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Give Yourself Away
March 28 and 29, 1998

MATTHEW 16:21-26

We all want to be happy. Is there anyone here who does not want to be happy? Someone said, "Happiness is when you marry a girl for love and find out later she has money!" Americans seem to be preoccupied with being happy; yet many don't know how to go about it. David G. Meyers studied happiness and reported his findings in his book, The Pursuit of Happiness: Who Is Happy--And Why. He concluded that happiness does not result from how much money you make, or how many possessions you own, or whether you are highly educated, or whether you are old or young.

In the sermon series this Lent and Easter, I am using the word succeed rather than happy, but you can interchange the two. To succeed or to be happy, not just survive, Dream Big, Tell the Stories, Get Connected, Pray and Praise, Keep the Commandments, and today: Give Yourself Away.

Jesus had a great deal to say about happiness. Contrary to the teachings of our culture, Jesus made it clear that the accumulation of things and stuff have little relation to success or happiness. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus said ,

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you--you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying "What will we eat?" or "What will we drink?" or "What will we wear?" for it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.

Do not worry about your life. In fact, to succeed, not just survive, to be happy, give yourself away. Give yourself away and follow Jesus. In the Scripture lesson for today, Matthew 16:24-25, deny yourself, said Jesus. Take up your cross, even if it involves death, and follow me. And then, he said something which makes no sense to modern people. "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

Self-esteem is a major concern these days. A person with low self-esteem says, "I'm no good, I'm a phony, and nobody loves me." The current remedy is to teach the person to say, "I am good! I am special! I can do anything I want." The trouble with that remedy is it's about me, me, me. Jesus said, "Deny yourself." A person with low self-esteem finds worth, purpose and love by giving him/herself away, and following Jesus.

Deny yourself. Try to hoard, try to accumulate, try to hold on, and you end up with nothing. Give yourself away, and you get your life back! Jesus said, Luke 6:37-38,

Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.

The principle here applies not only to forgiveness, but also to things and stuff. Try to keep them for yourself, you will end up with nothing. Give them away and God will provide. Be faithful with God, and God will be faithful with you. Isn't that what Jesus meant when he said to strive for the things of God and God will be faithful and give you all you need to eat, drink and wear.

Malachi 3:8, 10,

Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, "How are we robbing you?" In your tithes and offerings! Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.

The point is clear. Keep it, hoard it, you will lose it. Give it to God, and God will pour down an overflowing blessing.

My brother and sister-in-law visited us this past week. Their church in Montana is struggling financially, as do all churches who are doing God's work, but God provides. God is faithful. Last week a check for $6,500 was given by a farm family. The cattle farmer explained, "Every tenth calf is the Lord's calf. I feed it on behalf of the Lord, and when it is time to sell it, whatever amount it sells for is given to the church." And, the church is blessed, and the family is blessed. There is tremendous joy, satisfaction, and happiness in giving.

The principle applies not only to your finances, but to your entire being. Try to hoard your time, energy, talents, abilities, spiritual gifts, and you will lose your life. But, lose your life for Jesus' sake, give yourself away, and you will find your life. "A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."

Let's have a demonstration of Jesus' teaching. Would five or six of you come forward and form a circle? How many different kinds of circles can you make? There are basically three different kinds of circles. Most circles are "looking in" circles. The participants face each other. Too many churches form "looking in" circles. Their goal is to survive, to keep safe, to look in. But, to succeed, not just survive, turn around. Still holding hands, look outward, not inward. Facing out was the discipleship Jesus preached. Jesus did not teach upward mobility, but outward mobility! The church is not here to save itself. When the church seeks to save its life, it will lose it. It will die. Likewise, when you seek to save your life, you will lose it. Turn outward, and give yourself away.

There is a third circle where each person stands sideways. You see the person in front of you. Turn your head inward and you see the people across the circle. Turn your head outward and you see the world. This is a movement circle, a group of people poised to go somewhere together, with the ability to look in and look out. In this circle we are connected. We need each other. We look to one another for support as we look outward to serve.

Check-up time! Take a pencil. I am now in the process of having my annual physical. The last annual physical I had was in 1987! We all need regular check-ups. According to the 19th century Polish poet Cyprian Norwid, there are three ingredients to being happy. Write down if you have:

1) Something to live on

2) Something to live for

3) Something to die for

The lack of one of these results in drama. The lack of two results in tragedy. Having all three results in happiness.

One of my long-time heroes is Morris Dees, chief trial counsel and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He defends victims of racism. His Klanwatch operation monitors organized racist activity across the nation. His Militia Task Force keeps track of the activities of more than 400 unauthorized militia units in 50 states. His Teaching Tolerance project distributes videos, books and training materials to schools.

His strategy is working. He developed the concept of holding extremist groups responsible for the actions of their members and then bankrupting them. The Ku Klux Klan is but a shadow of its former self. As you might expect, Morris Dees gives himself away, living for justice and willing to die for justice. The Center was burned by three Ku Klux Klan members in 1983, but was immediately rebuilt. Morris' life and his family's welfare are constantly being threatened. Even with guards, is he afraid? Morris Dees said, "All I know is, if I failed to represent somebody because of fear, I wouldn't want to practice law."

Morris was thinking of becoming a minister until he stood on top of the Student Union of the University of Alabama when he was a student there in 1956. He watched the first Ku Klux Klansmen he had ever seen throw eggs and rocks at Autherine Lucy, a young black woman seeking a college education. The incident profoundly affected him. The next Sunday, he went into a Sunday School class, where he was Sunday School Superintendent, and read from the letter of 1 John, "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" Then he said to the class, "I wonder if God were here what he'd do about Autherine Lucy. She may be a fine person yet we were there--whether in the mob or not-- in spirit with them." A week passed and the preacher came to him and said, "We think we need a more mature person to be Sunday School superintendent."

Jesus said, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." To succeed, to be happy, give yourself away.

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris