We began a new series at Gateway Church in Austin.
Listen to my message at Gateway South here:
Discuss ways to apply the message here:
Next Steps for your life group or family dinner.
Notes from our message are here:
If we could train the camera on you today, how would you answer this question:
“What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?”
An interesting study was published recently in the magazine Psychological Science about religion. According to the Stanford researchers, committed Christians are more likely to take risks than non-religious people. Because of their belief in God’s protection, the study found that they were more likely to consider doing risky activities–including skydiving, biking without a helmet, or making a bold romantic overture. The scientists in the study seemed surprised to learn that faith in a God leads us to take risks for him, leads to a life of adventure and meaning and even joy.
This past month and a half at Gateway, as a church, we’ve been involved in one of the great spiritual risks, the greatest prolonged experiments of faith any of us have ever attempted.
If you’ve been participating, have you found a life of adventure and meaning and joy?
Here’s the 60-60 experience in a nutshell. For 60 days, we strive to the one thing that Jesus said was necessary. To just stay connected to him, just be mindful of him all day. We do this in kind of an odd way.
- We set our watches or our phone to alert us once per waking hour for 60 days, to just remind us that God is near.
- To tell him how we are doing.
- To hear if he has anything for us to do.
- And to, in faith, act in obedience, if he’s leading a direction.
And there are promises attached to that.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. – Hebrews 4:8
King David, who lived the 60-60 experiment himself, had this to say about it in Psalm 27. I love how the Message version of the Bible captures his poetry.
I’m asking God for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet. That’s the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world, The perfect getaway, far from the buzz of traffic. God holds me head and shoulders above all who try to pull me down. I’m headed for his place to offer anthems that will raise the roof! – Psalm 27:4-6
“I’m only asking God for one thing,” David says. To just be connected to him. And for David, that changes his whole day. People can’t pull him down. There’s a confident stillness in his heart. A song of joy wells up in his soul. Have you been changed by the big faith risks of this experiment?
We’re now about 42 days in this experiment. I hope you’re coming alive. I hope you’re hearing him at a level you’ve never heard. I hope he’s transforming and healing your wounds. I hope you’re taking risks, responding in obedience.
But this series at Gateway is going to end. The group experience of the 60-60 closes today.
Are you going to come down from the mountaintop experience?
There’s a story in the Bible about a guy named Moses who struggled to maintain his mountaintop spirituality. In Exodus 34, he comes down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments in hand. He’s been meeting with God, and the weirdest thing happens. His face glows. The text says his face was radiant after he spent time with God. And all the Israelites think this pretty cool. “Check it out, there’s a glare off of Moses’ face.”
And people have always gotten excited about glowing faces. Think about what most people say at weddings as the bride sachets down the aisle. They whisper, “Oh, she’s so radiant.” How come the groom is never radiant? No, what do people usually say about how a groom looks? What do they say to him? “You clean up pretty well.” Look at her, she glows. Look at him, he must have taken a shower.
Anyway, it’s natural for a human being to want to glow. And then one morning, Moses is shaving and he notices something frightening in the mirror, that the shine is starting to fade. People in the Israelite camp won’t be as impressed now that he’s not glowing. Maybe they’ll wonder if he’s really been spending time with God lately. So Moses puts a veil over his face to cover up the fact that the glory is fading. He’s afraid what people would say if they saw him for who he really was. The Bible doesn’t tell us how long Moses walks around with this silly veil on, but eventually he takes it off. And it was probably hard at first, but I bet he was relieved.
The Apostle Paul comments on this story in 2 Corinthians 3:
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away… But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:12-18
Okay, so Moses is afraid that he’s a one-hit-wonder. That this mountaintop experience of meeting with God and receiving the 10 commandments is kind of this pinnacle of his spiritual life. And it’s true, the best spiritual seasons of your life – the intensity you felt – can’t be maintained at that level indefinitely.
- You won’t always feel as close to God as when you first got baptized.
- Or that global serving trip you took to Haiti.
- You won’t always feel the excitement of faith when you were being discipled one-on-one in college.
- You won’t stay in awe like when you saw answered prayer and a family member healed.
Later this year, you may not be as on-fire for Christ as you are during the 60-60. But Paul says, you can move into something that’s deeper, more sustainable. He makes the point here that the Spirit of God takes up residence in your heart. And wherever he goes, he brings freedom. But the Spirit also continues the work of transformation. Month after month and year after year, you are “transformed in his likeness with ever increasing glory.” How? What’s our part in allowing the Spirit to continue the work of transforming us, even when we don’t feel the intensity of a mountaintop moment? Verse 16, says simply, we keep turning to God. We maintain the connection. And then verse 18, we reflect him to the world who needs to seem him. We maintain and reflect.
This sounds an awful lot like Step 12 of Alcoholics Anonymous. I won’t ask how many of you have worked the twelfth step of AA, because that wouldn’t be very anonymous. But AA is kind of this really intense version of the 60-60. It’s about turning your life and will, minute-by-minute, over to God in order to overcome an addiction that you’re completely powerless over. And the creators of AA knew that there’s a kind of mountaintop experience that occurs when addicts experience freedom from their past behaviors, and they were concerned about a letdown, that 12 steppers would lose their momentum and slide back into their old patterns. So step 12 is all about maintaining the practices of your recovery and reflecting your life change to others to help them.
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps,
we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The title of today’s message, this last installment, is “The Risk.” And the risk of the 60-60 and the risk of the 12 Steps is that after having had a life-altering Encounter with God, you’d just go back to the way you were. The glory would fade. Let’s talk about how to avoid that by thinking more deeply about three key phrases in Step 12.
