At Gateway Church in Austin we are going through a 3 part series to help with character development. Inspired by Uprising: A Revolution for the Soul by Erwin McManus, we are tackling the following three topics:
- Captain Status Quo: The Courage to Face Monday
- Epic Mom: Real Wisdom in a Busy World
- Cubicle Guy: Generosity on a Budget
Here are notes from the message:
We are in the middle of a truly important series. The principles in this series changed my life.
Back in 1996 I was at a conference in Los Angeles. My wife Deborah and I had been helping plant a church in Seattle. I was young and arrogant. I had big dreams and a bigger ego. We had certainly had some amazing moments, but overall we were really struggling in Seattle. Our church plant ended up with 4 senior pastors in the 4 years we were there. There was a great deal of conflict, and we weren’t growing in the ways we had hoped.
At the conference I met a man named Matt. He was being commissioned along with his wife to serve as missionaries in the Middle East. As he asked me about our efforts in Seattle and my hopes for the future, he got out a sheet of paper and began to write down the character matrix.
He showed me the path out of selfishness to become a servant leader. He showed me that rather than being proud, foolish, and greedy, we can become courageous, wise, and generous.
As Matt wrote out these principles for me on the scratch sheet of paper, I found my next steps for my spiritual growth. You see, God works in our lives and even changes us, but there are things we must do to really grow. There is a human side to divine change. God does not force us to mature. We mature when we trust Him and live out His ways.
Last week we looked at breaking past the Status Quo. We can actually change the world when we choose to become who we were created to be. Growing in our character does not just affect our lives, but it begins to positively affect those around us.
Today we are looking at Wisdom in the midst of a busy world. Our superhero last week was Captain Status Quo. Today is Epic Mom.
The thought of changing the world or changing how you live your life may seem daunting to some of us because right now all we have time to change is our baby’s diapers.
Do you ever feel too busy? Overwhelmed with all that needs to be done? In a busy world with so much to do, what if we could slow down time? If only we could slow down time or even better – predict the future! What if we had the ability to see how the choices we make today would play out? What if we could stop repeating the same mistakes over and over and over and instead make the adjustments necessary to get out of the ruts in which we find ourselves in – barely surviving at work, in our marriage, in our dating relationships, investing in our kids, or even growing in our relationship with God.
The Scriptures actually describe our way out. We can gain extra time when we stop repeating the same mistakes day after day. We can predict the future when we begin to discover the connection between cause and effect.
The word the Bible uses to describe how to do just that is the word “wisdom.” In fact, the Bible gives us a great deal on wisdom. There is an entire section called “Wisdom Literature.” Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes give us insight in how to become people known by our wisdom.
The problem with wisdom is that it is not easily attained. In fact, we are prone towards the opposite of wisdom – “foolishness.” Repeatedly in the Proverbs, we see time after time that the fool within us seems to get ahead of the sage we could become.
Let’s do a quick assessment. On the continuum from foolishness to wisdom, where would you be? Closer to “foolishness” or “wisdom.” Here’s just a few verses describing the fool:
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
– Proverbs 18:2
Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. – Proverbs 28:26
A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. – Proverbs 29:11
One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless. – Proverbs 14:16
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools. –
A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. – Proverbs 18:6
You may think to yourself: “Good thing I’m not a fool! I don’t talk too much or get angry too easy. None of those describe me!”
Before you get ahead of yourself, have any of these characteristics ever described you?
Resentment, giving up on God when things don’t go your way, relying on earthly wealth rather than trusting God, worshiping what was created rather than the Creator, rejecting instruction, not telling someone you cannot stand them, slandering others…
The list goes on and on.
You see a fool does the wrong things repeatedly. We see foolish behavior in others all the time. Foolishness can be described as having a bad or even destructive habit. True wisdom is the ability to see the foolishness in our lives. In what areas, do you struggle with the same bad habit or behavior or mindset?
The Proverbs say it like this:
As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.- Proverbs 26:11
I know that is disgusting, but isn’t that a fair description of how we live our lives sometime? We just seem to drink a little bit more than we intended. We eat a bit more than we intended. We stay up later than we know is good for us. We refuse to address the conflict that is brewing. We know what we ought to do, but we don’t do it even when we know it will hurt us if we don’t.
The way Erwin described it is like this: “Jesus saves us from our sins, but He doesn’t save us from being stupid.”
