“The Unmanageable Life: Fearless and Vulnerable”

At Gateway Church in Austin, we concluded our series called The Unmanageable Life.

When taking an inventory of our life’s realities, we must dig into the past to create a path forward. Getting honest with the impact we’ve had on others and the impact others have had on us is key to opening the door for God to take charge of our lives. How can we learn to trust and follow God as He helps us confront and overcome the brokenness of our past?

Next Steps:

Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

“The Unmanageable Life: Fearless and Vulnerable” Next Steps

Message Video:

Message Notes:

So we are in the midst of a series called the Unmanageable Life. 

  • Have you found life to be unmanageable? 
  • Have you found yourself feeling like you are on edge?
  • More irritable?
  • More depressed?
  • More checked out?

This pandemic, our divisive election year, and our racial reckoning as a nation have all stirred up so much in all of us.

And for those of us with kids, maybe you can see the impact on their lives as well. We are going through something unprecedented, and we need to lean into our faith and community more than ever.

I have shared before about my struggle with having a short temper which I discovered as I was working the 12 steps with others here at Gateway that behind that anger is actually anxiety. I have been making so much progress for so long, but I have found some cracks from all this external pressure.

I come from a family that has had struggles in the past with addiction. I have an addictive personality as well so I have had to be intentional about the choices I make.

There is a struggle that I had for years that I did not realize was truly a struggle until I gave it up.

It’s the Cell Phone.

It started with Nokia in the late 1990s. To have the phone accessible at any time was a game changer!  And it had this game called Snake which is way more fun that it may look!

But my addiction became more full blown with the Blackberry in the early 2000s which had a keyboard. I became a working machine now that I could text or email anytime and anywhere. This would be great if I didn’t have a wife and little kids who didn’t want me to work when I was at home.

I failed to see this as an addiction. My wife and kids were always asking me to get off of my phone, but I always thought it wouldn’t take long or it wasn’t that distracted. It all came to a had when my wife confessed: “If being a pastor means you are working 24/7 then I don’t want to be married to a pastor anymore.” This got my attention. My wife wanted me to change my behavior or change my job.

Before stepping out of ministry, she agreed to give me a year to make the changes necessary to be more present. We went to counseling and began to communicate better. The crisis was averted.

And then Steve Jobs invented the iPhone.

My kids were older, and it was still a struggle from time to time. It’s so hard! I mean we have access to the world in the palm of our hands! Did you know that your smartphone is millions of times more powerful than the Apollo 11 guidance computers?! 

And they are addictive! From an article from Psychology Today:

“Your phone triggers happy chemicals… by bringing good news and social support. That turns on your dopamine or oxytocin…. Now, the thought of your phone activates a pathway that flows to your happy chemicals. But the dopamine and oxytocin are soon metabolized and you have to do more to get more.”

One final more ominous sentence: “Our brain is not designed to release good feelings all the time for no reason.” And this can be even more problematic for our children whose brains are still developing.

So a couple of years ago, I had a chance to take a sabbatical which is a real gift from Gateway. Instead of the external motivation of my wife and kids trying to get me to take a break from my cell phone, I knew I needed to get a handle on this, so I decided to go offline for 6 weeks. I was pretending it was 1992 – no texting, no cell phone, no emails, no internet. Before the summer I had printed out maps so I could drive around with paper maps on my trip to Wisconsin and to Washington D.C..  That was tough and probably more dangerous than driving around looking at a map on my phone!

I also decided to only watch television when my wife wanted to watch – which I discovered is not very often.

When I first went offline, it was really difficult. I kept feeling like something was missing. Everywhere I went, I seemed to be the only person not looking at his or her phone – at the mall, at the store, at the airport, or even at restaurants. Even more disturbing, I found myself having really dark thoughts – thoughts which scared me.

I soon realized that unintentionally, the phone had become a distraction from my internal world, from genuine reflection and even from God. 

During that first week off from the phone, I also cheated once each day just to check my email. I rarely have an inbox at zero, and it was so satisfying to just go into my inbox and delete all the emails I had received that day or quickly respond to those that needed a response.

