Sat, 02/07/2009 - 23:23 — Richard Roper
Mt 16:24* Then said Jesus to his disciples, If any man will follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
A pastor gathered all the children around him to give a brief lesson before dismissing them for children's church.
He started out by saying, "I'm going to describe something, and I want you to raise your hand when you know what it is."
The children nodded eagerly.
"This thing lives in trees (pause)
and eats nuts (pause)..."
No hands went up.
"And it is gray (pause)
and has a long bushy tail (pause)"
The children were looking at each other, but still no hands raised.
"And it jumps from branch to branch (pause)
and chatters and flips its tail when it's excited (pause)..."
Finally one little boy tentatively raised his hand and the pastor breathing a sigh of relief and called on him.
"Well," said the boy, "I KNOW the answer is supposed to be Jesus ... but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me!
Scripture also is too often not what we understand it to be.
For example I have often heard it said “We all have our crosses to bear” as though the cross were some trauma or difficulty that was sent by God to add extra burden to our lives.
And even when such a thing is not said it is not unusual for we Christians to share with each other how hard God has made life for us.
I can’t help but think that there is something wrong with our spiritual state when we do this.
Wasn’t it Jesus who said: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am submitted to God the father and you shall find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
The Lord Jesus came to ease our burdens not enhance them.
If our loads are truly getting burdensome for us then it seems to me that we have to reexamine just who’s burden it is we are carrying.
Surely if our load is too heavy it is certainly not a burden of the Lords making and if this is the case then we have so badly reinterpreted our text about taking up our cross as to actually completely play into the hands of the devil himself.
Oh how he must love it when we Christians are so ignorant of the Scriptures that the work of scripture twisting is made easy for him.
So if taking up our cross is not about carrying burdens then what is it about ?
Jesus is teaching here that the message of salvation which he left with us would not be well met, but rather would be a vile odor to those who are perishing.
The question can be raised:“How do we make that which is by nature offensive, non-offensive without compromising it.”
This is an interesting issue, since it seems to me that many are trying to do just that - they are trying to water down or soft peddle the gospel so that it is non-offensive.
Can it be done?
The answer a definite “NO.”
It is not possible to make something which is by nature offensive to the vast majority of non believers, non-offensive without compromising it.
The offensiveness of the Gospel is so inherent in it that it cannot be removed without leaving a false Gospel in its stead.
What do I mean by the offensive nature of the gospel ?
Consider this: what could be more offensive than to say to someone you are a sinner ?
The Bible clearly declares this, yet sometimes we prefer to say “ we have all made mistakes.”
Now, I know that some of us have used this term by way of trying to bring an old term into a modern world without intending to soft peddle the gospel. But consider the implication.
A mistake is something that is unintentional and was meant without malice.
But sin is an act of deliberate rebellion.
So lets bring the word sin into the modern world.
You have deliberately and maliciously rebelled against God.
How offensive is that ?
I am not saying that we shouldn't look for better ways to present the gospel.
Being a martial artist I have my own particular “hook” that I try to use to open the door to the gospel.
I ‘am’ saying that we cannot and must not be afraid of the gospel.
Sometimes I'm sorely tempted to compromise the Gospel, as are all of us who are seeking to share Christ.
As part of my outreach when I teach Judo I try to present a relevant passage of scripture at the end of the lesson as part of the Mokso or meditation for the night.
How often I have thought of sanitizing that passage to make it more palatable to a wider audience.
But I have been recently reminded as a student of conflict and courage, that I have to be driven to share the message boldly and without reservation, knowing that it is the Holy Spirit that works change in a person's heart, giving them the faith to understand and embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The encouragement is this - we should not feel compelled to change the Gospel to make it Less offensive.
One of the teachings that the Nabeshima samurai clan shared is this:
If you have a message, even if you know that it contains your own death warrant and you are ordered to deliver it with your own hand, you should not flinch from this duty but gladly perform it and place the message in no one's hand but he to whom it is intended.
One of the clan's 4 daily vows says: “I will be of use to the Master”.
“OUR” Master has given us the very commission mentioned. We are to deliver a message which may, at times demand the life of the deliverer. We must deliver this message truly and without flinching, regardless of the outcome. This is our duty as “retainers” of the Master Jesus.
A young man was making poor grades in school, particularly in math.
His parents tried various things, none of which seemed to produce the desired improvement.
Finally, they decided to enroll him in a private school.
At the end of the first grading period, the young man came home and proudly presented his report card to his parents.
They were shocked to find that all of his grades had improved significantly.
Most noticeably, he had received his first-ever "A" in math.
His parents were overjoyed and began to question him to determine what it was that had finally produced the improvement they had sought.
"Was it the non-traditional teaching methods in the private school?" No.
"Was it the strict discipline?" No.
"Was it the smaller class sizes and more individual attention?" No.
"Well, what WAS it then that caused such a big turn around?" they asked.
"Well," the son replied, "when I walked into that school on the first day and the first thing I saw was that man nailed to that plus sign, I KNEW I’d better take math seriously here."
One of my mentors used to always say to us young Christians “if you are going to go on with you Christian walk you have to nail your colours to the mast”. That is the world around us must be left in no doubt where our allegiances lay.
Do you belong to Christ or are you ashamed of him.
I need to tell you that I used to be frighten off sharing what I believed, by people who used to insist that I had no right to inflict my beliefs on them.
I was often so intimidated by this that I would hesitate to say what I had done for the weekend particularly if it involved some religious activity.
Then one day it dawned on me.. “Hang on, every time these people open their mouths they are inflicting their beliefs on me. Why am I not just as entitled to tell people the fun I had on Sunday or that I heard a really great sermon or that we have these really great people as pastor and wife, even if some of her parties “ARE” a bit strange.
Is that not just as much my right as theirs is to tell me about their weekend.
And if that guy can be nailed to the plus sign for me, am I not compelled to do so just as much as the young man and his maths.
Winston Churchill told the British people that he had nothing to offer them but "blood, sweat, toil, and tears" in their fight against their enemies.
Jesus spoke of the necessity of total commitment.
We are call to take our faith seriously.
Maybe not to death, but we need to be living our faith as though it were.
And we are called to Remember to pray for those who are persecuted and killed all over the world for doing their duty to the Master and delivering the message without fear.
May their sacrifices urge us to greater courage in our faith, and in the fulfillment of our own duties to Christ.