Friday, August 1, 2014

It's Not About You

OK, it's a little bit about you...

Believe or not, but we are approaching the end of our year of discipleship.
Most of you probably didn't realize what exactly we were covering this whole year or where the inspiration was coming from. I've taken three small groups now through an eight-week course called "Basic Bible Studies for New & Growing Christians". The updated version is a yellow packet simply titled "The Journey". In it are 8 lessons that someone who just invited Jesus into their life should be able to pull their heart and soul from about what it means to be a Christian.

At the top of Lesson #1 was the question - "What Happened to Me?"
So, we started off the year in January with some basic ideas of what salvation means. I spoke about forgiveness and asking Jesus to come into our lives. The 2nd lesson was about "Walking With God". Ideas were brought forth from the scripture about what it means to actually live this life now that we call ourselves Christians. The illustration was used of a child growing into a an adult. A child needs to learn how to walk just as a Christian has to learn how to live by faith and walk with Jesus. The 3rd lesson focused on "Learning from God". The subject of the bible was front and center. Reading the scriptures is where we draw our authority and life from as believers in Jesus. Prayer was at the center of the 4th lesson, "Talking with God". I hope you spend time each day doing just that. "Sharing with God" was what the 5th lesson was about. Out time, our finances, our heart and soul and all that we have should be shared with the Almighty. "Speaking for God" was the focus of the 6th Lesson. We recently spent some time focusing on where we should go and who we should talk to about Jesus. We even had a missionary come and talk to us about the work of going into the fields and being God's servant. "United for God" was in the 7th lesson. This work is to be done together. Reaching people for Jesus is not just one man's work. It's belongs to all of us.

We are now in the 8th month, August. So, that means we are on lesson 8. This month our messages will center on the idea of "Being Filled with God's Spirit". You are going to hear some terms used this month concerning "sanctification", "purifying", "cleansing", and "consecration". The title of the message today describes our focus. It's not about you. It's not about me either. The focus of the Christian life is outward. Not inward. It is here that I recollect my dad's words to myself growing up. Most likely, someone had said these words to him at some point in his early life. I needed to hear them as a kid and teenager. "You got your priorities screwed up. When you should be thinking about yourself, you're thinking about others. And, when you should be thinking about others, you're thinking about you." Hmmm. That's some tricky advice to follow. When exactly am I supposed to focus on me? When exactly should I make it about others more than myself? It is in this spirit of thought that Jesus begins to teach his disciples. "Deny yourselves, take up your cross and follow me."

Jesus began preparing his disciples for what was ahead. Down the road ahead of them was coming a moment when the attention would be all on them, but the moment would not be about them. Jesus wants to give them his Holy Spirit. Where we read around John chapter 7 is at the year and a half mark for Jesus' earthly ministry. He is pointing ahead from here telling the disciples of what will come.

John 7:38-39

New International Version (NIV)
38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”[a] 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.


a. John 7:38 Or me. And let anyone drink 38 who believes in me.” As Scripture has said, “Out of him (or them) will flow rivers of living water.”

Have you ever tried to catch water in your hands? For the importance of the illustration, have you ever tried to hold it and not let it run out? Doesn't work very well. Turn the water on at the sink and try it. The water will find a way to keep running. A tiny sliver between the hands allows it to run or it gets soaked up in your palms. Water wasn't meant to be kept. It was meant to soak and cover and refresh and nourish. Jesus says that whoever believes in Him will have rivers of living water flowing out of them. The premise is that life flows outward, not inward. And, by this, apparently Jesus means his Holy Spirit. His Spirit wants to come and live in our hearts and lives. The Spirit gives life wherever it lives. Life that sits still dies. I have heard the words of those in the ranks of the retired. People who have worked all their lives. A tough, leather handed man sits down in chair. A week later he's dead. The moment he quit living and just sat down to do nothing is the moment the life quit flowing. Water is best when it's flowing. Water that sits and is dammed up gets stagnate. Debris will settle on the surface. It's becomes undrinkable and unusable. Water was meant to be used. Water was meant to be enjoyed. The moment we keep it for ourselves we see the water in us turn sour.

