Someone is always getting in the way of your success!

Pastor Jeff Struecker

We’re studying through the Book of John, and we’re in John chapter 3 today. If you are not born again, I’m going to give you a disclaimer (I almost never do this, but you need to hear what I’m going to say next). If you haven’t eternally settled your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, then just do yourself a favor. Go ahead and close this sermon, and go back and watch last week. 



Because in the last sermon, Jesus told us what it means to be born again. And everything that I say today is going to be confusing for you; it’s going to be frustrating for you. You’re not going to like what you hear today if you haven’t settled what we studied last week. So seriously, if you’re not yet born again, go ahead and close this sermon, and go back and watch last week’s sermon from John chapter 3, starting in verse 1.



But for those of you who are, today we’re going to start to talk about your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. And what I’m going to do is, I’m going to make a promise to you. I’m going to make a pretty audacious, a pretty bold promise to you today. And that promise is, if you will get what we talk about today straight, your life will become the success that you have always wanted it to be. 



Do I got your attention right now? Because if you don’t get this right, you’re going to be frustrated. If you don’t get this right, it’s going to be difficult for you.



You see, what I want you to understand from today’s sermon, if I were to just summarize this entire passage from the Bible for you, here’s what I would say to you: Someone is always getting in the way of your success. I want you to underline that word always, because they keep getting in the way of your success. 


Someone is always getting in the way of your success!



And I don’t even need to know you to know that this is true about you. I don’t even need to know who you are to know who that someone is. In fact, you probably already know who that someone is that keeps getting in the way and keeps making a mess and preventing you from having the successful life that you really want. Please tell me who that person is. It’s me. No, not me personally in your life. It’s you in your life and me in my life. You keep getting in the way of your own success.



Today what you’re going to see from the Bible, just very naturally from the Bible today in John chapter 3 is perhaps two people above everybody else on planet earth who figured out how to get out of their own way and how to have the life that God always wanted you to have, that he created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to have. 



Today describes Jesus and John the Baptist. But what I want you to do is look at this story from the Bible today, from the perspective of John the Baptist’s followers. And if you find yourself where these guys were, your life is going to be frustrating; your life’s going to be confusing. So here are a couple of simple things that you need to keep in mind if you are going to start getting out of the way and stop messing up this life that God created you and placed you on planet earth to have.



Stop fighting for control of your life



Step one is, it’s a control problem. When you fight for control of your own life, it becomes problematic. So step one is, stop fighting for control of your own life. Stop trying to call the shots, because you were never created, believe it or not, to call the shots in your own life. In John chapter 3, Jesus has this conversation with this religious leader named Nicodemus. He describes what it means (Jesus’s own words) to be born again. And then we pick up the conversation starting in verse 22, what happens immediately after Jesus and Nicodemus have this theological and life-transforming discussion. John chapter 3 starts in verse 22. Here’s what the Bible says:



John 3:22-37 After this, Jesus and his disciples went to the Judean countryside, where he spent time with them and baptized. 23 John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water there. People were coming and being baptized, 24 since John had not yet been thrown into prison. 25 Then a dispute arose between John’s disciples and a Jew about purification. 26 So they came to John and told him, “Rabbi, the one you testified about, and who was with you across the Jordan, is baptizing—and everyone is going to him.” 27 John responded, “No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven.



John’s followers do what’s only natural. They came to John, and they told him, “Rabbi, we’ve got a problem. Rabbi, the one you testified about, the guy that you pointed your finger to, and who was with you across the Jordan, is baptizing.” And here’s the problem: “And everyone is going to him.” Translation: “Leaving you, John, and going to listen to that other guy by the name of Jesus. John, what do you want us to do about this problem?” 



And John is describing what this looks like for us today, when people stop paying attention to you and start paying attention to the one that you’re paying attention to, when they stop looking to you and start listening to the Savior.



Now, again, I want you to do this for just a second. I want you to put yourself in the position of John’s disciples. These guys want to live the good life. Listen, do you want to live the good life? I want to live the good life. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to live the good life. That’s actually not a bad thing. The problem today is with our definition of the good life. What is the good life? And you see, this whole conversation is going down in John’s backyard. 



