Today is my retreat reflection. 2 words jump out to me from the retreat – surrender and love.
Pastor Don talked about God’s love and our need to surrender in his earlier messages. How God bought us at a price by the blood of Jesus Christ. Therefore he owns us and we must surrender ourselves to him daily. This is related to our hearts being a temple of the Holy Spirit — God is our master, he controls us, we should reckon ourselves dead to sin. We relinquish control of our lives to God and say God, you’re the master.
This is what it means to surrender and allow the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts and control us. His last message focused on what we should be doing in response to God’s love — the Great Commission.
Surrendering daily and living a life of love. These two things, if I could just do these two things every day, I think this retreat wouldn’t be a mountain-top experience, one in which I am touched by God’s Word and I commit to living for God, but 2 weeks later, I am already fizzling out. Instead, if I could just surrender daily and live a life of love, then I think I would be soaring on wings like eagles, not kicking sand in a spiritual desert.
And as I was praying about these topics, God gave me these verses: Matt 16:24-27 — Henry Blackaby from this past Thursday. So if you could turn to Matt 16, I will read from the 24th verse.
This is a very famous passage covering some very familiar and fundamental themes of what it means to live out our Christian lives. But I want to caution you – just because we have something many times over many years doesn’t mean we truly understand it. When P Don at the retreat made some pretty simple statements like you just have to receive God’s love, but then he would challenge us, but do you really get it? And I had to pause, I don’t know, I think I do, but do I? And that simple question made me ask myself, do I really understand God’s love? Is it personal?
And I hope this kind of soul searching is a regular part of your Christian life. We listen to the message and it kinds of washes over us and we mistake familiarity with actual personal understanding. And for me, retreats remind me that I need to be much more proactive in checking my heart against God’s Word instead of assuming, yeah, yeah, I get this stuff.
Daily surrender and living a life of love – do you know what it means personally? Not intellectually, but from the core of your being, in your
hearts. And as I struggled with those retreat messages, I concluded that actually, my life had gotten misaligned from these fundamental truths and I
needed to recalibrate my life again to daily surrender and love.
Read Matt 16:24-25 – “If anyone would come after me, he must DENY himself and TAKE UP HIS CROSS and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose
it, but whoever LOSES HIS LIFE FOR ME will find it.” This is what it means to surrender – to deny yourself, to take up your cross, to lose your life
for the sake of Jesus Christ. Luke 9:23 says the same thing but adds that all this must be done daily. So DAILY SURRENDER.
An essential prerequisite to following Jesus is denying oneself. And if we still didn’t get the point, Matthew rephrases that same exhortation and because we
might be hard of hearing, he raises and volume and says, denying yourself is the same as taking up your cross. To us, this can be an ambiguous statement
to take up one’s cross. Does it mean inviting suffering into our lives or if we are experiencing some difficulty in our lives, do we just say, well, that must
be our cross to bear?
There would have been no confusion to a first century listener of this charge to take up your cross. It would have reminded someone in the first century
immediately of a criminal carrying his own cross on his or her way to a public execution via crucifixion. And of course for disciples of Jesus in the
first century, how could they forget the image of their own Lord Jesus Christ being crucified on a cross?
So we should not be confused — simply put, to take up your cross is an invitation to die. This is the essence of daily surrender. When we surrender, we
are saying, I am going to die to myself.
If we die to ourselves and surrender, then we are following Jesus and if we are following Jesus, we will be following Jesus in a life of love. Just as Jesus
surrendered his life by literally dying on a cross out of his love for us, we must follow him in dying to ourselves out of our love for others.
This passage from Matt 16 ends in verse 27 with the Son of Man returning and rewarding each of us according to “what (each of us) he has done” – this is where
our living out a life of love comes into play. We know from many passages that any ‘sacrifice’ or ‘obedience’ without love is meaningless as it says in 1
We know that the pharisees were good at ‘doing’ but had no love, so Jesus severely rebuked
So this passage after describing a life of surrender says that Jesus will come and deal
with us according to what we have done… it will come down to whether or not we lived a life of love.
Surrender sounds like such a wimpy word. It sounds like something a quitter would do. I give up. I throw up my hands in defeat. I raise the
white flag of surrender. This sentiment of surrender meets resistance from the very core of our being. Every molecule in us cries out, no, I
will not surrender.
We grow up in this country and we are raised with slogans like, Be All You Can Be. What
does that mean? If you are Obama, be all you can be means that even though I am a black man, I can still try to become the first black president of
the United States of America. And we listen to that slogan and we think, yeah, me, too. But is that really true? I want to be an NBA
All-Star, but does “be all you can be” apply to my dream? First of all, I am too short. Second of all, I jump only 2 inches off the ground.
Third, I don’t like to run. Fourth, coaches wouldn’t like me because I don’t play defense. And even if I were 6 ft 8 and I could jump
40 inches and shoot 50% from 3 point range and I had incredible potential, as an Asian, my parents would have told me to study so I would have no chance to
develop my skills.
