At Gateway Church in Austin, we began a new series called 2020: Envision a New You.
Have you ever been a part of a group or had a friend that made you feel truly accepted? God calls us to be precisely this to everyone we encounter. But since we live in a broken world, and we ourselves are so broken, how can we hope to be fully accepted for who we are, let alone be able to easily accept those around us? What if we could view people through the same lens God views us? Are you willing to leave judgments and fear of being judged behind to see and be seen by people through the same lens God sees us?
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
Message Audio from Gateway South:
Message Notes from John Burke:
As that Foreigner song says, all people struggle, feeling a lack of love and acceptance, yet it’s what people are striving for, longing for.
There are lots of times in life when we need a safe place:
- we feel beaten down from the pace of life
- we’re exhausted trying to live up to people’s expectations
- we’ve made terrible mistakes and have no place to turn
- we feel stuck in sinful patterns and can’t get out
- we feel emotionally damaged, alone, purposeless, unlovable.
There are times we all need a safe place to heal, and grow, and chart a new course to become all we know we can be.
And at the beginning of a new year, a new decade, we want that, we need that! So we’re talking about 2020 being the year you envision a New You, the best version of You…
Come As You Are
Gateway’s motto is “Come as you are” weird, boring, anything in-between.
- Gateway is a safe place to wrestle down your doubts, struggles, past hurts or failures—and grow.
- Doubters welcome.
- And if you’re a Christ-follower looking for community to grow spiritually and serve locally—it’s a great time to get connected during this New Year New You series.
People are making New Year Resolutions, setting new goals, most they won’t keep. But some people are starting to set more realistic goals for the New Year, like these I found on Social Media:
- I’m gonna quit trying to stop smoking this year [not a great goal, but definitely attainable]
- 2. Watch exercise videos while I snack.”
Realistic. That’s one way to do it, just lower the bar far enough and you’re sure to get over it.
But what about this realistic goal for the New Year: I’m gonna become a better version of myself.
- That’s realistic, and doable, and we’re gonna help you.
- It’s a character goal.
- If you’ll practice this with family, spouse, kids, roomates, co-workers, friends—you’ll find yourself a more fulfilled person, and you’ll be more life-giving to those around you.
Let’s talk today about becoming a more accepting, Grace-giving person.
When the storms of life come, we all need a safe harbor, a safe place where we can go to seek shelter from the trials of life that overtake us. All of us hit times like these. But where in the world do you turn?
Too many times, we have looked for a safe harbor, only to find more pain and disappointment: in family, in friends, in bars and nightclubs, even in churches.
But I’m convinced that God wants his church to be this safe place.
Jesus painted a graphic picture of the safe place he longs for us to experience when he stood on Mt. Olivet overlooking Jerusalem. And he could just as well have been standing on Mt. Bonnel overlooking Austin, and with tears in his eyes said,
“Oh Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” – Matthew 23:37
If you’ve ever seen a mother hen with her chicks, it’s a graphic illustration of the safety God wants to provide for people.
- How many of you have chickens in your backyard? We live in South Austin, I thought there would be more hands raised!
- Whenever danger rears it’s ugly teeth, the little chicks scurry toward the mother hen, who in one motion lifts her wings and covers the chicks with protection and shelter from the predator.
- And with their little hearts pounding, they feel safe under her wings.
I’m convinced that God’s desire.
- And he wants his church to be that kind of community– a safe place for people feeling beaten down and oppressed, for people feeling alienated and alone, for people feeling worn out from constantly trying to perform.
- God intends his church to be that safe refuge – a spiritual harbor.
- But to be a safe refuge, we must become a place full of safe people. How?
At Gateway, one of our values is Come As You Are. Which is actually the value of Grace-giving acceptance. Scripture tells us that’s where God starts with all of us “As is.”
God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
– Romans 5:8.
This is an amazing truth if you grasp it—God doesn’t need you to clean up your act, get more religious, prove yourself worthy—God loves and accepts you “As Is.”
All you need to do is come to him. This is not just true if we do not follow God, but this is true for us every single day as followers of Jesus.
Because we can’t become what we were created to be without God, who created us for relationship with himself.
So God accepts us as is, and tells us:
“Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.”
– Romans 7:15.
We’re trying to create local communities where people feel loved and accepted from the start in our groups, in our networks, and in our campuses.
In all our Groups which are about growing spiritually.
In our Networks which are about connecting through serving.
In our Campuses which include our new one in Buda!
