Only Death Leads to Life

Jesus tells us to deny ourselves and we will find life.  How does that actually work?


Morning…it’s been a LONG time since we’ve done 1 service at our church.  
Kind of fun to all be together in a room…well, the half of us that made it out anyway ☺
Before we get started this morning…I want to show you a video of what our denomination, Converge, has been doing in international church planting in the last decade through what’s called The Timothy Imitative.
The Timothy Imitative has been one of the most effective things to happen in missions in a long time.  
Take a look at this:
(Back to Lost & Found series Slide)
The Timothy Initiative targets church planters in mostly Asia and Africa, and they train them with Bible knowledge and pastoral skills.
Each church planter is then expected to plant a church…and also find another church planter…who will be trained to plant another church…and so on.    
Now, these are not megachurches, they are small churches.  15, 20, 25 people.
That may seem small to you, but through this strategy…over the last ten years, 60,761 churches have been planted!
And 1.2 million people have been reached for Christ!
In 10 years!  
AND…The Timothy Imitative works mostly in unreached countries where the Gospel hasn’t really taken hold yet.
And so, I’m happy to announce this morning, that we, as Renovation Church, have committed to planting 1 new international church EVERY single month…through The Timothy Initiative.  
(Show The Timothy Initiative Slide)
It takes them just $333 to plant a church.  
That’s amazing.  
So we’ve committed for the next year, and maybe more to come? plant one international church a month.
It’s hard for me to think of a better way to spend our resources, honestly.
This is such a good fit for who we are.  
We LOVE missions…and we LOVE Church planting.
So, we’re going to continue to use our resources to help change the world.

(Lost & Found Series Slide)  
As we get into the Bible this morning we’re going to talk about self-denial.  
It’s a concept that I think that most people get, at a basic level anyway.
Parents engaged in self-denial for their children…
You roll-out of bed at 2am to feed the crying baby…you DENY yourself sleep, because you know it’s right…and worth it.
You serve your spouse and do a chore you really don’t want to, because like we talked about in our marriage series, because you know it’s right…and worth it.
But it’s when we move beyond where we can personally see the results of self-denial…that it gets hard.
Of course I can wash the dishes if my wife says, “Thank you…that was so sweet…”
“You’re welcome.  I am sweet ☺”
But what about when it’s denying yourself for what God is asking you to do?
What about if it’s denying yourself for a stranger…and you’ll never see the results?
We like self-denial…when it gets us results we can see.
When we can’t see the results…meh…we’re not so sure.
Let’s take a look at our passage about self-denial
(Page 841)
(Renovation App)  
Jesus is going to take it even a step further…and say, if you’re not putting to DEATH your selfish desires, you actually won’t find life.
If you’re not used to the teachings of Jesus…this one is going to mess with you today.
Because the teachings of Jesus feel increasingly upside-down to our culture…but really, they are right side up.  
(Luke 9:22-27) – NIV
22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
27 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

