"Finding Life in Jesus' Steps"#85-01
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 3, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:How Should I Respond to Our Divided Culture?)
Copyright 2018 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Matthew 16:24-25
"Then Jesus said to His disciples, '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 will find it.'" Christ has risen. He has risen indeed. Hallelujah!
When a long weekend comes along like this one, I can't help but think of golf. That's right, golf. Over the Labor Day break there will be a lot of people picnicking, camping, fishing, and relaxing. Much attention will be focused on the new college football season, but give people a three-day weekend, and you can expect a whole lot of them will be hitting the links. Now, listen, I like to swing the clubs once in a while too, but what I like even better is relaxing on a Sunday afternoon and watching one of the classic golf tournaments. Give me an exciting finish at the Masters or like the British Open this year, or watch some of the best golfers in the world as they compete at the U.S. Open or the PGA Championship, and I'm a happy man.
Now, as I've watched golf this year, one aspect of the game that caught my attention is the caddies. Have you ever watched the caddies closely? The Masters this year was almost miraculous. While Sergio Garcia of Spain was doing his all to win his very first major, I saw how the caddy followed his every step, scouted out every shot, and was right next to him with the right club and an encouraging word. If Sergio went right, the caddy went right. If Sergio hiked a hill to get a better view of the green, the caddy went with him. When Sergio ended up in the rough, the caddy carried the bag into the rough right there with him. It was amazing to see the intensity and the devotion of the caddy.
Well, Jesus wasn't talking about golf in Matthew chapter 16, but He was talking about following. Peter was getting ahead of His Master. When Jesus began to talk about His suffering, death, and resurrection, Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. You can almost picture Peter shaking his finger in Jesus' face and saying, "Far be it from You, Lord. This shall never happen to You." But Jesus replied, "Get behind Me." Jesus didn't say this to give Peter the brush off. Jesus wasn't spurning Peter or casting him aside. This was not a scolding. Jesus was repositioning Peter. He was literally putting Peter in his place. Peter didn't belong in front of Jesus, creating the plan, and calling the shots. Peter belonged behind Jesus, following in His steps, going where the Master was leading. Peter wasn't the pro. He was the caddy.
Jesus said to him and to all disciples, "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." The way to get behind Jesus is to deny yourself. Take up your cross. Then you can follow. What did Jesus mean by that? What does it mean to take up your cross? This is one of the most important pieces of wisdom you will ever hear from Jesus. It is a central principle for living a fulfilled and blessed life in this world. Many people miss the key point of guidance from Jesus. The result is a life of frustrating striving, and a persistent lack of satisfaction and contentment. Let's not miss this today.
Jesus said, "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." To understand this, let's start with the cross. What is our cross to bear? When we hear Jesus' words, we might think that annoying coworker is our cross to bear, or "I guess I'll suffer with my worn-out carpeting for a few more years." Clearly, those comparisons minimize the gravity of the cross. If you're enduring genuine suffering today, you may consider the very real pain and fear that you feel to be a cross to bear. While there may be some truth in that, at its core, it is not about our suffering. As a matter of fact, the cross is about Jesus' immense sacrifice for us.
Nailed to the torturous Roman execution apparatus, Jesus not only suffered unjust punishment for our imperfection, He was abandoned by God the Father and inflicted with eternal spiritual torment in our place. He took all of your shame, all of your failures, all of your reasons for regret, all of the hurt you've received, and all of the hurt you've inflicted. He took all of it upon Himself and paid the price for it. He silenced it. He put it to death once and for all so that you could be made a new creation, so that you could receive a new life, so you could be blessed with a new beginning. Why did Jesus do this? Why did He suffer the cross? Because God loves and treasures you. He doesn't want to lose you. He wants you to live a full life that leads to eternity with Him. He wants you behind Him every step of the way.