I thought I was getting away with it until I found an email in my inbox with all caps: “STOP READING YOUR EMAIL”. It was sent by Sulinda (our Children’s Director at Gateway in South Austin.) She threatened to change my password to my email address!

Honestly, my first response was anger. She can’t do that! But then after working through the steps, I quickly switched to grateful. What a gift that she would remind me to take advantage of this opportunity. I needed that tough love!

So after a week of adjusting to life without a cell phone and relearning how to connect with God and think without distraction, you know what I discovered going offline and watching less TV?

  • Peace – Without touching the phone, I could pray. I could think. I could observe. I could reflect.
  • Productivity – I read 21 books in the Bible, and I read 7 books I had on my reading list. I replaced our window AC unit. I went to physical therapy after injuring my back replacing the window AC unit.  I registered both our cars, renewed our passports, got one of our teenagers registered for college and the other one her drivers license, took two family vacations, went to the dentist, and I started learning a foreign language – ASL.
  • Rest – We just slowed down and enjoyed each other.

One of my big takeaways from that season was adding to our lives a weekly Sabbath. One day a week to be together and offline. For us it will be Saturdays. For you it could become Sundays – where you come to Gateway expecting God to speak to you and expecting God to use you to make a difference in the life of someone (which is often how God speaks to us).

What do you go to when stressed?

What is your vice you go to to feel better?

By not dealing with our addictions and bad habits, we are actually only delaying the inevitable work of healing that needs to be done.

So in this series, we are sharing very practical ways to find healing and even become someone who brings healing to others.

It’s important to note: the 12 steps are spiritual disciplines that come right from the Scriptures. They are not only helpful for people trying to overcome addictions with alcohol or drugs, but they help all of us overcome wounds from our past and habits we cannot seem to overcome. 

We’ve had people go through Recovery here at Gateway who working to overcome anxiety, anger, overeating, pornography, and so many other issues that keep us from becoming who we want to be and who God created us to be. We have seen so many people helped by this, we are doing a couple of series this fall to help all of us find freedom from the Unmanageable Life so we can have a Restored Life instead.

Today we are looking at the two steps that tend to be what trips people up the most. In fact, most get to Step 4 and quit. Others make it through Step 4 only to quit before Step 5.

Steps 4-5 are about making peace with ourselves and God. It is in these steps that we learn the importance of the spiritual discipline of confession, what it is and how to exercise it in a safe and healthy way.

Making Peace with God

Just a quick review, Steps 1-3 are about making peace with God.

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over (name your issue) and that our lives had become unmanageable.
Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.If you missed last week’s message, be sure and listen to it this week.

If you have missed any of the previous messages, you can watch them or read the notes here:

“The Unmanageable Life” by John Burke

“The Unmanageable Life: Waking Up” by Kenny Green

“The Unmanageable Life: Letting Go” by John Burke

Making Peace with Ourselves

So now Steps 4-5.

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

See why do so many people give up during this?

  • Making an inventory and Confession are not things we typically want to do.
  • We don’t like to search, to be fearless, or admit anything to anyone!

Yet they are so critical to genuine transformation!!

So let’s look at these in more depth and consider the biblical origins for these ideas.

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.

Taking inventory is being committed to self awareness and personal responsibility.

When making a moral inventory of our lives we must go back to go forward, however, our motive for going back is very important. We are not going back to place blame or simply to stir things up again. Our goal is to honestly acknowledge the impact our actions have had on others as well as to acknowledge how the actions of others have impacted us. We cannot go back and change what we have done nor can we control what’s been done to us but we can choose what we are going to do with it now. We tried to deal with things our way and that’s led us to our current place. We are now trying to trust and follow God as he helps us confront and overcome the brokenness of our past.

We looked at this passage some in our series on self-awareness because the last two chapters of the letter to the Galatians are all about transformation. 

All of us are engaged in a spiritual battle! It is a battle between light and darkness, love and hate. We see this battle described in the Scriptures with other images – the fruit of the Spirit vs. the brokenness of the world or the battle between the Spirit and the flesh or sinful nature. 

Paul, the church planter and author of many of the letters in the New Testament experienced remarkable transformation. He went from someone who persecuted people who followed Jesus to someone who helped bring Jews and pagans to follow Jesus.