This would be different if we were having this conversation last week in Jerusalem, where the religious leaders are pretty much in charge. This would be different if we were going back to Jesus’s hometown of Nazareth and having this conversation. But right now, we’re in John’s territory. And John’s disciples come to him and say, “Hey John, we’ve got a problem, Man. People are leaving us, and they’re going to listen to Jesus. What do you want us to do about this problem?” Obviously these guys are fighting for control.



Now it becomes most apparent when it happens over baptism. I hope you know this already, but I’m just going to say it. Baptism is a big deal. It’s a really, really big deal in your Christian faith. Probably besides surrendering your soul to the Lord Jesus Christ, nothing else comes close except for baptism. And of course, these disciples are now going to start to fight for control, because people were coming to John to be baptized. But, they’re not coming to John anymore. Now they’re going to Jesus’s disciples to be baptized, and John’s disciples are struggling with this.



Check this out. This past week I was speaking to a group of church leaders in Chicago, and I asked them, “Would you guys be willing to step in and be a surrogate family for 2 Cities Church? -because there’s something really, really important that we need to do?” One of the first people ever to get connected with our church outside of our local area, who came to faith in Christ outside of our local area, was asking to be baptized. And this past week, I had the privilege of baptizing Elspeth Slocum. 

 

“Hey 2 Cities Church, I have been looking forward to this for a long time. Many of you don’t need introduction. This is Elspeth Slocum. She has been connected with our church for more than a year now. Many of you recognize her when she helped us with this global service that she did, and she was praying for our church from Chicago, Illinois. Elspeth has come to faith in Christ. Elspeth has been talking about being baptized. And today we get a chance to baptize the first person from our church who connected with us online. So Elspeth, I’m going to ask you two questions. They’re really easy questions, but this is part of what we do when we do baptism. The first question is, have you truly accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

(Elspeth) Yes.

And then the second question is, this act of baptism that we’re doing right now, is this your declaration to the world that you’re going to follow him for the rest of your life?

(Elspeth) Yes.

All right Everybody, we’re getting in the pool to go do this thing. Elspeth, based on your profession of faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, it’s my privilege to baptize you, my sister, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”


I can’t tell you what an honor it was to be part of that just on behalf of 2 Cities Church. You see, baptism is saying that somebody bigger and more important than me is now in control, and I want everybody in the world to know that somebody else is in control of my life. And that’s really what you see today from John chapter 3. There’s this glory tug-of-war. There is this tug of war for glory going on in John chapter 3. 



And I just want to ask you, is that tug of war going on in your life? Because you know that the more the rope moves in one direction, by necessity, it has to move the same amount in the other direction.



I kind of wonder sometimes if Christians are playing tug-of-war with God over control in your own life. What these disciples are saying is, “John, you need to step in. John, you need to do something. John, if you don’t stop what’s happening, everyone [That’s literally their language] is going to leave us, and they’re going to go follow Jesus.” And John’s answer is awesome. John says, “I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t do this, and I have no control over this. If everyone leaves me and goes and listens to Jesus (Jeff’s translation; not what John says), good! That’s why I’m here on planet earth.” 



And in your life, if you find yourself playing tug-of-war with God, I can already tell you who’s going to win. So, I want to ask you, are you struggling with anxiety? I mean, crippling anxiety right now? Because if so, maybe you’re fighting for control. Maybe you’re fighting to have ownership of something you were never meant to have ownership of. Are you struggling with doubt? Are you dealing with low self-esteem, and are you really wrestling with your value as a person? Because maybe what you’re trying to do is to make yourself feel good about who you are because of what you do.



Or the opposite end of the spectrum can be just as bad. Are you wrestling with perfectionism and you want people to applaud you and pat you on the back because of the good job that you did? Maybe that’s wrestling for control. For some people, it’s bullying others to get their way. And for other people, it’s self-hurt. They do it through addiction and through some kind of self-deprecating problems. All of these things are just indicators that, “I want to have control, and I don’t have control.” If you are going to wrestle for control, you’re going to be frustrated over and over again.



