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Taking short-cuts in life does not end in the full, abundant life God intended for us. Gary Stroope walks us through four short-cuts that can hinder our growth: neglecting daily time in the Word of God; replacing intimacy with Christ with activity; not dealing with sin; and living apart from community. When we avoid these short-cuts, connect with God and His provisions, we grow and come to know true life.
Parable of the Sower: What Is the Soil of Your Heart?
An Evening with Eric Metaxas: Miracles
Don't be a WENI - Christlike Communication
Remembering Our Core Values: Examine Your Life, Excel Still More
Get Busy: Individual Next Steps
The Exclusivity of Jesus
Living Life in the Grace and Sufficiency of Christ: Baptism Celebration 2014
The Continuing Story of Easter
Todd and Greg Answer Questions About the Faith
5 Characteristics of Relationships that Succeed
A Tender Word for Pharisees
Stewarding the Life of a Shepherd
Love is Always Better than the Law
This morning's message is crazy simple. It is because I'm crazy simple, but it's also because the gospel was not given to intellectuals. Sometimes we make it into that when we try to grow and we try to understand God's Word. God's Word was given to everyday people. So everyday people can follow it and can get a lot out of it.
I went back in this week to study when I found out Todd was going to be out and about and we were going to have a chance to hang out together this morning. I was just looking back at some aspects of what it means to follow Christ.
Some of you know that for about 12 years, I lived in Miami. I had a chance to be interviewed on a radio show. I came home and told my wife and kids I was going to be on the radio. They got really excited. My guys were little bitty at the time. They set the radio dial.
Kimberly (my wife) said, "Now y'all can stay up late because Dad is going to be on the radio." They popped popcorn and this kind of stuff. They were sitting there in the living room, and you hear over the radio, "This next hour, our guest is Gary Stroope. We just got a call from Gary that he is stuck in traffic, but he'll be with us momentarily."
It was at that moment that Griffin (my oldest) turned over to my wife and said, "He's not stuck in traffic. He's lost." Here's the bad thing. Your family knows the truth about you. That's exactly what happened. I had written on the back of an envelope how to get to the radio station, and I had left late. And on and on and on. It was raining mildly, so I decided I was going to take a shortcut. I was going to make up the time.
I went across this causeway, this bridge, that got me back into a neighborhood. The next thing, I looked up. I was at the Orange Bowl. It was sort of like summer vacation with Chevy Chase. I looked up, and they were removing the tires off my car, almost. I wasn't worried about getting to the radio station; I was worried about getting out alive. It was awful!
I went on and on and on. I had made a shortcut that I was not prepared to make. I ended up totally, totally, helplessly lost. They came on the radio after that and said, "We're going to play Steven Curtis Chapman's Greatest Hits." Anyway, I got about five minutes of an interview after I finally got there.
Those who are around us, we do a lot of talking about… We give great, very involved explanations about why we're not where we ought to be, why we haven't grown anymore than we've grown, and why our behavior sometimes doesn't match the intent of our hearts. Everybody around us kind of knows we've taken a shortcut. Everybody knows it's not really because…
"Yeah, I grew up with parents who didn't really teach me," whatever the understanding is. At the end of the day, everybody really knows we're just lost, and we've taken a shortcut. The penalty is high. You know, it's one thing to be late for a radio show. It's another thing if the shortcut you've taken has cut you off from real life.
In the process of taking the shortcut and all the smoke and mirrors of our elaborate explanation of why we've ended up in places we never intended to end up, it has cut us off from real living, real life, and real joy. At first, it seemed like a minor mistake. It's not one single act anymore. That shortcut has set off a chain of events of more shortcuts, and little by little by little, they creep into our lives.
I can't tell you how many times I've had folks sit in my office and say to me, "Gary, if you had told me five years ago you and I would be sitting here having this conversation and I would be as confused as I am, as upset as I am, as destroyed as I am, doing the things I have done to hurt myself and to hurt others, I would have told you you're absolutely crazy. I don't know how I got here."
I don't say this with any arrogance. I am very aware of how they've gotten there. We all think (every one of us) we're the exception to the rule, that the rules don't apply to us. Little by little, we just start making shortcuts that lead to greater separation from life, value, and meaning.
We think shortcuts won't affect us. So because of that, they just get more and more difficult. They cut us further and further away until finally the price tag becomes huge. At first, it's small. It has a whisper of being deaf. Then one day we wake up and we go, "Wow! I can't pretend anymore. This is bad."
Murphy (my youngest son) went to Western Colorado State, also known as Crested Butte Ski Resort, and I got to pay for that. Thankfully, the second year he went to Colorado State and got a real education. During the days he was there, he originally went to school… He wanted to be a mountain guide. Murphy is a backpacker, a climber, and all that. He wanted to be a river guide.
So he went there, and at the end of his freshman year he signed a two-year contract to be a mountain guide on the Arkansas River. He calls us up and says, "I've landed this gig. I'm going to be a river guide." I just think to myself, "You've never been in a raft." I mean, that seems like a pretty obvious problem to me.