We’re going to tackle those last two verses in House Group this week…and we are going to concentrate verses 22-25 this morning.
And this not going to be an easy message today…but don’t look at me…I’m just reading Jesus’ words  
Jesus starts by forewarning the disciples that He’s going to be rejected by the authorities…and killed…BUT then raised to life.
Now, we’re going to move on to the next verse, but do not forget that statement, because it colors the entire rest of the passage.
Then look at verse 23 again…we need to spend some time here:
(Luke 9:23) – NIV
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
He starts by saying, “Whoever wants to be my disciple…”
Now, he’s addressing the crowd again…
And you can imagine the crowd (and this is the crowd from the feeding of the 5,000…which is a story we skipped over since we’ve taught on it before)
You can imagine the crowd going, “Me!!  ME! I want to be a disciple of the miracle worker!”
And then he says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple…must deny themselves (their selfish desires)…and take up their cross, daily, and follow me”
And you can just imagine people putting their hands down
Now keep in mind, when they hear cross, they don’t hear it like we do.
Jesus hasn’t died on the cross for their sins yet.
When they hear cross, they’re only thinking of two pieces of wood that people are executed on.
They’re thinking…death.
Jesus says, “Let’s play follow the leader”
You know how that’s played right?
The followers do…whatever the leader does.
And Jesus is saying, “To be a follower of me, isn’t going to be you watching me suffer, but you avoid the suffering…and just wait for me to make you happy”
“To be a follower of me, is to follow me”
If you want to follow Jesus, you have to do what He did…pick up your cross.
I’ve told you before, Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously expounded on this verse by saying:
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
But what does that mean?
Let’s try and take the spiritual language out of it and just get practical.
What does it mean to “deny yourself and pick up your cross”
It means that our flesh, that’s the sinful part of us, is going to want to lead you to do basically anything but live for Jesus.
When you set your alarm to wake up early to read your Bible…
…your flesh is going to say, “5 more minutes…”  
But we, deny our flesh…ourselves…and say, “No, I’m getting up…I trust God”
By the way, the 5 more minutes bit, reminds me of my favorite Sloth MEME of all time…
Not that I have a ranking of sloth memes, but check this out:
When your flesh says, “I’m so angry at that person…I just want to gossip and slander and tell everyone what they did…”
…Following Jesus (to be his disciple) is to deny what your flesh wants to do, and try forgiving them instead.
That’s upside-down, self-denying, counterintuitive living
When your flesh says, “I want to watch this latest show on Netflix because everyone’s talking about it…but you know that it just glorifies sex and violence…and revenge…and basically everything that Jesus is not…
It’s “denying yourself” to not watch it, right?  
You’re denying yourself the fleshly pleasure of watching it
You’re denying yourself the social benefits of being able to talk about it with friends.
But are we going to be a disciple of Him or the culture?
It’s important to me that you don’t think that this process of denying yourself only looks like, “Selling all of your worldly possessions and moving to Middle East to become a missionary”  
I heard it explained this way once, and I’ve found this helpful.
Denying yourself isn’t so much like taking a $1,000 bill and throwing it on the table, and saying, “All right Lord, I surrender my life”
It’s much more like having a supply of 100,000 pennies…and every day, multiple times a day, surrendering one of them up to the Lord.
You’re going:
“Honestly, I’d rather spend some time this afternoon just on my phone…than playing make believe with my 4-year old…but this afternoon,  I’m going to put on my fake-superhero-cape and fly”
This is why, did you notice in verse 23, Jesus tells us to “pick up our cross…(what’s He say??) DAILY…
Following Jesus is more about the pennies…than it is the $1,000 bill.
And honestly, it’s harder to surrender daily for 75 years…than it is to make a big splash for just one day.   

