Becoming Intentional (The Dirty Truth Part Three)
This month at Gateway in Austin, we are walking through a process to become who we are created to be in a series called: “The Dirty Truth.”
Join us at 10am on Wednesday for a follow up conversation on this topic at http://live.gatewaychurch.com.
Below you will find the following:
- the message I shared at the McNeil campus
- an overview of becoming who we were created to be
- the steps needed to become intentional and overcome temptations
During this series, we are looking at how developing four particular skills can help us to become a fruitful person. These skills are derived from what Jesus shared in the parable of the soils. Today, we are looking at developing the skill of intentionality.
Over the last two weeks we looked at developing the skill of receptivity – the ability to hear God’s voice and discover our calling and developing the skill of tenacity – the ability to endure no matter what trial may come our way.
Here’s the dirty truth.God works in our lives and even helps us trust Him, but there are things we must do to really grow. We are going to have to get our hands dirty. With His help, we have to work hard to overcome silence, trials, temptations, and rebellion.
According to Jesus, we were created with unlimited potential in the area of spiritual influence as part of His New Kingdom. Our fears, weaknesses, past mistakes, regrets, background, and the trials we face do not have to keep us from being fruitful – being transformed and transforming others in dramatic ways.
Which of the soils best describes you? (The words emboldened)
Hardened –> Vulnerable Receptive (Overcoming Silence)
Shallow —-> Deep Tenacious (Overcoming Trials)
Thorny —-> Clear Intentional (Overcoming Temptations)
Desolate —> Fruitful Proactive (Overcoming Rebellion)
We can discover our God-given destiny by developing 4 skills. Becoming who we were created to be means we need to become receptive, tenacious, intentional, and proactive.
Let’s take a look again at the verses dealing with the 3rd soil in Matthew 13.
7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants…. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful
Do you find yourself at times feeling overwhelmed with life? Feeling choked by the thorns and distractions around you? Are you derailed by anxiety or the pursuit of wealth? Do you get distracted while pursuing good things? As Rick Shurtz, our Grow Pastor says: “Sometimes we can turn what God intended as a gift to us into our gods.” You meant well at first, but providing for your family has now taken you away from your family?
Or maybe you keep going back to the same struggles over and over? Maybe you are battling a generational sin or addiction that keeps you from making progress?
Maybe you don’t even see how the choices you continue to make have been keeping you from God’s better future for your life.
We talked about God’s thoughts in week one. We can tell when God whispers to us. The thoughts we have that are from God are the thoughts which
- compel us towards selflessness
- they require courage to pull them off
- they are consistent with God’s character.
Unfortunately, we aren’t as familiar with God’s voice. Instead, we are quite familiar with thoughts that come from a dark place. As a result of the brokenness and pain in our lives and in this world, we find ourselves believing lies about ourselves, about others, and about our future. Unaware of the spiritual battle we face, there are other voices and forces opposing our progress.
What lies shape your life? What limitations have you imposed on your future based on negative input from others? What struggles have been passed down to you from your family tree?
What keeps you from trusting God and following His path for your life?
The third soil describes ground filled with thorns such as worries and the pursuit of wealth. When we develop intentionality, we can overcome the temptations that distract us. We can move from being distracted towards experiencing clarity in our lives. Consumerism, depression, discontent, and a pursuit of pleasure at all costs derail followers of Christ. When we simplify our lives and focus, we thrive in spite of the distractions around us.
Some of us are committed to so many things, we aren’t really committed to anything. We have so many responsibilities at work and at home we don’t take of either well. We are in and out of relationships, in and out of jobs, in and out of churches.
So how can do this? How do we simplify? Is it even possible to clear out a path and make progress?!
The answer quite simply is yes, but it takes effort and intentionality. How do we overcome temptations? Become intentional!
Let me give you an example.
Paul traveled all across the Middle East and what is now Europe reaching out to people and starting churches. He traveled with others. Want to be mentored by Paul, you better pack and be ready to learn while you are “on the go.” As a real gift from God, we have letters this highly effective entrepreneur wrote to his closest companions. You and I can be mentored by Paul reading and applying what we learn from his letters.
Often when one of those he was mentoring was ready, he would leave them in a city with the task of carrying on their work without Paul. In one situation, Paul left Titus in Crete. Titus’ goal was described in Titus 1:5
“The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appointelders in every town, as I directed you.”
Paul goes on to describe elders as spiritual overseers who have integrity, they aren’t corrupt or given to stealing or drunkenness. Instead, they are slow to anger, demonstrate self-control, trustworthy, hospitable. They are faithful to their spouse and they know and live out the truths found in the Scriptures.
Paul points out to Titus that he realizes what a difficult task this is because there weren’t a lot of people in Crete that matched that description. In fact, Paul says in Titus 1:12-13a:
One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”This saying is true.
