Less of Me, More of You!
I come to you this morning as a selfish person. My whole existence has in the past been centered around me, and my needs. From the moment I cried out to the air after birth, I needed things. There was this woman, who I later learned to be my mother, and apparently she was made to provide me with everything I needed, sometimes even before I yelled. She was amazing! I had this great game, I dropped my toy, then I needed it, cried,and she picked it up! This went on for hours.
Being in the womb is an interesting concept. Theoretically, everything I was meant to be was begun there, in the dark, with minimum input from my senses. Apparently I knew things, but very little.
Most of you know that I retired after 40 years in education. My professional life was caught up in the process of guiding students into knowing new things.
Many professors spent years in perfecting the Socratic method of teaching. Do you know the simple definition?
It is the art of asking leading questions. This is named after the philosopher Socrates, who believed that basic knowledge was already resident in individuals, a good teacher simply unlocks it.
He once proved this by taking an untrained youth and having him solve a complicated math problem by simply asking him the right questions. Asking the right questions allows the truth inside you to rise up.
Back to my entry to the world. I was able to respond to questions, I learned to cry out, to express my needs. This is normal I’ve been told, but the selfishness doesn’t get better for several years. It’s very difficult to learn different modes of communication. One would think that selfishness could be solved by learning to speak, but learning to use words to get your needs filled is just more complicated. Finally, the system caught up to me and I went to school.
I entered school in order to be taught. But I soon learned that school had its own needs and often they were secondary to mine. My needs were still an issue… where did we place in the class, where did we rank in the schoolyard, who gets picked first on teams. It is I, Me and Mine…
All this to say that we have years of practice in making our needs the primary focus of our lives
So when we encounter an example of an individual that does not look to their own needs first, it’s a little shocking. Yet we have this example of John the Baptist. He is well regarded, admired as a devout teacher, yet he states he is nothing compared to “One that is Coming”. He even states, “that I must decrease, so that He can increase.” The number of times that humans have stepped back from power are rare indeed.
When George Washington finished his second term and retired from politics, some people have said that this moment was the real beginning of our country. There was a huge consensus to make Washington our King. It was scary to trust a system where absolute leaders yielded to a concept of democracy. He decided to step down and allow the system to work.
I must talk about Cincinnati for a brief moment. I’ve only been there once, but I did like the TV show. I also liked that it was named for Cincinnatus, a Roman general, roughly 500 BC. He had retired as a military leader and Roman political figure to personally work his small farm. Then Rome was invaded and the citizens begged Cincinnatus to leave the ploughing and become dictator with absolute powers.
Cincinnatus accepted and disaster was averted. A day later, Cincinnatus resigned and went back to his farm. His son was also politically active, and ended up being exiled and then killed. Civil war was a distinct possibility, so the citizens once again called on Cincinnatus to the position of dictator, once more he accepted until the crisis passed, then he once more retired to his small farm. That’s worthy of having a town named after you.
A couple of days have passed since my last birthday. I am now 72! I never thought I would last this long. I’m from the generation that codified “Don’t trust anyone that’s 30 or older.” Wow, that was 42 years ago.
Supposedly, by now I should have some hard fought knowledge. I dunno, a lot of knowledge is due to experience, and experience is very personal, and subjective, so… if I tell you now, that it is better to not be so selfish, it might not mean anything more than a nice thought. Do you remember that movie where a young person asked asked an old man for a piece of wisdom? His reply was simple, he said, “Floss more!”
That might be a cynical respond, because there are things that can be learned, and are useful. Stranger still, you can be blessed by even the youngest, by their example and passion.
The title to this talk is “Less of Me, More of You!” It started as a take from John the Baptist saying in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This was an amazing statement by John, in fact, this is one circumstance that has universal acceptance of historical truth, because no one would write about it unless it was true. The search for historical Jesus has been interesting. There are many disagreements, but there are two events that nearly everyone agrees were historical- His death by cruxifixction, and his baptism by John.
Paul also rephrased it on a personal level. By God’s grace, Paul was tremendously aware of his own weaknesses. This self-awareness drove him to continually depend on the Holy Spirit through prayer. His strategy for leadership and discipleship was never based on his own merit, but on the Lord’s calling and the Lord’s power (1 Corinthians 2:3, 4:10)
PAUL WAS WILLING TO SACRIFICE HIMSELF ON THE BOAT DURING THE STORM NEAR MALTA AND ALSO FOR THE SAKE OF ISRAEL. PERHAPS HE WAS INSPIRED BY STEPHEN WHOSE LAST WISH WAS TO NOT HOLD HIS MURDERERS TO ACCOUNT. REMEMBER PAUL WAS THERE, HOLDING THE COATS OF THOSE WHO WERE THROWING THE STONES, PAUL PROBABLY THOUGHT OF THAT MOMENT OFTEN. AND THEN LATER HE LEARNS OF JESUS’ LAST WORDS, TO FORGIVE THEM FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO.
