Backstage Pass: Faith in Action by Jon Eng

At Gateway Church in Austin, we concluded a series called Backstage Pass.

Having a backstage pass can offer an amazing opportunity to get a glimpse of things we deem as great —bands, actors, organizations, and the like. But God shows us that true “greatness” comes from knowing Jesus and working towards strong character. What would it look like to pull back the curtain and snag a backstage pass to the creation of followers of Christ who seek great character through Him?

So now, how do we put our faith in action? How do we write a new song for our lives and for others?



Last week, in honor of SXSW, we started our backstage pass series here at Gateway. This is a look behind-the-scenes to get a snapshot of what we’re after as a community.

If you didn’t catch us last Sunday, we asked how we can become more like Jesus. We looked at something called The Character Matrix, a pathway for us to Come As You Are and advance towards transformation. This material is now a book called Uprising: A Revolution of the Soul by Erwin McManus.

God welcomes you exactly where you are, and God invites you to grow.

  • To move beyond where you are currently. To become the person you are created to be.
  • To not stay stuck in our patterns of selfishness.
  • Each of us are invited to become women and men who bring healing to our world.
  • To be people who lay aside our pride, to become someone who confronts a hurting and broken world with courage.
  • Instead of foolishness, wisdom.
  • Instead of greed, generosity.

Today, we’re going to ask the question: what do transformed people do?

What do followers of Jesus look like and sound like?

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts… – William Shakespeare


If all the world’s a stage, then what part are you playing right now?

Are you the prideful woman who shrills about her accomplishments?

The foolish man who tries to hide his voice because of past mistakes?

Or are you on a pathway towards courage? Generosity?


In Shakespearean plays, actors and actresses would often sing their parts. Song was used as an effective device to establish and describe a character. Song pointed to the multiple facets of a person: his emotions, her motivations. Most importantly, song captured a person’s life and meaning.

So imagine – you’re on the stage of life, and your part is about to begin: What does the song of your life sound like?

As you consider that question, I want to invite you to check out this story, to hear a kind of song that someone has learned to sing through his life.

As a living example of this, consider Father Greg Boyle:

In a world that’s filled with fear, insecurity, and even violence, isn’t that an amazing picture of what our hearts yearn for?

What I love about this story is that it addresses a key question: 1) Who am I created to be?

Am I the product of the violence or dysfunction of my past? Does my skin, my nationality, my past determine my worth as a human being? Am I only addition and subtraction, the sum of my successes and my mistakes, Someone whose account is often left in the negative instead of the positive?

Or am I something more?

In Father Greg Boyle’s life work, we catch a floating melody that moves us heavenward,

A whisper of the profound.

You and I are created for something more.

We’re set apart from the rest of creation.

Genesis: Created in the image of God

We are the only creatures in the known universe who are bestowed with this gift called free will. CHOICE.

  • We are designed to create, to cultivate, to co-labor towards life and beauty and freedom. Yet because of brokenness in our world, and the foolish choices we make,
  • We’re also wired for struggle.

That tension – between our capacity for good and evil – rings true for all of us.

  • The 4 year old kid about to start her first day of school,
  • the 12 year old middle schooler trying to make sense of their grandma’s death,
  • the 16 year old struggling with anxiety and fear in a world gone mad with high school massacres and bullying,
  • the 25 year old searching for meaning and purpose,
  • the 40 year old single mom,
  • And the couple who’s been married for 40 years.

Each of us has tremendous capacity for beauty, and yet we struggle with darkness within

So what do we do to overcome ourselves to impact our world? To become transformed?

As people made in the image of God, how do we go beyond the cultural forces and narratives that tell us –

  • You’re too young to make a difference,
  • You’re too damaged to be of any good,
  • Or don’t worry about others, just protect your own,
  • Hold on to what you have, be comfortable, no need to think about others or this world?

To counteract the worst of ourselves, we have to tune into the one who created us.


And I know not all of us may be convinced of God yet, but I want to invite you to be open to the possibility.