Some of you may wonder why different campuses? I mean we sent out 70 people to start Gateway Central in 2016 and now we are sending out another 70 or so people to Buda. I mean these are wonderful people we miss not getting to see as much! I mean: why not just keep getting bigger and bigger? That’s what most churches try to do?
It’s because our aim is to Love God and Love People—all people, but you can only do that locally, connected to others.
We want to continue to be a campus planting campus where we small enough to connect and know people, but big enough to have opportunities to connect, serve, and grow for all ages.
Then what’s great about many campuses is that we can come together to do more together than we can apart.
For instance, here at Year End, all our campuses together gave generously and exceeded our budget by $150,000!
- So our overseas partners will get $100,000
- to build a school for girls rescued from slums in Vijavada India
- 10 pastors will be sent into rural villages of Andhra Pradesh India to bring medical care, orphan and elderly care, and spiritual care to the poorest of the poor
- Mission of Hope Haiti will feed and educate 230 more kids all year because of your generosity, and
- World Relief Burundi will help 1000 people in poverty giving them improved agricultural practices, training in microfinance, children’s ministry, and spiritual growth.
- Plus $50,000 will help start our new campuses, so Way to go Gateway!
People everywhere long for a community where you can come as you are, feel loved and accepted, and find support to grow into the best version of yourself—that happens in the environment of Grace and Acceptance.
But how do each one of us become more accepting, grace-giving people?
Accept the Person First
We’ve all been trained to see people transactionally—what have they done, what can they do for me, how do they affect me?
We judge their value to us based on their behavior—it’s what we all get trained to do.
God doesn’t do that.
God values you, me, every person based on our intrinsic worth – based on what God created you to be.
To become accepting, Grace-giving people, we must learn to value people like God does. So what’s a person worth to God?
In Los Angeles, we lived in 900 square foot house that was built in 1928. We bought it in 2002. It was a stretch and cost more than any house any of our extended family had ever paid for a much newer and much larger house in Texas. Well the housing market was booming and eventually it was worth 3.5 times what we paid for it! My wife Deborah wanted to sell, but I told her it would only go further up so let’s wait! I just knew we woud be rich! And then the market collapsed badly. A couple years later we sensed God calling us to move to Austin to be part of Gateway. I so wanted to try to sell it at the highest value we had seen it reach in 2007, but no one would do that. If only I had listened to my wife!
You see: the true value of anything is established by the highest price a person is willing to pay for it.
We tend to overvalue things but undervalue people.
What’s God’s Pricetag on a Person?
- Think of the most obnoxious, mean-spirited, sinful, addicted, struggling human you can? The person you can’t stand.
- What’s the pricetag in your mind of their worth?
- What is the highest price someone will pay for them?
“God paid a ransom to save you [every one of you] from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ.”
– 1 Peter 1:18-19
God set the value of each person by what he was willing to pay.
He valued you, me, Muslims, Buddhists, immigrants, people in the gay community, republicans, democrats, nice happy people, drug addicts, sexual predators, crooked CEOs, even Christians – every person from every nation has an eternal value, and Jesus demonstrated our value as He gave His life for humanity – He gave all he could pay as a human!
Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” John 12:32
Why? Because he sees what you are truly worth to the Artist who created you.
Would you treat it like trash?
Would you only see the mud and damage?
No, if it was the greatest work of art from the greatest artist! It’s a masterpiece!
We would see past the mud to know it’s still worth millions, and we’d carefully take it to a Master artist who could restore it to it’s original value.
You see you are a masterpiece covered in mud.
You are royalty.
God has an eternal memory of you.
He can see who you were created to be before you did or didn’t do anything.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10
Think about what that means—God sees you fully, eternally, always has, always will. Nothing you’ve done or failed to do or will do can change that– That’s why he put a pricetag on your life at the highest value possible on earth.
But that’s not just true of you, but every person you’ve ever locked eyes with.
To become an Accepting, Grace-Giving person—you must see the Masterpiece under the Mud.
The problem is that some of us struggle with believing God loves us in this way because people claiming to follow Jesus judged us. They failed to offer grace. They didn’t live out what Jesus said and the Bible teaches.
That was true in Jesus’ day too. The religious leaders were called Pharisees, and they loved to judge other people. So Jesus went to those that the religious people judged and rejected.
Read the New Testament and see Jesus interact with a sinner or a leper or a woman or a Gentile– Jesus was loving the people religious people reject.
Don’t let judgmental religious people keep you from knowing the loving, grace-giving God who revealed Himself in the person of Jesus.
So how do we Accept the Person First – we picture in our mind’s eye the Masterpiece God created them to be—we see past the mud and start by treating others as eternally important, of great value.
