Distractions. Temptations. We’ve all got ‘em. But when emotions threaten to lead us astray, how do we keep our focus on what’s most important?
- Can you trace past mistakes or regrets back to something that had a strong emotional appeal? How and when did it lose its appeal?
- Do you agree that what’s appealing tends to lower our defenses and raise our defensiveness? Explain.
- Andy mentioned that strong emotional appeal is a red flag, not a green light. Are there any options you’re currently considering that might be red flags? Explain.
- Where is your current path leading? Is something or someone distracting you from where you want to end up? How could you change course to arrive at a different destination?
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
So here’s something that we all have in common. This isn’t like a religious thing or a Christian thing, or non-Christian thing, this is just a thing thing, this is just a human thing. We all have this in common, our worst decisions, my worst decisions for sure, our worst decisions were fueled by something with strong emotional appeal. There is a breakthrough thought, right. [laughter] Duh, right. Your worst decision, my worst decisions, that weekend you wish, that first marriage, that purchase, that lease, that whatever it was, the reason you made that decision, the reason I made that decision or that series of decisions, was whatever it was that caused me to decide had strong emotional appeal, it was so appealing you bought it, it was so appealing you ate it, it was so appealing you dated it and moved in with it, [laughter] it was so appealing you took it, it was so appealing you smoked it, it was so appealing… I could go on and on and on. The reason you have regrets, the reason we look back on that, “Oh my gosh, what was I thinking?”, there was something on the path that had strong emotional appeal, right?
And then something very strange happened, it lost its appeal. For some of you, what began as appealing over time became a prison. it turned out it was poison to you, and now there’s a habit you can’t break, or an addiction that you’re struggling with.
So I’ve got an idea, we’ll keep this short. Let’s not do that any moreDon’t you wish it was that easy? But it’s a common experience to all of us, right? The things that get our attention, the thing to get us off track, the things that we regret, there’s something always emotionally appealing. but before we get to that, a quick review of where we’ve been.
The title of this series actually has a promise built in. “The Beginner’s Guide to Predicting Your Own Future”, or predicting your future, which means we believe you can predict your future, And the principle that drives this entire conversation, we call it the principle of the path, and the principle of the path says that direction determines our destination. Direction determines the destination. That the direction you’re on will ultimately determine your destination. You always end up where the path you’re on takes you, regardless, we said, of your intention. In fact, the intention thing is such a big deal, we added it to the definition. We said in the second week, the direction, not intention, determines our destination. And oftentimes, there is a big disconnect between what we intend to become, where we intend to end up, and the path that we’re on. And the problem is direction trumps intention every single time. Intention does not determine destination. Direction always determines destination.
So as we wrap up this series, I wanna go back and I wanna talk specifically about things with strong emotional appeal. The power of appeal. And here’s why, and again, this is what we have in common, the path or the paths to be avoided is always paved with strong emotional appeal.
There’s no way to avoid this, this is just a reality we all face and we’re all challenged with. That the path that is to be avoided, whether it’s financial, relational, whatever it might be, is always paved with something with strong emotional appeal. Newer, faster, bigger, “25% return, honey. It’s a guaranteed 25% return.” And she’s like, “That’s our college money. Okay, that’s our kid’s future, that’s what we were saving up for a vacation.” “I know, but it’s guaranteed, and all of it… ” Suddenly there’s conflict, 25% return… Romance, desire, acceptance, attention, adventure, security. The wrong paths are always paved with one or more of these things.
And to be clear, these things aren’t bad, in fact, these things are all good. These things aren’t bad, these things just aren’t enough. These things aren’t wrong, these things just aren’t enough when it comes to making decisions in life and choosing the pathways that we choose. Because shiny things and appealing things do two things to all of us. They lower our defenses, and they raise our defensiveness. These things always lower, it lowers our defenses. Shiny new appealing things lowers our defenses and raises our defensiveness. And friends come along, boyfriends come along, spouses come along, and they say, “Wait, wait, wait. Okay, do you realize where this is headed? Do you realize where this is going?” And we won’t listen. In fact, it’s like we can’t listen.
Now, I just want to talk about this for one second, then we’re gonna move on. If you are in an ongoing conversation with somebody who has your best interest in mind, and whenever a specific topic comes up, you get defensive, you need to pay attention.
