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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
I’m talking about learning to be faithful in the little things of being responsible.
I went to a summer training program with a para-church organization and I had a team leader named John. And we all got in this station wagon, it was called a “Faith Trip,” and we took no money … that passage, you know, “Don’t take any money or anything.” So we drove, I don’t know, about a hundred miles and served people, and we’re taking care of them, and we just watched God work.
And so, we don’t have any money, we don’t have any food, and we’re in this gas station and we’re splitting our money, breaking crackers in half, hoping God will multiply them and we won’t starve to death.
And we did some wacky things but we learned some good things from it. But I’ll never forget, and take this in the right spirit. Picture a bathroom in a gas station and I’m washing my hands. And you got a mirror, you got the little sink, and a couple stalls, and John is done. And the stall opens and he is taking toilet paper and he’s wiping off the seat.
And I’m just washing my hands going, “That’s different.” You know? Okay. And so I washed my hands, and it’s a double sinker, and he washes his hands and then he takes a little extra paper and, you know, I’ve left water and something over on the corner and he washes off the sink and puts it together and…
So we get in the car and I’m thinking, “This is a teachable moment. I’m not sure for whom but this has got to be a teachable moment.” And he’s my spiritual leader for the summer. I’m now questioning his sanity but he’s my spiritual leader for the summer.
You know, I want to say, “Do you have an obsessive-compulsive disorder, John, or…?” And I’m teasing, he was a very, very godly man. And we got in the car and I said, “John, I couldn’t help but notice that when we left… I mean, it was a gas station, man. I mean, they pay people to do that stuff. What were you doing?”
And I’ll never forget. He just looked me right in the eye and he said, “Chip, don’t you understand? A disciple of Jesus Christ always leaves everything better than he found it.”
He said, “Chip, someone is going to come in that gas station and, you know what? I don’t know their condition, I don’t know how they’ll feel, I don’t know where they’ve been. But when they open that stall, they will have a clean place instead of walking in like many of us have to a filthy place going, ‘Ugh. I guess we gotta keep driving.’”
He said, “I’ve just decided to be a light. Remember the verse? ‘Let your light so shine before men that they might see your good works and glorify your Father, which is in heaven,’ Matthew 5:16?” He said, “I decided… you know, we think we’re going to do that in big ways and save people from our cars.” He said, “I decided I need to learn to do it in little things.”
Luke 16:10, “He who is faithful in a very little thing will be faithful also in much.” The context is about money. But it’s a timeless axiom. If you’re faithful in little things, you’ll be faithful in much.
And you know what we have? We have a whole generation of Americans that think someone else is going to take care of them. You can go into organizations, Christian organizations, you can go to homes, you have kids growing up in our day – they think that they drink something out of here, and they take the chips out of here, they leave the bag over here, they take off their clothes, they leave the clothes over here, even some men do that. There are people who sleep in beds and throw the covers over here – they think there are genies and fairies that tip toe in from heaven and while they’re gone, clean up everybody’s dishes, pick up everyone’s paper…
And you know what we have? We have a world of people that think someone else is going to do your dishes. Do your own dishes. Do first things first. Do them well. It’s the principle of responsibility.
And I want to encourage you: Grace, when you are faithful in little things. And by the way, I’m joking, if you are a little bit obsessive-compulsive, let a few dishes get in there. This is not about, “Ah! There’s one glass!”
I’ve been in some homes where you take a drink and you got a little bit left and you leave it there, “Whoa! It’s gone, it’s clean, it’s back again,” you know?
Number four: Write it down. The first is you’re going to buy an alarm clock; second, you’re going to take out the trash; third, you’re going to do your own dishes. And, you know you. Pray. Ask God to show you. What’s it look like in the little things?
You’d be surprised how good it makes you to feel to get out of bed and make your bed. How good it is to do little things; it will create momentum, and grace, and motivation.
Number four is the pen. This is the mighty pen. It is mightier than the sword but here’s what I mean by it: Write it down. And here we’re talking about the principle of clarity.
Many, many people long to get clear on these first three habits but they still feel overwhelmed, “I’ve got the kids, I’ve got the carpool, I’ve got the job, I’m on the committee at church, I’m teaching Sunday School next week. No, it’s the other week because I do every other week. We’ve got to go out of town next week. Okay, well, I’m trying to read my Bible. Well, I promised Judy I would meet with…”
And you know what? We have people that are overloaded, overextended. You know what worldliness is? In the ‘50s, people thought worldliness was outward things like lipstick and playing cards and going to the theatre and…
You know what genuine worldliness is in this millennium? B-U-S-Y-N-E-S-S. For those of you who are not visual thinkers going, “Busy…uh…busyness!” Busyness.
Why are we so busy? And we take pride in it! How many times have you, in the foyer at the church, or seeing someone at Starbucks, or you run into them in the grocery store, you really have a good relationship, you really want to get together and you say, “Hey! We really ought to get together! Yeah, we will.”
