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About this series
How to Change for the Better
Are you tired of self-help programs that never bring results? Have you tried diets and work-out programs that only bring frustration? How does lasting change occur? This series from James 3 deals with how God changes us, from the inside out, and how this change can be lasting, fruitful, and significant in the deepest areas of our lives.More from this series
If you want relationships that matter you’ve got to come clean, you’ve got to get real, you’ve got to unzip your heart, and you’ve got to ask the way David did in Psalm 139, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. See if there be any wicked way in me and then lead me in the everlasting way.” God, I don’t want to play a game.
But you don’t have, are you ready? In this fallen world, you don’t have the power to get an accurate view of who you are. You can only be aided by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God and the community of God’s believers in the atmosphere of love to help you see clearly where you are. And when you do that, you’ll never regret that day.
There is a fellow I had the privilege of doing a memorial service for. In fact, his wife and some of their friends are here. And he is a picture of this. At times, he was a picture of it very negatively, and at times, a picture very positively. He was in charge of the electrical work on the new buildings as they were being built and his name was Dan.
And he and I just happened to hit it off. We hit it off for the same reason that you hit it off with people. Dan shot it straight. There was no pretense. If he didn’t like you, he’d say, “You know, I don’t really like you.” If he didn’t like this, he told you he didn’t like this.
And we had this sort of bantering back and forth and I just, he was a delightful guy. He told great stories. And little by little we became friends and a couple of his bosses were believers that go to this church and they began to build a relationship.
And Dan made the comment to one of his bosses, “You know, I’ve done a lot of bad things and I probably deserve a lot of bad things later. And if that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is. You know what? Integrity. Dignity. That’s what matters.”
We would have little conversations but it was, look, he had some bad experiences with the Church, he said, “I’m not going to go there.” Then the buildings got done and a few months later he found out he had cancer. Pancreatic cancer.
And they began to talk with his wife as he shared with me and he said, “You know what? I need to talk to someone, I’d like to talk to you.”
I’m telling you, in all my years as a pastor, I don’t know if I have ever had a more honest conversation with any human being on the earth. There was no jovial stuff, he had dropped thirty or forty pounds already, and he just laid out his life, told me why he felt the way he did about the Church and about God and where he was at and where he had been, what he had done, and he just laid it all out.
And he basically said, “Hey, is there any hope for a guy like me?” And I sat down and I shared the gospel with him. And when I got done sharing the gospel, see, he did something that most people aren’t willing to do. He was dead honest with God and himself.
And after I shared the gospel and God’s desire to forgive him of his sins and give him a new life and it was a gift and he couldn’t earn it, he couldn’t perform it, and, yes, there are some consequences of living your whole life apart from God. “He had a lot better life for you than you lived!” And he said, “Okay, I got that.”
I drew the little picture as you do of the bridge and there is a cliff over here and I drew a picture of the cross and I said, “You need to trust God to come across this bridge and trust Jesus’ work on the cross and resurrection to have relationship with Him.” And I gave him the pen and I said, “Where are you at on this little picture?” He said, “I’m over here.” I said, “What is keeping you from trusting Christ, letting Him forgive your sins, and having a new life?”
And you know what? He said something that most people never do. He said, “I’ve got two sins I really like; I don’t want to give them up.” You know what most people say? “Oh, I need a little more research, I need a little more time, what about the archeological…” You know?
I like this guy. “I’ve got two sins, I really like them, I don’t want to quit.” And so, I felt led, I said, “Can I draw one more picture?” He said, “Sure.” So I opened the sheet of paper and I put a line down it and I put a line over here and on the left side I put, “This is what will happen in your life if you place your trust in Christ.” I talked about heaven and his wife is a believer, being with her, and peace and forgiveness. And I had a big list, all the things, forever and ever and ever.
And then I wrote, “This is what will occur in your life if you refuse and reject God’s free gift of grace. You get to do these two sins that you like for three more months and then you die.” He looked at me and he said, “Kind of dumb, isn’t it?” I said, “Those were your words, man.”
Now, don’t miss this. I said, “Dan, do you see what is at stake?” He said, “I think I really do.” And, by the way, they weren’t some terrible, terrible sins. Actually, I didn’t think God was too uptight about either of them. But the issue was not the sins, the issue was pride and control, and he knew it.
And so I said, “Dan, what are you going to do?” And he said, “For right now, I’m going to keep those two sins. If I have any more questions, I’ll give you a call.” And I said, “By the way, I just wanted to make sure, you’ve got three months to live?” “Yeah.” I said, “Now, if you wanted to move from this side to this side, tell me how you would do it.” He had the gospel down. I said, “When you pray to receive Christ, here’s my cell phone number. Would you tell me? I’d just like to know.” He said, “Yeah.”
