Many people believe Christianity is all about staying out of trouble. But a life following Jesus is not about avoiding something. It’s about becoming something.
- What kind of moral or religious guidelines did you grow up with?
- In general, do you view rules as healthy boundaries or frustrating red tape?
- Talk about your perception of Christianity. Have you ever viewed it as simply messing up, getting in trouble, and repeatedly being forgiven?
- God is not trying to make you better at behaving. God is trying to make you a better lover of people. Does this challenge any assumptions or beliefs you had?
- How could your life get better if you looked beyond your own needs and wants?
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
Today, as we start this episode of “Address the Mess,” I wanna talk to all the single ladies, all the single ladies, all the single ladies. Okay, so, single ladies, if you look up here for just a second, okay here imagine this. You gotta imagine you’re on a date, first date with this guy. You don’t know this guy at all. Somebody set you up. You’re at a pretty nice restaurant, not too nice, everything’s going well. In fact, the conversation is going so well that you decide to press in a little bit and ask him a little bit about himself, and so you ask a question about his future.
I don’t know what word you would use. It’s like, “Hey, do you have any goals? What’s the future look like for you? What are your plans?” And as soon as you say this, he sits up straight, and he says three things. And you’re thinking, “Wow! I say, “goals”, he says three things. This guy is thinking ahead. This is a first, for a guy.” And so you’re pretty excited. And he says, “Yeah, I have three goals. My first goal is not to lose my current job.” It’s like, “Okay.” “Second goal, not to get another DUI.”
“My third goal is not to get another girl pregnant.” Yeah, it’s like, “Ah, okay, thanks for sharing your goals.” Okay. Now, I want you to hold on to that awkwardness, and hold on to that tension, because I’m gonna come back to it in just a second, okay? You got it?
Now, we’ve been talking about “Address the Mess,” and the thing that we have said throughout this series is that we all recognize a mess when we see one, because we am one. Right? I know a mess when I see one because I am one. Or, I’ve been one. Every single one of us, all of us, at some point, in some arena of life, have messed things up. We’ve messed up our finances, messed up physically, messed up your body, your health, may have messed up academically. Don’t raise your hand. We’ve messed up a relationship. You may have messed up a marriage. You may have messed up a marriage or two. You may have messed up a relationship with one of your children, or one of your parents. So we’ve all been a mess, or we are a mess.
Now, the other thing we said is this: when we recognize we’ve made a mess of something, we recognize we are not perfect because, after all, nobody’s perfect. In fact, sometimes we say that. But we said in Week One, when we recognize that no one is perfect, we are actually making a bigger statement than we imagine. We are acknowledging that there is a perfect that nobody is. That there is a perfect that nobody is. In that moment, when you recognize you’re not perfect, you are recognizing there is a standard outside of you that you did not create, that you feel accountable to, that you fall short of.
Now, today, as we move along in this discussion of “Address the Mess,” I want to launch our new discussion around something that Christians believe. Now, you may have been a Christian a long time, and you didn’t even know that you believe this, so this is good for you. You may not be a Christian, and you probably heard this, but maybe you didn’t know it was central to what Christians believe. But here’s something that Christians believe. We believe that Jesus loves the little messes, all the messes of the world. Now the reason we believe that, and we said this in Week Two, is that the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, says that instead of looking at this messy world and burning it up or flooding it, that God decided to send his son to walk around, and to get to know some of the messes.
In fact, if you are in the middle of a mess you made, you can wake up every single morning, regardless of how that mess is going, and know this: that your Heavenly Father loves you. Jesus loves little messes, all the little messes of the world, but there is a “but” and the “but” is this: he loves us too much to leave us that way. Yes, God loves you just the way you are, but God, according to Jesus, we’re to approach him and to think of him as a Heavenly Father.
The best way to think about God… even though God is totally other, and God is spirit, and God is invisible, and God has a lot of things that we can’t even describe. Jesus said that when you think about God, the best picture, the clearest picture you’re gonna have on this planet is to think of God as a Heavenly Father. And just like your earthly father if he was a good earthly father, just like your mother if she was a good earthly mother loved you just the way you were, your Heavenly Father, like any good parent, has decided not to leave you that way.
Christianity is not a series of sins and forgiveness, sin and forgiveness. Christianity isn’t, “I keep messing up, messing up, messing up, and I keep getting forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness.” Christianity is not one long cycle of making the same messes over, and over, and over, and over, and then asking for forgiveness. Christianity is not about messing up over and over, and getting forgiveness. That’s not Christianity; that’s country music.
