How To Be True To Yourself
by Andy Stanley
A few Sunday’s ago my family and I viewed this message and thought you’d enjoy it as well. I typed it out almost in its entirety. The link at the end will send you directly to the message…it’s about 35 minutes long if you’d rather watch it than read it. I’ll give y’all a week or longer to navigate through this one before adding a few more thoughts and songs to go along with it. Would love to read your thoughts on this message if and when you get a chance.
Here’s a quote from the message that really rang true to me…“We are naturally drawn to real people…when you find that environment, where you can let your hair down…when you find that group of people…you will be, and are attracted and drawn to them and their environment, whether they are healthy or not.”
Are we drawing people into church or scaring them away? If I put up walls, then they will start looking elsewhere…where and who will they turn to? Why not the church?
Practicing His Presence,
Pastor Stanley points out that…
We all want to be known for something.
In the spirit of transparency…What do you want to be known for?
What do you do when you don’t measure to what you want to be known for? Some resort to living a life of pretending, excusing and misleading…and or beginning to manage one’s image.
What is the problem with managing your image? It makes you imaginary…when you’re something on the inside and you’re projecting something different on the outside – you become, without meaning to, an imaginary person. At this point it becomes impossible for you to be genuine – to have genuine friendships, as well as impossible to have genuine intimacy in an important relationship or marriage, because you’re not genuine – and you can’t have genuine relationships if you aren’t genuine, and you can’t be genuine as long as you’re trying to manage an image, and as long as there’s this giant gap between what you hope people think about you…what I hope people think about me, and what they actually think about me.
And the bad news – it gets a little bit worse – because the moment we start pretending we stop growing. We get older, but we don’t get better, deeper, or finer. You don’t get finer when you start pretending. What you actually do is get stuck. We’ve all fallen into this rut to some extent…to the degree that my lifestyle, or to the degree that my marriage, or even to the degree that my faith, veers from what I present it to be to you and to the people around me…to the degree that there’s any gap between what I present myself as, or even what I speak about…to that degree I feel the pressure to pretend. And to make it worse, if you’re honest, some would prefer that I pretend…you want me to be what you hope I am. In other words, you want to live with the illusion that you are what you pretend to be. Imagine the pressure that puts on an individual at home, work, everywhere.
Inserted Poem by Nate Smith
But here’s the jumping-off point – if people don’t know what you’re really like, then they don’t really like you…they just like the image, they like the Instagram, they like the social media you. They like the adjectives that you have convinced them are true of you. If people don’t know what you’re really like, then they don’t really like you. In fact, it’s possible that nobody really likes you. BECAUSE nobody really knows you. And you have become, like we’re all tempted and pressured to do, kind of a pretend-a-holic. And until we embrace who and where we really are…we can’t get to where we need to be. Until you face up to, until you embrace who you really are and where you really are, you can’t get to where you want to be…we can’t get to where we need to be.
So it’s true, we all want to be known for something. But what we really need is to be known by someone’s. We all need relationships where we can drop the pretense…where we can drop all the manufactured cool, courageous, confident, got it all together, and everything’s organized all of the time. We need a place where we can drop all of that without fear of being judged and without fear of being rejected. And here’s the proof of what I’m saying…when you find that environment, where you can let your hair down…when you find that group of people…you will be, and are attracted and drawn to them and their environment, whether they are healthy or not. And here’s what you say, ‘those people are for real.’ In fact, you may not like church because you’ve never met real people. But there’s some other environment where you’d say ‘those people are for real people. We are naturally drawn to real people. Who are the people we’re allowing ourselves to be drawn to? Why isn’t it the people that make up the church? When I go to church they all look like they have their act together, but when I’m with this group, or at this place, those people are for real. And maybe they are for real, but maybe there’s something else going on. Maybe those people were the first people you were real with. And when you were real with them…that’s when you got known. And when you got known…it felt good. And maybe for the first time in your life you felt like somebody really liked you, and they really liked you because they really knew you, because you allowed yourself to be known. This is why rehab romances are so prevalent. People fall in love in rehab all the time. And why do they fall in love? Is it because they’re around such healthy people? No. It’s because they’re around people who are just like them. And it’s like, ‘FINALLY, someone understands me.’ Would you marry me? Finally, someone understands me. I’m in love with you. Because it’s sooooo powerful when you are known, when you are truly known, when you find an environment, when you find circle of people, when you find a group of people and you can be who you truly are, and yet you feel like they have your best interest in mind – that is a powerful, powerful, powerful thing. In fact, you were made, you were created for that.
