Take Up Your Cross

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Mark 8:34-35 (NIV)


You might remember comedian Yakov Smirnoff. When he first came to the United States from Russia he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, “On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to my self… What a country!”

Smirnoff is joking but we make these assumptions about Christian Transformation —that people change instantly at salvation. Some traditions call it repentance and renewal. Some call it Sanctification of the believer. Whatever you call it most traditions expect some quick fix to sin. According to this belief, when someone gives his or her life to Christ, there is an immediate, substantive, in-depth, miraculous change in habits, attitudes, and character. We go to church as if we are going to the grocery store: Powdered Christian. Just add water and disciples are born not made.

Unfortunately, there is no such powder and disciples of Jesus Christ are not instantly born. They are slowly raised through many trials, suffering, and temptations. A study has found that only 11 percent of churchgoing teenagers have a well-developed faith, rising to only 32 percent for churchgoing adults. Why? Because true life change only begins at salvation, takes more than just time, is about training, trying, suffering, and even dying (adapted from James Emery White, Rethinking the Church, Baker, 1997, p. 55-57).

Jesus is up against a formidable foe. And in the end this foe may posses more power than he. But the foe is not Peter and it’s not the Sanhedrin or Pontius Pilate, or Rome. This formidable foe is not even Satan himself. The powerful enemy of Jesus is our quest for positions of rank and status.

To address the confusion Jesus pulls his disciples together and brings them before a crowd. And in front of the crowd he corrects the disciples aspirations for privilege, rank, and power and he gives them this simple little directive: You must take up your cross and follow me. This morning I would like to ask the question “Why must we carry a cross?”

We must carry a cross to remind us that we are not the center of the Universe. That our suffering is part of our discipleship as Christians. It is characteristic of great leaders to make demands upon their followers. When Winston Churchill became Prime Minister he told the British people that he had nothing to offer them but “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” The Italian freedom fighter Gerabaldi told his followers that he offered them only hunger and death. These were demanding leaders, but Jesus was a thousand times more demanding then they were. Jesus said, “So, therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Possession cannot stand between you and the Lord. Jesus went so far as to say, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own mother and father, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, he cannot be my disciple.” Even something as noble as the love of family, as good and right as that is, cannot stand in the way of commitment to the Kingdom of God. Laziness, fear, selfishness, family nothing can stand between us and the call to discipleship. Jesus Christ demands our obedience. Jesus is not some wishy-washy little fellow coming up to us, hat in hand, hoping to win our favor, saying softly: Please sir, may I have a word with you.” He comes to us as the Lord of History and makes His demand: Take up you cross and follow me.” He comes to us as one to be obeyed.

Dear Lord, so many times we want instant Christianity and instant discipleship, knowing all along that it really doesn’t work that way. We look around the sanctuary and the world at the people we know to be disciples and, when we get beneath their story, we find they have been tried and tested by a world of trouble. Their faith, discipleship, Christianity wasn’t instant… it was grown over years of service to other and time on their knees with you. Bring us along in our journey that we may also become disciples who are carriers of the cross. In and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

 

You Raise Me Up

The Lord is MY SHEPHERD
Psalm 23


Today was one of those introspective days… you know when you can’t help but think about the happenings in our world around us and the families in which we live, and even in our own personal lives. Shirley’s Page High School Reunion Ladies who meet each month for a luncheon reported last week that six of their classmates have died since March. A lot of people we know (our age people) are going through some very rough medical situations. Shirley has basal cell cancer on her nose requiring surgery in later November. Her sister has thyroid cancer and will go through treatments. I have gained 30 pounds since April even though I am daily consuming only 1500MG of calories and 1500MG of sodium. Something is going wrong somewhere. My thyroid levels are off but not that much. One of the docs thinks it is liver related. These things could be serious or just scary. It is getting to where our prayer list could have us praying half the day.

I also am deeply troubled by the actions of the world around us… spoiled, fighting kids in charge of countries that want to do away with each other… nuke each other. Yes, I am talking about North Korea and the United States. One very respected four star general believes Trump is leading us to nuclear war with North Korea by next summer. That scares me to death… not so much for me, but for my grandkids. My grandson has just turned 16 years old. A war anytime soon could catch him in a required reestablished military draft. I’ve been in war (not a nuke war) and I don’t think war settles anything except to take innocent young men and expose them to unspeakable horror, terror, and inhumanity.