Now isn’t it true that country—and I love country music, this is not a knock on country music—but isn’t it true that when there’s a religious thread, and there’s often a religious thread… I mean where else do you hear about Jesus in a song other than church and country music? Whenever there’s a Jesus thread in country music, the theme is generally, “I have totally messed up, but God’s gonna forgive me. And then my next album comes out, and I have made the same mess again, and God keeps forgiving me.” And that’s okay, I love country music. I’m a long-gone Waylon song. On vinyl, right? “I’m a back row sinner at a tent revival but she believes in me like she believes her…” What? “Her Bible… and loves me like Jesus does.” There it is.
“’Cause you know Jesus, he drank wine, and I bet we’d get along just fine. He could calm a storm and heal the blind and I bet he’d understand a heart like mine.” Yeah, there it goes, there you go, it’s country music. Now, I love country music but that’s not Christianity. Christianity isn’t about messing up, messing up, messing up, getting forgiveness over and over and over and over again. And if we’re not careful, we will reduce Christianity down to the boyfriend illustration. And if you’re not a Christian, look up here a second, if you’re not a Christian, you’re not a Bible person, you’re not sure why you’re here, you’re not sure why you’re watching, in fact you’re just about to go to the next channel. I just want you to listen to this one part. I understand why this brand of Christianity, this “get forgiveness over and over and over for the same thing” I understand why that drives you crazy because it’s really a perversion of Christianity.
In fact, you wonder sometimes about us. If you’re not a Christian, you look at your Christian friends and you think, “I don’t get it. You live the very same way I do. You do all the same stuff I do except there’s only two differences—what we do for an hour on Sunday morning and the fact that you feel guilty and I don’t. So why not just give it up? If you’re gonna live like me, why not believe like me? Why live with all this guilt and all this shame? Just give it up.” And if you’re the Christian in a relationship with non-Christians, which all of us are, and that’s kind of your version of Christianity—just get forgiveness over and over and over and over—I mean, it is kind of stupid, isn’t it?
Here’s the good news for Christians and non-Christians, okay? Christianity is not about just doing the same stuff over and over and getting forgiveness over and over. It is way, way, way, way better than that. And we dare not reduce Christianity to the boyfriend scenario: that Christianity is, “I’m just gonna try… I’m trying not to get in trouble, and I’m trying not to get arrested again, and I’ll try not to fall back into that.” Christianity is not just “stay out of trouble.” So I wanna talk about this a little bit today because my hope is that some of you who are Christians would get a much bigger, broader view of what God wants to do in, and through, you.
And for those of you who are not Christians and you’ve got Christian friends and the only Christian friends you have… basically there’s no difference between you and them, they just feel guilty about it, I wanna give you a different perspective as well because I’m so sorry that we Christians have presented such a terrible, terrible, terrible example to you, and for you, about what the Christian life is really all about. Two thousand years ago, a man named the Apostle Paul, who became a Christian just a few years after the resurrection, was friends of John and Mathew and Peter and the folks that ran around with Jesus.
He began planting churches… creating churches all around the Mediterranean Rim. You know that. And one of the churches he created… in fact, the very first church in Europe was in the City Of Philippi. Philippi was in Greece. And after he went and planted a church there, he did some other things and 10 years later, he writes them a letter. Now we think he probably wrote them a bunch of letters but we only have one. So 10 years later, he writes a letter. That letter was so valuable to these people they made copies, because this was the guy that started their church and you don’t see these people very often, because it was hard to travel.
So they made copies and circulated these copies. One of these copies was collected and eventually this letter became part of the New Testament. And it’s called… we call it The Book of Philippians. But it’s not a book. It’s just a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to these Christians who lived in this Greek city in the first century. And in this letter, he presents a much, much, much better… a superior approach to Christianity than perhaps what you’re experiencing and perhaps what you heard about growing up. Here’s what he says. And by the way, when he wrote this letter, he wasn’t at the beach, he was in Rome, and he was in prison, and Nero was the Emperor.
So if you’re a Christian in Rome and Nero is the Emperor, this is not going to go well for you. And ultimately, it did not go well for the Apostle Paul. But in spite of that, here’s what he wrote to these Christians living in Philippi. He says this, Philippians Chapter One, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” Now he hasn’t seen them in about 10 years. “Every time I think about you Christians over there, I just have to stop and thank God for you. In all of my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
In other words, I am absolutely sure this is gonna happen. “Being confident of this, that He…” That’s God. “who began a good work in you.” And I gotta talk about these two words. Here’s what Paul’s saying. That when you became a Christian—this is so big—when you became a Christian, God began doing something in you. He began. Now here’s what… When we’re in a mess, when we create a mess, we say, “God fix it.” This is why Jesus said, “Follow me.” No “fix it”, “follow me”. Fix it. Follow me. “Fix it” is now. “Follow me” is a process. And what God wants to do, and what God is doing in you, and what Paul was confident God was doing in these Christians—the hearts of these Christians in Philippi—is that God was changing them. He was growing them. And growth takes time. Because the endgame for a Christian—look up here—the endgame for a Christian is maturity and you cannot rush maturity.
