Substance Not Success
From the series What Now? What Next?
It’s been said that, “Every dark cloud, has a silver lining”…meaning there’s always something good that’s revealed in the worst of times. In this program, Chip highlights 4 ways God is using this major disruption.
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About this series
What Now? What Next?
Making Disciples in a Disrupted World
In the day-to-day reality of increasing upheaval and discord, how are Christians to think and behave? How do we anchor our conversations and attitudes when everything in us wants to either retreat or lash out in anger? In this new series, Chip provides a biblical path to allowing Christ to reign in us and work through us no matter what's going on.More from this series
Let me give you a handful of things of how God, brings about good in disruptions and challenge and tribulation. You’ll notice on your notes, if you have a pen, go ahead and pull it out, because I have left you a blank so you can do a little bit of work. But let me give you four very specific things that God does, especially during challenging times, that often they don’t feel so good, but they are really, really wonderful.
The first thing He does is that He exposes idols. Jeremiah 9:23 and 24 says, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not a wise man boast in his wisdom, let not a rich man boast in his riches, and let not a mighty man boast in his might, but let him who boasts boast in this: that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord God who exercises justice and lovingkindness and righteousness in all the earth, for I delight in these things.’”
The second positive thing that happens in very challenging times is He tests our faith. 1 Peter 4:12 and 13, he says, “Why are you surprised?” Peter is writing during a time of Nero. It is just, they are being marched into colosseums and being burned. And he would write and say, “Why are you surprised at the fiery trial that you are going through as though something strange were happening?”
And then he says to them, “God is testing your faith, He is refining your faith, He is helping you discover who He is in the midst of your need, like never before, so that you suffer now, but there is great, great glory and reward that follows.”
The third very positive thing that happens is He develops our character. I would love to say, and you would love to say that we just, we dig into God’s Word, we pray at a fresh level, we are super disciplined, we are really on pace, but the easier life is, the lazier most of us get.
In Romans 5, he talks about, we have been justified and we have peace with God and so, we exalt or rejoice in this grace. “We also exalt in our tribulation, knowing our tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope doesn’t disappoint because the love of God is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”
This last year, a lot of rough edges in all of us, a new level of dependence, an awareness of what matters and what doesn’t matter, of temporal stuff that used to overwhelm us and now an eternal perspective.
A lot of us have looked at our priorities and what are we doing with our life and have really stepped back and said, “My, I have got to do what matters most.” And in the midst of the hurt and the prayers and the struggles, you have drawn near to God, and He has drawn near to you, and He has made you more like Jesus. And that’s God’s big agenda.
The fourth good thing that happens is in the mist of these really, really challenging times, God searches for difference-makers. I’m going to ask you to open your Bibles to a little bit obscure passage. It’s Ezekiel 22. Anybody reading in Ezekiel lately? I didn’t think so. By the way, me neither.
Ezekiel chapter 22. Once you get to Isaiah, keep going right. And the historical parallels are quite similar. God’s people have not been very obedient, they have been exiled, and God, again, I want you to hear His mercy, His love, His compassion. He is always longing to restore. He delights to show mercy. He wants to forgive. He wants to help people no matter what we have done.
And what I would tell you is that in these times, God searches for difference-makers. Look at verse 30. In the midst of all of this, the Lord speaks.
“I searched for a man,” and mankind, a person, a woman, a student, “I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it,” that was His hope. That was His desire.
And the next three or four words to me are, if not the saddest, among the most sad in all of Scripture. Look down at your actual Bible or in your phone, whatever you are reading, what does it say? “I searched for a man among them to build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, but I found no one.”
The result, verse 31, “‘Thus I have poured out my indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath;” notice, “their way I have brought upon their heads,’ declares the Lord God.”
There comes a point when no one stands in the gap, when there’s not a Moses to say, “Lord, no, no, no!” When there’s not someone to stand up and say, “I know it’s unpopular, but this is really wrong, and this is really right.” And right now, God is looking for people in America and around the world to build up the wall of righteousness and truth and love and holiness and to literally stand in the gap.
