Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Outward Focused Lives // Looking to Love; Pointed towards Purpose

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 04/28/2013

video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand


Continuing series today on living outward focused lives. Lives that make a difference in the lives of others. Lives that are faithful to the image of the loving God in which we are created. Lives that aren’t shrink-wrapped in our petty concerns about ourselves, but large, expanding lives that are unafraid and generously powerful.

The Bible proposes that the way of Jesus really is the only way to obtain the life we all deeply desire.


Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant…

Paul (formerly Saul) of Tarsus

from Philippians 2:1-11


As we’ve explored over the last couple of weeks, focusing on helping others is the secret to all kinds of success. Over time, givers win. Those that givers give to, win. Benefits multiply – the universe isn’t as zero sum as it might seem. Beyond that, living to bring life to others is the way God is. As we do it, we are true to ourselves in the truest sense. It’s the way in which we are faithful to the image of God in which we are created. Leading to an extraordinary form of synergy – our lives become a cooperation with God, and this experience of having God’s wind at our backs, his breath filling our lungs, his energy multiplying in our world as we seek to bless others. With the added benefits that come from maturing as human beings, such as less anxiety, freedom from the tyranny of petty emotional responses to trivial pains, and deep satisfactions that come from making a meaningful difference to others.


Here’s the big question under consideration today: What is an outward focused life focused on? And maybe a second, related question as well: Why does that kind of outward focused life work out so much better in the long run for everyone involved?


The answer to the first question, it turns out, boils down to love. Outward focused lives are looking to Love, with a capital L. And, at the same time, pointed towards purpose. As for what that actually means, and as for the answer to the second question – why does that work out so well for us and the world - well, let’s dive in and find out.

A revealing study was done of graduating seniors at the University of Rochester. They were asked, shortly before completing their education and moving into the real world about their life goals. Some had “extrinsic aspirations” – to get rich, to become famous, be physically attractive, etc. Profit goals, in other words. They wanted to get something for themselves out of their efforts. Others had “intrinsic aspirations” – helping other people improve their lives in some way, becoming more physically healthy, personal growth, close relationships, etc. Purpose goals, not profit goals. They wanted to either make a difference for others, or better equip themselves to be able to make a difference for others.

After a couple of years pursuing their goals in the real world, these former students were tracked down and interviewed again. So what about the students who had profit goals – wealth, acclaim, etc. – and felt like they were succeeding? Interestingly, it had made no difference in their levels of overall satisfaction and well-being. They felt essentially the same as they had before they graduated. And most surprising of all, they had more anxiety, depression, and other negative factors than they had had when they were in college. These are the people who were succeeding.

Sure seems like Paul knew what he was talking about when he said “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” You may get what you’re going after, but you’ll end up with nothing you truly desire.

On the other hand, when we’ve got our sights set on the right things, it seems that it really does pay off.


The students who had purpose goals – like helping others in some way – and were attaining them had both higher levels of satisfaction and well-being and lower levels of anxiety and depression than when they had been in college. They were, in ways large and small, valuing others above themselves. They were having the same attitude of mind that Jesus had – not considering whatever they had as theirs to bring themselves happiness with, but as resources to be used to serve others. They were, to use some of Jesus’ language, seeking first the kingdom of God and seeing that all things were added to them.


Pursuing profit is purposeless; while pursuing purpose is profoundly profitable. We were made to pursue purpose, not profit.

Let’s revisit that passage in Philippians, this time with a little more context:


Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant…

Paul writing to a church that he loves, but which he is concerned about for various reasons. Apparently there has been conflict related to personal ambitions, rivalries, and various false teachings about what kind of God God is and what it means to live a good life. Problems that are threatening to pollute the great work God has begun in Philippi through Paul’s ministry.

What these problems share in common is that they are symptoms of inward focused lives. Vulnerability to false teaching, conflict, disunity, no common vision, everything in chaos, ordered by fickle feelings, etc.

The only solution is for the Philippians to get their focus off of themselves and look outward. Outward to God – who is Love, and outward to others – people to whom we can direct the love God pours on us. [Magnetism analogy – polarities, etc. Fruit of a group of people with outward focused lives is unity.]

In the middle of this text is Paul’s command to value others more than yourself, to look to the interests of others. But surrounding that command, Paul draws the Philippians’ attention to God. (…encouragement from Christ, comfort from his love, common sharing with the Spirit…have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus did…) You can get the impression, with Paul, that you can never look at Jesus enough.


Outward focused lives start by looking to Love, embodied in Jesus.

Jesus is our only hope for an outward focused life, really. Jesus is the only person in this universe wonderful enough to take our gaze off of ourselves, and hold it there forever. A mate, a child, a hero? For a while perhaps. But soon enough our eyes get stuck on their flaws. Disillusionment sets in and we revert to gazing back at the ones about whom our illusions are more firmly fixed: ourselves. We become slaves again to our selves, our feelings, our wants, our insecurities.