And then, okay, do I have to even fill it in? “I’m so busy. We’re doing this, we’re doing this, we’re doing this, we’re doing this, we’re doing this.” I mean, I think the average quality family time is during the drive-thru at Burger King, Taco Bell, and McDonalds, as you go from ballet, to soccer, to softball, to baseball practice, all in the same week. In the name of loving our kids!
Whatever happened, this will sound old fashioned, whatever happened to saying, “God needs to be at the center, our family matters, we’re going to write down what’s important, we’re going to prioritize, and at least three or four times a week we’re going to sit around a table, with the TV off, and have a cooked meal. Maybe quickly cooked but cooked. And we’re going to eat food and then we’re going to talk about what we’re learning and how we’re growing and we’re going to take five to seven minutes, join hands, pray for one another, and ask for God’s help.”
Do you understand what that would do for your family life?
Proverbs 20: 5 says, “The plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, but a man of understanding draws it out.” You’ve got plans and dreams, and how you want your kids to turn out, and where you want your marriages to go, and how ministries can be launched, and the kind of person you want to be, and things you want to develop.
But you can’t be scattered, going everywhere, because what you’ll be is just like you are now. You can’t keep thinking the way you’re presently thinking and expect something to change. And you can’t keep doing what you’re presently doing and expecting something to be different next week, next month, or next year.
The plans, the dreams, what God has in your heart – they’re like deep water. A wise person writes them out, gets clear.
Let me give you three or four quick ways that have been helpful to me.
Number one, I think 3x5 cards are miraculous. It’s the power of clear-cut objectives. And if you’ll write next to that, “I Corinthians 9: 25 to 27.” The power of clear-cut objectives. The apostle Paul said, “I’ve become all things to all men that I might save some.”
And then he goes on to say, “Look! Look, I don’t live my life like a boxer beating the air. I beat my body, I have clear-cut objectives, I cause my body to do what I tell it to do, lest in the final analysis I be spiritually disqualified.” He had a very clear-cut objective for his life.
On a 3x5 card you need to write down some goals. I’ll never forget where I picked this up. I was in a prison with one of the elders, early in ministry, twenty-nine, thirty years old. And a guy named Bill Glass, anybody remember him from the old NFL? Cleveland Browns? Yeah, All-Pro Lineman, Bill Glass.
And we’re just sitting around this table in this prison and we’ve been in maximum security and I’ve been scared to death, like, I thought I was going to die or get killed and it probably could have happened.
And Bill Glass is talking with these guys and he was just was casually talking about how he writes down goals or desires on 3x5 cards, he doesn’t try to memorize them, but he would say, “This is the kind of marriage I want with my wife. This is what I’d like to invest in my kids. This is where I’d like to see the ministry in three years.”
And he said, “I just read them over.” And he said, “Your mind and your heart and your schedule will unconsciously gravitate toward the target you put on the wall.” And I heard that and, I mean, I wrote them down for my personal life, my walk with God, my wife, my children, my ministry…
And I just found them the other day, I did a message on something a little bit similar. I found the 3x5 cards that I wrote twenty-five years ago. And I read through them, I’m just telling you, I read them, and read them, and read them, to where they were in my head.
I’ve watched God arrange my life, and my focus, around those goals. What’s your clear-cut objective? What kind of man do you want to be? What kind of marriage do you want to have? What kind of kids do you want to raise? What kind of ministry has God called you into? What kind of impact do you want to have at work? Just write it down!
You don’t need to get crazy going in seven directions. Just write it down.
The second, little thing that’s been helpful is calendars. I hate them. But it’s the freedom of structure.
Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed.” I don’t like calendars but unless I lay it out on the calendar, I do everything but what’s really important.
And so once I get my goals, I get a calendar out, and I go to Starbucks with my wife, and we sit down and look at the next season, and then usually we go away for a night or two, I’d like to say once a quarter but I’d be exaggerating, a couple times a year.
And then I sit down, and I say, “Okay, here’s going to be the times I’m going to block off for getting with our neighbors. Here’s the time for ministry.” And I put all the knowns, of the things I know for sure God wants me to do, and I write them out on my calendar. And now I’m free! I can do anything I want with the rest of the time. But when I put those things in, I build in time with God, I build in time to grow and develop, I build in time in my marriage.
There is a freedom that comes with putting some structure around those goals. And then a to-do list, it’s a necessity of focus. Proverbs 14:23 says, “In all labor there is profit but mere talk leads only to poverty.”
I don’t know about you but if you don’t write it down, you don’t have a plan. And once I have my schedule, and maybe it’s basic, but I meet a lot of people who don’t do it.
I write a to-do list for the week, and then I pray over it, and then I put a, are you ready for this? I put an “A” next to the ones that are highest priority that only I can do. And then I put a “B” next to the ones that are really important but I can do or maybe someone else could do, or maybe only I can do but it’s not the most important. And then I put a “C” around things I really want to do, can do, and then, here’s the most amazing thing, it’s scary, hold onto that pen, you ready? I do the “As” first.
And sometimes I only get to do two “As.” I’m always tempted to do four “Cs” because they feel good. But they don’t get me to where I want to be, as the man God has called me to be.
And finally, journaling. And this would be: “Importance of reflection.” I think it’s so important, as believers, “What is God doing?” What are you feeling? What are you thinking?
