Different Week 4 - "Surrender"
Let's say you are driving down the road in your car, listening to Steely Dan and singing passionately about how "Ricky" better not "lose that number," when suddenly you hit a pothole and lose control of your ability to steer.
As a result of this, you discover that Jesus has not taken the wheel, and that it is now spinning wildly in your hands as you careen headlong toward a minivan full of nuns.
Here's a question for you...
Is the ensuing accident your fault? Removing the obvious mortal sin of listening to and enjoying Steely Dan---most people would tend to say, "Absolutely not! It was the pothole's fault." And by extension, then we would go on to blame the municipality that allowed said pothole to exist.
And we would be wrong. The accident would still be your fault. Your insurance would increase, you would get the ticket, you would be to blame. In most states, it is your duty to report potholes when you see them, and it is the municipality's duty to fix them in a reasonable amount of time after they've been informed or are aware.
But it's still your fault. As it turns out, potholes are among the leading causes of accidents in the United States...
Pride, as it turns out is like a pothole. How about that segue?
Seriously, it's pride that causes most of the serious problems in our lives. Pride is sneaky. It starts out like a little crack in the pavement, but over time it grows and grows until it's too deep and wide to avoid when you're barreling down the road of life.
And it's our pride that keeps us from turning over our lives to Jesus. We think that we've got it all figured out, we don't really need God to be our co-pilot, we don't need Jesus to take the wheel---because we've got our own hands at 10 and 2, thank you very much.
Today we're going to be stepping into the fourth installment of the sermon series Different---what it means to live like a Christian. And today we're going to be talking about how living like a Christian means letting go of our pride and surrendering the outcomes.
Here's what I want you to remember as we journey through our study of James chapter 4 today: Christians surrender the outcomes.
When it comes to our relationships--we entrust our spouse, our children our loved ones, friends and family to God and we surrender the outcomes.
When we surrender the outcomes when it comes to my career, my finances... it might look a lot different than what we would do if we let my pride control my actions.
Let's read James 4:1-12:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.James starts things off with some battle imagery. There is a sense throughout the text that he's addressing people of "lower" rank--encouraging them to stand and fight for what is right. But he's also speaking to those of "higher" rank, urging them not to think so highly of themselves if they don't want to be seen as an "enemy"
I remember years ago reading about General John Sedgwick, of the Union army in the Civil War. He was inspecting his troops and stood upon a bulwark of the defenses they'd erected to address them. Some of the men urged him to get down. "Nonsense!" he shot back at them, "You couldn't shoot an elephant from that dist---" at that moment a Confederate musket ball went right through his head.
Sometimes it pays to be an enlisted man...
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us[b]? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”James is making a sharp contrast here between "highs" and "lows" between earthly wisdom that is false wisdom and true wisdom that comes from God. In other words, when you choose wisely, when you lean toward true wisdom, when you are a friend of God as opposed to being a friend of the world---you will have an incredible life.
The word that James uses here for a "proud" person is huperephanos which means "the one who shows himself above other people."
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.This is a choice between allegiances/a choice between worlds. Your choice demonstrates your allegiance, your friendship. And in the Greek mindset, "friendship" meant that you have the same mind as whatever/whoever you are friends with...
11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister[d] or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?I love how James just throws all kinds of warnings to the proud in at the last bit of this passage.
Essentially this whole passage comes down to this: Pride in your own accomplishments, your own effort, your own acquisition---all of that comes from the wisdom of the world and God actively resists that kind of wisdom. He pushes it away. But humility, submission, lowliness, truth, goodness--surrender... all comes from the true wisdom of the kingdom and brings a life full of the gifts of God. Not the least of which is an incredible measure of his grace.
I've been working on my Joel Osteenisms lately. An Osteenism is when you say something that may or may not be profound--and may or may not be entirely from Scripture, but you make it rhyme, so it sounds awesome... and you sell a million books.
So here goes: If you're proud and arrogant, God resists; If you surrender the outcomes, God assists.
Actually, this is the pattern James is establishing: If you are "high" you will be brought "low," if/when you are low, you will be brought high. The proud and arrogant will be humbled. Those who surrender in humility and lowliness will be lifted up. This is an important pattern for us to remember when we think about the way pride works.
The kind of pride we are talking about isn't the good kind of pride that you feel at the accomplishments of your children or grandchildren, when you see the American flag raised at the Olympics, when someone you love does something awesome... That's pride that is focused outwardly.
