear. What does this mean? It is the action God takes to give us an understanding mind to what is being taught. This is a gift of grace. Unlike the ones the prophets indicted for ever hearing yet never perceiving, the Servant is marked by both sitting under the teaching of God and receiving it as his way of living.

Verse 7: The Lord God helps me. This is more than a pat on the back. The activity of God has gone from that of speaking and opening ears to coming alongside. Put your finger there. We’re going to come back to this concept in a moment.

What was the purpose of this teaching he received? To serve the needs of others. To sustain the one who is weary. The life he offers up as a spiritual act of worship is one of receiving first from God and then giving to others. This is the tenor of all four of the Servant Songs. His life is that of a Servant. He serves others on God’s behalf.

We saw this at the beginning of Advent in the First Servant Song—Isaiah 42.1: He will bring forth justice for the nations. As we saw last week, this Servant was never intended merely to save a certain ethnicity. Yes, he came from the Jews, but he was meant for all peoples.

As Isaiah continues to teach, we find that the way this Servant will bring about this justice will be by giving himself up as the substitute for the guilty—pre-eminently seen in the Last Servant Song in Isaiah 53 (bruised for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.

We get a glimpse of it here, though. Verse 6: I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheek to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. Why are these horrible things done to the one who serves others? This is what it takes to bring forth justice. 

But there is a fourth place that the LORD God appears. Verse 9: Behold, the LORD God helps me. Yes, this is the same word in Verse 7. And this is more than an encouraging word.

This is the same word to describe Israel’s cries for a Deliverer to help them (Exodus 2.23). But this is a theme throughout Isaiah’s prophecy. The word first appears in Isaiah 10.3: “To whom will you flee for help in day of reckoning?” The word shows up a second time in Isaiah 20.6. After judgment has come and Israel is scattered around, they say: “Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered.”

This is a theme throughout the time right before Israel’s Exile. They had trusted in princes and chariots and the mighty and forsaken their confidence in the Lord. They had opted for protection from Egypt and Assyria. And they found that they were cruel deliverers indeed!

This is the same option Jesus was given so many times before his crucifixion. Jewish Leaders. Caiaphas. King Herod. Pontius Pilate. The crowds. Why would he not entrust himself to them?

The word “help” shows up a third time in 30.5: “Everyone comes to shame through a people that cannot profit them, that brings neither help nor profit, but shame and disgrace. Egypt’s help is worthless and empty.” Isa 31.1: Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel.

This is our human default position. We see the strong and the mighty and we run to them. We are easily deceived by what seems to be strength. This reminds me of the Charmin commercials from some time ago where the little boy would take a whole lot of toilet paper and stuff his shirt with it and look very big…stronger than he was. We can laugh because of the humor in it. Of course he’s not strong. Yet, we still find ourselves leaning on those who appear strong and forsake the One who made the strongmen.

This is the fundamental difference between the Servant and us. He puts all of his trust in the LORD God. He doesn’t hedge his bets. He places his complete trust and confidence in him. This is the life he wants to free us to live as well. When this kind of confidence in God marks us we begin to understand how the Servant can be disgraced (V.6) but not be disgraced (V.7). How his cheeks can be chipped away at (V.6) but still remain as hard as flint (V.7).

Yes, the Servant suffers shame and is beaten, but his vindication comes from One who stands over all the peoples who mete out this punishment (V.8). He knows that this pain is temporary and will pass away like a garment eaten by a moth (V.9). 

This is the full life that Christ offers to all of us. As he enters into Jerusalem, as he is lifted up this morning, we are challenged with what we believe is sure and steady and real. We find that our confidence must be grounded in a higher ground. The earth surely gives way. Those things we put confidence in on this earth will fail us. They will use us. They will disappoint us.

The Servant frees us from the mirage of comfort in anything or anyone else other than the LORD God. This is not an easy path. This is a path of invisibility. Of walking by faith and not by sight. Much like the the Charmin boy. We can try to stuff ourselves with things outside of us…but God is about refining and strengthening the very substance of who we are. He wants to firm up our resolve and resilience to the moth-eaten promises.