Ever been around a person that makes you feel like you really matter—They take time to ask questions and listen deeply to your story, to encourage you, to make the effort to know you?
If you have, you’ve probably wanted to be around them a lot, because it feels good to experience Grace-giving acceptance.
But to become people who give Grace-giving Acceptance, we have to pay attention to how we frame people.
What you hold in your heart, the mental framework in which you picture a person, is what people react to most.
Understanding this can transform all your relationships.
You may have heard this but words make up only about 10 percent of communication. The rest gets communicated through tone, body language, facial expressions. I would like to suggest something even more subliminal gets communicated–the heart. What’s in your heart toward a person is what people intuitively pick up on somehow. A heart of Grace-giving Acceptance heals people.
Four decades of research in psychotherapy has now demonstrated that the most influential factor that changes a person during therapy is the relationship.
It doesn’t matter the technique—behavioral therapy, cognative therapy, emotional focused therapy, gestalt therapy – it doesn’t matter.
Studies have shown–How the therapist feels about the client makes the biggest difference! In over one hundred studies, clients indicated it was not the therapeutic ideas or techniques that helped most, but
- the feelings of warmth (“you listened and cared”)
- empathy (“you understood me”)
- genuine relationship (“you respected and liked me”)
that’s what made the greatest impact on a person’s behavioral change and life outlook.
People perceive how you feel about them, intuitively, and that’s what they respond to. That makes the biggest difference.
We can do that for FREE for each other—that’s what groups and networks are all about!
I am not saying stop going to your counselor or that you shouldn’t go to a counselor, but what I am saying is: we all need more than that. We need a community that loves God and loves us to help us become who God has created us to be.
So if you want to be a genuinely influential person—here’s how:
Pay attention to what’s in your heart toward that person.
That’s what MATTERS most!
Which means, if we are going to be influential people—life-giving people—people who are more like Jesus, we must pay attention to the mental frameworks we put people in.
- The picture we hold of them in our mind’s eye, the way we feel about them.
- If you are truly for that person, if you hold good will toward them in your heart, if you highly value them, they can hear all kinds of difficult things because they’ll know you are on their side.
- But if what you hold in your heart toward another person is judging, devaluing, condescending, manipulative, or self-centered, people sniff that out like dogs in the dog park.
- We all have pretty good BS meters.
But how, you may ask, can we hold good thoughts in our hearts, when people are so bad? Great question!
Jesus offered Mercy and Grace to people who deserved judgment. So to be an Accepting, Grace-giving person, you have to obey Jesus and…
In Luke 4, Jesus stands up in his hometown synagogue and reads from the prophet Isaiah foretelling the Messiah’s mission (God foretold 1000s of years in advance the coming of Jesus—Jesus said, “This is being fulfilled in me.”
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and… – Isaiah 61:1-2
Jesus cuts Isaiah’s prophetic words off in mid-sentence and sits down.
He says, “I’ve come to let struggling people, brokenhearted people, people captive to addictions, people stuck in dark spiritual places know that now is the time of God’s Favor—God is for you, not against you!” Jesus came from God to show Grace-giving Acceptance—You’re in his favor, his favorite—turn to him. Do people perceive you are for them, not against them? That’s how we show Grace-giving Acceptance: “I’m for you.”
Isaiah goes on to say, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.” Isaiah 61:2
Why did Jesus stop mid-sentence? Why stop at the part about vengeance and judgment?
Because that’s coming—a day is coming when God will set all things straight and bring justice.
But first, he offers mercy, Grace, forgiveness, to everyone who wants it. He offers restoration to every Masterpiece who wants to be restored.
So Jesus instructed us:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” Luke 6:37
The Religious Pharisees of Jesus’s day loved to judge others who couldn’t live up to their standards. Jesus rebuked them. Jesus was harsh with them ironically because that would have been the only way to get through to them. He once said to these religious leaders:
“You load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” – Luke 11:46
Rather than compassionately helping people, do we burden them with judgment when they don’t live up to our standards?
That’s the tricky thing, we all judge each other—not on God’s standards, but on your own standards.
In fact, I did a little experiment a few years ago, I tried to be aware of any judging thoughts for a whole week. You know what I realized—Judging is Fun, I like it—it makes me feel better, and I don’t think I’ve gone a week without this sin.
But it’s so ingrained, I’m not aware of it.
- I may judge my wife for being moody–which especially bothers me when I’m moody (but I have a good reason!).