Now, here’s the part of the message you won’t believe. The place where this is supposed to happen, the place where we are to be known the most, the place where we should have the most freedom to be transparent, and at the same time committed to becoming everything we want to be and the adjectives we’ve kind of laid out there for ourselves – the place designed for that is the church. Not big church, but real church. Now that may not have been your experience in church. In fact, we’re going to see that there’s this tension around this whole idea, but if you’ve had a bad idea about church, or maybe you don’t go to church anymore because of a bad experience, you need to know that the essence of church is this very thing we’re talking about. The church is to be the primary environment where that kind of knowness can happen.
And here’s why I say that…in the very first church Pastor James said this about church in James 5:16, ‘Church, here’s what you’re supposed to do…I want you to confess your sins to each other, and pray for each other, so that you may be healed.’ When you read a verse like this I know you think the same thing I do, you think, ‘I’m not going to confess my sins to anybody. I’m going to confess my sins to God, and keep it between me and God, because I don’t want anybody to know what I’m up to.’ Which is the same thing as saying, ‘I don’t want anybody to know me. I don’t want anybody to know what’s inside me. I don’t want to be known. I don’t know what’s wrong with my marriage. I don’t know what’s wrong in my friendships. I don’t know I’m so lonely. I’m surrounded by people, but I’m so lonely. I don’t know what’s wrong, but I don’t want anybody to know me.’ Let me tell you what James says the church is for…the church is for this…confess your sins to each other, and pray for each other, pray for each other based on what you know about each other, so that you may be healed. There is extraordinary power in being known. There is something that happens on the inside that can’t happen on the inside until you’re willing to do something on the outside.
But let me just be honest with you, we can’t do that in here (within the church structure walls)…that would just be weird in here. In fact, in [church pews / chairs / or] rows it’s actually impossible to do some of the most important things a church is designed to do. Another first century pastor wrote this in Hebrews 10:24, he wrote, ‘And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.’ In other words, as Christians we’re supposed to be about loving people and we’re supposed to be doing good deeds, doing good for other people. He says, ‘so I want you to figure out how to spur one another on.’ This is not somebody stand up here, and talk to a whole bunch of people, and spur a whole bunch of people on. This is a one another thing. I want you to be in one another’s lives to such an extent that you figure out how to spur, or goad, or urge, or encourage other people on to living lives characterized love and good deeds. But this is a one another thing. Well you can’t do that inside the church structure walls either. And he goes on and says this, ‘not giving up meeting together…this isn’t a solo thing or a me and God are cool so I don’t need anybody else…no, you don’t understand, if that’s how you think…[but rather,] this is the church…not giving up meeting together is as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.’
For me to command you to find someone you don’t know and to urge or goad them on to love and good deeds would make it so superficial…you can’t do that within these church structure walls. We can’t as a church do what the first church leaders told us that the church is to be characterized by…[we just] can’t do it. The apostle Paul stated that the local church should feel and act like in Galatians 6:1, ‘Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit (that is, those of you who have submitted yourself to the will of God) should restore that person gently.’ Literally, you’re not to go out and try to catch people sinning. Paul goes on in the next verse and says, ‘Carry each other’s burdens (well I need to know what the other person’s burden is before I can carry it…and that just might never happen within the church structure walls), and in this way (carrying each other’s burdens) you will fulfill the law of Christ.’ The law of Christ is to love other people the way that God through Christ has loved you. Boiling it down…if you’re a Christian then it comes down to that. I am to love others the way that God through Christ has loved me. But I can’t carry everybody’s burdens, and the only way to carry anybody’s burdens is to know what an anybody’s burden is. Then he says this in Romans 15:7, ‘Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…’
Now, do you know why God accepted you just the way you were? So He could transform you into who He wants you to be…that’s the great news about being a Christian. His goal wasn’t to leave you the way you are…He wants to transform you into who He wants you to be. And do you know where you will best experience God’s unconditional, transformational acceptance? With folks who are committed to, and who are open to His transformational, unconditional acceptance. The way that you are transformed is by being around people who are being transformed. And being around people who are being transformed to the level that you understand what God is doing on the inside of them. And once again, that’s not going to happen within the church structure walls. And I love being inside of a church. It is awesome in here. But in here we can’t actually do what the local church is most designed and best equipped to do.