You see, the cross isn't about you. It's all about Jesus' sacrifice and work of forgiveness for you. You and I can't offer anything that would achieve contentment and peace-now or in the life that lasts forever-but Jesus replaces your baggage, your pain, your shame, and your faults with the cross: the tool, the instrument that brings life. Instead of carrying your heavy burdens, your worries and troubles, anger and pain, you get to carry the cross, and follow in Jesus' steps. By the grace of God, through faith in Him, you carry the tool for life's greatest prize. Once again, you're the caddy. Jesus is the pro.
You see that carrying the cross doesn't mean putting up with life's inconveniences or even enduring life's greatest struggles. Carrying your cross means that life is not about you. Jesus said, "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me." The real cross you bear is living life in Christ for others, living a life that is not about you, your comfort level, your preferences, your desires, your happiness, or your feelings. You've already been taken care of in ways beyond anything you can imagine or think by Jesus' complete sacrifice for you. You've got the greatest gift: forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Jesus. You have the greatest blessing to share with others.
Bearing the cross is living with the cross' benefits through faith in Christ, while being willing to live it for others in His Name. Carrying the cross means walking in a new life of unselfish love and sacrifice in Christ for you, living that way for the people God places in your life because that's the life you've been given by the grace of God. That's what the apostle Paul meant when he said in Romans, "We were buried, therefore, with Him, by Baptism, into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." Are you tired of being miserable and restless? Are you weary of trying to find fulfillment in life? Are you sick of discord in your relationships? Then walk in the steps of Jesus for the fullness of life. Deny yourself and take up your cross. In other words, think about others. Be generous. Listen, serve, help. You want life? You want the prize? Be the caddy. Follow Jesus. Instead of charting your own course and running life your way, carry what Jesus has given you: the cross of self-sacrificial love.
You know, that's what a man named Walter did. Walter was born in the early 1900s and developed a love for golf in the days of Walter Hagan, Gene Sarazen, and Bobby Jones. Walter's parents wanted him to go into business, so he could make money right away and have a stable life. But Walter loved golf. He had a powerful and straight drive. Some people encouraged him to become a pro, but Walter discovered another joy in the game of golf. He loved being a caddy. He started the task as a young man, working at a local golf club. He cleaned the clubs and the golf balls. He replaced the divots. He carried golf bags around the course, and he gave advice. Walter learned the course. He watched the patrons to see their strengths and their areas of need. He listened to them and developed rapport. Then he gently advised them. He guided them around the course, made suggestions, and worked to give them a real great experience. He tried to make their golf games better, and it worked. Everyone loved Walter. They wanted him as their caddy.
Pretty soon, some professionals took notice, and Walter was on the big stage, carrying the bags of pros at prestigious tournaments. He followed, worked, served, and cared. He ended up sharing in some of the biggest prizes in golf. Walter never got tired of taking an interest in others and helping people do better. Even after Walter retired, he went back to a local golf club to caddy for everyday golfers. At 80 years of age, he could still hit a beautiful and straight drive, and he still reminisced fondly about his life as a caddy.
You see, carrying your cross, putting yourself aside to serve others in Jesus' Name, it doesn't kill you. You don't lose out. Life as Jesus' caddy, life in His steps, brings life to others. That's why Jesus said, "Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." The grace and new life Jesus has given you through His death and resurrection is your tool to bless the world. And the world-the people in your life-desperately need this blessing. That's why Jesus asked, "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?" You know, too many people are living aimless lives trying to find fulfillment in pleasing themselves and making life all about them. People need caddies who carry the cross of Jesus' redeeming and renewing love. People need caddies who guide and direct, who listen, who help, who care, who love, and who bless.
Let's be honest. Have you ever heard of a person reaching their ultimate happiness by becoming a hoarding, self-indulging, self-centered, egocentric, narcissistic human being? No. I've heard of people walking that pathway and becoming joyless and alone. How about people who have demonstrated generosity and self-sacrifice? What has that pathway brought? Those are our heroes today, aren't they? Those are the people who make a difference. Those are the people who, even through pain and challenge, display the goodness of God and the glory of the cross of Jesus Christ. They are people who experience fulfillment, contentment, and peace.
