Carrying our Cross – Pentecost

Jesus tells us to “carry your cross.” He also said in the same verse, we should carry it daily. What did he mean by that? Something we do every day must be important. Do you know what “carrying your cross” means? Do you do it every day? This Presentation, Carrying Our Cross, can help with that.

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For Further Consideration

Here is a link discussing what Jesus meant when He told us to carry our cross.


Happy Pentecost, everybody! We’re doing a Zoom service today, which is a cool thing, given all the distance. I think we’ve got all four US times zones spanned today. It’s so good to see old friends. 

As you know, Pentecost is about the work of God’s church from the first Christian Pentecost right up until Christ returns – what the church is to be doing and the fact that they’re in the church. These are all topics for Pentecost. I’d like to talk to you today about another vital factor in God’s plan for His church. And that factor is suffering and the role it plays in our spiritual development…

Let’s approach this topic starting with the Exodus. God’s people were living under a totalitarian government as slaves.  God heard them crying for relief and longing for deliverance. Why did that catch God’s attention? Why was this important to God? One of the reasons is because He created human beings to make their own choices and function as free beings. We were created to be free. We work better when we’re free. The plan won’t work if we’re not free to choose how we will live our lives. God wants us to choose Him. And, if we don’t have the room, the territory, the freedom to make that choice, then it doesn’t work. 

You may remember that the apostle Paul talked often in the New Testament about what he called freedom in Christ. When we’re controlled by tyrants, the Spirit of God in us longs for freedom because it’s how God made us. God is against tyranny in any form because it’s contrary to His plan. 

Now, I note that it strikes me that some of you here, because of what you’ve recently experienced, that I’m mainly talking about tyranny in the Church of God organization. And there has been some of that, for sure. As long as there are people, there is going to be that – over control. But this issue of freedom is so much bigger than our little church struggles. We should not think in those terms only. All the leaders of all the churches of God that I know are trying as hard as they can to do the best they know to do. So, while we might look and see errors in function in different organizations, we dare not judge or engage in dispute. The better thing is to use our freedom to move forward, thankful to God for the freedom we have. 

Okay, back to the bigger story. God watched for some time while the Egyptians threw the Israelite baby boys into the Nile. He watched while the Egyptians lorded over the Israelites and made life harder than it had to be. They were needlessly told to make bricks without straw, just to be difficult for them. So, it should not surprise us that God would, to make His point in an unmistakable way, shamelessly kill every firstborn in that nation in one night, which is what He did! So, God found a way to provide justice while freeing His people. And He took them out of Egypt by a mighty miracle through the Red Sea. And He did that after an unmistakable act of justice on their captors. It was a deliverance that unmistakably meant that God had respect for their suffering and cared for them. And the cap on all that was deliverance from a vengeful Pharaoh and his army at the Red Sea, where they crossed the sea by a mighty miracle and Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the sea. 

But let’s notice; Where did they go after that? Did God take them directly to the Promised Land? No! They went to the desert. Now this desert they were in…it was no land of milk and honey. It was hot! I mean, hot in a way that even in Phoenix, Arizona, they’ve never experienced. It was dry. There was little food. Indigenous tribes attacked and harassed them. And there were, of course, the snakes. The desert always has snakes. You could be walking along and not matter how watchful you were, a snake could pop out from under a thorn bush of any kind and deliver a fatal bite. In short, the desert was a living hell. For some of them, the fact that a pillar of fire at night and a cloud by day, proving that God was with them, didn’t comfort them at all, but instead, enraged them – that God would be so unfair as to drag them into this desert after generations of suffering. This was so bad to many of them that they couldn’t decide which was worse – Egyptian slavery or the desert. Some of them wanted to go back and be slaves again, rather than be in the desert. At least they knew what was coming in slavery. They were used to that, but this desert, it was too much. They were always complaining and criticizing Moses and God. This filled some of them with more doubt than they had already. Others of them doubted God’s leadership and wanted to take His place. Both of these elements made it for even more uncertainty and division. Negative energy, dissatisfaction, uncertainty, rebellion, self-pity, anger – all these abounded. These two attitudes prove that even when people are in hell, they can always find some stupid foolish thing to do that’s going to make it worse. 