Even to this day, to refer to someone as a Cretan is not a compliment.
Sounds like a tall task! Titus, I want you to turn Cretans, people who are always liars, evil brutes, and gluttons into spiritual overseers. Titus’ goal was to create a community in which evil people became overseers, a community where unlikeable people became world class leaders.
We see it right here in Scripture: People are invited to come as they are, but they don’t have to stay that way!
So then, what is the process Titus used and Paul used to help people become intentional and make progress in changing their character? They were going to into all sorts of crazy places with very broken people who had no Christian background and even no understanding of a loving and just God.
A pattern emerges throughout Paul’s letters that Titus employed and we can implement. It’s a process right there in the Scriptures that has been passed down from generation to generation. My life was completely transformed by applying these principles to my life.
So, here’s the quick overview.
Take off the old: Put on the new:
Take every thought captive. Renew your mind.
Eliminate bad habits. Start good habits.
So, let’s walk through this step by step.
Over and over, Paul writes to church after church in city after city something very different than what those of us who grew up going to church might have heard.
I grew up in church hearing all about what we needed to stop doing. I saw Christianity as a giant “Don’t Do List.” The problem is I never understood why we should avoid these behaviors. What I didn’t hear was that this was a list of things which hurt us and brought pain into our lives and the lives of others. For the longest time, I never realized God was offering a better alternative. God’s message to us is “Come As You Are, and You Don’t Have to Stay That Way!”
There is so much hope and beauty in that!
To the Ephesians, Paul wrote:
22 …put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Or to the Colossians, Paul wrote:
“you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
When we choose to follow Christ, let Him lead us, and we follow His ways, we do not have to live the same way anymore!!
Let’s get real practical for a moment, consider an area of your life in which you struggle. Maybe you find yourself making the same new year’s resolution year after year. Do you have an issue in your mind? Not sure? Then ask the person next to you: “What is my issue?” If they know you, they probably know!
Let’s run through a few examples of taking off the old to put on the new.
Maybe your issue is greed? Instead of never being satisfied and demanding more from others, we can become generous.
Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
Do you see the progression? Stop taking from others. Instead work so you can not only care for yourself but so that you can care for others.
Or maybe your issue is pride. Pride reveals itself when we think too highly of ourselves but also when we think too lowly about ourselves. In either case, we are thinking about ourselves!
The Scriptures tell us we can replace pride with humility, a commitment to help and serve others.
1 Peter 5:5-6
5 In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
Are you really the best expert in your life, or are you willing to humble yourself and learn from others who have gotten to where you want to be?
Are you your own spiritual authority, or are you willing to humble yourself to allow others to mentor you?
Is your dream more important than the dreams and vision God has given others, or are you willing to humble yourself and help others succeed whether or not you ever receive any of the credit?
Our culture breeds skepticism. Our past breeds cynicism. As a result, we often reject the very people God has brought to help us. To someone who didn’t trust the Church or those in spiritual leadership, I once heard a wise man say: “You cannot say you love Jesus and hate His Bride.”
Pride limits who we listen to and from whom we are willing to learn. When we live with humility, we have access to so much more wisdom!
Any of you like summer blockbuster movies? Anyone see the new Star Trek? I don’t want to give anything away, but Captain Kirk is in it. At one point, his superior the man who recruited him to service gets really upset with him and shouts at him:
“you don’t deserve the chair because you don’t respect the chair.”
In other words, why should you be given more authority and entrusted with the lives of others when you don’t trust the authorities in your life?
Some of us aren’t moving forward in becoming who God wants us to be because we struggle with greed or pride or some other issue. Maybe your struggle with lust, anxiety, anger, foolishness, lack of self-control or some other struggle is why you are stuck and have stopped making progress. Here’s the great news: there is a pathway out!
Whatever you struggle you came up with as your issue: look it up in the Bible AND look up the antidote. Focus on “putting on the new.” That’s how we take off the old!
If you want more resources on how to develop your character, I highly recommend a book and a series by Erwin McManus called Uprising: A Revolution of the Soul.
So, we need to take off the old and put on the new. To do that, we need to take every thought captive and renew our mind.
Take every thought captive. Renew your mind.
To a group of people really struggling to overcome temptations, the Corinthians, Paul encourages them that the battle to change begins in the mind. He writes in 2 Corinthians 10:5:
2 Corinthians 10:5
“we take captive every thought”
Every thought that comes into our mind that distracts us or takes us down the wrong path needs to be taken captive.
A newer translation of the Bible called The Voice reads like this: “We are taking prisoners of every thought, every emotion….”
So often how we feel determines how we act. Instead, our actions can precede our emotions. No matter how emotionally-driven you are, you’ve seen this work. We wake up and don’t feel like working out. We do it anyway, and we feel so much better, and we’re even glad that we did.
