ICON ● Part 1 | "It Won't Work"

In today’s fast-paced world we strive to succeed, win, be the best, always be first… but what would it look like if we chose to lose instead? Seems absurd, but losing could actually be the key to gaining far more than you could imagine.

NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.

For those of you who are communicators, whether it's in business or wherever you communicate, here's a little communication tip. If you speak from your weakness, you will never run out of material. Yeah. If you speak from your weakness, you'll never run out of material. So in this series that we're beginning today, I even told Sandra a couple of months ago when I started working on it, I said, You know what, this is something that I wrestle with. I feel like every day, I'm not even sure I should even talk about it. She's like, Yeah, you should talk about it because that's kind of the point of all this.

Sometimes it's just not easy because some of the things that are associated with Christianity are just so non-intuitive. So anyway, here's what we're gonna talk about for the next few weeks. We're gonna talk about a temptation that is only appropriate or only experienced by Christians. But while this temptation is really, it's really just something that Christians wrestle with or should wrestle with, the tension that is associated with this particular temptation is something that you can relate to. This series kind of, it might make sense of that internal sense of disappointment that you feel sometimes just with life in general, or your general sense of discontentment, even though you kind of have most of what you need, there's just this sort of abiding sense of discontentment or the way I describe it to that sort of constant nagging, never enoughness.

Like no matter what you do, what you have and where you go, it's like it's never enough. We're really gonna talk a lot about that next time, or that kind of if only, if only ness, if I could just go back. If I could just go back, so these are emotions that are common to everybody, but in terms of the specific temptation that certainly surfaces these kinds of things in everyone, there's a peculiar angle that is really appropriate just for Jesus followers or people who are attempting to follow Jesus. It's actually one of the temptations that Jesus faced in Matthew and Luke, both tell us that Jesus was by himself alone at a very difficult time, physically worn out, and that during that time, he was tempted personally by the devil.

And the third temptation that many of you are familiar with the third temptation is the temptation that many of us as Christians are tempted with, but it is so subtle. I think most of us don't even know when it's happening. Here's what the text tells us. That the devil led him, Jesus, to a high place, and he showed him in an instant, we can't explain this, all the kingdoms of the world. And Matthew says, and their splendor. Maybe they're up on a mountain looking at the City of Jerusalem at night, all lit up, that just kind of represented all the kingdoms of this world. Or maybe it was something beyond that, we don't know. But they're there looking at something, and the tempter says to Jesus, "Look at it. Take it in." I was trying to think of something that we could relate to, and all of my illustrations fall way short, but here's a... I'll take a shot.

Maybe you've done a tour of homes, you ever done a tour of homes and they got all the cool kitchen stuff and the refrigerator talks to you, and the washer and dryer, you can start it and stop it from Africa, it doesn't matter. And they got all the windows move and the shades move, and that's just the first house. Then you go to the second house, and it's really the tour of discontentment is what it is.

And then you get home, remember you got home and it's like, "Did somebody lower the ceilings while we were gone?" I just feel like I kinda have to walk around my apartment, in my house like this. So but when you're in those environments, it's just so much to take in. It's like, Wow. Well, this is kind of this moment. It's like Jesus, feast your eyes on the kingdoms of this world. Jesus, I know why you're here. You're here for that. You're here for them. And I can give it to you. Here's what Mathew and Luke tell you. Tell us, because Matthew knew Jesus and got this from Jesus, I will give you all their authority. You get to be the king of the kings. The kingdom kings and their splendor, their glamour, the all awesomeness, the wowness of all of it. It's been given to me and I can give it to anyone I want to. Now, if that's all we knew, if that's the end of the tale, the story, I mean, who would say no to that?

And before you start feigning humility, oh, you know I don't really care about that kind of stuff. Come on, right? Do you turn down promotions at work? No. Do you turn down raises? Oh no, I'm not really into money. No, you take the, you take the raise. Do you turn down bonuses 'cause you're so humble? No, of course, you take the bonuses and promotions, right? And do you avoid good opportunities or better opportunities when they come on? No, and you shouldn't, right? Because that just feels like an opportunity, in fact, this whole story so far, it doesn't seem like a temptation at all. It really feels like more of the opportunity of a lifetime, right? Opportunity for a lifetime. I mean this is, what's being offered is the goal. it's why we wanna succeed.