To deal with all these attitudinal issues, God extended their time in the desert until all those who drifted into one of these two attitudes were dead. So, they had to put up with all this misery and suffering for years! While some people were learning that God wasn’t a good leader, and others were learning that the desert was worse than being in slavery, there was yet another group that learned that God had a Promised Land waiting for them. But to get there, they had to endure the desert. So, they picked up their burden, and struggled patiently on through the desert in hope of a sure and better thing. They understood that suffering in the desert was all a part of God’s plan for them. And they were the ones who made it. The other two didn’t. 

So, let’s think about this. Everyone back in that day – not just the Israelites – had to go through the desert to get to the Promised Land. There was no way around it. It was the same for everybody. It wasn’t like God was putting some special burden on them. He was just exposing them to real life. And it’s the same for us today. When God calls us out of the devil’s tyrannical system, He puts on the road to the Promised Land, but it’s in the desert. It’s the devil’s world we live in. We’re free to make our own choices, but we’re still in the desert. And it’s never going to be easy. There’s going to be suffering, and disappointment. and chaos, and uncertainty, and anxiety, etcetera. 

The struggle with suffering is to embrace it as useful, or else we’re going to become self-pitying and bitter. There’s no magic wand to move us directly into the Kingdom of God. So, why do you suppose? Well, there’s a clue in a psalm. It’s in Psalms 19, verse 7. It says:

Psalms 19:7 – The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul…. (Now you have to see that in the King James Bible to get that translation, by the way.) 

But God has sent us into the desert for extreme training and soul conversion. And while we pass through our life, waiting for the Promised Land, God is putting us through an obstacle course. Before we can advance, we know our past sins have been wiped off the books. And we’re so thankful for that, that we want with all our hearts to follow Christ’s example of traversing the snake pit we call life. We want to do it the way He did it because we have so much respect and appreciation for what He’s done for us. 

So, with that as the starting point, God says to us, “Recruits, we’re headed for the Kingdom of God! And you have to pass through an unsafe world full of snakes while trusting Me to take you there. There are other obstacles too. You have love everybody – even people that hate you and do you harm. And obstacle number three: you have to remember that I created you and everything else in the face of people who don’t even believe in Me and think you are dangerous and stupid for believing that.” And so on. There’s all kinds of things we have to put up with. 

So, the desert is supposed to be hard, and it’s supposed to be filled with snakes It’s all a part of the plan. And, like with our forefathers, if we get tired and go back, we’re rejecting Christ. We’re rejecting His plan. But, if we press forward in spite of the snakes, Christ will use that experience to grade off our rough edges and present us faultless before our Father in our resurrection from the dead. So, that means that suffering is a part of human life. For humans that don’t believe in God, it’s a futile thing. It’s a painful thing. But, for Christians, there’s meaning to it. It’s a real thing. It’s going to take us there – where we want to go. It’s only once we realize that truth that we can realize something else that’s real as well – something surpassingly good. But more on that later. 

I heard a good explanation of how it works in the Peterson podcast that I listened to in preparation for this message. He was talking to the president of a Catholic university who told this story. He said a fellow priest was working in Africa and had developed Lou Gehrig’s disease while he was there. This priest asked the one that Jordan Peterson was talking to the university president to come to him – to Africa – to pray for him. And, when he got there, his friend told him that, while he had been sick, church attendance had dramatically increased. Once empty confessional booths were now filled. And his friend explained that people told him that he was much more empathic and understanding now. And all these things he’d asked God for – to happen over his life and his ministry – were being answered by Lou Gehrig’s disease. That was the answer to his prayer. That’s how the church was going to be filled. So, there was some discussion between the two of them about whether to pray for his relief or not. 

Now, we’re told that even Jesus learned from His experience of passing through the desert with us. So, why should it be any different for us? Should we run from suffering? Or, should we understand it as a real part of Christian life and embrace it? Well, I can tell you, if we do that, we’re going to have to ramp it way up from where we are now. 