And he just looked me right in the eye and I was reminded of the words of Jesus in Revelation. “I would that you were either hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm, I will spew you out of My mouth.” See, I think you’re a lot closer to God when you are absolutely authentic and on fire or when you know, You know what? I’m not in. I don’t want to be in. This is where I’m at.
See, Dan knew where he was at. The day after Christmas he prayed to receive Christ. And he didn’t pray to receive Christ because he wanted a last minute ticket out of this or that. He prayed to receive Christ because he was a person of integrity and he pondered it and he prayed and he realized the issue was pride. And he asked God for forgiveness. And we got to spend some time with his friends and his family.
Do you hear what I’m saying? Integrity is the prerequisite to lasting change. It’s so important because without integrity there are no meaningful relationships.
Second, peace is impossible without integrity. Colossians 3:15 says, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts to which you were called into one body, and be thankful.” This little phrase, rule in your hearts, it literally means: act as an arbitrator. Kind of like an umpire. Let the Spirit of God call balls and strikes about your behavior.
The Bible says there is a peace that a believer has. Not a peace like everything is working out and your circumstances are great and you have enough money and everybody likes you. No, no, no, no. This is a supernatural peace that is beyond understanding for those who are in Christ, it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, that regardless of your circumstances you can have this overwhelming peace.
The hole in your heart gets filled, the sense of God’s sovereignty and goodness and love reigns, even in difficulty. But when we step out of fellowship with God, He removes that peace to say, “Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh! Over here!”
I’ll never forget the most vivid time this happened. I was a believer about five years and I didn’t have a lot of spiritual background so every new experience for me has been like, “Oh! So this is how it works.”
And I was in seminary at the time, first year, and I got a call from this fellow who is in charge of this organization, nationwide. He is going to take a group of really good basketball players into China and it was Communist China and you couldn’t get in.
And I wanted to go so bad. And he had already contacted a fellow I was playing with who was 6’11” and another guy, 6’10” and I thought, I want to go and throw the ball to those guys and I want to see China.
And so, Bud calls and he says, “Hey, how you doing, Chip?” “Good!” And I had been on a couple of teams and he said, “Well, are you in shape?” I said, “Oh, Bud, man, you should see me, Bud. Man, I am in shape! I am at my, I think I’m in my A game.” And he said, “Well, like, how many points are you averaging?” And I said, “Oh, I’m in a league.” And I said, “Oh, twelve or fourteen points. Probably nine or ten assists. And, Bud, I’m really just, man, I’m playing great. And I think I would really fit in on this team.”
And he said, “Well, we’re praying it through and we’re looking for players. It was great to talk to you.” And I took the phone and I hung it up and I still remember in that little apartment, the receiver clicks and then, Whooo. Peace had gone. God is gone. I mean, gone.
And I’m thinking, You know what? They don’t even keep statistics in the league that I’m playing. Now let me get this right. The leader of a Christian organization asked me to play on a team, I’m a seminary student preparing for the gospel ministry, and I just told him a bold-faced lie. It wasn’t a fib, it wasn’t an exaggeration, it was a lie!
And the peace of God went, whoo. Well, you know what happened? Man, I got depressed. And now I have a bigger problem: my pride. Who can I tell this to? Who do you say to, you know what? Some people were looking to me for spiritual leadership, basically, I just told a bold-faced lie. I mean, a biggie.
And after about two days and being really depressed, Theresa saying, “Is there a problem here?” “Well, honey,” and I was grieved and I told her what I did. And about twenty-two percent of the peace came back. I’m rounding. I’m not sure. But it felt better. I confessed it and it was like, Oh, you know, I owned up to it. That was good. And I’m wondering now, Where is the other seventy-eight percent? Oh no. I have to call Bud? I have to admit to this leader of this Christian organization? Yeah.
And so I still remember, I went back in the bedroom, shut the door so my kids wouldn’t hear me. And I said, “Bud, this is Chip.” And I said, “I have something to share.” He said, “Oh, the team is coming together!” I said, “Bud, wait a second. You know those statistics, all that stuff I told you? It was a lie. I made it up. It was like an out of body experience. I was on the phone, I wanted to go so bad, it just came out of my mouth. I just lied!”
