Christianity 201

May 31, 2011

Taking Up Your Cross

Mark Batterson picks up the theme of what it means to take up your cross

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34-35

This may be the most important description of what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the entire gospel, yet most of us have no idea what it means.  We understand the imagery, but we don’t know how to live it out.  What exactly does it mean to take up your cross?

First, it means self-denial.  I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t want to experience self-fulfillment, but the only path to self-fulfillment is self-denial. There is no other way. While self-denial may sound miserable, it’s actually wonderful.  We simply deny ourselves those things that are temporarily pleasurable but eternally painful.  We deny the desires of our flesh. We deny the temptation of sin.  We refuse to settle for anything less than the best which is God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.

Second, taking up your cross means torture.  And we wince at the thought, but stop and think about it.  Any great achievement requires torture.  Athletes torture their bodies.  Thinkers torture their minds.  And we get that on the physical and intellectual plane, but wish there was another way on the spiritual plane.  There isn’t.  Just like the physical realm: no pain, no gain.  Are you willing to suffer temporal pain for eternal gain?  That’s what it comes down to.

Finally, it means death.  You have to die to self everyday.  How?  By allowing your circumstances to help you become more like Christ–especially the circumstances you don’t like.  Anytime you feel the pain of an insult, disappointment, suffering, physical challenge, failure, injustice, or trial–it’s an opportunity to die to pride, die to ego, die to sin, die to self.  And if you keep dying to self, you’ll come alive in ways you never imagined.  In fact, you’ll live forever.

We worry about all the wrong things!  You only have one job and it’s this: take up your cross.  That is your portfolio as a Christ follower. You simply need to deny yourself, endure torture, and die to self.  If you do that, God will do the rest.  If you do it everyday, you have all of eternity to look forward to.

~Mark Batterson

Mark serves as lead pastor of National Community Church ( in Washington, DC. One church with 10 services in six locations, NCC is focused on reaching emerging generations. The vision of NCC is to meet in movie theaters at metro stops throughout the DC area. NCC also owns and operates the largest coffeehouse on Capitol Hill.

The parallel passage to this one from Luke forms the basis of the new book, Not a Fan; if you haven’t already, read a review of that book here.

March 20, 2011


I always hated to study.  My study habits in high school weren’t great, despite some great academic coaching, and how I got through university is anyone’s guess.

So I have a natural aversion to the term “Bible study,” as it suggests someone staying up late in the dorm under a study lamp, cramming in order to pass some test; when instead, we should she shared times in God’s word as more of a feast, or a banquet.   I don’t want to communicate the idea that something that is designed to be joy-filled is actually ardous labor.

So the verse I learned as a kid,

Study to show thyself approved onto God…

Is fortunately translated differently in newer translations:

(NIV) II Tim 2: 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

(The Message) II Tim 2:15Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple.

(NASB) II Tim 2:15Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

(NLT) II Tim 2:15 Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.

Do your best… concentrate… be diligent… work hard.  No late nights with the study lamp burning! It’s not about cramming to pass a test, it’s about living a life!

Now having said all that, this does not diminish the responsibility of the Christ follower to, for lack of a better word, study the Bible.

I recently dialogued with a young woman who, after a year of Bible college was unfamiliar with a Bible concordance.  This is a basic reference tool that, while not necessary for admission to heaven, is one that should form part of your personal library at some point.  Of course, it’s functionality is also available online through sites such as Bible Gateway.

This morning a visiting pastor shared with me this quotation, “Evangelicals are people who know more than they do;” which he attributed to Canadian church leader Brian Stiller.  We don’t want to just fill up with head-knowledge, we need to find ways to put feet to our faith.  But the quotation also implies that historically, we have been people who knew their Bibles.   The term “Methodist” actually refers to a group of people who had a methodical way of studying the scriptures.   The Bereans are held up in Acts as an example of a group who studied the sacred texts with great diligence.

Wanna dig a little deeper?

One way to start is to carefully examine related books:

  • Compare the ‘fatherly’ advice in Proverbs with the New Testament proverbs in the book of James…
  • Study the book of Acts in such a way that you break out into Paul’s epistles to the different churches mentioned in the last two-thirds of Acts…
  • Compare the end-time prophecies of Daniel and Revelation with the things Jesus said about the end times in Matthew…
  • Study the passages in the gospels which are present with all four writers, and then take a contrasting look at the ones that are unique to particular books, especially the gospel of John…
  • Using a concordance, and several different translations, do a word study on a particular theme or idea in scripture…
  • Read books that deal with the “hard sayings” or “difficult passages” of scripture and try to figure out, based on all your other readings, where you stand on these sometimes-labeled “issues”…
  • Here’s a fun one:  You have a blog consisting entirely of scripture passages copied and pasted from an online site.  (Not very challenging so far, right?)  Now, your job each day before you post something is to come up with the post tags, those little one-word things that would bring readers to your page.  How you would tag the various sections is indicative of what you’re seeing in each individual section…
  • The above is very close to something called inductive Bible study.  For this you you make a hard copy (photocopy) of a Bible passage and using a technique practiced by Kay Arthur and others you underline, circle and highlight key words and phrases.  It slows you down and forces you to really consider what the passage is saying…
  • Buy a commentary on a particular book of the Bible and get into depth with the Bible scholar(s) who wrote it.  If you don’t know Greek or Hebrew, get help picking out one that doesn’t go deep into what’s called ‘textual criticism’ and just get one that’s devotional or more user-friendly.  I can’t really list series here because some involve different writers who dig deeper in varying degrees.  So have someone qualified — ideally in a Christian bookstore, not online — help you make that choice.
  • Do a study on the theology of the hymns.  Many contain multiple allusions to scripture, and some hymnbooks have a key verse on the page to help you get started.  Some of the modern choruses also contain a similar depth.

Hope these ideas propel you to greater love for God’s word.