This concept of help is a rich and dangerous feast if we will take it. Let me leave you with what the LORD God says in the chapter 41 right before the First Servant Song:

Fear not, for I am with you;

be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

“Life From the Serpent and Through the Son” John 3.14-21

For the last three weeks of this season of Lent, we have been focusing on the need to reflect and repent in our lives. I have to admit, it has been a little difficult for me to walk through these very difficult passages of dying to self and Jesus’ challenge to the kind of Savior we want and the need to repent. Unfortunately this focus of the Christian life can easily slip into a self-congratulatory or self-justifying event. Consider the tendency throughout church history where believers needed to perform ornate expressions of devotion. I am thinking of the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela in Spain where people crawl on their hands and knees. Hear one pilgrim’s account:

Some crawled for miles on their bleeding hands and knees. Others dragged cinderblocks and stones along the asphalt. Many arrived at the chapel exhausted and bleeding after excruciating treks barefoot, on their knees, or even dragging themselves along the ground. Many wore the traditional sackcloth of penitence.

Too often when we speak about repentance for our sin, we forget the beautiful motivating aspect of salvation. It’s repentance and faith. Faith is the motivating force for repentance. It’s the selling of all we have for the priceless treasure hidden in the field. It is the pearl of great price worth the price of great sacrifice.

Today in the midst of all this darkness and sadness and brokenness we ought to feel for our sin and rebellion, we see a bright ray of light. A piercing light that divides the dark. That provides hope to the powerless and strength to the hopeless. My plan is to highlight several aspects of our passage today and to trust the Holy Spirit to let various emphases land on your heart and change your life as a result.

As such, I am going to forego the translation we have in the bulletin and am going to offer my  own translation to hopefully draw out aspects of the text for us this morning.

Just as Moses also lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so it is necessary that the Son of Man to be lifted up. In order that all those believing on him may not be destroyed, but that they may have life eternal. For God loved the world in this way, that he gave his only-begotten Son in order that all those believing on him may not be destroyed, but that they may have life eternal. For God did not send his Son into the world in order to condemn the world but in order that the world would be saved through him. The ones believing on him are not condemned. But the ones not believing are already condemned, because they have not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.

And this is the condemnation: That the light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness more than the light, for their works were evil. For the one who does evil works hates the light, and he does not come toward the light so that his works will not be exposed. And the one who does the truth comes toward the light so that his works will be revealed because they are worked out in God.

As you think about some of our favorite love stories, what are some common threads? Romeo and Juliet loved each other to the point of death. Bonnie and Clyde were fully devoted to each other. Leonardo DiCaprio or Bradley Cooper or Matthew McConaughey…in anything they ever played are generous, self-sacrificing, committed in spite of circumstances or difficulties. Every story of love is a glimpse, a shadow of the love that God has displayed in his Son Jesus. Indeed, whenever we get the feeling of love, it is meant to lift our eyes to a more perfect love. Because eventually the credits to these stories roll and the script is finished and these amazing stories end. The Honeymoon always ends and we are aways let with sinners who say I Do.

I am convinced that if you and I were more convinced and sure of the love of God for us our lives would be dramatically affected everyday. Every interaction we have. Every thought we have. Every word we speak would be saturated with grace and humility and a pointing away from our self-sufficiency and magnifying the worth of God.

Let’s start at the most well-known verse in the Bible, v. 16: For this is the way that God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son. God loved the world. He loves the world, without measure because he is infinite and without boundary. This is the word kosmos, which is where we get our word for “cosmos”. Consider the vastness of the entire creation.

We went to the Roper Mountain Planetarium a couple weeks ago. They had a telescope that could see out over 1,000 lightyears. 1 lightyear = 5.9 trillion miles. The most powerful telescope is able to see 13.2 billion lightyears away…and that’s just what we are able to see now. Let that consume your mind. The love of God is vast. You’re standing on the edge of the ocean and yet the love of God is more consuming. Were you to sail out a 100 miles and be dropped in the ocean and be surrounded and drowned in it. The love of God is deeper still.

God is not scowling. He is not in a perpetual rage. He is not constantly fuming with anger. As he pleaded with wicked Nineveh. As he pleaded with his own people who did not receive his Son but beckoned them to come under the shelter of his wing for comfort and protection. As he fed and watered a people who grumbled and complained about his grace.

Who does Scripture say that God loved?

Consider for a moment the “just as” Jesus references in v.14 from Numbers 21, the account that we just heard. “Just as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes on him may have life eternal.” Why was the bronze serpent lifted up in the wilderness? Because Israel had murmured and complained against God. They had despised his salvation. They had hated his way of healing them. While were yet murmurers, Christ died for us.

While we were yet sinners, while we were still weak, while we were in darkness…at that moment Christ died for us.

How does Scripture say he loved us? 