And God says, “If you don’t…” this is sort of the Old Testament version of Romans chapter 1. See, God has a passive wrath. He’s holy and He is just and there are times where people say, “I’ll do my thing, I’ll do my thing, I’ll do my thing, I’ll do my thing,” and He’ll say, “Okay.”
You want to just decide that life is not very important, and you want to sort of glamorize violence? Go ahead. Feed your minds on it, have your games play it, then don’t be surprised when people randomly kill one another and shoot one another and you have anarchy. You don’t think the family is really important? Only twenty, twenty-three percent of all the families in America have a mother and a father and children of the same biology. Nuclear family. You don’t believe in the family? Okay. Do it your way. You don’t believe what I have told you about being wise, of being generous with the first portion to honor Me, of saving? And you’ve got thirty trillion dollars of debt, okay. I have made a design, biologically, for a man and a woman to come together and you want to do your own view of gender and sexuality? The heartache, the pain.
And in the midst of that, there is you and there is me. And the eyes of the Lord are going, literally, all over the world right now and He is looking for a man or a woman or a student who would build up the wall and stand in the gap.
And the way it works, there’s not some big hero coming, okay? It’s us. He always chooses, I mean, you go through all through Scripture, it’s just some little, ordinary, regular, not-all-that-intelligent person who has faith and courage and says, “Lord, here am I,” Gideon. “Here am I,” Esther. “Here am I,” Moses, “you know, I can’t speak very well.” Almost everyone God uses are, “I’m just a fisherman,” “I’m a corrupt tax collector,” “I’m a revolutionary.” And all through history it’s the same.
God is calling us to be difference-makers who stand in the gap, and we do it by making our focus, notice, on Christ not causes; making our response healing, not hostility; making our priority relationships, not real estate or programs; making our attitude innovation, not indignation; making our passion substance and not success. Let me tell you what I mean by that.
The challenge, as you see in your notes, is that Christianity has suffered deeply by adopting the world’s passion and perspective of success.
I don’t have time to go there, but I put the passage. It’s Luke chapter 16, verses 10 to 15. And Jesus is being attacked and as He is being attacked, He tells them a parable. And He tells them the parable, it’s called the unrighteous steward.
And it’s basically the story of a guy who is corrupt, so he gets fired and he thinks, You know what? I’m too proud to beg and I’m too weak to dig. I know what I’m going to do, and…
He calls in all the debts and he changes all the invoices so that he gets favor so that when he gets fired, he’s got a lot of friends. Now, Jesus doesn’t say what he did was right, but He says, “His perspective was shrewd.” In other words, what he knew was, “I’m going to do something right now that is going to set me up for the future.”
And when Jesus finishes that in verse 9, He says, “Now, you, in your temporal life, do what is important to set yourself up so you’ll be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
And then He talks about money and greed and success. And He says, “If you are faithful in a little thing,” speaking about money, materialism, “you’ll be faithful in much. If you are unrighteous in the little things, you will be unrighteous in much.” And it says that the Pharisees sneered at Him, because they loved money.
And He said, “You can’t love two masters.” Money, fame, success, and Jesus. And then verse 15, it’s a verse I memorized as I was struggling, as I think we all do on occasion, I really struggled with pleasing people and outward performance. And I memorized this verse in verse 15. “And Jesus said to those religious leaders,” He, you know, kind of people like us, He says, “That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”
The thing that everybody clamors for, the thing that people position for, that, “What do people think?” How many likes? How many followers? How many this? How many that? Where is my zip code? What do I drive? How am I dressed? All the rest, all those things, when done to impress people out there, He says, “The things that we want to impress everybody out there, if our priorities aren’t first and foremost on Him, He says it’s detestable in the sight of God.
And I want to suggest that, unfortunately, we have focused on success instead of substance. The gospel has been perverted. I gave you the passage; it’s not new. Paul would write to Timothy, he says, “There are actually people that think the gospel is a way to get rich!” Now, none of us have ever seen any of that, have we?
