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Lay Down & Take Up

by James Madsen, Pastor of Discipleship

For many, the season of Lent has become a time where you give up something you are attached to. Yet there is an inherent danger in simply giving up something without taking up Jesus in its place. For those that choose something challenging to give up, they often fail in their endeavor, which can lead to despair and the belief that God must think they are a failure. Others keep their fast, which leads them to feelings of pride, self-righteousness, and belief in Satan’s lie that you don’t need a Savior. I often find that the people who fast “successfully” are unaware of how they treated people in the process. One person I know gives up caffeine each Lent and behaves like an ornery growling bear, snapping at people. Maybe he doesn’t see his need for Jesus, but everyone around him does!

At its heart, Lent should be a time of repentance. Repentance is putting God back at the center of our life. What might we be called to “lay down” that hinders our love for Jesus and our ability to love other people? We should be honest with ourselves regarding how our attachments to things—like our smartphone, our hobbies, our bitterness, and our pride—keep us from loving others and experiencing abundant life in God. As we wrestle with these attachments, we will experience failure and relapse. Can I remind you that your failure doesn’t surprise Jesus? He died for all your sins. He wants us to experience freedom from all the things that enslave us so that we can deeply experience His love and freely love those around us.

Our Lenten sermon series completes our in-depth look at the Sermon on the Mount. These three chapters are full of challenging teachings from Jesus. As we listen to the words of Jesus, we will experience an important tension: knowing that we should be growing in obedience in these areas, and the reality that we still fall short. Matthew begins his gospel with the reminder that Jesus came to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). If we forget this reality, we will approach the Sermon on the Mount pretending we are doing better at obedience than we really are, or we will think our determined self-effort earns our approval before God. Yet as believers in Jesus, what we are called to do flows from what Jesus has already done. Jesus makes us right before God by His shed blood on the cross. As we rest in that reality and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can move toward living out these teachings.

At the core of this obedience is learning to live in greater dependence on God. We lay down what is keeping us from experiencing the joy of this dependence and take up life in Christ. As we journey toward Easter together, may we experience anew the overwhelming good news of the gospel found in Jesus.