Below is the manuscript for the message I gave at Revolution Annapolis on 9 Feb 2020. The audio will probably be up on their site sometime this week in case you want to hear where I deviate from my script.
Several years ago, when I was still working for Revolution, we owned a bounce house. We used it at block parties and other community events. At the same time, I lived in a little house just down the road from here near Cantler’s Inn. Best crab house in the area, just sayin’. The bounce house, for a season, was stored in the low-ceilinged basement of that house, and every once in a while, with the help of friends, I would bring it out into the backyard of the house and set it up for my kids and their friends to play in. Getting the bounce house out of the basement was pretty complicated. You see, when it was deflated and wrapped up like a burrito, it was about a five-and-a-half-foot long cylinder with an almost three-foot diameter and weighed about 300 pounds.
One day, we were lending the bounce house to another church in Bowie, and I needed to get it out of my basement and into the back yard so a pastor from that church could pick it up. Before I gave it to them, though, I figured I would set it up in the yard for the kids to play on and so I could make sure it was super clean. I told my wife, Becky, that I would work on getting it out of the basement. She advised me to call a friend. I said, “I got this.”
Some of you probably have an idea of where this story is going. I was able to roll the rubber burrito to the staircase. After that, my plan was to flip it end over end up the narrow basement staircase. There was a landing three steps up followed by about 12 steps after a right turn. I got to the landing no problem. I was feeling like a champ. Becky yelled to see if I was okay. “Babe, I got this.”
First flip up the remaining stairs went okay, but when I went to shift my feet to higher steps, the burrito-ified bounce house started falling back toward me. Ever seen that picture of Atlas holding up the globe? It was like that except I don’t have much in the way of muscles and I was on a dusty staircase with a purple, teal, and black burrito to hold up. I started thinking, “Oh no,” but I didn’t call for help. I tried to figure out a new strategy, but because of the way the thing had fallen, I couldn’t go up or down. I was stuck, relegated to preventing this thing from crushing me.
Eventually, Becky became suspicious of my long absence and came to check on me. She found me, first laughed at me, then realized the seriousness of the situation and became concerned. The problem was she wasn’t strong enough to help the situation at all. We were laughing, but kind of that, “This really hurts and I don’t know what else to do,” type laugh. We were at the end of our rope, and that’s when Adam Leach showed up randomly. I don’t even know why he was there. He extracted me from the weight of the bounce house, laughed at me a little bit, and I was beyond grateful for him.
I could have just called him before I started and he would have helped. But no, “I got this.”
We really value “I got this” in our culture. The “American Dream” which is the idea that everyone has an equal opportunity to reach their highest aspirations is a hallmark of our cultural vocabulary. We make heroes out of “self-made” men and women who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Self-promotion, ambition and workaholism are celebrated.
I don’t know about you, but my attempts to chase after the expectations of our culture have often led me to exhaustion, anxiety, confusion, and hopelessness. Even with success, it is never enough, and the cycle starts over again.
Jesus kicks off concentrated stretch of teaching called The Sermon on the Mount in the fifth chapter of Matthew with a section known as The Beatitudes. In The Beatitudes, Jesus says there is a better way, and if you defy the expectations of culture, the exhaustion, hopelessness, anxiety, and confusion can be replaced by blessing. I love the Merriam Webster definition of blessing:
The sayings of The Beatitudes are often taught separately, but I think there is something interesting about looking at them together. The Beatitudes give us a step by step guide for defying the expectations of our culture and replacing the fruit of, “I got this,” with blessing. I am going to go ahead an spoil the ending for you and tell you there are three basic steps.
- Redefine your identity.
- Recognize your purpose.
- Anticipate the consequences.
I think a lot of these teachings are helpful whether you believe in Jesus or not. I think if you choose to admit that “I don’t got this” and recognize “it’s not all about me,” you’ll find some blessing, a thing conducive to happiness or welfare. I also think that you will start to see and feel what God’s Kingdom is like.
18 years ago, admitting that “I don’t got this” and no matter how much success I could gather around myself, I was only encountering new exhaustion, anxiety and dissatisfaction, was my own first step to knowing Jesus and changing my life.
