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How many of you have heard of Arthur Blessit?  He is a man who has walked around the world since Christmas Day, December 25, 1969 carrying a 12 foot cross for Jesus.  He has now walked 38,102 miles, been in 315 countries, Island Groups and Territories, walked on all seven Continents including Antarctica, been through 52 countries at war, has been arrested or jailed 24 times (Not for Crimes), and has been listed in the Guinness World Records for the “World’s longest walk.”  He is literally a “Cross Carrying Christian.”  The Bible says we are to take up our crosses and follow Jesus.  What does it mean to take up your cross and follow Jesus?  That’s the question I hope to explore this morning.

Matthew 10:34-39

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law– 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 37 “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Silent Prayer

Cross carrying Christians engage in conflict.

Can you picture yourself, following Jesus, pumped up about the thought of everything He has been doing and promising, only now to be somewhat disillusioned by the statement that the Prince of Peace didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword?  At first at the mention of a sword, you might get excited that a military takeover is imminent, that Roman control is going down, and that Jesus is going to establish some sort of earthly kingdom by force.  You can feel your excitement rising because you know Jesus has the goods to pull off a major military coup.  He can do miracles, and you think for a moment, “This is going to be awesome to watch.”  But then, Jesus goes on to get personal.  He isn’t talking about the government, but our own personal families and friends.  He quotes Micah 7:6 6For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law– a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.”  How can this be a good thing?

It’s not that Jesus wants to divide families or create conflict, but the reality is that carrying a cross means people who follow Jesus must make certain choices.  The sword that Jesus brings is the sword of division that results from the choice we make to follow Him.  The reality is you can’t ignore Jesus.  You either choose to believe who he said he is, or you choose to reject him. What Jesus was trying to say was that conflict and disagreement will result between those who choose to follow Jesus and those who don’t.  He wasn’t trying to say that you have to fight with your family members if you are going to be a Christian, but He was showing that his presence demands a decision and that decision isn’t always popular with those that you are close to.

When you sign up with Jesus, you are enlisting in a very real conflict.  The war was waged in the Garden of Eden when God told the serpent in Genesis 3:15 that Jesus would crush Satan’s head.  It was “game on” from that moment on and the battle, though won by the victory of the cross, continues to rage until Jesus returns and forever binds and casts Satan into the pit of Hell.

Oh the cross causes conflict alright.  When Jesus cried, “It is finished,” some major events took place, and none of them were in Satan’s ten-year-plan.  The Bible says that there was an earthquake.  The curtain in the temple was torn in two, signifying that sin had forever been atoned for and direct access to God the Father had been accomplished.  Tombs burst open and those who had trusted God years earlier were raised and subsequently appeared to many people.  Jesus rose from the dead first, providing victory for all of us who too will rise from the grip of death.  Every stranglehold Satan had at his disposal was done away with by the cross.

Do you know that Satan was a bit miffed?  How many of you know he isn’t a good loser?  Even though the victor has already been pronounced, Satan continues to claw and scratch and discourage people in hopes that he can keep them clueless about the victory of the cross.

Ephesians 6:12 says it’s an ongoing struggle, “12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

If we weren’t in a spiritual battle, God’s Word wouldn’t tell us to get our armor on and take up our weapons.  2 Corinthians 10:4 says-4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

Check out Ephesians 6 for a list of those weapons.  They’re designed for spiritual battle.

Carrying a cross for Jesus means being aware of the fight, training for the fighting and moving onto the front lines of battle.  I spoke with Steve Deweese via email this week.  He’s commanding a couple of hundred soldiers who are preparing to go to Iraq in just a few weeks.  They are now at the stage of their training where they won’t have phone or email contact for a couple of weeks.  Steve said this two-week lack of communication is part of their training.  These guys have to be singly focused on the mission at hand and can’t be distracted by anything else.  Their minds have to be engaged in this next part of their training at 100%.

Listen, we need to be so focused in this conflict we are engaged in if we are truly going to be cross carrying disciples.  II Timothy 2:3-4 says, “3 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs–he wants to please his commanding officer.”  Our focus isn’t on civilian affairs.  It isn’t on the things of this world.  It is focused on this spiritual battle for which we carry Christ’s cross.

Unlike other battles we might face in life, this spiritual battle has already been decided. We are on the winning side of this conflict.  We simply have to stay in the fight.

Hebrews 10:32  32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

God has sent me today to say “Stand your ground.  Don’t throw away your confidence.  Persevere because the fulfillment of all of God’s promises is on its way.  Church of the Living God, if there was ever a time to get your swagger on, the time is now.  If there was ever a time to declare that you are standing your ground, it is now.  If there was ever a time to lift high the cross of Christ, it is now.  If there was ever a time to shout the name of Jesus, it is now.  If there was ever a time to get into the pointed little face of our enemy, it is now.

Let’s just engage in some battle right now. Satan, you can’t have this generation.  You can’t have our children.  You can’t have our marriages.  You can’t enslave us to the things of this world.  You can’t take control of our minds or discourage our faith.  We are standing our ground this morning, lifting high the cross of Christ, pleading the blood of Jesus.  The cross has destroyed you and we won’t stop until every person in this community and in our families knows the power of the cross we have discovered.

