Letting Go of Self

At Gateway Church in Austin, I shared part three of our series called Letting Go.

In American culture, independence and liberty are valued highly. Because of this, it’s easy to base life
decisions on these desires. But we also view as heroic those who give up their life, liberty, and pursuit
of happiness for the sake of others. So, how do we handle these opposing ideas, and what does God
want us to value most highly?

NEXT STEPS:

Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

Letting Go of Self – Next Steps

MESSAGE VIDEO:

MESSAGE NOTES:

Letting go of self is really hard for us because most of us were raised to be independent and free to do what we want when we want. That’s why “shelter in place” can be so hard! For those of us who grew up in America, this is at the core of what we value. Even our declaration of independence proclaims that it is our God-given right to have “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Unfortunately, not everyone has had the same opportunities. Even still, it is such a deeply entrenched cultural norm in our country that as Americans we value our freedoms and even make decisions based on what’s best for my life, what gives me more liberty, and what will make me happiest.

In direct opposition to this, what we view as heroic are those who give up their rights for the sake of others.

Ultimately, we are so shaped by the story of Jesus we don’t even realize that our superheroes make a sacrifice for the sake others, and against all odds come back from the brink of death.

  • So many films include that narrative!
  • Superheroes like Iron Man in the first Avengers movie, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and Harry Potter.
  • We don’t have time to debate whether Harry Potter is a superhero or not. All I know is he has 8 movies and an entire theme park about him!

What we know is that heroes give their lives so that others may live, but in the end they survive. It’s like they rise from the dead.

That’s the story of Jesus being retold over and over and over.

So how do we handle these two opposing ideas?

I have the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.

A hero willingly gives up his or her rights for the rights of others.

Today I want to talk about how letting go of “self” will actually help us become the person God created us to be (which by the way) is also who we all long to become.

You see, if we can let go of self, we can become the confident, self aware, and life-giving person our dog thinks we are rather than struggling with low self esteem or arrogance, and being needy or demanding of others. 

So how do we let go of SELF?

Letting Go of…

  • Selfishness
  • Ego
  • Labels
  • Fear

There are two moments in Jesus’ life that will help us, and they both take place on this week almost 2000 years ago.

Let me give you some context.

Today is Palm Sunday which marks the beginning of Passion week.

Maybe you’ve heard of Passion Plays or the Passion of the Christ.

When we hear the word “passion” we think of love, desire, or enthusiasm.

  • “I have a passion for animals or music or film.”

We often exaggerate and say things like:

I would die for something we are passionate about.

  • “I would die for a chocolate chip cookie from Alamo Drafthouse right now.”

If you look up the word passion in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, it defines passion as “the sufferings of Christ…”

You see this week in history marks the moment when God demonstrated who He was passionate about – it’s you.

Jesus showed how much He loves you by willingly dying on the cross taking on himself all the evils of humanity.

Before Jesus died on the cross, many Jewish people who heard Him teach and saw Him heal people began to think that Jesus must be the Messiah, the promised One who will free His people! Now they were thinking the Messiah would be their political hero who would overthrow the Roman government to bring freedom, but Jesus had a bigger agenda, He came to bring life and freedom to people from all nations! He would overthrow the spiritual and religious forces that brought oppression for all people!

You see on that Palm Sunday, Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem on a horse to bring war. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey which was an animal that represented someone coming in peace.

And as He rode along on the donkey into the city, the people welcomed Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” – John 12:13

They were quoting one of the Psalms which predicted the arrival of a Savior.

“Hosanna” means “Save us!” or “We’re saved!”

Think of how good that must have felt to Jesus!

Have you ever been cheered?

Maybe on the soccer field, at a concert where you performed, on stage after you performed in a play.

It’s a great feeling to be cheered!

Notice how Jesus responds as the story continues in John 12

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip… with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip got word to Jesus and 23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. – John 12:20-23

We don’t have time to go into the phrase Son of Man so just google “Son of Man Bible Project” and watch their fantastic video.