Be All You Can Be gives you the illusion that if you put your mind to some goal, we all have equal potential to become whatever we desire. But that’s simply a
flat out lie. I am sorry if I am bursting any bubble here. We are limited by our genes and a myriad of other factors. So don’t believe the
lies – it is a lie to say you can be whatever you put your mind to. Desire and willpower and drive can help us achieve far more than we thought was
possible before we tried, this is true. But there are certain things that we just need to be realistic about. We have to be truthful and recognize
that our limitations are real limitations.
My parents were convinced that it was my destiny to become a doctor. But my science test results from Cal do not lie. I am just not cut out for science.
Who wants to surrender in anything? If you fail once, try again. Work harder. Seek out help. Because your dreams are attainable — it’s like the
movie Rudy. It doesn’t matter if you have football talent or not, if you get rejected, keep trying and eventually you will make the Notre Dame football
team. Things like that do happen, but it is a rare exception rather than the norm.
But even if these rare cases amount to less than a fraction of 1% of the world’s population, it doesn’t matter. The damage has been done. Many
people think we are people with limitless potential. You dig deep down inside and there is some good in all of us. There is a jewel inside like
a diamond in the rough that needs to have our crusty outer layer removed and then we will shine like the stars we were meant to be.
And so the language of surrender is so foreign to us. Who wants to die? None
Surrender occurs only when you lose all hope in yourself. When you are sick and tired of yourself. When you try to love and you realize I just have no
love in me.
For me, working in the technology field, I have a love / hate relationship with technology. Many times I curse the day the computer was created and Bill
Gates and everyone else who made technology an inseparable part of our lives. Other times, I love technology because it builds up my ego.
I consider technology is just a battle between man vs. machine. I am a man and this computer is just a processor and memory and a hard drive and I will not allow myself to be beaten by this bundle of hardware. And I think I speak for many guys, technology has become a way that we demonstrate our usefulness and
worth. In an odd way, it serves as a way to perpetuate a sense of hope and trust in ourselves.
We live in a hyperactive, stressful age where competent multi-taskers are highly valued and
technology is driving force for much of this.
So I want to take an informal survey so please don’t be shy because these are all from my
How many of you have a laptop on while you are doing something else like watching TV
because you feel guilty that you are not making a better use of your time?
How many of you feel tempted to check email while driving?
How many people feel a need to talk on the phone while driving because at least you are doing something?
How many people hate traffic because you think I could be doing 500 better things with my time?
How many people check email constantly because you think today may be the day that a real work emergency happens and you want to be able to say to your boss, I was there and ready?
Technology has become such a pervasive force in our lives and the person who uses technology to his or her advantage to complete more in less time is the winner. The way my brain works, I look back at my day and if I cannot point to a bunch of things I can check off in my mental checklist of things I accomplished during that day, I feel like I failed or I wasted a day. And when I can point to 4-5 things I can check off, I feel good about myself. That’s a good day. And as long as I can mimimize the days when I don’t feel good about myself and increase the number of days I feel good about myself, then overall,
I will be happy with myself.
How is this related to surrender? Because it is this kind of ego building that resists surrender. As a good productive person who accomplishes many things,
even things that are overtly beneficial for others, we feel like we don’t really need to surrender. Surrender is for the losers who have nothing
else going for them. Surrender is for those who have no other backup plan. Surrender is for people who fail to manage their lives well and
have nothing to give to others. Surrender is for the useless and unproductive, the real sinners, the pharisees and prostititues and homeless
person addicted to crack or the person who commits adultery. Those are the kinds of people who need to surrender.
For the high achievers, for those who are experts in multitasking, it is so hard to lose hope in ourselves.
What are some signs that we still have not lost hope in ourselves? Put another way, what are some signs that we have not surrendered or died to ourselves?
I think one example is people who excuse their current spiritual condition and blame the past. We have all been dealt certain cards in life. And for some,
the cards have not been good and we have legitimate gripes from our past. But people like this who are negative or cynical wear it around like a badge
and say, you know, it is my right to be negative and cynical. I am the way I am and no one can do anything about it. God, you owe me. God,
you know the reasons why I just can’t surrender.
Another sign that we have not surrendered is a judgmental spirit. James 3:6 says that the tongue is a world of evil and it
corrupts the whole person.
The underlying attitude behind judging others and gossiping about their faults is that I’m better than he or she is, that somehow my faults aren’t as bad as
theirs and I have an objective bird’s eye view upon which I can pass judgment. Meanwhile we are so forgiving of ourselves and our glaring faults.
And there are countless other examples of the outward manifestations of an unsurrendered life where we refuse to deny or die to ourselves.
Surrender happens when we lose hope in ourselves. Matt 16 clearly outline 2 trajectories of life and what trajectory we are on is determined by our
willingness or unwillingness to surrender.
Whether we surrender ourselves or not doesn’t seem like a big deal at the moment, but that decision sets a trajectory. And that slight change of angle if you
project your life 5 years from now, that seemingly unimportant decision made 5 years ago has made a world of difference 5 years later. And this is
Matthew calls the first trajectory one of saving yourself. A life of saving oneself stems from a refusal to lose hope in oneself. It is a refusal to
die and surrender. It is a life of self-preservation and holding back. And God says, if you live this way and save your life, you will
If you save your life, you will lose touch with the spiritual reality of God. You will save your life, but at great cost. You will become increasingly
detached from God. You might gain the whole world and you might gain a whole bunch of worldliness but at great cost. God says, because you did
not surrender, you will forfeit your soul.