You know it was about this time that the Spirit hit me with a new direction. This was the beginning of a good sermon, there were several points that could help us understand the deeper concepts of the Gospel, and perhaps I will continue this another time. When I was an elder I always felt it was a good policy to have a “hip pocket” sermon ready case of emergencies. But for now this sermon is paused. But don’t leave yet!
This is what occurred to me while preparing this sermon. I rewrote the title “Less of me, more of You”, only this time I forgot to capitalize the “y” in you. So it shifted my focus from the One above, to the ones in front of me. And I was struck about how the same problem exists, and that we suffer because we set ourselves ahead of our brothers and sisters, our family and friends.
It occurred to me that the title “Less of Me, More of You”, can also be applied to our social interaction with people. And that thought brought me to the function of church as a body of believers whose mission is to improve the lives of their members, and perhaps bring focus to the body of the church instead of my own body and it’s needs.
When we speak of improvement to the body, improvement is not in our social status, influence , or wealth. The improvement is in my, our, relationship and understanding of God. But sometimes our needs step in front of our need for God. Are you looking for a life-long mate in order to make a family? What venue will you frequent to meet this person? A nightclub? A Facebook Group? Random Twitter posts?
Are you lonely and looking for individuals that share your concepts? Your friendly neighborhood bar? Or do you join a fraternal order, like the Lions Club, or Rotary? Instagram followers? These are great groups, they can do great things, and they are interested in developing great people. My father was a Moose.
It’s obvious that a solid church can also be very beneficial.
As wonderfully helpful that churches can be in these issues, it is not the primary reason. Yes, it is to inform people about God’s CODES FOR morality, yes, it can be a hospital for the emotionally/spiritually wounded. But primarily it is the mission to provide the Gospel, and for me it comes down to one concept. The solution to the problem of Death.
So maybe this is not a sermon, but more, this is just my testimony. We have had some testimonies recently and I have been encouraged to gave mine.
This is how a selfish, egotistical, know-it-all became a church member. Buckle up!
There is a truth that I am faced with…the older I get, the closer to death that I am. This is not morbid. I’m just telling you that someday in the future, hopefully not near future, there will be a meeting here in this church, to celebrate my promotion! Don’t worry about me, I will be fine, but possibly, we will meet to comfort friends and family left behind. On that day please remind each other that I’m fine, because I believe that Yeshua has provided the ability to conquer Death. Yes, all that other stuff has made my life better, richer, and more meaningful, But making sense of eternity, and death is at the heart of the Gospel.
My testimony is- Well, I did find it better to take the path to know God, It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t quick. At least I didn’t have the burden to prove that He existed. I always knew He existed, I just believed He wasn’t terribly interested in me. He had far better things to do.
I did read the Bible, a few times. It was more of a challenge than a desire to uncover a truth, besides I was thrilled to find out that it included history. But In terms of focusing on ethics, or a right path? I was doing fine. I had a very good moral code, I didn’t steal, okay I shoplifted a little from the big stores AS A TEENAGER. That was the cost of business. I didn’t lie, at least not falsely accusing, I lied a bit to get what I wanted, what I needed. I was pretty good with at least five of the Ten Commandments. And I certainly did not kill. I was fine!
Of course I was still young.
There were several choices that I had to make in becoming a church member. The first one was thinking about my wife and wondering about my responsibility in creating a “church widow”. Not that I’m dead, it turns out this is a cruel phrase describing the situation where the wife goes to church and the husband doesn’t. And there could be some very good reasons for this. But remember, I had been thinking about reducing my selfishness.
I thought that I had some responsibility in creating this label. I thought about all the issues that kept me from attending and I basically did a cost analysis. I realized that all I had to do was to put a few things “on the shelf”, and I was good to go. I wasn’t “selling out”, or leaving my brain at the door. I was just being less selfish and more supportive.
After a time I pondered the heroes of the church. The members that made an impact because I entered the door. Fred Kellogg, who was probably 5’4” and tough as nails, he was a Navy captain of a North Sea destroyer during WWII, and our church treasurer for years. Bill Dabel, who was 6’6”, civil engineer and the mayor of Orinda. Howard Call, who’s greatest deed was loving and supporting Jackie. I have been blessed by all of them.
This still meant there were challenges. I was shy, or standoffish. I didn’t play nice at socializing. There was an artificial potted plant in the corner. I spent many hours standing in front of it, going over the points of the sermon I had just heard. I don’t know what happened to him, he’s gone now, and I miss him in a way.