But here’s the problem:  I’m not sure any one of you is sitting here today rejoicing about this.
None of you are probably saying: “Yes, I can’t wait to go home and suppress all of my selfish desires.  This is going to be incredible!”
This sort of teaching doesn’t inspire us…
And let me tell you why this teaching is especially unlikely to inspire us as modern-day Americans.
Most of us have been led to believe the exact opposite of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 9.
We’ve been taught that if you just follow your heart, and follow your desires, that then, and only then, will you find the true YOU and true Life!
Except, we can see that this is not true when we actually “play it out”
What if, for the next 6 months…you only made decisions where you put yourself first…and you gave into your flesh 100% of the time.
Anytime anyone asks you for help…you say no…because…well, you don’t feel like it
Anytime you don’t feel like going to work, you don’t go
Anytime you feel like eating something, you eat it, watching something, you watch it.
When we think about it this way…we KNOW…that the indulgence of the self…doesn’t lead to life.
That life…pursued…just for life’s sake…leads to death.
And listen, even if you get everything…then what?
Who wants everything for a blink of an eye but hell for eternity?
That’s why Jesus says in verse 25, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self”
Let me ask you a question:  
Is this working for celebrities and the ultra-rich?  To have everything?
Because most of them are actually playing this out…
They’re giving into almost every selfish urge they have…because THEY CAN!
Most of us don’t because you know…that if you don’t show up for work every time you don’t feel like it…you aren’t going to be having a job
So the celebrities and the ultra-rich who can, and often do, indulge in all of their desires…are they happy?  
No, they can’t keep their marriages together, their families fall apart, and they tend to lead every demographic in depression…and often even in self-harm and drug addiction.
I read a fascinating study about 3 or 4 years ago about how the ultra-famous almost always die early (Think..Elvis, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston)
They get to this point where they have all of the fame, money, and sex that everyone dreams of, and they’re STILL not satisfied…
So instead of looking to God, they often drown their worries in a substance…or often even take their own life.   
Why??  Because the pursuit of LIFE doesn’t lead to life at all, but death.  
But too many of us…we still bristle at this teaching…
In some ways, we’re becoming less consumeristic as a society…
I see popular culture talking about more about minimalism and contentment…which is actually Biblical, and good.  
But we’re every bit as self-indulgent as we’ve ever been.
We just mask it with different terms.  
Every generation comes up with a term to help us feel better about our self-indulgence:  
In 2019, people love to call it “Self-care”…even though that’s probably not what the phrase was created for
Some of you have already had that phrase in your heads this morning
You’ve said, “I couldn’t deny myself from what I need…think about self-care!”
Now, settle down.  Listen, Jesus is all for rest…and the sabbath…all for it.
He rested better than any of us.  
But most of American society is indulging itself to death and just labeling it self-care.   
Let me explain:  There was a Nielsen Study that came out a year or two ago that lays out the facts of self-indulgence like almost nothing else I’ve seen
There are 168 hours in a week, and the Nielsen study pointed out that once you subtract all of the hours we sleep, get ready for the day, make food, eat meals, and work…
The average person has 58 hours of free time a week
The average American now spends FIFTY of those 58 hours of free time…entertaining themselves.
That means, according to Nielsen, that we spend 50 of our 58 hours of free time on our smartphones, tablets, watching Netflix, Hulu, TV, or playing games (on an app or gaming console), etc.
We spend 50 of 58 hours consuming information and entertainment.
We are indulging ourselves to death.
And people all around us…are perishing and walking towards hell…while we sit at home with our eyes glued to our devices…oblivious to the spiritual realities around us.
These “50 hours of entertainment” a week are absolutely killing what God wants to do through many of you.  
They’re killing it because they’re conditioning you to always give into your flesh.
“Oh did someone leave the room for one second…better pick up my phone and indulge myself
“Am I feeling lonely?
Rather than deny my selfish feelings and my fear…and reach out to someone
We just turn on the TV
God has so much He wants to do with you and through you…but it’s so deeply buried under our self-indulgence, that most of us can’t even see it anymore