- My new neighbor judges the neighbors across the street for letting their kids play basketball so late – she tells me how wrong that is – and I secretly judge her for being so judgmental.
- I watch the news and condemn those “horrible people” who do such things
- I turn the channel to reality TV full of people I can judge as sinful, ignorant, stupid, arrogant, or childish.
- I get in my car and drive and find a host of inept drivers who should have flunked their driving test—throw in a little condemnation on the Department of Public Safety for good measure!
Is this just me? Really? I don’t think so.
Judging is our favorite pastime, if we’re honest—but we’re not!
“Don’t judge” is our society’s motto, but We all slip into this Mental Framework that kills a Grace-giving environment of Acceptance.
Monitor your thoughts this week, just see how often you pass judgement on what spouses, coworkers, strangers ought to do.
- We secretly hold others to standards we would highly resent being held to!
- We expect others to know our hearts, our motives, and give us the benefit of the doubt, yet we often judge others only by what we experience.
- To be Accepting, Grace-Giving people when we start Judging the mud, we must focus on the Masterpiece instead.
People expect judgment, and it keeps them running from God–the only One who can help them become all they were intended to be.
Only when we stand under the umbrella of God’s Grace-giving Acceptance will we address the mud and stain in our own lives, and let God remove it.
That changes us, and others.
So we must give up judging, and like Jesus, show Grace-giving Acceptance to those around us.
But…you may say…some people really need to change—what if they don’t change? Glad you asked. Because people only change when we…
Let God Do the Changing
Paul in the New Testament reminds the Corinthian church how people change.
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow…we are co-workers in God’s service.” – 1 Corinthians 3:6-9
God causes the growth. Our job is not to fix or change or grow anyone. Only God causes growth from the inside out. We are co-workers with God to create the soil of safety, point each other to trust God more, God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. We become more and more who God created us to be, loving, joyful, peace-filled, patient, kind…people.
But what if we see people making bad decisions, we know will hurt them or others? Should we not say anything and just watch, while talking badly about them to others? Absolutely not!
The Scriptures tell us not to judge others AND the Scriptures teach us to speak the truth in love. It truly is both/and not either/or.
And sometimes God speaks to us through others who care for us enough to be honest.
See we get confused, in our culture we say: “Don’t judge me.” So we’ve tried to eliminate judging people outloud and we just judge others in our own head or by gossiping about them.
God has a new way.
- We create the soil of Grace-giving Acceptance first
- We stop judging each other
- Instead: we take the mental framework: “I am for you, not against you.”
- and in that safe harbor, we help each other learn how good God is, so we trust God more and more
- and when struggle or fail and fall, we have people we love who know us and love us.
And in those friendships we can be honest with each other about blind spots hurtful patterns. But we talk to them directly not to others, motivated by love not to make ourselves feel better.
And in that environment, we’re not alone, we’re love, and we all grow into more and more of what God intended—loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, generous, patient, self-controlled people.
See the problem is too often we aren’t kind enough and close enough to others to where they would want us to share what we see.
We aren’t close enough to others to hear the wisdom they would have to share with us.
God calls us to speak the truth in love when they are ready and listening and know they are loved.
What happens too often is we see something they cannot see.
So we start to tell other people and not the actual person until finally we are so frustrated that we blow up at the person!
It’s not coming from a place of love but a place of anger, hurt, or frustration.
That’s so unproductive and damaging.
Instead, develop that grace-giving acceptance and nurture the relationship and when you are in a good place, and they are in a good place you share your heart for them. You want them to get the help they need for their own good not so that you can love them.
Jesus said that the message of the Scriptures can be summarized with “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Too often the way we live our lives is more like: “Judge God and judge your neighbor as you judge yourself.” We are too negative and harsh with others and ourselves because we have a misunderstanding of who God is.
We need to shift our understanding of God and the Church.
You see this is not about religion. This is all about relationship.
Religion says: “I messed up. My Dad is going to kill me.”
Relationship says: “I messed up. I need to call my Dad.”
So it’s 2020, can you envision a New You—can you see it?
If you’re ready for that, be intentional about your relationship with God and your relationship with others in this church family.
- Take one night a week off from the TV to grow in a group (Check out the Be Transformed Cards. For these groups – No prior knowledge of the Bible needed. Coming with doubts and struggles is totally fine).
- Take one morning out of the week to serve in a network.
- And every day, try spending 7-14 minutes with God at 7:14am (or anytime that you can).
- And every week, join us on Sunday and ask God: “Today, what do you have for me and what do you want from me?”
Being intentional this year will lead to a new you!