The kind of pride I'm talking about--pothole pride--is grounded in something far more insidious.
Our culture, our earthly reality is the source of the kind of pride that causes potholes. In our culture your identity is found in what can be acquired or obtained. To have more is to be more real--to have more power, more money, more youth, more stuff, more ability...
But in God's kingdom in the heavenly reality that James is pleading with us to embrace--your identity is found in what you let go of in order to receive the Spirit. And here's the really awesome part about this----people get this. Despite the way our culture tries desperately to tell us otherwise--we all get this.
This speaks to us--because it resonates with something deep inside of us: The desire to embrace a different reality than the one we've been sold by "this world."
Jesus taught his disciples, "In the kingdom of God, the first shall be last and the last shall be first."
God doesn't want your life to be defined by what you can do--what you can accomplish--but by what God has done for you through Jesus.
God will push back against the kind of pride that acquires, grasps, lusts and envies... But he will shower grace upon those who give up their life in order to find it.
Jesus had a conversation with a young man who thought that he was absolutely killing it when it came to being a good person. "Teacher," he asked Jesus, "what do I need to do in order to have eternal life?" Jesus replied, "if you want to be in with God, then just keep the commandments."
Then the young man did something interesting. He asked, "Which ones?" Now why did that dude ask that question? I think it's because he was the kind of guy who wanted to know the real deal. He was thinking, "There has to be some of these that are more important than others, right? So all I have to do is find out which ones are the right ones, and then I do that."
To his relief, Jesus rattles off a bunch of commandments all of which have to do with being a good person: "Don't murder, don't steal, be nice to your parents, don't lie about people, don't cheat on your wife and love people." And the young man starts to feel pretty darned good because he's kept all those commandments. All those areas of his life have been surrendered to God.
But then Jesus says to him, "Listen, there's only one thing that you lack." By now the young man is all ears. He's thinking, "One thing? Are you serious? That's all I have to do is one thing, and then I am in like Flynn?"
And Jesus says, "Sell all your possessions, give them to the poor and come and follow me." In the Bible it says that Jesus told the guy this, knowing that he was a person of means. It also says the young man went away sorrowful, because he was unwilling to give up the one thing that he hadn't surrendered.
The answer for you might not be as radical as Jesus' answer to the young man. I am not even convinced that Jesus truly meant for the guy to actually sell everything and follow him, but maybe he was.
Regardless, the guy was unwilling to do it. His pride, his sense of identity that was grounded in that pride... it cost him. He missed out on an incredible journey with Jesus.
The choice in the end is up to you. You can embrace the wisdom of this world or the truth of the kingdom. One road is full of potholes, the other is not. One road will lead you to wreck and ruin, the other will lead you to unbelievable life.
And when all is said and done, we truly know the difference.
It's time to start giving away the "high" acquisitions of this world in exchange for the "lowly" grace and peace of God's kingdom.
So what does it look like when we surrender Self to God as Jesus commanded? It reframes everything, actually. Because then you begin asking a very simple, and very powerful question that changes the way you view yourself. You are not a tool of the marketing machines for products and books, and goods and services. You are a human being and a child of God.
Here's the question: "What would God think is best for me?"
This changes the way you eat.
This changes the way you treat your body.
This changes what you read and watch.
This changes what you buy.
This changes how you view your purpose in life.
When God is first in your life, and you constantly ask "What would God think is best for me?" your understanding of yourself will be utterly and completely transformed. All of the ways our society says you can find fulfillment get reframed within the loving and grace-filled story of God's redemption.
Go ahead. Ask that question today. Ask it as you go about your day--as you eat, as you drink, as you laugh with friends... Ask it before you buy whatever it is that you feel you need to buy to make yourself feel something... Ask it before you make decisions... Ask it before you listen to that particular radio show, or watch that program, or go on that website...
"What would God think is best for me?"
"Would God think it's best for me to eat another bacon double cheeseburger?"
"Would God think it's best for me to sit on the couch instead of taking a walk?"
"Would God think it's best for me to buy another jacket instead of saving the money, or giving it away?"
"Would God think it's best for me to watch hours and hours of TV instead of reading, spending time with family or friends or just about anything else?"
You get the idea. And here's the thing--when you ask this question, and then you act upon the answer that you know deep inside is the right answer, you'll discover something incredible:
Surrendering your whole life to God sometimes requires a fundamental shift in the way you view your life.
Christians surrender the outcomes