January 2021 newsletter - Pastor's Pen

January 1, 2021

Lessons in the Jesus school of discipleship

By Graeme Shanks

Lesson 1: It is by losing ourselves that we find ourselves!
(Mark 8:31-9:1)

Some things in life seem so counter-intuitive. One icy evening this week I tried steering our car up the driveway. Seeing the slight glimmer of ice up ahead I tried accelerating ever so slightly in order to clear it. I only succeeded in a creating a wheel spin to the amusement of the passers by. I tried again. Same result. To my great relief I got in on the third attempt. The solution wasn’t found in going faster. The solution, in a way that didn’t make immediate sense to me, was to drive slower. Some things seem so counter-intuitive.

The same is true if you follow Jesus. Peter found this out the hard way. The pivot point in Mark’s gospel is when the penny finally drops in Peter’s mind as to who Jesus really is. ‘Who do you say I am?’ asks Jesus. ‘You are the Christ!’ Cue streamers and jackpot noises! Our boy’s got it! But has he? He might have the identity right. However, when it comes to grasping exactly what it

means for Jesus to be the Christ, well Peter’s got that all wrong! Rejected by the religious elite? Crucified publicly by Romans soldiers? Surely not!? That’s not in Peter’s Messiah playbook. Power and prestige is! But Jesus lovingly explains just how counter-intuitive being his follower is.

We can all too easily hang Peter out to dry at this point. Surely he should have known better?

But as I found myself sitting on at the beginning of yet another year surveying the months and planning the days ahead it struck me that too often Peter’s mindset is my mindset! How many of my ambitions for the year ahead concern the advancement of my own affairs? How often my mind is on the things of man rather than on God?

Here then is the counter-intuitive call of Christ.
It is precisely by losing ourselves that we will find ourselves.

“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 and for the gospel will save it.”

(Mark 8:34-35)

Here then is the cross-shaped call of the King. Die to your own agenda. Say no to your own desires. The impulses. The dreams and ambitions. The rights and demands. Instead, take them captive as you seek first his Kingdom. That is cross shaped living. We live in a world where the opposite tune is being played. The way to life is to affirm yourself says our culture. The call of Jesus seems so counter-intuitive. Yet the promise of Christ is that this is exactly how we will know life.

So what might ‘denying yourself’ look like for you this coming year? What things could you do but you won’t do this year for the sake of following Christ? Do our friends and family sense in us a cross-shaped life patterned on Jesus? I always love how the early disciples at Antioch were first called Christians. Quite literally people labelled them ‘little Christ’s’. They clearly saw something of the cruciform pattern of Jesus in the lives of these early believers. What a wonderful tribute to their witness in that city.

Some things seem so counter-intuitive. They don’t immediately make sense to us. Yet let’s remember that the one who spoke these words also rose from the grave. Perhaps his claim on us is justified by the fact that death has no claim on him!

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