If you want to become a better person, do something this year to make the world a better place. In this episode, Andy discusses how to determine what that something should be.
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
Now, this is the season, especially in the West and especially in the United States, this is the season of self-improvement. Self-improvement is basically we ask the question, “What should I do about me? How do I make me a better me? How do I get slimmer, how do I get stronger, how do I get out of debt, how do I get smarter?” But there’s a bigger, broader, really a better question to ask.
If you have ever had anybody do anything for you when you were in need it’s because somebody asked this question. We have all benefited from the fact that someone somewhere along the way has asked this question that they got outside the realm of personal New Year’s resolutions as it related to them, and they asked the question, “What needs to be done around me?” Not simply “What needs to be done about me?” but “What needs to be done around me?” So we said last week, if you really wanna become a better person then you’ve gotta figure out how to do something or you need to do something to help make the world a better place. What man is a man who does not leave the world or make the world better? So the question that we’re gonna begin asking today as we kinda narrow this down is how do you know what you should do? How do you know what you should do?
So last week we looked at this passage from Nehemiah, this incredible story about Nehemiah. He gets some information and this information causes him to become very emotional and his heart is broken. And so, the question that we’re bearing down on, because it’s an emotional question, granted it’s a disturbing question. This is a question that if you spend some time thinking about it, that’s why we spend three weeks thinking about it, it may move you in some directions that you may have been afraid to move into otherwise. And the question is, what breaks your heart? What breaks your heart? What breaks your heart? As you look around your community there are lots of needs. As you look around our country there are lots of needs. As you look around the world there are lots of needs. And you can’t meet every need and you can’t meet every person’s need and you can’t change the world but you may be able to change one person’s world. You may be able to change somebody’s world.
So as you think about all the needs, all the things going on in our nation and your community and your neighborhood and in your school system, whatever it might be, what is the one thing or what is the one category or what is the one area or what is the one group of people that when your mind sorta goes into neutral you find your heart leaning in their direction? What is that one thing? You hear about 10 different needs, 10 different things going on in the world and you think, “Oh, that’s too bad, that’s too bad, that’s too bad, that’s too bad”. But there’s that one group, there’s that one category, and when you hear about that something rises up on the inside of you and you think, “Something needs to be done about that”. For you, this one category, this one group, this one need, this one unmet need, it’s emotional for you.
You find yourself getting a little bit amped up about it, you find yourself talking about it. You might have gone on the Internet to get some more information about it. You may have looked around to see, “Is anybody doing anything about this?” What breaks your heart? About maybe a year ago Sandra and I were talking about this and we were talking about our foster care initiative here. And she’s super involved in that and we’re foster parents and we love that kinda thing, and that’s one of the things that has captured our hearts. And that’s not for everybody but it is for us. But we were talking about it and she and our Fostering Together initiative. She said something so interesting that when she said it, and this happens a lot in our marriage, I don’t know about yours. I said, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, I gotta write that down, that’s good. I’m either gonna give you credit for it or I might just steal it, but that is a really profound thought”. She has lots of profound thoughts.
And so, and here’s what she said. She said, “You know… ” and this was in the midst of a conversation so this is kinda, I don’t wanna spend a lotta time giving you context. She said, “You know what, I would be so happy if at the end of my life, if at the end of my life, people lined up, adults lined up to tell me… And specifically, adults lined up to thank me for what I did to make their foster experience easier when they were kids”. I thought, “There is an extraordinary perspective”. You know what you would like to be thanked for at the end of your life. So as you grapple with and as we wrestle with this whole thing of what breaks our hearts or what breaks your heart, how would you finish this sentence? I think that was an extraordinary way of saying that, how would you finish this sentence? “At the end of my life I would like people to line up and thank me for… ” At the end of your life, what would you like people to line up and thank you for.
And I know you’re gonna love your kids. I know you’re gonna take care of your husband, your wife, I know you’re gonna love your grandkids. But outside the realm of family, outside the realm of making a living and living indoors and eating and all of those things we gotta do. Outside of that, is there something or what would you like to think that people would line up and thank you for at the end of your life? That is a profound, profound question. Now, the problem with this whole ‘what breaks your heart?’ thing, and this isn’t a religious thing, this isn’t a Christian thing, this is just an everybody thing. This is an all-skate. If you’re alive you need to be able to answer the question or at least wrestle with the question, “What breaks my heart?” The problem with the question is, it will require something of you. And I think this is… We talked a little bit about this last week. I think this is a little bit why we shrink back.
