At Gateway Church in Austin, we began a series called #2016ChallengeAccepted.
Below is the message I shared at Gateway South:
Here are notes from the message:
It’s an interesting ritual we do every year—setting goals or new year’s resolutions. We all have a sense that we’re not yet who or how we should be, maybe life gets out of control—we need to take back our life, or some of us just want to stop driving ourselves into more debt, or lose a few pounds, get healthy relationships in our lives, get in physical shape. Gym memberships swell in Jan-March, all the patches and diets sell best first quarter, church attendance always peaks in January, then by April we’re all back to life as usual and nothing much has changed.
You know the definition of insanity right? “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” So clearly there’s something insane about the human race—because we do this over and over again so consistently. But this year we should ask:
“How can we do it differently?”
For most people if we’re honest, the reason we want to change is simply to “Do Better” at things we feel we should or ought to do. The motivation or fuel for change is “me” “prove myself” – to prove myself to you, to others, to make myself more loveable or acceptable—out of this motivation, I set goals to #lose 10 #debtfree #quit the addiction.Whatever the goal, whether seemingly small, like lose 10lbs or seemingly huge like “Quit Meth,” when we are the foundation and motivation for life change, it doesn’t seem to last or work. Why? Because we got here by trying to feel better, so trying to feel better for ourselves probably will produce the same results.
There’s another approach that people who are desperate for change have employed with a lot of success when they stick to it. It’s the foundation of the recovery movement—when life change is not optional, “do or die”—how have people found they have to go at it? Not with self or self improvement as the foundation—just the opposite. In fact as AA puts it like this:
“Selfishness—self-centeredness: that, we think, is the root of our troubles [and to get better]…First, we had to quit playing God.”
God created us for relationship with himself first, then with each other—disconnection from God is like getting disconnected from the very Source of Life. Which is why we all struggle year to year knowing something’s out of whack, we set goals to do better, yet things stay out of whack. What the recovery movement realized is that lasting change only comes with a new foundation.
See there’s really only one capital “S” Sin. All the other little-s sins, like stealing, adultery, lying, cheating, abusing our bodies, out of control eating, trying to control others are just symptoms of this Big-S sin disease. The one Big-S sin is that we’ve FIRED GOD. We’ve fired the rightful CEO of life and we have taken control of the operations ourselves. That’s the root problem. We put ourselves at the center of our lives or other people’s lives, a place reserved for God alone. We all do this—no exceptions. We all seek “my will be done” more than God’s will.
Most people know of the 10 commandments, but most people don’t know what they say. The first one is exactly what people in recovery realized. It says basically “Don’t put anything at the center of your life—not you, your parents approval, a relationship, not goals–don’t worship anything other than God.” Yet if the truth be known, even professing Christians have a hard time with this one—we keep on Firing God and trying to make life work on our own terms—then we get mad at God when He doesn’t cooperate with our program.
If we’re going to see lasting change—whether with fit goals, eating goals, debt goals, or more serious addictions or compulsions—we need a new foundation called “Enjoying God”.
That may sound strange to you, even if you’ve followed Christ, but that’s exactly what’s missing from the foundation of life that drives us into so many things we’d like to change.
The reason the steps work is because they lead people to a spiritual experience of God. At the root, they are simply spiritual practices that allow the God who loves us to live his life in and through us. Listen to how the founders of the 12 steps describe it:
“The great fact is just this, and nothing less: That we have had deep and effective spiritual experiences which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward life…. The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves.”
When you put God central, and start to enjoy life with God–to live the life God intended you to live—full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, truthfulness, and self-control—which is what the Holy Spirit brings. It doesn’t matter what your goal—when we start to enjoy a relationship with God—we find things changing from the inside out. We find a new strength, a new motivation, a new power to do what we could never seem to do, year after year, trying harder on our own.
The lack of enjoyment of Life with God is what drives us into so many destructive patterns or keeps us stuck.
Do you know some of the greatest Christian theologians centuries past said this. Irenaeus, who was the spiritual grandson of John — Jesus’ youngest disciple — said it this way “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
Fully alive! It doesn’t matter if your 2016 goal is get healthy, be kind, or stop using crack—when we start to enjoy a relationship with God—we come alive—we find things changing from the inside out.
The protestant reformers after studying the scriptures declared that the main goal of humanity is “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
When all our goals are built on this foundation—of learning how good God is, how much He’s crazy in love with us, and how he wants to help us come alive as we enjoy life with Him—and when our goals are founded on right relatedness with God, going after goals with Him glorifies Him. Doing goals with God honors Him and brings a smile to his face.
There’s a second foundation for lasting change, it’s also relational. Again, those desperate for change found this out. All recovery is based on relational Group support. Ever noticed that—no one who has ever had significant, lasting lifechange would say “Lone Ranger-it” – prove you can do it alone! Never! We become our best selves in close relationship with others who are supporting our growth. In recovery, when the goal is breaking addictive patterns, 90 meetings in 90 days is the prescription for change. That’s a meeting a day—surrounding yourself with others equally serious about the same goal.