Here’s the thing about Jesus: gaze as long as you want and he’ll only grow more captivating. As you fill your eyes with Jesus, you begin to lose yourself in him, which is halfway home to true freedom. It’s the free from part of freedom.

You lose your self-absorption in his arresting beauty, for starters. His beauty isn’t fragile. It’s strong and deep, like the beauty of a mountain, or an ocean. And it’s the kind of beauty that comes from love, that is Love. His beauty can handle you, in other words, and his beauty isn’t concerned with your faults, so you can plunge right in, forgetting about yourself.

And along with losing your self-absorption, you begin to lose your worries, anxieties, fears. Not because your cares become less important (although a great number of them certainly do), but mainly because when you look at Jesus straight on, you see both a King with authority over your every enemy and a servant willing to bear the weight of your every burden.

Here’s another thing about Jesus. Not only will you lose yourself in Jesus, you’ll discover a love for others in him, which is the rest of the way into true freedom. It’s the free for part of freedom. Our lives become pointed towards others with purpose.

Freedom without direction is just freedom to be enslaved by something new.

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Galatians 5:13-15

Freedom used for serving others, on the other hand, is freedom that multiplies, expands, grows, lives.

Before we’ve been captivated by Jesus, before we’ve gotten lost in his love and discovered in him a relentless love for others, we see others in light of our agenda, our feelings. Everyone is someone who might be a threat, might be an asset, might be fun, might be a pain, might be a thrill, might be a stepping stone, might be used, might be put low to raise ourselves up, might be worthwhile, might be worthless. The people we know are either people on our good side or our bad side or our I -don’t-really-give-them-much-thought side. Everyone else only matters, in other words, because of how they affect us.

Focusing our eyes on Jesus changes all that. Other people matter to us because they matter to Jesus. We begin to see others not in the light of our own agenda or our own feelings, but in light of Jesus’ agenda, in light of Jesus’ feelings.

Who is that person there? Someone whom Jesus intends to bless, to free, to heal, to touch, to encourage, to connect, to favor, to count. Someone to whom God’s love is drawing us for a purpose. Someone who, in humility, we are to value above ourselves because they are of immense value to God. Precious even. Someone whose interests we are called to look toward, because as we follow Jesus’ gaze, we see that is where his eyes are fixed. Someone who is beloved of God, sacrificed for by him, paid for by him, sought after by him, longed for by him.


[looking to love, pointed towards purpose - elaborate re: the disconnected, the disfavored, the discounted; the lost, the poor, the young]

Practically speaking, what might an outward focused life look like?

First, people desiring to live an outward focused life devote increasing amounts of time and energy to “looking to Love” activities like prayer, scripture reading, and worship. Usually in some sort of regular rhythm, as a way of growing in freedom, as a way of staying lost in God’s love. (magnetic domains in iron randomize if pulled away from the magnet.) Eventually Jesus is visible everywhere, in everything, and his voice becomes a constant companion.

Secondly, people desiring to have their lives turned inside out and upside down in pursuit of Christ begin to take what is most valuable to them and put it to use in service to others, rather than just themselves. For example, their talents, their calendars and their pocketbooks. Using their best skills and gifts in ways that bring glory to God and not themselves. Devoting regular times to join together in serving others. Giving money for the blessing of others without expectation of return.

The extraordinary thing you’ll find about these outward focused people, and that you’ll find about yourself as you become one too, is that outward focused people eventually discover themselves in Christ and in service to others. They discover that although they forget themselves and their cares in Jesus’ beauty and majesty, and although they give themselves, and all that matters to them, away to others for his sake and for theirs, at the end of themselves they truly find themselves. They find that Jesus wasn’t just being mysterious when he said whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. They find themselves taking on the character of Christ they found so captivating in the first place, and they find themselves as the beloved ones of God they found so worth giving their lives away for in the second place.


Practical Suggestions:

1. Make Love a Habit. Commit yourself to one “looking to Love” activity that really gives you life, and make a plan to make it a habit.

2. Propose Your Purpose. Write a personal purpose sentence. “He preserved the union and freed the slaves.” “He lifted us out of a great depression and helped us win a world war.” What’s yours? Spend some time this week coming up with one. If you’re already a follower of Jesus, perhaps imagine it as the sentence you’d like to hear Jesus use to describe you as he introduces you to someone after welcoming you home. The results aren’t nearly as important as what you learn and decide along the way.

3. Resolve to Reorient. Choose some aspect of your time, your talents, or your money to devote in a new way towards the purpose of loving and serving others.

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