The fact of the matter is the gospel has been perverted to a self-help means to financial prosperity, personal success, self-actualization, and its goal is happiness. Except that’s not the gospel.
In like manner, because of that, I think shepherds have betrayed their calling. I gave you a passage in Ezekiel 34; it’s not new. Where shepherds fleece people and tell them things and the people who get rich and the people whose lives are – it’s the shepherds or the pastors. It happened in Israel; it’s happening today.
And third and foremost, there’s a famine in the land because of it. God’s people today don’t know His Word, they don’t know the historical doctrines, they don’t know His promises, they don’t know His purposes.
And in general, with wonderful and excellent exceptions, I’m not down on everyone. Don’t hear that. But in general, if eight point five to nine out of every ten Christians lives don’t reflect Jesus, there’s a problem in the pulpits around America and around the world.
“Never have so many,” wrote one observer of Christianity today, “never have so many professed to know Jesus as there is today in the world whose lives so little reflect Him.” Scandals among evangelical celebrities, both during their lifetime and after. It is so sad.
Catholic priests and sex scandals and cover-ups, financial corruption here, especially in Asia as well. There’s mega-everything, mega-everything except mega holiness and mega love. And the state of the Church, I think, it breaks Jesus’ heart. He died for His Church. But we have championed on success.
Pastors have drunk the wine of bigger, better buildings, money, fame. And so, we have told people the same thing. So, pretty soon, it seeps into the minds and the hearts of believers. And so, you’re successful.
And ask yourself, as you have raised your children, has been the goal that they become successful? Has your focus been on how well, what school they get into, and how well educated or how much they know the Scriptures? Has it been: did they make the traveling team and are they great at sports? And, gosh, if you have to choose between that and church, well, we will catch that later.
I have had so many conversations, not just in recent days, but in probably the last five or ten years, but I had one over here in Peet’s just probably two, three weeks ago. A super, super successful person in the medical field. Worked with all the professional teams, has a reputation, absolutely impeccable.
Came to the conclusion about two and a half, three years ago that he was on the success ladder and, yes, he came to church; yes, he dropped his kids off in the youth group. And I remember as we talked, we became friends and I introduced him to the Bible. You understand that, I mean, the percentage of Christians in America that read the Bible is super slim. The American Bible Society has done a, has researched, if a person is not in the Scriptures regularly, at least four days a week, it makes no difference in their life.
We live in a world where people don’t know the Bible, they don’t know what is right, they don’t know what is wrong, they haven’t taught their children. Some of those old school ways of people actually eating a meal together, opening the Scriptures, having a deep conversation, talking about news events and what does the Scripture say and what is a worldview? And teaching your kids a theology – those things aren’t happening.
Instead it has been, you know what? You know, we’ve got to spend extra money and we will get you two tutors so your SAT and ACT scores so you get in this school and this school and this school.
He is as successful as he could be, and I’ll never forget, he said something over at Peet’s, he said, “You know, there is an absolute world of difference between a church-going Christian and a Word-centered Christian.” And he kind of, he was quite the athlete in college, and so, when I told him basically, “This is our playbook, dude.” We both played college sports and I said, “If you want to get to know God, you can’t get all pre-digested food and listen to me or anybody else once or so a week. You’ve got to renew your mind.”
And he, I’m not sure he has missed a day in the last two or three years. And then pretty soon, he’s reading. And then now, he just, he’s, you know that ten, fifteen, eighteen, nineteen years of the success and providing money and finances for the success of his kids. Now he’s shocked or disillusioned to find his kids don’t believe what he believes. Their morality has abandoned Christian morality. And I’ve got news, his story is one that I have heard over and over and over and over.
You have to stand in the gap. Notice the repetition of this that has happened. The famine in our land is not a famine of food, although that is a significant one in many parts of the world. Hosea chapter 4, verses 6 and 7, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” The context is the lack of knowledge of: Who is God? “Since you have rejected knowledge,” He says, “I will also reject you from being My priest; since you have forgotten” – what? “the law of God, I will also forget your children. The more they multiply, the more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame.” And isn’t it interesting to see what has happened?
