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On the Possibility of Following Jesus

On the Possibility of Following Jesus by Pastor Chris Symes

A few weeks ago in Sunday morning worship, I preached from Mark chapter eight, verses thirty one through thirty-eight, in which Jesus says this:

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.” (V. 34)

Jesus makes nothing easy here. There is no spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down. His call to a potential disciple is clear, concise, and challenging. I preached about my own struggle with the difficulty of this passage and the all-or-nothing surrender it calls me to. I explored how it is a calling modeled after Jesus’ own extravagant sacrifice on the cross and how such a gift to us demands nothing less than a willingness to give our own lives in response. I examined the first step, deny yourself, and how plain hard even this first part is. I ended the sermon by leaving us with a sense of urgency at responding to this, the very urgency Jesus has in this teaching to us.

But there is a single word here, that I think we often overlook, and it’s a word I failed to really take into account in my sermon. It’s a single word of Jesus that does not lighten the challenge of this calling or make it easier to hear. But I do believe it gives us a starting point for actually taking this teaching into our lives. It helps us begin somewhere. Do you know what that one word is?

That one word is “wants”. Let’s hear Jesus words again: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Before we can get to the difficulty of denying ourselves, before we come to the daunting calling to take up our cross, before we follow Jesus, there is a preliminary question: Do we want to follow Jesus? It sounds obvious, but I don’t think it always is. Many people believe intellectually in Jesus, but they don’t necessarily want Him. A person may recognize the importance of Jesus, but that does not mean the person desires Jesus. This is a problem, because as your desires go so goes you. Without our desires changing, we can never hope to grow and never hope to follow Jesus. Jesus implies, DESIRE PRECEDES DISCIPLESHIP. Therefore, we must take a very real and honest look at the preliminary question: Do I want to follow Jesus?

How do I know that I want to follow Jesus? And if I know that I don’t, how do I go about changing what I want when I really don’t want to? These are challenging questions, but there is great news! God intends to change your desires if you let Him; that’s part of the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives. This is how God makes us into new creations, and the place where this begins is in honest prayer. Honest and sincere prayer is the incubator of transformation, a tremendous means of grace by which you open your life up to God for Him to do His work within you. In other words, if you are honest enough to admit that you don’t want to follow Jesus, that’s a great first step! Declare that to God. Speak openly and honestly to Him one morning before you go to work or pick up your grandkids. Tell Him like it is. You won’t offend Him; He already knows your heart, and He will appreciate your honesty. There is something about honest prayer that breaks barriers preventing change from happening deep within us.

Wanting to follow Jesus won’t make the demands of Jesus’ call to a disciple easy, but it makes following Jesus possible. As a person’s desires go, so goes the person (James 1:14-15). What’s more, you are never alone in this calling. God through the Holy Spirit is right there with us constantly, and you are united in covenant with brothers and sisters who come alongside of you and encourage you as well.

My Favorite Word

My Favorite Word by Pastor Chris Symes

If you’ve been around me lately you know that I have a mild obsession with the word “abide”. In conversation about faith or prayer, you are bound to hear me say it twice or maybe three times. It sort of reminds me of my younger days when a new word would seem to get stuck in my vocabulary, and I used it over and over again much to the irritation of my family and friends (“obvious” is one example). But this is more than just a glitch in my vocabulary; this is a conviction. I believe in this word, particularly for Cornerstone.

The key for me about the word comes from the fifteenth chapter of John’s gospel, among other places. “Abide in me,” Jesus says, “and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of abide-logo-typeitself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me” (V. 4 in the New American Standard Version of the Bible). The word “abide” used here in John is the translation of the Greek word meno. Meno means “remain”, “stay”, even “persist” or “to last” in some places in the New Testament. It might be used when a father tells his children to remain in a certain place. It could be used when describing the family dog as staying with someone. Jesus used it here to describe the task of his disciples over the long-haul. To put it simply he calls His disciples to stay with Him, connected to Him in relationship. This happens in a number of ways: obedience, prayer, scripture reading, fellowship with other believers, witnessing to others about Christ, and worship all accompanied by the command to love one another. The big idea, however, is ABIDE. Stay with Jesus. Jesus promises something called “fruit” when his disciples faithfully abide in Him, which is the life change we see in our own lives, in our church, among our neighbors, in our city, and even in our world. With all the brokenness around us, it sometimes makes me wonder how faithfully we have been holding to this simple call.