I said, "May 1, you drive down the hill from Gunnison down to Buena Vista. You get in a raft with 12 strangers with their children. How does that work?" He said, "Well, it's really easy, Dad. For 20 days, we get up at 6:00 a.m., and from then to 6:00 p.m. we're in the river with experienced guides. That's all we do. We row all day long and rescue each other all day long."
I thought to myself, "Okay, then what happens at the end of those 20 days?" He goes, "Well, if we have done well and if we've passed they start putting clients in our boat. Are you going to come?" I go, "Give me trip 50. I want you to work through this." I mean, these are some pretty rocking rapids. It's a really powerful river, especially if it's been a big snowfall that year.
I'm thinking to myself, "What happens when a 7-year-old falls over the edge of the raft and is going down the river in the middle of a terrific section of water? What happens when that raft flips over and gets sucked into a log jam and a strainer, and that raft won't come off because the pressure is so great?" I'm asking all these questions.
He goes, "Dad, I've got it. We're traveling in a group. I have experienced guides in my group. They never put the new guys by themselves. I'm 20 days in. If I'm not ready, they won't let me into the river." I think to myself, "Brilliant." It still was a little frightening to me that someone would be in my son's boat.
I asked myself this morning, "What kind of guide are you, Gary? How much preparation do you have to do this?" You know, it's serious. It was really funny. Every day there is this site you could go to and you could pull up the river guide's photo site. You could pull up. So families would go there, and they click on their number. They can see themselves in the boat.
In every one of them, it's the same picture. Everybody is laughing and having a great time, and there is one guy in the back with oars. He has sheer terror on his face. It was so funny every day to look at the people laughing, having a great time, and look at Murphy's face just trying to make sure he didn't lose somebody.
I asked myself this morning, "What kind of guide am I?" There are some people in my boat who matter greatly to me: my wife, my kids, my grandkids, my church, my friends. I'm a dad. I'm a husband. I'm a father. I'm a friend. See, the truth is, guys, it matters whether we take shortcuts or not. Some of us have made the mistake of we've gotten straight into the raft with no training. We slap on a life vest and we grab a paddle. We take everybody with us.
We ignore the fact that the river is beautiful, it's powerful, but it is dangerous as all get-out. I'm not negative about this life but, guys, I'm going to tell you something. Your kids deserve to have somebody who is well-trained. Your friends deserve to have a friend who doesn't bring their opinion but who brings truth and brings life to the conversation.
For those of you who are young adults and you're dating, the person you date deserves to have someone who is not seeking for you to bring life to them. They are bringing life to you and vice versa. This journey we're on, guys, really, really matters. It really matters a lot. If we take shortcuts, everyone in our boat is at peril.
To carry that analogy out a little further, I look at Watermark as a guide service. We're here to train you, to put people who have failed, people who have succeeded after failing, but people who know they need the training, and they are living it out as best they know how. They are standing with you to guide you, to train you, to help you.
Here's the other thing to which you need to listen. They're not all on staff. As a matter of fact, most of them are not on staff. If I don't lead my kids well, guys, it matters. If you confuse people or if you don't have truth, it really matters, guys. If you seek love from others but never have real lasting love to offer in return, it matters.
I was thinking just this week about how many marriages began on just such a crazy premise. "You make me happy, and I'll make you happy." Neither one of them make each other happy because they're coming for the wrong reasons. They haven't dated Christ well. They share their emptiness and their neediness instead of their wholeness.
No one should have to bear the weight of my neurosis and my loneliness. God the Father is the only one equipped to deal with that, and if I don't deal with that before I get married, I will bury the person with whom I live. You don't just jump in the boat and grab an oar, but instead you get prepared. There is no shortcut for that.
I think Wagner is the guy who started this phrase. If he isn't, he ought to take credit for it. It's a phrase we talk about a lot around Watermark. It's the phrase terminally unique. It's amazing. There are people who come to Watermark or come to God's church, and they simply say, "Man, I know I need help. I want to grow. I want to work on my marriage. I want to be equipped to live life. I want to make sure I have truth in my heart. It's not my truth." They just seem like they grow like crazy.
There's another group of people who are with us forever, and there seems to be no change in them because they aren't being trained; they have a different program. They're going to get it through osmosis and listening to messages every once in a while on Sunday. They think, you know, a Community Group couldn't really help them because they have a unique situation. They are terminally unique; therefore, they remain stunted in their growth. They hurt everyone around them eventually.
Because of Murphy, I have read almost every climbing/mountaineering book known to man. I thought I was doing it to get to be in his world, but as I read the books, they're really fascinating. You see the same people in every one of these true books, because it's just a very small community of people.
The founder of Patagonia, who started a whole climbing company, basically talks about the fact that on the mountain there is always a group of guys he would see at K2 or at Everest. He would get there, and he would say, "The thing that astounds me the most is there are these terminally unique people who think they're special, they don't have to set a backup line, they can make a shortcut, and they don't have to do all the acclimation stops when they go into altitude."
He said, "I have passed them multiple times, dead on the slope. I'd walk by and go, 'I know him. He's the guy who didn't stop when everybody else stopped for the altitude check. Oh, I know that guy. He didn't use the extra belay line because he wanted to make great time. He said he didn't need it. He slid off the side of the mountain.' They are terminally unique, and they are special…" Then he said, "…like everybody else."