So, whether you believe in Jesus or not, consider what defying the expectations of culture might look like in your life, and what the next steps might be for you.
Jesus starts by saying you’ll be blessed when you realize there is no way you can do it on your own. When you’re fighting with anxiety, comparison, exhaustion, and the feeling you’re not good enough, Jesus says,
I love the way The Message, a paraphrase of the Bible says this. It says,
Being poor in spirit means recognizing you can’t do it on your own. Spiritually, it means saying, “God, I need you.”
It also means being willing to admit that there are lots and lots of things you can’t do on your own, and you’re done with tugging at your bootstraps.
God is the author of love and hope, the ultimate source of blessing, but if you are trying to manufacture them on your own, He doesn’t have room to work. Until I admit that I’m at the end of my rope and defy cultural expectations by saying, “I don’t got this,” I will continue to try to manufacture my own hope and continue experiencing the frustration and loneliness that that pursuit brings with it. I will fail to experience the blessing, the good things, that God has.
Admitting you can’t do it on your own may mean giving up parts of yourself that you are proud of.
I’m ambitious. My own identity is wrapped up my ability to advance at work as well as in relationships. I am often tempted to pat myself on the back for some of the accomplishments I have been able to achieve. I am the youngest executive at a large church planting organization. I have been in management since I was 23 (more on that later).
Who I am is tied up in the pride of those accomplishments. But they don’t bring me joy. That pride brings an anxiety and fear for the future. What if something happens to my job? What if there are no more next steps up? What if no one likes me? What’s the next hill to climb? And then what’s after that?
This became crystal clear to me in 2017. I was invited to be a fly on the wall in a room with some amazing leaders and thought to myself, “I don’t deserve to be here.” I have a bachelors degree in Geology that I’ve never used. My history is peppered with failed bands, arguments with my wife, and chronic procrastination. I didn’t do this. God did. My work and my history, my pride and my identity, are problems. They are a liability. But God is the author of hope, and He’s been writing a different story, and that is how I found myself in this room.
It was like a bomb going off in the part of my brain that housed my identity, and I was sad and afraid. What does this mean for me?
When you give up things about yourself that are wildly important to you and replace them with God, you’re going to mourn that. And in that moment, Jesus says,
I think this is often read as people who are mourning the loss of loved ones, and while I think that those mourning the loss of loved ones will absolutely be comforted by God, I think that in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, it is equally, if not more importantly about mourning the parts of our self that we surrender in order to follow God more closely. It is the sadness at losing all the bits of us that scream for attention saying, “I got this.”
It may be scary giving up self-reliance, ego, ambition, a habit, an addiction, a thought process, a relationship, or whatever it is, but Jesus says, “I got you.” He says you will be comforted. You will be blessed. I love what the Message says,
Once I start to strip away my self-reliance and my “I got this” attitude and mourn the pieces of myself that are cast off in the process, I’m left with just who I am. Being content in that is hard, but rewarding. It means coming to terms with my new identity. An identity not shaped by my own drive but shaped by who God has made me to be. Again, I love how The Message paraphrases Jesus’ next words:
Our usual translation of the Bible says,
Jesus is talking about the base level of your identity and being content in it. The base level of our identity is that we are made in the image of God, and Jesus says THAT IS ENOUGH. We don’t need to feel the pressure of adding more titles to that. The extra titles we have are fine, but if we start to find our identity in being great mom, successful business person, or even lead pastor, we lose sight of what our identity really is: a person made in the image of God, and we start relying on ourselves again for peace, hope, love, and comfort, or as the Message puts it, “everything that can’t be bought,” which ultimately takes us back to anxiety, frustration, blind ambition…
So, the first three parts of The Beatitudes talk about resisting the expectations of our culture in terms of our identity and rediscovering and contenting ourselves with our true identities; people made in the image of God.
The next section of Jesus’ message talks about what we do with our new identity and how it should move us. Jesus calls us to recognize our true purpose.
Later on in the book of Matthew, Jesus says that all the laws in the Bible add up to two things. Jesus says,
“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-19 NIV)
Jesus foreshadows that teaching here.
Our culture expects us to use every opportunity to advance ourselves or protect ourselves.
