This morning, I want to begin a four-week sermon series entitled, “My Story”. I think it’s safe to say that we all enjoy a good story. It’s always fun when you get together with people and you start telling stories –
• “Let me tell you how God has been working in my life!”
• “Let me tell you what I was able to accomplish last week!”
• “Let me tell you about the funny time when I did something really, really stupid!”
When our family gathers together at times like Thanksgiving or Christmas, there’s always a lot of reminiscing and telling of stories. And we have our favorite stories that get told over and over. There’s the story about the time when Joshua ran over Amber with the car when he was just 2 years old. There’s the story about how whenever Sueanne and I left the house for an extended period of time, the kids would immediately get on the phone and have pizza delivered without us knowing it. But their favorite story is the time when I totally lost it and went ballistic on my kids in the car one day for using the word “retarded”. And if you want to hear any of those stories, just ask Amber. She would love to tell you.
We’ve all got stories that we love to tell, but unfortunately we also have stories that we’d rather not be told, maybe even entire chapters of our lives that we would rather not tell anybody. Maybe you sometimes even try to edit some of the stories in your life and change them a little bit, maybe even lie about them or leave parts out or make some parts sound better than they really were because there’s parts of our story that we’re ashamed of
What I find interesting is to look back over my life and to realize how many seemingly insignificant decisions had a really significant impact on the direction of my life. Have any of you ever thought about that? Maybe you think back and somebody invited you to be a part of a softball team and so you decided to play softball. And several of the players happened to go to church, and maybe you weren’t a church person but they invited you to church and so you thought you might as well since you kind of like these people and what could it hurt. And you went in and you heard this message and something happened and God got ahold of your life. And now, your whole life is totally different and you can trace it back to a simple decision to play softball.
Or maybe you were in college and you thought, “I’ve got to find another class, an elective, to add to my schedule and there’s this one class and I heard it was an easy A and so I enrolled in that class. I didn’t even care about the subject, but all of a sudden I fell in love with the subject and I changed my major and now I’ve got a great career based on that one simple, seemingly insignificant decision to enroll in a class.
And so we sometimes look back at our lives and we say, “I can’t believe the way that decision impacted my story!”
But the opposite is also true, because the stories aren’t always positive. Sometimes we look back and we think, “You know, I had no idea how that seemingly insignificant decision would impact my life in such a negative way.” And so I look back and I think, “I wish I hadn’t started that!” or “I wish I had never said that!” or “I wish I had never gone there!” or “I wish I had never become friends with that person,” because when I made that decision I had no idea how my life would start to unravel.
I’d like for you to think about it this way — the decisions that we made yesterday determine the stories that we tell today. Now, once we realize that, we also understand that the decisions we make today will determine the stories that we tell tomorrow.
I think back to a time when I was a teenager going to summer camp in Virginia – Camp Idlewild. And for several years, there were these two college students working there that I really admired from a school called Freed-Hardeman. So when I graduated from high school, I decided to go to Freed-Hardeman which was a big factor in me changing my major to Bible and becoming a preacher.
I decided to room with my best friend from summer camp – Charles Tucker. We roomed together the first semester, but the second semester we had two other friends who couldn’t find roommates so he roomed with one and I decided to room with the other. The guy I roomed with was a bit of a jerk. He had a girlfriend that he didn’t treat very well, constantly putting her down. I spent more and more time with her, trying to make sure she was OK. Eventually she broke up with him and then we started dating, and several years later, we got married.
And so now I’ve got this great marriage with a beautiful woman and I’ve ended up preaching here at Cruciform, and I look back and I see all of these little decisions along the way that brought me to this point. It’s amazing how the decisions we make determine the stories we tell.
So an important question we all need to ask is this — How do we live out a story that’s worth telling? How do we live a life that produces a story that we want to tell?
So what we’re going to do over the next four weeks. I’m going to ask you to make four decisions with me, and I’m hoping that every one of you will be here for every part of this series. We’re going to make four decisions together:
Week One: We’re going to decide to start. This morning, we’re going to decide to start a discipline that will help us to tell the story that God wants us to tell.
Next week, we’re going to decide to stop. Because all of us have certain behaviors, mindsets, attitudes that hinder us from living out the story that God wants us to live, and we’re going to decide to stop one thing that’s messing up our story.
The third week, we’re going to decide to stay. We’re going to decide to stay when it would be easier to go, because so often we quit on something important when it would be better to stay. We quit on God, we quit on the church, we quit on a friendship, we quit on a dream, we quit on a marriage when it would really be better to stay, and we’re going to decide to stay the course.
And then in week four, we’re going to decide to go when it would be easier to stay, because I can promise every one of you, in order to tell the story that God wants you to tell, at some point in your life and probably several points – you need to take a significant step of faith and leave what’s comfortable and leave what’s known. It would be easier to stay, but to honor God you’re going to decide to go.
