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About this series
How to be a Christian Without Being Religious
Is it possible to be a Christian without being religious? More than a list of activities, behaviors, and rules, this series will show you that the Christian life is, at its core, an ongoing relationship with the living God. You will discover how to live a life of faith; how to portray Christ's love and character in your everyday activities; how to know if you are growing spiritually; and how to develop a dynamic, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.More from this series
How do you live an upright, godly life in this present age? Grace. It teaches us how to do it. You don’t learn it all at once. It is a process. And so if you’ll open your notes and turn the page I want to talk about how grace works out. This is not about, please don’t hear this through the lens of, “I’m going to start doing these five things and I’m going to try harder, try harder, try harder.” No, no, no.
I want you to hear, “I want to trust God more deeply.” Grace begins to come into play when you are desperate, when you say, “God, I can’t do this. I’ve tried to get up and I can’t read the Bible. I’ve tried to cut down on my drinking and I can’t stop. No one knows about it but I do have a drug problem. I know I’m a leader in the church but in the wee hours of the morning I’m logging on to porn sites. I feel guilty, I feel terrible, I don’t like me, I want to stop, and I can’t!”
Grace is coming to the point where you say, “God, I can’t do it, I am desperate, I need You,” but that doesn’t mean that He just gives you a magic grace pill and then poof!
Grace, imagine grace like water. It comes free and it always flows downhill. Grace always flows where? To a humble heart. God is opposed to the proud but He gives grace to the humble. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God that He might exalt,” or, “lift you up.”
And grace, imagine water just doesn’t float around. It comes through a hose or it comes through a sprinkler. There are different vehicles through which grace comes to us.
When the Bible is taught, we receive grace. When we come with tender hearts and share the Lord’s Supper, we receive grace. When we’re in a small group and authentically share our hearts and our lives, we receive grace.
And I want to give you five habits that cultivate grace. This is the best advice that I’ve ever taken. And I want to give you five habits tonight that will cultivate grace in your life.
The best advice I ever took, advice number one, are you ready for this? Buy an alarm clock. Buy an alarm clock. Some of the best advice I ever took was to buy an alarm clock.
Now, many of you are much more mature, you’re sophisticated, you’re way more godly than me. But I’ve actually met two people here that I knew during college days. Brand new Christian, did not grow up in the Church, never opened the Bible until I was eighteen, went to a college campus, met a bricklayer, he began to meet with me and teach me how to get into the Bible.
But this was most of my college life for the first two years. See if you can remember this. It’s college or it’s Monday for you. The alarm goes off, thank God for a snooze button. Snooze one, snooze two, snooze three, snooze four, snooze five. I’ve hit it five times.
Then you look up and go, “Ah!” You can’t dress, you can’t shower, you run in, and since it’s college you put on sweatpants. You can’t shower so you put on a baseball cap. You can’t even brush your teeth so you grab gum!
Then you run across campus, you are sweaty and stink next to the lovely girl who has been up for an hour making herself beautiful for this class. You’re three minutes late again and the professor goes, “Ingram…”
And that’s how I started my day. No breakfast, no time with God, rushed. The first battle everyday is this: Mind over mattress. You gotta win that battle!
A man introduced me to a habit by which God has been pouring grace into my life for the last thirty-one years. And I want to tell you, it’ll come hard, you may not do very well for a while, but this bricklayer named Dave Marshall, every Tuesday morning, came down and he would knock on my door. It’s seven o’clock. Well, seven o’clock might have been three in the morning for me.
I would pretend not to hear him and feel very guilty most of that day. But about every two out of three times I would say, “Oh brother, here he is.” And I would put on my baseball cap, throw on my sweatpants, and we would go into a little kitchenette, everyone was asleep. He was not cool, he was not dynamic, he was ordinary, he was doing this after he got up, had time with God, ate his breakfast, and he was going to lay brick all day.
And he would open a Bible and I would open mine and we would read a couple paragraphs and we would talk about it and we would pray. And like a little toddler that didn’t know what he was doing, he spiritually led me along and taught me how to talk to my Father.
And then we would read and I would say wacky stuff that the Bible didn’t say and he would bring me back and say, “No. Could you read that again for me?” And every Tuesday until he got me to the point where three out of seven mornings maybe I got up fifteen minutes early. And then it was twenty minutes early.
Finally, I decided, when I started my day and allowed the grace of God to pour into my life by stopping and asking, “Since You are all knowing and all powerful and I am Your child and You love me and You know every person, every event, every circumstance that’s going to come into my life, I think I’ll talk to You about this day before I go running around.”
See, it’s very arrogant to do otherwise. But I couldn’t get out of bed. And so first I put the alarm clock on the dresser. But I found that I was so nimble and quick in those days I could snap the snooze alarm and jump back into bed! And so then I put it in the bathroom. Still to no avail.
And after a while, and I’m playing with you, but I developed the habit to spend about twenty minutes every morning with God. Revolutionized my life. And then as the time would go it was a half hour and after about twenty years I’ve found that I don’t use alarms anymore and God wakes me up and the first hour or two, because of my job and my needs and the pressure in my studying of the Scriptures, my best times in all the world I receive grace from God in the morning.
If you want your life to change, you must put first things first. I challenge you to set your alarm back twenty to thirty minutes and don’t get down on yourself if you only do it two or three times this week, and don’t give up and find one person that will hold you accountable, and if you have to call on the phone and talk to each other but you make God your number one priority and you meet with Him and you talk with Him and you get honest and you pray through your day and pray for the people that you love and say, “Lord, I’m going to sit quietly now. Will You reveal anything to me you want to,” and you read His Word and you do that and you give me an email and tell me how bad your life is.
