No Filter – Focus by John Burke

At Gateway Church in Austin, we started a new series called “#No Filter”

Have you ever used a filter to project an image that was different from reality? In life, we can end up seeing the world through a filter that actually distorts reality and hurts our ability to live in the fullness of all God intended. God is the only one who sees reality fully, so how do we remove these negative filters and see the world from His perspective

Video of the Message John Burke Shared:

These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life. NEXT STEPS

 Here are the message notes from John Burke:

As we go through life, we can end up trying to project an image that’s not reality because we don’t think Reality is good enough—we’re trying to prove something to the world. Or due to the past, we start seeing the world through a filter that actually distorts reality.  It feels like reality to us, but it’s not capital R Reality—as in God’s Reality.  In this series, No Filter, we’re gonna be talking about the filters the world sometimes puts on us that can greatly distort reality and make us view life and our future in ways that hurts our ability to live in the fullness of all God intended—in God’s Reality.

For instance, maybe you grew up in a highly critical or dysfunctional family where you got the impression that no matter how hard you try, no matter what you do, there will always be something wrong with you—You see life through a Shame Filter—I’m flawed, there’s something wrong with me at the core.  AS a result, you do things to compensate and it causes more problems. Or maybe you just got beaten up by life, tragedy, trials, circumstances keep beating you down until you get this filter called “It’s Hopeless” – No matter what I do, I can’t win, I can’t get ahead, why even bother.  And that filter distorts the future—right—because you don’t know the future yet.  Or maybe people let you down, betrayed your trust, and so the filter of “Distrust” is how you see everyone and everything—and it holds you back from taking calculated, godly risks in life. Or maybe you’ve been labeled by others or by society, and that negative label becomes a filter and you say “That’s just who I am.”  Well, not if that’s not who God says you are—God alone sees perfectly, perfect Reality with no filters, no distortions. And it’s GOOD. No Filters.

God wants you to live with No Filter – He wants to teach you to see yourself, your past, your future as He sees them—that’s Reality—not only is it the Ultimate, lasting Reality—it’s GOOD!  When we learn to live in God’s Reality, all our guilt and shame from the past washes away, all the worries and anxieties about the future start to fade, all our people-pleasing efforts get replaced with a freedom to be ourselves, be content, and think more of others than ourselves. God’s Reality is what we deep down desperately long for—a place of peace, contentment, deep self worth, gratitude, hope, faith, courage, love.  So today we’re gonna dive into a passage in Philippians 4 that deals with taking off the world’s filters and seeing our lives and futures through God’s perspective.

It starts off in Philippians 4 and Paul, who is writing this letter to the church (like us, but a church in the city of Philippi in Greece) says “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!…The Lord is near. ” Phil 4:4  Let’s hit pause.  Here’s what you have to understand—when Paul says this, and he says rejoice a lot in this letter, he’s sitting in a cold, dark prison cell in Rome.  Not only that, but he arrested and thrown in jail for trying to do good, and his enemies trumped up charges against him.  Now, we find out from chapter 1, that some people are causing trouble to try to get Paul executed by Rome, the Philippian church sends a guy to help Paul, that guy gets ill and almost dies—seems like no matter what he does, circumstances pile up against him. Yet Philippians is known as the Joy Letter. Paul is full of joy—6 times in 4 short chapters he tells us to Rejoice always—to rejoice in every circumstance.. 5 times Paul uses the word Joy. What’s his deal? Is this just Pollyanna, positive thinking? “Staying positive—it may not solve all your problems but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort”. If not, can we get a swig of whatever Paul’s drinking—cause I don’t know about you, but if he can be so full of joy sitting in prison awaiting execution, maybe you and I can find joy in the midst of what we’re going through that’s coloring our future ash gray or pitch black.

So here’s the key.  Paul doesn’t say “Rejoice in prison” or “Rejoice in sickness” “Rejoice that you just got dumped.” He says “Rejoice in the Lord….The Lord is near.”  What Paul is saying is “Take off that filter that’s distorting your perspective of life—as if the Lord is uninvolved—if you have opened your heart to God’s forgiveness and adoption and leadership, your permanent position is “In the Lord.” You are joined to God and His Reality forever. And He is Near—He is with you always—closer than you can imagine, and not uninvolved. He’s not only sustaining your every breath, but the whole Universe…and He’s working every single situation together for your good as you love and follow Him. That’s God’s promise—that’s Reality according to the only One who sees Reality fully. The only question is, will we believe it and take off the filters that tint our perspective and rob us of joy?

God’s perspective sees the true issues from the temporary problems. When we keep trying to solve our problems with the world’s filters on—as if this world is all that there is and all that matters, we can just tighten ourselves up until we get stuck. How many of you have felt worried or anxious this year? This month? This week? God wants us to take all the filters off and see the world through His eyes.  And it makes a huge difference. So Paul goes on to say:  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7. God actually wants his children to live with a freedom that few of us ever reach.  He wants you free of all worry and anxiety about the future. Can you imagine it—what would you do if you never worried or got anxious—you’d be bored, what would you do with all that time? Truth is, if you are In Christ, in the Lord, there’s no reason to be worried or anxious.  That’s a negative filter the world puts on you that you can take off now. It’s not helpful.

