Welcome to the third week of our series called Selfie. Back in January, we asked all our partners here at Connect to post a selfie to their social media sites, with the hashtag #ConnectSelfie. And the logo and videos for this series are the result. We’ve got well over 100 Connect Selfies on the logo for this series.
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about how the selfie has really gone mainstream. It’s everywhere in our culture. Over a million selfies are uploaded to social media sites every single day.
And now, because apparently there is money to be made, you can buy gear specifically designed to help you take a better selfie.
For example, you can buy a selfie stick. Have you seen this insanity? It’s a pole that you can use to extend your phone further away from you so you can get a better selfie of you, or you and your friends.
People are actually buying these things! (And by the way, if you own one, don’t tell me. Because I’m just going to make fun of you. I love you, but I’m going to make fun of you.) And not only are people buying these things, but some people are spending some crazy money on these things. You can get a cheaper selfie stick for $15-20, but if you want the top of the line, you have to spend $50, 60, or even more! In fact, I saw some online that went for over $100!
If you’re going to spend that much on a stick just so you can take a better selfie, we’ve got some people who would like to pray with you afterward. Trust me…you need it!
Personally, I think this is the craziest thing I’ve seen in a long time. But I’m not the only one. Places are actually starting to ban the use of selfie sticks.
For example, earlier this month the Smithsonian banned selfie sticks from all its museums and galleries. No joke. If you’ve got a selfie stick, you can’t take it to the Smithsonian anymore.
And if you’re thinking about getting one, let me just say this…you’re the only person who will think it’s cool. Trust me. Like I said, I love you. I want you to have friends, so don’t use this stupid stick to drive them all away!
Alright, enough of the silly selfie stick. We’re smack in the middle of our series called Selfie. And in this series, along with poking fun at the whole selfie thing, we are opening up the Bible to see some Biblical “selfies.” We’re listening to God as He gives us some truth about self. And the stuff we’ve talked about so far in this series hasn’t been easy to hear, but it’s the truth. And Jesus promised that the truth will set us free.
So far in this series, we’ve talked about selfishness and self-control.
Today in week #3, we’re talking about self-denial.
We’re jumping into some more hard truth today, so let me pray for us, and then we’ll get after it in the third message in our Selfie series.
This message is going to get different reactions from different people. For example, if you’re just here checking things out…you really haven’t bought into the church thing. Maybe you used to go to church when you were a kid. Maybe you’ve never had anything at all to do with church. But whatever your background is, you really don’t have much of anything to do with the church today. You’re just here because someone invited you. Maybe they bribed you. Maybe you’re getting a free lunch after this, and that’s the only reason you’re here. That’s cool.
To be honest, I’m just glad that you’re here. And I’m just going to tell you upfront that you might not agree with everything you hear today. And that’s okay.
Or maybe you kind of dig the church, but you’re not really sold out to it yet. You’ve kind of got one foot in and one foot out.
Can I tell you something? You’re probably the one that is going to have the hardest time with this message. Because someone who isn’t even sure they believe in Jesus will at least appreciate the honesty in this message. As they evaluate Christianity, they’ll at least appreciate knowing the harder side of it. They’ll at least appreciate a church that is honest and upfront about it.
But if you’re 50/50, if you’re kind of just a convenient Christian, you’re going to hate this message. And you might even decide to look for another, more accommodating church. Go ahead. Seriously. Just go ahead. Because if you go to a church that faithfully preaches Jesus, then you’re going to run into this message again.
If you’re a committed follower of Jesus, you’re going to be challenged to really evaluate things. If you say, “In my life, it’s all about Jesus,” that claim is going to be tested today. And that’s a good thing. Being tested and stretched is how we grow.
This is going to be a tough one today. And it’s all based on something that Jesus Himself said.
In Luke 9, Luke wrote, “Then [Jesus] said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, NIV)
This is one of the hardest things that Jesus ever said. Period. There are no warm-and-fuzzy feelings here. This is just gritty, hard truth. And we’re going to spend some time unpacking this hard truth.
First of all, Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves…”
And that immediately runs counter to our culture, doesn’t it? Self-denial doesn’t exactly fit in with the culture of selfie sticks, does it? This runs completely counter to our narcissistic, self-absorbed, all-about-me culture. But following Jesus has always been counter-cultural. Always.
Jesus said that if we want to be His disciples, then it starts with self-denial. That’s not a popular thought in our culture today. But it’s also not a popular thought in the church today.
Now, before you think I’m bashing on the church, I just want you to know that I love the church. Jesus died for the church. The church is still the Bride of Christ. The church is still the Body of Christ. The church is still God’s plan for rescuing and redeeming mankind. The church is Plan A, and there is no Plan B. I need the church. And I love the church.
In fact, I love the church enough to point out her shortcomings, not to bash her, but to help her grow. And this is one of those times, especially in the western mindset, American church.