Now, this isn’t for everyone. Don’t go on a guilt trip. I’ve met some people, I know some very godly people who have tried to journal, tried to journal, tried to journal and just looked at me and say, “It doesn’t work for me.” Then I said, “I got a spiritual word for you. Don’t do it.” But it has been awesome for me. And to take some time, couple, three four times a week, “This is what I’m feeling.” You ever have just those unrests in your heart? You don’t know what’s wrong, you feel kind of funky, and a little bit depressed and…
Just start writing and be honest and you will find it will get clear. And then what I find is I write down specific prayers and then when they’re answered I write them. I can go back year, after year, after year, “This is what God’s been doing in my life.” So all I’m saying is, it is critical for you to get out the power of the pen and write it down.
Final, little habit is this: Most people are filled with good intentions but, unfortunately, we have a personal life of broken promises, mostly to ourselves and to others. Do it now.
It’s the principle of inertia. When I get home, I do not want to work out. I do not feel like working out. Working out is for later, maybe after supper. I, if I don’t do it now, guess what? I don’t do it at all. Do you? But it’s not working out.
Attack life; don’t procrastinate. Seize the day!
Live! Go for it! Try this: You’re saying, “I don’t have time.” Try this: Take the remote and pull out the batteries, then unplug the TV for ten days. I’ve just given you somewhere between ten to thirty-five hours this week. Do it now. Do first things first.
It’s where we get killed. Take the first four things. You’re saying to yourself, “You know, when am I going to get around to it?” Buy an alarm clock; take out the trash, even if it’s a shoe; do your own dishes; write down. And you say, “Well, when?” Now! Go home now and start the first sentence. Write one 3x5 card tonight.
It’s the power of inertia. Once you get moving in positive directions, things happen. Most of us spend our lives thinking and talking about, “When things calm down, and when this season is over, how things will really…” And guess what? They never really do, do they?
A powerful passage for me, I remember studying was in Proverbs 24:30 and 31. I’m going to read it with the emphasis I think the author intends. Listen to where the accent is. It’s the wisest man in the world and he’s, look, taking an object lesson from nature.
And he’s seen things built, and he’s seen people fail, and he’s seen great successes, and he’s getting a great thought that comes to his mind as he’s observing nature.
And he says, “I passed by the field of the sluggard,” the lazy man, the slothful man, “and by the vineyard of the man lacking sense,” the guy that really hadn’t thought very clearly about life, who didn’t write it down, who didn’t take responsibility. “And behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles, it’s surface was covered with nettles, and the stone wall that was built around these was broken down.”
Something that was for life, something that gave life, something that would create fruit, something that would be ground down will be times of celebration. Instead, it’s overgrown, it’s neglected. And then he gives us why. Watch the text.
“When I saw it,” and this is how to read Scripture. “I reflected upon it. I reflected upon it.” He stopped. He thought. Huh, He says, “Ah-ha. Here’s something created for life, there was a stone wall that used to work, here are plants that could produce income and fruit and joy and food for others, wine for celebration. And I see it and I thought and I reflected.”
And here’s his conclusion because he received instruction: A little sleep, “I’ll do it later. Just taking a nap. I’ll catch it later. I’ll watch a ballgame. I’ll go shopping, then we’ll do it.”
A little slumber, “I’ll take a second nap. This La-Z-Boy feels good. This is an important game, this is Louisville and Kentucky, I mean, I gotta watch this one.” A little folding of the hands to rest. “Then your poverty will come as a robber and your want, like an armed man.”
Do it now. In the little things, do it now. When you have a bill, pay it now. When you need to ask for forgiveness, do it now. When you need to make something right with someone, do it now. When God gives you that little prompting and you’re thinking, “Oh, is this really from God?” and it’s a generous, kind act that will really help someone else, it’s from God. Just do it.
When it’s an unpleasant conversation and someone you need to confront, do it now. When it’s the hardest task of the day and the thing you dread, do it now.
And as you do, you will find that far from being a legalistic, duty-filled person you’ll understand that these are five different hose lines that, when done with the right attitude, when you’ve come to God and said, “I can’t do this, I need Your grace,” He will say, “Let Me pour My grace through your heart and life at the beginning of every day. Get an alarm clock and meet with Me.”
“Oh, God, I just can’t break this habit. I’m struggling. Relationships aren’t going well, I feel depressed.” Okay, I’ll tell you what, take out the trash and get it out of your life and do it tonight. Break off the relationship, cancel the Internet subscription, tell a friend that you can trust you’re addicted to porn, explain to someone how, even as a leader, you do have an alcohol problem and come clean, and do it now.
And God will pour forth grace and transformation because there’s not a person in this room that’s got it together. Not anybody even close. We are all insecure, fellow travelers struggling with problems, and thoughts, and lust, and struggles, and laziness, and we need to be real, and honest, and clear, and clean, and ask God for help and then position ourselves. That’s what these are.
Position ourselves to let God work through these things and through His Word and through people and you know what? He’ll change you because if any man or any woman is in Christ, you are a new creature.