sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 04/21/2013
video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand
Continuing a new 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.
We’ve all got limited time, energy, and resources, don’t we? So how are we going to spend them? Should we look out for number 1, get as much as we can for ourselves, guard and defend what we have? Or should we look out for others, fearlessly spending ourselves for the sake of others that we want to help succeed? It’s an age old dilemma. Last week we talked about givers, takers, and matchers – and how both recent research and Jesus agree that the way to life is looking to the interests of others.
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
Focusing on helping others, it turns out, is the secret to 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.
This week we want to explore this idea of outward focused lives more deeply. What is it about us that makes this the best, truest way to be human?
Watch this advertisement by Dove. You’ll notice, of course, the main point – which is how sometimes we exaggerate our own flaws and distort our view of ourselves – but there’s another observation we might draw from it. And that is that there is tremendous value in taking our focus off of ourselves and putting it on others…
[Dove Real Beauty Sketches…]
Something really profound is illustrated here, indirectly.
We aren’t meant to have our eyes on ourselves.
We’re meant to have our eyes on others.
[Clarification: not in the sense of keeping our eyes on our own responsibilities and dreams / calling. In those areas, it is proper to focus on ourselves primarily. We’ve got to develop a clear sense of ourselves. Establish boundaries and objectives for ourselves. Know who we are and who we aren’t. Talking here about the idea of valuing others – like that scripture texts describes – having our eyes paying attention to the needs and concerns of others, seeking to bring blessing, help, being concerned to serve their interests over our own, etc.]
People who stay focused on themselves become mal-functioning people. I don’t mean, necessarily, in the sense of evil or morally bankrupt. I mean mal-functioning in the sense that we don’t work right. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of self-destructive selfishness.”
When we are focused on ourselves in an unbalanced way, we become especially vulnerable to destructive emotions and activities. [Road rage is born out of this, I think (we’re isolated in metal cages, only ourselves to be concerned with – everyone else is a competitor or an obstacle).] You’ll see this in kids when they get moody, petulant, irritable. They’ve forgotten everyone else exists and they are all wrapped up in their own needs and selfish agendas. But we don’t outgrow this tendency entirely, do we? How often does seeing someone else’s needs recalibrate us and totally change our mood, especially if we are able to help them?
On the other side of the coin, people focused on others are better, more functional people. Happier, more satisfied. More productive. [Hand sanitizer experiment: “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases” vs. “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases” = 45% difference in soap used. 10 minute testimonial from 1 scholarship recipient now a Teach for America teacher = 142% more time on phone, 171% more revenue.]
Nothing to do with being agreeable or nice. Everything to do with the life you have and the life you give away. Your life becomes smaller when you’re focused on yourself. Your life becomes enlarged when you’re focused on others. (Mother Teresa & Ken Lay).
What’s at the root of this? Some would say that over thousands of years of civilization that rewards good group behavior, we’ve adapted to play well with others. We’re wired and conditioned to be concerned with what others think of us, to have a good reputation, so that others are more likely to help us. We’ve learned to deal with bullies (takers) by gossiping about them when their selfish behavior becomes evident, so that they get punished and not supported. There’s credible and fascinating evidence along these lines.
But there’s more to the origins and power of outward focused lives, I think, than the simple byproduct of evolutionary forces. And if we understand and embrace that something more, we will have what it takes to more fully engage outward focused lives, and enjoy the kind of life Jesus now enjoys.
That something more is this:
We are sent people.
We have a purpose involving others. Involving the whole world.
Living outward focused lives taps us into that purpose.
So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
Surely, if anyone could live his life for his own sake, it would be Jesus. He is, after all, as best as we understand it, God. But Jesus allowed himself to be sent. To be removed from whatever comforts go along with being a fully vested member of the trinity. To be thrust into the blotchy body of a human baby. To be under the authority of young, inexperienced parents.
Why? To save his Father’s deathly ill creation from perishing. To open the door to eternal life for his estranged children. This is why Jesus humbled himself, taking the form of a servant – his eyes were focused on us.
Buried in plain sight in this text, as well, is the truth that the Father himself considers the needs of others above his own. After all, sending Jesus meant that he would have to watch his only begotten Son suffer and be separated from him. All for our sake – we who were at the time, profoundly other. God is Love. This is what Love is like. This is what Love does.
Consider how being sent informed Jesus’ life. Every place he went, he went because he knew God had sent him there. Every person he met, he knew God had sent him to. To invite this person. To challenge that person. To forgive this one. To heal that one. To teach these ones. To deliver those ones from demonic oppression. To eat with these. To cry with those. To die for me. To die for you.