Against the voices and messages we hear in the world, another voice breaks in:

In the scriptures, in the Gospel of Luke 4:18-19, we find Jesus announcing his mission:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

This is the mission of Jesus.

To preach the gospel to the poor.

To proclaim release to the captives, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

Theologians and scholars call this mission the centralizing force that holds together the narrative of Luke. It’s the organizing idea from which Luke builds his gospel.

Here, we find that the Spirit of the Lord is upon Jesus, empowering him to bring good news to the poor.

And the more time you spend in Luke, the more you begin to discover that the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed doesn’t just extend to those who physically suffer, but also those who are also burdened relationally, personally, and emotionally.

God’s mission is to bring healing to all of us.

If Luke 4:18-19 were a song, it would be God’s grand opus, marked by crescendo, a beautiful rhythm, a healing melody that diffuses tensions and releases a salve to all who hear it.

This is God’s song to humanity.

  • A song of grace to all who would hear it.
  • A song that runs counter to the false songs that promote selfishness and self-centeredness
  • A song that doesn’t imprison, but sets us free from our prisons and our shackles –physical, emotional, spiritual, or otherwise.

When I hear music like this – divine, imaginative, hopeful,

There’s just something about the texture of its sound, when it’s played or sung in such particular way, tastes so right.

  • Cello like rich dark chocolate.
  • The A string of a bass like perfectly braised short ribs that melt in your mouth.
  • It’s music to my ears.
  • Food for my soul.

This is Luke 4:18-19.

If we zoom out of Luke for one second, we would see that God’s up to something. God is laying down the bass line – that rhythmic undertone that cuts through the mess of our lives and calls out to the depths of our souls.

Do you hear God’s song today?

Come, Listen, Tune In.

Its reverberations drive the mission of Jesus, the mission of the church.

You see, communities like this one, we are called to embody Jesus.

To find healing. To bring hope. To uplift others.

Jesus’ mission is our mission. Jesus’ song is our song.

The church has always been called to be the representation of Jesus to our world.

We re-present Jesus to the world.

We are meant to carry Jesus’ mission forward.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. – Luke 4:18-19

Maybe that’s not what you think of when you think of the church.

I don’t know what you might imagine. Maybe a group of really really religious people. Maybe a group of the super spiritual. People who have it all together and thumb their noses at everyone else. Maybe a building filled with symbols. Or a place filled with hypocrisy and judgement.

Ultimately, the church is none of those things.

To be frank, the church over the years and in different cultures has sometimes significantly lost its way.

You see, the church was never designed to be a museum of saints.

The church is simply a collection of broken people getting healed and being sent out to be wounded healers.

Put in our mixtape, and ours is a song meant to depict God’s confounding grace and healing. It’s a song designed to announce the beautiful collision of humanity’s brokenness intersecting with God’s redemptive healing and justice.

Much more than just a building or a service, the church is first and foremost a community built on grace. Its song is a radical love that serves the least of these.


Is that true of your life today? What song, what noise do you hear?

We are meant for more than eating, drinking, and being merry!

You and I are created in the image of God, the Imago Dei.

If you were to put in the mixtape of your life today, would you hear things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Or would it be something entirely different?

Are you on the way towards creating powerful, soothing, and healing music?

Or are you banging down on random keys across the keyboard of your life?

  • Trying to figure out how to parent but running into yourself
  • Trying to be better but struggling to make the right choices

It can be tough to be honest about our songs, our lives.

When it comes to paying attention to the kind of music we’re producing in our lives, sometimes, we’re like Phoebe Buffay on Friends.

  • Silly Cats is our hit song.
  • We hit up the coffee shops, we proudly invite our friends.
  • Check me out! COME COME COME. Listen to my one hit wonder!
  • We think we’re God’s gift to the world!
  • But we can’t see everyone cringing around us.

Or, we’re like a guy looking at himself in the mirror. PAUSE.

Like Homer Simpson staring at himself in the mirror.