Let me tell you another “I got this” story. Remember, I said we’d revisit me as a young manager? When I was 23, I worked at an inbound call center. Many of my funniest stories originate in that job. This isn’t one of them. Our call center had an accounts payable department run by a woman named Lu. Lu was much older than the average-aged employee at the Hotline and didn’t fit in. She also worked overnight, from midnight to eight AM. Lots of awful jokes were created about Lu, including jokes about her competency and memory due to her age.
I said, “I got this.” But not in the good way. I saw an opportunity for promotion and more money. I told my boss I could do a better job than Lu. I relayed rumors of her mistakes to my boss without identifying them as rumors. Within a few months, I was in, and Lu was out.
The catch is that I knew nothing about accounting software. I knew nothing about accounting at all. I was an average bass player in a regionally popular band with a bachelor’s degree in Geology taking hotline calls from people who hated their jobs. Lu was not perfect, but she was a CPA, but because of me and my opportunistic “I got this” attitude, she was unemployed.
I felt like a champion at the time. I was looking out for number one. It wasn’t until years later that the weight of my behavior shook me to my core and I realized that the expectations of culture just hurt other people and left me feeling empty.
When you are content with your identity as a child of God, not only do you escape the rat race of trying to be a self-made American Dream chaser, you start to realize that most, if not everything that goes on around you isn’t about you. Your true purpose isn’t enriching, empowering and glorifying yourself.
And if it isn’t about you, then you are freed up to make it about someone else. In terms of my arrogant “I got this” in the situation with Lu, if it’s not about me, then my response to the situation at the call center should have been, “I got this for you.” I would have/should have stood up for justice and truth and pushed back against rumor and malice.
This is equivalent to loving the Lord with all you are. This isn’t the type of hunger that you feel when you get home from work and there are still a few hours before dinner. It’s not even the hunger you feel if you skipped a meal or two. This is the hunger and thirst you feel after you’ve been stranded in the desert and you are desperate. This hunger and thirst is something you cling to for life itself.
Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness, or do you just snack on it from time to time?
What does the pursuit of righteousness do? Well, to use a biblical metaphor, it bears fruit.
“Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:7-9 NIV)
When you pursue righteousness, or in other words, rightness the way God defines it, you keep looking out for number one, BUT YOUR REDEFINE WHO NUMBER ONE IS. It’s not you anymore, but instead it is God. When number one is God, and you are filtering your choices though that lens, you start looking for ways to share that righteousness with others because you start seeing God in the world around you. When I pursue righteousness, I recognize my purpose is sharing the freedom I’ve found with others.
In a culture that is always thinking about return on investment, the pursuit of righteousness redefines the beneficiary. Instead of expecting a return to ourselves, in pursuing righteousness, we bring mercy and peace to those around us, and in that, we bring glory to God.
And it’s hard, man. This is not something I’m consistently good at. I’m still that guy who got Lu fired 15 years ago. But I’m trying, and I’m surrounded by people who are trying.
This is why I attend a Local group. Becky and I have been at Revolution from the start. We have attended and/or led local groups the entire time because in those groups, we are surrounded by people who are trying to get better at pursuing righteousness, people we can lean on, learn from, and lean into.
So, to recap where we’ve been so far, Jesus is talking to his followers on the side of a hill adjacent to the Sea of Galillee, and he is telling us that when it comes to experiencing blessing (hope, love, purpose), we can’t do it on our own, and once we realize that, we can become more comfortable in who exactly we are, people made in the image of God. As people made in the image of God, Jesus calls us to the pursuit of righteousness, which bears fruit in the form of mercy, kindness and peace and putting the needs of others in front of our own.
But what does culture do when you defy their expectations.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil things against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12 NIV)
In some parts of the world, persecution means torture and death, seriously. But by and large, in our culture, when you defy it’s expectations, people think you are weird. Once they decide you are weird, they treat you like you’re weird. You may not get invited to some places. You may feel left out. It’s really, really unlikely that you will be persecuted in the ways believers did in Jesus’ time and how they do in certain parts of the world now.
And you know what. I am totally down to be weird because:
I have redefined my identity!
- I can’t manufacture blessing on my own.
- I’m not number one.
And I have recognized my true purpose.
3. I want others to experience that freedom.