We must choose to follow the ways of Jesus in order to really live a life that honors Him.
When we live like a fool, we do things we know is not good, but we do it anyway. Another thing I have noticed: you and I may make tremendous progress in one area, but we are foolish in other areas.
There is a better way. We do not have to continue in this circle of foolishness. People who are wise don’t repeat the same mistakes because they have learned to connect cause and effect. They live lives as if time stands still. They know when to say “no” and when to say “yes” to opportunties. They make such good decisions that they seem like they can predict the future.
So what is our path out of foolishness? How can we get past the things that bog us down to become people who enjoy the opportunities and responsibilities we hope to have.
Erwin describes it this way:
“The great things we long for and search for are found among the small things we may ignore or even discard. Jesus lays out for us a principle for life that is so simple it is easy to miss. There is a process in our becoming all that God created us to be. This is the human side of divine change. While becoming like God in His character is nothing shy of a gift from God Himself being able to express that as a part of who we are is a process.”
Making the right choice no matter how small it is leads us where we truly want to be.
Where in your life have you lost focus? In which part of your life have you stopped doing the little things?
Some of us lack the courage to do something new, but many of us lack the character to stay where we are and do better.
In the parable of the talents, Jesus said these words in Matthew 25:21:
‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!
In what areas, are you letting things slip? In what areas have you stopped making the right decisions no matter how small they are?
Here’s our struggle: we have a tendency to be faithful at work but neglect our friends or our families. We focus on our friendships or our spouse, but we neglect work. We focus on physical health only to slack off in our spiritual health. We are devoted to our children, but we neglect the one that helped us get pregnant.
We become wise when we are faithful in every relationship.
This is so counter culture! We live in a place, where people jump from job to job, from city to city, from relationship to relationship, from church to church, from friendship to friendship. The world tells us to end what we have because what we want is in that next relationship, in that next job, and on and on we go.
What lesson is God trying to teach you now that you have failed to learn before?
Have you begun to see that you are not always the victim? That you may actually be making choices that have made it difficult for you to have relationships that last, a job that lasts, community that lasts….
Some of you are in marriages that are just hanging on. You’ve begun thinking you married the wrong person. You think you’ve done all you can, but she just isn’t trying. You think that woman at work who laughs at all your jokes really understands you, but you and your wife have just grown apart.
These are all excuses to avoid the hard work required by faithfulness.
Here’s the amazing thing: no matter how hard things are now, you can have the marriage you’ve always wanted with the person you’ve already given up on.
I have seen it happen over and over. It starts with just one person in the relationship deciding to take personal responsibility for their part and then serving the other with no expectation.
We give up on what matters most way too soon!
We give up on friendships, on community, on our kids, on our career, on our dreams way too soon.
I’ve mentioned this quote from a Harvard business professor before, but I find it to be such an encouragement.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter: “Everything looks like failure in the middle.”
Maybe you’ve come to closure on something far too soon. Maybe you have not invited God into the process to help you, to guide you, to give you the strength to remain faithful (no matter how hard it may be).
Family, work, recreation, crisis, pets; the list goes on. We have so much on our plates it can be hard to find a healthy balance. We put ourselves into such an urgent state that we are easily bent by circumstances and that leads to less than stellar decision making and missing out on the best life has for us and that God has to offer.
The way to adjust that is to move everything out of the way and recalibrate with God at the center of your life.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
What does this mean? We need to be more concerned with what God wants for our lives than what others want for our lives and even what we want for our lives. We need to have a healthy fear or profound respect where we allow God to guide us into all matters in our lives.
Think of yourself on an airplane. You need to put the oxygen mask on and be refreshed and breathe in deeply, so you can help others get their oxygen masks on. This has always seemed counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t we be helping other people first?
We need to discover life in Christ, so we share life in Christ.
Our relationship with God needs to be our priority. Ironically in doing so, we will be better friends, spouses, employees, bosses, and parents.
With God’s help, we need to make the right choices no matter how small they are because when we cut corners, we will eventually have to deal with those consequences.
People who are wise have seen when cutting corners results in horrible consequences. The dad who thinks I need to unwind at the bar instead of making it to watch his daughter’s gymnastics practice. The wife who thinks I am too tired for some alone time with my husband. The entrepreneur who thinks, it is just $20 that I need to borrow from the petty cash drawer.
