“Flourishing in South Austin”

At Gateway Church in South Austin we revealed the results of the survey on Flourishing.

Message Video:

Message Notes:

Is this fall flying by for you as it has been for me?

You look up from all that keeps you busy and another month has gone by!

In the midst of that are you flourishing or are you merely just surviving?
Are you making healthy progress in your relationships, with your physical and mental health, with your finances, or even with your sense of fulfilling your purpose?
Or have you even had the time to consider how to make progress or put together a plan? 

Spiritual Maturity in the Scriptures

Today I wanted to share a passage that has challenged me and helped me over the years and it has to do with becoming spiritually mature.

Paul, a church planter who started the first churches throughout the Roman world just after the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus wrote letters to the churches he helped start and the church leaders he invested in to encourage them towards making progress.

At one point he was writing some of these letters which make up most of our New Testament from prison.

He writes: 

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all….” – ‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:1-6

What would it be like to live a life worthy of the calling we received? 

First we would need to know our calling and then have the ability to live it out! How do we do that?

What if all who experience us could describe us as someone who is humble, gentle, patient, loving, and unifying?

Let me encourage you: we can live a life worthy of the calling we received and we can live a transformed life so that others experience the best of us!

Before we look at how to get there, let me share what we discovered from the survey we did together last month during the flourishing series. This will show us where we are so we know how far to go.

On average for the questions used in Harvard’s study on Flourishing, those of us who filled out the survey rated ourselves with an average of about a 7 on a scale of 1-10 on each question. That means that overall we felt pretty good about where we are in terms of flourishing in every category but not great in any category.

When we do a deeper dive though, some things really stood out.

Flourishing Survey Results

We are increasingly diverse in a world that tries to divide us, you have chosen a different path. You have chosen to be with us.

Those who described themselves as unsure about God or not really following God, actually ended up averaging closer to a 4 out of 10 overall when it comes to flourishing in life. Now if that is you, I hope you see that continuing to explore God with us could be the very thing you need to flourish more in your life! Keep pressing in! Keep pursuing God with an open heart and open mind!

Just as a reminder, the folks at Harvard indicated that their research demonstrated that participating in a weekly church experience increased your ability to have healthy relationships, to be physically, mentally, and financially healthy, and to fulfill your sense of purpose. 

In fact in other research, Harvard researchers discovered that “people who attended religious services at least once a week were significantly less likely to die from ‘deaths of despair,’ including deaths related to suicide, drug overdose, and alcohol poisoning.”

Now on our campus in South Austin, what stood out to me was how many of us indicated “I have chosen to believe in God, but I am not actively following Him (16.7%). Added to that when asked about our current status in our relationship with God, about ¾ of us indicated we are following Jesus which means 1 out of 4 of us would describe ourselves as unsure or not fully following Him. More than any other campus, we have people who are searching. 

I want to take a moment to affirm you. 

First, those of you fully following Jesus, you have done an amazing job at inviting your friends and family and creating the space where people can genuinely come and explore God. Let’s keep doing this! Keep inviting people! Did you know that most people who find Gateway, find us because of an invitation from a friend or family member or co worker or neighbor. (Second is google).

Continue to be people who love rather than judge, who serve rather than shame, who welcome those searching rather than becoming a holy huddle like most churches.

Too often churches act like the Upper Room where only the spiritually elite are welcomed rather than the Sermon on the Mount where disciples AND skeptics are in the crowd. You have lived out loving everyone: life by life.

Another interesting result from our survey is that we scored incredibly high when it comes to factors that lead to generosity. You give freely to help others along in their journey. That’s amazing to me!

What also stood out to me is how we struggle more than the other campuses to flourish in the following areas:

16% of us say we believe in God but we aren’t actively following Him. That’s honest. And honesty is a good thing because it helps you determine where you really are. Some may think they are following God and be in denial of their reality. If that is you, let me encourage you to reconsider your trajectory. God is inviting you to know Him. Not facts about Him but actually experience Him in a genuine relationship. When you surrender to fully follow Him, you will be amazed at what He will do in you and through you!

We seemed to indicate less overall satisfaction and less overall happiness than those from other campuses. This could be because 1 out of 4 of us are not connecting with God (which is one of the key markers needed for flourishing).