Now, just before, I do believe that the good news can’t be fully embraced or understood until you get the bad news. And some of you are thinking, Buddy, you better get to the good news pretty soon, because if I could walk out, I would right now.
But I’m just telling you, if you don’t face reality, we can put our head in the sand, we can get behind our gated communities, we are among the wealthiest in all the world, we can figure out a way that maybe things will work out a little bit better for us than most people.
If you’re going to make a difference, don’t you think the Spirit of God would be coming and tapping people on the shoulder that have unprecedented wisdom and opportunity and influence and affluence, not to make us more comfortable, but to make us difference-makers who stand in the gap, who build up the wall, who say, “Not on my watch,” or say, “You know what? Lord, I’m sorry. I’m one of them. It happened so subtly. We were like the proverbial frogs in the pot that you heat up gradually. It happened so subtly.
Here’s what I want to tell you, there’s a revolution that is always available, but the revolution always begins, every great movement of God always involves a return, a discovery, and a passion for God’s Word.
When there’s a man, when there’s a woman, when there’s a student, when it’s in a Bible study, when it’s in a church, and it’s the church, I mean, a passion for God’s Word. I don’t mean I ought, I should, a chapter a day keeps the devil away. I mean a passion that says, “This is truth. Man doesn’t live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” It’s powerful! “It’s sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing the division of soul and spirt and joint and marrow, able to judge the thoughts and intentions of our heart.” It’s the kind of passion that Solomon would talk about in Proverbs 2.
It says, “If you search for it,” wisdom and knowledge, “as for silver and like for hidden treasure, then you’ll discover the knowledge of God.” Then you’ll know what He’s like. And when you know what He’s like and you encounter Him, He changes you. And there’s a change of reaction. Christianity, fundamentally, is not about our morality. It’s about being in the presence of God.
The entire narrative from the Garden into the city in Revelation, is the presence of God. Here’s His presence. Because of sin, we are removed from His presence.
He wants to bring His presence, so there’s a tabernacle, and – what? He gives His Word. And then there’s a temple so there’s a place where God can come down on earth and His presence. And finally, His presence manifested inside of – fully God, fully man – bridging the gap between heaven and earth. And in the end, what’s the story? His presence comes down – a new heaven and a new earth.
The most important thing that can ever happen in our life is not some little legalism that I read three chapters or I had my devotions or I read Daily Bread or Jesus Calling. It’s knowing Him. It’s not the Word for the Word. It’s the apostle Paul saying, “More than that,” speaking about all his accolades and all his wealth and all his wisdom, he said, “More than that, I count everything as loss compared to the surpassing value of personally, experientially knowing Christ, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and I count them dung,” or, “rubbish that I might gain Christ and be found in Him.” That’s the man, that’s the woman, that’s the student who will make a difference.
And it doesn’t have to be big. It’s just you in your world, me in my world, but it starts by coming back to His Word.
Sometimes, I don’t know, I got to talk to my dad shortly before he died and it was a not-good illness but he had one of those, you have heard about it a lot, like, he got super awake and super…
And we had probably our best talk. And people say the most significant things when they know they are going to die.
Jesus had a conversation with his Father before He was going to die. And He knew what was coming. And it’s in John 17 and He prayed for us, and He prayed that we would love one another and we would be one with one another and we would put away petty stuff. Republican, Democrat, mask, no-mask, meet, not-meet, inside, outside. Stop it. Jesus.
We want to be one with You the way You are with the Father, that You might be in us and we might be in You. And us, one to another, to show the world what it looks like. And then how? What did He pray? He said, “Father, set them apart. Make them holy. By Your truth, Your Word is truth.”
I’m going to tell you, really, really, really big problems: really, really low or no relationship with God’s Word. The higher the relationship with God’s Word, in most cases, the smaller the problems.