If you are ready to be a cross carrying Christian who signs up for the conflict will you read the following with me?  I am fighting the fight of faith.  I am resisting the Devil and he must flee from me.  I am belted in by truth and shielded by faith.  I am wearing the helmet of salvation and am running into battle in the shoes of peace.  I’m using the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, and I am praying in the Spirit everywhere I go.  I have made a decision to be a cross carrying disciple.

Cross carrying Christians engage in conflict, and secondly, they embrace the cost of disciplship. “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Here Jesus is simply reminding his disciples that a relationship with Jesus takes priority over all other relationships.  He is first.

This cost is the Abraham test. You remember God called upon Abraham to be willing to sacrifice the son of promise? God calls on us to make a decision about priorities in our life that places him first. Above career, above comfort, above our personal hopes and dreams, above, yes, even father and mother, son and daughter.

Now that doesn’t mean that we’re being called to neglect family responsibility in the name of spirituality? The Apostle Paul wrote that the one who doesn’t care for his family is worse than an unbeliever. Caring for and loving your family is part of your service to the Lord, but it cannot and must not ever take priority over your love and dedication to Him.

How does that work out practically? Here’s one way, Sometimes when I speak with folks who call themselves Christians I ask, “Where do you worship?” and I’ll get a variation of this response, “Well we’re so busy that Sunday is just a family day,” or “We’re so busy that Sunday is the only day we have to sleep in.”  Sometimes the cost of discipleship is losing an hour of sleep to get up and go to church.

Students, how about that amazing guy or girl that you are involved in a relationship with?  They are wonderful people, but they aren’t Christians yet.  Or maybe they are a Christian but the priority you’ve made your relationship is now compromising your relationship with Christ.  There is a cost to our discipleship and part of that cost is making Jesus your priority.

Jesus has to be number one in every area of your life.  He has to be first in your affection, first in your thoughts, first in your finances, and first in your planning.  Cross carrying Christians, “Love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.”  They aren’t one thing on Sundays and another thing on MySpace and Facebook with their friends.  They aren’t one way on Sundays and another way Monday through Friday with their buddies at work.

The very first of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”  God requires if we belong to Him that we put Him first.  Not first on Sunday.  Not first when life is going well.  He’s supposed to be supreme all of the time.

Putting God first in our life means that we conform our lives to His principles.  Romans 12:2 tells us to “Be not conformed to this world.”  Men, if you carry a wallet in your pocket, after a while that wallet becomes curved and conformed to the shape of your hip.  That happens because of how close you carry it to you and how long you have carried it.  The bottom line is, how close you are to the Lord will impact how closely our lives will conform to His!

The second part of that cost is being publicly willing to identify with Him.  You can’t walk around, carrying a cross and be inconspicuous.  You can’t blend in with the crowd when you are a cross carrying Christian. To take our cross and follow Jesus means to be willing to publicly say, “I’m with Jesus.”  That’s the declaration of our Christian baptism.  When we accept Christ as Savior and publicly follow Jesus’ example in baptism, we are publicly saying through the symbolism of going under the water that we have died to self and have been raised to new life in Christ.

Imagine a young couple with me.  We’ll call them Jack and Jill.  Jack is madly in love and is sure Jill feels the same way.  Jack goes out and buys the most expensive ring for Jill.  Jack picks her up and takes her to a remote beach where he has planted the ring in a certain shell that is buried in a certain spot next to a palm tree.  After a picnic supper, he gives Jill a garden shovel and tells her to search in this location.  The ring is discovered and Jack asks for Jill to spend the rest of her life with him.  She agrees to marry him but asks if it’s okay that she doesn’t wear the ring and if it would be alright if they have a private ceremony because while she loves Jack, she wants to “keep her options open.”  She wants to say “yes” to Jack, but she doesn’t want to say “no” to anyone else.  Jack won’t stand for that.  Neither will God.

You can’t be a cross carrying disciple and be incognito or play the field.  It’s Jesus first, and He must be seen in the way you carry His cross throughout your life.  One of the young ladies who will be in the singing group tonight is a senior at Hurricane High School.  She’s in the Red Hot Showchoir and the minute I heard her sing, I knew she was a Christian.  I simply went up to her and asked her when she could come and sing at our church.  Jesus was evident in the way she let Him shine through her life.

Cross Carrying Christians exhibit a commitment to live life upside down.

Jesus says that to find your life, you have to lose it.  Jesus says, “Commit to losing your life and you will find it.”

Jesus says, “Commit to being last and you will be first.”  Mark 9:35b says, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Jesus says, “Commit to serving and you will be great.”  Matt 20:26b “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

The Bible says that cross carrying Christians choose to be less in order to gain success.
John 3:30 “He must become greater; I must become less.”

Cross carrying Christians choose to give in order to receive.  Acts 20:35 “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ’It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Cross carrying Christians choose to deny themselves in order to follow Jesus. The cross was an instrument of torture. Jesus was being very politically incorrect for even mentioning it, because Jews at this time refused to speak of crucifixion in polite company–it was considered an obscenity. Here is Jesus not only talking about it, but saying if you want to follow him you have to carry a cross. To make it contemporary imagine some guy on the street calling for people to pick up an electric chair and follow him. Not the greatest selling point for your new religion.