And he said, “Chip, thanks.” He said, “You know, this is what you need to do to learn to become a man of God.” And he said, “We have plenty of players for this team, by the way, but you’re not one of them.” And I hung up the receiver and, whoo. The peace of God. Do you know God wants you to experience His peace?
And you know what happens to believers like you and believers like me? Is that we say something that is a little critical, we watch something we know, Mm-mm, and we get busy and there are all kinds of things and there is a little layer of envy and then a little layer of our tongue and the little layer of irritability and then some unrighteous anger.
And little by little what happens is we smother and quench the spirit of God and we don’t have His peace. And we have this uneasy feeling and we don’t like it so you know what I do? I go home and I put on something on sports and I eat. And while I’m watching the game and while I’m eating, I feel a little bit better. Because, see, I don’t want to deal with it. I’m not even sure what it is that’s in the back of my mind, but there’s not peace.
And then when I get in my car, I have to turn on music because I don’t want to be alone because when I’m alone I’m aware of how little peace I have. And if that doesn’t work, I found out, if you go get a workout, those endorphins and you can feel better for an hour, two hours!
And you know what you really need? You really need to get quiet before God and you need to say, God, I’m not sure what’s going on inside, but I don’t have Your peace. And if you will sit quietly and say, Lord, search my heart, He will bring specific pictures of who you have offended. And when the Spirit does it, it’s specific. It’s won’t be vague, it won’t be general, it won’t be condemnation, and He will give you insight into attitudes about lies and you will confess them and you will go, whoo. Peace.
I have a sneaking suspicion, in the body of Christ, that there is a huge percentage of people that are genuinely born again, a part of God’s family, that are not experiencing this peace I’m talking about. And the reason they are not experiencing it is that they are living a life of duplicity.
And a lot of the eating issues and a lot of the viewing issues and a lot of the workaholism issues and a lot of the issues in relationships, because, see, when you feel like this, a couple of things happen. When I feel like this, “Theresa has got a problem! And my kids have got a problem! And our staff needs to get with it!” And there are all kinds of problems but it’s not me.
But when I come before God and I get clean, it’s amazing, boy, my wife and our staff and, boy, they all just seem to get better almost overnight!
Can I ask you something? Do you have God’s peace? By the way, when you don’t have a desire for the Word of God, when you don’t have a desire to be around God’s people, when you don’t have a desire to pray, I would suggest there is a very high probability that there has been little layers of sin that have gone unconfessed because when there is openness before God, He creates spiritual thirst.
And you know what? Going to God, instead of a bad experience, is a good experience, because He is a loving Father. And there is joy in worship before Him.
I’m asking you to go on a journey. And this journey is not going to solve it but it’s a journey to begin to become authentic. That your life and your words will tell the same story. And I’m trying to convince you that if you don’t go there, the price tag is a lot higher than going there! Because if you don’t go there, if you’re not willing to be honest below the waterline, you will not have any meaningful relationships with God, yourself, or others and you will not have peace. And you can’t afford that.
And it’s so far less than what God wants for you. But there is a third reason. The third reason for this journey of integrity is that impact is impossible without integrity. “Like a trampled spring,” Proverbs 25:26 says, “and a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” And you say, Man, what does that mean?
The proverbs were intended to be little word pictures and often in parallelisms so you could take it like a rock or a diamond and look at it in different ways and get insight and meditate upon it.
The problem with some of them is that they were written in a day to a group of people that when they said it, bang, the lights went on. But I don’t know about you but I haven’t trampled a lot of springs lately and I haven’t done a lot with polluting wells.
Let’s move back ever so quickly into the culture. And there are camels and goats and sheep and it’s in the Middle East and that means, if you have ever been to Israel, there is this wilderness where it’s just dry and barren and terrible but, boom! There is a little spring. You know there is a spring because the grass is green and there are some palm trees.
And so, people sometimes would travel a day or two days and this is the only spring, the only source of life, the only well. Now, people knew that life and water were synonymous. But if you were just passing through with your camels and your sheep and your goats, instead of leading them there and taking great care, that they would drink out of the spring, some people would drive their animals there and they would just come and trample the spring.
And as they trampled the spring they would drink and they would urinate and defecate and guess what happened? They would ruin it! So the next group of people, instead of water being life-giving, it would be poison. And the same would happen with a well.
Do you hear what God is saying to regular people like us in our day? It’s a cliché but it’s true. You are the greatest Christian some people will ever meet. And God has created every human being on this planet with this spiritual thirst, this desire to find out, Why am I here and what is life all about and how do you get connected in relationship and significance and joy? They have this spiritual thirst. And you are a Christ-like little magnet. And He wants to bring people to you.