The call to follow Jesus is a call to self-denial. But what do we see in far too many American churches today?
The focus seems to be more on comfy seats and amazing lights and a great cup of coffee. And I’ve got no problem with any of that, as long as that isn’t the main thing. But if a coffee bar becomes more of a priority than the gospel, something has gotten out of whack.
In some churches, we see a culture of a hip band and an MTV pastor. Now, I love it when a church has a good band. And I happen to think that our church has the best band in any church, anywhere. And I don’t ever want that to change. But that also can’t be the focus of a church. It inflates the ego of the people in the band, and it turns the rest of the church into an audience instead of active participants in worship.
And a pastor with an MTV personality who is attractive and energetic, but preaches surface-level fluff, can’t be the focus, either. There are a lot of pastors that wouldn’t preach this message because they’d be afraid of people leaving their church. That’s a problem, because Jesus Himself said this. And if you think that you have to ignore what Jesus said to get people to come to your church, it’s time to close up shop and go home because you’re not a pastor anymore. If you ignore the hard truths of Jesus in your preaching, you’re no longer a pastor. You’re a prostitute. You’re getting paid to give people what they want, when your calling is to give people Jesus.
In the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, there’s a fascinating conversation between two kings: Ahab, the king of Israel, and Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah.
Ahab wanted to attack one of his enemies, but Jehoshaphat advised him to inquire of the Lord first.
Starting in 1 Kings 22:6, we read, “So the king of Israel brought together the prophets—about four hundred men—and asked them, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?”
“Go,” they answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”
But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?” [Apparently these were false prophets, not prophets of God.]
The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”
“The king should not say such a thing,” Jehoshaphat replied.” (1 Kings 22:6-8, NIV)
Ahab had 400 “prophets” who told him, “Go. Do what you want to do. The Lord will bless you. Just do whatever you want. It’s all good.”
And there was only one prophet who dared to tell the king what he didn’t want to hear: Micaiah. And what did Ahab say about him? “I hate him.”
Why did Ahab hate him? Because Micaiah didn’t just tell him what he wanted to hear. Micaiah told him the truth.
There were 400 “prophets” who told the king exactly what he wanted to hear. There was one who didn’t. And there are times when it seems like that ratio might still be about right in the church today.
There are countless churches and pastors who preach the message that it’s all about you. You do what you want to do. You just follow your heart. As for God, well, God wants you to be rich. He wants you to achieve and accomplish. He wants you to be comfortable and safe.
But there are a lot fewer churches and pastors who are willing to tell you that following Jesus means self-denial. He wants to comfort you, but not to make you comfortable. He is absolutely good, but he is definitely not safe. And His call is for you to deny yourself in order to follow Him.
That means that, as a disciple of Jesus, my comfort is not my first priority. My security is not my first priority. My preference is not my first priority. An easy, carefree, problem-free life is not my first priority. Because I am not my first priority. Following Jesus means denying myself. It means that He is my first priority.
That’s the message that the church has to preach. And I’m thankful to know a lot of churches who do. And here’s the crazy thing…those churches are growing! So many churches and pastors are afraid that, if they actually preach the hard truth of Jesus, that people will leave. And some will. Don’t get me wrong. Some definitely will. But I can name you church after church after church that is preaching the whole truth of Jesus…even the hard parts…and they’re growing like crazy.
And I get fired up about this because Connect just happens to be one of those churches. Do you realize that we are consistently breaking attendance records all the time right now? It’s actually getting crazy, because we’re flat running out of room here.
But let me ask you this…have you ever seen us run from a difficult truth here at Connect? We don’t run from the hard stuff. We run straight into the heart of it. And God is blessing that kind of faithfulness.
Here’s what so many people miss…churches grow on the fuel of self-denial. Self-denial is the gas in the tank. It’s what makes the engine run. If you see a growing church, you can bet your bottom dollar that that church is filled with people who deny themselves.
One of our core values here at Connect is focus on the outsider, not the insider. Partners here at Connect realize that it’s not about us. It’s about people who don’t know Jesus yet. And a church that understands that is a church that is fueled by self-denial.
For example, people don’t tithe unless they deny themselves. It always becomes really obvious during tax season. When someone tithes, they look at their income last year, and then they look at what they gave back to God in the form of the tithe. And it’s normal for them to think, “Man, think about what I could have done with that cash!”
But they also understand that it’s not about them. It’s about Jesus, and Jesus clearly calls us to a life of self-denial.
And for people who don’t tithe, you better be dang glad there are people who do. If Connect didn’t have a lot of people who tithe, you wouldn’t be sitting in this room, enjoying the benefits of this high quality gear. You wouldn’t be listening to the best band in the land. Your kids wouldn’t be having a blast over in Connect Kids. And I wouldn’t be here preaching to you right now. That’s all happening because we have people who deny themselves and bring the tithe.