  • They say when girls look at themselves in the mirror, they see an extra 10 pounds.
  • For guys, it’s the opposite, we see a minus 10 pounds. At least.

What would it look like for us to examine our lives accurately, not seeing ourselves as too far gone nor seeing ourselves as better than we really are?

I have struggled with this. For a long time, I battled with pride. And if you remember, pride Is either thinking too highly of yourself or too lowly of yourself. It really comes down to just thinking too much about yourself. For much of my early years and even into adulthood, I felt as if my voice and my life didn’t matter. I thought too lowly of myself. But as I continued to grow with others and with God, I began learning a different perspective about myself.

Consider this passage:

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 was a game-changer for me! I took this prayer and made it my own. And I had to learn how to wrestle with the lies about myself and the truths that God saw in me.

As we invite God to examine us, we’ll discover our darker selves. And the amazing thing about God is that God doesn’t just point out our shadows.

God doesn’t just say, UGH – man that’s some really bad stuff….Good luck…

I mean that would really just get me down right?

No – God remains forever for you and works on your behalf to heal and change.

God brings things into the light, and God walks alongside of us because God sees more in you than you can even see.


After examining our life, the next step we take is to acknowledge – God I need help.

The moment we say that, we open ourselves up to experience God’s grace. And it’s God’s grace that takes broken people with broken melodies like mine and makes a song of beauty.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

– 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

We may be struggling people when we enter into community like this one.

We’re fragile, jars of clay

But through the cracks of our lives, God’s light shines.

We are designed to be reflections of Jesus to this world.

Whether you’re seeking faith or following Jesus, you and I are called to be a part of something greater than ourselves.

Luke 4:18-19 is meant to be our grounding melody. It’s home base, it’s the bass line for our lives, for men and women called to be more than what we imagine ourselves to be.

It is the song of all songs, the backdrop on which we can build new movements.

We can never make this kind of music on our own. And so we begin in a place where we just say – God I need your help, I need you to teach me.


And as we acknowledge our need, God starts teaching us a new song.

We start learning little lines and musical runs that bring healing to us and announce beauty, truth, and mercy into this world.

If God’s creation is the first movement of a concerto.

Then those who say – God I need your help – we become the second movement.

We learn God’s song.

And we set the stage for the final act, the crescendo of God’s work.

When Jesus will return to make all things right, to bring healing to what is broken, to redeem  and renew all things.

What does this sound like?

In our culture, I think of some of the melodies that have drawn inspiration from God’s song:

  • Father Greg Boyle, who has chosen to see more in people than what they and others might see
  • #metoo – Rachael Denhollander, who in the midst of adding her voice to impact statements at Larry Nassar’s sentencing, offered her abuser forgiveness. But she didn’t stop there, she also became a voice for justice. She modeled her faith in a God who is both forgiving and full of justice. She called our institutions to examine our practices, to root out systemic policies and practices that allow for sexual abusers to go unchecked in the first place. Pointing to the scores of women who have suffered, she railed against unhealthy churches and communities, saying, “This is what it looks like when institutions create a culture where a predator can flourish unafraid and unabated and this is what it looks like when people in authority refuse to listen, put friendships in front of the truth, fail to create or enforce proper policy and fail to hold enablers accountable.”
  • Both Greg and Rachael are singing God’s song to a broken world.

And before we create too much distance between ourselves and what we might call these modern-day heroes of faith, let’s take a look at our own community.

How does following Jesus show up here, in the ordinary, in the everyday?

  • Doug, who got baptized last year, and is now learning how to practice curious compassion with his son.
  • Raf and Erica, their dream to create a community that’s focused on practicing community together as Jesus taught us.
  • Luis, who serves faithfully with our Sunday greeting team, and when his homeland of Puerto Rico was hit by the hurricane, he and others in our reconciliation network challenged our community to consider our response. How can we serve others like we did in Houston? How can we respond in the midst of tragedy and heightened tensions? In many ways, the reason why we’re going to Puerto Rico as a youth group is because Luis helped us to think more globally.