The problem is: small bad choices lead to bigger bad choices and catastrophic results.
Let me just share something with you that is really personal. There was a time in our marriage, when things were really, really precarious. I had been so focused on my career that I was neglecting my wife and kids. I would always promise: “just after this project, or just after this season, things will get better.” Unfortunately, things weren’t getting better. Sure there may have been a glimpse from time to time of what should be, but the trajectory was not good.
I’ll never forget the moment Deborah told me: “I don’t want to be a pastor’s wife anymore.” That may not seem like a big deal to you, but when you are a pastor and your wife doesn’t want to be a pastor’s wife, that is a problem. She wasn’t planning on leaving me quite yet, although that would be another way she had considered getting my attention. She had decided I needed a new career or else it was not going to work for us.
That was a very difficult time. What was really sad about the situation was that when I met Deborah she had felt called by God to be a pastor’s wife and I felt called by God to be a pastor. I had been so foolishly busy that she felt her only way moving forward was to give up on her calling and ask me to give up on mine.
After months and even years of trying to get my attention to make the changes I needed to make, she gave me the opportunity to change. We shared with those closest to us how hard things were for us. We started going to counseling. We came up with a plan to move forward together. In that process, I asked her for one more year so that I could make the changes I needed to make to show her I could be a pastor and a faithful husband and father. I wanted another opportunity to change so we did not have to give up on our dream, our calling.
My wife is amazing. She is so patient and forgiving. As a result, we are on the verge of celebrating 20 years of marriage, and I can honestly say we love each other now more after going through that together than we ever did before the crisis.
One thing I learned in the midst of that really difficult couple of years was this: when you don’t know what to do, do the dishes.
Overwhelmed with all that needs to get done. Help the one you love with what they hate but needs to get done. Even now, I come home and if the family is at def con 5 or level orange – I find out how to help. When it is unclear where to start: I just start doing the dishes.
Here’s a quick overview:
- Foolishness is making the same bad choice repeatedly.
- Faithfulness is making the right choice no matter how small it is
- Perseverance is making the right choice no matter how small it is and no matter what happens
Too often, we may begin a journey of transformation and character building only to give up when things get tough. Perseverance is the ability to endure when obstacles arise. There are two nuanced meanings to the word ‘perseverance.’
1. “patience’ = holding out for the good
2. “endurance” = holding on to the good
Do you hold out for the good? Are you patient when things are tough? Do you hold on to the good? Do you endure when things are tough? Suffering produces two results. Through difficult times, you will either grow stronger or weaker. Are you more often a victim or a victor? Are you a whiner or a winner? Think in your life of a time or two when you overcame obstacles and grew stronger as a result. Build on that!
Rather than foolish, we can choose to be faithful. As we persevere we become wise – able to connect cause and effect.
Consider this: do we have the character to handle a better future? Are we willing to make the kinds of decisions today that will help us and help those around us tomorrow? Are we willing to trust God even if following Him goes against the rest of the world around us?
How different would the world be if we all stepped up to make a difference?! Maybe there is an opportunity at work that no one wants to take on, but you are the one to do it! Maybe your marriage is struggling. Rather than give into becoming the victim, ask for help to become the hero. Maybe there is a group in Austin for which you have a passion. Get involved! Invite your small group and network to join with you!
What has God already called you to do, but you’ve not been faithful?
Where do you need to be faithful? Faithfulness seems something I have had to keep choosing along the way in my life.
We need to be willing to do anything. Nothing should be beneath us.
Our next breakthrough could be one step down from where we are now.
For a moment, consider your own life. What are some of the bad habits you cannot seem to get rid of in your life? What are some destructive behaviors in your life? Just choose one. Be honest, what is one thing in your life you would like to quit. What will you do instead? What good habit will replace your bad habit? Find someone in this room and share with them the new habit and the bad habit you are trying to overcome. Begin your new habit today.
Recalibrate your heart to be faithful, and you will become wise.
A few verses, my wife, kids, and I memorized this past week sums it up quite well:
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil. – Proverbs 3:5-7
Do you trust God? Is He at the center of your decision-making –even in the smallest of areas. Or have you let yourself or others back into the center of your life?
The Dirty Truth – Work through the Process for Creating a Better Future Today