Conversations with GOD: Living the Upside Down Life

Overcoming the World’s Barriers to Intimacy with God

Last week I preached what I thought would be the last message of a series on connecting with God. We talked in this series about the hunger and need that everyone has to be connected to God and how we can talk with God and hear from Him through His word.

We talked last week about the fact that often we take the road of least resistance and easily fall into the trap of taking our cues for living from the world and culture around us.

All of us have chosen a pathway for our lives to take. We make choices everyday that define who we are and what we believe. We choose everyday to live in connection to God or live and do our own thing. God has given us very specific plans regarding our lives but often men and women will hear what God says and then do everything they can to live and do what “seems right” to them and the end result is always the same. Doing your own thing in life leads to death and separation from God.

What is "the world," this enemy of the spiritual path which so many religious traditions have vilified in their scriptures? For them the word "world" is merely a metaphor for the unwanted attachments and unwritten rules of society that can too often cater to the lower common denominators of the human condition. It is the world of the material, the world of fear and craving, the world that promises fulfillment and yet inevitably brings disappointment and suffering. It is that ever-present refrain just beneath the surface of our society that says, "have more, consume more, become more, enjoy the comforts and pleasures of the senses without worrying about the needs of the soul."

We spent a lot of time last week defining the worlds system, the world’s deception and the world’s seduction. About four minutes from the end of the message I tried to make a transition to talk about how to refrain from being sucked into the pull of this world and really did not do it justice so I am coming back today to use those same point from last week’s message that I flew over at the end.

How do we overcome the world’s barriers to living in intimacy with God? How in the world can we live Christ like lives in a polluted world?

1. Begins with a new New Attitude   

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.  6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
 and died a criminal’s death on a cross. 9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names,”
Philippians 2:5-9

Verse 5 is preceded by verses three and four that teach we should think of others more than ourselves. Jesus is our model for living and loving instead of gaining and getting.

 3 "Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too."

The example is that we should have the same attitude that Christ had when He came to this earth. The world’s system says: You have to be number one. You need to push others down to get on top of the pile. Jesus who had everything taught us to be a giver instead of a getter. 

He came as a man when He was from the royalty of heaven. He was born into a lowly life with nothing royal about it, but he became obedient even to death. And what happened was because of His attitude (which was the opposite of this worlds) God highly exalted Him and His name high above all names.
Jesus did pretty much everything that was the opposite of what this world taught was right. You can count on this today:  Doing the opposite of what this world teaches is the way to live will guarantee that you are living in the center of God’s will. 

It begins with a new attitude. 

2. Requires a Radical Renunciation

In many places this is a missing teaching in the church today. Renunciation is an old word but a good word.

Throughout human history there have been individuals who have heard in their own hearts and minds a call to give up the world, felt a yearning, an inner demand to cast off the roles and concerns of secular society and leave behind the dictates and expectations of a worldly life. Those individuals have taken one of the most radical steps a human being can take—they have renounced the world completely and walked away in search of an unknown possibility. Whether they have gone to the mountains, the desert, the forest, the cave, or the monastery; and whether they have gone alone or, like Jesus created a revolution in their wake; these individuals left the concerns of the everyday far behind for a way of life that they considered to be more real, more authentic, closer to the heart of what it means to be a human being.

When you ask the question "What does it mean to be in the world but not of it?" you have to deal with and come to terms with the inspiring yet austere example of the world-renouncers and the great tradition of being single minded. Although in our modern Western culture the ideal of renunciation is often derided as a dispensable remnant of a less enlightened past the fact remains that people who have practiced separation from this world  have been at the forefront of humanity's spiritual aspirations. Within their hallowed halls, cloistered cells, and solitary sanctuaries, much of our modern spiritual heritage has been shaped and formed, and the great saints and mystics who have emblazoned their names on the pages of our spiritual canon have more often than not been products of these world-renouncing traditions.

What inner compulsion moves these men and women to take such a bold and unconventional step?

In Christ’s teaching there is no clearer call than these words:

23 Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. 24 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 25 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?” 

Luke 9:23-25 NLT

When you read and embrace these words you can’t have the Jesus plus mentality. I’ll have Jesus on Sunday morning and I’ll have whatever I want to indulge my passions during the week.   

The world says, “You deserve a break today,” the world says, “If you can’t afford it charge it.” The world says push others down so that you can be above them on the ladder of success. You should never have to wait for anything; you are the most important person in your world. Life revolves around you. Jesus teaches just the opposite.

This whole notion of picking up your cross is so often misunderstood. We think of the cross as some religious symbol but when Jesus spoke these words it was not a religious symbol it was a symbol of death. It wasn’t until three hundred years after Christ death that the cross became a symbol of faith. He would say today, “Take up your lethal injection.” Deny yourself daily and die out to your me first mindset.

The reason we would do this? The words of Jesus are so hard and cutting yet His motivation is so loving and so compassionate. The reason Jesus pulls no punches is He knows that when you follow the world as we all have at times, the end of that is death.

So here He teaches us why we are to deny ourselves:

But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 25 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?”                                            

What happens when you work to have it all and then come to realize that you have alienated your friends and family in the process and you sit alone surrounded by all the trappings of your “success?” You are not only without friends and family but you are without God because you have taken the easy road. The road that this world demands you take.

If you and I are to overcome the barriers in this world to intimacy with God we have to learn the discipline and steps of renunciation in our lives.

God calls us to take up our cross daily and die to the desires of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the need that we have to be in the center of everything, full of arrogance and pride and always being first with our own way.