That's what we're wired to do. Is what you get dressed up for, discipline yourself for, not because you're evil, not because we're evil, but because we are wired for progress. We are wired for creativity. We are created in the image of God, and God looks at chaos and brings order out of chaos. And that's what we do, we were made and built to achieve. all of that's good, but as you know, in the encounter with Jesus, there's a trade-off. And this is where we begin to enter the story, and this is where this becomes more temptation than maybe opportunity. All of this, the tempter says, I will give you. All you gotta do, a little bit of a trade. All you gotta do is bow down and acknowledge me as your authority.All you gotta do is acknowledge that I'm the source of all these good things. You just got, just once, just for a moment, just acknowledge me as your King.

Now, if you're not a Christian or not a theist, I've already lost you, 'cause you're like Andy, silly Christians, there's no such thing as a devil. There's no devil. Come on. There's just what we see, and there's what we get. So if there's an opportunity to achieve, if there's an opportunity to excel, if there's an opportunity to win, if there's an opportunity for advancement, it's just that, Andy. It's an opportunity. It's not a temptation. You've lost me. I mean, think about it. This is true for all of us. We're not tempted to succeed, we're not tempted to achieve, we're supposed to.

So the whole thing is a little bit strange. Back to the story with Jesus. So the tempter says, Hey, all of this, I'll give you. All you gotta do is just acknowledge me as the source of all these things, and acknowledge me as your King and boom, you can have them. And you know what happens next. Jesus said, Away from me. Away from me. And this is the important part. I don't want what you're offering. You're offering the opportunity to rule like every other ruler, you're offering the opportunity to be king like every other king, you're offering me kingdoms like every other kingdom. And that's not what I came for. In fact, you can't give me... You can't give me what I came for, because the world has never seen what I came for. So away from me, for it is written, and then he quotes from the Old Testament. It is written, Worship the Lord your God and serve Him, God only. I'm not here to acquire, I'm not here to improve and I'm not here to recreate more of what already exist. Not my kind of kingdom. Because I'm not that kind of king, where might makes right. Where the people with the gold determine the rules.

Where it's all about image management. Win, lose. Top, down. There are good guys and bad guys, and if you're a good guy, you need to destroy and get rid of the bad guys. I'm very familiar with those kinds of kingdoms, not interested. I'm not interested in the all for one, and I'm number one approach to anything. It's not why I've come. Now, this is kind of confusing, okay? it's kind of confusing because what's the alternative? What's the alternative to achievement?

If that's what's being offered and somehow that's a bad thing, do we just retreat to don't care, don't compete, don't accomplish, Cs get degrees, just roll over and let everybody roll over you? Here's the thing. If all there is to this life is what we see, if all there is to this life is this life, then it is in fact a win-lose world. And if all there is to this life is what we see and it's a win-lose world, there is no advantage to losing.  if that's our only option, then we're only left with one good option. That is we have to strive in order to thrive, and we have to strive in order to survive because it is a win-lose world, and like it or not, there're winners and there're losers, and some people can compete better than other people, and you just gotta claw your way to the top and kinda try to stay there and then go to church on Sundays, sing some songs, and ask God to help you stay there or get there. What are the options? Is there another option? I'm a natural born striver.

My dad was a striver, and that's not a criticism of him or me, it's just in me, it's in so many of you to strive, right? For some of you, it's been a matter of survival, so I'm not even being critical. But is that the only option? Well, here's the good news, and if you've been coming for a while, we say this all the time, but in different ways, there is another option. Jesus, according to Jesus, there's not only another way, there's a better way. He modeled the way. And it is a way I am tempted to abandon and ignore every single day. Because not only does the way of Jesus mitigate against culture and everyone around me and pretty much everything around me, it also strikes up against and flows against my selfish nature.

