Was blind, but now I see.

5 : 6 June 2006




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Copyright for the journal © 2005
M. S. Thirumalai


Pastor Dave Strem

The Crowd Says: The Cross says:
Follow us Follow Me
Rely on yourself Rely on Me
Earn your worth I am your worth
Bear your burdens Nail them to Me
Be happy Be holy
If it feels good do it For loves sake endure it
Honor yourself Humble yourself
Do Done


The crowd had a plan for Jesus, but it was not God's plan. They cried out, "Lord, heal our nation!" but Jesus had come to heal their nature. They said, "Fix our eyes," but Jesus came to give them a new perspective beyond what they could see. They said, "Make us happy!" but He said, "I have come to make you holy." It was not the first time Jesus was tempted by another call.

In the wilderness Satan went to Jesus and said, "It is not fair that the son of man should come to earth and be hungry. You have the power to turn these stones into bread. It is not fair you should suffer. There is no reason for it." He took Jesus and showed Him all the nations of the earth and said, "You are the son of God. You deserve to have all these nations worship you. It is only fitting." He took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and said, "Throw yourself down and let the world see that the angels will hold you up and not allow you to even bruise your foot, that you will not suffer anything." Satan offered another plan, another way to change the world. But Jesus had other goals beyond just world domination, beyond a physical kingdom. He answered, "I have come to follow the will of my Father."


A few days before His triumphal entry, Jesus stood with His disciples in Caesarea Philippi and asked them, "Who do people say I am and who do you say I am?" And Peter made the confession, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus responded, "Well said. This has been revealed to you by the Father." He then bluntly told them, "The son of man must be rejected by the elders and by the priests and will be killed." Peter echoing the thoughts of the disciples said, "No way. We will not let that happen."


Peter had another plan, but it was not God's plan. Jesus rebuked Peter, "Get behind me, Satan." Peter was echoing what Satan said to Jesus in the wilderness. Satan's message was for Jesus to exert Himself to establish His kingdom, to command respect and obedience. God has gone through a lot of trouble to not do things that way. He has always wanted willing obedience from a people who are grateful for His marvelous gifts and graciousness. His plan, from beginning to end, has included a love relationship with His creatures, freely given from one to the other. Satan's plan did not include love relationships as central to the plan. God's plan does. Jesus came to fulfill the Father's plan! "I will put my rights behind me. I will wait on His timing. I will follow His path."

After rebuking Peter, He then called the crowd to Him. "You all have come out to follow me. I have something to tell you. If you want to follow after me, here is what it is going to take. I invite you to deny yourself, to take up your cross and to follow after me." Now there is an attractive invitation. Jesus is brutally honest. His message was not, "I have come to make your life easier," but "I have come to make your life greater." It will be busier. It will be more abundant. It will be more fulfilling, but it is not going to be easy.


The world has a plan, but it differs from God's plan. The call of the world goes against the grain of what God says. The crowd teaches us that success is measured by how much you have, how much you hold onto, how convenient and easy you have made your life. Anything that differs from that, anything that becomes difficult or bothers us, we should avoid, we should get rid of, we should pare it out of our life. Sadly, many churches also adopt this same attitude. They advertise themselves as places where they offer fringe benefits. And so people go shopping for a church that offers the most. That is the way the world has conditioned us to think. We want a Super Target where we can get everything the way we want it. One-stop church shopping. We have been taught that everybody ought to cater to us, to meet our needs, to fulfill our wants and our desires. But that is not the picture that Jesus paints of Christians and the Christian life.


Even in the church you are to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him. He said, "If you want to be my disciples, this is what you must do. You must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me." What did He mean? What does it mean to pick up my cross? What does it mean to deny myself? What does it mean to follow Him in this day and age? It is often misunderstood. Taking up your cross really has nothing to do with the kind of jewelry you wear, whether you wear a lapel pin or a necklace or earrings or some kind of bumper sticker or something else. Bearing your cross does not mean putting up with your boss at work. Your spouse is not your cross to bear. Your child going through rebellion is not your cross to bear. Coming down with a terminal illness is not your cross to bear.


Many times people who are going through hard things say, "Well, I guess that is just the cross I have to bear." That is not what Jesus has in mind. Cross bearing, first of all, is always voluntary. You have to choose to do it. Secondly, it is an act of love that you choose to do out of love, out of personal sacrifice and care for something bigger or better than yourself. And thirdly, it is always hard. You cannot do everything you want to do. You do not get to do everything you feel you deserve to do. You do not get to keep all that you have earned. If you want to be Jesus' disciple, you belong to Him. And His goals are different than yours. Like we saw in His rebuke of Satan, God has goals and plans beyond our own. It does not matter how happy or good you may think you have it, Jesus says, "Follow me, instead, if you want to establish a life of significance."

Denying yourself does not always include pain. Denying yourself illicit drugs means your body and your spirit will be better. There are many things Christ calls us to deny that will be of great benefit to us. We are called to say "no" to these things so that we can say "yes" to God. To deny yourself means that you say "no" to yourself so you can say "yes" to God. And it makes sense to do that because you and I both know that many times we do not want what is best.


I am instinctively selfish and self-centered. You and I are instinctively self-centered and selfish. We have to say "no" to ourselves because we are prone to sin. Many times by our feelings, which are too often tied to our sinful desires, we are led in incorrect and wrong directions. We are tempted by wrong things because they promise us gratification and fulfillment. We want shortcuts. We want something that may be good for us but we want to get it too quickly or by illicit means. I came across a phrase this week that troubles me. It troubles me because it is too real. It is called "sin management."