And that’s why we all need a circle. Because it’s in a circle, it’s in a group, it’s with a handful of people who are one anothering one another…that’s where the action is. That’s where the essences of church happens. That’s where life on life transformation happens. That’s where you carry one another’s burdens. That’s where you accept one another. That’s where you’re accepted. That’s where you’re able to be honest. That’s where you’re able to confess your sins and realize they’re not going to kick you out of the group. In fact, they’re going to pray for you and somebody else in your group is going to be able to relate and say, ‘you know what, me too.’ And somebody else is going to say, ‘me too.’ And all of the sudden you’re going to realize, I’m not alone, that we’re not the only couple struggling. That I’m not the only guy struggling. That I’m not the only woman who feels like I’m never going to meet anybody. All of a sudden you realize that there are more people like me dealing with what I’m dealing with. And at the same time we don’t want to be left where we are, we want to become everything God wants us to be. And the New Testament says over and over again that that kind of transformation happens in life on life.
And that is why we are so committed to circles, rather than rows. Our church has committed from the very beginning that we will be a real church over being a big church. That is, we were going to emphasize circles over and along with rows. And we knew that we needed to create and opportunity for real to happen somewhere because we knew that it wasn’t going to happen within the church structure walls. And do you know how we knew that? Because those of who started at this church looked across the table at each other. And we all knew that we needed it. And so what we basically did is, we created a place for people like us. Acceptance with a view to improvement…that’s what the church is all about. You know why? Because that’s what Jesus is all about. You know why? Because that’s the gospel.
The gospel is, ‘For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son,’ not to just leave you a love note and leave you, but to move into your life in such a way that He transforms you from the inside out. And the way He does that is through the body – it’s through the Church – it’s through other people who are sharing the same journey and on the same journey. Acceptance with a view to improvement – and that place that happens is in a circle where someone knows your burdens so they can carry it – where you know their burden and you can carry it – where people are able to be who they really are so that they’re really known, because only when you’re really known do you get deeper, do you get better, do you get finer.
Now, we know this – we cannot manufacture, we cannot program, and we cannot force transparency, we can’t force authentic relationship, but we’ve been doing this a long time and we have figured out a way to set the table to where those kinds of changes, and those kinds of relationships happen naturally. And the results…are this, real people, real friends, real change. Real people, no more pretending. I may pretend in the rows…but in this group, in this circle [there is to be] no more pretending, real people, real friends, because you can’t have a genuine relationship until you become genuine. Real change. You don’t change until you face where you are and who you are, and that’s the power of the circle, that’s the power of the church.
When we talk about groups…we’re talking about 10-12 people, five couples, six couple, five to ten individuals, 12 individuals. Meet three or four times a month, generally through the school year, but oftentimes these groups go for a year and a half, sometimes two years. During the time there’s discussion…of all the messages...so that you can discuss what you heard and hear in rows…it’s not until you ask the difficult questions and are asked the difficult questions that a sermon become meaningful in your individual life. So we discuss the messages, we pray together, we tell our stories together, and then of course we eat. We have couples groups, we have men’s groups, we have women’s groups, we have mixed groups – where you know, people who want to put singles who want to be with married people and married people want to be mixed with singles. We have every kind of group imaginable, because we really do believe…that circles really are better than rows. At the beginning of a brand new group we have a four-week study and here’s how it works – you sign up for a group, you’re in a four week study. At the end of four weeks…you decide, ‘are these my people, these are not my people, honey we’re not coming back to this group, okay.’ So we’re going to give you four weeks study, an opportunity to experiment together with this group of people and at the end of four weeks you decide – do we want to stay together for this entire school year, do we want to stay together through an entire year, you get to decide. So we’re going to give you a four week trial run with a group of people, some that you may know, some that you may not know, some that you will be so glad you met, that will become in some cases your dearest / closest friends…We want everybody in our church in a group, because we believe the church happens in circles, not rows.