But Jesus says if you’re going to follow me, it’s going to take that kind of commitment! A willingness to follow whatever the cost. I love the song the choir sang this morning, “Let My Life, Praise You.”  That’s it in a nutshell.  I used to sing a song as a teenager called “Whatever It takes to draw closer to You, Lord, that’s what I’ll be willing to do.” One verse said “Take my houses and my lands change my dreams and all my plans for I’m placing my whole life in your hands and if you’d call me today to a land far away, Lord I’d go and your will obey.” That’s the commitment of a cross carrying Christian.  It’s the commitment to say, “I’ll do it Your way, Lord.”  “You’re the boss.” And it is followed by the commitment to live that out.

I heard about a career day school assembly where the school invited the Army, Air Force and Marine recruiters to give their pitch to the student body. The first two went over time and the Marine had only two minutes to speak. He stood and stared at the students and finally said, “I doubt if there’s more than three of you here who could even make it in the Marines, but I want to see those three at my table.” You know what happened–his table was surrounded.

Jesus is saying the same thing about being His follower. It’s not going to be easy, no wimps allowed. It’s going to take commitment. Even though Christ paid for our salvation with His own blood and it’s a free gift that I can’t add anything too, he makes it clear that it will cost us something, that something is nothing more and nothing less than our lives.  That’s a total commitment.  Romans 12:1 talks of cross carrying Christians as living sacrifices.  A sacrifice in the OT was something that was killed.  It became dead to itself.  That’s a total commitment.

There’s a difference between being involved in the things of God and being committed to Him.  Do you know there is a difference between involvement and commitment? Perhaps I can best explain this by way of analogy with bacon and eggs.  In the case of bacon and eggs, the hen is involved but the pig is committed.  Cross carrying Christians are totally committed.

Most of you know I am a member of the Rotary Club which is an organization made up of professionals and business persons in Putnam County.  We pay a fee to join, meet weekly for a lunch meeting, and work on projects that make our community better and on projects like “mission projects” that make life better for people around the world.

It’s easy to get involved with the Rotary.  You pay your annual dues and show up fairly regularly to a meeting, which for some is just enough to keep your face in front of people.  This last week, one of our members, Chet Marshall, challenged each member to step up their commitment.  He reminded everyone of the Rotary motto which is “Service above self.”  He asked the question, “Are you a member of the club, or are you a Rotarian?”  Members show up for a meeting once in a while and pay their dues, but Rotarians are committed to the work of putting service above self.  I thought about that and thought the same question begged to be asked of those of us inside the church, “Are we members who show up somewhat regularly or are we Cross Carrying Christians who are committed to living out the life and ministry of Jesus?”

Being a Cross Carrying Christian begins with making a personal commitment.  You have to bow at the cross of Jesus before you can pick yours up.  At the foot of Jesus’ cross, you have to receive by faith, the sacrifice of Jesus.  You have to confess your unworthiness as a sinner who isn’t in right standing with God on your own.  His cross allows you to become right with God.  Your cross, the one that you carry doesn’t buy your salvation or add to it in any way.  It is simply the faithful witness to the rest of the world that you belong to Jesus.

It begins with a personal commitment, and it’s a daily commitment.  Paul says in I Cor. 15:31, “I die daily.”  That statement referred to the suffering and persecution he willingly endured because he preached the message of the cross.  He lived as a cross carrying Christian because every day he made a choice to put his agenda down and to pick up Christ’s agenda.  Every day he made a choice to put Christ’s message first.  Every day he made a choice to love and serve Jesus Christ.

That daily commitment isn’t unlike the kind of commitment that a husband and wife make.  If you think when you say, “I do,” that you are making a commitment for the rest of your lives in that moment that will last, you find out quickly that the words spoken on that day mean nothing unless you get up every day choosing to live them out and repeat them in your lifestyle.  My commitment to Thom isn’t that I’ll love him forever, although I want that to happen.  My commitment to Thom is that every day I will make the choice to love him and vice versa.  How many of you know it’s easier some days than others?  There are some days when you don’t feel like serving your spouse, putting your spouse first, picking up his socks, (that just slipped out) or even loving your spouse through demonstration.  But if you make a daily commitment to that relationship, you choose to do it anyway, even when you don’t feel like it.  If we are going to succeed at being Cross Carrying Christians, we’re going to have to consciously choose to do so every day.

Cross Carrying Christians, they’re different from Card Carrying Democrats or Card Carrying Republicans or Card Carrying Members of any organization.  You can put a card in your pocket and then change your speech and lifestyle to accommodate those around you as your social scene changes.  But a cross, you can’t hide that.  You can’t pocket the cross.  Jesus doesn’t fit into our pockets or purses.  He’s too big for that.  Too magnificent for that.  Too awesome for that.

Cross Carrying Christians engage in conflict.  They embrace the cost of discipleship and they exhibit a commitment in their daily life.  Will you sign up today to be a Cross Carrying Christian?

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