Is an unsurrendered life really worth saving or holding onto? Is that life so fantastic that it is worth forfeiting your soul over?
Would you be okay if 5 years from now, you were the same person you are now? Still cynical, negative, clinging to your rights, judgmental, unsurrendered.
Remaining unsurrendered is not a static thing. Our hearts will harden the longer we are unsurrendered and we will gain more and more of the world and we will
become increasingly worldly. The world’s values will become our values and some will feel completely full. People like this can feel like they have
gained the whole world. But this saving of our lives comes at great cost.
The second trajectory is losing your life for me or for the sake of Jesus Christ. And the great paradox of Christian life is when you surrender and you lose your
life, you actually gain life as it was meant to be lived. And if you are on this path and you are following Jesus, you are going to be presented with
opportunities to love people.
And impossible things like loving our enemies become possible because we are dead to ourselves and the Holy Spirit who lives in us empowers us to love.
And even when we fail to love as Christ would love and we will, we return to the foot of the cross and surrender our lives over and over again and this pattern repeats itself on a daily basis. This is what a life of following Jesus looks like. “If anyone would come after me, he must DENY himself, TAKE UP
HIS CROSS DAILY and FOLLOW ME.”
And if you remain on this trajectory, 5 years from now, you will be changed. You will be the audience that Jesus refers to when he says he will reward you
according to what you have done – based on the kind of life of love you lived.
I think there is also a third trajectory – a person with an unsurrendered life who thinks he or she has already surrendered.
When P Don asked us at the retreat, the love of God needs to be received, do you get it, I had to admit that although I thought I got it, I didn’t get it. And this
topic of surrender falls under the same category. Do you get it? Do you get it that Christian life is impossible? Do you get it that we are
impossible sinners? Do you get it that our only option is to surrender? I think Christians would nod to all of those questions.
Yeah, we get it. But do you really get it?
I think it is quite possible to live a majority of our Christian lives unsurrendered at the core. And the sad part is that many are totally oblivious to this
fact. You often cannot tell by looking at external things. They attend church, they tithe, they love their families, they are respected at
work, they may even be involved in ministry. But these are not indications of a surrendered life.
Many people are just competent and they can handle many things. They have a large capacity and nothing in their life is too distressing. And we can live
our lives without surrender, without going to the cross, and managing our lives on our own strength and effort. And if we put boundaries on God of whom
we will love and not love then it is much easier to handle our lives on our own.
P Daniel shared from Luke 6 last Sunday and I think those verses challenge us to break down those boundaries of who we love and who we won’t love. Even
non-believers can love family members and friends and our bosses and those who love us back. Even pagans know that it is a smart thing to love certain
people because we might need them to scratch our backs later on. All of this is within human ability and there is no need to surrender and ask for
divine assistance. To love someone who fails to love us in return or who is ungrateful is hard enough, but to love an enemy is beyond our human
If the boundaries were truly removed and God asks us to love our enemies, then we would quickly realize our inability to love. And when that happens and we
lose hope in ourselves, that’s when surrender begins.
Finally, Jesus clearly demonstrated the kind of life he wanted us to live. He surrendered his life into the hands of his enemies. He did not retaliate
or cling to his rights. Out of his love, he literally took up his own cross to die for us. Though we should have died, he showed us mercy and he spared us from the punishment we deserved. And that act of surrender and literal death forever demolished any walls regarding how far we are expected to love. And this boundless love, this love without walls, this love for our enemies — this becomes the new standard upon which we should measure how loving we are. And if that is the standard, then we have no choice but to surrender. Christian life was meant to be lived out with God’s empowerment, not our human effort based on arbitrary standards regarding who we define as people we love and people we can safely ignore.
A life of love in this way is a life of constant losing. If you want to love in this way, you will be on the losing end for much of your life. You will
feel like you are losing your very life. But Jesus says, that when you lose your life for my sake, you will gain it in the end and I will return to reward you based on what you have done, based on how well we lived out a life of love.
Questions: Have you lost hope in yourself? Losing hope in yourself is the beginning of surrender. It’s when you get tired of yourself and you are willing to lose yourself that drives us to the foot of the cross. There, each of us can say, Lord Jesus, I need you. I want to follow you. Please lead my life because I can’t lead my life anymore.
2) Let’s pause and consider what life trajectory path we are on. What do you think your life will look like 5 years from now if you were to continue the way you
3) Will you respond today? It’s not about how good a message is, whether it is eloquent or it moves us emotionally, but is it true? Every time a message is preached and
truth is spoken, we must respond. God honors even a prayer that says, Lord, I want to surrender but I can’t. Help me get there, Lord.
So as you think about these questions, let’s spend a few minutes in personal prayer to pray through the message and I will
close in prayer.