In other words, guys, you don't cheat the system. You just don't. Eventually, it catches up to us. There's another struggle we have. We're tempted to believe the life of stability, joy, power, and excitement really can't be ours anyway so we might as well make the shortcut because, "You'll never achieve it." It's just a flat-out lie.
It's amazing to me the number of people I run into who are just filled with great life. They've been following Christ for such a short time, but they've listened to truth and they've responded to it. They've decided not to take the shortcut. I want to read to you from Proverbs 24:30-34. It's kind of a background passage for what we're going to be talking about this morning. I love this passage because it's so graphic. Every time I read this, I can just see it in my mind's eye.
"I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I look and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man."
I look at this powerful story, and the first thing it just tells me is the vineyard has worth. The vineyard is not some expendable piece of land. You know, sometimes I'll drive around. People will send me an address. "This could be our future home." I drive out, and I go, "Wow! I hope not." You know? I hope that's not where we're moving.
I don't know whether you've been to wine country, but I remember one year Kimberly and I went to wine country for our anniversary. There are just these beautiful vineyards. You think, "There is not enough money to buy all this." It's just absolutely breathtaking. This vineyard has absolutely worth. It is not only just a place of beauty, but it's also a huge source of income.
All of a sudden, we walk by a vineyard, and now it's overgrown. It's unkempt. It makes you wonder, "What happened?" Did he just say, "Hey, I'm going to go and spend the week doing something else. I'm going to spend the month doing something else. I'm going to spend the year doing something else"?
Now something that has great worth is absolutely worthless. It doesn't bring income. It doesn't bring beauty. It doesn't bring life. It's a place no one even wants to be. They want to pass by it and keep moving. It's no longer a place of incredible beauty, and it's certainly not a place you can live anymore. It's not a place where you take your kids and your wife and you say, "Let's keep building on this, and give it beauty."
We know it was a place of great worth and wealth because there was a wall around it. I've never gone by a junkyard, and they said, "Let's build a stone wall around this. This is really beautiful." There's a wall that's been broken down. It says the animals are getting into it now, and robbers are going and removing what little worth there was even left. At one time, this vineyard must have mattered to somebody, but now it's worthless. At one time, there was an expensive wall to protect its worth.
Some of us this morning at one time gave a lot of care to our spiritual walk. We believed it mattered, and we tended our lives really well. At one time maybe when you were little, your mom and dad sat and read you Bible studies because there was this… They were building a little wall around your life and investing in this because your spiritual walk had super-great value.
It was going to be the beauty of your life. It was going to be the security of your life because that was the place you were going to live. Somewhere along the way, maybe you thought there was life somewhere else, and you no longer live within those walls. You woke up one day, and the walls have eroded. They've been torn down.
I passed Todd one afternoon. We were at a restaurant meeting, and I got there early. Todd was running late. He was talking to a group of young adults. I was really encouraged by what he said. These were guys who were just starting their career, and they were at a hamburger place.
He was sitting down, and he said, "Hey, guys. I'm going to tell you something. You'll never have more time than you have right now to invest in your spiritual walk. I know you're busy but, guys, you don't know what busy is yet. I want to tell you that for some reason, some guys invested in me, and I began to grow. I began to memorize God's Word and began to read God's Word, not because of a job but because I felt it was important. Even now as I have six kids…"
At that time, they were living in his house. They were his kids, which is crazy. It was his own youth group. He said, "Even now, it's so hard for me as the church has gotten bigger and the responsibilities have gotten greater to fight for that time that is life-giving. Here's what you need to know. All that investment I did before is now paying huge, huge dividends today. It just multiplies it. It's wealth in my life over and over and over again."
I thought, "That is so true. We can't short the investment we make in this place we live." I want to tell you about four shortcuts, guys, we take so you can look at them and decide whether or not you're a candidate. I just want to confess to you that if you're honest, like I'm trying to be this morning, I struggle with all four. That's the reason we're talking about it. It's an area that affects all of us. I'm not talking to three of us this morning; I'm talking to all of us. At some level, we need to continue to fight to not take these shortcuts because the cost is really high.
1._ We think we can live powerful lives without God's Word being revealed in us daily._ We think we can live powerful lives without God's living truth through his Word being daily opened into our hearts. When I was growing up, they said, "Hey, you need to read your Bible." That was on your list of good things you were supposed to do. But I didn't understand, guys, it is life. It is the truth I don't possess without it being available to me.
To live not seeking truth from God's Word daily is saying we have enough truth without it. I don't think anybody would be bold enough to say that, but I've gotten to the point now, guys, with people I love and sometimes with people I don't even know very well, I feel so strongly about this.
Let's just call it what it is. To not read God's Word either means you're ignorant of the fact that you need it or you simply say, "I don't need any more truth, because Gary's kind of got it going on. I have enough truth. I watched TV, and I went to a Christian school." (So much for that.) That's a bold statement, but sometimes, guys, it's really great to say what our actions might mean.
You say, "Well, that's not what my heart is saying." Okay, great. If that's not what you really believe, then good for you. Then change your actions to reveal what you believe, to do what you believe. There are guys who I have seen the light come on in their heart since we've been here for this last year.
