Last week, I began a 4-week sermon series entitled “My Story”. Because it doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old, male or female, it doesn’t matter what race you are, whether you’re a church person or a non-church person, every single one of us has a story. And the good news is that all of us have portions of our story that we enjoy telling. You get with some friends and you’re like, “Hey, let me tell you about the time when I…” and you tell them about how God has been working in your life, when you overcame something or you did something funny or you accomplished something, or you made a difference in somebody’s life. And we all have parts of our story that we’re really excited and proud to tell.
But, unfortunately, we also have parts of our story that we’re not so proud to tell. For some of us, it’s a few pages that we’d rather rip out of our past. For others, it’s not just a few pages, it’s entire chapters of our story that we don’t want anybody to know about. And the reality is we can’t change what’s already been written about our story. But the good news is that our future story has not yet been written. And so, in this series of lessons, we’re talking about some of the decisions that we make today that will write our future story.
One of the key points of last week’s lesson was this: The decisions that we made yesterday determine the stories that we tell today. And the decisions that we make today determine the stories that we will tell tomorrow.
We see this in the life of King David. In 2 Samuel 11:1, we’re told that, “It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out into battle.” But David made a choice. He said, “I will not go into battle, I will stay at home and I will send somebody else to fight for me.” And so the mighty warrior stayed home, rested, and relaxed.
And it turned out that that was a very poor decision on his part because it set in motion a series of events which would eventually lead to adultery and murder. And the consequences of that one little choice would haunt David all the rest of the days of his life.
Which is why it is so very important for us to realize that what we decide today will one day determine the stories that we tell about our lives.
Andy Stanley (“Principles of the Path”) has said, “Direction, not intention, determines destination.” And what he means by that is that it is not what we intend to do that determines where we end up, but what we actually do.
And we have no trouble at all understanding this in other areas of our lives. Suppose somebody says, “I’m headed out of town on vacation and what I really want more than anything else is to spend the week in Florida.” That’s all he talks about, “I can’t wait until I get to Florida, I’m gonna have a room on the beach.”
But vacation week comes and this fellow gets his car and drives over to I-95 and when he gets to the Interstate, he heads north. “Wait a minute, I thought you wanted to go to Florida.” He says, “I do. I plan to spend the whole week in Florida.” “But you’re headed the wrong way! If you keep going in that direction, you’ll never get to Florida! And we all understand that a person who is headed the wrong direction will never get to his destination, regardless of what his intentions are.
Now that just seems like common sense, so why is it so difficult for us to understand this concept when it comes to our spiritual lives? We will say, “You know, I would really love to understand the Bible, to have this deep knowledge of God’s Word. That’s what I want more than anything else in this world.” That’s great! So how much time do you spend studying the Bible? “Well, right now, I’m busy with a lot of things, I get home from work and just need to unwind, watch some TV. But I really intend to have that Bible knowledge some day.”
Or somebody says, “What I really want is a strong marriage with love and commitment.” That’s great! What are you doing that’s taking you in that direction? Are you spending more time with your spouse? Are you giving up some things that you want in order to provide what they need? Tell me what you’re doing to serve them. “Well, I’m not doing any of those things. I just want a good, strong marriage.”
“Direction, not intention, determines destination.” Why is it we think we can head our lives in one direction and expect to end up in the opposite direction? The way we are living today will ultimately determine the stories we tell tomorrow. It’s not what we intend to do, but what we’re actually doing.
As a preacher, there have been so many times over the years that somebody is telling me their story, and halfway through the story, I’m thinking, “Didn’t you see this coming?” I mean, I’m listening to the story and I already know how this is going to turn out. Not because I’m so insightful, but I think that anyone can hear just about anyone else’s story and think, “Wow! Didn’t you see that coming?” Because, deep down, we understand — the direction we’re heading will determine where we end up.
This is such an obvious thing, and it’s so easy to see it in someone else’s life, but we are so easily deceived when it comes to our own lives. We like to think that we’re the exception. “Yes, I know that everyone else who has headed in this direction has ended up over there, but that’s not going to happen to me. I don’t intend to end up there. I’m going to head in this direction, but I plan to end up over there.” No — it’s direction, not intention, that determines our destination.
That’s why we’re trying over these four Sundays in April to make some actual changes to our lives – not just talk about what we need to do, not just talk about what we know we ought to do, but actually do some things that will change the direction of our lives, and will help us to tell the story that God wants us to tell.
It’s important that we look at the decisions we’re making in our lives and ask ourselves the question, “If I continue down this road, what story will I be telling when I’m older? If I continue to make the same choices that I’ve been making, what story am I likely to tell?”
Now, looking back, it’s easy to see where our decisions have brought us, and we sometimes say, “If I could only go back and do it all over again! I wish I hadn’t done that!” As a preacher, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to that are full of regret, who say, “I’d give anything to go back in time and have the opportunity to make different choices.”