He writes in Galatians 5

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…. You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. – Galatians 5:1, 13-15

Does this sound like you or your home or where you work? Are you all loving each other OR Are you biting and devouring each other? Snipping at each other? Annoyed at each other? A growing sense of resentment under the surface?

We do not have to live that way!

We should avoid living that way because it can be destructive!

You know some of us struggle with the Bible because we think it is a giant Don’t Do List, but in reality it is an anthology – a book made up of letters, histories, poetries, prophecies, and so much more. Often the laws are warnings to keep us from getting hurt or hurting others. And here we discover the entire law is fulfilled in loving others.

But notice the big picture here. Jesus offers you and I freedom!

If you are not following Jesus, but you are checking out faith here in the room or online, you should know the invitation God has for you is to experience freedom and life to the fullest. It’s a freedom from the ways of this world, the things we want to quit but don’t know how, those things that are distracting and even destructive. 

If you have already chosen to follow Jesus, then you are free! The problem is we forget, and we slip back into old patterns and old habits. As Jesse Sampson, our Gateway Buda campus pastor has said: “We are forgiven, but we are also forgetful.”

We are forgiven but we forget. We’ve been washed clean. Now we need to live like it. We need to stop getting back into the mud. Steps 4 and 5 are the process for starting over. It’s like a reboot.

Rebooting

Ever call someone for help fixing your phone or your computer or your internet, what do they always say to do: “Have you turned it off and turned it back on?”
“Have you shut down your computer in awhile?”
Just unplug and wait for a few seconds before plugging back in.

The moral inventory is rebooting, restarting. It’s unplugging and pausing for a few seconds.

So the first time through Step 4, you are actually doing an inventory of your life.

This can be intimidating. Daunting even.

I have to be honest. When we did a series similar to this about 7 years ago, it helped me for a short period of time. Then after I relapsed into my same patterns of anxiety, control issues, and losing my temper, I decided to actually do the full 12 Steps experience. I made it to Step 4 before I quit.

Then another year later or so, I relapsed again so I decided to do it again with two friends. Having them helped me go through all the steps, but I didn’t really do Step 5 – not fully really.

It was on the 3rd time through with my campus that I felt (and my family felt) a real difference. The key was I took the time to truly do Steps 4 and 5.

It was my 4th time through the steps with my campus as someone sponsoring others, that I finally got the rhythm down for how to live this out. As John Burke said, it’s like dancing. 1-2-3, Work-the-steps

The Scriptures are filled with admonitions to take an inventory of how you are living your life.

So often we are so busy, we never stop and reflect.
Or we are so exhausted that we go from zoom meetings to Netflix.

So back to what the Scriptures say about taking a moral inventory.

“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” Lamentations 3:40

The prophet Jeremiah who wrote these words had been warning his people, his nation to slow down and realize the damage they were doing. The warning signs were everywhere that they were on the verge of destruction, yet they would not listen to him. They would not listen to God. As a result, they did not heed the warnings, and the people of Israel were attacked by the Babylonian army. Their homeland was destroyed and many were killed and many more were taken hostage.

When we do not examine our ways, we may be doing damage without realizing it.

Or consider this prayer in Psalm 139

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24


This is part of that beautiful passage where the Psalmist writes to God:

For you created my inmost being;  you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful…
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! – Psalm 139:13-17

God thinks about you. He created you in your mother’s womb on purpose and with a purpose. Your life is in His hands. He is there for you! And He wants you to be free!

That’s important to remember when you are going through this moral inventory.

You are not doing this alone. God is with you! And even more important—if you did

Step 3, to entrust your entire life and will into God’s care—you have nothing to fear in

facing the past. See God has forgiven you, past, present and future wrongs. You do not have to fear condemnation!

God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins.  14  He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.  15  In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. Col 2:13-15

Make sure you are asking Him to speak to you, to reveal all that He knows should be on your inventory, and to help you get it down on paper. 

When you do this with our Recovery Groups, you also have people in your group. When you are struggling, send a prayer request via text or a phone call and ask for prayer.

Now remember, it’s not about beating yourself up or heaping guilt on yourself. It’s about being honest (which is so important and so rare in our world). 

You cannot fix what you will not admit is broken!