Not just every where, and every who, but also every when, every what, every why, every how of Jesus’ life found its answer in the truth that God had sent him. When should I go? My father will show me, because he has sent me. What should I do there? Whatever I see my Father doing, because he’s sent me to join with the Holy Spirit in accomplishing his purposes. Why must I drink this cup? Because my Father has a plan for this world and for me in it. How will I, but one man, accomplish this overwhelming task? My father has sent me with his authority, and as I do what he is already doing, not even the gates of hell can prevail against me.
Every one on of us who responds to Jesus’ call to follow him become sent people along with him. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
And the Holy Spirit that empowered Jesus’ extraordinary life empowers ours. And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
People who live outward focused lives recognize that they are sent by God to others for a purpose. God loves this world, and he’s inviting us to join him in that love. Everything changes when we surrender to the truth that our lives have a purpose outside of our selves. Specifically the truth that God is sending us to people that he loves in order to mercifully bring them into contact with his love.
Every where, every who, every when, every what, every why, every how of our lives can be transformed when we surrender to being sent people. Ronni and I married each other in part because we were convinced God was sending us together. We live in this community because God sent us. We’re at home in this church because we’ve been sent here to find Jesus among you and to join with you in spreading his fame. Some of our greatest joys come as we find ourselves where God has sent us. And let’s be honest, pain too. Jesus teaches us that part, too. We just pray that, like Jesus’ pain, our pain as sent people is redemptive pain, pain with a purpose.
More on the details on what it means to live outward focused lives in coming weeks. For now, Jesus invitation is for us to take a first step of faith in following him. I have been sent to this hurting broken world, to your boss, to your father, to your sister, to your neighbors, to your teammate, to people halfway around the world whom you haven’t yet met, to the cashier at the grocery store, to the driver of the red Ford pickup pulling up to the stoplight, to the family standing in line outside of the ministry center, to the guy sitting by himself at the cafeteria table, to that new family sitting in the back row …will you follow me? I have been sent, and if you are my follower, I am sending you to be my hands and feet.
Something that’s really interesting to me, and perhaps it will be to you also, is that when we consider the needs of others above our own, when we are givers instead of takers or matchers, it actually helps others become givers as well.
An experiment was done illustrating this phenomenon. Imagine that you are placed in a group of four people, all of them strangers to you and to each other. Each of you will receive $3 per round for 6 rounds, and you each have to decide whether to take it for yourself or give it to the group. No communication is allowed, and you’ll each make decisions anonymously. If you take it, you get the full $3. If you give it to the group, every group member gets $2, including you. At the end of the round, you find out what everyone decided. Of course, if everyone gives, everyone is better off - $8 per round, $48 total at the end of the experiment. But if you give and no one else does, you only get $12 by the end of the experiment (2 per round for 6 rounds). If you take every time, you’re guaranteed $18 total. Because you can’t communicate, it’s risky to give, right?
Turns out, 15% of participants were consistent givers when this experiment was actually done – they gave every round. And they walked away on average with 26% more money than participants from groups without a single consistent giver. Why? Because in the groups with a consistent giver, the other members contributed more. They inspired others to give too. The pie got bigger; it wasn’t a zero sum universe in groups with a consistent giver. Love multiplies; love wins.
Isn’t this the way God works with us? We love, the bible says, because God first loved us. Jesus was sent to love us, and we respond by loving as he loves us. As we love others, might it be that others too will discover the power of living outward focused lives of love? Might it be that as we discover our lives have purpose in God’s great purpose, others will discover that their lives can find that purpose as well? That would be truly beautiful, wouldn’t it? [Tuscaloosa Team…]
I say let’s find out.
1. Play Make Believe Mission: Put a $5, $10, and $20 bill in a hat or some such receptacle. Write the name of several places you might spend such a sum of money on individual pieces of paper and place those in there as well (grocery store, convenience store, restaurant, gas station, etc.). Pull out one bill and one location. Consider yourself sent, like the Blues Brothers, on a mission from God. Go, asking God to give you an idea about who to bless at that place or from that place, using your money. Just to get the feeling of what it’s like to be sent. Think about how that might change the way you think about your normal life.
2. Raise your hand. In prayer each morning for a week, give God permission to send you somewhere or to someone or both. “I recognize that I was made for a purpose, Jesus, and that you want to send me. Help me keep my eyes focused on others today. Show me who you want me to love, and how.” Spend a few minutes each evening asking yourself if you might have heard him or seen any signs that he might have been answering you.
3. Take a Knee. Repent of obsessing about yourself, if you have been. Tell God you’re sorry you let yourself forget that your life isn’t just about you, and ask for his Holy Spirit’s help to begin looking outward.