How did each of these people start singing these songs in their lives? What’s the common note across their songs?

It’s a simple yes. People who follow Jesus say Yes to Jesus, over and over again.

They’re on their way towards becoming like Jesus.

Sometimes we slip up or fall.

But as we admit, or confess – God I need your help.

God stays faithful and points us to the next step, and the next step, and the next step.

Hit the snare at this beat.

Syncopate your rhythm here.

Ad-lib a line over there.

And as we take those steps, God begins to teach us a new song that accompanies God’s song.

It’s a song that’s marked with notes of curious compassion for those around us.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.

  • Where once we stood off at a distance, judging ourselves and others, God invites us to practice compassion like Jesus did with so many others throughout his ministry.
    • Woman at the Well: When Jesus decides to meet the woman at the well, he does so out of curious compassion. He didn’t avoid the region of Samaria.
    • Did you know that Jews back in the day detested Samaria so much that they would circle all the way around Samaria to avoid the people?
    • They would rather travel further and judge at a distance instead of engaging others with compassion.
    • But Jesus crosses boundaries because of his compassion. He goes to meet the woman at the well who’s been rejected by her entire town and treated as the outsider of the outsiders.
  • When we start singing God’s song, we become people who choose not to judge.
  • We engage others who are different from us, asking them to tell me more, tell me more of your story, of your successes, of your pain.
  • We do this with those who don’t look like us or think like us or fill the same generational space as us.
    • GO Team Phrase: It’s not wrong. It’s different. And we find beauty in that difference. We seek to understand instead of building up walls, avoiding the difficult, or judging the different.
  • Questions: When was the last time you engaged someone with a curious compassion? Maybe it’s your son or your daughter. Maybe it’s that co-worker who just moved in from another country. Maybe it’s your spouse who you argued with earlier this week. Maybe it’s your neighbor.
  • I’m always struck by how people who exercise a curious compassion for others often go on to change their world. People like Father Greg Boyle and people like Doug.

Our song also infuses these beautiful phrases of healing, justice, and truth.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed…

  • When we learn about the tragic experiences of the oppressed, we no longer remove ourselves from the equation or feign ignorance.
  • Instead, we begin a journey, an uprising to bring God’s SHALOM, God’s peace to broken systems and broken communities. This might lead some of you to engage our criminal justice system, or the practices of your business, or the brokenness of your world.
  • It may lead you to uncomfortable situations that require your courage, like when Jesus encountered the woman at the well, or Rachael Denhollander facing her abuser and the systems that protected him for so long. These spaces – they’re uncomfortable, but they’re worth the discomfort because you are upholding and honoring the image of God in others, even when they don’t see it in themselves and others.
    • What might it look like for you to take a stand to uphold the image of God in others, especially those who are facing daily attacks to their identity because of hate, violence, racism, or abuse?

Finally our song resonates with the love of God.

to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

We learn to view everyone and everything through the lens of God. We usher in a new song and a new reality. This is the favorable year of the Lord.

“Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love…” – 1 Corinthians 13

If you want to follow Jesus, to become like Jesus, then God extends an invitation to you today. Will you say yes to learning a new song?

Take a step to follow Jesus. Your song, and your life, will never be the same.

And the invitation is always – Will you follow me? Will you trust that this next step will bring you more healing. Even if the next chord change feels impossible to make. Even if that next syncopation feels too complex. Will you trust me?

How can you and I begin to say Yes to God?

First Time: Start coming regularly to our Sunday experiences. But don’t just come, and then leave. Take the time each week to reflect on the message for 5-10 minutes. Ask yourself, how could I apply and live out this msg in my life in the next week?

Discipleship Cycle: 

In the Crowds: Consider joining us for Starting Point to serve others with others, or joining a life group to spiritually mature, to learn the way of Jesus.

Commissioning – to become fully invested in the mission of Gateway. Maybe your next step is to lead a life group, a group of people committed to growing in spiritual maturity together. To help lead in our Next Gen teams on Sundays, investing in the next generation.

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