As I was pondering all our conditions and situations Josh Groban’s song, “You Raise Me Up”, came on the radio. It came as a word from God to bring us the affirmation of His presence in the midst of our deepest time of trial. Please read these words as a prayer and let them flow deep within your soul bathing your spirit in the assurance of a God who loves you more than you can even imagine. Feel the healing begin and accept the comfort and strength it brings.

 

Josh Groban  “You Raise Me Up”

 When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up: To more than I can be.

There is no life – no life without its hunger;
Each restless heart beats so imperfectly;
But when you come and I am filled with wonder,
Sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up: To more than I can be.

Heavenly Father, raise me up on your shoulders: To more than I can be.  Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

 

Carrying That Burden in the Wrong Direction

Yesterday Shirley and I were at Target. Beside Target is Pet Smart and on down the way is Harris Teeter. I have my usual position manned and ready – that is sitting in the car waiting for Shirley to attack every aisle in the store – taking two hours to do what could have been done in five minutes… but some people have to see everything in the store and catalogue what has been moved to where in the store.

I have a steady hand on my chore – watching people in the parking lot passing by and wondering why they are wearing whatever it is that they are wearing. All of a sudden, I notice this young couple – man and woman. She is certainly in charge because he is following her carrying this above average – huge pumpkin. I mean it is so big that he has to change carrying positions several times… above the shoulder… back to the chest… till it slips a little into the stomach area… back to the shoulder. He is doing all he can to keep from dropping it.

Here is the funny part (depending on if you are the observer or the carrier). They have walked all the way from Harris Teeter, passed Pet Smart, and are now almost to Target. Now this is a good hundred yards. Just then the leader (the lady) remembers that she parked in front of Harris Teeter. They turn and head out into the parking lot, moving about five rows back toward Harris Teeter till they find their car. Poor guy was just about ready to drop this thing… along with Halloween.

I know this was a huge pumpkin, but it probably would have fit (sideways) into one of those little baskets on wheels from Harris Teeter they call SHOPPING CARTS. It would have made his job much easier and his blood pressure a little lower.

Have you ever noticed they we try to carry huge burdens, much like this pumpkin, all by ourselves… no carts to ease the load… and in the wrong direction? Many times we, too, are almost at the point of dropping the whole thing… just giving up… when a new direction is given, and some relief is in sight.

I wish I could say that this strong man came to this young man’s rescue, taking the pumpkin to his car… but there was no strong man. There was an epiphany from the young woman who finally realized that the car – the relief – was in another direction. That is what we need to know at times – especially the times when we try to carry our own heavy burdens all by ourselves. 

Perhaps if we would stop… take the time to listen… we just might hear God saying “The direction to wholeness is the other way. If you will take it, I will walk with you and give you the strength to carry this big ole orange ball”.

Lord, help me to be reminded of your strength to help me carry my burdens everytime I put my hands on the handle of a shopping cart.

Grace and Peace
Steve

 

A Tip of the Hat

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
Excerpt from Matthew 13:31-33


In his memoirs Oscar Wilde recalled the experience of being brought from the prison, where he was held. He writes: “When I was brought down from my prison cell between two policemen, a man I knew waited in the long dreary corridor so that, before the whole crowd, whom an action so sweet and simple hushed into silence, that he might gravely raise his hat to me as, handcuffed and with bowed head, I passed him by. Men have gone to heaven for smaller things than that.”

After Episcopal Archbishop Desmond Tutu won a Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent struggle against apartheid in South Africa, he was asked to recall the formative experiences of his life. He replied, “One incident comes to mind immediately. When I was a young child I saw a man tip his hat to a black woman. Please understand that such a gesture is completely unheard of in my country. The white man was an Episcopal bishop and the black woman was my mother.”

These two stories remind me that even a small, fragile gesture can take on grand dimensions when it is offered in love. Our own efforts may be small, but through them the largest of all realities — the love of God — can be communicated. A mere tip of the hat can offer hope and change a life. Take the time to show compassion and respect to someone you meet this week. Both of you will be better for your act of kindness.

Dear God, remind me not to neglect the small acts of compassion so that you, in turn, might fill them with your great love. Help me to know that you may actually change the life of someone through my gesture, which allows your compassion to shine through me. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

 

No Limit… No Ending

Oh, how abundant is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You and worked for those who take refuge in You, in the sight of the children of mankind!
Psalm 31:19


A week or so ago the Associated Press carried a story about Social Security. You may have heard the story or one similar to it. Simply stated, Social Security is paying out more money than it is taking in.

And, from congressional projections, Social Security is going to keep paying out more until the funds are gone — somewhere around 2037.