Are you trying to gain the whole world, but are forfeiting your soul? Are you trying to preserve your pride while you alienate your wife or husband? Are you grasping after a sense of identity in your career while you neglect your family? Are you masking your insecurity by lashing out at people around you? Are you trying to be right by demeaning and alienating others? Are you joining the frenzied chorus of divisiveness in order to prove your point and assure your position? Are you trying to feel good and mask internal pain by losing yourself in drinking or drugs? Are you trying to find love and affirmation by sinking into sexual unfaithfulness? Is the pursuit of yourself turning you into a miserable human being?
Jesus calls you, invites you, to let it go. Put yourself aside. Put all of your striving and straining on a shelf. Deny yourself, and carry the gift that gives you and everyone around you life. Take up your cross, and follow Jesus. Walk in His steps of grace and redemption. Receive life and give life.
A year ago in July, a man by the name of Mark Johnson asked professional golfer Sergio Garcia a question through the social media site Twitter. Johnson was a huge fan of Sergio, so he decided to take the risk and ask if he could be Sergio Garcia's caddy sometime. He said to Garcia, "You're my number-one golfer. Please, can I caddy for you when your caddy can't make it?" Johnson didn't think Sergio Garcia would even pay attention to his direct messages, but he decided to keep it going for 206 days straight. At times, Johnson felt like giving up, but once in a while Sergio Garcia would like one of his tweets, so Mark Johnson persisted. He updated Sergio Garcia on family events. He told him about golf trips. He offered pep talks, advice, and encouraging words. He said he would waive the typical 10 percent share of the prize money and would carry Garcia's bag for the cost of travel expenses. He even tweeted Garcia in his native Spanish language. He shared stories about his kids, and even complimented Garcia's wardrobe. The tweets went on for over six months.
Then earlier this year, Garcia responded to Mark Johnson. It was 5:30 in the morning on a Saturday when Johnson received this tweet from Garcia. "Okay. I think I've found the perfect day for you to get a taste of carrying my bag and making your dream come true. Are you ready?" Johnson was ecstatic. He had to contain his joy, so he wouldn't wake up his wife and kids. Sergio Garcia had invited Johnson to be his caddy at the Pro Am day of the British Masters Tournament. That tournament will take place later this month. Mark Johnson will enjoy the gift of being a caddy. Wow! What a dream come true.
Oh, that you and I might take joy in the gift of being a caddy for our Savior Jesus Christ. A follower of Christ is willing to take His lead and be ordered by His steps. He invites you to that grand life today, and not through Twitter, but through His Word of life. He calls you to that remarkable and surprising walk in His steps of grace, forgiveness, and eternal hope. Life will heap a lot on your shoulders, but only Jesus gives you the cross of salvation and restoration to carry it. This world will pile on the pain and the perplexity, but only the cross of Jesus Christ will provide blessing for all.
Jesus said, "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me." Today can be that day of new dreams, a fulfilling life for you. In repentance, surrender your pride, your stubbornness, your grudges, your sins, your fears to Jesus Christ, and look to the Savior of all humanity, and your Savior, too-One who promises that He will not let you go, that He will give you life and salvation, and take up the cross that gives you life-the cross that atoned for your sins, the cross that opened the door to life forever-and carry that gift so that people around you will be blessed with the unconditional love and new life that only Jesus can give. You'll be blessed, and others will be blessed that you do. In His Name. Amen.
Action in Ministry for Sept. 3, 2017
Guest: Rev. Peter Kirby
Mark: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour; this is Action in Ministry, your call to action in response to all that God has done for you in Jesus Christ.
Dr. Seltz: You know, Mark, when Jesus calls us to pick up our cross and follow Him, He's not promising a life of luxury and ease. There can be a great cost to following Christ.