If when that topic comes up, you become unusually defensive, pay attention to what’s going on inside of you, and please do not use their lack of information, their odd attitude, their incorrect approach, as an excuse to miss something that’s on your path that they can see, that you can’t. Because if you are distracted by what’s on the path, if you are distracted by what’s on the path, you will be distracted from where the path is taking you. And they have an advantage, they are not emotionally involved with him, her, they, or it. If you’re distracted by what’s on the path, you will be tempted to opt for appealing over satisfying, which isn’t satisfying. And we’ve all lived long enough to know this.
Now, here’s the amazing thing, if you’re not a Christian, is that the Apostle Paul who wrote a lot of the New Testament actually talked about this 2,000 years ago. Now, you know, most of you know, but if you don’t, quick update, the Apostle Paul stepped on to the pages of history as someone who hated Christians, who had decided to singlehandedly end the church. You may be a person who really doesn’t like Christians and you kind of wish he’d been successful, darn it, he was not successful. In fact, not only was he not successful, he actually became a Christian, a spokesman for Christianity, and he planted churches in non-Jewish areas around the Mediterranean realm, and then he would visit these churches, preached to these churches, and then write letters to these churches, and we have several of these letters that make up the documents of the New Testament. And in his letter to first century Christians living in Galatia, he talks about this topic, but he talks about it in different terms.
He says, “You,” he’s talking to Christians. Now, if you’re not a Christian, that’s okay, you get to pick and choose which parts of this you like and dislike, and want to do or not do, and to let you know, we have, and I have, specifically no right in the world to tell you what to do. I’m just inviting you in on a conversation between Christians. But you’re gonna like part of this. So hang on, here’s what Paul said. He said, “To you, my brothers and sisters,” talking to believers, “You, my brothers and sisters were called to be free.” Which is amazing because you see, if your version of Christianity isn’t liberating, you have the wrong version. “But you’re called to be free, but do not use this freedom that you have to indulge the flesh.” The flesh.
Now, [laughter] I know it’s a kind of a Bible word, so it seems kind of ominous. All he’s talking about is something that you experience every single day. That your appetite, what you see, what you hear, what you taste, what you touch, and what you see, taste, hear, and touch, that elicits desire inside of you, something we all experience, he says, “Don’t allow that dynamic, don’t feed that dynamic to the point that it gets you in trouble. Don’t say yes to every impulse.” And here’s why, and you know this, if you say yes to every, let’s use his term, every fleshly impulse, you will lose your freedom. If you say yes to every temptation that it lit some desire that’s elicited in you because of what you see, hear, taste or touch, you don’t gain freedom, you lose freedom. And not only that, and here’s the worst part, he’s gonna get to this, not only do you lose your freedom, you infringe on someone else’s freedom. Not only do you hurt you, you hurt someone else.
And at the epicenter of the New Testament ethic, what Christianity is ultimately all about relationally, is how you treat other people. So the Apostle Paul says, “Look, you are free, but don’t use your freedom to harm you, and don’t use your freedom to harm anyone else.” He says, “Rather,” here’s the contrast, here’s what you’re supposed to do with your freedom, “Rather, serve one another humbly,” we’re gonna come back to that later, “Humbly in love.” That is, leverage your freedom for the sake of others. And here’s a promise, and some of you have lived long enough to know this, others of you will figure it out, I just hope you don’t figure it out too late, that leveraging your freedom, leveraging your freedom for the benefit of other people, leads to a very satisfying life. And leveraging your freedom to the neglect of other people leads to a very dissatisfying life. And Christianity is an invitation to freedom and satisfaction.