The all about me part of me. But as we say all the time, there is a better way. The way of Jesus is better. Following Jesus will make you better at life because he offers a completely different way of living that is in a completely different direction, but it is so subtle, it is so not intuitive, it is so against the flow that it's easy to think we're in the stream with Jesus, when in fact, we're just in the stream with culture, except we wear a cross and we know the songs, and we pray that God will help us out compete and win against everybody that we're competing against and trying to win against. The way of Jesus is better for you and it's better for the use around you. And here's the thing, Following Jesus will not make you less productive, it will make you better productive, it will not make you less ambitious, you can't even help it.

For those of you who are super ambitious, you are hard-wired to be ambitious. You can't shut that down, that is in some ways the image of God and it won't make you less ambitious. It will make you appropriately ambitious. It won't make you less successful, but it will change your definition and my definition of success. So in these few weeks, we're gonna unpack all of this and we're gonna learn to identify when we are being tempted to abandon the way of Jesus. And to get us started, his response to the tempter is actually helpful in terms of where we're going. Remember, here's what he said when he was tempted. He said, No, no, no, I'm not gonna... I don't want the kingdoms of the world. I don't want what you have to offer. Again, I've not come to replicate something, I've come to introduce something brand new. Worship the Lord, your God and serve Him only. Now, he lifted this from the Old Testament, from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is where Moses is giving the nation of Israel a charge kind of marching orders, as they're finally about to enter their new homeland, what we refer to as the Promised Land, and he's saying, Look, when you get in there, you're gonna prosper.

Don't forget where you came from, don't forget your roots, don't forget that once upon a time, you also were slaves. Don't forget where you came from and don't forget who put you there. Here's the full text that Jesus is referring to. Here's what Moses said to the people, Be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who is the one who brought you out of Egypt. You didn't bring yourself out of Egypt. Out of the land of slavery. Don't ever forget that you were a slave one time. Then here's the statement that Jesus lifted out of the text. Fear the Lord your God and serve Him only. Don't forget whose and who you are and all that God has done for you. Do not adopt the ways of the nations you are going to be surrounded with. Now, here's something that's so interesting and so confusing sometimes when you read the Bible.

In the Old Testament, especially in the years leading up to this moment where Moses sent the people to the Promised Land, and here's leading up to that, God had out-pharaohed Pharaoh. You know the story about the plagues and all the stuff, many of you do. He out-pharaohed Pharaoh. He dipped into the world of the kingdoms of this world, and he humiliated Pharaoh's gods, he destroyed Pharaoh's army, that God literally played by the rules of the kingdoms of this world, in order to set the stage for the coming of a kingdom that was nothing like this world, and it was inaugurated by His son, the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, King, Jesus and now he's on planet earth, unfolding what God had been planning all along. A different way of living. A different direction of living with a different set of values, that sets people up for a different kind of relationship and a different kind of lived experience. And in Jesus final temptation, he's actually being tempted or invited or expected to repeat history.

Jesus, just take on the kingdoms of this world and let's just keep this thing going. Jesus, this is the way it's always been. This is the way it will always be. You can't change that, and I'll just give it to you if you'll just take it and just fuel what exists. You know, make a few changes here and there, but let's not abandon the entire paradigm. He was tempted like we are to embrace the old ways, the expected way, the win-lose way. But Jesus had come to launch a brand new way, the upside down way, the way of the cross, as the apostle Paul refers to it, as we're gonna refer to it in this series. So Jesus refused the offer. But here's the problem with the way of the cross. And here's the problem with the way of Jesus, especially in the 1st Century.

It was untested. Nobody had ever done this before. This was brand new, it was untested, it was risky. And even his closest followers, we talk about this all the time, they followed Jesus for three or three and a half years. They saw him live out this new kingdom way. And at the very end, they too are tempted as Jesus had been tempted, as we're tempted every single day, they were tempted to opt out of the kingdom way, to opt out of the Jesus way and to opt back into the win- lose way of thinking.

When Jesus was arrested, they hoped for another Red Sea moment where Jesus rips off his rabbi robe and declares himself, Messiah and King. And they defeat the Romans, and they reestablish Jerusalem as the epicenter of the world, and the world changes. It's all they knew. It was the only paradigm they had. And again, of course, they forced Jesus into what existed. But Jesus came to do something brand new, entirely different, to establish a different kind of way of thinking and living. So when Jesus was arrested, they were being tested. When Jesus was arrested, they were being tested and tempted just as he was. They viewed his arrest through the lens of win-lose. And Jesus was clearly losing. So they ran because who would choose to follow the loser and who would choose to lose? And then three days later, they're back. They're back because suddenly they realize, wait a minute, he wasn't kidding.