There’s a question that we’re hearing a good bit right now, and it’s a completely understandable question. People are wondering what our next move is here at Connect. We launched as a portable church almost two years ago. And now, we are being blessed more than I’ve ever seen in my time here. We are in an incredibly blessed season at Connect.
And like I said, we are busting out of our current space here at the hotel. And people are saying, “When are we moving? What’s our next move?”
It’s an understandable question, and I’m going to give you as honest of an answer as I can. The search is on in full-force. We are assembling a team of people to help move that search forward even more. We have already looked at more facilities than I can even remember. And in God’s time, he’s going to reveal our next step. We don’t know what it is, but He does, and we trust Him.
But here’s the deal with all of that…you know what is going to bring this about a lot faster? If we keep growing in generosity. To put this as plainly as I can, a partner at Connect who is not tithing really shouldn’t be asking when we’re moving, because there is a more important question to ask. The more important question is, “When am I moving? When am I going to move toward the life of self-denial and generosity that Jesus has called me to?”
Is that plain enough? I think so. Now, I want you to hear this. I’m not mad at you. I promise you, I’m not. This goes right along with what I said about the church. I’m not mad at you. I love you. In fact, I love you enough to tell you the truth that other people and pastors might not tell you. It’s the truth that Jesus has called you to a life of self-denial.
Churches that are growing are growing because of the self-denial of their people. And it’s not just because of their generosity. It’s also because of their willingness to step out of their comfort zone and invite people to come to church with them.
In fact, when you leave today, you’re going to receive one of these cards. This is an invitation to our Easter service. I know it sounds crazy, but Easter is only three weeks away. And in our culture, Easter is one of those days when people are far more open to an invitation to church.
We know it’s not always easy. That’s why we want to help by giving you something to put in their hands. It’s a simple, no obligation, no-strings-attached invitation. And everyone is going to get one when they leave.
Now, it would be easier to go home and pitch this in the trash. It’s definitely more difficult to actually pray about who you should approach, and then actually go and invite them. That’s more difficult. That’s more uncomfortable. But that’s self-denial.
And one more thing about these invitations…whenever you invite someone to church, remember that it’s not your job to make them come. You can’t make them do anything. All you can do is invite them. So if you invite someone and they don’t come, that doesn’t mean you failed. Not at all. You’re being obedient. You’re being selfless. That’s a win! It’s a win in your life in your walk with Christ. And it’s opens up the potential for a huge win in God’s Kingdom. If this person does agree to come to church with you, you never know what will happen from there.
But this is how growing churches do it. There are all kinds of books and conferences that teach about strategies for church growth. And I’m all for it. A church has to have a strategy. But all the best strategies in the world don’t mean squat if the people in the church aren’t willing to selflessly embrace the vision and mission of their church.
And as your pastor, I just want to thank you for being that kind of church. I know I’m pushing down hard today. I know this isn’t the most fun message you’ve ever heard. It’s uncomfortable and it’s difficult. But the only reason I’m pushing down so hard on this is that I want to see us become a church that is even more in love with Jesus. Who reaches even more people for the gospel. Who takes the next step in the faith that God has bigger plans and dreams for our church than we do.
That’s why I’m preaching this message. And I’m so thankful to be part of a church that can receive a message like this. Our church is filled with partners who deny themselves. Who give. Who serve. Who invite. Who are willing to deny themselves so other people are not denied a chance to hear the gospel. I love being part of a church like that.
But if you’re still not quite able to wrap your mind around what this looks like, Jesus tells us. You know what self-denial looks like? It looks like the cross.
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, NIV)
If you wonder what self-denial looks like, it looks like the cross. Jesus died on a cross to pay the price for all our sin. And his call for us, if we want to follow Him, is to take up our cross daily.
That takes self-denial to another level. It’s not just about denying ourselves some comfort or convenience. That’s part of it, but that’s not all of it. True self-denial is about orienting our life around the cross. And to do that, we have to understand that the cross was the ultimate symbol of failure.
In the first century when Jesus was crucified, the Roman government was in power. The only people who were crucified were criminals and rebels that the Romans believed were the worst of the worst. In fact, it was illegal for the Romans to crucify their own citizens unless they were the worst of the worst offenders, or if they rebelled against the Roman government.
Far more often, the Romans reserved crucifixion for foreigners…for people that the Romans didn’t even believe were fully human. People like the Jews. People like Jesus.
Crucifixion was the most humiliating, degrading, painful way to end a worthless life that the Romans could come up with. And that’s how Jesus died.
So when Jesus says, “take up your cross daily and follow me,” we have to understand what He actually means. It’s a call to be a loser.
Mark Moore said, “Everything is backwards about the cross…the dominant symbol of Christianity is a call for you to be a loser in every way that this world evaluates who is a winner and who is a loser.”
Our world doesn’t value self-denial. It scoffs at it. It doesn’t value generosity and service and sacrifice. Those things are for losers.
Are you willing to join a revolution that has already failed in the eyes of our world? Are you willing to follow Jesus, and be considered a loser by all of your friends and family? Because that’s what Jesus is offering when He said, “Take up your cross daily and follow me.”
Both of our boys play soccer, which Nicki and I both enjoy. Soccer season is crazy in our house, but it’s fun. But for Ryan’s team, last season wasn’t quite as fun. They didn’t win a game. Not a single game, regular season or tournament. It was pretty hard to watch, because as parents, we just wanted them to win a game. Just one game. And they came close a few times, but the win just never came.
Maybe you played on a team like that when you were younger. There comes a point where you want to win, if for no other reason than you’re just sick of losing.
You can make all the arguments you want about it. “It builds character,” and all that stuff. And I’m not arguing that. But the plain fact is, being on a winning team is way more fun than being on a losing team.
And yet a losing team is exactly where Jesus is calling us to be.
Our church is a church of losers, and we’ve got to be okay with that. We’ve got to be okay with being falsely labeled and made-fun-of and misunderstood. If we’re not willing to endure that, then we’re not really following Jesus.
I heard Matt Chandler preach a message recently where he said, “The incessant need that Christians have to be seen as cool and relevant must die. That’s not who we are. The marginalization that occurs because we love Christ shouldn’t be run from. In fact, we are the counterculture to this culture. You’re never going to make Jesus so cool that everybody thinks he’s cool. Once you do that, He’s not Christ anymore. He’s some figment of your imagination.”
Jesus never, ever called his followers to be hip or cool. I’ve read the gospels. I’ve read what Jesus said. And I can tell you for a fact, He never said that. But He did say, “Take up your cross daily and follow me.”
It’s not a call to be accepted and admired. It’s not a call to be cool or hip or relevant. It’s not a call to make everyone, everywhere love you. It’s a call to lose. We’re called to be losers…for now. That’s key. We’re called to be losers…for now.
But to see how this thing ultimately turns out, we need to read a little bit further in Luke 9. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24, NIV)
We are called to deny ourselves, to live as losers. But then Jesus turns the whole thing on its head, because he said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”
This is how things work in the topsy-turvy, upside-down Kingdom of God. By denying ourselves, by becoming a loser, to the point of losing our life, we actually find life.
It’s backwards. It’s totally backwards. Following Jesus means that by losing, we win. By giving, we gain. By serving, we become great. And by dying, we live.
The call to be a loser is the call to be a loser in the eyes of our world. But Jesus turns our world upside-down. His Kingdom runs completely counter to the way our world thinks and acts and lives. So when Jesus invites you to lose, it’s actually an invitation to win. Everything is backwards when you’re following Jesus.
Whenever you suffer because of your faith in Christ…whenever you are excluded or demeaned or made fun of or marginalized…or maybe things get even worse and you’re actively persecuted…whenever that happens, hang onto this truth with both hands. It’s worth it.
It’s worth it because of what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18, NIV)
When we lose here in this world, it can’t even begin to compare to the victory that awaits us in eternity. Whatever we suffer here is not worth comparing to the glory that is coming.
And Jesus showed us that by His example. He told us to take up our cross daily and follow Him. We need to remember that Jesus took up His cross. Jesus died on that cross. But three days later, Jesus rose to life again. And that reminds us of this amazing truth.
When Jesus is present, crucifixions always turn into resurrections.
Jesus calls us to deny ourselves. To take up our cross and follow Him. That is a call to lose. That is a call to suffer. And that’s why some of us may choose to reject Jesus, because the call just seems to be too much. This leaves no room for convenient, comfortable Christianity.
But what we tend to forget is that, while it is hard, it is also temporary. Seasons of crucifixion don’t last forever. When Jesus is present, crucifixions always turn into resurrections.
But the key is that it’s all about Jesus. Jesus is the one who turns crucifixions into resurrections. Not me. And not you. It’s not about us. And that’s actually great news.
Here’s why…if it’s not about me, but it is about Jesus, then my life is based on what He accomplished, not what I accomplish. It’s about His victory, not my failures. It’s about His sinless life, not my sinful life.
Self-denial reminds me that it’s not about me. And that can be really tough sometimes, but ultimately, it’s great news. If it was all about me, then I am my only hope. And if I am my only hope, I’m toast. I’m done. I have no hope.
But if it’s all about Jesus and not about me, then He is my only hope. And I like that better. I like that a lot better.
And that’s why we preach tough messages like this at Connect, because we want you to own the truth that it’s not about you. It’s about Jesus. And when you come to really know Him, we think you’ll like that a lot better, too.