Craig Groeschel - Words to Live By
Hey, a big welcome to all of our Life Churches and our open network churches, our church online family. I absolutely, with all of my heart love this time of the year because there's so much optimism, so much faith about what is to come. And what I want to do today, is I want to teach a message that I honestly believe has the potential to significantly impact your life and your year above anything else that I could suggest. Let me give you a little back story. Every year for years and years, I try to add one discipline to my life, doesn't sound like a big deal, but over a ten year period that's ten new disciplines. Reading the bible all the way through, praying with Amy consistently, journaling, and the list could go on and on.
I want to tell you about my most recent discipline that I think has had more impact in my life than most five disciplines combined. And I want to give you a chance to consider joining me in this one very simple discipline, I call it Words To Live By. Before I talk about that, I know that all of you would say in your context, in your job, in your family, it can be really, really challenging at times. Am I right, is it challenging sometimes? It can be that way. And I want to say very transparently and I don't like to be a whiner but what I do as the pastor of this church can be significantly physically challenging, it can be emotionally draining, and spiritually, it can be very, very, very tough. And I don't say that to whine, but I'm just saying there have been many times and many years where I thought, I don't know if I can do this forever.
The reason I'm telling you this is because in 21 years of leading this church, this last year was the very best year that I ever had. And Amy would tell you that is was significantly different and better in my life spiritually, physically, emotionally, and relationally and I want to tell you why. First of all I'm going to tell you why it wasn't and this is the truth. There's nothing easier in this last year. There's nothing less complicated, there are more moving parts than ever before, and the schedule is busier than it ever, ever has been. Nothing has changed about what I do, but let me tell you what changed. What changed is the way I think. And let me say it again. It was in 21 years of leading the church, the best of all 21 years, it was probably the hardest and most grueling but it was the best, not because I changed what I do, but I changed how I think.
Now some of you are going to go, oh great, new year, smoo year positive thinking blah blah blah others of you, you're leaning in, and you're going great, bring it, I need this, I know that my thoughts matter. And I want to say right now, that your thoughts matter more than you could imagine. Your posture, even right now, it tells us so much about the direction of your life, your thoughts matter more than you could ever imagine. In fact I would love for you to write this big thought down on your notes and that is this, our lives move in the direction of our strongest thoughts. Mark it down, take it to the bank. Your life is moving in the direction of your strongest thoughts, if your thoughts are full of faith, full of God's truth, you're becoming more like Christ every single day, if your thoughts are negative, toxic, polluted, I promise you you will not live in victory, I promise you you will struggle in your actions because your thoughts are far from God's truths. Our thoughts, our lives move in the direction of our strongest thoughts.
In fact I want to read to you from Romans 8:5-6. These verses have significantly impacted the way I think about thinking. This is what Paul said, he said Those who are dominated by the sinful nature, what do they think about? All of our churches let's say it out loud. What do they think about, they think about, sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit what do they think about? They think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But, this is important, but letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. Our lives are moving in the direction of our strongest thoughts. Your inner dialogue, it matters so much. I don't know how many of you talk to yourselves, how many would you say, you actually talk to yourself? I talk to myself all the time. And some times my inner dialogue is very pleasing to God. Other times my inner dialogue can be very, very destructive.
I want to ask you the question, is your inner dialogue dominated by sinful, negative, and critical thinking or would you say that your mind is controlled by the Spirit of God, consistent with God-honoring Christ-directed thoughts. In fact, let me give you just a couple of different scenarios to help you answer this question. Is your life, your thought life, is it more God-centered or would you say it is more negative based? Scenario number one would be more God-centered. Do you wake up, is the common direction of your mind during the day this, my God is with me, my life matters. I've got a great calling, I'm full of faith. My mind is full of life and peace. I've got divine energy to do everything that God has called me to do, I'm excited about this day, today I'm going to make a difference for the glory of God. Does that represent something along the lines of your thinking or do you kind of wake up and think, uhhh, snooze. I'm tired, where's the coffee, who's that kid pulling on me at the edge of the bed, why did we do these kid things anyway?
Oh my gosh here we go again. It's a tough week, too much to do, wish I had an extra day in the week, I'm tired, I'm going to my stupid job, working with stupid people, life's overwhelming, whatever I do I just can't get ahead. Now obviously I'm probably exaggerating a little on both sides, but if you were really, really honest, what would typify the general dialogue that you have with yourself in your mind? I want to make a statement, and I'm going to ask a question. I want you to really think about this. Again, I'm going to make a statement, and I'm going to ask a question. Statement, your life is moving in the direction of your strongest thoughts. Question, are you excited about the direction your thoughts are taking you? Let me say it again. Your life is moving in the direction of your strongest thoughts. Are you excited about the direction that your thoughts are taking you?