He really is a king. He really is a king to establish something different and something new. And we saw the whole thing and we missed it. And we ran and we blinked at the last moment. But now we understand. And these very same men and women went on to take the way of the cross, the message of Jesus into the world. It's why we're here today. So the Icon, the Icon for our faith, is not a sword. It's not a trophy. It's not a checkered flag, it's not an army eating sea.

It's a cross. And in the 1st Century, the cross didn't represent a salvation decision. That's not what it represented. The cross represented a completely different way of living, a completely different way of life. And the person who understood this better than anyone in the 1st Century was the Apostle Paul. And the reason he understood it better than anyone else is because he lived on both sides of this equation. He was an expert and fully devoted to a religious system that was built in and based around the kingdoms of this world thinking, win-lose thinking, progress justifies violence thinking, that the end justifies any means

It's the way it's always been. It's the way it'll always be. That the end justifies the means that again, there are good people and there are bad people. Paul would say, I'm part of the good people. We have to get rid of the bad people. But Paul understood better than we do where that approach to life, that approach to religion and that approach, even to the culture of the day, he knew where it would lead because he became the leader, he became. This is amazing. He became the leader on both sides. I mean, you know the story. When Christianity began gaining traction in the 1st Century, especially around Judea, the way as it was called, that's what they call Christianity. The way was considered a parasite. And it globed on to Judaism, and it was sucking the life out of Judaism. It was a contagion.

It needed to be eliminated. And Paul volunteered to eliminate it. And operating under the old way, the kingdoms of this world way. He was free. He felt free in his conscience to track down, arrest and execute apostate Jews and his unbridled cruelty. His unbridled cruelty in his way of thinking was the way of God. This was God's will. He was doing God's work, God's way. No issues of conscience.. He weaponized and he politicized his religion with a clear conscience.

But, When Paul became a follower of Jesus, a Jesus follower, he could find nothing in the teaching of Jesus to justify violent opposition to those who violently opposed him. He laid it down. He let go of the kingdoms of this world ways. A way that appears at times to be the only way forward the way, the only way that gets anything done, the way that works.

And Paul instead took up the way of the cross. In fact, this is what he talks about throughout his epistles, the way of the cross. Here's how he explained it to a group of people that really are very similar to us. They were very educated, they were thoughtful. They were into culture. They were into winning. They were into achievement. They were, they lived in a very metropolitan, sophisticated city of Corinth. And Here's what he wrote to them as he wrote a letter to them later after he'd been there to establish the church. The king sent me. Now your English text says Christ, but that's what's so confusing. Christ has become Jesus last name. Now this says, he's a king, he's a messiah. Paul writes, the king sent me to preach the good news, but not with wisdom and eloquence. And these were kind of technical terms in that culture to say, I know there's a way that rhetoricians explain things. I'm not doing that. I know there are correct words and there's a correct way to be.

And the reason I'm not gonna do it that way is I don't want the presentation to get in the way of what's being presented. So you'll have to put up with my poor presentation because I want you to understand what I have come to present to you. This is good news for all men and all women everywhere. And look what he says, but not with wisdom and eloquence lest the cross of the king. I'm telling you this, was this just, there just is no category for this in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd century, lest the cross of Christ, the cross of my king, be emptied of its power. I mean, there's so many conflicting ideas. It's like, wait a minute, Paul, wait, wait, wait.

Your king died on a cross. Wait, the Romans killed your king and you want us to worship your king. I mean, you're gonna have to explain that. And what do you mean the cross would be emptied of its power? The crosses don't have power. But listen, crosses are a symbol of powerlessness. If you have a cross, it's over. You've been defeated. It's bottom of the pile. It's oblivion. It's like you never even happened. It's all things to be avoided. And this glaring contradiction, this glaring contradiction, actually points to and highlights the otherness, the upside down-ness of the way of Jesus. The way that I, the way that maybe you, the way that that we are tempted daily to avoid and to abandon because it's so unnatural. It's rarely modeled. You almost never see it. When you see it, you stop and stare. It's so unusual.