I mean, in the last four or five months, they were cultural Christians showing up at church, looking for the best program that would last the shortest amount of time and not be totally boring. They have made the decision that Jesus Christ is everything he says he is, and his Word is truth. It is his love letter. It is his guidebook for success in their life. They've embraced it. They believe it. In a short amount of time, the light has come on.
There are other guys in this room who have been walking with Christ for a lot of years, but they've made that same choice. They're running toward truth every chance they can get. They're doing it on their own. I'm going to tell you something, guys. I believe in our Bible study programs, whether it's Summit for men, whether it's our women's Bible studies. That's almost in another category.
Guys, what I'm talking about is men and women who open up the Word of God daily by themselves and say, "I don't get it. I don't understand. I don't know all the truth, but I'm going to read it and figure it out." Here's the thing. When I see them weekly here, my heart just is filled with joy. It's filled with joy not because they are great guys. They are great guys and great gals. My heart fills with joy because their hearts are so crazy informed with a little bit of investment.
I see them forgiving people with whom they have conflict. I see joy coming out of them. I don't see confusion and hopelessness, even though they still have real problems in their life. I see them struggling well to work through things, and their lives are an open book. They're not trying to protect their image; they're just diving into community. They're not worried about, "Is this going to be a good fit? What if they find out this about me?"
They're not doing all that management stuff that is so a part of the human nature. They are relentlessly open, joyful, and diving in. Guess what? They are a blessing everywhere they show up. You can drop them into a Summit group, to a women's Bible study, or to a re|engage group, and they don't have all the answers. But there's hope in that circle because they're not scratching their heads saying, "You know, I don't know what God says." They're not Bible scholars. They're sharing what they know from that week.
Guys, that's what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It's to be humble and full of joy. You cannot have a powerful, joyful life apart from his Word. You have cut yourself off from truth. That seems like, "Well, duh! I knew that before we got here." Well, how are you doing at it? That's all I want to say. It's so important that we have to talk about it.
Every time we're together, I want to talk about the kind of church God is calling us to be. But, guys, here's the bottom line. We won't be the kind of church that changes a city until I become the kind of follower who changes my own family, until I become the kind of friend, until I become the kind of follower of Jesus where there's life coming out of me.
For year, I grew up in the traditional church. I'm not angry about that or anything else. I'm not even throwing rocks. They would try to get me to share my testimony at school. I was a decent kid, so I'd go, "Okay, well, I'm supposed to do that." I'd get all my guys in my locker room and go, "I'm going to just tell you the greatest thing that's ever happened to me." I knew how to give my testimony.
Then when I got older, I was supposed to give money to the church. It became a part of my life. There was some good in that but, guys, I'm going to tell you something. Everything changed when his truth began to wash over me. I would read a passage, and I'd say, "Wow! That sounds like I'm supposed to do something different than I am. I'm cheating myself from the joy God wants me to have. Wow! I don't have to go around anxiety-ridden all the time if that's true, if you can really trust him in those kinds of situations."
My life began to change a little bit at a time. We're not here to guilt you into doing behaviors. We're here to call you to follow him because he is life. When I was working with students, I had this kid who would show up in my office. I think I was the after-school program for him, and I just didn't know it.
He would show up at my office every afternoon after school and go, "How are you doing, Stroope?" Every afternoon, I'd say, "Carter, are you reading God's Word?" He would go, "Man, why do you keep asking me that, and when are you going to stop asking me that?" I said, "When you start reading God's Word. Carter, I ask you that because I love you. I want every friend I have to have truth and not the shared wisdom of the ages."
Year ago, I was at a Community Group. It wasn't here at Fort Worth, so just don't try to do the math to say, "I wonder if that's Jeff Sanders." It's not. Years ago, I was in a Community Group, and we'd spent a couple of years together. There were several in our group who would just love on this one guy and say, "How are things going in your relational life with your spouse? How are things going at work?"
We would always say, "How's your time alone with God reading and filling your life up with truth so you feel loved and so you begin to be more and more equipped?" It always was the same answer. "You know, I'm not what I should be. I'm struggling with that. I've been really busy. When I'm there, I get interrupted."
After about two or three years of this… It wasn't personal with me, but I finally just said, "Let's just admit it." I could say this this clearly, because we were friends. I said, "Let's just admit something. You don't think you need God's truth." We just let it sit for a while. "I do!"
I said, "No, you don't. You don't think God has anything to give you from his Word, and you've taken a shortcut that you're just going to hear a couple of sermons and do the best you can. You're going to make me your research buddy that I'll go give you stuff like that whenever it gets really bad. But you don't think his truth is pivotal for your life.
Therefore, that explains a lot of your confusion a lot of the time. I love you, and I want more for you than that. You're not a bad person, but you are not a follower of his right now. You're not a follower. Christ is your valet. He is your personal assistant, and you want him to show up at business deals, but you're not listening to him. Here's the deal. He is not mad at you. He is not here to make you feel badly, and I'm not here to make you feel badly. But you have cut yourself off from truth. There is going to be a price tag if you keep living that way."