By giving. He did not merely give a gift. He loved his Son with an eternal love. A pure and holy love. My love for my children is a shadow of the reality of God’s perfect love for his Son. I have often said that part of me would die if I lost any one of my children. I can’t imagine life without one of them. I would die. Before the creation of the vast galaxies that cannot be measured by our greatest instruments. Before this, God the Father was delighting in an relishing the Son of glory. In this Trinitarian dance, the Father and the Son and the Spirit were in perfect and sweet communion.

Yet, God, in his grace. In his love. Sent his beloved and one and only Son…not merely to be an example for us, but even more to lay down his life for us. For the unlovely. For the ungodly. He gave us God. He gave us his very life.

Notice to whom this offer is made.

All those believing on him. Anyone. Any person that bows their knee can be saved.

Are you discouraged by your sin? Are you without hope that the one you love the most is beyond the reach of God? Remember your own state in which God found you. He didn’t just make you a better version of your already good self. By confessing and acknowledging your wretchedness, God would remind you that he is able and willing to save anyone.

Our passage from Ephesians 2: But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ.

It is only by one’s own pride that he will not come to this All-Sufficient Savior. Before Christ came to us, we loved the darkness more than the light. Our deeds. Our thoughts. Our words. The very orientation of our lives was crooked and small.

It is only by relying on our own ability to save ourselves that we will remain in destructive condemnation.

You were not saved by your strength. You were not saved by your works. You were saved in spite of yourself. You were saved. Saved.

Notice how this salvation is made real. 

All those believing on him. Belief. It is not the amount of belief we have. Jesus himself said that faith as small as a mustard seed could move a mountain. It is not the faith, but the one upon whom we place our faith. Are you downcast from something you said this morning. From something you did last night. Something you thought this week.

In the same way that Israel merely looked up to the bronze serpent to be saved, so also God is calling you to merely look away from yourself and look up to the Sufficient One who can cleanse you from all unrighteousness. Look to him. There is no strength you need to bring. You just need to look to him.

Look to the one who took the initiative in this cosmic redemption. Be overwhelmed by his deep affection for you. He did not wait for you to come to him. He sent his Son. He did not send him to condemn you. He sent him to draw you out of the miry clay out of the deep waters and save you.

It is not merely that God wants you to merely look to the Lifted up Son on the Cross. He’s not an unwilling king—as though you look to him and he extends his scepter because he is bound by some law outside himself. The love for you wells up from his own heart. For when you look to him, you are born again. You are made new. Your works go from serving your own wants and desires to being exploded and expanded to magnify the strength and beauty of the One who loved you and gave himself up for you.

Your evil deeds are converted into works done in God. v.21! He doesn’t hold his nose when you enter the room. He doesn’t turn his face away. He looks you full in the face and says, “I. Love. You.” He raises us with our Perfect King and seats us with him. We share all that Christ has with him.

By the power of the Spirit, God promises to make you who he intended you to be from the foundation of the world. From before the cosmos was made in all its expanse and immensity and gravity, God planned to come to you. To save you. To redeem you even today, if you will but come to the Light. If you will allow his saving grace to consume your darkness. To shine light on your deeds and convert them to Christ.

Are you burdened by your sin? Come to the light this morning. It wasn’t intended for you only when you walked down the aisle so many years ago. He bids you to come to the light. To receive the fullness of life. Of eternal and ever-full life.

Are you lacking courage this morning? He loves you. He traversed the expanse of the universe, the even greater distance between our sinfulness and his infinite purity. The light of his Star that shines even brighter than the Sun. He traveled such a distance that God became man to be near you. To love you. How can you not leap a wall of whatever fortress you have built around yourself? How can you not take up the feet of a deer and spring to the heights?

Are you lacking faith for the one you love? Know that all who believe on him, he will not cast out. He will not shrink from. He will embrace. Whatever station of life. Will you not draw near to that one and love them with the love of Christ?

Questions to Consider

  1. How easy or difficult for you to accept the proposition that God loves you?
  2. What is your view of God? Do you often see him as a distant king or one who draws near to you?
  3. How does courage and joy relate to understanding God’s love for us?

“Salvation Economics” – Mark 8.27-9.1

Yesterday was a great day to reflect on Jesus’ call to us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and to follow him. It is important to understand that Scripture is not merely meant to be read and understood in its original setting, but it is vital (i.e., life-giving) to know that Scripture is God’s very words to us in our time and in our various settings. Too often we can dissect and parse out all that a certain periscope meant, but spend very little time in the hard work of letting it dissect and parse our own souls.

