Not That Bad (Unchained 1) by John Burke

Today at Gateway Church in Austin, we began a new series designed to go beyond just a new year’s resolution. This is an opportunity to get past what has kept you from becoming the person you were created to be.

I spoke at the South Campus, and John Burke spoke at the McNeil Campus. Here are some of the ideas we shared:

We all want to live—to really live!  To be fully alive, fully present—making the most of life.  Yet we all struggle.  I feel like I get little tastes of life, real life unchained from worries, fears, inhibitions, troubles, but then it can quickly vanish too.

It’s like one of these 3D images.

3D Hidden Image Kingdom of God

At first glance, what you see is just a bunch of random colors and lines.  If you keep focused only on the 2D way things appear on the surface, you never do see that there’s a 3 dimensional Image in this flat 2D picture.  To see it, you must change your focus. You have to focus on something deeper- to focus behind the picture.  I can see it, but I can’t make you see it.  I can try to convince you it’s there, it’s real, but you must experience it for yourself to truly believe it. It’s 3D version of the words “The Kingdom of God.”

The Kingdom of God is about quality of life. It is a way of living in the world. It has been described as the present participation in a future possibility. It is a paradox. The Kingdom is both present and coming.  Here and available—this eternal quality of life—but not fully here yet.

Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God. He used parables to explain it–it is like a treasure hidden in a field.

Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Luke 17:20-21 

The Kingdom is not something easily observed. It exists both within us and among us. A reality present and available, but like this hidden 3D image, you must have “Eyes to See.”

So how do we shift our focus, change our perspective to experience this deeper 3D reality that brings a greater experience of life and freedom?

This Unchained Series is all about helping us break free of the things keeping us from experiencing an ever-deepening, joyful, and exhilarating rush of life. The 12-steps we are talking about over the next 8 weeks are really just Biblical disciplines for spiritual growth, and they form a pattern for living.  I want to encourage you to not just listen these next 8 weeks, but plunge in.  These steps are not just for dealing with addictions or recurring patterns , they are a way to live that will allow God to bring spiritual depth into your life, no matter how long you’ve been following him.  Plunging in means going through these steps in the context of community.

During World War II, American soldiers were reminded over and over again: “Don’t leave the wounded. Don’t leave the wounded.”  So when bullets were flying overhead and someone went down, the others just knew automatically in spite of the danger they would not leave the injured behind.  That realization gave people courage to face the battle because they knew that no one would leave them behind if the roles were reversed.

When we know there are people around us who won’t leave us if we’re wounded, then we find security to take risks and admit our battles. This is the way God intends his church to function.

“Those who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak…accept one another just as Christ accepted you.”  Romans 15: 1, 7

Who do you know and who knows you? Find 2 or 3 others who know your struggle and will help you work through the steps using  as you help them OR find an Unchained Life Group using or the book Life’ Healing Choices by John Baker.

What’s the one thing from which you need to be unchained?

Here are three mindsets to overcome to discover your struggle:

1. “I’m Not One of Them” – “My habit is not that bad. I can control it. It’s not like I’m one of them”  Most people have secret addictions they deny – negative thoughts, lustful thoughts, inappropriate websites, drinking to relax, sugar, eating, impatience, anger, obsessed with work, and the negative options go on and on.

Too often we blame others for our problems and fail to take personal responsibility. “It’s all these bad women I keep marrying, it’s the job, it’s my boss, it’s the circumstances.”  Here’s the truth: even after you change your circumstances, the problem does not disappear because everywhere you go, you are always there! This is actually good news because you can’t always change circumstances or others, but YOU can change. Personally changing can change everything!

The truth is every one of us needs help. That’s why the scriptures teach:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10

Every single person here has an area where God wants to set us free. The path to freedom is to first admit it.

If you really think there’s nothing serious in your life that needs changing—nothing holding you back from being all you can be—why don’t you do a little truth check.  Ask the people you live with—or those who know you best. “Do you see any addictions or habits or hangups or character defects that are holding me back from being the best version of me?”  Just see what they say—but don’t get angry—just bring it with you next week.  We’re going to look at each of these steps, some two by two, and then I’m gonna give you some work to do. If you decide to plunge in, you will see God work in your life.

2. “I Am Already Free.”   Some of you are thinking: “I’ve been a Christian a long time. I am free. So this doesn’t apply to me.  The 12 Steps are just for people with serious problems.” Actually, the steps were coined in the recovery movement of the past century, but they’re really as old as the Bible.  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.  This 12 Step path is simply a way to live the life God intended you to live—full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, truthfulness, and self-control (i.e., “fruit of the Spirit”).  We’re going to look at these 12 steps applied not just to addictive behavior, but any harmful behavior that ultimately does damage to us, to others or our relationship with God.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a crack user or just a grumpy, joyless person, you can see change for the better.

Sometimes you don’t even know what’s keeping you stuck.  You can’t even name it, but you look at the fruit of the Spirit and realize you are not where you know you could be. The Scriptures tell us the following:

“You can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there!” Jeremiah 6:14   

Denial just keeps the wound festering, the problem persisting.

Whether you are spiritually skeptical or even atheist, or if you’ve been a Christ-follower for decades, if you will stick with us these 8 weeks, and do some work, you’ll see growth.  Not only that, I’m confident you’ll find freedom, relief, and a new vision of life that blows doors on anything you’ve experienced so far.

3. “I’m Too Far Gone.”  You’re thinking: “You don’t know what I’ve done.  There’s no hope for me.  I’ve tried and tried and tried.  I’m uniquely an impossible case.”  Here’s the truth: that is a lie. There are people sitting around you right now who felt the same way, and they found life and freedom!  No one is too far gone for God. That’s how Great He is!  What the founders of the 12 Steps realized is that we all need God’s help.  We were never meant to do life apart from the Author of Life.

What is your next step?

(For the audio or video version of the entire message, go to

  • Justin Hiebert

    While ours isn’t turning into a series, I covered the same ideas on Sunday. We need to keep admitting our need for grace, but also accepting it. Too often we struggle with one or the other and limit God’s effectiveness in our lives.

Free Consultation

If you're interested in a free 30-min consultation with me, simply fill out this form and I'll contact you!