Of all the questions we asked, all of our campuses combined, the category in which we scored the lowest was actually the question dealing with social relationships. We struggle to have meaningful friendships. This could be that people are so transitory and we are all so busy that we don’t take time to just enjoy a meal with friends. We don’t take a night off from work or from tv to join a Gateway group which is a great and easy way to develop meaningful relationships.

For the South Austin respondents, the lowest average ratings were for D5_Rel_S (satisfaction in social relationships). 

For the South Austin respondents, the highest average ratings were for D4_Char (promoting good in all circumstances) and D3_Mean (things you do are worthwhile).

This leads me back to our passage for the day as Paul indicates that in order to grow and become mature, there are a few key ingredients that may surprise you. 

Let’s continue with Paul’s letter to give us some insight.

“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. – ‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:7, 11-16 ‭NIV

Paul gives great insight into becoming spiritually mature.

First, what does it mean to be immature?

According to Paul, when we are spiritually immature we are tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. (Ephesians 4:14)

We can also say that immature people experience the opposite of what those who are mature experience.

Immature people lack peace and unity. Instead when we are immature we experience disunity or even create disunity. We are prone to selfishness and gossip and spreading discord. 

We lie rather than speak the truth in love or we speak the truth but with bitterness or hatred in our heart.

Rather than building up others in love we tear others down or don’t even show up at all remaining isolated.

Sounds like junior high!

Remember junior high? 

If we aren’t careful, we can get stuck in spiritual junior high where we think we know everything but in reality we have so much room to grow!

When I have been stuck spiritually, part of what has helped me grow in my faith at Gateway and in years past has been acknowledging I need to grow. Celebrate small incremental steps. Compare yourself with where you were not with others.

The closer we grow to God the more we realize how far we have to go to become like Him.

Are you too proud to ask for help? Are you too proud to see areas in which you are stuck? Are you too proud to trust God and others so you try to control your circumstances and the people around you?

You see, we grow in different areas faster than others. Have you hung out with middle schoolers much? Some have size 12 shoes even when they are 5 feet tall. Some have their adult teeth even though they still have a baby face. You see 4’8” boys dancing with 5’8” girls at the dance.

We may be mature in one area, but we are quite immature in other areas. We may be great at hearing God’s voice, but we still have a lot of work in forgiving others. We may be great at serving people in need, but we still have a lot of work to become generous.

Some of us in this room are not as mature as we think we are. As a result, we are stuck. When we get stuck, we blame others. We blame our life group leader, our ministry leader, our parents, our pastors, or even God.

Humble yourself and ask God to speak to you. Ask Him to give you an open heart to hear His voice and even hear from others who you may have stopped listening to.

Notice what helps us become mature – experiencing God and serving in community.

“attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13) should be our goal!

All of the peace, joy, love, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control that comes from the Spirit of God to us can be used to describe the character of God who walked among us – Jesus! You and I have access to the fullness of the Messiah – the Promised One – God in human form!

We may catch glimpses here and there, but according to Paul we can experience the whole measure and the fullness of Christ!!

And to experience the fullness and whole measure requires being a part of a church family where we are equipped by others who have spiritual gifts that can help us grow and us using our spiritual gifts helping other people grow. 

Serving others with others builds us up!

You cannot obey God’s Word to us and experience His promises for us in isolation. We need to be in community!

Community can be hard. Some of us have been hurt by others and so we build a protective wall around our heart. But that wall meant to protect us also keeps us from experiencing the love we need!

Are you settling for isolation?

Are you settling for less of what God has for you because you’ve gotten too used to being on your own?

Have you gotten into bad habits where you aren’t involved in a group from church as you used to be or you aren’t coming as regularly as you used to?

Do you have JOMO? 

You’ve heard of FOMO, right? That’s the fear of missing out. This can keep us from having healthy boundaries and learning to say “no” to some good things or bad things so that we only say “yes” to the best things.

For some or us, that isn’t the problem, our problem is JOMO. That stands for the Joy of missing out. You love it when a meeting is cancelled or an event gets postponed.

But here’s the thing, we need each other! 

Scientists and sociologists have indicated you live longer when you have meaningful relationships.

Relationships make us healthier!