Get out of your own way 



John has no desire to control the outcome of his ministry. He’s left it all in Jesus’s hands. But I’m just going to shoot straight with you. It’s hard to turn over control, but it’s even harder to do this next one. It’s harder to get out of your own way and stop trying to call the shots in your own life. 



The way John responds here is amazing. And sometimes, if I’m honest, I have to look at John’s response and look at the way that I live and say, “Man, sometimes these two things don’t line up.” Look at what John says to his disciples when they say, “John, you’d better stop this. John, you’d better do something, because everybody’s leaving you, and they’re going to follow Jesus.” Here’s what he says next. 



John 3:28-29 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead of him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the groom. But the groom’s friend, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the groom’s voice. So this joy of mine is complete.



Let me explain wedding traditions in John’s day, because in John’s day, the best man had a really important job to do. He didn’t just throw an epic bachelor party and hang on to the rings to make sure that they weren’t lost in the wedding ceremony. No, typically the best man would go meet with the bride’s family, spend time with the bride’s family, and make sure that all of the wedding plans were being put into place so that when the groom showed up, this would be an epic ceremony. 



You see, in John’s day, oftentimes the groom wouldn’t roll in the door until right before the wedding ceremony. So listen to this for just a second. Ladies, if you’re the bride, you’re going to have all of your focus, all of your attention, not on the best man, but on the groom when he rolls in the door. If you’re the best man (Guys, listen for just a second), all you’re hoping is that, “I’m going to try to make sure that everything happens for the groom the way he wants it to happen when he shows up.”



And here’s what John is saying to his disciples today, “I’m not the groom; Jesus is. I’m just the best man, and I’m here to make sure that this wedding goes exactly the way the groom wants it to go.” And by the way, church of the Lord Jesus Christ, you are his bride. And John is saying, “I just want this to be an epic wedding ceremony. And in order for that to happen, I’ve got to get out of the way when the groom shows up, because all of the attention is supposed to be on the groom and not on the best man.” 



John is describing this for us today and showing us what it looks like to get out of the way. And to be honest, sometimes it’s hard for us to get out of the way. What John is really saying to us today, and I hope you hear from him, John is saying, “You know what the problem with this ministry challenge that you’re bringing to me is? The problem is not Jesus. The problem is John.” And in order for us to solve the problem, John has to get out of the way of his own ministry, and Jesus has to become the center of this ministry. 



And I hope that you’re thinking about your life tomorrow right now, thinking, I’ve got to figure out how to do what John did. Because here’s what John says: “My joy will be complete when John gets out of the way of John’s own life and makes room for Jesus to take over and to start to live the life that he was supposed to live through me from the very beginning.” That’s when I have completed what God placed me on planet earth to do. That’s when I have become the person that God wants me to be. That’s when my ministry has become what God has intended it to be.



I’m going to give you a chance tomorrow, when you wake up tomorrow, before you even get out of bed, before your feet hit the ground, will you just utter a simple prayer? Here’s the prayer:



“God, sometime today, people are going to talk to me about me. Maybe they’ll say something good; maybe they’ll say something bad. It doesn’t matter. God, when that moment happens today [And it’s going to happen for almost everybody every day], when somebody starts to talk to me about me, will you help me do what John did? Will you help me take the attention off of me and turn the conversation to Jesus? And if I can do that, I’ll consider this day a success. Instead of talking about me, instead of playing tug-of-war with you, God, for your glory, I’m going to turn the conversation to Jesus instead of to me.”



Now, let me jump forward. The third thing that I really need you to see from this passage today (and this is where the rubber meets the road) is, somebody keeps getting in the way of your own success, but the solution to this is, you let somebody else live your life through you. You let somebody else live your life instead of you. 



Let someone else live your life 



Now, I just want to ask you, who could possibly be trusted enough that they don’t give you advice on how to live; they actually make all of the decisions and call all of the shots in your life? Who could possibly be trusted to that level? Tell me.