If you struggle with letting your emotions control you, come up with a plan of what you know you should be doing and get others to keep you accountable to help you in that. Then do what you know you should do, no matter how you feel about it later.
For others of us, it’s our thoughts rather than our emotions that lead us astray. We come to closure too soon on an issue or we judge others unfairly.
Our thoughts and emotions can lead us down the wrong path!
Here’s a quick couple of examples of how taking our thoughts captive and renewing our mind works.
In 2009, I was completing my doctorate. I was spending so much time writing my dissertation that I wasn’t exercising. Throughout the day I would snack as I sat at my computer. As a result I was gaining weight. I was about 15 pounds heavier than I usually was in those days. That doesn’t sound like much, but I had a very weak back, so I was experiencing a lot of back pain and my back would go out from time to time. As a result, I was less productive and struggling to complete my dream and something I felt God was calling me to do – complete my doctorate.
I remember telling Debbie that if I didn’t lose weight, I was afraid my back would go out way worse than it ever had. I feared I might even have to have surgery to repair the herniated disk which felt like was getting weaker and weaker.
I knew I needed to eat healthier. I knew I needed to lose weight, but I kept telling myself I was too busy. I would get to that later.
The mind is a powerful force. I remember thinking to myself. “Don’t eat more food! Don’t eat more food!” Unfortunately, the last words in my mind were: “more food.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about food!
On December 31, 2009, my back went out for good. I woke up with a pain going down my leg that was so intense that I barely remained conscious. I was experiencing sciatica – a pain that crippled me for 5 weeks before I finally got the approval from my health insurance to have back surgery. I was then out recovering for another 5 weeks. Even to this day, I still have nerve damage in my leg and foot that is slowly healing.
I ended up having back surgery because I couldn’t stop eating. I chose not to do the things I knew I should be doing because I kept thinking about what I should stop doing instead of replacing those thoughts with more productive and positive thoughts.
Now, when I think: “I’ve already eaten too much today, what’s a little more?” or “I will start eating healthy tomorrow” or even ”Don’t eat more food.” I stop myself and take those thoughts captive. Instead I renew my mind. I replace unproductive and even destructive thoughts with new thoughts. I quote a verse from the Bible and i pray. I thank God that my back is better and I ask Him to help me make wise choices.
I then replace bad habits with good ones. Instead of eating or snacking more, I get a glass of water or piece of gum or a healthy snack (I’ve removed peanut M&Ms from my office).
We can take our thoughts and emotions captive and instead renew our mind!
Another common struggle for me remains anxiety. I find I do really well in the midst of real crisis, but I tend to struggle more over perceived crisis. When something really goes wrong, I often know the best moves to make, but when I am afraid of things going wrong I am unproductive and can become a wreck! Anyone relate to that?
Same thing happens here: in my mind I think: “Don’t worry. Don’t worry.” And in the end the last thing in my mind is “Worry. Worry.” Now all of a sudden, I am worrying about worrying!
Once again, the Bible has a path out that includes taking our thoughts captive and renewing our mind.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
When you find yourself stuck worrying and fighting anxiety and fear, stop. Start praying by thanking God. Notice it doesn’t just say “present your petitions to God.” Paul knew we could get caught just praying very anxious prayers. Rather than our time in prayer just being all about what we need or what we want, we need to take the time to acknowledge all He has already done for us!
Consider your thoughts: are they taking you in a positive direction or into a negative one? If negative, then take that thought captive and renew your mind by going down a different path.
Measure your thoughts by the words Paul uses.
Are your thoughts Pure, Praiseworthy, Lovely, Admirable, Noble, True, Excellent, or Right? If not, then you are going the wrong direction.
See what I did there? A little acronym that helps me measure my thoughts. It spells Planter with two Ps. It’s the best I could do!
Like a planter, our mind reaps what we sow. If you sow dark thoughts you will reap dark actions. If you sow God-honoring thoughts, your actions will follow.
Sometimes we cannot get scary or anxious thoughts out our heads because we won’t stop putting them in there!
Eliminate bad habits. Start good habits.
We need to connect cause and effect. When we dive into the deep end of the pool of darkness, we are going to get wet.
Go backwards. Figure out the triggers that lead to the behavior you want to overcome and eliminate those.
It may be something as simple as driving a new route to work to avoid the store where you buy cigarettes or going to bed at 10pm so you avoid going online to places you don’t want to go.
In Los Angeles, a young friend of mine struggled with connecting with others and even depression. One day I was checking on how he was doing, and he said: “I don’t feel connected at our church?”