Then, moving along, he says this, quoting Jesus, he says, “For,” this is an amazing statement, “For, or because the entire law,” and he’s talking about two things here, he’s talking about the Jewish law, which was 613 different commandments. He says, “For the entire law is actually fulfilled in keeping this…” And I want us to all say this next word out loud together because this is remarkable. In keeping this one command. One more time. How many? Now this is remarkable, this is why Christianity is liberating. He says, “The entire Law. Any rule you can come up with is actually fulfilled with one rule, the one commandment.” You don’t even need a whole tablet, you just need like a three by five card. The one commandment. It’s like really yeah, it’s all fulfilled with this one commandment, here it is, drum roll, you’ve heard it before, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This is the New Testament ethic. Get this right, you don’t need everything else. Embrace this as a lifestyle, you really don’t need everything else. And if you get this right, and if this becomes the driving ethic of your life, you tend to know what to do. In other words, if it infringes on their freedom, I’m not gonna do it. How do you know what sin is? Well, how does it affect them? If it negatively affects them, if it infringes on their freedom, if it sets them up for problems in the future, if it undermines their future, their success, their future relational success, then absolutely not. Because I’m not gonna use my freedom to infringe on theirs. And then Jesus would take it to a whole new level at the end of His ministry when He said, “No, it’s even bigger than that. You’re to love each other the way I have loved you.”
Wow, he keeps going, he says… So I say Paul keeps going, “So I say, walk by the Spirit…”, which sounds like… You hear strange music in the background, it seems so intangible. And do I look up? And is something spooky going on? No, this is very simple. It means to live or to walk in sync with the internal nudgings of your Heavenly Father through his spirit. That God will always nudge you toward others first-ness. And the outcome he says is this, “And if you will give into the internal nudgings of God’s spirit in you, you will not gratify or say yes to the desires of the flesh.” Maybe a better translation for us is, “You will not fulfill selfish desires. You will not follow through on selfish desires. because you’ve decided to say yes instead to the internal promptings of the Holy Spirit that always puts other people’s futures first.”
You will be far less susceptible to the emotionally appealing things on the paths that criss-cross your path. He’s not done, he’s so good, he’s so thorough. “For,” he says… Let me explain it further. “For the flesh… ” We’ve explained that. “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit. Now again, this is a human thing, this is the New Testament version of what you experience every single day.
There is a war within, right? There’s a conflict within. “I know what I ought to do, I know what I want to do.” Isn’t it interesting that ought to and want to are in conflict? Isn’t it interesting that there is an internal law inside of you that conflicts with your bodily and fleshly, to use his terms, desires. Now why is that? It seems like they would be in sync. It seems like I should want to do what I ought to do.
Now, if you’re not a Christian, or a religious person or maybe from a different religion, I hope you have an explanation for that battle within. You experience the battle; you should have an explanation. The New Testament says there is a law in our hearts written by God because you’ve been made in the image of God, and it is in conflict with oftentimes with what has strong emotional appeal.
He says, “They are actually… ” here’s his word, “conflict”. They are in conflict, they are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want or desire. You are not to embrace and chase everything that is appealing to you, which means… And I hope you know this, but let me just state it in terms that we can all kind of get our hearts and heads around. Strong emotional appeal, even though it is part of the goodness of life when in its proper context, but strong emotional appeal is actually a red flag, not a green light.
That is when something is emotionally appealing instead of leaning it immediately, we should step back immediately. And say, “You know what, this may be a great thing. She may be the one, he may be the one. This may be the job. This may be a good investment. but you know what, I’m gonna be wise enough to step back. It is not necessarily a green light. He says, “But… ” now he’s coming back to those of us who are Christian’s, he says, “But if you’re led by the Spirit… ” again, this isn’t spooky. This is just paying attention to that internal nudge.
He said, “You’re to be led by the Spirit, and if you do, you’re not under the law.” This is an amazing statement, why? Because the reason you’re not under the law is because Jesus has given you one command, and when you live by the one command, you are no longer accountable to, in fact, you don’t even need the law.
You will know instinctively, which path to choose. You will know instinctively, which path to avoid. Because Jesus’ one command always brings us back to this terrifying but clarifying question, and it’s this question: What does what love require of me? What does love require of me? What does other first-ness require of me? What does selflessness require of me? What does lay down my life for a friend require of me? What does love require of me? Well, if it’s not good for him, it’s a sin, if it’s not good for her, defer.
If it’s not good for us, why would I do it? If I have to hide it, if I hope they never find out. What does love require of me? It’s appealing, but does this run the risk of undermining our relationship? he says, “Just let me be clear,” and then he basically is about to tell us, I’m gonna tell you something you don’t need to know because you already know it, but he tells us anyway. He says, “The acts of the flesh are obvious.” Selfishness is obvious. Nobody needs to give you a list of what it looks like to be self-centered, right? Nobody needs to give you a list of all the things that distract you from the things you should do, right?