Mark Eischer: Lutheran Hour Ministries is at work in more than 30 different countries around the world, and while Christians in the United States are, for the most part, allowed to worship freely, you can't say the same thing for others around the world.
Dr. Seltz: Our colleague Peter Kirby is the regional director for Europe and central Asia. He's very involved in LHM missions around the world, and he hears the stories of those who face great risk as they follow Christ and share His love.
Mark Eischer: Peter, thanks for joining us.
Rev. Peter Kirby: It's great to be here.
Mark Eischer: Pastor Seltz spoke today about bearing the cross of Christ and how that might look different for different people in different situations. The reality is that many today are suffering because of their faith in Christ. Lutheran Hour Ministries is sharing Christ in many countries-not all of these countries are open or welcoming to Christianity. What are some of the risks associated for following Christ in those areas?
Rev. Peter Kirby: There's a common story for many of our country directors and staff who work for LHM around the world especially in countries where Christianity is not the dominant religion or where Christianity may even be outlawed. Some of our directors and staff have had their lives threatened because of following Jesus Christ. We've also at least on one occasion have been forced to move our ministry center to safer areas in that country because of the threat of violence at the place that it was located.
Dr. Seltz: You have had the privilege then of being on the front lines with those serving in our international offices. You are recently involved in Mongolia, what stood out about that trip?
Rev. Peter Kirby: Recently, I was able to lead a team of adults and youth to conduct a vacation Bible school and sports camp in support of our Lutheran Hour office in Mongolia and the growing church in that place. On the second day of the VBS, our Lutheran Hour director talked to our group over lunch about the many choices and challenges that the children face with whom we were working. Many of their families come from a different religious background or no background at all, and so they may be the first from their families to study the teachings of Jesus and want to be His follower. This is really bringing them into direct conflict with their families. They may have to choose to go to our church services, Sunday school, or other activities against the approval of their parents or even sneak out of the house to come and to learn about Jesus. Many in our group were brought to tears as they heard about the choices that these children were facing in order to follow Jesus.
Mark Eischer: What about our ministry center directors? What sort of risks do they face?
Rev. Peter Kirby: It's a subject that's well-known to our Lutheran Hour director in Mongolia as well. Twenty-five years ago, she was the first in her family to be invited to church by a friend, and her decision to attend church and keep going was met with disapproval by her parents and by other family members because of the bad things that they had heard about Christianity. But she counted the cost and rejoiced in the freedom and peace that she found in worshiping Jesus. She kept going, and she's remained a Christian for all of these years.
Dr. Seltz: That's amazing, I mean she heard that message and that message was worth the risk. These folks knew that there is a cost to following Christ. Again, tell us a little bit more from their point of view: what makes it worth it for them, and of course what makes it worth it for us?
Rev. Peter Kirby: Our director there and other country directors know that their lives and livelihood are threatened because they're following Jesus Christ, but they truly have counted the cost, and they know that they're helping people to find freedom from sin and obedience to the Law, for salvation. The freedom and joy that they themselves have found motivates them to keep speaking that good news of the Gospel to others through media, even when they face threats.
Dr. Seltz: That's amazing.
Mark Eischer: Peter, what can our listeners do to help encourage our workers in this?
Rev. Peter Kirby: We're trying to keep our listeners informed about what God is doing around the world at our new common international blog at lhm.org/global. That's lhm.org/global that has weekly news updates from around the world. You can also go to the global ministry section at lhm.org for fact sheets about each of our ministry centers to guide your prayers for the workers in that place.
Mark Eischer: To learn more about that international ministry, once again go to lhm.org/global.
Dr. Seltz: Peter Kirby, thank you for being here and sharing the stories of people coming to faith, even as they count the cost knowing that it's worth the risk. Thanks for coming.
Rev. Peter Kirby: Thank you for having me today.
Dr. Seltz: That's our Action in Ministry segment today: to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.