And so what we need is the wisdom, the foresight, to take a look at what we’re doing now and to think about, “Where will this take me if I continue down this path?” Because the decisions we make today will determine the stories we tell tomorrow.
So, the question we’re trying to answer in this series of lessons is this: How do we live out a story worth telling?
The Hebrew writer talks about moving toward a destination, and he uses the image of a runner in a race. He says, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1).
And here’s the key – “looking unto Jesus”, or as some translations put it, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.”
Who is what? “The author and finisher of our faith.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we would just let Jesus help author the story of our lives? If we would live our lives so focused on him that we are actually led by Him, and if we’re led by Jesus, there is no doubt but that we will live out a story worth telling.
And so, in this series, we’re making four decisions. If you were here with us last week, we made a decision to start. Some of you last week stood and made a commitment to start a discipline in your life that will lead you to tell the story you want to be able to tell.
I’m not going to ask you this morning how many of you have stayed with your commitment, but if you’ve faltered I hope that you’ll start again. And if you weren’t here last week, I hope that you will make the commitment to start something today.
But, in this morning’s lesson, we’re going to decide to stop. Because all of us have certain behaviors, mindsets, or 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 is messing up our story.
Next week, week 3, we’re going to decide to stay when it would be easier to go, because so many of us, we ruin our stories when we walk away from something because it’s difficult when we should have stayed. We walk away from a dream, a friendship, from God, from church, from marriage; because it’s just too hard, when it would have been better for our story and better for our lives if we had stayed.
And then, in week four, we’re going to decide to go, because to really do something significant in life, you’re going to have to take some faith risks. You’re going to have to do something that unnerves you a little bit. When it would be easier to play it safe, there are times we have to decide to go.
But, for today, we’re going to decide to stop. And I want to begin by looking at a story in the Old Testament about Moses that many of you can relate to. Those of you who are single parents and you’re overwhelmed. Those of you that have a demanding job and you just can’t seem to get it all done. Those of you who are full-time students and you’re trying to work thirty hours a week on top of school and you just feel overwhelmed. Moses felt all of that same frustration when he was so worn out by all of the problems that the people were bringing him, trying to get him to handle all of these different disputes.
And so, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, came up to him and he said, “You’re going to have to stop doing all of this”. Here’s the advice that Jethro gave him, Exodus 18, verse 17 and following:
So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is…not good.”
What if I told you today that you’re doing something that is not good for your future story? What’s you’re doing is not good. You’ve got a habit, you’ve got a mindset, you’ve got an addiction, you’ve got an attitude, you’ve got a thought process; you’ve got something in your life that is not good for your future story.
In verse 18, Jethro says: “Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself.”
Then he says, “Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you.”
And then he says, ‘Okay Moses, here’s the game plan; choose some leaders, choose some capable leaders and train them to handle the disputes for you. I want you to choose some to be over thousands of people and some to be over hundreds, and some to be over fifties and some to be over tens. And whenever there are problems that arise, I want you to delegate your authority to them to handle the issues and you only take care of the really important ones or the really, really difficult ones. And if you do this,’ in Exodus 18:22 he goes on to say, “So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.”
Jethro said, “Moses, you’ve got to stop trying to do it all by yourself!” And the good news is, Moses listened to his father-in-law and he did everything he said and Moses actually stopped trying to do everything, which in so many ways brought him to the story that we now tell about Moses.
So, here’s what I want you to do today. Just like we did last week, I want you to think of one thing and one thing only that you’re doing that’s not good in your life. And we’re going to commit that to God and we’re going to ask God to help us to stop doing what is not helpful to our future story. And I will give the same assurance that Jethro gave to Moses – “I will give you counsel and God will be with you.”
Let’s backtrack to last week and I want to ask again the big question that we’re asking every week in this series: What is the story that God wants you to tell?
And chances are you can say, “Yeah, there’s something different that God wants in my life. God wants me to be more focused on my family, or to grow spiritually, or to get my finances under control, or to take care of my body, or to be more involved with my children, or do to something to make a difference in this community.” What is the story that God wants you to tell?
Now, in light of the story that God wants you to tell, what do you need to stop? What do you need to stop so you can live out the story that God wants you to tell? What decision to stop do you need to make today, in order to tell the right story tomorrow?
In Ephesians 4, Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus that there were some things they needed to stop. Beginning in verse 17:
“Do not continue living like those who do not believe…You were taught to leave your old self—to stop living the evil way you lived before…But you were taught to be made new in your hearts, to become a new person. That new person is made to be like God—made to be truly good and holy.
“So you must stop telling lies. Tell each other the truth, because we all belong to each other in the same body. When you are angry, do not sin, and be sure to stop being angry before the end of the day…
Those who are stealing must stop stealing and start working. They should earn an honest living for themselves. Then they will have something to share with those who are poor.
When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need — words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you…Do not be bitter or angry or mad. Never shout angrily or say things to hurt others. Never do anything evil. Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:17-32, NCV)
In light of the story that God wants you to tell, what do you need to stop? What decision to stop do you need to make today in order to tell the right story tomorrow?
