"In Giving Everything We Gain Everything"
The first question in the Bible is found in Genesis, chapter 3.
God asks Adam and Eve, "Where are you?"
... "I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."
And so we have not only the first question in the Bible, but we also have the first instance where humankind has allowed self and sin to break the relationship between God and humankind.
Let’s ask ourselves this same question this morning.
Where are we in our relationship with God?
Are we hiding from God completely?
Or are we hiding some part of ourselves...
...some inner desire...
...some inner fantasy...?
Are we holding onto something for ourselves...something that we have not yet given over to God...
...or something that we have given to God...but keep taking back?
Is there anything in our lives that we are so ashamed of...that if God were to come to us in the garden...we would hide?
Where are we...right now?
Where are we on our Christian journeys?
Are we experiencing the "peace which transcends all understanding," or is something troubling our souls?
Are we in relationship with God, or do we feel estranged?
Are we truly happy...and at peace on the inside...
...no matter what is going on outside...
...or are we missing out on the true joy and freedom that Christ Jesus offers us?
This past week I was talking with a colleague and a dear friend of mine who said, "You know, Ken, the more I read Jesus’ Words...the more I dig into what He is really saying...the more I wonder where I am?"
And so, I do hope that we will ask ourselves this same question today.
The year was 1928 and a would-be mechanic was working on his Ford automobile.
He couldn’t get it to run.
About then a new Ford pulled up, and out stepped a well-dressed gentleman in a derby hat with a cane.
He looked at the engine and confidently suggested, "If you’ll adjust this screw here, your car will run."
Well, the would-be mechanic stared at the stranger and thought, "he doesn’t look like a mechanic!"
But then he’d already tried everything he knew to do.
So he adjusted that screw, kicked the starter, and lo and behold, his car sprang to life.
In amazement the man turned to the helpful stranger and said, "Just who are you anyway?"
And the man stuck out his hand and said, "The name’s Ford, my boy. Henry Ford! I made that car! I ought to know what makes it run."
And Jesus Christ is God come into this world to tap us on our shoulders and say, "If it’s not working, listen to me! I made you! I know what makes you run! I know what makes life work!"
Are we listening to Jesus?
In our Gospel Lesson for this morning Jesus tells us: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
Denying ourselves means far more than say...giving up chocolate for a month.
"Denying ourselves" literally means to "say no to self." We must say "no" to our natural inclinations to take the easy way, the safe way...
...and we must say "yes" to Christ’s way which may involve suffering; but in doing so we find freedom.
It is making ourselves not an end, but a means, in the kingdom of God...a channel through which God can use us.
It is shutting down our clamoring egos...
...it is getting rid of our preoccupations with "I," "Me," and "Mine," and putting ourselves into Christ’s cause, into Christ’s kingdom, for Christ’s sake!
It is allowing Christ not only to be Savior, but also Lord!
And this is not an easy thing for us to do...especially in our present "Me" generation.
"I want this."
"I deserve that."
"If my natural inclination is to do this thing, then I’m going to do it!"
Of course, this is where we often get into trouble.
When we rely on our own wisdom, on our own desires, instead of God’s wisdom and God’s desires...we often find ourselves empty...
...we often find that life just isn’t working out.
There is a great conflict going on in all of our lives.
Or shall I say in the lives of all those who have been born of God and have God’s Spirit living inside of them...because as Christians we no longer have to sin!
As Paul tells the Galatians in chapter 4, "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods."
Before we knew Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, we had no choice but to be slaves to sin.
We had no choice, but to think sinful thoughts, to harbor sinful desires, to do the deeds of the Prince of this World...we were slaves to the desires of the flesh...these things were our gods...although they are not gods at all!...and we had no control over them...they controlled us.
But through God’s Spirit living inside of us...we have a way of dealing with sin.
But there is still a choice.
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free," declares Paul, "Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."
And sin is a burden.
It is a yoke of slavery.
It breaks our relationship with the God of love...it takes the joy out of life.
"So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature," Paul tells us in Galatians chapter 5.
"For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.
They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want."
And that is slavery.
When we do not do what the Spirit of God Who lives inside of us desires ...Who is forming us into new creations...spiritual creations...creatures who are not of this world...but of God...then we are not happy children of the One Who has called us into His kingdom.
Let’s face it.
The acts of the sinful nature are not the things which bring us happiness, peace, joy, and love.
To "deny ourselves" is to stop making ourselves the object of our lives and actions.
And make Jesus the object of our lives and actions.
And in doing this we find a joy, and a love for others that we never thought was possible.
Because we get a taste of the love that is in Christ...the pure love of God.
The Cross for Jesus was His deliberate choice of giving His life as a ransom for many, His deliberate choice to minister to the needs of people, the needs of people for the truth of God, the love of God-cost what it might.
And taking up a cross for a Christian means the deliberate choice of something that could be avoided...
...to take up a burden that we don’t have to...
...except through the compulsion of God’s love in Christ.
It means the choice of taking upon ourselves the burdens of other people’s lives, of caring about the souls of those who do not know Christ, of putting ourselves without reservation at the service of Christ in proclaiming His Gospel of salvation through words and action, of putting ourselves into the struggle against evil...
...whatever the cost!
Where are we? Are we in this struggle against evil.
Jesus tells us: "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it."
As Christians, we find real abundant life by giving ours away for others.
This is the ultimate act of love.
Mother Teresa often said, "Unless life is lived for others, it is not worthwhile."
When we live our lives for others, we have no time to sit and worry over ourselves.
The happiest and most productive Christians are those who have forgotten themselves into immortality.
How many millions of unknown and unsung Christians have found life, the largest, richest life, by losing it!
They have been brought out of grief to find abundant life in service.
They have been brought out of fatal boredom by becoming involved in the adventures of caring for the needy, the outcast, the sorrowing.
So many lives that have been so smashed up so that there was once an air of death about them, have been born again through giving their lives for others through Christ.
"What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?"
To this question much of the world roars back its answer: "Plenty!"
They are the ones who choose the immediate over the eternal, the material over the spiritual, the self over selflessness, Satan over God, hell over heaven.
To gain a whole world of things and miss the glory that Paul tried to express by his words in Galatians Chapter 2: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" is life’s biggest blunder!!!
I like the way a Christian quarterback once explained Jesus as Lord of his life. He said, "Christ calls the plays. I run them."
Are we willing to trust God to call the plays in our lives-in every area of our lives?
Are we willing to obey His Word in regard to our finances, marriages, worship, child rearing, leisure, giving, prayer, forgiveness?
Are we willing to let Jesus rule our lives completely?
Living under the Lordship of Christ means that all our belongings are entrusted to Him.
It means we allow Him to place us in our homes, our jobs, the church of His choice.
It means He can use us to serve wherever He wants and whoever He wants.
It means that we place all our imaginations into His care...
...all our hopes...
...all our attitudes...
...all our expectations.
It means that nothing is hidden from His sight!
And there is nothing more freeing and abundant than this!!!
Jesus Christ is King and Lord forever...
...Where are we in our relationship with Him right now?
Let us pray: O God, help us to do better in giving everything over to You. Help us to give our lives for others and to bear Your Cross. Move us far beyond the striving for things for ourselves to a life of concern for other people. And when the call for sacrifice comes, let us accept it with grateful hearts. In Jesus’ name and for His sake we pray. Amen.