Some of us are so stuck in denial, and we miss the life we actually want!!

Consider what James Joyce said:

“Mistakes are the portals for discovery.” – James Joyce

So the first time through the steps is when you make a full inventory.

Taking inventory (of your life) and then as working the steps becomes a normal rhythm in your life, it is more about taking inventory of your day and confessing daily.

For me, I like to work on my moral inventory while sitting down and writing in my journal. It gives me a guide on who I need to reach out for confession or for amends (which is coming up in our next series).

You think through the day and…

  • Keep track of how you treat people. 
  • Consider how you handled temptations. 
  • Notice which temptations seemed to trip you up.
  • Discover when you seem to be most vulnerable.

So you do all this work to determine where you can improve, the mistakes you’ve made that you want to overcome.

Now what?

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. 

Confession is like removing toxins. The toxins in your soul are released through your mouth as you confess to God and confess to those you have hurt or confess to a running partner. You don’t need a priest, just a friend willing to listen. You can be that friend.

Some of us are too proud to confess with God or another.
Or we are too insecure to ever admit we made a mistake so we act like we are always right and we argue to make sure everyone knows it.

Here’s the thing:

If you haven’t confessed or asked someone for forgiveness in the last week that probably means you haven’t taken a moral inventory. These are challenging and stressful times, and we are going to hurt each other – intentionally or accidentally.

Here’s the beautiful thing: if you are willing to take a moral inventory and confess to God and to a trusted friend, you are starting afresh.

Or as Charles M. Blow says:

Now it’s important to to find someone you can trust, and to be someone who can be trusted. Find someone who shares your faith and may even be a step ahead of you in their journey.

A full on inventory and step 5 confession happens best in recovery where leaders have been trained to do this in a loving, non-judgmental and effective way.

I don’t know what we would have done in our marriage, as parents, just trying to live life without community!

You have to be intentional. It doesn’t just happen.

Moved to Austin after almost 13 years in Los Angeles. We had developed some really great friendships with our neighbors. It was hard at first. People were friendly but from a distance. The problem was we were comparing relationships that had only been going for 9 months with relationships we had developed over the course of 9 years! We had to be proactive. We invited neighbors over to our house. We looked for ways to serve them. We jumped into a life group of people we did not know, and they became some of our best friends.

Jamie, our Restore Pastor at Gateway in South Austin shared a great analogy with her team this summer. She was watching one of those shows on Animal Planet. The way that predators hunt is the like for the weakest one in the herd and they isolate them. Predators cannot take on an entire herd. There is safety in numbers!

Too many of us have let ourselves become isolated during this season. 

Let me encourage you. Don’t give up on watching on Sundays or in going to your life group. I know you are tired of looking at a screen if you are working from home and not ready to join us in a live service on one of our campuses, but we all need that spiritual connection – even for now if it is coming through a screen. 

I imagine that even if you are tired of meetings on your laptop, you probably have no problem watching the news or watching your favorite show.

So if you have kids, let me encourage you: best way to do it is fully engage with the preschool or the kids services with them and then watch this inspire service with your kids! It’s ok if they play while you watch or some have set them up in the other room. Others have just set aside a time later in the day to watch the full service after their kids are in bed. Just go to youtube.com/GatewayChurchAustin to watch the entire service any time it works for you.

Stay connected. Lean into community. We all need to do so more than ever.

And it’s not too late to get involved. 

You see, sometimes God heals instantaneously, and sometimes He wants us to go through a process to find the healing we need. 

Our community groups are giving you a glimpse.
Our Recovery Groups are the full experience.

Confession is a spiritual practice that requires a willingness to trust God and trust others. It is in being courageous and vulnerable that we experience a great deal of transformation.

Why are we so resistant to confession?

  • Because we don’t want someone to use it against us or judge us. We may be in denial externally, but we are filled with shame internally.
  • We fear rejection from God and others. 
  • We feel so guilty for so much already.
  • Shame can also hold people back in these steps too.

We fear confession because of our Misunderstanding of God and His character.

My Mom afraid to surrender because then God would make her go to Africa. She shared this with me after raising her two sons (me and my brother) in Texas but just after college I moved with my new bride to Seattle and my brother got married and moved with his wife to Boston.