It’s like, “Well I just… Somebody else is gonna have to do something about that. I don’t have time. Somebody else is gonna have to figure that out. I don’t have time. It breaks my heart. And I can’t even think about it, it breaks my heart so much but I don’t know what to do, I’m just one person, I’m not resourced, I don’t know anybody”. Because the truth is, at the end of the day if you decide to move, even in a small way, in the direction of what breaks your heart, it will require something of you. It’s gonna require some time. It’s gonna require some money. It’s gonna require some missed opportunity in some other area of life. It’s even gonna take away some time from your family, some of the things that you value. It’s gonna cost you something. Ultimately, ultimately, it’s gonna cost you some life. And the problem with it costing us some life is that we are by nature life, what? What is this? Come on, come on. What is this? A life preserver, a lifesaver. I thought that was… Do we do the candy or do we do the actual thing? Yeah, it’s a life preserver and a lifesaver, you can call it what you want.
And the truth is by nature I’m a lifesaver, I’m a life preserver. I don’t want to give away my life. I want to save my life. I don’t want to risk my life. I’ve got insurance and a security system and a seat belt and air bags. I do everything possible to preserve my life and to preserve my family’s life and to preserve my time and to save my money. I’m by nature a life preserver. And you are by nature a life preserver, a lifesaver. It’s all about you, It’s all about me. And the problem with what breaks my heart is at some point I have to begin letting go of some of this. It starts to feel as if I’m losing my life or the things that I define as life. My time, my money, my reputation, my opportunity, my advancement, my forward progress and whatever it is I’m leading or involved with. So that’s the tension isn’t it?
When you find out what it is and you decide to get involved, it’s gonna cost you and it’s gonna feel like you are giving up or giving away a part of your life. And as we wrestle with that tension, and it’s a real tension. And it’s a tension that everybody should wrestle with. As we wrestle with that tension, Jesus comes along. And Jesus comes along and he says this. He says, “Whoever devotes themselves to themselves will have nothing but themselves to show for themselves”. Now, that’s not exactly what Jesus said, that’s what I said. But we’re gonna get to what Jesus said and not that he needs my help. But this was my summary of Jesus’ whole message about ourselves.
We’re gonna look at the passage in a minute. Whoever devotes themselves to themselves I’m gonna save my life. I can’t afford to give that away. I can’t afford to look over there. It’s about me, It’s about me. Whoever devotes themselves to themselves, which is what we all naturally do. At the end he says, “Will have nothing but themselves to show for themselves.” And Jesus says if that’s what you have at the end of your life your life is a total loss. And in an attempt, in an attempt to preserve your life, to be a life preserver, in the end you’ve actually given it all away with nothing to show for it. So one day Jesus is going along and he has these crowds. If you wanna do something interesting read the Book of Matthew, Mark and Second Gospel and just get a highlighter or a pencil and just mark the word “crowd”. Jesus was constantly surrounded by crowds. And again, I’ve said this before but we can’t smell those crowds, we can’t see those crowds, it was terrible, it was terrible. He couldn’t jump in an Escalade and zoom off and leave the crowd, he could jump on a donkey.
“Alright. Let’s go, let’s get outta here.” And they’re walking beside him going, “You realize you’re not really going any faster than the crowd.” So Jesus was surrounded by people. Smelly people. Sick people. People with sores and issues of blood. And what did they wanna do? They wanted to do what? Starts with a T.