When Jesus was going to launch the greatest revolution that was going to transform the world and did transform the world, did you ever notice what He did? I’m going to ask you, open to Luke chapter 4. I want you to dig in with me a little bit.
Luke chapter 4. As you turn there, you can know that He has just wrapped up, being led by the Holy Spirit, out into the desert. And for forty days, He is being tempted by the devil. Verse 2 says, “He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry.” I would think. “And the devil said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’” He’s, okay, He’s being tempted. He’s being tempted: lust of the flesh. We would call it hedonism. It’s a temptation to feel, to satisfy a very, yeah, whether it’s food, whether it’s sex, but He’s tempted. “‘It is written: “Man shall not live by bread alone.”
And so he [Satan] showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, ‘I will give You all this domain and its glory, for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship me, it shall all be Yours.’” This is the lust of the eyes. This is the desire to have, the desire to possess, the desire to say, “This is where I live and this is the kind of ring I have and this is the kind of watch and this is the kind of zip code and this is the kind of car and this is my portfolio.” Now, those things aren’t bad in and of themselves. But the desire for that to make you significant, to hold you up, is the idol of materialism. Jesus said, “It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.’
And so, he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God,’” notice he’s always trying to get Him to doubt Himself. And you say, “Well, Jesus would never do that.” Well, Jesus was fully God, but He was fully man. He was as human as you and as human as me in every way, yet without sin.
“For it is written:” notice the enemy is now actually going to use Scripture. “‘He will command His angels concerning You, to guard You,’ and, ‘On their hands they will bear You up, so that Your foot will not strike a stone.’ And Jesus answered and said, ‘It is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”’”
And by way for remembrance of all of us, “When the devil had finished tempting Him, he left Him until a more opportune time.”
One of the greatest students in all the world is Lucifer, that beautiful, glorious, most intelligent, wise angel. And he’s got a third of the angels that fell with him and they have studied you very, very carefully. And they know when you’re vulnerable and when you’re weak and when you’re tempted. And that’s when they are going to come and they are going to throw darts.
And how did Jesus respond to the darts and the temptations? In the Garden, those three, do you remember Adam and Eve? Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life. 1 John 2:15 through 17, “Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, the pride of life.”
Those three things will always come after you and always come after me and there is one great solution, and Jesus modeled it. “It is written.” I don’t mean this harshly, the average believer, once they would say, “It is written,” other than John 3:16, they don’t know much anything else, “It is written.”
As parents, as teachers, we need to help people. This is temptation to sexual sin. This is temptation to pride. This is temptation to these areas. These are the promises of God. We pair them together. We talk about them around the table. We memorize them together.
The power is in God’s Word, but if God’s Word is not in your heart, if it’s not available – I don’t think Jesus paused and said, “Excuse Me, there’s got to be a scroll around here somewhere that I can look up some verses.” The average Jewish little boy, not even a rabbi, had the first five books memorized. Many of the Pharisees of the day had the entire Old Testament memorized. Go to the Middle East and meet some Imams and people from other countries and their view of the Quran and how much they have memorized. And we treat God’s Word like…wow.
I remember meeting with a group of guys, we were doing a Bible study and I asked them to tell their story and I was always doing two things. One is we met as elders and we got in God’s Word together and they would come to my house and we would eat. And the question was, “Tell me where God is speaking to you in your Word. What are the challenges in your life?” And then we would share. And then I always was looking for a group. And so I asked our staff and elders, “Who are some emerging leaders?” And I didn’t tell them why. I’d say, “Hey, would you like to get together for maybe three months every week or every other week and just get to know each other and study God’s Word?”
And so, this was my first meeting with six or seven people that people told me, “These are leaders. These are…” And they were. They were doing good stuff in the church.
And so, I had them each kind of tell their story and then I asked my great question is, “Tell me a little bit about your relationship with God’s Word.” And there was a doctor on my left. And he said, “Well, every day I open my YouVersion and I read the verse of the day, and I try and think of that verse all day.”
