FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Living in a pluralist society, Christians should confess Jesus as the Christ and Son of God, and they should surrender their lives to follow Him, no matter what they may suffer in the process, pastor Tony Merida said during Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s 2011 Youth Ministry Lab.
Merida, teaching pastor at Temple Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Miss., told youth ministers, volunteers and students that members of the current generation make many positive claims about Jesus. They are simply wrong.
 In a sermon based on Peter’s confession of Christ in Mark 8, he said that people have called Jesus a “witty teacher like Buddha or Socrates” or an inaccurate “apocalyptic prophet.” Muslims call Christ a Muslim, feminists call him a feminist, socialists call him the first socialist, and the Native American Lakota tribe calls him the “buffalo calf of God.” In modern pop culture, Jesus is a “homeboy,” featured on television shows and in tattoos.
“They want to put Jesus in their own image,” Merida said. Yet he warned that one of the most dangerous views of Christ can be found in churches throughout the Bible belt.
“The Bible-belt Jesus is in our churches, where people believe that we have a Jesus who would never call us to deny ourselves. We have a Jesus who is fine with half-hearted devotion, a Jesus who is OK with us not ever doing anything risky. He wants us to avoid everything dangerous, and he will never violate our comforts.”
On the contrary, Merida said, Jesus came to suffer for the lost, and he calls his followers to deny themselves and bear their own crosses.
“You know the people that God uses are the people that follow this (lifestyle): They say they are willing to take up the cross, deny themselves and follow Jesus,” Merida said. “It is simply people who surrender their lives to him, in total abandonment, in total surrender. They say, ‘I will lay down my life for the sake of the Gospel.’ ”
Such surrender was illustrated before Merida preached his message. Throughout the weekend, youth workers and their students wrote on slips of paper what they needed to surrender. Before Merida preached, YML volunteers dumped these slips of paper before a cross set up on the stage in Truett auditorium.
This display, along with Merida’s sermon, highlighted the conference’s theme, “Release,” which was based on Paul’s confession in Philippians 3:8: “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”