Touch him. Now just picture this. This is something out of a zombie movie, it really is. It’s like all these smelly, sick people wanting to touch him everywhere he goes, this was the life of Jesus. Everywhere he went he was surrounded by crowds. So he had the 12 guys that was sort of like his posse to keep the crowds at bay. But he couldn’t escape the crowds. This is why he spent a lot of time down by the sea of Galilee. His best option was to get in a boat and go. That was it. That was as fast as he could get away from the crowds. So anyway, so here’s what’s happening. In the Book of Luke we’re told that… We find one of these incidents where large crowds were following Jesus. And it’s funny because Luke says he turns to them. I feel like he kind of turns on them. Here’s what happened, Luke tells us this: Large crowds, hundreds of people, large crowds were traveling with Jesus. In other words they didn’t just show up to watch him speak when he finished speaking…
They traveled with him. It’s like everywhere he went it was like, “Okay, y’all are still here.” “Well of course we’re still here, you heal and you feed us, I mean where… ” Who wants to go home when you have Jesus. Anyway large crowds were traveling with Jesus and turning to them, he kind of turns on them and said, you’re ready for this. He turns to them, it’s like, hold on, he says this, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, if anybody follows me and you don’t hate your family”. So much for family relations, my New Year’s resolution is more time with my family. Jesus says, “You should hate them.” Okay New Year’s resolution, “I’m going to hate… That’s what Jesus says.”
Now what’s he talking about, he’s not talking about hate, the emotion. In fact there’s other parts in the New Testament where his followers says, “No, no, if you hate somebody, if you have the emotion of hate towards somebody you are actually not a follower of Jesus.” He’s not talking about the emotion. He’s taking about a willingness to allow Jesus to be the superior or the ultimate decision maker in one’s life instead of one’s family. This is hyperbole and this becomes clear as the verse goes on. So let me just finish reading. He says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sister; in other words if you’re willing to make someone else the authority. If anyone comes to me and isn’t willing to hate them.” “Yes,” he says. Let me just be honest even their own life.
Now this isn’t an emotion, this is I hate my life, he’s not talking about. He is talking about who is going to be in control, who is going to be in charge, who is going to call the shots, such a person, a person who doesn’t decide once and for all who is in charge, such a person cannot be my disciple and of course they couldn’t. Because to be someone’s disciple is to declare them to be your leader. To become someone’s disciple is to say, “I am a follower and I follow you. This was Jesus’ kind of big bold way of saying, “Look, I know you’re following me around, I know you’re traveling wherever I travel, but you can’t actually be my follower, a sincere disciple until you decide once and for all who is going to be Lord, who is going to call the shots, who has the ultimate say in your own life.
To hate your own life isn’t to feel bad about yourself. To hate your own life is to decide once and for all that you aren’t going to call the shots that you’re willing to submit your life, the shots, the decisions to Jesus. And in this moment, those of us who love New Year’s resolutions that are all about us, and again I am not against them, I hope you accomplish all of them. Suddenly we find the tension that Jesus creates around making me a better person in following Jesus. Deciding how do I spend more time on Andy, so Andy can be… And the tension between that and following Jesus. And Jesus points us to this overpowering, daunting, I don’t know, intimidating tension and essentially he says this, “The essence… The essence of following Jesus is self-denial not self-improvement.”
And that’s hard for me and that’s hard for you, this is hard for Americans, right. I mean our economy is driven to some extent by self-improvement. Jesus says, “I’m not against self-improvement any more than I’m against your father, and your mother, and your children, and husband and your wife. I’m not against any of those people. I’m not against any of those relationships. I’m not against you being the best you can possibly be. But you’ve got to decide once and for all who is going to call the shots and you can’t follow me and decide that mommy and daddy are always going to call the shots in your life for the rest of your life.”
You can’t say, “Hey I’m going to be disciple of Jesus and a follower of Jesus.” And you decide that somebody else is ultimately going to make the decisions, even you. So at the end of the day Jesus says to his first century audience and to us, “Hey, I’m all for self-improvement but following me you are about to discover, it’s really more about self-denial than self-improvement.” And then he just lays it on them thick. I mean this was the crowd thinning statement and he says this, “And whoever… He didn’t finish. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. They could be my traveling buddy. You can eat the free food. I’m willing to heal you and your mama and your mama’s mama, but don’t kid yourself, you are not my disciple until you decide to come and die to you, so you could say yes to me. And at that point, the ‘what’s in it for me’ class left, group left Jesus and went and join a Yoga class, right.
When Jesus said “cross” there was emotion attached to that statement. But Jesus was actually, as we discovered as you read the gospels, Jesus wasn’t trying to take something good away. Jesus was on the verge, this was his subtle and sometimes not so subtle way of saying “I have something better for you. I’m making you a better offer but you will never be able to say yes to my better offer until you learn to say no to you.”