How to we practice renunciation? Deny yourself. (turn from your selfish ways)

There is something that has been referred to as the evangelical “both and strategy.”  I was in New Mexico a couple of weeks ago and staying in someone’s home who had satellite TV. There must have been 20 so called religious channels. It was some of the most nauseating and disturbing TV I have ever watched. It is no wonder people in the world have no desire to be Christfollowers or hear from the church. As I watched what is on TV as representing Christianity I was embarrassed and ashamed.

You know where the crowds are? Wherever you can hear a secular message that says it all about you. You are the center of the world. You can be the best, first and most put together person in your world. You can have it all. You can and will be successful all the time in every way. Do you know if I started hawking that kind of a message and acted as cheesy as some of these people on television we could build a gigantic building and I could write bestselling books and people would flock here from around the world but when you start preaching that you should live a holy life and renounce the world and live like God wants you to live instead of how the people around you want you to live, people generally don’t want to hear that message.

When Jesus was putting on a good show by healing people He was surrounded by crowds of people. They didn’t want to be Christfollowers they wanted to get something for themselves and when He started calling for them to pick up their “lethal injections” and follow Him in His death they ran as fast as they could in the opposite direction.

Jesus has to matter more than the stuff in your life.

3. Embraces a New Economy

You and I are called to embrace a new set of values and priorities. When you are a part of God’s economy and Kingdom you live differently than those around you. Again remember that in many cases you will feel like you are swimming upstream not just the opposite of the world but many of today’s Christians as well.

Here is the Kingdom’s economy:

1. The way to “life” is death  Surrender (purpose/power/passion)

20 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 NLT

By faith I will live the crucified life. By faith I will die out to myself and surrender my rights and my wants and my wishes to the will of God for me. I will die to my agenda and my will and my future and demands and selfishness. I will put God first and die daily to the demands of this world and of my life. I will walk with God and surrender my life to Him. This leads to purpose/power/passion.

William Law made a lasting impact upon 18th century England with his book, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. In it, Law urges this Christian that every day should be viewed as a day of humility. And how does he suggest that we do this? By learning to serve others. Law understood that it is with the discipline of service that one gains humility. If we want humility, he urges us to, “give in to all the weaknesses and infirmities of your fellow-man, cover their frailties, love their excellences, encourage their virtues, relieve their wants, rejoice in their prosperities, be compassionate in their distress, receive their friendship, overlook their unkindness, forgive their malice, be a servant of servants, and agree to do the lowest offices to the lowest of mankind.”

2. The way “up” is down    Be a Servant

48 Then he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.” Luke 9: 48 NLT

If you really want life to the fullest “die.” If you really want to go “up” then you must learn the gift of downward mobility. Servanthood leads to honor and greatness.

What would happen if servanthood became the byword of your family? What would happen if you became a servant at work? I can tell you. You will become the most sought after person because you embrace something that most people don’t understand.

We are all saddened to learn this week of the death of one of our church’s most valuable members, Someone Else. Someone’s passing created a vacancy that will be difficult to fill. Else has been with us for many years, and for every one of those years, Someone did far more than a normal person’s share of the work. Whenever leadership was mentioned, this wonderful person was looked to for inspiration as well as results: "Someone Else can work with that group." Whenever there was a job to do, a class to teach, or a meeting to attend, one name was on everyone’s lists- Someone Else! "Let Someone Else do it" was a common refrain heard throughout the church. It was common knowledge that Someone Else was among the largest givers in the church. Whenever there was a financial need, everyone just assumed Someone Else would make up the difference. Someone Else was a wonderful person, sometimes appearing superhuman; but a person can only do so much. Were the truth known, everybody expected too much of Someone Else. Now Someone Else is gone! We wonder what we are going to do. Someone Else left a wonderful example to follow, but who is going to follow it? Who is going to do the things Someone Else did? Remember- we can’t depend on Someone Else anymore!

Talk about Children’s ministry and Kid City: Family ministry

3. The way to “gain” is to give  Be Generous  

38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”  Luke 6:38 NLT

Jesus says the whole world is about being in the center and being on top and gaining, gaining, gaining. Jesus says the way to get on top is to be a servant and the way to gain is to give and the way to discover life is to die. Generosity is the gateway to genuine prosperity.

Do you know that wealth is not a bad thing unless it has your heart. You know it has your heart when God taps you on the shoulder and asks you to do something with what He has blessed you with that is different than what you had planned.

The only antidote for greed is to give and be generous. We should systematically give our time and talents and treasure.

"It is always easier to confess the sins of others than to acknowledge our own faults, and to point out the delinquencies of others than to mend our own nets. Men, like water, are prone to take the easy way from the mountains to the sea."

We are so prone to be sucked into this world’s system yet Christ offers another way. Last week we ended by reciting together a prayer written by St. Francis of Assisi. When you study his life in the latter part of the 1100’s and early 1200’s you will find that he renounced his fathers fortune and sought to follow God 100 per cent. 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

We are the church gathered; now we become the church dispersed.
May the words and presence of Jesus you found here follow you and find you wherever you go. May your week be full of opportunities to take the road less traveled as you follow our Lord daily.

Gracious heavenly Father, from whom every goodness flows, look with mercy on us as we worship and adore you during this hour. Through Your Spirit convict us of our transgressions and by Your power make us clean and whole again.

We confess that we often carry to excess our reactions to the stress we feel in our lives. Often we justify overindulgence. Discouragement tempts us to despair; anger, to depression; tension, to anxiety, overwhelming sorrow, to withdrawal; to self-pity and to loneliness.

Let us find your grace today. Let your grace shape us into a people prone to giving rather than receiving and more to gratitude than complaining. With great joy we thank you , our God, for our lives today. We praise you for this day because you have created it and designed it so that we might live in it and bring honor to your name.

We pledge our lives to you Lord on this your day. Lift us up and set us on a straight path. In Your name we pray, Amen