We’ve often noticed that the church kind of mirrors what’s going on in society. And what’s going on in society is a kind of soft Christianity – a cultural Christianity, Ron Dreher called it. Not really about Christ or God. It’s just about what everybody else is doing that calls themselves Christian. That’s not going to cut it – to make it through the desert. 

There’s an interesting moment in The Chosen. I hope you have watched that. In Season 1 – I think it’s Episode 3 – where Jesus is with the children. You may remember it. As it opens, He’s camping by Himself and He has to start a fire without matches. He worked up a sweat doing that. And He also has an abrasion on His elbow that show Him gingerly wrapping it up. So that was a very real way of letting us know that He wasn’t excused from the trials of human life, even though He was God in the flesh. He had to experience it, just like we do. And, if He had to, why would we think we wouldn’t have to as well? 

Jesus, when He divested Himself of His God-life, and came as a mortal human, He had to live in the desert with us – with the snakes! And the snakes hated Him so much that, after plotting, they finally got the Romans to kill Him – in place of a common criminal that everyone else knew was guilty!  And then they scourged the skin and flesh off of Him, and then required Him to pick up and carry His own cross – an instrument of His own criminal torture – to the place of His death. While He was hanging on that stake, His friends and followers ran from Him. Even His Father in heaven turned from Him, because Jesus had to die the death of a sinner, separated by sin from God. And He did that for us. 

Paul says that, because He was willing to carry that heavy, splintery, rough pole so that none of us can ever self-pityingly say, “You don’t know what it’s like to be like in the desert like I am.” No. He knows what it’s like to be with the snakes. He was there – and is there with us now. And it’s because of that that we’re drawn to Him – His sacrifice for us – to His love for us. He said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to Myself.” And that’s precisely what’s happening.

Let’s look at something Jesus said to us. It’s in Luke 9:23.

Luke 9:23 – And he said to them all – He said to all. Are you part of all? Yes. We all are part of allIf any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. It wasn’t just ancient Israel that had to live in the desert. And it isn’t just us. Jesus came and lived in the desert too, showing us how to do it. He set us an example. 

Now, here is something important Paul also says: Romans 8:16. 

Romans 8:16-17 – The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and fellow-heirs with Christ – we’ll be resurrected with Him too – provided we suffer with him, in order that we may also be glorified with him. So, you can’t have one without the other. 

Suffering is the road we have to take to be glorified – to be resurrected. So, this reveals more about how God’s plan works for us. Before we can enter the Promised Land, we have to pass through the desert and retain our belief and faith in God, just like Jesus did. We can’t be those people that want to go back to slavery, or think we can do a better job of leading than God can. The best part of our sanctification – our perfection – includes learning how to stand up for God the way He stood up for us, instead of thinking in self-pity and bitter anger. That’s the challenge. Will we embrace it? Or, will we sink into despair and bitter anger? Our choice. 

Now, you may ask, “How is it even possible to embrace suffering of that magnitude?” Do you remember that God caused the Israelites sandals not to wear out? Do you remember that they were fit men after being given food and water in the midst of a bone dry desert? Do you remember that every day of their lives in the desert, there was a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire to show God’s presence? I believe the cloud was actually over them to protect them from the heat of the sun. That part of the analogy holds true for us today too. 

Paul said in Philippians 4:12:

Philippians 4:12-13 – I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 

Where it’s impossible for us to be as good as God, God covers our weaknesses with His own grace, because of Christ’s sacrifice, while we learn to be strong – as we slog it through the desert. It says He died for us while we were yet sinners. So that covers us from before we became converted right up until the resurrection when we will be free of sin forever. 

But there’s something else He gives us – something awesome! Do you remember that Jesus sent out His disciples two by two? Do you remember what He told them to say? He told them to tell the people that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. What did He mean by that? Well, He told them that He wasn’t coming to crush the tyranny of the Romans. And He knew that He wasn’t coming back for at least two thousand more years. So, what was with the at hand comment? Well, we can recall that He said, “Come, all of you, who are heavy burdened” – you know, as you stumble through the desert – “and I will give you rest. Come to Me, for My burden is light – easier way to travel through the desert, without having to worry about the snakes. And I have it for you. Don’t be anxious about anything. I’ve got your back. You’re going to make it through to the Promised Land, if you’ll stay with Me. Your Father in heaven knows what you need,” He said. He said this in the Sermon on the Mount. “If He feeds the birds of the air, won’t He take care of you?” 