But it’s at this moment in the story, some of those who were wanting Jesus to overthrow the Roman government are thinking “Alright! It’s time for the Son of Man to be glorified. Jesus is going to show His greatness! Now that the word has gotten out and even the Greeks want to meet the Messiah, this is fantastic! Jesus is more popular than he has ever been!”

But noticed what Jesus says next. You see Jesus sees the Greeks wanting to meet Him as a sign that His time for sacrifice has come.

“I tell you the truth, a grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die to make many seeds. But if it never dies, it remains only a single seed.” – John 12:24

I’m sure his disciples were thinking: “Jesus, why can’t you celebrate your popularity! Why do you have to start talking about death and farming?!”

Jesus did not leverage this moment for even more popularity and more power, instead He predicted He would soon die. He would soon give up everything.

Jesus is pointing out a spiritual principal we intrinsically know.

We cannot become the hero we were created to be unless we are willing to sacrifice for the good of others.

So how do we let go of SELF?

Letting Go of…

  • Selfishness

Jesus continues in John 12

“Those who love their lives will lose them, but those who hate their lives in this world will keep true life forever.” – John 12:25

It is so counterintuitive.

When we hold onto something too tightly we break it.

When we let go, we get more than we could have ever imagined.

What does it mean to let go of self?

Aren’t we supposed to take care of ourselves?

Doesn’t God want me to be happy?

Or you can even get spiritual and ask:

Didn’t Jesus say to summarize the message of the Scriptures: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and to Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:37-39

How can you let go of self when you are supposed to love your neighbor as you love yourself?

And shouldn’t we have a high self-esteem and confidence?

You see there is a difference between letting go of self and being self aware or being able to take care of yourself. There’s a difference between self-reliant and selfish or self-centered.

So why should we let go of self?

When we let go of self, we actually have the opportunity to become who we were truly created to be. You see, we were created to love God and love people.

We weren’t designed to only take care of ourselves.

We were designed for relationship, for creativity, for generating life that lasts.

When we live for self, all that we lived for eventually dies, but when we die to self to live for God, God multiplies our lives into the lives of others eternally.

There’s a true freedom in letting go and dying to self. 

  • We don’t have to prove anything or make anything for myself.
  • It’s a surrender and trust that my worth is not at all in what I do, but who I am to God. 
  • The amazing irony of dying to self, is that then you’re free to fully BE yourself, try things, risk things, use your gifts, and even DO more than you ever dreamed, but out of a fullness of BEING who God created you to be.

This full life only comes with God at the center of our lives. The “self” is dethroned from playing ruler of the universe.

So how do we let go of SELF?

Letting Go of…

  • Selfishness
  • Ego

You see if we are only looking out for ourselves or only looking out for our family, we are missing our purpose in life.

Too often pursuing life, liberty, and happiness for ourselves leaves us isolated and unliked by those we stepped on or neglected while striving to get what we wanted.

Instead, we find life, liberty, and something better than happiness called joy when we actually serve others to bring them life, liberty, and happiness.

When we make all of our decisions only regarding how something affects me – we fail to factor in how our decisions affect other people and we fail to factor in God.

What I think is best for my life and for my family may not actually be good for me or for others.

What gives me more freedom from others may not actually be what I truly need to be a healthy person.

What I think makes me happiest may not actually be what’s ideal in the long run.

The Scriptures talk about this quite a bit but uses words like pride and humility.

Take this warning from the book of Proverbs.

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:18

If you think too highly of yourself, be careful or you might be in for a humiliating fall.

Later Peter quotes Proverbs 3:34 when he writes other followers of Christ who were caught up in the ways of this world.

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

‘God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.’

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5b-7

It takes humility to take our anxiety to God.

Have you found yourself anxious in the midst of this pandemic and this economic slow down?

Worrying is like praying to yourself.

Our minds are working non stop as if we can solve all of the struggles we face.
Instead, humble yourself and take your worries to God.

Ask Him for help, guidance and peace.

God warns us that thinking only about ourselves leads to pain and destruction.

God opposes egotistical pride because of how doing so hurts us and those we love.

What do you call thinking about yourself too highly? – Pride or arrogance

What do you call thinking about yourself too lowly? – Having a low self-esteem

The key to notice: in both instances, you are thinking about yourself

I learned from my friend and mentor, Erwin McManus that pride is expressed in these two ways: either thinking too lowly of yourself or too highly of yourself.

