Tuesday, February 15, 2011

13.02.11 - It's Not About Me

How many of you believe that you are dead?

The theme for today is: It’s Not About Me. You might think that on this, my last Sunday here, I am being terribly modest and saying that today is not about me. That is not what I am saying.

In my last three sermons here I have spoken about three things that are at the core of the Christian faith:
  • Firstly: It is all about Jesus.
  • Secondly: The calling on us is to be followers
  • Today: It is not about me

“It is not about me” expresses a key biblical theme which, I think, many Christians don’t even know about. I regret that I haven’t taught it more.

Our society is self-absorbed. It is all about me. All of the time we hear about self-image, self-actualisation, self-respect, self-fulfilment, self-interest, self-sufficiency, being self-made, etc. We are obsessed with self. Our society is self-centred and self-ish.

Why should you buy L’Oreal products? Because you’re worth it. It’s all about you.

And yet the Bible talks about dying to self. In our society, it is all about me. The Kingdom of God attitude is that it is not about me at all. Dying to self means I don’t matter which equals “It is not about me.”

Let me give you some examples from the life of an average church. You tell me who it is all about.
  • I didn’t get much out of worship today.
  • I don’t want my church to grow because then I won’t know everybody.
  • The church exists to meet the needs of me and my family. (A survey in the USA showed that 89% of Christians believed that.)
  • I am going to go to another church. This one doesn’t suit me.
  • I no longer go to church. Many years ago a minister was rude to me.
  • Having a new member in our small group would change the dynamics. It has taken a long time for us to get to this point.
  • I don’t want people to see that I am struggling or that our family is struggling

When I was considering resigning I faced lots of me questions. There is a certain prestige that goes with being the Senior Pastor of Calvin. My identity is linked to my position. Who would I be if I didn’t have a church? I might end up being a nobody. I had to face my tendency to think about myself.

Maybe we can all identify with those things because we are strongly self-centred. It is simple built into us to think first of ourselves. The old illustration is: when you are handed a photo of a group that you were part of, who do you look for first? We always look for ourselves. Have I been recorded? Will I be remembered? What do I look like? Our whole natural orientation is towards ourselves. It is all about me.

Contrast that with Jesus saying, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Jesus said three things are required. Denying ourselves means saying no to ourselves. We have desires and appetites. We desire comfort and ease, possessions, other people’s praise, security, pleasure. Advertising appeals to those desires. Our society says “If you want it, have it. Satisfy your desires.”

Jesus says the opposite. He says, “Deny yourself. Say ‘No’ to yourself.” Sometimes we are called to deny even legitimate desire – for example, by fasting – in order to say Jesus comes first.

Our society doesn’t understand self-denial. Many would mock the idea of denying yourself. On the other hand, when we see people do it – when we see parents sacrificing to look after a disabled child or we think of our war dead, or those who donate organs – we admire those who deny themselves.

Secondly Jesus says His followers must take up their crosses daily. The disciples would have known what he was talking about. Anyone who took up his cross was walking to his death. It wasn’t just about carrying a heavy burden. It was about dying. Taking up one’s cross meant accepting your death - daily.

Thirdly, Jesus requires people to follow Him. Following means surrendering our independence. If I follow another person I no longer choose where I will go or what I will do or what I will believe.

And so Jesus says, “Deny yourself. It is not about you. Take up your cross. It is not about you. Follow. It is not about you.” With three powerful images, He says repeatedly that is it not about us. Anyone who would follow Jesus must die to himself or herself – must adopt this attitude that it is not about me.

In these Biblical examples, is the person involved was saying “It is about me” or “It’s not about me”?
  • Ruth said to Naomi, “Where you go, I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die and there I will be buried.”
  • Daniel prayed, even under threat of death.
  • John the Baptist said, “I must decrease and He must increase”.
  • Peter denied knowing Jesus.
  • The rich young ruler couldn’t give up his possessions to follow Jesus.

The rich young ruler had asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus said, “Sell your possessions and give the money to the poor.” But he couldn’t do it. By clinging to his possessions he missed out on eternal life.

