The message of the cross will always be offensive, and the simple call to ‘die to self’ will be very hard to swallow because it dares to break the mask of sugar-coated self-glorification and sin. There is, however, no other message.
“No Longer I”
_____ _____________________ ___ __ _There was a roaring tension inside of me that Sunday afternoon. I was looking at the congregation and couldn’t actually paint a better word picture than the word “intense.” I don’t know, but from the pulpit’s vantage point, it was. Before this, I was rehearsing my emotional introductory speech for five minutes inside the washroom, feeling myself with my dramatic words as I stood in front of the mirror. That was the time when our OIC Eljon “Mr. Muscle” Viejo funnily caught me while i was preaching to myself, with intense feelings. I felt like a loser. I shrieked then and pushed myself back to the hall. I dared myself not to speak with Eljon that time. I just went straight to the stage and automatically faced the church. Half of these people, I quite know. Know – as in I felt that I almost lived with them for years now. The other half was a blurry bunch. They were first timers. I felt the big lump of terror sliding down my throat. Living in the generation where the technology magnifies the self-obsession of the people (selfies, front-cam for selfies, monopods for selfies, self-promoting profile pictures, twitter expressions, insta-photos and the somehow unconscious obsession to the “Like” button), the message that I was about to give was counter-cultural. I do not deem “selfies” wrong, I told them, but it can possibly intensify our own obsessions with ourselves and make it another acceptable trend to pamper sinful self-indulgence and ego trips. Voices haunted me. Maybe, they will not like this. Maybe, they will not attend next Sunday if they listen to this. Oh my, why am I not so seeker-sensitive? The thought-cloud popping above my head may have been so intense, but I knew why I needed to raise this issue. Looking beside the pulpit made it easier for me to calm myself down. A seven-foot cross, three times my weight was standing there – firmly erected like a flag on the moon. It was smiling at me, I crazily thought. Then my eyes began to pendulum back to the congregation. I had this message firmly crucified to my entire soul. I need not to be afraid because this was the message of my sweet Savior. I need not to worry because this was all about my beloved Lord Jesus. If the congregation needed to hear a message, especially in this church generation where we could easily claim that we follow Jesus, this was it. “If anyone would come after me,” Jesus boldly preached. “Let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Following Jesus means taking up my cross daily; and the secret to taking up my cross is counting my “self” as nothing. In the context of the cross, my greatest enemy is my self.
Most of the time, Jesus would preach this truth without any hint of fear. And most of the time, this was His very call. “…whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mat. 10:38-39) One of the most famous words in this intent is found in Bonhoeffer’s book “The Cost of Discipleship” where he was straightforward: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” To live for Christ is to die to self. Hear the heart-cry of the apostle Paul when he wrote these words: “I have been crucified with Christ. [“No Longer I”] It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20) There is a great need for congregations to know this truth both in the mind and in the heart so they will not assume that living for Christ is not simply going to church, singing cool church songs, memorizing comforting verses and installing a good version of the Bible in their smartphones or a “Jesus” bumper sticker. Following Christ is dying to self, and no matter how gentle this tone would be, this will still be harsh especially for me whose soul is so self-obsessed. The message of the cross will always be offensive, and the simple call to die to self will be very hard to swallow because it dares to break the mask of sugar-coated self-glorification and sin. There is, however, no other message. “It is to the Cross that the Christian is challenged to follow his Master,” says Hans Urs von Balthasar – “No path of redemption can make a detour around it.” The American Attorney E.M Bounds couldn’t be more forthright: “All God’s plans have the mark of the cross on them, and all His plans have death to self in them.”I wrote these words in my personal notes to remind, more than anyone else, myself who’s full of Adamantium ego and shiny self-promoting obsession. I am still in love with the idea of glorifying my own self. Here was the painful note – “The cross kills a man and makes him whole. Go to the cross, hang yourself there, daily embrace the pain and love of the Savior and you will never be the same again. The cross is greater than self. You will never be proud or selfish there. You die in the cross, but you live because our good God lives! There is no other life.” Denying myself and taking up my cross should be my “daily” indulgence – the mark of me following Jesus. I should daily remind myself that “It is no longer I who live”, but Christ living in me. I am not Jesus, but following Him is a daily struggle against that “I” versus the desire to make “Him” bigger in me. Oh – to those who, by grace, truly love Jesus, will truly love Him more than life itself. Or as Richard Chin powerfully puts it: “To take up your cross is to consider it better to die than to live for something other than Jesus.”