We can get stuck thinking so much about ourselves that we miss what God has for us.

That’s why God opposes pride, and why He warns us to avoid pride!

Why? Because egotistical pride is destructive and insatiable!

Think of the most selfish person you know. Have you ever given him what he wanted and he remained satisfied? Of course not, soon he will want more. Because all that the world offers will never fully satisfy an ego-driven person! Not more money. Not more fame. Not more success. Not another woman. Not another family. Nothing in this world will satisfy the human longings that we have.

When you look to yourself and only yourself to meet all your needs, you will be lonely and not live up to your full potential.

When you look to others to meet all your needs, you will be hurt and angered.

Remember, we were created to love God and love people so we need God and others in our lives.

Unfortunately, culture breeds skepticism, and our past breeds cynicism.

As a result, we often reject the very people God has brought to help us because of our pride.

Pride limits who we listen to and from whom we are willing to learn.

Are you really an expert in everything, or are you willing to humble yourself and learn from others who have gotten to where you want to be?

Are you your own spiritual authority, or are you willing to humble yourself to allow others to mentor you and to spend time learning God’s message to you in the Scriptures?

You see there is another way besides thinking about yourself.

Humility is the antidote to pride.

When we live with humility, we have access to so much more wisdom!

We should think of ourselves with humility.

Letting go of self means to walk humbly.

Humility as we define it does not actually get to the true meaning of the word in the Scriptures. In English humility is defined as: “a modest or low view of one’s own importance”

That sounds a lot like thinking too lowly about yourself.

But check out this biblical definition of the word humility – “describing the person who depends on the Lord rather than self.”

A humble person has a “A deep sense of one’s need for God.”

There may be an unhealthy pattern in your life or even an unhealthy relationship because you have been trying to figure it out all on your own.
You have been unwilling to ask for help from God or help from other people.

Letting go of ego means choosing humility instead of pride.

  • Are you stuck always thinking about yourself?
  • Or are you thinking of others?
  • Are you trying to fix your problems on your own?
  • Are you considering God’s perspective?
  • Are you humble enough to ask for help?

So how do we let go of SELF?

Letting Go of…

  • Selfishness
  • Ego
  • Labels

Often times, life is hard because we don’t know who we are, what would satisfy us, or what our purpose might be. So we label ourselves, we label others, and others label us.

I grew up in the 1980s and yes it was a lot like the Stranger Things – although we didn’t have to deal with any demogorgons. Those kids are class of 1989. I was class of 1990.

So back in the 1980s we all had labels. There were the jocks, the preppies, the skaters, and the nerds. Now I didn’t care for those labels because I felt I didn’t really fit in any of them. I was athletic but small so I played trumpet in the band so I could still go to all the football games without getting hurt. I still loved football, and I got some of the band kids to play football against the choir kids and the kids in drama. We beat both easily. We even played against some of the football players. We got crushed. One of our guys who played French horn got his collar bone broken. It was not a good moment for us. Even still, if I had to have a label I considered myself a band jock. I made up my own label!

Here’s the problems with labels. They limit us. Rather than letting others label us or affixing a label to ourselves, we need to discover our true identity.

Notice how keenly self aware Jesus is in this 2nd moment I wanted to share with you.

Picking up in the story in John 13. Remember Jesus has just told his disciples that his time to give his life has comes Judas had been tempted to betray Judas, and then there is this really unique description of Jesus.

John 13:3 says:

“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;” – John 13:3 NIV

Jesus understood His identity. He knew the power He had. He knew where He was from, and He knew where He was going.

How would you respond if that was you?

What do you do when you know who you are, you know what you are here to do, and know where you are going?

  • Demonstrate your power!
  • Have everyone meet your needs!
  • Make others listen to you!
  • Finally get to choose the movie on Disney +!

Instead, Jesus served.

He Washed the disciples’ feet. Look at the very next verse…

“so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” – John 13:4-5 NIV

This is what servants did! Not Messiahs! Not Rabbis! Not Prophets!

