So this summer we have been having a lot of fun here at MRC.  We have been working through a series on the church.  If you think about what we have been doing with this teaching, we have been asking some pretty specific questions about the church and how you answer these questions is very, very important.  The way I see it if we take a step back and look at this series the big questions look something like this; How do you VIEW church?  Maybe it’s better said this way; How do you DO church?  And I think by now you know, that how you answer these questions is a really big deal because we the church are called to something very specific.  We are called to help people far from God come to know Him and to empower Christian’s to engage the mission of Christ and it has been quit a journey so far!

I want you to be thinking about where this series has taken us so far.  I know its summer and you may have missed a week or two along the way, but this series has built very intentionally.  We started by talking about the church and what it is and after that we really started to press in on your personal relationship with God.  Did you think this way?  Did that sneak up on you?  Did you ever realize that your heart condition would be so important to the church and what the church is up to?  It is, and we took three weeks to go over the choices we expect you to make if you are going to be part of our church family.  Remember that?  We expect you to choose to love God, love others, love growing, love serving, and love giving.  We stepped into that discussion pretty hard, and I really wanted you to see that those 5 choices aren’t about Sam and Ken trying to figure out how to get you to do things around here, but all about your heart condition…everything is about your personal walk with God.  If we are going to be a redemptive and life-giving church, we must stay very close to God.

Then the series shifted again, and we started looking at our seven “We Believe” statements that we will be working our way through for the rest of this series.  You can find these statements on our website in the “What Matters to Us” section under the heading “I’m New Here.”  These statement are really the heart and DNA of who we are as a church, but I don’t want you to lose site of the fact that these statements come after we spend time focused on our own walk with God, and our own personal heart condition…if that isn’t right, these statements will be very empty.

So far we have looked at five of these statements…

We believe the mission of Christ, His passion, cost Him dearly.

This means it wasn’t easy, but because Jesus was fully submitted to His Father’s will…He sacrificed Himself so that we all could have ever lasting life, tearing the barrier of sin down that stood between God and us so that we could once again engage true, pure, intimacy with our Heavenly Father.

We believe Jesus empowered His church to fulfill His mission as He ascended into heaven.

We call this the Great Commission, and it’s an incredible moment where Jesus hands His mission of making disciples off to the church to be fulfilled.  Frankly, this is what it’s all about.  Making disciples of all nations, helping others experience the life changing presence of Jesus in their lives.  This is who we are, and what we are to do.  Last week Randi was here and did a great job talking to you about the third statement which is…

We believe the mission is so important, that God is literally pushing back the end of time.

Did you know that?  Think of everyone you know that hasn’t yet experienced God’s grace.  God is so in love with them, He is pushing back the end of time to give them time to fall in love with Him.  What an amazing and intense thought…I was here to speak to you on our fourth statement…

We believe that the local church is at its best when, like Jesus, it focuses on outsiders.

This led me to really press in on where your focus is…is it on you and your needs, or is your focus shifting off of you and onto God, so that we can engage those around us who need to know Jesus and experience His love, grace, and mercy as we are…this was the week we looked at one of the biggest tension points around Christians and church.  Can a church say they focus on outsiders who need God and still meet my spiritual needs?  Then last week Ken had statement 5…

We believe finding the one lost sheep is our unique identity. 

I really enjoyed his talk.  Ken was very transparent about the tension he feels as we talk about the mission of Christ, and how we challenge the church to focus outward.  It’s amazing how offensive the idea of going out of the church and making disciples can be to the religious…it was in Jesus’ time, and sadly it still is today, which was a great follow up to last week where we looked at shifting our focus outward.

It’s interesting, I was thinking a lot about this series.  There is something about this series that I think mirrors the spiritual life, or at least the process of growing up spiritually and just growing up in all ways really.  This series started by focusing on you and your heart condition, so if you think about it, it started with an inward focus.  The focus was on your heart.  Then the series began to shift the focus off of you and onto how we live and what we do with our lives as Christians…so it started inward and has moved to us focusing outward.  This is the process of growing up both spiritually and in life.  Let’s just look at real life for a moment, when you are a child your focus is completely on yourself, and as you grow up you hopefully begin to be aware of the fact that you aren’t the only person on the planet, and that you are not necessarily the center of all things.  In your immaturity your focus is completely on you, but as you grow from child to adult that changes.  Life helps with that, you leave your parents home, maybe get married, have children, walk through challenges in life, and gain responsibilities and you just become aware of the bigger picture.  This is the growing up process and it’s the same spiritually.  When we first come to meet Jesus as our Lord and Savior the focus is on us and our heart condition, and that is a great place to start.  As we spend more time with our Heavenly Father, and as we begin to grow Spiritually, we experience a shift in focus, it’s what Jesus talked about here in Matthew 6…