Mark Eischer: For more information about our ministry in Mongolia and elsewhere, go to lhm.org/global, or call 1-855-john316, that's 1-855-564-6316.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for Sept. 3, 2017
Topic: How Should I Respond to Our Divided Culture?
Mark Eischer: Now Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Today, a listener says, "A wide chasm of disagreement over issues seems to be getting wider every day. How should Christians respond to our divided culture?"
Gregory Seltz: Well, Mark, it's true. Everyone seems to be taking sides or trying to force us to take sides on virtually everything. Some issues strike at the heart of a Christian's values or morality, but other issues are very political and try to draw us into their vantage point.
Mark Eischer: You know, it seems as if faith and public policy are sometimes becoming co-mingled, whether from the left or the right. Some have said the church has also become very political, and that discourages people from wanting to become part of it.
Greg Seltz: That's the deeper issue, Mark. That's why our listener asks a very perceptive question. What is a proper response to the arguments and division in our culture today? And to be honest, our Lutheran forefathers were very perceptive when they addressed this very issue.
Mark Eischer: What did they say?
Gregory Seltz: They talked about how God engaged the world two different ways, creating two kingdoms: the kingdom of grace, and the kingdom of power, or Christ's kingdom and, of course, the political powers of this world. All people live under God's rule in the kingdom of power, but the Christian lives in both of these kingdoms. But here's the thing: confusing the two kingdoms can harm both the political realm and the Gospel.
Mark Eischer: Where does the Bible talk about this distinction?
Gregory Seltz: The apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:20 that our citizenship is in heaven, and Peter points out in 1 Peter 2 that we are sojourners and exiles in this world. Peter follows that point with the injunction that followers of Christ are to be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution. You see, we live in these two worlds, these two kingdoms. On one hand, we're under Christ alone. On the other hand, we're subject to governing authorities until the day when there will be a totally new heaven and a new earth.
Mark Eischer: What does this mean for our lives?
Gregory Seltz: Well, if we expect the secular world to behave as if it's about the Gospel by grace alone, we're not going to only be disappointed, we may even address the secular world in an erroneous way. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, article 16, says it very well: "The Gospel does not introduce any new laws about the civil state, but commands us to obey the existing laws, whether they were formulated by heathens or by others, and in this obedience to practice love." As citizens, our primary focus is on obeying the laws and upholding all the citizens in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Mark Eischer: Even if we disagree with those laws?
Gregory Seltz: Yes. Now, we should be involved in the public moral laws and policies that guide us in living as good citizens and neighbors, but we should never confuse the fact that the political kingdom, which is temporal, is not the church. The focus of the state is not God's Gospel Word. The goal of the state is law and order, and maintaining a civil society.
Mark Eischer: How, then, does a Christian navigate within a culture that seems to be divided over issues that have an impact on Christian values?
Gregory Seltz: The answer to that question is the beauty of the Christian faith, Mark. Life change does not happen because of laws. Now, laws might curb outward behavior. Laws that reflect God's Law surely will give us a more civil, free society. But laws, even God's Law, will never change one's heart because that's the work of the Gospel-because we're sinners. That's the work of the kingdom of grace, the church alone. Even if we find ourselves in a society that doesn't uphold Christian values, all people need to hear about the God who loved them so much that He gave His only Son, calling all to repentance in faith in Him. That's life and that's salvation.
Mark Eischer: Then the primary response of the Christian to a divided culture is to make sure both kingdoms are being addressed properly and well, to do what is right and obedient as citizens, but be sure not to miss out on calling people to repentance and sharing the good news of that relationship we've been given with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Gregory Seltz: That's correct, Mark. That's our ultimate calling. Yes, we're called to be good citizens, but our primary calling is to call people to repentance and forgiveness, life and salvation, in the kingdom of Jesus that never ends.
Mark Eischer: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Hail, Thou Once Despised Jesus" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"All Glory Be to God on High" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)