In fact, he gives us the list anyway, I guess he just thought in case we didn’t know. And here’s the interesting thing about his list; we’re not gonna look at it by the way. But I’m gonna show you three things on his list. And this is gonna be a little tough for some of you, but you know what, only the people who love you tell you hard things, right? Besides, I get to get in the car and go home. This is a life changing message for somebody today. Maybe some somebodies. Because somebody has already tried to point out what I’m about to point out. And you have just had such tunnel vision, and you have just given in to just hearing what you wanna hear and seeing what you wanna see.
So the Apostle Paul says, “Let me… ” in case you’ve missed it, “Let me tell you what following the flesh looks like, as opposed to saying yes to God’s spirit in you.” And he gives us this list. I just want to show you, give you three off the list. Here’s three: Sexual immorality, selfish ambition, and envy. Now, if you’re not a Christian, maybe one of the reasons you left the church or left Christianity was this right here. It’s like “Andy, that’s the problem. Christians are always trying to climb up in everybody’s bedroom and tell them how to conduct themselves sexually, and it’s none of your business.”
And I have some great news for you. The Apostle Paul, who gave us this literature,
asked this question, “What business is it of mine,” talking about himself as a Christian in the church, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” to which you would say, “It’s none of your, fill in the blank, business.”
And the Apostle Paul would say you are exactly right, it is none of our business to tell you how to conduct your sexual life or your morality. It’s none of our business. Paul would agree with that. So when Paul talks about sexual immorality, he’s not trying to tell everybody in the world what to do, he’s trying to answer the question, what does it look like for a Jesus follower? What does it look like for someone who’s decided I’m going to embrace others first-ness? What does it look like for a man or a woman to decide, you know what I don’t want to do anything that undermines my freedom and I don’t wanna do anything that undermines your freedom.
That is the essence of the New Testament sexual ethic. And so, of course, he’s gonna talk about sex. Come on. Let’s face it. When someone comes to see a counselor privately, and they sit down with a look of remorse and regret and shame on their face and they whisper, they can barely say it out loud, “Pastor,” or “Counselor,” or you know, “Father I wanna tell you something I’ve never told anyone.” It is rarely about a parking violation. [laughter]
No, 90 something percent of the time, it’s something sexual. Because Paul knew… What you know, what I know, what we know that when it comes to our sexuality, when it comes to expressions of sexuality, nothing is more… Nothing has the potential to undermine your future and other people’s future, nothing has the potential to complicate your life and complicate other people’s life, like sexual activity.
So the Apostle Paul says, “Come on, just about every day of your life, there is going to be a path with strong emotional, sexual appeal. I mean it’s just a part of life. But what’s appealing is distracting. And so it’s not a green light, it’s a red flag and it’s a red flag that most of us have lived long enough to know we wish we had paid attention to earlier.
So, of course God mentions it, he loves you. And it’s very… Have you noticed this? It is very emotionally appealing. You should say Amen to that. [laughter] Okay, so selfish ambition. The same thing. I’m gonna get ahead. I know it’s not legal. I hope my boss doesn’t find out. I hope the president of the company doesn’t find out. Hope my wife doesn’t find. Hope my husband doesn’t find out. Hope my parents don’t find out. Of course it’s appealing. Envy. I want want they have. I’m gonna do whatever it takes to get it, then I’ll be appealing, and it’s so appealing to me, ’cause then they’ll look at me and they’ll have respect for me, and they’ll wanna be like me. Envy. Envy is trying to catch up with somebody that doesn’t even know you’re trying to catch up with them. That’s what’s so crazy about envy. “I made it. They didn’t even notice
And then He says, “I gotta be honest, I warn you,” because now remember he’s been to Galatia. They’ve heard him say all this. This is a letter just reminding them. So, there’s so much more detail. He said, “I warn you,” this is in the letter, “I warn you, as I did before, not the first time you’ve heard this, that those who live like this, that those who make it a lifestyle of chasing what’s appealing to the neglect of how it affects other people, the person that chases what’s appealing to the neglect of how it undermines their own future, their own conscience, their own mind, their own heart, their own future. For the person,” he says, “who consistently neglects and ignores God’s prompting within, to that person who lives like that, they will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
There is loss. There’s not simply consequence of sin, there’s loss. You’ll never experience the Kingdom of God in this life. He’s gonna explain what that looks like in just a minute, so hang on.