Matthew 6:6 “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” MSG

This is the process of growing up both spiritually and in life.  I see this entire series on the church mirroring this idea of us growing up.  We started by talking about our heart condition, which is where it starts, the heart is a really big deal, and we work to get our hearts right.  But after the heart is healthy and we are connecting daily to Jesus, that is when the focus shifts…and it’s a natural shift in focus that takes place with spiritual growth.  I think this is beautiful, and since we have really been pressing in on spiritual maturity and our outward focus I wanted you to see that I think the outward focus will happen as the heart is full of God’s love which won’t happen without a focus on your personal walk with God.  This is the process of growing up which also means if you are a new Christian, you may not have a passion yet for those around you who need Jesus, and that is ok, you are in a safe place here at MRC, and you have time to continue to stay in God’s arms and allow Him to fill your heart with love…you are in a safe place here to grow up spiritually and over time as you stay connect to Jesus this shift in focus will take place.  So life, and spiritual maturity just seem to be mirrored in how this series has been built which is pretty cool if you ask me and will matter again today because today we look at our next what matters to us statement.

We believe the greatest discipleship anyone could engage is joining the mission of Jesus.

Matthew 16:24-26 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  NIV

Only in losing yourself, Jesus said, will you find yourself.  There are things you discover in serving that you cannot discover in a book or a conference.  And we are all for books and conferences.  But only in serving do you learn things like empathy, humility and purpose.  The greater things in life, the things that change our hearts forever are discovered when we serve.  This is statement you hear a lot around here…the greatest form of discipleship is to serve.

So it’s this particular scripture in Matthew that I really want to focus on and study with you today.  Let’s just start with a general observation…there seem to be things that Jesus speaks about often.  Things that pop up over and over again in our Bibles.  I do not believe this is accidental and I think those things that Jesus keeps coming back to are very important.  We see Him bring up specific things repeatedly and to me that highlights their importance.  He talks about money a lot.  He talks about making disciples a lot…and we see another one of those recurring themes here in Matthew 16…which means it’s really important.  I found it 6 other times in the Gospels, which would tell us if it comes up 7 times in the Gospels it’s probably something we need to pay attention to!  Check this out…6 more times!  We see the same teaching a second time in Matthew, then we see it in Mark…

Matthew 10:38-39 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” NIV

Mark 8:34-37 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. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”  NIV

We see it three times in Luke!

Luke 9:23-25 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”  NIV

Luke 14:25-27 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” NIV

Luke 17:33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. NIV

And just to make a clean sweep of the Gospels we also find it in John!

John 12:25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. NIV

Pretty amazing isn’t it?  Over and over and over again Jesus confronts us with the challenge of a Christian life and how we will live it out…it’s a way of living our lives and I think in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 16:24 is where our focus should be.  It is so clear to me.  We see three things we must do if we want to be His disciples.

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” NIV

Do you see the three things?  We must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him.  I wonder as we look at these three things a little closer now, if you can’t start to see the heart of MRC in Jesus’ teaching, that is where we get our we believe statements, right from Scripture.  So lets dive into these three things that Jesus says we must do to be His disciples.

First if we want to be His disciples, we are to deny ourselves.  So what does that statement really mean?  Well, in the NLT version it’s worded in a very helpful way for us to understand the idea of denying ourselves.

Matthew 16:24 “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” NLT

It’s me giving up my way and now living God’s way.  It’s me saying “No!” to myself and “Yes!” to God.  It’s me allowing God to run the show in my life instead of running the show in my life.  So to deny myself is to live a life fully focused on and submitted to God, I’m now living His way and not mine.

The second thing we must do to be Jesus’ disciples is to carry our cross.  The Christian life is a life lived striving to be like Jesus and Jesus lived a life of love, of sacrifice and of servanthood.   So as we deny ourselves we are putting aside our desires to live for God’s desires.  It’s a complete rearranging of our priorities around God’s priorities.  This means that we will live differently and at times that will mean that we will sacrifice.  I think for many people when they think about carrying their cross they think of being a martyr and dying for God or their beliefs…which could be true, but carrying our cross is also about living in loving sacrifice which will look so different in the world and culture of today.  It may involve us humbly serving.  It will involve love and generosity.  Carrying your cross will mean a sacrifice of your wants or desires.  It may mean you sacrifice your time, energy, resources…maybe even your popularity or Earthly prominence or power.  Do you see what I mean?  I like that Luke adds something to this idea of carrying our cross…it’s one word, and it’s subtle but I think very important to this way of living as a disciple of Jesus.