One of the big pieces for me as I was studying was Jesus strange phrase: “If you want to follow me…then follow me.” What a strange thing to say. Really. “If you want to follow me, you must follow me.” And yet this is the story of Christian discipleship for the last two millenia. There are many who claim the name of Christ, yet live their lives like everyone else. The kind of Messiah we want too often is merely an addition to our somewhat happy lives. He provides us with a some insurance at the end of our lives.

Below is my manuscript from Sunday:

Last week we considered how suffering for the sake of the Gospel proclaims the beauty of the Gospel. It does this when we embrace the suffering in such a way that it points to the sufficiency and love and acceptance of Another. We also considered the fact that our suffering for the Gospel is derivative of Christ’s suffering. That is, only his suffering was sufficient to pay for our sin. Our suffering doesn’t pay for our sin, but it conforms is into his image.

Today we are looking at the passage I mentioned a couple weeks ago as being the hinge of Mark’s Gospel. Up to our passage today Jesus has been showing his authority and power over sickness and demons—over all Creation. At this turning point in Mark, there is a turn.

And it’s not merely a turn in the story, but it’s a turn toward you and me. It’s as if Mark is writing his gospel and he looks up from his parchment and looks at you and me and asks us—“What do you think about all this?”

Jesus just finished healing a man who was blind from birth. And just like it took a while for his eyesight to be restored from blind to fuzzy to clear, so also we will see the disciples’ sight of who the Messiah is and what his mission is will go from blind to fuzzy to clear.

Mark 8.27-91

Then Jesus and his disciples went to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 They said, “John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Mark 8:31   Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke openly about this. So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But after turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”

Mark 8:34   Then Jesus called the crowd, along with his disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it. 36 For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life? 37 What can a person give in exchange for his life? 38 For if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 9:1 And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”

There are two edges to our passage today, so there are two points to our message. Both of these points fall under the main point of this passage, which is: Death is the cost of admission into the Kingdom of God. As we will see in our passage today, the death Jesus calls us to is representative and mirrors his death. He physically died as the payment for our sin. In light of that, he calls us to lay down our lives—not literally—but entirely. Entirely is an umbrella under which literally can fall. In other words, he’s not telling us the only way to enter the kingdom is through physical death. This, honestly, would make entrance into the kingdom easy and up to our whims and wills. Consider the deranged extremists who believe that if they blow themselves up, they will go to Paradise. He is telling us that entrance into the kingdom is much more demanding. It demands dying to yourself, while you are living.

The first point of our passage is The Cost of Messiahship (vv. 27-33)

Jesus has caused quite a stir in the Judean countryside. He’s made those sick all their lives well, by merely telling them to do so. He’s attracted large crowds of people and fed them out of nowhere. He challenges the religious—the ones who had a corner on the market of righteousness. Quite a stir! Indeed, in all of these interactions we see the Messiah has come!

What kind of Messiah, though?

Everyone is buzzing about who this wonder worker is. They had merely seen the miracles but never made the connection as to why these particular miracles. The crowds were amazed by the works, but did not consider the why behind them. Why did Jesus go to such lengths to heal and to rebuke—demons and the religious leaders? They, like us, make a superficial connection with who Jesus is and what we know about the world. That is, they saw Jesus heal people and they simply thought, “He’s one of the prophets. Perhaps even the great Elijah. Or a good moral teacher.” They were happy to have Jesus heal their son or daughter, but did not stick around long enough to find out why.

Peter makes the stunning claim, “You are the Christ.” This term “Christ” is the Greek word for the Hebrew word and concept of “Messiah” or “Anointed One”. Throughout the OT, God’s leaders are anointed with oil to set them apart for God’s purposes—priests and kings. But in each of these offices—prophets, priests, and kings—they pointed to a greater fulfillment that was to come.

This concept of the Messiah grew and grew to signify and highlight the power and strength of the One to Come. By the time Jesus arrives, there had been such a buzz about An Anointed One of God who would destroy all the Jews’ oppressors. Listen to one passage:

Gird [your Anointed One] with strength, that he may shatter unrighteous rulers;

And purify Jerusalem of the nations which trample her down in destruction.

In wisdom, in righteousness, may he expel sinners from the inheritance:

May he smash the sinner’s arrogance like a potter’s vessel.

With a rod of iron may he break in pieces all their substance.

May he destroy the lawless nations by the word of his mouth.

This was a psalm at the time. People were singing that God would devastate their oppressors. This is why Jesus told people to keep the healings a secret. And this is why Jesus immediately teaches them that the Anointed One, the Son of Man, must suffer and die and be raised again.