We read Luke 9:23 before. Look at the next verse. Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (v.24)

Everything in us screams out against dying to ourselves. Everything in us wants to protect ourselves, accumulate for ourselves, defend ourselves but while we do that we miss out on the life that Jesus gives. The rich young ruler chose life now - and missed out on life eternal. The greatest blessings await those who deny themselves. Jesus said that those who had given up homes and family and possessions would not fail to receive a hundred times as much. When we die to ourselves we don’t lose; we gain.

Let’s recap. Jesus said that dying to ourselves is essential. We cannot be disciples without it. He also said that those who do, will be greatly blessed. But how can we? When self-centredness is so deeply ingrained in us, how can we? It is impossible. We cannot do it. We would have to change our very nature to do it. Can a leopard change his spots? Can we change who we are? No, not to that degree. We can change superficial things but we cannot change who we are at the most basic level. We are self-centred.

Here is the good news. This is the bit that I think is so little understood. You are already dead; just believe it. When we become Christians – and particularly when we are baptised – we die. We share in Jesus’ death. The Bible says we become one with Jesus and in His death we also die.

More than that, when He rose to life again, we rose to a new life. The old person died and a new person began living a new life. The only way to live this new life is in Christ.
2 Cor 5:17           17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation: The old has gone, the new is here!

Paul talked about this experience.
Gal 2:20              I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

I want to read Romans 6:1-4. It is a little bit complicated but listen for these points:
  • In baptism we shared Christ’s death
  • We also share his resurrection. We have been raised to live a new life
  • When we died, sin lost its power over us. The old person was a slave to sin but that person died. The new person is free from sin.
  • We therefore should say “no” to sin, and, instead, live for God.

READ Romans 6:1-14

Please note v.11: count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

If we are baptised Christians, then we have died and been raised to a new life. That is true but for it to do us any good, we must believe it. So Paul says, “Believe it. Count yourself (or, consider yourself) dead to sin but alive to God. God says that it is true. Believe that it is true and live as if it was true.”

So, for example, if you are a Christian but you struggle to give over control of your life to Jesus; you still like security; you still like possessions, what can you do? You can try to change yourself but you will fail. Then you might be discouraged by constant failure and conclude that it is useless; you’ll never make it.

Or, you could remember that you are dead and, as a result, things have changed! Sin has no power over dead people. I don't know if you have noticed, but dead people don't sin. And sin has no power over people living the new life.

Paul says, “Count yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” You can say, “Those things used to have control over me but they don’t now. I used to be a slave to sin; I used to be powerless but now I am dead to sin and living a new life in Jesus. I am no longer a slave. I am now free. I am free to say no to things. I am free to trust Jesus for my security – and I am going to. I am going to live by faith.”

Things change radically when we put our faith in Jesus. Sin now has no power over us. We are free to live the new life. “Count yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” That one truth will change your life. If it doesn’t quite make sense to you yet, prayerfully mediate on Romans 6 until it does.

Once we believe that we can live the new life, then we should! Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and empowering to live a life free from sin.

Now, how many of you believe that you are dead?

Calvin, over the last 20 years we, as a family, have been blessed beyond our wildest expectations. This has been a fantastic time and you have been fantastic people. Being on this journey with you, with all its ups and downs and all of the times when we seem to have caught the wave and other times when we have had to stop and re-think and pray hard, has been an enriching adventure. I have learnt so much from you. I was 34 when I arrived here. I am a much different person and a much richer person now and that is because of having had the privilege to do this thing called church with you.

I pray that the journey continues to be rewarding for you. For what it is worth, my last appeal to you as I leave has been the theme of these last three sermons:
  • Keep it all about Jesus. Don’t let it ever become a system or an organisation.
  • Be followers. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Learn from Him. Become like Him. Do what He did.
  • And finally, If you are a Christian, believe that you have died and that you have been raised with Jesus to a new life. You have died to sin and are alive in God. In an average church people still think it is all about them. Don’t be an average church. Let it be all about Jesus.

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