So I asked him: “When is the last time you came on a Sunday?” His response: “6 weeks”
I tried to help him see that his choice to stay away was one of the reasons why he felt disconnected. Sundays are more than just a message and music. He could listen to music on the radio and the message online. I encouraged him that the Bible encourages us not to give up meeting together but to meet up regularly so we can connect with God AND connect with others.
When we come late and leave early we are missing opportunities to connect with God and connect with others, but if we come early, get loud, and stay late we maximize our opportunities!
Some of us haven’t developed the disciplines of connecting with God and others throughout the week yet, so that makes coming on Sunday regularly critical. Next step is connecting with God and others during the week at least one other time.
Some of us spend time listening to messages, singing to God in our cars, and reading the Bible every day, so Sunday mornings may seem less necessary. If that is you, we need you here to connect with those who are coming and for them this hour in the week is the only time they connect with God or with people the entire week!
We realize that in our church there are people in different phases of community. That is why the inspire service is designed to move you forward in your spiritual journey whether you’ve walked with God for decades or you still aren’t sure what you believe about God. All of us can take a next step.
So how could Titus help transform someone from evil to elder? In another letter, Paul gives us a clue as he describes the role of spiritual leaders, those considered apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Paul challenged the Ephesian leaders in Ephesians 4:12-13
“to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Serving leads to maturity. When we fail to serve, we hijack from ourselves an opportunity to grow.
We need to serve more than others need our help.
If you need help figuring out where to serve or even how to serve, we are here to help you find your place to serve.
When we lose our lives in serving, that is how we find our lives.
Set goals to start new habits: connecting with God and others every Sunday, connecting with God and others every Sunday and one other night a week (a network, a small group, or Restore), connecting with God and others every day of the week (reading the Bible), start serving.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION:
What if I keep messing up?
Messing up does not have to mean giving up!
Get right back up and start over. The more we succeed, the more confident we will become.
Remember: it is not a sin to be tempted. Just because a thought comes crashing into your mind does not mean you have to act on it. Just having the thought can derail us or discourage us unless we put these principles into practice. Take every thought captive and renew our mind.
Jesus can relate to us. He knows your pain and struggle.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
The same power that helped Him say “no” is within us.
2 Peter 1:3 (The Voice)
His divine power has given us everything we need to experience life and to reflect God’s true nature through the knowledge of the One who called us by His glory and virtue.
From the moment we are born spiritually, we have everything we need to be spiritually mature. We see this in babies. Healthy babies have 10 fingers and ten toes and 2 arms and 2 legs.
I don’t know if babies would be as cute if they came out with just a head at birth and then a few months later a torso popped out followed later by legs and arms and then finally fingers and toes.
No, we are born with everything we need to be a fully mature adult. We are just smaller and needing time to mature.
We have everything we need to become who we were created to be! In Ephesians 1:19-20, Paul even goes on to say that we have access to the same power which rose Christ from the dead!
We need to rely on God’s help and the encouragement of others, but we can do this! We don’t have to stay this way!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION:
What if I struggle with motivation?
Struggle to get started? Choose to move forward for others and with help from others. I think of my uncle who quit smoking the day his first child was born. Couldn’t quit on his own, but he could quit for his son.
If you aren’t willing to take care of yourself now, then you won’t be able to take care of others later.
Let your motivation come from a deeply spiritual place – out of gratitude to God.
Let’s look again at the letter from Paul to Titus. To help Titus enable the Cretans to become more intentional and less distracted by their destructive habits and pursuits, Paul writes these words:
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for … our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
“grace helps us say ‘no’ to ungodliness”
We are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9).
We need to live by grace through faith (Col. 2:6-7).
God’s part in becoming who we were created to be is his grace – the love He lavishes on us even though we don’t deserve it.
Our part (and He helps us even with this) – gratitude compels us. We need to be thankful for what we have and not mad about what we don’t have.
When we are compelled by gratitude to become the best version of ourselves, we experience something we deeply long for.
This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.
Some of you are at a crossroads. You are tired of going in circles and ending up nowhere. Stop trying in your own power.
Surrender all of your past, present, future, all of your shame, pain, regrets, accomplishments, passions, dreams to Jesus and let Him help you become who you deeply long to become.
You cannot do this on your own. We become the best version of ourselves in the midst of community and support. Networks, life groups, Restore, serving with KidsQuest, Guest Services, and so on are just a few of the options here at Gateway.
· Live.gatewaychurch.com for Q&A after service & on Coffee Talk (Wed. at 10am)
· “A Process to Create a Better Future Today” at www.ericbryant.org
· StrengthsFinder Workshop 6/23 at 2pm
· Find a place to serve.
Are you willing to ask God for help, forgiveness, and guidance on how to move forward no matter what you may be facing?
How does God want you to “take off the old” so you can “put on the new”?
From what does He want to free you?