Definitely not the Son of God!

Peter rebuked him! “You’re our leader! Leaders don’t serve!”

Peter refused to let him. Jesus gently reminded him he needed to humble himself to receive this, so Peter said then don’t just wash my feet but my whole body!

Jesus reminded him: that’s not what I’m offering to do.

Humility is being honest with who you are.

Let me give you something better than a label, let me share with you your true identity.

  • You are Created in the image of God.
  • You are loved by God.
  • You need God.
  • You have a purpose from God.

God invites you into a relationship with Him.

  • It’s not about reaching some religious milestone.
  • It’s not about winning a Bible trivia contest.
  • It’s not about doing enough good to outweigh the bad.

It’s completely up to you to decide – do you want a relationship with God?

When we let go of trying to find ourselves in our own way and embrace the truth of who we are, it is the path towards true life, genuine liberty, and an eternal happiness.

When we say “yes” to follow Him, we then seek to do good things out of gratitude and with His help – not to get Him to love us but because He loves us already!

You can have a faith bigger than your circumstances knowing that God is with you no matter what is happening all around you and no matter what is happening to you.

To begin that relationship, just say “Yes God, I need you. Forgive me. Lead me, Jesus.”

God Came To Rescue Us

So that we can know Him, God came to us as a person named Jesus.

He experienced the limitations of life in a human body on planet earth.

It’s difficult for our finite minds to understand how One God can reveal Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit but it’s because we are stuck in 3 dimensions whereas He has no limitations.

There is One God and He has the power to create the Universe, the capacity to dwell among His people as Spirit, and the ability to enter time and space as a human being named Jesus or in Hebrew his name was pronounced “Yeshua” which means “God saves.”

God chose to be limited by becoming a human being – born as a helpless infant.

He gave up His rights and privilege to become a servant.

He chose to humble himself to serve us.

He grew up and lived a perfect life, taught with authority, healed those who were sick, created a family for the outcasts, and gained a massive following.

Even still, He chose to humble himself to the point where he was betrayed, beaten, falsely accused, stripped, whipped, and humiliated as they mocked him with a crown made of thorns.

He chose to humble himself to the point of dying on the cross for the sins of humanity.

He entered into death but came out alive on the other side!

He rose from the dead proving He was God among us!

This is not just how Jesus died. This is how He lived.

He lived with humility thinking of others rather than Himself.

Dying to self leads to life.

We have to experience a death to the old selfish life so we can be raised back to a new life in Christ as those who follow Him.

You have to have endure the pain of the crucifixion before you can experience the joy of the resurrection.

Notice what Jesus taught his disciples, those who chose to follow Him.

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” – Luke 9:23-24

Some of you are thinking:

“I lose my life serving others all the time and I am burned out! People are using me!”

That happened to me, but I wasn’t serving out of the overflow of my relationship with Jesus. I had let serving others be what filled me up.

Looking for others’ praise or approval will never be enough.

When we serve others for what it does for us that is a selfish motive.

Instead we need to serve out of the overflow of our relationship with God.

Jesus calls us to do what we can only do with His help, so we will depend on Him.

But here’s the thing:

  • When we say “yes” to following Jesus, we have the same power and authority He has!
  • The same power that rose Jesus from the dead lives in us – the Spirt of God!
  • Jesus reminds us that He has all the authority of God and we are to go out and make disciples of all nations and He is with us.

Jesus demonstrated humility, and He invites us to die to self and do the same – to live a life dependent on God, a life loving God and loving others.

So how do we let go of SELF?

Letting Go of…

  • Selfishness
  • Ego
  • Labels
  • Fear

This is a time when fear seems rational!

This is a very unusual time – a time that has been and will be devastating to so many.

For some of us right now, this “shelter in place” has been more annoying than anything. You never wanted to work from home or homeschool!

For some of us, this has been really hard.

  • You are working on the front lines. For that, we are so grateful.
  • You may have pre-existing conditions that make you more susceptible.
  • You may be terrified and cannot seem to stop worrying about your future, your health, your groceries, or your family.
  • You may be incredibly lonely.
  • You may have lost a job or a business or had to let go of employees.
    You may know people who have died or who have gotten sick.
  • You may be in an unhealthy home situation. If that’s you, we want to serve you in this.
  • For anyone struggling, contact us & find resources at gatewaychurch.com/gethelp

Wherever you may be in this season, whether we chose it or not, we are having to learn to let go.