Everybody knows if you have that truth and if you cherish it or if you're taking a shortcut. They know it because there are flashes of anger. There is selfishness that is not just a part of an afternoon, but it's a consistent part of your life. They know it because of your affections for things that are not life-giving. We could spend a while there. If you're a college student, you know what I'm talking about.
Your affection is for things that are not life-giving but you've made them life-giving by your choices. Your melancholy is not just a part of your unique personality, but it is fatalism that goes unchecked. No matter what happens to you, you begin to find yourself in the pit of despair because you have no truth, because truth would rail against it. It would give you a pathway to deal with that.
See, to have truth doesn't mean you don't have any problems. That's not what I'm saying. It's just the opposite. Because you have problems, you need truth, and so do I. The reverse is also true. When truth comes to us, what do the Scriptures say? You shall know the truth, and the truth shall liberate you or set you free. When you have truth, you have a greater perspective. You have a deeper ability to understand what this moment means than the average person because there is something eternal here.
Do you know what I love? I was talking with my daughter-in-law last night. We were just talking about a friend of ours who had made really bad life choices and just doesn't even want to talk about those days, just wants to avoid them. I'm surrounded by people who I know their story, their life choices, their mistakes. They remember them. They didn't hit their head in the shower and have forgotten them. They know everything about them, but there's no guilt and there's no shame. As a matter of fact, there's joy.
How does that happen? Because there's a greater truth. He has washed that. I don't want credit for it, but I think I know a guy who coined this phrase, "Sin has touched every last one of us." There are not any of you in this room who have not been touched by it. Truth tells you, "Run toward it. Declare it. Be forgiven. Receive joy."
We have a challenge in the Bible Belt as well. There is a problem we have in the Bible Belt called bibliolatry. That's where you can hang out around truth and it not be personal. You can go to Bible studies and not ever have time alone letting him speak to you. You can become a smarter sinner but never really deal with the truth he has given you. Psalm 1:1-6:
"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish."
Here is the bottom line. When you live in truth, the roots go deep. Even though there's a drought, you withstand it. There is this great gift, and people who live around you eat upon the fruit that comes off of your life. They sit in the shade provided by what that truth has provided for you. Does that describe you?
Joshua 1:8 says, "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success." You meditate so you can do it. You can't do it, guys. You meditate so you can do it.
My biggest problem is I don't really want to sometimes. I don't really want to be obedient. I don't really want to listen to truth, but when I begin to meditate on it, God's Word begins to penetrate my heart. For the first time, I have a want to because this truth begins to take root. That truth begins to change me, and then I can do it.
If you want to be successful, I've used two verses already that say you will prosper if his Word is a part of your life. Let's define what success is. First of all, it's a life well-spent, a sense of well-being. Everybody in your boat is full of joy, and they arrive alive. That's success. Guys, let me ask you, are you successful? Are you prosperous? Is your life full of that?
Would your wife say, "Do you know what? I would do anything if my husband just had some truth. The things that come out of his mouth sound like foolishness to me. They don't make sense to me"? Do your kids begin to see you as a wise counsel?
I have to be careful how I say this, but I love pregnant women. Let me explain what I mean by that. When I see a pregnant woman I get really excited because I think, "There is a baby inside that person. It is so exciting." Even with strangers… See, now that's kind of one I'd go, "I see you're about to have a baby." I quit doing that in public because it kind of creeps people out.
It's so exciting. I loved it when Kimberly was pregnant. It was like having a science fair project at your house, and every day was something different. You'd be lying in bed, and all of a sudden the face would come across the belly, just go… How do you get over that? It's crazy! It happens all the time to thousands and millions of people. I get it, but how do you get over that?
I'm also really amazed that they can put a TV camera in New York, and the football game is on my TV set. Just so you know, I amaze easily. I'm telling you, I was at Starbucks a couple of years ago. I walked in, and there was this woman. She was crazy pregnant. I just looked at her, and I just said, "How cool is that?" I'm looking at the husband and the wife. They're ordering coffee. I'm not saying anything because I'm going to not be creepy. I'm just thinking, "Any day now, a human is going to be launched." You know?
I just was looking at that. I said, "That is so stinkin' cool!" Then they began to order. She said, "I never order soy." He said, "Well, you did last time." They got into this whopping fight. Then I went from being amazed about a child being born to this thing where I said, "Wow. They can't order coffee. How can they raise a child?"
I feel that way about all of us a little bit. Guys, we don't have any truth. Apart from him, we have no truth. If you want to live your life apart from having his truth available to you through his Word, through his love letter to you, you're crazy. I'm going to say that. Every friend I have, I ask them, "Are you reading God's Word, and what are you learning?" I didn't ask you, "Who is the third king of Israel?" It's not a Bible drill. What is God teaching you?
If you're not deep into the Bible, it scares you, you feel overwhelmed, you feel embarrassed because you have to look at the tabs or in the back, dude, get over it. That was never my strength either. If you can't remember the address, great. Ask somebody. They'll help you. For everybody's sake in your raft, start getting truth because people are depending on you. The stakes are high.