No, that’s it. That’s it. I’m thinking, Wow. That’s not a really good spiritual diet. And I went around the room. Only one of the seven people had anything that I would characterize as a deep, rich…
And everyone it was, “Well, you know, I’m so busy.” “See, I get up early and I go workout before work and then I’m in a high-tech company and I usually get home about seven or eight and I try and get in time to tuck my kids in.”
But see, this disease comes from the top down. At Living on the Edge, we had Barna do some research a few years ago for us and we wanted to find out how often pastors spent personal time in God’s Word other than sermon preparation.
And so, it was self-identified evangelicals from about forty or fifty different denominations, all teaching the Bible, all who would believe the historic doctrines. You ready for this? In America, only twenty-one percent of the pastors in America, and they do this plus or minus level of error, it’s like three percent.
Twenty-one percent of the pastors in America ever cracked the Bible for themselves personally, except for sermon preparation. Anemic pastors make for weak and sick sheep. America is filled with Christians that are weak and sick and undernourished. And so, they don’t have the strength to face temptation, they haven’t passed on God’s truth and God’s Word to their children, and what we see now is the result of you sow and then you reap. And unfortunately, you never reap in the same season that you sow.
And I just want to say, we need to focus on substance, the truth of God’s Word, not on success, not on numbers, not on buildings, not on size.
If we would start asking, “What kind of people are leaving the church? Are they godly? Are they loving? Are they holy?” Not perfect. Holy people just, they just actually own it when they mess up instead of faking it like they didn’t.
We all have struggles. But those are the kind of people that change the world. Those are the kind of people you respect at work. That’s the kind of mom that, in your neighborhood, you say, “Wow, what is going on with her and her family?” His response was the supernatural power of God’s Word.
A couple passages that if you have not memorized, I would circle Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:1 through 3. “This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night,” not to know it, “in order to obey all that is written in,” and then he says, “for then your ways will be prosperous and then you’ll have success.” But you’ll have success in the things that matter. You’ll have success in your marriage. You’ll have success with your children. You’ll have success in your work.
It doesn’t mean you’ll always make the most, it doesn’t mean all your circumstances, but you’ll have success from God’s perspective. “How blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.”
And here’s what happens to your life, “And he,” or, “she will be like a tree firmly planted by the waters, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf doesn’t wither; and whatever he does, whatever she does will prosper.”
Our passion – we are so geared for success. Success for our kids, success for this, success for that as the world defines it. And God is saying, If you would cultivate a passion for My Word, from the inside out, attitudes change, the power and the strength to overcome temptation. It’ll change what comes out of your mouth. It’ll change the thoughts. It’ll change your viewing habits. It’ll change your relationships.
How can we resist pseudo-success and experience God’s best plans and purposes for our lives? Romans 12:2 is probably the singular one passage in Scripture that tells you how to do that.
“And do not be conformed to this world,” it’s a negative command, “but be transformed” – how? By going to church a lot? No, that’s a good thing. It doesn’t say that. By trying really hard to be moral? It doesn’t say that. By working on…? No. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Negative command, positive command, purpose clause. “So that you may prove,” circle the word, literally it means “tested”. It was used in the ancient world where you would take a piece of metal and you’d put some acid on it to test the genuineness, to see. You want to see the real gold, the real copper, what’s really there. He says, “Stop,” literally, the grammar is, “stop,” because it was happening in Rome and it’s happening today.
In that church and this church and every church. “Stop allowing the world system,” lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, “to squeeze you into its mold.” This is success, this is what matters, here’s your priorities. “And, instead, have your mind renewed with God’s truth so that you could actually test by way of experience what God’s will is: good, well-pleasing, and perfect.” He wants a good, well-pleasing, perfect marriage, singleness, student, life, work.
And the way we do that is to say, “No,” to the world squeezing us into its mold, and, “Yes,” to renewing our mind.