I remember that the first pastor in this building, Hugo Santucci, asked me why I hadn’t joined a church yet. I told him “because they are filled with hypocrites”. His eyes widened as I realized that I had probably insulted him, but then he said, “So? WHAT’S THE HARM OF HAVING ONE MORE?”. Later he explained that I had missed so much of the positives of church life because of a problem that still existed everywhere. It’s not like I wouldn’t run into hypocrites if I just avoided church! At least church life is interested in reducing hypocrisy.
From that moment, I was on the path to be “saved”. It took awhile, I put a lot of things “on the shelf”, but as promised, I could always take them back down to ponder them some more. Eventually, most of them became unimportant. The important things came to the forefront. I remember learning the concept of yielding and how counter intuitive that it was… I remember how important it was to remember… i once did a sermon on remembering to remember. I was struck by the thought that we were dirt, that forgot that we were dirt.
I remember how my language changed. I had been in the Army so I knew about swearing. I didn’t live for swearing, but it hadn’t hurt me. For a solid year I was referred to as “a maggot” or worse by my drill Sargent. I got used to it. That was so strange, to have an actual physical reaction to foul language. I didn’t make a social decision to not associate with certain individuals, I disassociated because it was physically uncomfortable to listen to them.
I began to see how unfair media was treating Christians. But then I remembered TV pastors that offered “holy water”, “Prayer clothes”. There was one famous TV evangelist that put his hand up on the camera, and inviting listeners to put their hands on the TV screen in order to receive his personal blessing. And good Lord, how many asked for money in order to receive even more money? And you don’t even have to send money, just make a promise of money and you will still be blessed. Some Christians earned the questioning by media.
And here I was, preparing myself to join this group? How would I respond to the question, “Are you a Christian?” I wasn’t afraid of being persecuted, I was afraid of being embarrassed.
But here is a truth, don’t let a minority, even a large minority, don’t let them hijack a good thing, better to pray for them, and make a difference in your example.
After a few years I ventured into teaching a Bible study class. At first I though this was just practicing my gifts. I had created lesson plans for years, I just swapped out my art history textbooks for the Bible. This was another awakening of the Holy Spirit. The lesson plans were wildly different, it took many years to trust where I was led. They became less of my creation and more of God’s.
Even now the process of preparing for a sermon has little to do with the profession of being a professor.
This led to another personal impact. For years I had rested in the title of being a creative person. At first it set me aside, and I took pride in that I was special. I was artistic and I created art. I wasn’t a non-thinking drone that wasted my life in a dead-end meaningless job.
See, I took God’s gift, and turned it into a selfish need to elevate my personhood.
So, recently I wondered about the tires on my trike.
I have a low slung, three wheeled machine that is a joy to ride. Two of the tires are right there, inches from my hands. I looked at the pattern of the tires, realizing that when the pattern disappears, the tires are worn, and should be replaced. That should be the end of my thoughts, but anyone who knows me knows that I ponder.
I began to wonder where the rubber went. I had worn out several sets of tires on the trail and I haven’t seen little piles of rubber on the pavement. Then I pondered the freeway. I had seen a few truck retreads along side of the freeway, but considering how many cars pass, and how many tires are worn… where did the rubber go?
I went home to ponder this idea with my friend Google. There was an answer, it didn’t disappear. It was ground into fine dust, it was in the air, I had breathed some, it was in the water, it went into the ocean, or drifted onto the bushes, it fell to the ground and went into the soil. The point being, is that it wasn’t destroyed, it was changed. Google reminded me that everything, everything in the universe, was created once, then parts of atoms combined, molecules combined, elements were made for everything to see and feel, and use. One creation, millions upon millions of parts being made, nothing destroyed, just changed.
From that moment on I was freed of the responsibility of being a creator, I was simply a maker of things.
This was so aligned with my spiritual understanding that I was shocked that I hadn’t understood this for the last six decades. Yet, it is personal, I have good friends that create and are creative. Judge not. Lest you yourself be judged.
Clearly there are hundreds of things that become different when the basis of your “knowing” is different. Becoming a member of a church was the single greatest thing in my life apart from my family.
Knowing God, and having a personal relationship with God was the primary focus. Knowing my eternal future was next. Dying to self, and having love and concern for others was the last understanding. I’m a work in progress for that one.
And my statement is that church life, becoming a member, gave me the best chance to embrace these truths. Please, for those out there on the internet, join us in this journey.
Shall we pray?
The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.’
I like to end sermons with the Aaronic blessing. It is sometimes useful to look at the original Hebrew to understand the context of the translation. The following can also be said to be a “translation of intent.”
Adonai will kneel before you presenting gifts and will guard you with a hedge of protection, Adoni will illuminate the wholeness of his being toward you, bringing order, and he will beautify you, Adoni will lift up his wholeness of being, and look upon you, and he will set in place all you need to be whole and complete!