Beginning at the End of Ourselves

Colossians 1:24-29
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.

By today’s standards, Paul would go down as an absolute failure. He toils, he struggles, he rejoices in suffering, he was beaten, he wandered seemingly aimlessly without a plan, he said elsewhere that he was nothing, and he says today that he is a servant toiling and doing it for the church. He is a marked contrast to Joel Osteen, prosperity preachers, and Christian seminar leaders (Joyce Myers) who live in walled compounds with body guards. What a failure!

I guess he never heard of the “Roman dream”. The “Roman dream” of the time sure seems very close to what we call the “American dream.” You know, the cultures concept of being a successful person: know yourself, drive yourself, know where you are going, research and develop “the plan”, act on and stick to “the plan” with some adjustment where necessary, persevere and you will find success and joy and happiness.

Here is the 10 things that you need to do. These are from the top link I found when I googled “Secrets for Success”.
1. How YOU think is everything.
2. Decide upon YOUR true dreams and goals.
3. Take action.
4. Never stop learning.
5. Be persistent and work hard.
6. Learn to analyze the details.
7. Focus YOUR time and money.
8. Don’t be afraid to innovate.
9. Deal and Communicate with people effectively.
10. Be honest and dependable.

These are noble things. Follow these steps and you can do anything you set your mind on to accomplish. There is no limit when we combine ingenuity, imagination, and innovation with skill and hard work and that is the “American dream!” In 1931 James Truslow Adams coined that “Amercan dream” phrase. He said “it is as a dream in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are.”

Tell me that this is NOT what has been embraced by our culture. If I am homeless or poor am I a failure? Do you see the problem here in that list? Who needs God? Who needs Jesus? Who needs community / the church? Who needs friends and neighbors unless you need to use them? Now if I may step on a lot of toes, I propose that if we think about our lives and what we have taught and are teaching our children and grandchildren it is that you should chase the American dream first and also please know Jesus. Sad to say, most say chase the dream and you figure out the God thing yourself if you want.

Kids never miss school, but they can’t get up for church. Homework / Bible study. Bedtime book. Work is never missed but church service is optional. Work for extra credit in school or working for a $ bonus at work is seldom passed up but more often than not serving for God unless you feel like it. We read the newspaper or internet news and sports daily but neglect the good NEWS of the Gospel. We often adamantly defend our politician of choice but seldom adamantly defend Jesus and what His influence means in our nation and world. I am done, you get my point.

Jesus turned the world on its head so guess what? We need to turn the American Dream on it’s head. It takes this kind of radical thinking to experience the life of a Jesus follower and it brings us to the title of today’s sermon, “Beginning at the end of ourselves.” Don’t we all too often get our “SELF” before Jesus? Self often comes before being like Him or following His will. That needs to end and Jesus must come first, not tied for first with self or the American dream but first.

From John 15:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. Abide in me as I abide in you. I am the vine, you are the branches. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

If we begin at the end of our “selves”, then we begin truly embark on the “Jesus dream.” We are the branches and we are called to live and go wherever our vine grower decides. Let’s consider what the grower has done. First, he finds good soil. We are good soil when we have accepted the words of Jesus in John 14:6 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

When he has found the soil, the vine is planted and the vine grower also knows that the plants will produce great things if he just cares for it. John 14:12-14 “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” God will care for the vine, give it what it needs, so great things can happen. You trust that? What dreams are you chasing?

So we are the branches and we are called to abide in Jesus, yes to dwell with Jesus, remain in the Word, follow His Word and not the worldly things. And Jesus loves all us branches, and our scripture said that He will do whatever we ask as branches as long as we glorify God in all we do. When we live the “Jesus Dream” we will thrive and grow. Jesus says God will give us what we NEED.

Yes along the way, we will be pruned. If we branches head out in the wrong direction, then expect to get snipped. If we produce much fruit, expect to get snipped so we can produce more for God. But we must have faith that the snipping is good and for the glory of God and the kingdom.

But the question still is how do we abide? What must be done because we love Jesus, not just because they might be the rules. What are these things? We know Jesus turned the world upside down and we know that there is a place and practices where we will find what we need to know. The principle practice is prayer, and our guideline was found in Matthew 6:5-15. God speaks to us via His Holy Spirit when we use the Lord’s prayer as a guideline for our prayer.

Prayer connects us. Have you really ever taken the time to meditate on the greatest sermon and summation Jesus ever gave for living like Him? To live like what He said in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7 turns our world upside down. They are not normal actions or living. I searched for key words and phrases that we find in Matthew 5-7. Here’s what I found:

Need God Hurt & weak is OK Be gentle & lowly Seek life as God intends
Have mercy Obey from your heart Love, desire & delight in peace
Be persecuted for being holy Have an impact Show Jesus & attract people to Jesus
No hate – reconcile Keep your Godly covenants Yes / no with integrity
Imaginatively disarm Grace and mercy rules Generously give gifts from the heart
Pray from the heart Praise & acknowledge God Ask for needs not worldly wants
Joyfilled at all times Treasure God not $ Don’t worry
God supplies needs to obedient people Stop judging
God give the gifts we need, not wants Treat everyone as a fellow child of God
Remember it might not be easy
You must do the will of God things, not just good things – actions speak louder than words

Good branches following the word of God follow the “Jesus Dream.” The “Jesus Dream” is not about self or pride or frankly anything that exists in the American Dream. When we live the “Jesus Dream” we understand that our greatest asset is not our own ability but our faith in God and what He will do in our life according to His plan.

We stop trusting and believing in ourselves and we really die to ourselves, believe in God and trust in His power. We must not buy into the idea that we achieve by our power because when we do we glorify ourselves and not God. While the goal of the American dream is to make much of us, the goal of the Gospel is to make much of God.

Is this critical? Listen to Jesus’ words from John 15: He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

But I tell you, Jesus wants you to join Him in pursuit of the “Jesus Dream.” He said: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. He died on the cross for you so you could bear fruit.

Let’s return to those 10 Secrets to Success and consider how Jesus would alter them:

“ Jesus’ Secrets for Success”.
1. How you think like Jesus is everything.
2. Decide to Follow Jesus’ true dreams and goals.
3. Take action for God.
4. Never stop learning about God.
5. Be persistent and work hard for God.
6. Learn to analyze the details in the Bible.
7. Focus on God’s time and money.
8. Don’t be afraid to innovate for God.
9. Deal and Communicate with people effectively with grace, mercy and love.
10. Be honest and dependable concerning your covenants with God.

It all starts with us beginning at the end of our selves & then chasing the Jesus dream.

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