Luke 9:23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. “ NIV

Did you see what Luke added there…the word “daily.”  This is something we stress to you so much, the idea of a daily walk with God.  Living your daily lives with a God focus.  You know some people look at the big moment or event where they did something for God and say that is them carrying their cross.  They served on a mission’s trip.  They helped with a church event.  Maybe even Sunday morning is your version of carrying your cross.  But it is a way to live your life, which happens every day.  Carrying your cross daily is a life lived with a constant focus and awareness of God and the needs of others all around you!  It’s a life of love and a focus outward on those in need…which is a world we engage every day.  The closer we are to God, the more aware we are of every moment of our lives being a God moment.  I think Paul explains how we carry our cross daily better than I ever could here in Romans 12…I think he is showing us a mindset on how to carry our cross daily.

Romans 12:1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. MSG

The third thing we must do to be a disciple of Jesus is to follow Him.  You know, it’s hard to allow Jesus to lead your life if you aren’t willing to follow Him.  I think for so many of us this really is our struggle.  We just can’t seem to actually allow Him to lead our lives which makes it hard to actually doing what He said.  I think this is the area where so many of us get stuck spiritually, we simply can’t or won’t submit and obey Him.  Ugh, we don’t even like hearing that word, do we?  Submit…yuck!  Obey…ugh.  But it’s clearly laid out for us in Scripture if we want to find our true selves, and stand in that life and life to the full that Jesus came to provide for us we must believe And do what He says, that is how we find our true selves our child of God selves…remember the scripture I have read every week of this summer series so far?  The key is to believe AND DO!

John 1:9-12 The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light. He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him. But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. MSG

It’s not just believing but also doing what He said…this is so huge and really is what it means to follow Jesus which is what a disciple is and does.  They live a life fully centered on and surrendered to God and His will…and as the focus shifts off of us and onto God, something miraculous happens…we find our true selves.  It just doesn’t happen by working harder and harder on us, it actually happens as we do these three things that Jesus clearly lays out for us.  We must deny ourselves, carry our cross daily, and follow Jesus.  This is what it’s all about and it’s at the very heart of our 6th we believe statement…

We believe the greatest discipleship anyone could engage is joining the mission of Jesus.

Why would serving be the greatest form of discipleship?  Because it’s an action step that leads us into empathy, humility, and helps us tangibly feel God’s love flowing in and out of us.  It’s the doing what Jesus said that is so important!  It’s amazing, seven different times in Scripture He comes to His disciples and pushes in on this idea, that we must forget about ourselves and look to Him and when we do this, we will find both God and our true selves.  I know it seems so contrary to the way we humans look at life and how we feel we need to work on ourselves or find ourselves…but it’s so clear and Jesus talked about it over and over and over again…and I think we need to take notice.

So to close this thing down today, I want to take that same scripture we have been studying and show it to you one more time in the Message version in the hopes that your heart sees this, because it is that important.  As we read this think about how you feel when you serve.  Think about the heart of being a disciple of Jesus.  Think about how much you want to live out that life to the full thing we are always talking about.  Think about all the searching we do to find ourselves.  Think about all the hard work we do to be “good” Christians that just seems to never get us where we want to be…think about why we continue to ask you to serve…and reflect one more time on this passage we are studying today this time in the Message version…

Matthew 16:24-26 Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?” MSG

Seven times Jesus tells us the same thing in Scripture…and yet we still can’t seem to find ourselves.  Why?  It’s because we just refuse to live His way.  We refuse to humble ourselves and serve Him.  Even though Jesus clearly tells us that to be His disciple we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow Him.

This is why we invite you to serve.  Because we love you and want to see everyone standing in their true selves, there child of God selves…which only happens by doing what Jesus said.  We must live it out…it takes more than words, and more than knowledge…it takes actions.  So we encourage you to continue to engage discipleship classes, conferences, Bible studies…they are all very good things that can enhance your daily walk with God and equip you to engage this difficult world that we live in…but we stand very tall in this statement…because it lands in what Jesus asks us to do.  It helps us live out the idea of denying ourselves, carrying our cross daily, and following Jesus.

The greatest form of discipleship is to serve.