Seeking selfishness and life doesn’t lead to life.
So let’s talk about how death leads to life…and how, in fact, death is the only path to life
This is going to be feel really counterintuitive…
But let me remind you that it only feels counterintuitive on this side of heaven.
From the perspective of heaven, after you’ve lived your incredibly brief life on earth, it’s those who spent their lives living for themselves…and not Christ…that will feel completely foolish for how they spent their time.
Listen, in heaven, you won’t regret a single moment that you sacrificed and lived for Christ on earth.
But all of endless hours of self-indulgence (50 hours every single week)…will add up to what exactly…once we’re in heaven?
I know that you know this…
God has put this in your soul.
When you binge through another series…
When you totally give into your flesh…either in lust…or rage…
How do you feel…when you really give in?
You feel like this isn’t life at all!
But that “giving in” is just a chocolate covered poison that’s eating away at who you were truly meant to be.
Can you trust Jesus?  
He says that if you deny yourself, and you lose your life for Him…you stop living for yourself, but for Him…that you’ll come alive!
He says that only death leads to life….that only the denial of yourself leads to life.    
Do you trust Him?
For those of you that are still unsure…let me tell you why you’re probably unsure…
When you hear, “Deny yourself…giving everything that you are to Christ…”
You don’t like it, because you don’t truly trust that God is better than your flesh.
Pastor and Author John Ortberg says it this way:
“I cannot surrender to God unless I trust He has my best interest at His heart.  I can't do it otherwise. Jesus has a lot to say about death to self, but it is always the death of a lesser self, of a false self, so that a better and nobler self can come to life.  It's always death to desires and behaviors that would end up killing me anyhow, so that I can come alive and thrive as the person God wants me to be.” – John Ortberg
Let me tell you something.  
Do not miss this:
If you want to find life…if you want to find your truest identity…if you want to find what you were created for…pick up your cross and trust in Jesus.
When God knit you in your mother’s womb, He did not create you, saying, “And this child shall find its truest meaning, its deepest joy…when they indulge in their flesh and do only what they want to do”
No, you were created to die.
To die to that part of yourself, so as you lay that part of yourself down, God can come in and flow through you.
He can only flow through you if you get out of the way first!
Only death leads to life.
Listen, God flowing through you is 10 million times greater than yourself flowing through you.  
One of the many reasons we often say that we have a goal to take 100% of our people on an international missions trip with us at least once…is because we want to expose you to what this feels like.  
When you go on an international missions trip, you are forced (in a way you just never will be in your normal life)…to put your selfishness to death
On an international missions trip:
You don’t sleep where you want to sleep…
You don’t eat what you want to eat…
And you spend your week…not with 50 hours of entertaining yourself…but with 50 hours of serving God.  
And do you know what I saw on the faces of so many of our team when we were in Africa this past summer?
A deeper joy than ANY type of self-indulgence could EVER give.  
Because they were living for what they were created for!
Living by always giving into your flesh…is like a baby bird, in its nest, dreaming of walking someday.
It’s like that baby bird thinking, “Oh, what it would be to leave the nest some day and walk on the ground…how amazing it must be to feel the ground on my feet and walk with my legs!  What pleasure!”
But Christian, when you deny yourself, and you stop doing what’s easy…and you decide to do the counterintuitive, and you decide to do WHAT GOD CALLED YOU  TO DO…you decided to jump from the nest…
Yes, it’s scary…yes, it often won’t “seem right”…
But when you understand that Christ created you to fly…and you begin to experience the joy of FLIGHT more and more
…and you feel His Spirit moving through you…and impacting people through you…
Then…then you’ll begin to say like the Apostle Paul, who after listing off all of his worldly accomplishments, once said:
(Philippians 3:7-8) – NIV
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ
Do you trust Him?
If you don’t trust Him…denying yourself sounds like a bird jumping out of its nest to its death.
If you don’t trust Him…denying yourself…death…sounds like…death.
But if you trust Him, death sounds like life.
You just start this today…this afternoon…one penny at a time.
In whatever way God is calling you to right now.

If there’s any part of you that’s still unsure…
Let me bring us back to where we started.
What was the first thing Jesus said in our passage today?
He said that “He must first suffer many things…die…and then…be raised to life.”
And his disciples were just as unsure about this idea of “death leading to life” as we are today.
In fact, in Matthew and Mark, Peter even rebukes Jesus for saying this.
Which, um, never rebuke Jesus.
Peter thought, “How can death lead to life?”
No one seems to believe it.
The thousands who were there listening to Jesus in Luke chapter 9, are long gone by the time it looks like the religious leaders are perhaps going to attempt to kill Jesus
The crowds thought:  “How can death lead to life?”
Perhaps this movement isn’t what we thought…
And as they arrest Jesus, beat him, and march him through the streets with the cross on his back…even almost all of his disciples now flee as well.  
They thought, “How can death lead to life?”
And yet what does his death lead to?
His death…led to the greatest story of all.
To life given.  
Because of His death, now His believers upon our death, can experience the complete fullness of life.    
This is a foundational principle of Christianity.
And so if the Kingdom of God came through the cross , it’ll come the same way through us
You want to experience real life?
You want to see change in your life?
You want to see a resurrection of your family, of your neighborhood?
He’s calling you to come and die…
So that you may finally live!
Let me pray.

Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

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