Having Had a Spiritual Awakening.
I love the way this step starts out . . . having had a spiritual awakening. This phrase implies that if you really try a faith experiment, if you fully give yourself to something like the 60-60, you will have undergone a rebirth, you will be awakened to life. Anyone want to guess what the dominant metaphor for salvation is in the New Testament? It’s life. Salvation is synonymous with awakening to life. Jesus says I have come so that you might have . . . life.
Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 2:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions– it is by grace you have been saved.
– Ephesians 2:1-5
Did you hear that? When you draw near to him, God’s goal is to make you feel alive in Christ, that some of your desires would start changing, some of your patterns would be transformed.
The closer you get to God the more you realize how far you have to go to become like Him.
Remember what God speaks through the prophet Ezekiel:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. – Ezekiel 36:26-27
Through the 60-60, God can turn a heart of stone into a beating, living, pulsing heart of flesh. How’s your heart today? More like stone, or more like flesh? Come on, be honest with yourself. Stone or flesh? If you are feeling vitally connected with God now, if there aren’t any patterns that are tripping you up in your life, I’m so happy for you. But if there is some stone-hardened part of your heart, if there is something that is choking your heart today, this is one of your best chances to experience life, to have an awakening.
Practice These Principles in All Our Affairs.
If you want to keep your momentum after a spiritual awakening like the 60-60 or the 12 Steps, Step 12 says, you have to keep practicing. You have to be serious about maintenance. We don’t do maintenance well.
If you’ve had a mountaintop experience, if you’ve made some real spiritual progress, you’ve got to do the little things that help you maintain. The book of Revelation in the Bible is a letter written to seven different churches, and at the beginning of the letter, Jesus address each of the churches individually. At the beginning of chapter 2, he is talking to the church of Ephesus. And he commends them for being good Christians, faithful religious people, but then he turns the corner and says this:
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.
– Revelation 2:4-5
This church had once undergone a spiritual awakening. They had felt so close to God. But over time, they started to lose steam. It’s not that they were sliding into a moral gutter or being terrible people, but they had lost their fire. Jesus tells them that they have forsaken their first love. But he’s a physician and he gives them a spiritual prescription. He says go back and do the things that you first did when you fell in love with me. Go back and repeat the things that you did when you first had your awakening.
This is the best advice for people whose passion in their marriages have started to wane.
- Go back and do the silly things you did when you first fell in love.
- Bring her flowers.
- Take him on a romantic picnic to the place you used to make out.
- Take a trip to the place you had your honeymoon.
By doing the things you used to do, it reminds you of how you once felt, and rekindles your love. The same is true for people who have lost their passion for God.
Go back and repeat the things you did when you were most on fire for God.
- Maybe you were most passionate when you went on a global trip. Go back and repeat it.
- Maybe you were serving the poor. Then go back and serve the poor.
- Maybe you were reading your Bible daily. Go back and do it again.
- Maybe you were pouring your heart into serving on Sundays. Go back and do it again.
Go back to your first love. Taste grace again. Step 12 says that you are going to need to go back and repeat the steps from time to time.
For the 60-60, this means that you need to continue to build moments in your day when you are mindful of God’s presence.
- Maybe you keep your Soul Revolution app going.
- Maybe you just set your clock to ring a few times a day.
- Maybe the drive to and from work becomes more intentional and holy for you.
- Maybe part of your lunch break is a 15 minute time to listen to God. Don’t get out of the practice.
- More importantly, you can’t stop the rhythm of listening and responding to his leadings. When you think God’s asking you to do or say something, follow through.
Remember when we read Ephesians 5:19 Do not quench the Spirit. Other translations say, Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. If you get out of the habit of listening and responding, he’ll speak to you less and less. This week, talk to your running partner or your life group or a friend you trust. Work out with them what your maintenance plan is going to be.
Getting drunk or high or bingewatching TV or binge eating can all quench the Spirit.
And I love this other phrase from Step 12 about keeping your momentum after a mountaintop:
We Tried to Carry this Message to Others.
The funny thing about people who have lost their fire is that they tend to be solely focused on self. They can’t see beyond their own worries and issues. Those who work the steps know that if they are going to continue to recover they need to begin to turn their attention outward. They need to carry the message that a new life is possible. They need to tell others who are trapped like they were that they can find freedom. Central to thriving spiritually is impacting other people.
Jesus says in John 15: I am the vine; you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I in them, they will bear much fruit.
Jesus says someone who is alive spiritually will produce something, they will help others, they will be excited about carrying the message. This stuff isn’t just true for people, it’s true for churches. Some churches were once totally alive, they sensed the presence of God, grace and peace abounded. But they became focused on themselves. They turned inward, they stopped opening the doors to outsiders, they stopped telling their story, they lost their heart for the poor. And churches like that are stale. God save us from that here at Gateway.
We are going to keep reaching out. We are going to keep saying, “Sorry, no perfect people allowed here.” We are going to keep inviting our friends and neighbors who don’t know God or who have given up on church. Why? Because we’ve found something here that has changed our lives, and the day we stop sharing it is the day we start to die a little.
Can’t you see that your growth depends on your willingness to focus on others and tell your story? Listen to these words of the Apostle Paul, II Corinthians 5:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (You have undergone a spiritually awakening).
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (God has entrusted the message of his grace to you who have been awakened.)
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.
When you tell your story, God draws people into his grace. You are the hope of the world, your story has the power to change people’s lives. When you are not sharing your story and God’s story, when you are not taking the message of the 60-60 to people who need to hear it, you are missing out on spiritual life. God says, I want to partner with you in bringing life to people, just like I brought life to you.