And just like last week, I want you to pick just one thing. Maybe you can think of seven things you need to change, but if you pick seven things, you won’t be successful at any. For now, think of just one thing you need to stop.
Maybe you need to stop one of the things that Paul listed in that passage. Maybe you need to stop telling lies. You’ve been deceitful and you need to stop. Or maybe you need to stop stealing. Or you need to stop saying harmful things, stop gossiping, stop shouting, stop being angry.
Or maybe there’s something you need to stop that’s not on that list. Maybe you need to stop swearing, using God’s name in vain. Or you need to stop your abuse of alcohol.
Maybe you need to stop worrying. Or you need to stop having sex without being married. Or maybe you need to stop doing some things that are making it difficult for you not to have sex outside of marriage.
Maybe you need to stop spending money so much, spending money on stuff you don’t really need. Maybe you need to stop smoking or overeating. Maybe you need to stop hanging out with the wrong crowd, they’re taking you down. Maybe you need to stop watching some of the movies and TV shows that you’re watching.
Maybe you need to stop treating your wife or your children the way you’ve been treating them. Maybe you need to stop trying to control everybody and everything. Maybe you need to stop being critical and judgmental of everything. Maybe you need to let go of a hurt and stop holding a grudge.
Maybe you need to stop being such a slave to your iPhones or Facebook. Maybe you need to stop sleeping during the sermons (sorry, I just threw that in there to see if you were paying attention)
I give you this list just to get your mind going. But I want to ask you, in light of the story that God wants you to tell, what does God want you to stop?
To close this out, I want to go back to Hebrews 12:1-2. “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”
The Hebrew writer says here that there are two things that we need to get rid of if we’re going to be successful in running the Christian race. First of all, we have to lay aside every weight. Have you ever heard of someone trying to run the 100-yard dash and carrying a 50-pound sack of flour at the same time? That would be a big hindrance.
The Hebrew writer says we need to get rid of every weight. The word “weight” is simply a bulk or mass of something. It’s not necessarily bad in and of itself. It may be something perfectly innocent and harmless. But it weighs us down. I think the writer is saying here that we need to get rid of anything that distracts us or divides our attention. It could be a good thing, but if it hinders us, it’s dangerous and it’s got to be removed. The problem with a weight is not what it is, but what it does. It keeps us from running well. And if we don’t get rid of it, it will divert our attention, sap our energy and dampen our enthusiasm for the things of God. We can’t run the race effec¬tively while we’re carrying excess weight.
I like what Mark Phillips has written about this. Mark ran a few years ago in the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon (13.1 miles) and he wrote these words afterward:
One of the surest ways to tell who is really serious about the race is to look at how much they are carrying. I saw people with amazing amounts of “stuff”: car keys, wallets, snacks, stereos, and more, all crammed into fanny packs or strapped around their waists. Even though there is water every 2 miles, I even saw people carrying water bottles with drinking tubes bouncing down against their legs. I was amazed that anyone would carry anything extra for 13 miles.
I also saw the opposite extreme. Before the race started, I walked past a racer who was wearing shoes, shorts, and his number tag. That’s it. No shirt, no stereo, no snack bag full of chips, just the bare minimum it took to run and be decent. Not surprisingly, his number tag was blue, which meant he would be starting at the front of the pack with the other serious competitors. It was obvious he had no interest in being dragged down by a bunch of junk — his purpose was to run. Period.
So we need to get rid of every weight. But there’s something else that we have to get rid of if we’re going to run the Christian race, and that’s sin. Notice the difference in the language here. Good things can weigh us down, but evil things will ensnare us or entangle us. Unless we get rid of the sin that’s in our lives, that sin will trip us up and make us stumble and fall before we reach the goal.
So, I ask you, is there anything in your life that you need to get rid of? Anything in your life that you need to stop, beginning today? I’m just asking you to pick one thing that hinders, one thing that could hinder your future story and stop it — throw it off, cast it down.
I’m not just talking about behavior modification. I’m talking about spiritual transformation, that you look to God and ask God to help you to make this change that will affect your story down the road. Don’t tell me, “I can’t do it. I’ve tried before and I can’t do it.” You may not be able to do it, but the same Spirit that had the power to raise Jesus Christ from the dead dwells within you, and he has to power to help you to stop what you’re doing.
Why does it matter? Because the decisions that we make today determine the stories that we tell tomorrow. I don’t care what you want or what you hope for the future, it is direction not intention that determines destination. If you’re writing the wrong story, stop today.
Some of you here this morning, you look back over your story and there are things you’ve done in your past that you’re ashamed of, embarrassed about, you feel guilty about. Understand that the only way that we will ever make it to heaven is not by living the perfect story, that’s impossible, but it’s by being forgiven by the perfect Savior, Jesus, God’s Son. He can help you to re-write your story.