Now, I’ll say this real quick, the imaginary you, the image you, does not have time to be in a group, I know that…but the real you may be dying for this. Your marriage may be dying for this. Your marriage may be dying for a lack of this…You need a place to tell your real story. Everybody looks at you because they only see you kind of in an environment like this, or at work…in the neighborhood walking and you’re so cute, you got it all together, everybody thinks you’re living some kind of wrinkle-free [squeaky clean] life and you desperately need an iron, okay. So we want you in a circle where you can get some of that stuff ironed out. Everybody thinks you have friends – you don’t even have any friends – you just know a bunch of people, right?
Now, last thing is this – if you’re a parent…one of the greatest advantages…biggest advantages of being in a group was our children, our three kids, watching us prioritize Monday nights to be in a small group, putting them to bed early, saying stay upstairs, do your homework, don’t bother us we’re doing group, and to see them peeking over the rail year after year after year and saying ‘mom, dad, are you having your group? Is this your small group?’ For them to see us model a circle – I’m telling you is so powerful, and now my adult kids they think you’re just supposed to be in a group. They think that’s just part of the Christian life – is you got to be in a group. The value of group life goes beyond what happens in your life, and it goes beyond what happens in the lives of the people in your group. The value of group life reaches into the next generation – that’s why we don’t want you to miss it.
So, you want to be known for something? Absolutely. You’re already known for something. We want you to be known by some someone’s. You’re already known for something, but are you known by anyone. Are you truly known as – does anybody really know what’s going on in your relationships? Does anybody really know what’s going on financially? Does anybody really know what’s going on between you and your kids? Does anybody really know what’s happening in your marriage? We know who you’re doing image management with, but who are you doing life with? And I understand, this…culture says ‘protect the image, protect the image, protect the image, protect the image.’ Jesus says, ‘I want you to come out from behind that.’ Jesus says, ‘I want you to come out into the open.’ Not with everybody, because you’ll face the criticism you know you’ll face, but in my [church / small group] body, with my people there’s a safe place. And if you will get real [then] I will become more real to you than you ever ever ever imagined, because our transparency…which really translates into humility – transparency / humility is an invitation for your heavenly Father to show up in an unimaginable and real way in your life.
Jesus has dropped the image and allowed me to go to work on you, and how? Through the one another’s around you – the church, not big church, [but rather] ‘circle church’…At least consider becoming a part of a small group – that’s when the church really becomes the church.
Let’s pray, Father thank you. Thank you for James. Thank you for the author of Hebrews. Thank you for the apostle Paul who risked, and all of those guys who eventually gave their lives for the church. What a gift to us. So Father would you give each of us the wisdom to know what to do with what we just heard? Would you give each of us the courage to do it? And Father, I want to pray for our men in our churches for just a moment, because we’re a little bit stubborn, I understand that. Father, would you, maybe even in this moment, just break through that, and give us the courage to take this step and do something so remarkable in our lives. I pray that thousands of us would look back to this day…and say ‘that was the day it all changed for me.’ It wasn’t a sermon. It wasn’t a church service. It was that group. So Father, have Your will, and we look forward to what you’re going to do. In Jesus Name, Amen!
Nate Smith is a college baseball and football coach, a husband, a father of 6 girls, grandpa to 3 granddaughters, a police chaplain, and has a passion to see men grow in Christ.
#girldad including granddaughter