Jesus.



Anybody else, to include you, will mess it up. I will mess it up. Anybody else that you listen to, anybody else that you’re looking to for advice, they’re going to mess it up from time to time. No one can possibly call the shots in your life better than Jesus can. So why don’t you just step out of the way and let someone else start to call the shots in your life?



This is John 3:30, my second favorite verse in the Bible. I’m not going to tell you what my first favorite verse in the Bible is because I sometimes use variations of this as passwords and I’m not going to tell you guys what that is. But number two, a close number two on my list is John 3:30. Here’s what John the Baptist says, and I think it is the perfect description of how you get out of the way and let somebody else live your life for you. John says:



John 3:30  He must increase, but I must decrease.



If Jesus is going to increase in my life (You can place your name here), then you must necessarily decrease. Now I’m going to mutilate an algebra formula. This algebra equation with the equal sign in the middle means that this is proportionate. Whatever happens on the left side of the equal sign, the opposite must happen on the right side of the equal sign.



HE > = ME <



In order for Jesus to become greater than… (Now we’re mixing and algebra symbols. I totally get it. You’re completely confused, but just stick with me), in order for Jesus to become greater than (left side of the equation symbol), Jeff has to become less than (right side of the equation symbol). In order for Jesus’s glory to grow in your life, your glory, my glory, is going to have to decrease. 


This week, I want you to make the decision that he is going to increase. And the only way that that can happen (we’re playing tug-of-war here), is for me to decrease, to give up the rope so that he has more rope, and I have less this week.



There was a moment (I still remember it vividly) many years ago. I was a relatively newly promoted sergeant in the Ranger Regiment. I was driving to work (I used to live in an apartment here in Columbus, Georgia), driving into Fort Benning, and I started to get more responsibility. I started to have a little bit more authority, and people started looking to me because I’m a sergeant and now considered a leader, though everybody in the Rangers is supposed to be a leader. 



People started looking to me for answers, and I started to get scared as a Christian about where this could take me. So there was a moment very early in the morning I was driving my car onto Fort Benning, getting ready to go to work. And I started to think, “God, I need your help here. And in order for me not to mess this up, in order for me to make sure that I don’t start to steal your glory [Here’s what I prayed], God, I need humility.”



And then I did something that I knew full well how dangerous this was when I was asking this of God. I could still tell you exactly where I was on I-185 when I asked this of the Lord: “God, if I cannot or will not be humbled personally, then I’m asking you to humble me. Whatever it takes, however painful it has to become, God, I want you to receive the glory. And in order for you to receive the glory, I have to somehow step out of the way and stop receiving attention and credit and respect and all of the things that go along with that. In order for you to be first in my life, I have to become a far distant second. And God, if I can’t pull that one off by the help of your Holy Spirit, then I want you to just radically do something in my life that will make it impossible for me to take credit for what’s happening in my life.”



From time to time on occasion, I have prayed that same prayer all over again. “God, will you help me be humble? And if I am not humble, if I’m not able to get there, then will you humble me, no matter how painful it becomes? Because I want to live like John. I don’t want to mess this up, God. I believe that you created human beings and put us on planet earth so that we would bring you glory. And the more people look to Jeff, the less they look to Jesus. And I want people to look to Jesus. So God, would you make them stop looking to Jeff and start looking to Jesus?” 



And for you this week, I’m going to ask you, would you make that same kind of commitment? Would you say, “God, whatever it takes this week, would you help me to decrease so that Jesus can increase?”



Here’s the essence of Christianity. It’s found in Galatians chapter 2. Christ has died for me. And because Christ died for me, the life that I now live is no longer my life to live. It belongs to the one who died for me and gave himself up for me. It is now his life to live through me. So God, help me get out of the way.



And I asked you at the beginning of this sermon, if you are not genuinely born again, you have no business listening to this today because the truth is, what I’m describing for you is absolutely impossible until you’ve already bowed your knee and surrendered your soul to the Lord Jesus Christ.