You can cram for an exam. You cannot cram for maturity. You can cram for an exam or a presentation. You cannot cram for maturity. It’s the law of the harvest. You plant a seed and you wait. And what the Apostle Paul said is, “I’m absolutely confident that God is doing something in you. He’s growing something in you and it’s going to take time.” And then look at this other word. “He who began a good work… ” Let’s say this phrase together: “in you.” Now this is huge. Christianity is an inside out faith. Christianity is an inside out faith. God works inside of us to bring something out of us. God wants to do something in you that will eventually come out of you.
Christianity is not behavior modification. Christianity is not, “be good.” Christianity isn’t just, “stay out of trouble.” The essence of the Christian life is God renewing our hearts and God renewing our minds. Renewing our hearts and renewing our minds so that ultimately there is a different level and a different kind of behavior. But it’s not behavior modification. It’s not stop and start. It’s, “Allow God to work inside of you… complete what he’s begun in you. And over time, you bear the fruit of that in your, and in our, behavior. It’s not just, “be good.”
So if your whole approach to Christianity is, “I need to stop, I need to start, I need to stop, I need to start,” then you just need to relax. Because Paul would say, “Look, God is going to complete what he has begun to do inside of you. What you need to learn to do is to participate with your Heavenly Father, because he has begun something. It’s going to take time and it’s going to happen inside of you.” He says this, “He will carry it on… he will carry it on to completion. He will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Which means this is a lifelong process. As long as you are following Jesus, as long as you are Christian, God is going to continue to work inside of you to accomplish something on the inside of you that’s ultimately gonna come out to the outside of you and impact your behavior.
He’s not—and here’s the thing—God is not trying to keep you from something. He’s trying to complete something. God isn’t simply trying to keep you from something. God is trying to complete something in you. Now when I looked at this verse, I was trying to figure out what is the word for this? Now, when I was growing up, in a church I grew up in, we would hear a lot of times about being holy, “You need to be holy ’cause God is holy and be holy.” And at 16, does anyone wanna be holy? I mean at 26, do you wanna be holy? At 46? Does anybody? What is holy? Holy reminds me of a stained glass window with some people doing this and looking up. And I’m like, “What can you even do?” Okay.
And then I learned. This is really important. I learned… This is what surgeons do before surgery. After they have sterilized their hands and they’re ready for surgery, just so they won’t touch anything that would contaminate them before surgery they do this. So this is not the posture of holiness. This is the posture of, “I don’t wanna get dirty.” Which is a good posture if you’re about to do surgery and you’re a surgeon. But nobody wants to live like this. And plus, when you read the New Testament, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus when you read the New Testament, they were constantly getting their hands dirty. So when I think about what is God trying to do on the inside of me, and what does God wanna do on the inside of you, it would be easy to defer to a Bible term and say, “God wants to make you holy.” And 90% of us would be like, “Ah, okay, great, sounds kind of boring.”
So here’s some better terminology. And this is straight out of the New Testament. “What is it that God wants to do in you?” Because we know he wants to mature you and secure you. He wants to make you more mature and more secure. More mature and more secure. When a person participates with their Heavenly Father to say, “God, I don’t understand everything you’re doing in me, but if you’ve begun something in me I want you to complete it and I wanna participate in it.” At the end of the day, that person becomes more mature—takes time—and more secure.
There is a greater sense of inner confidence. They know who they are because our identity ultimately is connected to our creator. And when you separate creature from creator, there is an insecurity that is almost insurmountable. But when you begin to understand and when you begin to grow in knowledge and understanding of your relationship to your creator, there is a security that goes beyond birth order. There’s a security that goes beyond family of origin… that goes beyond hurt in the past. It’s a powerful, powerful thing. And you’ve met people like that.
And I think that’s a little bit of what God wants to do in every single one of us. And that’s way better than, “Stay out of trouble. Try not to lose your job, and try not to get in trouble.” Okay, so he goes on, he says this, “And this is my prayer… ” Now this is so amazing. Now Paul is about to tell these Christians in Philippi, “Okay, I’m trusting, I’m absolutely confident that God is gonna finish what he has begun in you. So God’s working in you. I think God’s gonna do something in you.” And then he says, “And here’s how I’m gonna pray for you.” And here’s what he says, “And this is my prayer that you stay out of trouble and keep your hands to yourself.”