And so we’re going to decide to start, stop, stay and go.
This morning, I want to talk with you about deciding to start a habit that can be life-transforming. Sometimes we think of habits as bad things; in fact, we use the term bad habits to refer to someone who smokes or bites their fingernails or cracks their knuckles. But a habit can be a good thing. Most of you likely have a habit of getting a shower every day, or brushing your teeth every morning or going to the gym several times a week.
A habit is simply a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly. And there are habits we can have spiritually.
For example, let’s talk for a moment about Daniel in the lion’s den. Now if you know the story, Daniel was looked favorably upon by King Darius. King Darius selected 120 satraps; these were like governors to rule the territory. He picked three men to be over the 120, and Daniel was one of those three. In fact, Daniel was such a great man of integrity and had such leadership skills that the king said, ‘I want to put Daniel in charge over everyone.’
But the other 120 guys were jealous and they said, “We’ve got to put a stop to the teacher’s pet, Daniel.” And so we pick up the story in Daniel 6:4,
“Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom.”
They did what a lot of politicians do. They went looking for some dirt. Let’s find something in this guy’s life so that we can bring up charges. But Daniel was such a godly man that they couldn’t find anything wrong with what he did.
Continuing in verse 4,
“but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”
These men said, “We can’t find anything wrong with Daniel. He’s such a godly man — he always does what God wants him to do. But maybe we can use that against him.”
So they came up with a plan. They went to the king and they said, in essence, “We’ve got this great idea — wouldn’t it be awesome that for the next 30 days, no one would be allowed to pray to anyone or any God except for you! And if they pray to any other God, then you throw them in the lion’s den.”
And the king said, “That sounds good to me, let’s make a law.”
Now, I want you to think about this — why was Daniel looked upon so favorably by the king? Why was he a man of integrity? Why did the king promote him in his leadership? Why did God show favor to Daniel in the lion’s den and deliver him from the mouth of the hungry lions? And I want to suggest to you that part of the reason is that years before this, Daniel made a decision to start doing something that would help to shape him into the man of integrity that he became. Let me show you what his decision was — verse 10.
“When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.”
Daniel prayed as he had done previously (that was his habit). Think about it – for weeks, or months, probably years, maybe more than a decade; three times a day Daniel stopped whatever he was doing, knelt down before his God, worshiped his God, prayed that God’s will would be done in his life. Why was Daniel successful, why was he a man of integrity? Why was he looked upon favorably by the king? Because he started doing something that honored God, and God transformed his story. If Daniel was not a man who prayed to his God, this story would have turned out very differently. The decisions we make determine the stories we tell.
So let me ask you two questions. The first one is very simple: What is the story that God wants you to tell? What is the story that God wants you to tell five years from now, ten years from now, twenty years from now?
And I would imagine, if you’re really honest, some of you may say, “”The chapter I’m writing right now is not going to end very well unless I make some changes.” What story does God want you to tell?
For some of you, it might be a different financial story. If you were to start a habit today and I don’t know what that would be, maybe you start to budget or you start a financial class, or you start cutting up your credit cards or whatever. But if you start getting ahold of your finances today, five years from now your story could go something like this — You know, it’s hard to believe, but five years ago we were living paycheck to paycheck and we were drowning in debt, but we started _____ (you fill in the blank), and now after five really disciplined and hard-fought years, we’re completely out of debt! No more credit card debt, no more student loan debt, we paid off everything but the house and we’re on track to pay it off in less than seven years. And that could be your story if you start the discipline today that allows you to tell the story later.
Or, for some of you, it could be that God wants you to have the right priorities, because you don’t right now. And it could be five years from now if you start the right discipline today, your story might be something like this:
Several years ago, I wasn’t a very good husband or a good wife or a good parent, and I was pursuing my career more than anything else and that became my god. And I told myself that I was doing it for my family, but I was really doing it for myself. And so I started the habit of coming home every day at 6:00 and I decided to leave my work at the office, and now everything’s totally different. I’ve got the marriage that I’ve always wanted and I’ve got a great relationship with my kids and I’m involved in their lives. That could be your story if you start the discipline today.
For some of you, maybe it’s more of a story about the way you take care of your body, the temple of the Holy Spirit. You may be able several years from now to tell a story like this:
It’s hard to believe, but a few years ago I actually weighed 38 pounds more than I do now, or 72 pounds or whatever the number is. And it’s so amazing because I just decided to start eating right, or I started a diet, or I started exercising, or I started whatever. But now I feel better about myself and I’ve got a better ministry and my whole life is different because I started a discipline to help me tell the story God wants me to tell.
So what story does God want you to tell? And I hope that every one of you will take some time, either now or later and think about what story God wants you to tell in the future.
And then, based on the story that God wants you to tell, answer this question: What do you need to start doing today to make that story a reality?