Because what I’ll tell you is, if you do, your life will change. You’ll be a different person at work, thoughts will come to you like, “Maybe I ought to eat something. Maybe donuts and coffee probably are not best for this temple - to stick in my body. Maybe I shouldn’t be driving, zooming in and out and be under a rush all the time.” The Spirit of God does not work in people whose lives are characterized by rush and hurry.
The Spirit of God leads calmly, gently, wisely. He’s under, He’s got everything under His control and He wants to lead us. You don’t need to run so fast. Our desperation and our hurry reveals our lack of trust, and our lack of trust is because many of us have not cultivated the habit of buying an alarm clock.
And by the way, parents, early on my kids, by the time they got in junior high, I didn’t wake them up. They got their own alarm clock. And early on, nine, ten, eleven, twelve – not duty, not obligation, not legalism – but every one of my children, we cultivated and built in time, not only for breakfast but for them to spend ten, ten, twelve minutes and I’m going to just tell you this. The singular most powerful evidence of God’s grace in transforming my life personally was, I bought an alarm clock and not that I make it every day but it’s become such a habit, I just can’t remember the days I miss.
Because it’s not that I ought or should or God’s going to get, you know, I get brownie points. It is so now enjoyable, it started out as a pain, became a duty, later became a habit, it is now a delight. Are you ready?
First habit you are going to?
[Congregation] Buy an alarm clock!
Not bad. I mean, not good but not bad. The first habit you’re going to do is?
[Congregation] Buy an alarm clock!
Very good! Alright, are you ready? Habit number two: Take out the trash! And we’ll just leave that right there as a good, sloppy visual that will just bother the obsessive compulsives on this side of the room probably for the entire night.
There’s got to be one lady nudging her husband, “He should pick that up. I don’t know if I can listen until those bags go back inside there.”
I pastored in a little town called Kaufman, Texas. Kaufman was a little town of four thousand, didn’t have a stoplight, we started out with about thirty-five people out in the country and we watched God and see it grow.
And a family came in that were really hurting. And he was an older gentleman and his wife, and they had about three kids and he came after service and he said, “We really need some food.”
And so we had a little pantry and I gave him a little bit of food, and about two weeks later, “We need some food. I mean, we are at the end of our rope and I know this is a Bible teaching church,” and pastors kind of spot these people.
It was semi-legit, but it was not like, “We’re really in need and could you help us?” It was, “I understand the Bible teachings and if you don’t give me food, you’re really in big trouble with God and I want food, and I want it now, and I would like a little bit of money and a little gas in my car too,” you know?
So I remember, I said, “We need to check this out.” So I said, “Honey, why don’t you go with me. I’m not sure what’s going to happen, probably shouldn’t go to something like this alone.”
And we drive out through the country and we pull in this long, gravel drive and there’s a house and as we pull in there’s a horse out there. And I noticed there’s a bag where oats, where someone had put some oats in there.
And then I look and there were three dogs! Fairly well fed dogs, as best I could tell. And then we went inside and, oh man, have you ever gone on vacation and left something in the refrigerator for three weeks that spoils, and you open it, and you just want to…
The entire house - there were nineteen cats inside the house - open, you know, not dry food, but like the little Meow-Meow type stuff? Open cans of stuff, garbage laying around, I mean, it was like, “I don’t think I can take this.”
And they invited us in and then they started to tell us about all their need and how much food they wanted. And I started doing the math, like, how much food are these cats eating? You got, “How many do you have?” “Nineteen.” I said, “I don’t want to be out there, but have you ever thought of having a few less cats and a little bit more food for you? You know? How many dogs do you have?”
And I remember going through there and it was… the smell, and the dirt, and the trash was so overwhelming, I almost threw up. And my wife was just kind of doing, “Uhhhh. I think we’ve seen enough, Chip, why don’t we head home?” You know?
You know what amazed me? They didn’t see it. They didn’t smell it anymore. You see, if you live with trash and junk long enough, you get completely desensitized to it.
And if the first one gave us the principle of priority, the second one is the principle of transformation. Romans 12:2 says, “And don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed,” how? “by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is. That which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Don’t be conformed, don’t be squeezed, literally, it’s in the passive tense. Don’t allow yourself to be squeezed or pushed around by the world. By the world system, by the cosmos, by all the advertisements, by all the books, all the magazines, at the checkout stand, MTV, VH1, by the news. Don’t let the world and the world system about what is true, about what’s right, and about what is holy, what’s pure, what’s not – don’t let it squeeze you into its mold, but have your mind continually flushed out or renewed, how?
By God’s Word so that your lifestyle, how you actually live, how you drive, how you speak, how you eat, how you talk, how you relate to your wife, how you think about your kids, indicates and demonstrates or proves – the word for “proves” there is a word for testing of metal to find out the genuineness – so that your life would demonstrate the genuineness or the reality of God’s will, which is good, acceptable, and perfect. You know, I want to say this real nicely because it’s going to sound a bit harsh, but I would like you to consider how much junk is in your mind - that’s like nineteen cats, trash all over the floor, and it smells bad, and it is polluting your heart and your soul - but you’ve just gotten so used to it, that you don’t even know it’s there anymore.
And so I would encourage you to first, buy an alarm clock and second, take out the trash.
Third, are you ready for this one? I would encourage you to do your own dishes. Right? You know, you take a glass of water, you eat a little bit, you stick it in the sink, and then someone else does it, and they stick it in the sink. And then later you have a meal and you put that in the sink and have you ever seen it up above the counter?
And it probably never happened in your house but on a rare occasion, it has in ours. And I want to encourage you to do your own dishes. And what I’m talking about here is the principle of responsibility.