I have found with a lot of Christians this is a bit new. Notice in your notes it says, “You are what you eat.” Like, we all know that, right? Physically. We have all, I don’t know if you have seen the YouTube deal where the guy decides he’s going to eat every meal in McDonalds for thirty days. And I think he makes it to, like, day twenty-two and ends up in the hospital.
Well, you are, you know you. Or at least you have a sense of who you are. Most of us have significant levels of denial, so we don’t know ourselves as well as we think. But here’s what I’m going to tell you. Whoever you are today is the product of what you have been putting in your mind for the last months and the last years.
You are what you eat. Whatever the diet, whatever you watch, whatever you listen to, whatever you think, you’re the product. “As a man or a woman thinks in his heart, so you become.” Romans 8, “The mind set on the flesh: death. The mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” Everywhere the apostle Paul talks about how life change happens from the inside out, that’s grace, that’s relational, that produces joy and peace and love, it’s always about this renewing of the mind.
“Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” And to begin to, rather than earn God’s favor, you are chosen, you are holy, “You are dearly loved,” he would say.
“Therefore, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bear with one another, forgiving one another just as the Lord forgave you. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. Let the Word of God richly dwell within you.”
You see that when you start to saturate your mind with God’s truth, you have a yes/no proposition. And I don’t know, I’m not saying that people are logging onto XXX things. I mean, the research says about fifty percent of Christian men are, but I pray that’s not true.
I’m just talking about what you put in your mind. When you’re in the car, what do you listen to? What do you read? If you look at magazines all day of people that have nicer and bigger houses than yours, can I tell you something? You cultivate greed. If you watch movies that every time someone is getting blown up or here or there or all your kids with their thumbs are blowing people up, why are you shocked when they are desensitized to the needs of people?
I didn’t grow up as a Christian and so, like most young men, I thought about women the way most young men did. And I went to college in the early seventies and it was co-ed dorms and make love, not war. And I had just trusted Christ and I made a commitment to be sexually pure, which felt like the dumbest thing I ever did in my entire life. I mean, there were four girls to every guy in my college. You could be ugly and get just about whatever you wanted.
And I, by God’s grace, on the external activities, and my mind was so filled and inundated with lust, I literally came to the point where I was going to quit the Christian life. I just, because I grew up in a hypocritical church and I thought, I want to be a lot of things, but I just can’t be that.
And I had a buddy who was going to a parachurch, Christian summer program. And he had to memorize sixty verses in order to get there. It was called the topical memory system. And out of sheer ego and pride, he was a heavyweight wrestler and he was my roommate, and I was a basketball player and we were constantly comparing.
So, I found his cards and I wrote them on these little things that I cut up from 3x5 cards. And he was doing, going to memorize a couple verses a week for, I don’t know, thirty weeks before he could go. I wasn’t going to go, but I decided in typical, overachiever, over-the-top, ego maniac Ingram, I would memorize a verse a day. And so, I got them, and I memorized a verse a day.
I didn’t know anything about renewing your mind, I didn’t know anything about life change, all I knew was I was going to get sixty verses word perfect, and I’m going to just act casually and then I’m going to walk into my big heavyweight wrestler and quote them. Sixty in a row. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.
So, what do you think about that, big heavyweight dude? Except something happened at verse twenty-one. I was coming around the corner and there was a very beautiful co-ed who was in the – she led Bible studies. And Christian men would understand this, when you lust for a non-Christian, you feel guilty. When you lust for a very godly person, it’s like, Oh my gosh. I’m so dirty, I’m so terrible.
And my eyes would just go everywhere and I came around this corner and she was there, and we had a conversation right in front of the library, I can tell you right where I was standing, where the sun was coming, and the big tree that was over here.
We had a conversation, and I walked away and as I was walking away, I went, Bang. I did not lust. And then I started to head over, we had two cafeterias, one where I sat with the basketball team and it was at the bottom floor of the girls’ dorm, five or six levels, and they would all walk by and, as a basketball team, we would sit there, “Hm, eight point nine, five point three, two.” It was gross, it was dehumanizing, it was sin.