2._ We substitute activity for intimacy with Christ. We substitute activity for intimacy. Very succinctly, I would say, guys, we don't hang out with Jesus. We think we'll just go to a Bible study, we'll go to a worship service, and we'll be done for the week. You're not _against God. Don't misunderstand me. But you're not intimate with him. You're not hanging out with him.
We check our blood pressure around our house almost every day. With Kimberly and I in our relationship it's, "We can be in the same room, we can be not fighting at all, but are we connecting? Are our hearts touching? Do we know what's going on with each other?"
Sometimes there's been no big fight or disagreement, but we just have to say, "Let's pull the flaps in today, and let's just be together because I feel disconnected. Although we're doing good things, we're not a team right now. It's not because we're even going opposite directions. We're just not connecting, and we need to do that." We're really quick to do that. How much more do you need to do that with the heavenly Father who has a lot?
Kim doesn't get a lot from me. I'll just be honest with you. She just doesn't. She gets my confusion and my grumpiness, my list of things I want to do that week. But when I get with Christ, I get tons of stuff. The most valuable time of my day is when I put on a pair of headsets, and I listen to some worship music and let my heart slow down. That's one of the things. That may not be your method, but that's one of the things I have to do to do that.
I get on the patio or I go into my office, and I close the door. I just tell him the truth. We just hang out together. Then we continue that conversation throughout the day. It's not that thing we do, and we're done with it. Check. I'm a Christian. I am walking with him. It's called abiding. It's hanging out with him.
My wife's love language is… She likes them all, just to be clear, but her favorite one is physical touch. I was confused what that meant for a long time, but what she means is like to hold her hand. She likes for me to hold her hand, in public especially, and she likes for me to put my hand on her back when we're watching football games. There's a joke there I'm not going for.
John 15:5: "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." Guys, what it says is this. It says he is the vine. We're the branches. You're not the vine. You're not the source, and he is your consultant. He is the vine. You're the branches. If we had more time, I'd have you say that out loud.
Do you want to live apart from him? Then go ahead. You will not have anything. If you want to live your life apart from him, you will have nothing. Guys, I can't say it any clearer than that. Our biggest issue is we don't think we need him. Okay? We don't think we need him! How do I know that?
Because we routinely go, "I've been really busy. I haven't spent much time with him." Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. My wife will go, "Sweetheart, come on. We have to be a couple." God the Father is not going to chase you around like the celestial puppy in the sky to say, "Will you come hang out with me?" Guys, he is the vine.
Every once in a while, I'll be out digging in my yard. I'll cut through a root that's going to a plant (or sometimes a sprinkler head). What I discover is that plant dies. It doesn't make it. He is the source of all your strength, all your joy, all your truth. Apart from him, you can do nothing. John 10:10 says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." That's his purpose statement.
Guys, listen to this. Here's another way of saying it. Guys, Christ wants to be with you so he can make you really alive. He loves you, and he loves me. He is saying, "Get grafted to me. Hang out with me. Let me love you." I think one of the biggest problems believers have is we think our job is to love him. Our biggest struggle is letting him love us.
We keep trying to cut deals. We're going to be good from now on. He says, "No, you're not." We're not! We're rebellious, and we're broken. Guys, he didn't come to this world to catch you screwing up. He came to give you life. The biggest lie Satan has ever planted in our heart is that there's life somewhere else, and he came to steal life. Guys, he came to give you life.
You may be here today, and you're checking him out. You're not even sure whether you believe what we've been talking about today. I just want to tell you his greatest desire is that you be grafted to him, that you be connected to his life (to the Vine) so you might have life. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him the perishing would cease, and they would have everlasting life." Are you alive or are you just believing him?
Guys, I'm not here to condemn you. " [Christ didn't come] into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." Guys, he wants to be connected to you. He doesn't want you to get your act together or to behave. He wants to help you know him because to know him is to know life.
We substitute activity for… Sometimes our activity looks like this. We know there's something missing, so we say, "Do you know what? I'm going to start working at a soup kitchen," or "I'm going to buy Toms shoes. That will help somebody." Fill in the blank. Guys, I'm not knocking that. Don't misunderstand me.
Thank goodness somebody is working in a soup kitchen and they're helping people who are under-resourced, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But guys, that is not a relationship with Jesus Christ. That doesn't substitute for a relationship with Jesus Christ. It might be an expression of your relationship with Jesus Christ, it might be, but don't substitute that.
If you're not hanging out with him and you're doing that, you have it backwards. First Corinthians 13 says although you have all these abilities and you don't love, it's a lot of noise. I know some people who do stuff. They're really into missions or whatever, and yet they don't have any joy.
I go, "Wait. There's something wrong in this equation." It's not an either/or proposition. Some of the worst days of my spiritual life were when I was serving on a church staff because I thought I was unique and special like everybody else. I quit hanging out with him, and because I quit hanging out with him I listened to knowledge.
Tyler Briggs, who you heard this morning do the announcements, has a history in physical fitness training, physiology. He is smarter than I am on that kind of stuff. One of the things he told me was it's amazing how quickly your body reverts to being unhealthy. You have to stay on it all the time. I went, "That's not news I wanted to hear."