Now, if you’re like me, you’ve probably done the mental calculations. I’m x years old now and Social Security is going to go for another 26 years, which means I’m going to be x+26 years when Social Security disappears.

Of course, there are many voices trying to balance the gloom and doom by saying, “Congress won’t ever let Social Security go away.” And although I’m not a prophet or a congressional prognosticator, I think they’re probably right. But that’s just a guess.

What I do know is this: God is going to be there. That’s what the Psalmist was trying to say when he told us how abundant God’s goodness is. Now you and I probably do some good things and think some good thoughts, but God is different. He has goodness in abundance.

That fact was shown to us most clearly in the life, suffering, death and rising of the Savior. If God loves us enough to sacrifice His Son for our salvation, then there can be no question about it: He has an abundance of goodness.

Even more, unlike Social Security, which is predicted to go broke, the Psalmist says God has stored up goodness for those who trust and take refuge in Him.

What that means is this: no matter what happens in Washington, no matter what our futures might hold, God’s goodness is going to be there. In good times and bad, in happy times and sad, you can count on God’s limitless goodness.

And this, when you think about it, is a good idea … a very good idea, indeed.

Heavenly Father, I am thankful that no matter how unclear some of my future may be, I can rely on Your greatness, Your grace and Your goodness. In the Name of my Savior I give thanks. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

 

Apply the Same Standards

Okay guys, I have a little test to apply to the latest NCAA non-action – don’t turn me off just yet – follow through with each step and see what you come up with. Create a spreadsheet which has all these columns and rows. It should include something like this:


Name:  Sport:  Eligibility to play:  Afro-Studies Class Taken: Grade received:  
Work done by whom: Each Games Played After Class:


Let me explain a little more:

  1. NAME: place the name of the student athlete taking the Afro-Studies class designed to give high grades to student athletes. These names should be part of the freedom of information act from UNC Registrar.
  2. SPORT: Here add the sport this student is playing at UNC. That too should be part of the FOIA from the school.
  3. AFRO-STUDIES CLASS TAKEN. Here add the year(s) this student athlete took the class
  4. GRADE RECEIVED: The school should be able to tell you what grade was given these student athletes. If not, the leader of the sport they are playing should know. And, did that high-grade make them eligible to play that sport or continue to be eligible to play that sport?
  5. WHO DID THE WORK REQUIRED IN THE CLASS?: This may take a little more work, but still th freedom of information act should apply. 
  6. ALL GAMES THIS ATHLETE PLAYED IN AFTER THIS CLASS ISSUED ITS GRADE. The head of that sport should have a list of all persons played in every game back to the time when pencils were discovered.

We (you and I) could do this, and so could have the NCAA. It is so simple it is laughable:

  1. IF A ATHLETE RECEIVED A GRADE FROM A CLASS WHERE SOMEONE ON UNC STAFF DID THE REQUIRED WORK AND NOT THIS ATHLETE,
  2. AND THAT GRADE KEPT THAT STUDENT ELIGIBLE TO PLAY IN THAT SPORT AT UNC,
  3. AND THAT ATHLETE PLAYED IN ANY GAME – THAT GAME IS DECLARED A LOSS.
  4. IF THAT WIN MADE THE UNC SPORTS TEAM ELIGIBILITY TO CONTINUE IN A TOURNAMENT – THAT GAME IS DECLARED A LOSS.
  5. AND IF THAT WIN GAVE UNC A CHAMPIONSHIP – THAT CHAMPIONSHIP IS DECLARED VACATED.

If you think that in 18 years of this class – designed, sanctioned and carried through by the leadership of UNC – did not have any student athletes directed toward and take these courses, and thereby regain eligibility to play that sport – then I have some beachfront property in Arizona I want to talk with you about.

I challenge any UNC fan, student and alum to do the investigation I have suggested above and come up with the HONEST ANSWER (NOT LAWYER ANSWER)… and publish a full and complete spreadsheet of ALL student athletes taking these 18 years of courses which proves that no athlete benefited from these fake classes, remained eligible to play because of this fake grade, no athlete played in any game after this bogus grade, no game they played in went into the win column, and no championship banners were gained from in a tournament in which oe of these athletes played.

If you can do that HONESTLY (cite your work), I will be quiet about taking down your fake banners… but I will still call UNC leaders to apologize to the students, fans and taxpayers of NC who more than likely paid not only for the Dome but for this multi-million dollar dream-team UNC lawyer against the NCAA.

BTW: Apply this to all other schools who have been sanctioned by the NCAA for a LOT less.

Grace and Peace
Steve