And when the disciples asked Him to increase their faith, He said, “If you had the faith the size of a mustard seed, you could move mountains!” He said that in answer to a request for more faith. So, the point of His statement is that it’s not about quantity – only need a tiny bit – but it’s about who our faith is in. 

There’s an example in the Gospels, where there was a man named Jairus, who was an official in a synagogue. And his daughter was dying. He had heard of Jesus and he ran and found Him. Jesus gladly left for Jairus’ home with him. On the way, Jairus was told that his daughter had died while he was gone, and his heart fell. And Jesus said to him, “Do not be afraid. Only believe.” “Come to me, all you, who are heavy burdened and I will give you rest.” You don’t have to do it alone. I don’t think we’ve really emphasized that as much as we need to. 

We also see Him, in the Sermon on the Mount, laying out a picture of how to keep God’s law in the spirit. The same law that converts our souls: Love your enemies. Use your best weapon a lot – the truth. Don’t judge others. Love them instead. Spread the truth you know to other people. The ones God is calling are going to respond to it. Love God with all your being. Love your neighbor as yourself. And many, many more things. 

Do you know these things are? This is the good part, we’re getting to. Do you what they are? I mean, besides being a part of the law – the spirit of the law? Well, they are values by which everyone who is now in heaven lives – the Father, the Son, twenty-four elders, the angels. There’s no anxiety up there. No hate. No fear. No loneliness. No failure. No sin. No doubt. Only love. Only a tight-knit family with joy beyond measure. While Jesus walked the earth, He promised all of us this now – not later. All we have to do to navigate the snakes and the desert is to do those two simple things that He said: Do not fear. Only believe. It’s that simple. You know, we can white-knuckle it through life – do it the hard way – if we want to. Or, we can enjoy living the way everyone is going to live in the Kingdom – but ahead of time – now! 

We’ve talked about all this today – the desert, the snakes, and the suffering, how hard life is at times, how disappointing, how scary, how overwhelming and how said it can be sometimes, and yet, this is one of the great spiritual paradoxes of God. It makes no sense to those without God, and yet is utterly true to us. With God, we can do all things through Jesus Christ. The reality of Christ’s death and suffering shows the reality of suffering – that we can successfully endure for His name’s sake. His resurrection shows us the reality of life with God. That’s our Promised Land. The world around us believes that, once we die, that’s it. They have no hope. We believe that our life in the desert is a brief training ground for an unending life with God. Can you even think about what living life would be like, if you just thought with your last breath, that was it forever? 

Look in Psalms 126:

Psalms 126:5-6 – Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! That’s a promise. He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves – that is, the spiritual harvest that he’s produced – with him.

This day of Pentecost is about you and me and all the people of God through the ages. It’s about how God’s church started and what it’s supposed to do while He’s gone, before He returns. We’re to learning to navigate the desert, carrying our crosses, and showing the Kingdom values in our lives as we go. And, as we do that, others will come. Like the movie, if you build it, they will come. Remember James Earl Jones said, “They will most definitely come!” They may not even understand why at first, but they will be drawn, by God in us, to something somehow strangely appealing to them – something that fills the empty spot in their hearts, that scratches that elusive itch in our soul. God has given us a secret weapon for evangelism – a new idea for church growth. It’s called living a good example while living with snakes. It doesn’t cost much money either, but it does cost commitment. 

As we assemble together today, let us not forget that our forefathers – the ones that carried on and did not die in the desert – after much suffering, they made it to the Promised Land, just as Jesus did. And after He lived in the desert, He went to the Promised Land. He was resurrected from the dead. And His resurrection is proof that the same life awaits us in our resurrection. For us, that reality is life with God, where we will be free to love God and each other forever. And after that…well, after that, no more cross carrying forever.