Listen to Jesus’ advice on this, “Do not worry about your life…who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life…But seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these [basic needs] will be given to you as well.  Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6:25-34  God understands us well…he knows we will worry….so he is encouraging us to take off that filter and see REality. Here’s Reality—ready for it?:  God is God, and you’re not.  Did you get that:  God is God and we’re not.  God knows the future and God is in control, but we don’t know what will happen tomorrow and most things in life are beyond our control.  And when we try to play God, we’re exceeding our limits and it inevitably stresses us and those around us.  So Jesus tells us, don’t worry about gaining control because you can’t add a single day to your life by doing it.  It won’t do you any good.  Instead, seek after the one who is in control, and let go of the things you can’t control.  You worry about the things you really can do something about TODAY, and let God worry about the things that will come tomorrow. We take ourselves and our problems too seriously, don’t take God and His promises seriously enough.

But worry works for me, you may be thinking.  When I worry, then I finally do something about it.  It motivates me to action.  Do you know that a study done on worry showed that only 8% of worry is legitimate.  92% of our worry either never happens or involves matters totally out of our control. So it’s a Negative Filter we don’t need—it’s not Reality.

Now, here is how to practically apply God’s Reality about worry.  ACT or RELEASE:  Whenever you find yourself getting stressed out over something, stop and determine what it is that you can act on RIGHT NOW!  Because Right Now is all you’ve got – it’s what Jesus means when he says, today has enough for you to worry about.  So list the things you can do to alleviate the problem or change the situation and decide when you will Act on those things.  The rest of it is out of your control.  So RELEASE it – turn it over to God.  His Reality is positive because He’s in control and You’re in Him.

Philippians 4:6 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

So if you’re stressed about losing a client.  Ask God, what can I do Right Now to retain my client.  If it’s getting up the courage to make a phone call, ask God for courage to make the call.  Do what you need to do that moment.  Then turn the rest of it over to God, thank Him that His will will be done, and and live in the Reality that He is in control and will work this for good. Truth is, we end up being less productive and more stressed when we spend precious energy trying to control things or people we can’t rather than asking God for wisdom to do the things we can.  Try this, and see if living with No Filter in God’s Reality doesn’t bring peace and greater productivity too. That’s been my experience.

Paul goes on to say…Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you.  Philippians 4:8-9.. If you find yourself often down, disheartened, discouraged, dismayed, depressed or any other word that starts with D; it’s time to take the world’s filter off and replace it with God’s Reality. Paul is saying—focus on those things in God’s Reality that are true, noble, right, good, admirable, excellent.  Because what we focus on really does affect how we view our lives.

Our thoughts are powerful. Australian Psychologist Alan Richardson took a group of students, divided them in 3 groups and tested each player’s ability to make free throws. Then for 20 days, The first group practiced free throws 20 minutes every day. The second group did nothing. The 3rd group would only visualize themselves making perfect free throws 20 minutes every day, but no real practice was allowed. Richardson found the group that did nothing had no improvement. The group that physically practiced improved 24%, but Astonishingly the group that mentally thought about making perfect free throws improved 23%–almost as much as actually practicing.

That’s Why God commands us to Dwell On His Reality—what is true, good, honorable, noble, pure, right according to Scripture. Then you LIVE FREE. If you dwell on what’s missing, what’s wrong, what’s not, you will find yourself a very negative, critical person. It’s not that we ignore a broken, evil world, it’s that we see it through God’s Greater Reality—we dwell on true, noble, beautiful, praiseworthy things that God has given, because our thoughts do affect our character and behavior.

See, often times I think our problem is that we take our filtered reality too seriously, but we don’t take God’s Reality seriously at all. If you have given your life back to God, if you are in Christ, there are all these Realities that are true now, and will come to pass in the future. And they can positively affect your present perspective if you focus on them. So how do we do this? It’s not making up things that aren’t true—it’s dwelling on things God says are true. Like What?

God is fully in control. He knows not only the future, but he knows every possible future with every possible choice, and He will make sure it’s all gonna work out together for your good—that’s mysterious, that’s amazing, but that’s His promise. You don’t know the future, but you know the One who controls the future—and He promises the future looks good. God says in Christ, you have been adopted as His child, and you have an inheritance waiting—what’s the inheritance? All that God owns, you and I will share in to some degree. You are of eternal worth and value to God, and God loves you unconditionally more than you can imagine.  And that’s not just sentimentality—you will experience the deepest desires of your soul finally fulfilled in His presence one day —that’s His promise. His joy is yours for the taking according to Jesus—as you obey Him—He wants you to experience more and more of God’s joy now.  That’s what Paul was experiencing.  You’re free already, even in a Roman prison—God paid the price to set you free of every addiction, every power, every evil bondage, every fear—so you can learn to live and walk in that freedom by Dwelling on what God says is true about you.

You must choose to pay attention to your thoughts and make sure your thoughts are in line with the Reality of God promised in scripture.  Some of you are saying already, “That’s easy for you to say, but you have no earthly idea what I’m facing.  I don’t have a choice.  I didn’t ask for any of this junk, but it keeps getting piled on me.” You’re right, I have no earthly idea what you are facing, but I do know one thing—you still do have the ability to choose your thoughts. It’s your choice what your mind dwells on.

Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the Nazi death camps of Aushwitz and Treblinka said, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread…they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken away from a man but one thing:  the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance…”  And this, says Frankl is the secret to not just surviving trials, but coming out a better person. God would not command us to do it if it were not possible.  He commands us to fix our thoughts on what’s good and true, on the hope God promises all who trust in him—no matter what the circumstances.  And he does this because our thoughts are powerful and focusing on God’s Reality ushers us into this Joy Paul experienced.

God’s telling a much bigger story through it all. So take off the negative filters, focus on God’s Reality, it’s good—and it brings peace and joy that lasts.

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