In his book Everyone seems normal till you get to know them, John Ortberg shared the results of the Alameda County Study on Relationships. This study tracked 7,000 people over the course of  9 years. Here were some of their findings:

The most isolated people were 3x more likely to die than the more relational people. When someone had bad health habits but strong relational connections, they lived significantly longer than those who had great health habits but were isolated.

Ortberg summarizes the finding this way:

“It’s better to eat twinkies with good friends than to eat broccoli alone.”

– John Ortberg

In his book Bowling Alone, Harvard researcher Robert Putnam notes that if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, “you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half.”

He explains that there was a gradual rise of participation in Bowling leagues and PTAs and church attendance over the first two thirds of the last century. Then, mysteriously and more or less simultaneously, we stopped doing all those things less often.

And you know it’s even worse now after these last couple of years with the pandemic.

The result is we don’t have friends any more.
We just watch reruns of Friends on TV.

Some of you have this cynical voice inside your head. I know what some of you are thinking: “You don’t know my friends! There is no way I am living longer with the amount of drama the people in my life bring!

Others of you may be thinking: “Living a long time isn’t my goal. I would rather eat twinkies on my own and live to be 80 rather than have drama and live to be 100.  Is that an option in this?”

As hard as people can be, when we consider the best moments in life, someone else is either with us or helped us get there. Ortberg reminds us these findings prove what the Bible has said all along:

“You were created for community. You were made for relational connectedness. You were designed by God to love and be loved. To know and be known. To serve and to be served. To celebrate and to be celebrated. To miss out on this is to miss out on the reason God made you.”

– John Ortberg

Avoid the temptation to give up too soon on relationships. Too often, we move on when relationships start getting deep enough to have the health benefits!

As God works in us, He can work so much more powerfully through us. For the next 24 hours, move slower, listen more carefully to God and to each other, sit quietly with God, and unplug.

We need to reduce our busyness to create room for spontaneous adventures with others.

We need to look for those who need a hug.

We need to turn off our televisions and spend time in coffee shops.

Ultimately, we need to reorient our lives so that we begin to invest in the people we already know and start investing in people who need a friend.

Some of us are so exhausted doing things we have to get done or even doing good things that we are missing out on the best things God has for us.

Let me encourage you to try something if you have found yourself too busy. Some time today, take out your calendar and organize your life with the things you know God wants you to do.

Tithing Your Time

I like to think of it like tithing your time. In the past, we have talked about how the Scriptures call us to give the first 10% of our income towards God’s work through the local church. Financial Peace University says to then save 10% and live off of 80% of your salary.

Now do the same thing with time.

Let’s say you work 40 to 50 hours per week, take 10% of that and dedicate that many hours to your spouse. That would be one really great date night – 4 to 5 hours of uninterrupted time with your spouse.

Take another 10% (4 to 5 hours) for uninterrupted (cell phone free) time with your children.

Then take another 4 to 5 hours for investing in your neighbors and friends.

Then take another 4 to 5 hours to invest in your spiritual growth and the spiritual growth of others through your local church. That is enough time to participate on Sundays, serve as part of a team or network, and discipling others and being discipled with running partners and/or a life group.

Just like giving 10% of our income is just a baseline, 4 to 5 hours with your wife and kids and friends should be the minimum. I don’t mean just watching TV together, but truly spending intentional time together. Start at 4 to 5 hours and grow the time from there. You will be surprised at how much time we actually have in the day that we waste on TV, video games, or the internet.

Jesus tells a parable in which the goal was to hear the master say:

“Well done, my good and faithful servant.” – Matthew 25:23 

Not faithful leader, faithful teacher, faithful artist, faithful hero. 

Perhaps the way God has created you to serve would be as a leader, teacher, artist, or hero, but are you serving others? 

Are you looking to meet the needs of others with your gifts and talents? Are you willing to do things that are not in your areas of giftedness or passion in order to meet the needs of others?

Are you willing to do whatever it takes to meet the needs of others? To serve? In the Kingdom of God, the first will be last and last first. Those who serve will be promoted.

Here’s the other ingredient: knowledge of the Son of God – not facts about God but an actual experience with God.

As we are equipped for works of service, serving others with others then so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. – Ephesians 4:12-13

This is what I want for you?

Is this what you want?

Let’s grow beyond junior high!

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