It's so powerful. We aren't even aware when we're tempted to abandon it. In fact, currently this is so disturbing to me. Maybe it doesn't disturb you. Currently. There are streams of Christianity in our nation. Christianity that unapologetically reject and resist the way of the cross because it's perceived as too weak and too passive. The statement I hear and read all the time on these, the crazy social media stuff I follow is it won't work. It won't work, it won't work. But it did. It's why we're here. It's why the cross is the global Icon for your faith and mine. It's why it's the symbol, this symbol of suffering and shame, as the old hymn says, suffering, the symbol of suffering and shame.

Is our Icon. Why? Because it depicts better than anything else from ancient times. The otherness, the backwardness, the opposite ness of the message and the way of Jesus. A way of living that's gonna always feel risky and never intuitive. And that's why we're tempted to abandon it every single day. This is why perhaps Jesus made the following statement. He said, whoever, and that mean, me and you, and all of us, he said, whoever wants to be my disciple, which is a follower, must deny themselves.

That is you say no to you and you take up the cross daily and follow me when he said this, they're like, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Jesus, you're a rabbi. Maybe you don't understand how this works. Let me explain what rabbis do. See rabbis take the Torah that we all agree with, and they explain it in new and different ways so we can apply it in our new culture. Because you know, us 1st Century people, we're modern people, right? Those ancient people. So we're learning to contextualize Torah. So you can illustrate it, you can teach it, you can apply it, you can re-explain it, you can tell stories about it. But you gotta kind of stay with the party line. You kind of gotta go with the flow, take up a cross and follow you. That sounds like you're gonna move in the complete opposite direction.

Yes. And you're gonna have to deny yourself in order to do this. And he says, daily, why daily? Because every day I'm tempted to opt for the kingdoms of this world approach to everything. Every time something doesn't go my way, every time somebody disagrees with me, every time somebody hurts my feelings or says something bad about you, or every time and just, I mean every single day, because I wanna win and I wanna come out on top and I wanna look good. And the cross and this, and when he said this, this had nothing to do with dying for anybody's sin. God's not asking you to die for anybody's sin.

He's asking you. And he is calling me to live in a completely different direction. So wrapping up this first episode, I wanna try to bring this down to our real world. So here's what I wanna do. I'm gonna give you a little bit of homework to make this practical. I want to encourage you or challenge you. And the thing is, if you're not a Christian, you should play along with this. This, it's not gonna hurt anything, okay? Just think about this. I wanna challenge you to take a question with you into this next week, okay? I don't want you to act on it.

It's too early, okay? It's too risky. Honestly, I don't want you to act on it. I just want you to consider it. And this is, I gotta say this for somebody, some people in the room or some people listening, this is for you personally. This week anytime there's a disagreement or a conflict at home, it could be simple. It could be I had that first. Well, I had it first. I got there first. No, you got there first. You know, whatever, whatever it is, I want you at home, at school, wherever you are, to just ask yourself silently in that point of tension, what would choosing to lose look like in this situation?

What would it look like if I just let the other person win? What would it look like to let them go first, even though I was here first? What would it look like to just let them take credit even though it really, the credit doesn't belong to them? What would it look like to just defer to them? What would it look like in this situation to choose to let them win? And think about this. There is a big difference. There's a big difference between losing and choosing to lose. Because choosing to lose is not a sign of weakness. It requires strength, unnatural strength. Some might even say super natural strength. Let's take Paul's word and stick it in there. It requires power. It requires what Paul will refer to in a different book of the New Testament, supernatural resurrection power. And that's why when you see this, you stop and stare because it is so unusual. It is so uncharacteristic, it is so other worldly.

And this to some extent, and you gotta sort this out in your own world, with your own family, with your own finances, with your own situation. I, at some point, I have to just stop and trust you with it. This, in some way reflects and represents the way of Jesus, the way of the cross. What would choosing to lose look like in this situation?

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