And here’s the key — what I want you to do is to pick one thing and one thing only, because every one of you is going to be tempted to do what I’m tempted to do; I look at my life and I go, “You know, I really need like four things or seven things, or all of these different things!” And the truth is, if you try to do seven things or nine things, you’re not going to do anything! You need to pick one thing and then commit yourself to starting that one thing.
And so when you pray, I want you to ask God, “What story do you want me to tell?” Then, what discipline do you need to start today to be able to tell that story in the future?
Maybe it’s a discipline like exercise or diet. Maybe it’s a discipline that involves your prayer life or your Bible study.
Some of you might have an insecurity; it might be an overeating problem, it might be an addiction, it might be an inappropriate quest for material things, it might be unforgiveness. And maybe it’s something that requires some counseling. You might need to submit yourself to somebody else who has the wisdom to help you see things from God’s point of view.
Some of you might be married and your marriage is not what it could be or what it should be. And you know that, but you’ve just been drifting along, and so you may need to start doing something that helps your marriage. Maybe you decide to start praying together. It’s amazing what praying together every day will do for your marriage. Maybe you decide to start reading the Bible together. Maybe you decide to attend a marriage class.
Or maybe you don’t spend enough time alone with your spouse because you’ve got kids and you haven’t seen each other without the kids since 1998! And so, you’re going to start a date night every week. And years from now you can look back and say, “Back when we started getting alone for two or three hours a week and talking with each other, it totally changed our marriage.”
Some of you, when you look at your spiritual life, it’s flat; it’s not where it should be. And so, you may need to start making church a real priority in your life. Not just going when it’s convenient and not just going; but getting involved, using your gifts to make a difference, contributing financially, being a prayer warrior, engaging in the fellowship of Christians, getting plugged in to a Care Group. You may need to start making church a real priority.
I don’t know what you need to start, but chances are you need to start something. What story does God want you to tell? Do you want to live a story worth telling? The decisions that you make today will determine the story that you tell tomorrow.
And, often, the hardest part is that first step. That point at which you make the change from thinking about what you need to be doing to actually doing it. I look back at the story of the Israelites wandering for 40 years through the wilderness. And finally, after 40 years, Joshua leads them up to the banks of the Jordan River. And there are a few men in this story that I think are some of the greatest men of faith in the Bible. We don’t even know their names, but what tremendous faith they had.
In Joshua 3:8 (NIV), the Lord said to Joshua, “Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’” We sometimes have this picture that God backed up the waters of the Jordan, then everybody crossed over. But the waters didn’t back up until after the priests stepped into the water. From their perspective, their job was just to start walking into the river. And that first step had to be the toughest.
When Jesus told Peter to step out of the boat onto the Sea of Galilee, it was the first step that was the toughest. When Jesus called the apostles and told them to leave their jobs and their families, it was that first step that was the toughest.
I love this quote from Karen Salmansohn – “The first step to living the life you want is leaving the life you don’t want. Taking that first step forward is always the hardest. But then each step forward gets easier and easier. And each step forward gets you closer and closer. Until eventually, what had once been invisible, starts to be visible. And what had once felt impossible starts to feel possible.”
Let me share with you a story from the Old Testament. It’s found in I Kings chapter 20. where the story is told of King Ahab of Israel. A prophet of God came to Ahab and told him that God was going to give the opposing army into his hands. Beginning in verse 13:
“A prophet came near to Ahab king of Israel and said, “Thus says the Lord, Have you seen all this great multitude?”
“Do you see this vast army? These are your enemies.”
“Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
In verse 14, the king wants to know who is going to do this. And the prophet replies, “the servants of the governors of the districts.”
And then Ahab asks the question, “Who shall begin the battle?”
And the prophet says, “You.”
This morning. I want to ask, who is going to start the discipline that will help you to tell the story that God wants you to tell? Who is going to start the battle? Who is going to start the decision today that will take you to where God wants you to be? Who is going to start? And the answer is “you”.
And I assure you that if you will make that decision and you start to do what God would have you to do, he will help you to write the right story. I don’t know what your story has been up to this point, but know this — you can live a story worth telling if you’ll decide to start what God wants you to start today.
And so I want to ask you a very specific and direct question – Are you willing to follow God and start one discipline that will change your story? I don’t want this to be an emotional decision. It’s something I want you to think about. If you respond “Yes”, it can’t just be a casual resolution, it needs to be a spiritual decision.
Ask yourself the question, “What do you need to start in order to tell the story that God wants you to tell?” To follow God, to make a commitment, not to start three things, not to start five things, but to start one discipline that will help you tell the story that God wants you to tell. Who is going to start this battle?
And I want to ask you to do something that I haven’t asked you to do in quite a while. But, some of you know right now what it is God wants you to start, and it’s your desire to start, to make some changes beginning today. And if that’s the case, I’d like for you to stand. Don’t come to front but just stand right where you are and allow me to offer a prayer on your behalf. Who will start this battle?