Letting go means asking God for help and asking others for help.

It means stop trying to fix this on your own or doing things your own way.

Did you know Americans have started praying more? Even those who do not believe are praying more according to recent polls.

24% of those who say they do not belong to any religion are now praying.

During his time with the disciples, they asked Jesus how to pray.

He taught them a very beautiful prayer that some of you may have memorized.

Don’t let the familiarity get in the way of the message of this prayer.

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Matthew 6: 9-13

This prayer reminds us that God can be our heavenly Father who protects us, provides for us, and forgives us.

This prayer reminds us that we are bring His Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven, and be the first in to forgive.

What does “hallowed be your name” mean?

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to the Bible Project podcast and learned something from a scholar and theologian named Dr. Carmen Imes. She explained this in a way that helped this make sense in a new and fresh way for me.

Do you remember the command to not take the Lord’s name in vain? Most of us grew up thinking that means you cannot say “God” or “Jesus” like a cuss word. That’s why some of us would say things: “Oh My Gosh!” or why my dad would say: “I swan to Gosh!”

Well, it is that but it is way more than that.

It’s more like this, when we say “yes” to following God, we carry His name. We are His representative. We can say it like this: “Don’t call yourself a Christian, if you aren’t going to live like Jesus.”

The word “Christian” means “little Christ.”

Sadly, the word Christian has come to be associated with judgmental, hypocritical, political, and angry people.

But that’s not who Jesus was and not who we are called to be.

We are called to love, to serve, to bring hope, to bring heaven to earth!

If you have been hurt by someone who called himself a Christian but judged you, I am so sorry. Throughout history, Christians have done more damage to the message of Jesus than anyone else.

At the same time, there have been followers of Jesus who lived like Jesus. Now, they weren’t perfect. None of us are, but they loved, served, brought hope, and brought heaven to earth. They “hallowed” the name of God or in other words they “honored” His name, they glorified His name, they lived up to His name.

Followers of Jesus who sold their property for those in need like in Acts 2 or followers of Jesus who served the sick during the plagues in the year 300 in the Roman Empire or in the year 1666 in Europe or in 2019 in China. There were Chinese Christ-followers who are normally oppressed for their faith that served during the height of the coronavirus in Wuhan. They were able to serve and tell people about the love of Jesus because they were wearing masks and the surveillance cameras were unable to recognize them.

So why would they do that?

Because followers of Jesus know that this life is not all there is.

We are promised a life in God’s presence for all eternity. That’s what heaven is!

We are citizens of heaven who are bringing heaven to earth with God’s help and out of gratitude for all God has done for us!

What’s after this life gives us hope, bringing heaven to earth gives us purpose.

I have seen so many of our Gatewayers making a difference as humble heroes who serve others!

So many of you have asked: how can we help?

  • Do you know that since all this happened, some of us have given more financially than usual to make up for those who cannot? Some have even planned to donate the amount on their stimulus check towards what God is doing through our church!
  • We have gone from one food pantry drop off location to 4! And you have been donating!
  • We have had far more so far sign up to Give Help than Get Help! That’s important because there will be more in need as this continues.
  • We have had people asking how we can stand with our Asian American brothers and sisters who have faced racist remarks and oppressive behavior. You have created a community where all are welcome!
  • Many of you have been inviting people you know to join us online on Sundays, and they are doing it! For Easter next week, let’s all do that!
  • Many of you have decided to host a What’s After Life? Online Conversation with the people you gave a book to earlier this year. You can still do that. Let’s do that! So many of our friends are struggling!
    So Text “Heaven” to 80123 to Sign up for resources on how to do that.
  • Many of you have looked for ways to serve your neighbors, your co-workers, your family, and friends during these difficult days.

When we let go of self and allow God to lead us, we become who He created us to be!

We experience the blessing of a life connected to God and that blessing impacts those we love.

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