So, our God wants to give us life. He wants to live through us. Problem is we don't know how to do that. Note for the record here that God is not giving a command here. He's not telling us that we have to be living water. He is saying if the Holy Spirit is in your life then that is simply what will flow out of you. It should also be noted that we are in need of being taught how to be a Christian. We need to be taught how to be living water. It's not something that just comes naturally. No, none of this is natural. All of this is way beyond you and me. Which means we are in need of direction, of help, of someone to show us how things need to be. That leads right into this next scripture.

John 14:26

New International Version (NIV)
26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
We as humans are in an every increasing need to learn.
And, one thing we incessantly need to learn is that it is not about us. The subject of war might fit here as an illustration of the struggle for power and control that causes our need to learn. Maybe you've heard the old adage that "religion is the #1 cause of war in the world". Well, maybe some education would help us understand the subject better. Do a simple search on Google about how religion has influenced wars around the world and you'll find that less than 5% of any war waged in the last millennia has had anything to do with religion. Several websites out there to show those facts. But, as humans we tend to get one note of "fact" we heard someone else say and immediately we are repeating it. Sin certainly could be ranked as the #1 cause of war. Sin has in it's very nature a self-centered twist that makes people do things for themselves and for their own causes. Upon careful analysis, most every war ever waged in the world has started from a most selfish standpoint. These people over here want something that those people have. And, many times they'll kill to get it. Land. Water. Possessions. Wealth. A woman. Very few times in world history are religion and God the motivation behind a war.

There is a war with in us. A war for our hearts. Our minds. Our souls.
Jesus is telling his disciples here that the Father will send the Holy Spirit to them with a purpose in mind. To remind them. To teach them. To show them that all these things they have witnessed and heard during Jesus' ministry were true. Now, they themselves will be touching sick people. They themselves will be preaching the message. A message of forgiveness and mercy. A message of what God wants and expects. A message that God is holy and wants us to be holy. The Spirit will remind them of all that Jesus has taught and said. And, they will need to be attentive. The only way a good student learns is by turning their heart and mind over to the teacher. If a person really wants to learn they have to be willing to do so. A student can't come to the classroom thinking they know it all already. In our spiritual lives, what good is the Holy Spirit to us if we already know everything? The truth is that we do not. We don't know it all. We are in need of direction. We need instruction.

In order to learn we have to admit that we need to learn.
For some reason, the subject of Little Johnny jokes jumped into my head. (Yes, there are scores of Little Johnny jokes out there. Most of them not being of the clean sort.) But, I kept digging until I came across one that fit the bill. In these jokes, Little Johnny always seem so sure of himself. He always has an answer for everything. And this one is no exception.

A new teacher was trying to make use of her psychology courses.
She started her class by saying, "Everyone who thinks you're stupid, stand up!"
After a few seconds, Little Johnny stood up.
The teacher said, "Do you think you're stupid, Little Johnny?"
"No, ma'am, but I hate to see you standing there all by yourself!"
Sometimes we come at life will a load of self confidence that needs to be tempered by the direction of a person in the hands of God. God has all the answers. We need to admit that we don't. The Holy Spirit wants to direct us, lead us, guide us, instruct us, reminding us of all that Jesus said. This Christian life moves down a path of centering itself on what Jesus said and taught. Many good people say they believe in Jesus and then wander off into their own made up philosophy and theology about God and life. The instruction we need is right in front of us. This bible tells us all we need to know about God. Left to our own devices, however, even with the bible in tow, we will find ourselves in desperate need. It's not about what we think. It's not about our viewpoint on life and the world. Read and find out what God has to say. Ask God to do the speaking and you do the listening.