So on another occasion, he says something similar. Here’s what he said. Then he called the crowd. The first time he was trying to drive them away ’cause there’s too many of them. This time, then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and he said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple” not just traveling buddy, not just show up wherever I show up. “Whoever wants to be my follower,” Mark tells us, “whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves.” There it is again. This isn’t about self-improvement as much as it is about self-denial. It’s not so much about becoming a better you because you focus on you. It’s about becoming a better person because you focus on something else. He says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, and take up… ” There it is again, “take up their cross and follow me.”
And then he goes even further, and he goes right through the heart of our struggle. For whoever wants to… And not just this is me. This is you. “For whoever wants to save their life… ” Of course, we wanna save our life. I’m a lifesaver. I’m a life preserver. I spend a lot of money, and time, and energy trying to keep me healthy and keep me alive. I mean, we are by nature, we cling to life. And Jesus isn’t against that. He did as well. But he says, “Whoever wants to save their life… ” And here’s what he means by that. “Whoever lives every single day and their ultimate priority is themselves in self-preservation.”
He says, “If that is your approach to life, whoever wants to save their life,” he says ultimately, you’re gonna lose it. The very thing that you will spend your life trying to gain, you give up. But he says… This is why it’s an invitation. He says, “But whoever loses their life for me.” And loses their life for me is not die as a martyr. That’s not what he’s talking about. This is bigger than physical life. This is someone who’s willing to say, “Jesus, the answer is yes. What do you want?” Jesus, the answer is your way, not my way. Jesus, the answer is, you are the supreme authority in my life over my parents, over my children, over my family, over my boss, and yes, even over me.
He says, “But whoever wants to save their life will lose it but whoever loses their life for me.” This is a decision, not something that happens to you. And for the gospel, my agenda will in fact save it. This is hard but here’s what I want you to hear. This was not a call for his followers to throw away their lives. This was not about martyrdom. This was not about irresponsibility. This wasn’t about doing something to make a point or to prove a point. This was a decision to say, “Jesus, I am willing to allow you to lead me outside of me for something bigger and better than me. It was a call to give their lives away to something bigger, and better, and far more fulfilling. In other words when he says this, “To deny yourself,” To deny yourself is to say no to you so you can say yes to something bigger than you because here’s the bottomline, here’s what we struggle with, and these are maybe new words to something you’ve wrestled with for a while. As long as I’m all about me, I can’t really be all about anything else. And as long as I’m all about me, I can never say yes to the things that are outside of me.
And if you decide to wrestle with the question, “What breaks your heart?” You will ultimately be led away from you. And if you wrestle with the question, “Hey, what would I want people to line up at the end of my life and thank me for?” Ultimately at some point, you have to lose you. You have to walk away from you. Suddenly, it’s not all about self-improvement. At some point, it becomes about self-denial. And Jesus says, “And I’m inviting you into that life because I’m offering to rescue you from you,” because left to yourself and left to myself, I will live for myself. And Jesus says, “If you live for yourself at the end of your life, it is a total loss because you will have nothing to show for but you. That’s why I said and my version of what Jesus said is simply this, “Whoever devotes themselves to themselves will have nothing but themselves to show for themselves.”
And you don’t wanna do that.
This is what Jesus is saying. This is why I love being a Christian. This is really, I mean, this is naïve. I don’t know why everybody wouldn’t wanna be a Christian. In fact, just back up and say this, even if you don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God, I don’t know why everybody wouldn’t be willing to take his word seriously and at least follow what he teaches. Because this is an invitation to significance. This is an invitation to step outside of yourself. This is an invitation to be unique. This is an invitation to move in a direction that most people are afraid to move in. This is an invitation to make sure that at the end of your life, there is someone who says, “Thank you, because if it wasn’t for you, this would not have happened. If it wasn’t for your sacrifice, if it wasn’t for your self-denial, if it wasn’t for your money, if it wasn’t for your time, if it wasn’t for the fact that you took some of your passion and you directed it in the direction of my need, my life wouldn’t be where it is today.”
And in so many words, this was Jesus’ invitation to his audience and to ours. To live a life of purpose. Now, when I was a kid, I did not like this word. And I would hear this word and think, “It just doesn’t matter. It’s just not that big a deal. That must be something adults are all tangled up in, but I don’t need that.”