And like us, Peter focuses only on the part he wants to hear. He didn’t hear the being raised again part. Even if he did, it didn’t compute with the suffering and dying part. We want resurrection and glory before we want suffering and death.

Which brings us to Jesus’ question to you and me. “Who do you say that I am?” Before you too quickly answer that, “You are my Savior!” Let’s consider our daily actions in light of Jesus. Perhaps here are some other questions that may help us parse out who we say Jesus is:

—When difficulties come, do we merely want the cup to pass or do we ask for the strength to drink the cup of suffering?

—When there’s a break in our relationships, do we indict all the wrong that someone else has done to us or do we confess our sin and ask Jesus to forgive us?

—When we are hanging out with friends and the topic of conversation turns so that we could share the beauty and worth of the Gospel do we keep our mouths shut so that we don’t sour the conversation or so that they don’t think we’re weird?

—When we seek to make more money to make more sales or to do better work, who does the work revolve around? Is it merely to make yourself look better or is it so that you can be promoted in order to serve even more people?

—When we consider what kind of church we want to go to, do we consider the kind of disciples that are there or are we merely looking for a place that looks and sounds cool. Has good music and the people dress like me and talk like me and act like me?

Much of our lives end with ourselves and show that our thoughts hardly ever get past ourselves.

What kind of Messiah do we want? Who do we say that Jesus is? Is he merely my wonder worker or my wish giver or the one who makes everything better? Jesus challenges our notions of glory and grandeur.

And so we hear Jesus say to us in our second point—The Cost of Discipleship (vv. 33-9.1) “If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” The Cost of Discipleship is death. As one commentator put it, “The way of the world is conquest and subjugation. Human weakness and depravity desire a path of least resistance and greatest power.” The economics of the world teaches us to give less than we can get. Give as little of yourself as you can get away with so that your revenues can be even greater. The Economics of Salvation teaches that to get your life, you have to first lose it.

Consider the three levels of what Jesus is defining of following him.

Deny: This means to renounce. In order to follow Jesus we need to renounce any claims to ourselves. This is not simply self-discipline. This is, like Peter denying that he even knew Jesus, a denial of our own self-sufficiency and autonomy.

Taking up our Cross: The cross was the punishment reserved for the worst of criminals. It was humiliating and excruciating. This is not simply embracing hardship when it comes. It is choosing to take the path of being thought less in others’ eyes. It is a path that really is a result of first denying ourselves.

Follow: What a strange thing to say. Really. “If you want to follow me, you must follow me.” And yet this is the story of Christian discipleship for the last two millenia. There are many who claim the name of Christ, yet live their lives like everyone else. The kind of Messiah we want too often is merely an addition to our somewhat happy lives. He provides us with a some insurance at the end of our lives.

But between the now and then, he has very little to say and definitely no demands on our lives. And so we we live our lives fooling ourselves that we are Christians and saved, when our lives demonstrate the opposite. When he takes us into deeper truths of who he is in the path of suffering, we give up. We walk away—this teaching is too hard. Instead of a life determined by Jesus, we still are self-determining.

This is not following Jesus.

And lest we think we’re giving up everything just for the sake of giving it up and being ascetics and austere, Jesus asks two rhetorical questions to assure us that this death to self is worth the cost.

Imagine if you would that you win the lottery…even if you don’t play the lottery. Not only do you win the lottery, you find out that you inherited all the possessions in all the world. In fact, the whole world is yours. You get to enjoy it all you want. It’s all yours. But…you will still die at 100 years old. Pretty good deal? In this way, none of it was really yours. You didn’t retain ownership. In fact, at the end of the deal, you are the slave to another.

And Jesus reminds us that we cannot give anything in exchange for our souls.

Both of these questions lay emphasis on our souls…the infinite value of our souls. The price of your soul is to give it over to Christ. You know the beauty of all of this, though? He doesn’t want your soul to merely put it in a cage and shrink it. He wants to breathe life into it and expand it! Indeed, he wants to give you all things. And all those who are his will reign with him when he returns.

—BUT— That’s still not the beauty of the Christian life. Because we are merely stuck with stuff. No, the life he wants from you is with the purpose of opening your eyes, unstopping your ears, giving you strength in your legs to walk and not grow weary. To experience life right now. And this is done in reference to him. Laying down our lives costs us everything, but we get true life, who is Christ. We are found in him and enjoy him and savor him and are captivated by him now. If we will have eyes to see and ears to hear.