That’s how we pray. That’s how we pray for our kids, right? Now let me ask you a question. This is very important. No matter where you are religiously or spiritually, I just want you to answer this question in your mind and your heart. What do you pray for you? What do you pray for you? When you pray for you, what do you pray for you? And if we were to make a list of all the things we pray for ourselves, it’s pretty shallow. And this is why perhaps your Christian experience is so flat because you pray little prayers and little things happen. You pray prayers from just total insecurity and fear, and so you experience more insecurity and more fear. Paul’s prayer—this is so big—Paul’s prayer tips us off at how he views what God is doing inside of us. Paul’s prayer tips us off as to what God’s will is for what God wants to do inside of you. In other words, if you were to say, “God, okay, I want you to finish in me what you’ve begun but what is it? God, I want you to finish what you’ve begun in me, what does it look like?”
Paul’s about to give us a big clue. Here’s what he says, “And this is my prayer, that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” Isn’t that pretty much what you pray for yourself all the time? That’s pretty much it. You already knew, right? Before we even put it up here, right? How odd is this? What does this even mean? “Okay Paul, say that again.” “Yeah, this is my prayer for you, that your love… ” “Okay, so you’re praying for my love?” “Yeah, I’m praying for your love.” Don’t raise your hand. Have you ever prayed for your love? No, no, you pray for the people that you want to love you. You pray for your husband to love you better all the time, you pray for your wife to love you better all the time. Even though you don’t use this term, you pray for your kids to behave, love you, be more respectful.
But when’s the last time you prayed about your love? That’s zero. Paul says, “This is at the epicenter of what God wants to do and develop in you.” You say, Andy, “What in the world does that have to do with my mess?” Hang on, we’re coming to that. He says, “I pray that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. I want you to learn to love. Learn to love. I’m praying that your love for each other… ” And this is what this refers to… not your love for God, we’re gonna see. He says, “I’m praying that your love for other people will get bigger and better. More and more, more and more, abound. I’m praying that your love for other people will get bigger and better. I’m praying that you would learn how to be a better lover of people, not become a better rule keeper.” This is so, so, so important.
He continues, “So that… ” I’ll come back to this in a second. “So that you may be able to discern… ” That is figure out, sort it out, discern. “What is best…” Not what I can get by with. “So that you might be able to discern what is best and may be sincere…” That’s pure, sincere, nothing mixed. “And blameless for the day of Christ.” “I want you to be blameless in the way that you treat other people. I want you to learn and discern, learn and discern, learn and discern how to get better at loving other people.”
Have you ever prayed that in your life? Did you know—we’re gonna come back to it in a second—did you know this is what God is trying to do inside of you? God’s not trying to make you a better behaver. God is trying to make you a better lover of people. And it’s gonna be expressed in lots of different ways, and we’re not gonna all merge into one sappy personality. This is not that at all. The Apostle Paul knows this. The essence of Christian maturity is not our invisible love for invisible God. The essence of Christian maturity is when a person can love another person that is difficult to love. That’s when you know you’re making progress.
So for me, years ago, I’m trying to get this, “God, I wanna participate with you, I want you to do everything in me you wanna do, I want you to finish what you’ve begun,” and all that kind of stuff. And so I landed on a little prayer, and I’m not suggesting you pray this prayer—in fact I’m gonna give you a better prayer later on—but many years ago, probably over, maybe… almost 15 years ago, I landed on this little prayer for me and honestly I pray it multiple times a day. Not as a discipline. It’s almost a habit. It just comes out whenever I pray, whenever I’m driving, whenever I’m about to go into a meeting, or leave a meeting. This is the prayer that I formulated for me to remind me it’s not just about behavior. It’s about what God is doing in me that eventually comes out of me. It is an inside out faith. And if God is working in me, I want to, to the best of my ability, participate with whatever it is that God is doing.
So my little prayer that I landed on is, “Help me to see as you see, and to do as you say. Help me to see as you see, and to do as you say. God, enlighten the eyes of my heart, enlighten my conscience, enlighten my mind. God, I want you to do something in me, so that when I see other people, I see other people the way you see them, and I want to behave and respond to them the way you would, because I see them the way you do.” In fact, one of the signs of maturity and one of the signs of emotional health is when you can see another person the way God sees that person and respond accordingly. When you move beyond simply seeing what they did to you, seeing how they responded to you, seeing how they behave and you begin to see that person through the eyes of your Heavenly Father, and you begin to respond accordingly, that is a mark of spiritual maturity, and that takes time. And that’s way better than trying not to mess up and stay out of trouble.