When is it about God and others and when is it about you? Maybe you've heard the old acronym J-O-Y. Jesus. Others. You. Well, that's helpful for showing us a good way to think about the matter. We know Jesus comes first, or that at least he should. We know others should come before ourselves. Putting ourselves last is how Jesus would want us to live. It's how he lived His life. "I do not do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me." Well, we could say that Jesus doesn't understand what we have to go through. He didn't have a spouse and kids and a job to work and bills to pay. Jesus had it easy compared to what we have to face everyday. And, I'd say maybe you need to take a closer look at what is recorded about his life for us to read. He had family. He knew the struggle of deciding to follow God and still meet the needs of those close to him. Hanging on a cross he sees his mother, Mary, standing there. The woman who brought him into this world did herself have to deal with the turmoil of following God in the face of pressure. Her story is one for all time. Carrying a child conceived by the Holy Spirit. Jesus took twelve men with him for three years. He called them friends. He laughed and cried with them. He healed some of their own family members. Not a one of those men stood beside him when it really mattered, while he hung on a cross. All turned and ran.

Jesus found his joy in the Father and doing his will. Nothing mattered more than that.
How could I put the Almighty God first in my life while I'm on the job or dealing with my family? Lets look at one more scripture as we try answer that one.

John 15:26-27

New International Version (NIV)

The Work of the Holy Spirit

26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
Jesus testified about the Father and what God wants for humanity. The Holy Spirit testifies about what Jesus said and taught, showing us the truth in Jesus' words. And, we also must testify. Has God done anything in your life? Anything at all that could be communicated to another human life form on this planet? Has God forgiven your sins? Has he shown you mercy? Has he healed your sickness and infirmities? Then you have something to testify about. True, he is speaking to his disciples here. He is telling these twelve that they will testify, and in due time they will. Pentecost will come and these twelve will stand on a balcony overlooking a whole mess of people. They will speak about what Jesus has done. Giving his life. Providing salvation. They will give no thought to what others think. They are completely overcome and consumed with the idea that the message of Jesus' sacrifice is what is most important.
How could that work itself out in our lives?
After I accepted Christ into my life back in 1992 I started to look at everything I was doing as if I was doing it for God. Whether I was stocking the grocery shelves or delivering appliances and setting them up or whether I was driving a bus for a daycare, everything I did, I did it for Him. I felt that how I conducted myself while doing my work was a testimony to who Jesus was in my life. Working the job wasn't simply about me trying to make a buck. Life becomes antiquated when it is simply about monetary means. There has to be something more to our existence on this earth.

I would plead the case of one Chris Rosati. I want you to take the inspiration shared in his story and apply it to the subject at hand today. It's not about you. And, of all people who should have the right to make it about themselves, in this moment of life, Chris should have that right. But he chooses to make it about others. His story was the subject at the center of a CBS Evening News piece they do at the end of the show called "On The Road". It's usually an inspirational piece. This one had me in tears. About a year prior to his story being aired, Chris found out he had ALS or "Lou Gehrig's disease". Having watched my own grandpa go down this road and his tragic end, this story tore me up. You might think that when faced with such devastating news a person would crumble and fall apart. Chris has an amazing sense of humor and a laugh for the ages. In January of this year CBS broadcast his story about what he wanted to do with his life.

He applied for a job on a doughnut truck.

His desire was to be able to share his favorite thing with other people. Doughnuts were his thing.
He, of course, did not get the job. So, he revealed the next part of his plan. Steal a truck. I can hear your brain going bonkers. What?? Yep, he was going to steal a doughnut truck and go around giving the doughnuts away. In the last days of his life, Chris Rosati's focus was not on himself. It was on bringing joy to other people. With a doughnut and a smile.

Chris caught the message. It's not about you.
It's about others. It's about impacting their lives.
For the Christian, for the person who says they believe in Jesus, it's about more than a central, inward focus. The focus goes out. Like living water. To love like Jesus does. Listening to the Father's direction.

And, there's where we find real joy. 

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