And I remember starting to go there and, Oh, there’s another cafeteria. First, I didn’t lust and now I didn’t go and I didn’t feed what was fueling my lust. And all I can tell you is that started me on a journey. If you’re struggling…
Have you noticed that we keep landing in Romans 12? Has anybody, like, going, “Hey, I wonder where in Romans 12 we are going to land this time.” Memorize Romans 12. Memorize Romans 12. Write it out. Put it on your phone.
Just focus on it, focus on it, focus on it, focus on it, focus on it. God will start speaking to you. He will start renewing your mind. You’ll find yourself ready to switch your channel and watch that Netflix and you go, Ooh, you know what? I didn’t notice before, but, man, this is raw. I don’t think I need to watch this.
All I can tell you is this: if we will make Christ, not causes; if we will focus on being a healing agent instead of getting mad and angry and hostile; if we will say, “You know what? Relationships is what is going to matter;” if we’re going to say instead of being indignant about how “Christians are being treated,” and we get innovative about how we love and care for people; and if we go back and say substance, substance. God’s Word.
Here’s an interesting thought for especially you businesspeople. You always want to read cutting edge things. When was the last time you read a theology book? The great doctrines of the Church. Like, what is the hypostatic union? Why does it matter that He is both Jesus and divine? Who is the Holy Spirit? What are HIs activities? What does He actually do? What is the overarching thesis of all the Bible?
What would happen if you said, “I’m going to take some time off of my phone, TV, tablet and I’m going to learn to think theologically and biblically and have a passion for God and HIs Word.” I will tell you this, a year from now, most of us would not recognize you.
You will be more loving, you’ll be more kind, you’ll probably go through, as you do that, warning, you’ll end up a little self-righteous in about six or eight months. Because what will happen is you will see things you didn’t see before. See, we’re all so dumbed down, we accept sin and attitudes and we give each other a pass, because everyone does it. Well, what the heck. Oh, they struggle with cussing too, and they’re pretty materialistic too, and they don’t do this here, and they only come to church a couple times, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
And so, the bar of holiness and the bar of loving people gets so low, we give one another a pass and we miss the life that is truly life.
At the very bottom I put an application for me and you. Don’t miss the promise. Remember He is compassionate and gracious.
I don’t know what you are feeling, I don’t know what you’re thinking, but He is slow to anger. God is not down on you today. His arms are not crossed, His toe is not tapping, there’s not a boney finger looking at you going, “Why don’t you get with the program?”
His arms are, Hey, I gave you a little wakeup call. Come. Come to Me. We can solve this. Believe Me. I raise people from the dead. I can raise this life, this struggle, this addiction, this marriage, this situation with one of your kids. I want you to experience My good, My acceptable, My perfect will in every area of your life.
Personally, it is impossible to know, experience, or do God’s will apart from a regular, in-depth consumption, meditation, and application of God’s Word in your life. You’re a bunch of really, really smart people. I don’t have to tell you. And there’s enough tools for you to get into God’s Word in a meaningful way.
The Church must systematically teach the whole counsel of God, not just what feels good, not what’s relational, not what will get a crowd. We need to provide relational environments of mutual support and accountability to apply God’s Word to everyday life.
In other words, you can’t just hear it, we’ve got to find ourselves in small groups and around kitchen tables where we are opening this together and the goal is not, “Well, what did you get for question three?” And we pool our ignorance. But it’s, “This is what, this is what it says. How are you applying this to your life? How can I help you? What can I pray for you? What verse are you memorizing this week?”
So, we teach the whole counsel of God, we provide relational environments for mutual support and accountability, and then we help every believer learn how to feed themselves. The day has got to come when we stop spoon-feeding people and say, “You know something? You need to learn to study the Bible so God will speak to you.
Hearing God’s Word from other people can inspire. Convictions to do what is right and what God calls you to do is when the Spirit of God takes the Word of God and it’s birthed in your heart and you have a conviction and you do it whether anyone is looking or not, because you and your God are on the same page, and He has spoken to you. We are in this together. God is looking for difference-makers.