Here’s the thing. We’ve said this before: following Jesus is not primarily about doing what’s right and here’s why. Because doing what’s right is still all about you. And doing what’s right is still all about you. And doing what’s right is still all about you. And doing what’s right and trying to do what’s right, so that God will love me and God will honor me and God will pay attention to me… that is Old Testament, that’s the old covenant. That way has come and that way has gone. Jesus raised the bar and he says, “Here’s how you’ll know how you’re doing with God: how you treat one another.” The sign of spiritual maturity and growth isn’t your prayer life, and it’s not scripture memory and it’s not church attendance, it’s how you treat other people.
In fact, there’s this fascinating thing that Jesus said that we repeat all the time and we’ll continue to, and this is just kind of whatever to us, but this was so offensive to Jewish people in the first century. Jesus said one day, he said, “Look, if you’re going to the temple, and you have to walk all the way to the temple, and if you’re bringing along a sheep or you’re bringing along a dove or you’re bringing along a grain offering… You’re going to the temple to present your offering to God to make things right with God because you’ve messed up, and you’re trying to get forgiveness from God. And you get there and the sun is hot and you’re standing in line and you’re waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting your turn to present your sacrifice. And if you get right up to the front of the line—there’s only two people ahead of you—and it dawns on you that you have a disagreement or a problem or a relational challenge with someone else, you leave your thing right there by the wall.”
“You leave, you tie up your sheep, you set down your pigeon cage, or you leave your grain offering, and you get out of line and you go make things right with that other person before you try to make things right with God.” And when Jesus said this, everybody listening just gasped. Like, “What? Are you saying to put other people ahead of God?” And Jesus would say, “No, that’s how you put God first. When you put other people’s needs and desires and whatever’s going on with them ahead of whatever’s going on with you, that’s how you love your Father in heaven.” So of course Paul would say, “Hey, when I pray for you, and when I think about what God is trying to do inside of you, I’m gonna pray in accordance with: make their love bigger and better. Bigger and better. Teach them how to love even more, because that’s what God wants to develop, and birth, and create inside of you.” It’s not right for right’s sake.
Jesus raised the bar. Following Jesus is not primarily about doing what’s right. It’s about doing what’s right for others. As long as I’m simply focused on behaving myself, it is still all about myself. Let me ask you a question. We’re gonna wrap this up. Isn’t it true you rarely make a mess by doing what’s best for other people? Isn’t it true you rarely make a mess by doing what’s best for other people? Isn’t it true that as long as you’re focused on you, you have the potential to make another mess? To address the mess is learning to work with your Heavenly Father to complete in you what he has begun, because ultimately God is trying to move you and God is trying to move me… God is trying to move you beyond you.
You’re not gonna be a better rule keeper, you’re gonna be a better father. You’re not gonna be a better rule keeper, you’re gonna be a better mother. You’re not gonna be a better rule keeper, you’re gonna be a better son, a better daughter, a better employee, a better employer, a better friend. Paul said, “I’m absolutely confident of this. That he who began… ” In other words, wherever you are in your faith. You may be a brand new Christian. You may be on the verge of a thing… you’re considering Christianity. You may have been a Christian a long, long time. “He who began this work in you will carry it on to completion.” So here’s what I wanna suggest, then we’re gonna wrap up. You pray for you about something. I mean even if you’re not even sure there is a God, you’re kind of on the front end, maybe you’re just sort of a theist.
You pray for you about something. I would like to suggest you add something to what you pray about you. You can continue to pray to find your car keys. Pray you’ll get a parking spot. Pray you pass Algebra II. Whatever it is you pray, you keep on praying that, and then would you consider adding this? Because at the end of the day, I want you to do everything you can to participate with what God is doing inside of you. So here’s just a snapshot prayer you could add to your prayers about you that would be in keeping with what your Heavenly Father is doing inside of you. Would you pray this? “Heavenly Father, complete the work you’ve begun in me. Heavenly Father, complete… It’s not done. We’ve just begun. Heavenly Father, complete the work you’ve begun in me. God, today, I wanna behave myself. And God, I wanna stay out of trouble. And God, I am not gonna go over there to that side of the building. God, I got all that. But God… It’s more than behavior modification. God, would you complete the work you’ve begun in me?”
If you begin to pray this, this will begin to tune your heart to what God is already trying to do in you. If you’ll begin to pray this and open up to the fact that God may be wanting to make you more discerning, give you more knowledge, give you more insight. If you’ll begin to pray this, this will tune you in to what God is already doing inside of you, because here’s what we know. Jesus loves the little messes, all the little messes of the world. But he loves you too much to leave you that way.