Get these two in place—A Spiritual Goal of learning to Enjoy God, and a Relational Goal of finding a supportive group—then you have a much higher chance of lasting change—for #Debt Goals, #FitGoals, QuitGoals, or whatever goals you have.
This makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Jesus said that loving God is the first and most important commandment, but the 2nd is like it “Love your neighbor” as much as you do yourself, and all the other commandments of God will be covered if you truly do these two. So when we don’t love God first, and when we get relationally isolated or unhealthy—it throws off everything else. Which is exactly why the 12 Steps are all about first getting right with God, then cleaning out your relational closets where broken relationship needs mending—because so many of our bad habits and addictions are driven out of messed up relationship with God and people.
To Enjoy God, You have to KNOW God, and you have TRUST God.
Know and Trust. Pretty simple, but it takes a lifetime to fully arrive—right? Like any relationship—you have to know and trust the person to enjoy them—and if you’ve been married long enough, you realize you never fully know or trust (or entrust yourself) as much as is possible. None of us fully know, or fully trust (or entrust ourselves) to God either—which is why we don’t yet Fully Enjoy life with Him as He intended.
The foundation of Enjoying God is Knowing God. If you don’t know God, you can’t love or enjoy God, and you won’t trust him. So how do you know God? Well, you can’t, unless God reveals himself. If you study the claims of the founders of the World’s Religions, many teach great moral laws, moral truths, very similar in that respect…but none claim to reveal God’s character in human form except one—Jesus.
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.
Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of 1000s of years of God telling in advance what He would do to reveal himself in a form we could relate to—so we could know Him. We’re a church that welcomes people who might not know what they believe about God or Jesus. We’re not afraid of doubts or questions because the truth has nothing to fear. So many people who have been skeptical, yet open minded, have discovered great reasons to convince them God really did reveal himself in the person of Jesus. I’m not going into all the evidence that has convinced many skeptics—but it’s out there at Gatewaychurch.com/foundations if you’re open minded. But if only one person has claimed such things, and somehow changed billions of lives, not by force, but by love—He at least deserves the an investment of time to make a decision based on knowledge, not ignorance. So if you don’t know what you believe—will you make a goal to learn in 2016?
Something else Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples [followers]. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32
Jesus said, If you hold to my teachings—the word is literally “abide or soak”—soak your minds in what I say about God and about life—the result is a newfound freedom! A freedom that helps us enjoy God, and set goals that help us feel free and fully alive—and that’s the point of all our New Years goals, right!? If you don’t believe Jesus revealed God, do you believe that after reading what he did and taught, or based on ignorance and hearsay and the History Channel (which have you figured out is not actually about history, but ratings?).
Here’s the sad reality, most Christians have never taken the time to even read, much less really soak their minds, in the New Testament—what Jesus taught. Yet that’s how we truly get to know God’s heart and character so we trust and enjoy God and come alive. So here’s a challenge I want to give every Christ Follower in 2016 (and every skeptic too), let’s get in the daily habit of reading the New Testament until we’ve read the whole thing (even if you’ve done this before—soak your mind in it with the goal of knowing and enjoying God in 2016). Let’s do it together in 2016!
If the Scriptures are God’s love letter to us, how many of us have left the love letter intended for us unopened?
If we take the first 5-15 minutes of our day to read and reflect and learn to enjoy God—it’s the foundation for the freedom to accomplish other worthwhile goals.
Here’s why—because you won’t Trust God if you don’t Know God, and if you don’t trust God, you’ll never Enjoy God or experience his power to help you with other goals. For instance—many of us, including long-time Christ-followers, don’t think God actually cares about little things like our New Year’s goals—that’s because we don’t know God fully yet. Peter, who walked and talked with Jesus, says “Cast all your anxiety [cares] on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 It doesn’t say “Cast your big, significant cares like addictions or financial fears cause He cares for those, but he doesn’t care about your stupid fitgoals or relationshipgoals.” God is big enough to care about everything—nothing’s too small, nothing’s too big. And He wants you to learn to trust Him in everything, and trust that he wants us fully alive, full of love, joy, peace, patience kindness, self control.
In Jesus most famous message—Sermon on the Mount—we get to know how much God cares, and how to trust Him with all these other goals, big and small.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?… See how the flowers of the field grow…not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
If you know God, you realize God cares about our big goals like financial provision, life, but he doesn’t want us to worry, but trust. And he cares about the little goals, like clothes and looking nice and being healthy, he cares about our relational goals, our debt goals, all of it—but it only comes together when we trust Him first. That’s what Jesus goes on to say:
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:26-33
Seek first—not our financial goals, fit goals, relational goals…because self at the center corrupts the purpose and motivation that we need to power all our goals…but when you seek First God—his will and his ways—all these other things fall into place. If they’re good for you goals, he helps you where you couldn’t help yourself. As we go after these goals with God and with a few others—a support group—we change, we come alive.