I think what I so appreciate about Jesus’ call here is that the command to abide is adaptable to any season of life we may find ourselves in. It’s an extraordinary word. It’s an ordinary word. Abide can be a wonderful word, like when you’re with your friends having so much fun you wish you could stay with them longer and the night would never end. There are times in life when abiding comes easy and enjoyable to us, because we feel close to God. These are times when we find joy in prayer, hearing His word, and encouraging others in the faith. Abide can also be a challenging word, like when things in life seem to be falling apart making the stress and anxiety overwhelming. Often the first thing to go in these times is our relationship with God. There are times when abiding is difficult. At other times we find the word dull. There will be periods of time when we just don’t feel like doing it; the desire is not there. We might be tired, or we’ve been focused on other things so much that our passion for God has been replaced by other passions. The word “abide” may seem like a boring word to us. But Jesus’ command is clear. If you want to experience His life-transforming power and love in your life and community, abide in Him. Even when the gales of life are blowing so strongly that you feel you are holding on to Jesus by one finger, when it would be so easy to let go, abide. Even when you have zero emotion to give to God and you feel drained, abide.

Abiding is life, not simply one moment in the day or one day a week. However, I have found it helpful to commit myself every morning to intentional abiding time with the Lord through prayer and scripture reading. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. I don’t beat myself up about it when it doesn’t. Sometimes I am ready and willing; sometimes I am sluggish and unwilling. Sometimes I feel like God is right there with me. Sometimes the room feels empty. But I can say this: I am convinced that this word will not let us down. I am convinced that Jesus won’t let us down. Abid-ing has not let me down. There is much more that could be unpacked here about the word, but I haven’t shared yet the true greatness of this word as Jesus uses it. The true treasure of what Jesus says here about abiding is not our doing it, but His doing it in us. As we abide, the Word of Life, the Holy Creator of all things, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, God promises to stay connected with us and in us.

So, if you don’t mind Church, I think I’ll keep using it.

Blessings,
Pastor Chris

Who do you think Jesus is?

Who Do You Think Jesus Is? by Pastor Chris Symes

“Who do you think Jesus is?” I asked the man sitting next to me whose Chevy Silverado I was driving.

I met the man at our New Year’s Eve game night at Cornerstone Sunday night at around 10. He wandered in from the brutal and biting cold, a little inebriated after celebrating the turn of the year with co-workers. He was looking for someone who might be willing to drive him home to his nearby apartment. Preferably, he was wondering if someone might be able to drive to his truck, parked at a nearby lot, and also drive it to his home.

After mulling it over for a minute or two, I agreed to help him. It was, after all, unbelievably cold, and Jesus does call us to love our neighbors. I walked back into the party and asked someone to come with us. I am grateful for someone’s willingness.

I’m not sure when exactly I decided to ask him THE question. Was it on our way out to my car on the front lawn of the church? Was it on NW 23rd, as we approached his truck? Was it when he and I got into his truck? It was most likely when, just a few weeks earlier, a pastor friend of mine challenged me to ask that question of someone at least once a month. If we are serious as followers of Jesus in making disciples then that question, his reasoning went, is THE most important question we could possibly ask.

As we turned back on NW 23rd street I asked him if I could ask a question. It became clear to me this man had no real relationship with Jesus, was not a disciple, making this question all the more significant. So grateful he seemed willing to do just about anything, he said yes. Then I asked him THE question. There have been plenty of times when I’ve thought about asking this question of someone – times when, despite feeling the weight and potential life change of bringing this question to the fore, I got cold feet. There have been numerous times when I wish I had asked it, but I didn’t. So it was no small step of faith when I said:

“Who do you think Jesus is?”

He was taken aback by the question, I could tell, but he also sincerely wanted to answer. He stuttered and stammered for a moment and then responsed: “He is the Lord’s son.”

I agreed and affirmed his answer, also adding that I believe Jesus is alive. Later, I thought about all that I could have said in that moment to this man who no doubt was humbled and touched by the kindness he found at Cornerstone this night. There is a lot I could have said, but in the wake of THE question I shared a little word about Jesus changing my life and not knowing where I would be without what the Lord has done for me. He began to share about old memories of being at church growing up and even confessed a need to get back into a church community.

As we pulled into the parking lot of his apartment complex off Portland he showed interest of his own accord in coming to worship at Cornerstone and possibly becoming part of the church. After getting his phone number, I prayed for him. 

That’s the last I’ve seen him up to the point of writing this, and I hope to see him again. But I marvel at all that came about and all that could happen from asking one simple question, one single question that can change everything. In Mark 8:29, this is THE question Jesus asks his disciples: Who do you say that I am? This is THE question. In this season of resolutions, plans, goals, and aspirations for 2018, it really comes down for everyone to this question, THE question. How you truly answer this question, your heart’s honest answer, will determine the course of your year and your life. Don’t you think we should learn to lovingly and boldly ask this question of others? Don’t you think we need to ask it for ourselves? And so, friends, I ask you:

Who do you think Jesus is?