I have noticed that I can fall into the same kind of misunderstanding. I slip into thinking that if I just do the right things than all my circumstances will work out. If I am good then I be blessed. If I am not then I won’t.

Now it is true that we reap what we sow and there are consequences to our sins. 

Unfortunately, this dismisses the fact that God is loving and with us in the midst of suffering.

Our suffering and God’s silence does not mean we are alone.

Our family has had a challenging season. How about you and yours?

There are certainly glimpses of hope and good things, but we have had some really dark days. Yet in the midst of that every day I have been feeling this beautiful connection with God in the mornings. Even in some of the more random books of the Bible like Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, God has been speaking hope over me and my family. And some days that is all I felt I could hold onto to make it through the day.

This past week, the next book in the Bible up for me to read was Job. I didn’t want to read Job. I need hope right now, and the story of Job is all about suffering. And I didn’t want to spend time wrestling with this idea of God’s justice and when the innocent suffer for seemingly no reason. I am tired of injustice! I am tired of the suffering of the innocent! I am tired of this pandemic! How about you?

So this past week, I have been reading Job. It’s fascinating because Job gets really mad at God and accuses God of causing the pain he is experiencing, and God listens. Eventually, God speaks to Job. The guys from the Bible Project www.bibleproject.com summarized the message of Job so well, when they said:

“God reminds Job that the world has order and beauty, but it is also wild and dangerous. While we do not always know why we suffer, we can bring our pain and grief to God and trust that he is wise and knows what he’s doing.”

– The Bible Project

We can trust God. Even when everything is falling apart, God is with us. And somehow, He can bring good out of all the suffering we are experiencing.

We need to lean into faith and into community. 

We need to reboot. Not just in this season (although that is absolutely true). We need to reboot every single day.

I saw a great quote on the power of confession:

“In failing to confess, Lord, I would only hide you from myself, not myself from you.”

– St. Augustine

Our unwillingness to make a fearless inventory and our unwillingness to confess when we have blown it to God and others hurts us and hurts those we love.

He also said: “The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.”

If we can get past our resistance to living a fearless and vulnerable life, notice the powerful effects of living an honest life with the spiritual practice of confession.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:3-5

The guilt we carry around is gone! The shame is removed!

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

And we can find this reconnection with God at any time! You may start off so great in the morning, and then your roommate wakes up. Or all is going great and then your kids wake up! Or all is good in your dreams and then your spouse wakes you up!

There is a freedom in honest confession because you have nothing to hide. You don’t worry about being found out because you have already shared what so many others may be trying to hide. When we are vulnerable, we can stand without shame.

There is something powerful too about confession even beyond just ourselves.

We acknowledge our wickedness, Lord, and the guilt of our ancestors; we have indeed sinned against you. Jeremiah 14:20

Over and over in the Bible we see people confessing their sins to God and the sins of their ancestors and their nation to God. Often those moments are connected to God moving in a powerful way! There was a spiritual awakening when Ezra, Josiah, Nehemiah, and so many others just took personal responsibility for their mistakes, their their evil choices, and when they were honest on behalf of their ancestors and their nation. They didn’t try to pretend things were perfect. They were honest, and God forgave and brought healing to move forward.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16

When I went through Step 4, I was so nervous! What would they think of me? Can I be fully honest? If it is someone who is walking with God and understands how this works, it is such a beautiful experience. You feel forgiven! A weight is lifted! Know what that feels like? It’s incredible!

Are you tired?

How about letting someone help you carry your burden?

Have you wandered away? Let someone who follows Jesus help restore you gently?

From Galatians 6

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:1-2

Trying to help someone in their journey? Be gentle. Help them. Carry their burden as you let God and others carry yours. But don’t get cocky lest you fall too.

9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:9

Don’t give up. This too shall pass. If you just keep doing the right thing – no matter how small it may be, there will be positive results.

Just keep going.

Lean into faith. Lean into community. We can grow stronger during this season because God loves us. He came to rescue us! He gave His life and rose from the dead! He gives us His Spirit to guide us!

During this next song, consider how wonderful God has been to you. 

Let your gratitude motivate you to surrender. 

Let your gratitude be what motivates you to take action.

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