It's amazing how quickly you forget he is good. He is strong. I mean, you forget it in an afternoon. Guys, that's why daily, "…take up your cross, and follow me." That's why daily sit with him. He says, "Come to me…and I will give you rest." Are you hanging out on the patio? Are you closing your office door? Are you sitting alone in your bedroom with the door shut? Are you letting him love you?
It's just a yes or no answer. I didn't ask you whether you were good or whether you were perfect. Don't be confused, but do you think he has something to give to you? Do you think he is good? Do you think you need him? Because if you don't, you're cutting yourself off from life. You'll never see life correctly.
I wasn't going to tell you this, but I've decided I'm going to go ahead and tell you. I was my high school mascot. I didn't want to tell you, because I didn't want to draw attention to myself. I knew many of you would admire me after I told you that. We were the Samuell Spartans, which means I wore a skirt with a metal breastplate and one of those hats with like a broom on the top. You know? I know, it was really attractive. Think Russell Crowe but much shorter.
Not too long ago, I was looking through yearbooks. We were moving. I looked in my yearbook, and there was a picture of me coming through a banner on football night, tearing that banner in half. I've got my sword and stuff. Beneath it, somebody had signed my picture and said, "Gary, stay the way you are. Never change."
Do you know what's sad? What's so sad was at that moment in history, I couldn't imagine anything better! It was the pinnacle! You know, "I am the mascot, for crying out loud!" It couldn't get any better than this. I remember grieving as I left high school that I had to leave all that behind. Now it's a source of encouragement to many.
There are other moments in my life that aren't as painfully obvious (but really they are) that I didn't think life could be any better, and God has shown me something better. God the Father comes over and says, "Stroope, come here. Slip of your dress and let me give you a pair of blue jeans. It gets better from here. Trust me."
I'm going to tell you something. Just trust him. Hang out with him. He is not trying to get you alone so he can tell you what a jerk you are. He is there to inform you, encourage you, to show you things that hurt you. Yeah. But, man, he wants to lead you, to love you, and to give you a life you can only imagine, that you think is for somebody else. No, it's for you. "I came that you might have life, and you would have it so abundantly that it would pour onto other people."
Guys, the shortcut is clear. Do you know you need him? Philippians 4:6 says, "…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Guys, I'm going to tell you something. If you're not hanging out with him…now listen to this…you're going to be anxious. If you're not hanging out with him, you have a reason to be anxious.
Cut me some grace on this next statement but, guys, we're spending a lot of time in our culture now treating anxiety (which is the symptom) and not treating the problem. Guys, if you're not connected to the Father, you have a reason to be full of anxiety. I didn't say you shouldn't be dealing with your anxiety. That's not what I said.
Guys, I'm telling you, the first question I like to ask people when they come telling me, "Man, I am in a bad place," is, "Hey, tell me about your time with him. Is he informing your heart? Are you listening to him? Are you being loved by him? If not, you have a lot of reason to be anxious because the future is scary."
Your life is unproductive, and it's like that vineyard I talked about earlier. Confidence comes because we know him, we trust him, and we know he loves us. I have confidence in that. Being alone in his Word is not a time issue. It's either an issue of ignorance or arrogance.
Guys, if you're not reading God's Word, is it just because no one has ever made it that important to you before? Are you just not spending time with him to talk to him just because no one has ever…? Or is it just because you're arrogant? That's a whole other problem. "I don't think I need him." At least admit that's where you are, because that's where God can meet you. We're not against him. We just don't want a whole lot of him, and we want to be in control. We want God to be on the bus, but we want to drive. Just say that.
3._ We don't deal with sin immediately and quickly_. Proverbs 25:26: "Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked." You know, when I grew up, we used to go swim in these springs in Oklahoma. There was a big sign at every one of them: "Do not swim in this spring." The reason why is they didn't want to pollute them by having us all go in there and do what kids do in springs.
Proverbs 26:11: "Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly." It's not a beautiful picture. It's not one of those beautiful Bible verses, "I can do all things through Christ…" No, it's just you're like a dog that returns to his vomit. Well, it is what it is. It's in the Bible. Guys, a dog throws up, and he is not smart enough to figure it out. He just eats it again. Yeah. You need to say, "Eww!" because it's repulsive.
That picture is there to remind us, guys, some of us keep doing the same crazy stuff. We think, "Do you know what? I'm going to go clubbing one more time. I'm going to make my encounters with men and women just casual, and I'm not going to feel the same way next time." That's eating the vomit, guys.
"I'm not going to listen to God's Word, and I'm going to see his law as oppressive and cutting me out. I'm not going to listen to him because I know everyone else has to do with real love. I'm just going to do my thing because he is handsome. If I miss him, I may be missing a good provider." We just keep doing that same thing with the same results. We don't deal with our sin.
Being alone in his Word is the answer for that. Proverbs 28:13: "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy." The bottom line is what's the answer for this sin thing? Find the people in your life, and confess. First of all, confess it to God the Father, but I would encourage you to find people you love. They're a part of your team. They ought to be in your Community Group. If you're not in a Community Group, we'll get to that in a second.
Confess, and say, "I'm struggling with my thought life. I looked at some things last week. I know I shouldn't be doing that. I turned my brain off, and I acted like God didn't exist. I need to tell you about that because I want to give you guys permission to ask me about that, to not be responsible for me but to love me enough to encourage me and help me. Will you do that?"