If you never sense anything in your conscience when you do something that benefits you short term and hurts somebody long term, if you’re able to just chase all the emotionally appealing shiny things and it’s never a matter of conscience, it doesn’t even bother you, if you never sense the divide between perhaps what God wants for you and what you know you ought to do, you should wonder. You should be a little worried. You should look up. You should use the bible word repent, or use my word, which is longer, you should begin living in a different direction. The direction of yes to God’s promptings within. Living in the direction of yes to when God nudges you in a different direction.
It’s time to opt for satisfying over appealing, which is far more satisfying. How satisfying you say? Paul says, “Let me tell you what it looks like.” And if you’re not a Christian, this is the invitation. This is the promise, this is the liberty, this is the part maybe they didn’t tell you about growing up in the church you grew up in. But the fruit of the spirit, in other words, the outcome… The outcome of saying yes to God. The outcome of saying yes to that internal nudge is exactly what you are after in this life. It’s love. It’s joy. It’s peace. It’s patience. It’s kindness, it’s goodness, it’s faithfulness, it’s gentleness and its self-control. Single people, it’s who you want to marry, it’s who you should become, it’s what God has invited you into.
And then, here it is, one of my favorite verses in the New Testament; it’s not even a whole verse, it’s just a phrase. Okay, don’t judge me. “Against such things, there is no law.” See I knew it. It’s like, “That’s it? [laughter]
Let me tell you why this is so brilliant, and so inspired. Listen to what he’s saying, okay? He’s saying, “Against see… Against immorality, against envy, against jealousy, against lust, against all those things. You have to set up laws, you have to set up restrictions, or you will self destruct, you’ll become addicted to all the wrong things. You have to have all these rules, all these laws.” He says, “When you embrace the one command, when you embrace others first, when you embrace and love people like God through Christ loved you,” he says, “the result is this and there are no laws against this.” In other words, let me illustrate, “Hey, you have too much peace let’s tone down the peace. [laughter] Hey, hey, hey, hey quit being so patient. You know the problem with my wife is she’s so ridiculously patient, she needs counseling. [laughter] Hey hey hey, not so… The kindest kids, kids knock it off in the back seat. You’re being too kind, you have over done the kindness, you’re too good. And you know what the problem with my husband? He’s just so faithful. I trust him all the time. I mean, he’s so faithful. I mean, somebody pray for us.”
Paul says, “I’m telling you, this is the freedom you’ve been invited into. You don’t need any laws. You don’t any rules. It’s powerful. It’s a life of one rule and no regret. It’s a life of one rule where you don’t create regret, it’s a life of one rule where you don’t become somebody’s regret.
Why wouldn’t everybody be a Christian? Why would you resist that? You say, “Well Andy, I’ve never heard it explained that way. I’m so sorry. That’s people like me’s fault, right? The best way to predict, the best way to predict where you’re gonna end up, the best way to predict your future, is to pay attention to where you’re headed, right?
So let me ask this awful question. Remember only people who love you ask questions like this. And if this brings to mind a conversation you’ve been having with somebody else, please just stay with it. Have you become so enamored… Have you become so enamored with something or someone on your path that you have failed to recognize where the path you’re on is taking you?
Have you lowered your defenses and have you elevated your defensiveness? And are you willing to change course? Are you willing to change paths? Are you willing to begin living in a different direction? Now this has been kind of a negative sermon and people say, “Well is there a way back?” Yes, there’s a way back. It’s the principle of the path, it’s a principal. It works for you or against you. The principle of the path is a principle. Direction, not intention, determines your destination. This is why if you change your direction, things change.
But the choice, you know this, the choice is yours. And I hope, and we hope, your Heavenly Father hopes, that you will opt for satisfying over appealing. We hope, your Heavenly Father hopes, that you will begin as a habit of life giving in to that internal nudge of the God who loves you. And we hope, and your heavenly Father hopes that you will embrace a life of following Jesus.
He will take you exactly where you ultimately want to be, anyway.