Many times we end up being in the "sin management" business. Just keeping it under control. How would you feel if I told you that five years ago we got a report from Allied Pest Control that we have a termite problem in our church. They have been eating away the right side of our church but we have been managing it. As of last year, it has not yet spread to the left side. Would you feel good about sitting under our roof, even on the left side? Ridiculous, is it not? You are doing the same type of thing in your life when you are managing your sin. Like termites, sin spreads and infects. Just sweeping up and keeping it in one little area does not work. Like termites you have to eradicate the problem. The Bible does not promise eradication of all possible sin from our lives. After all, 1 John tells us to confess our sins and that those who deny that they ever sin are either deceived or lying. But particular sins can be eradicated, removed, so that they do not negatively affect our lives. Get it out, do not play with it! Take the necessary step and continue to kill and treat.


He invites us to take up our cross. The good news is that "your cross" is not Jesus' cross. God gave Christ a mission to come and die for our sin on a cross. You do not do that for other people. You cannot do that for yourself. God has given you another mission, to live in His light, walk according to His ways, be a blessing to your family and others around and live a fruitful, productive life. God's call for you is to prioritize His plans and His desires in your life. That is an invitation you get to make. It is not imposed upon you.


Billy Graham said, "Salvation is free. But discipleship costs everything." Are you not glad that your salvation does not depend upon your discipleship? That your salvation is not based upon how good you live, how good you do? It is the gift of God by faith and by His grace. It is given because you could not earn it anyway and He wants you enough that He paid the price for it. But He says, "If you want a life worth living, follow me." He says, "If you try and save your life, you will lose it. If you keep your concerns up on the top rung, you will lose your life. But if you lose your life for my sake, then your life will take on real purpose, meaning, and strength. You will live in the world with the power of God guiding and strengthening you. Take up your cross and then follow me."

Taking up your cross is an invitation. We get the image of taking up your cross as taking up this big burden and lugging it along. Jesus says, "I will be with you carrying it. I will guide you. I will give you the strength to do it. It is going to take effort, but it is not all on your own."


Here is a good description of a cross-bearer. You may recognize it.

A cross-bearer is patient and a cross-bearer is kind. A cross-bearer does not envy and he does not boast. A cross-bearer is not arrogant or rude. A cross-bearer is not out for his own. He is not self-seeking. He is not easily angered and does not keep track of wrongs so he can get even another time. A cross-bearer does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. A cross-bearer always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

All those things are choices that a cross-bearer makes. Cross-bearing is not an accident that happens to us or something unavoidable that we must face. Cross-bearing is an act of love that we freely, deliberately choose. It is a task we undertake, a price we pay out of love.

The word "follow" comes from the root word in Greek "to travel a road." And it means to "road together," to go on a road trip together. It is the same exact word that Jesus used for His disciples when He calls them from fishing on the Sea of Galilee. "Come and take a road trip with me. Come and journey through life with me."


To follow Him means you let Him take the lead and oftentimes that means you have to make a u-turn. If you are going to let Him take the lead, when you find yourself facing a different direction, you are the one who is going to have to turn around. That is the old Bible word "repent." It is to turn around and face a new direction. He sets the course and the only way to get you going where He wants you is to follow after Him. Consider how you are walking. Who are you listening to? Have you bought into the crowd calling out what you need to be chasing after, what it says will satisfy your heart and soul, of what is worthwhile in this life? Or are you willing to believe God who says if you deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Him, you are going to have a life worth living.


Are you walking as a pagan who says, "There is probably a God up there but I do not really care what He [or she] has to say about sin and spiritual death. As long as he [or she] minds his business and keeps the earth spinning, I will just mind my business and get along fine. I am more concerned with the here-and-now than 'life everlasting'."

You are missing out on the whole design of the universe, of the point of your existence. If you are a pagan, or living like a pagan, you are worshipping the creature more than the Creator! Or are you a believer who is essentially living as a pagan in a pagan culture? Has the crowd influenced you too much? To walk with Him you may need to turn around and realize you have been managing sin. Maybe there are some areas in which you need to deny yourself. Christ gave up His rights on the cross and we are to have the same kind of attitude. We are to sacrifice our will to God's will because it is the only thing that will fulfill us. He is come to add to our life not to take away from it. Break out of sin management and move into sin eradication in your life.

You know the most common command in the Bible? More than any other exhortation in all of Scripture, more than "do not sin" or "love one another," is the exhortation "do not be afraid." Do you want others to know where you stand? Jesus very pointedly says, "If you are ashamed of me, I will be ashamed of you on the day you come into glory with the angels." Do not be ashamed. But choose to follow through and walk in what He has given you. Say "no" to yourself in order to say "yes" to God. Prioritize God's mission for your life. Set it above all else and head down God's road rather than your own.


The Crowd Or the Cross? | What Is Your Response to God's Call? | Spotlight-ism | The Law of the Spirit of Life | Evangelizing Buddhists in America | CONTACT EDITOR | HOME PAGE OF JUNE 2006 ISSUE | HOME PAGE

Pastor Dave Strem
C/o. Christian Literature and Living


Sharing Your Faith with a Buddhist, a book on evangelism by M. S. Thirumalai

Solitary Poet, Poems of Reflection by Stan Schmidt.

Sharing Your Faith with Hindus by M. S. Thirumalai.


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