I have a buddy who says you don't build doghouses for rabid dogs. I love that expression. He says basically when a rabid dog comes into your yard, you don't build it a home and give it food and water. What you do is you shoot it. Some of you need to go home this afternoon and just shoot some stuff. You need to put an end to it. You need to put an end to the craziness that has defined your life, ask God's truth, hang out with him, and let him help you with that. But you need people to come alongside you to help you.
It's a crazy thing. People who matter the most would be relieved if you came clean. You know, your kids and your wife wouldn't have to tippy-toe around you anymore if you just came and said, "Hey, guys. Let me be Captain Obvious this afternoon. I have an anger problem. Does anybody have a problem with that?" They would be relieved! "Thank you!"
"Guys, I'm going to need your help. Me admitting it doesn't make it right, but I'm going to deal with this. Hey, sweetie. I know I haven't cherished you. I know I've talked about it. I know I've asked for your forgiveness. Let's go to re|engage together, and let's work on this. I'm not going to worry about you; I'm going to worry about me. Let's work on this."
"Hey, do you know what? I've been struggling with depression for years. I'm going to do something. I'm just going to admit I have allowed things to come into my life that make me depressed."
4._ We don't think we need others to do the life in Christ_. Proverbs 18:1-2: "Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion." Guys, I need people in my life. I've invited people into my life. We do community here for that reason. It's not so they can catch you but so they can help you. They're here to encourage you.
Hebrews 10:22-25: "…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience…" The best years of our marriage have been since we've been at Watermark. We've been married 37 years, and every week at re|engage I say, "It's been 30 of the happiest years of our lives." It's half funny, half true. It's because I didn't know enough to do it.
I would tell you, because I've lived in community, because I've been living under God's Word, and because I've been hanging out… Here's another way of saying it. You think I'm bad now? What would it have been like if I hadn't had that? I still have stuff. I'm still broken. I'm still selfish. I still have to ask forgiveness almost every day (I almost said week) from somebody.
I want to close this morning by just… I was on a flight to Memphis, Tennessee. I had a speaking engagement, and it was really cool because they put me up at the Peabody Memphis hotel. I thought, "Man, this is going to be great. I'm going to go there. I'm going to get chicken wings. I'm going to watch college football. Then I'll get up in the morning and speak, and I'll fly home. This is like a mini vacation."
I got on the plane, and then things got better. The stewardess came up to me, and she said, "Mr. Stroope, we have an opening in first class. We'd like to upgrade you." That's never happened to me, usually because I'm wearing flip-flops and cutoffs. I moved up to first class, and I said to myself, "I'm getting everything free I can get up here. If they're giving something away, I'm taking it. If they have phone books, whatever…"
I had a great meal. I am loving life. I've got the little movie screen thing there. I'm looking through all my choices. I said, "Do you know what? I'm just going to read for a little bit before I dive into a movie." I opened up my Bible, and the guy next to me (a very handsome guy) had nice shoes on. I noticed that immediately. I kind of looked at him and said, "Those are nice shoes." He said, "Is that a Bible?"
"What do you do for a living?"
"Well, I'm in the purpose and meaning business."
"Well, I go to a church, and I serve helping people have ministries and not just come to church."
I'm trying to explain it in words… "I'm a pastor. Praise Jesus!" We were hanging out together, and he started crying. I went, "Oh my gosh! I don't think I'm going to get to watch the movie." He cried for a long time. I said, "Hey, tell me about you." He said he is the editor of an unbelievably successful magazine. He has more money than I'll ever have. He was sitting there just crying his brains out.
I just said, "Dude, tell me what's going on with you." He said, "Man, I have made horrible mistakes." I'm quoting him. "I have taken shortcuts that have taken everything away from me that really matters." Guys, let me tell you something. That's where every one of us will end up. It's not some of us. It's every last one of us if we live without him. Guys, do you need him? Do you want him? Do you need his truth and his Word?
Guys, I'm telling you something. I'm not the smartest guy in the room, but I know I do. Without him, I'm sunk. Without him, we're sunk. Here's the great news. It's so crazy changeable. It's not too late. I told my friend on the plane, "There are some things that are going to happen because of the choices you've made, but I'm going to tell you something. He desires to love you and bless you." Let's pray.
God, thank you so much that you would want to hang out on the patio with me. How great is that? God, I'm thankful that you pursue us, you love us, and you call us to be yours when you have everything. God, thank you that when we call upon you, you hear us, and we don't have to be good for three weeks. I thank you that your Word is so pivotal and so true. God, thank you that we have you and we can know you.
God, I just pray very simply that as we go home today, we would find a time to be alone, that we would read your Word, that we would confess sin not so that we can get caught. It's so that we can be free like we sang about earlier. God, help us to invite other people into the journey with us, imperfect people just like us to be a part of this journey.
God, thank you for your grace, your unmerited love that's extended to us. God, help us to be your people so everywhere we show up, there's truth. Everywhere we show up, there's safety. God, help us to not take shortcuts and to realize we need you. In your name I pray, amen.