But here’s what I’ve discovered and here’s what every single person listening and watching, you are going to discover at some point in your life, that when you get the stuff, and no matter how successful you are or no matter how unsuccessful you are, no matter what you own, no matter what you don’t own. No matter where you end up at some point in your life, at some point in your experience, at some point along the way, everybody asks a question and it’s different words and different forms, but basically the question is this; Does any of this matter? Does any of this count? Is any of this going anywhere? Does it even matter? Does it even matter? Does it even matter?
And the answer to that question is, if it is all about you, no, it does not matter. And Jesus, your creator, knew that. And he knew that no matter what you do, don’t do, try to do, or fail at. At some point you’re gonna be looking in the mirror thinking, “Does it matter? Is there a purpose to any of this?” And Jesus says, “Yes. But it is not found in self-improvement.” Because you can be the most self-improved person on the planet and be empty. But you cannot give yourself away and be empty, which doesn’t make any sense. Because it seems like if I’ve filled myself up with me, I’d be full. Jesus says, “This is the problem, this is the confusion, this is the tension, this is why I talk about this all the time. If you focus on you, you will be empty. If you empty yourself, you will be full. Because I created you for purpose, I created you for something more than you. You are not enough for you to give your life to.”
Listen, okay. I know there’s tension around this, I know there is. Purpose… And this is why we shrink back. This is why I’d rather go, get on… Just try to eat less and get rid of sugar for a month or two. It’s just easier. I can control all of that. Purpose. Purpose is always found just on the other side of the border of “What’s in it for me?” Purpose is always found across the border of “What’s in it for me?” Purpose is always found, always found, always found just over the line and outside of your comfort zone.
And Jesus says, “Come on.” You know what Jesus called it? He called it abundant life. That you give your life away and you find more life. That you give your life away and you find a different kind of life. That you give your life away and you’re so full of life, and it doesn’t make any sense at all. And he says, “Because I don’t want you to get to the end of your life and it’s been all about you, and you really have nothing to show for you.” Which means… And again, here’s the dichotomy, now here’s the tension. Here’s the thing that doesn’t make any sense. The best thing that you could do for you has very little to do with you. That it’s really in your best interest… It’s really in your best interest not to be so interested in the things that you’re interested in. And Jesus says, “Trust me, trust me, trust me.” Say no to you, so you can say yes to something bigger, better and broader than you. Step outside your comfort zone, because there in you will find life. Give away so that you can be filled up. Take a risk at what looks like a loss, because in there and there in you will find the greatest gain.
Which brings us back to our pesky question, “What breaks your heart? What breaks your heart?” And would you be willing… You don’t have to do anything yet. You don’t have to pack up and move. You don’t have to sell anything. You don’t even have to talk about it, but would you be willing to think about it? What is the need? What is the group? What is the challenge? What is the issue that just grips you more than all the other issues? You cannot change the world, but you could possibly change somebody’s world, or you could possibly change a little tiny slice of the world. What breaks your heart? Here’s another question to help you narrow it down. “Who’s doing something about that?” You don’t need to run out and start a new non-profit organization. You know what whatever breaks your heart, somebody’s working on it. Whatever breaks your heart, there are already people giving their lives away to it. Who’s doing something about that? That’s an easy question to answer. And then, how can you help? How can you help? How can you help? Because to make the world a better place, you must say no to you, so you can say yes to something bigger, better and broader than you.
To make the world a better place… To make the world a better place and to make you a better person, to make me a better person, at some point you have to say no to you. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Deny yourself.” Say no to you, so you can say yes to something bigger and broader. And we believe as Christians that when you do, when you engage in the needs of others, when you try to solve someone else’s problem, or to use a bible phrase, “When you decide to carry someone else’s burden, you have entered into the activity of God.” Because when God looked at this world and saw sin, it broke his heart. And he didn’t just change the channel. His broken heart compelled him to send his son into this world and wade in hip deep into your sin and my sin and to bear the burden of our sin, because it broke his heart, and he sent his son way outside his comfort zone, way outside of the world of “What’s in it for me?” So, come on. Come on. Because again, whoever devotes themselves to themselves will have nothing but themself to show for themselves. But if you devote yourself to more than yourself, you will have more than yourself to show for yourself.