But what happens if you give way before the wicked? And instead of being a source of life because of your kind of speech, because of how you treat your family, because of the lack of integrity, because of issues that you’re involved in, they come and look for life and they say, “Oh, you’re just like everybody else. Yeah, I see the Bible and I hear the Jesus stuff but it ain’t real. You’re a hypocrite. You’re a phony. I thought there was something to it.”
And so they grow up like I grew up so when I was sixteen, I looked at these people, I heard their Jesus words, I saw how they lived, I saw how they gossiped, I saw their immorality, and I said, “I don’t know who their God is but I don’t need them and I don’t need Him.” And I almost missed God. Because instead of being springs of water, instead of giving life, all I saw was poison and death. See, when you don’t live in integrity, there is no impact.
I remember the first couple of years as a Christian, and it is a journey. And so, I had these three guys on my floor and I did a little Bible study and they all prayed to receive Christ. And then two days later, I went back to have the Bible study and I saw them, they saw me, and I waved and they went out the back doors. I said, Well, they must be in a hurry.
And then I saw them again and then they took off and went somewhere else. And I could never get them to have this Bible study. There was no fruit in my life. And I couldn’t understand why. I went to Bible study every Thursday night and I hit every bar in Wheeling on Friday night. What’s the problem here? The problem was I was a polluted well.
See, if there is not spiritual fruit, if God is not using you in the lives of other people, there is at least a likelihood or a significant reason to say, Maybe I had better check below the waterline to find out if there is some duplicity here.
By contrast, do you remember when Andy was here? A year, year and a half ago, something like that? And he shared his testimony. He got up here, he looked a little nervous, his wife was over there. He said, “Hi, I’m Andy, and I’m a sexual addict.” And then he told his story. And he said it in a very delicate way so bizarre pictures didn’t come into my mind. But when he got done, I realized, Oh my gosh.
And he came clean. And he said, “You know, I tried hard and if trying hard could beat it, I would have beat it. And if just reading the Bible,” and he said, “you have to confess it and you have to get real and you have to be authentic.”
You know, there are three or four men’s groups right now: overcoming sexual addictions. Because one man had the courage to come clean and be a source of life.
We had a meeting of all the pastors in the area. They wanted to open it up to all the churches for sexual addiction. And then Andy, blew my mind, all these pastors. He said, “By the way, men, I’m aware that at least twenty-five percent of you, if statistics are true, twenty-five percent of Evangelical pastors struggle deeply with some sexual addiction. Here is a list of phone numbers. Mine, some other people. Here is a list of numbers out of town, if you don’t want people to know, where you can go get help and go get clean.”
You know what you call that? Fruit. You know why? He didn’t have it all together. But day-by-day he is walking in integrity.
Let me tell you the good news. Flip to the back page. As we conclude, there are some questions that I hope you that you will use for your own journey. But I want to tell you the good news.
One, it wasn’t easy. Two, it didn’t happen overnight. Three, I didn’t take a magic pill. But I am about ten, twelve, fifteen years on the other side of being a workaholic. And I don’t introduce myself, “Hi, I’m Chip Ingram, and I’m a workaholic.” I don’t come from that background so I never learned to do that until I was at Celebrate Recovery and it was pretty cool because they were so honest.
But I looked below the waterline. And I found out God loves me totally apart from what I do. And I want all of you to like me desperately, but you know what? You don’t need to. I want my wife to think I’m wonderful every moment and my kids to be just so impressed with what I do every moment. I don’t jump up and answer the phone anymore.
In fact, it’s amazing, I get seven, seven and a half hours, that’s all I need. I don’t burn the candle at both ends. I work out with my wife a couple, three times a week. I play golf, nine holes, at least once a week. I have time to sit and read good books, I have great friends, and God is using my life a lot more than when I was the grandiose, arrogant martyr thinking that everybody needed me when, really, what it was, I needed them.
Now, do I get overcommitted still? Yeah. Do I get seasons where I think, Who is the idiot that’s doing this again? And I look below the waterline and I say, Lord, I’m not believing what is true.
You know what I would like you to do? I would like you to bow your head and say, Lord, I want to be honest with You. And I asked you when we started to think of how do you want to change for the better? I would like you to now pray the prayer of David: Lord, search me, O God, and know my heart. See if there be anything below the waterline, a core issue, that You want to address. And then just tell Him, Lord, I’m afraid. But I know that I will meet a loving God who wants to help me. And we will learn how to change for the better from the inside out.