I woke up a few years ago and I said quite honestly, no I'm not. I don't like my inner dialogue. And let me tell you really honestly what I found myself saying over, and over, and over again. What I found myself saying was man I've got too much to do, I can't get it all done, I don't know how long I can keep this up, this is just too overwhelming. And this is what I said over, and over, and over again. I'm not proud of it, but that was my inner dialogue. When I recognized is I needed God to help change my thinking. If God could change my thinking, that could change a lot about me. And I told you, this last year, was in 21 years the most healthy, productive, God honoring year, and the only thing that changed was my schedule probably got more grueling. Not what I did, but how I was thinking. God helped change my thinking through this one discipline I call Words To Live By.
Romans 12:2 is a verse that has spoken to me for years and years and maybe it will speak to you in the beginning of this year in a new and a fresh way. This is what Paul said, he said, don't copy the behaviors and customs of this world, but let God do what? But let God transform you, let God change you, let God transform you into a new person by doing what? Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. What I love about this is this is not me changing me, this is God changing me by renewing my mind, by stopping the negative lies and replacing them with godly truth. This isn't me working to change me, this is me working to align my thoughts with God's thoughts and when I think God thoughts God changes me, not into a better version of me, but a new person. Let God change you into a new person by changing the way you think because like it or not, so much of life isn't about what happens to you, but so much of life is how you think about what happens to you.
Let me say it again because you need to embrace this. Something bad can happen to one person, and they fall apart. Something bad could happen, the same thing to someone else they go, well I just got closer to God because of this. It's not so much what happens to you, it's how you think about what happens to you. It's the same with your stress. Stress is not about how much you have to do, stress is how you think about what you have to do. When you recognize that God is with you, his power is real, his grace sustains you, when you're weak he carries you, in your weakness his strength is made perfect. Suddenly what used to seem like stress, becomes an opportunity to tap into his power. It's not about all that you have to do, it's how you think about, all that you have to do. And I love the way Paul unpacks this powerful thought in 2 Corinthians 10:3 he says this, and this will be encouraging to you. Though we live in the world, we don't wage war as the world does. He's going to get into some cool language. He says, the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this world.
In other words, I don't need a gun or a knife, I've got spiritual weapons that have spiritual power. He says our weapons aren't normal weapons. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. The weapons that we fight with are not the weapons of this world, we fight with prayer, we fight with fasting, we fight with the word of God, we've got the sword of the Spirit, we got the breast plate of righteousness, the shield of faith, we've got the helmet, we've got the belt of truth, we've got the shoes prepared with the gospel of peace. We don't have normal weapons, and our weapons are powerful. They demolish what Paul calls strongholds. They may say, what's a stronghold? The Greek word that is translated as stronghold is the word ochuroma and this word, it's like if you could imagine a castle with like a dungeon, it's a prison. And very literal translation of this is a prisoner locked by deception.
What is a stronghold? It's someone who is in a prison and deceived believing there is no way out. It's a wrong mindset, it's a spiritual trap. I'll tell you a story that is in honor of very, very dear friend of mine. I've been incredibly blessed to have four guys serve with me on the directional leadership team. Jerry, Kevin, Bobby, and Sam, and this team has been together for 17 years. No one has quit and I haven't fired anybody, except for once or twice, but I hired them back. Kind of joking, it's an amazing run that you won't see in hardly any organization, an executive team stay together like that. Well our first one is leaving and that is because Kevin Penry is actually retiring to go spend time with his grandkids and his family and such and I honor him and here's a picture of Pastor Kevin, a guy that I honor and love dearly.
And I want to tell this story in honor of a guy who served our church faithfully and is moving on to his family but so much of what we're doing today is the result of this guy. Here's a story behind the scenes that will take this very serious guy and help you see there's another side to pastor Kevin. Years ago when we went multi-site, we were one of the first churches to go into multi sites, we recognized that there was, we weren't seeing each other as much, so we wanted to create a game to tap into our competitive nature, trying to destroy one another for the love of Jesus. So we came up with a game that we called capture the flag, I don't know if we made it up or not, but we made up our own rules, and basically it got so dangerous, some of our longterm members, Brian Bruss had to go to the hospital and we broke an old lady's arm, and fun stuff like that.
And so we had to come up with some rules to make the game more safe, and so one of the rules was no tackling, and one was you couldn't start on an attack before eight am, we had to have hours on it, so I would get to the office earlier than most, I get in early, I leave early, it's kind of my rhythm, so I came in seven am, 7:15 or something, I'm walking to my office, and I guess it was God talking to me, I don't know but I just thought, something is amiss and I could just tell. This is a true story, I went to this closet, maybe 7:15 in the morning, no one else is there, and I just thought, I need to check this closet because there could be something in the closet, I open up the closet, and guess who was there? Pastor Kevin was in the closet. He had come at four or five in the morning, and was just waiting in the closet for the eight am clock to ding, and at 8 am, he was going to run in, surprise everybody, grab the flag and take it for his team's victory. Little did he know that God speaks to me and warns me about such intruders.
So immediately I open the door, I slammed it, I put my foot right on the door just like this, to lock him in, I reached over, got a chair, jammed it under the door, and said Pastor Kevin, guess where you're spending the day, in the closet. You're not coming out of the closet even if you want to, you're spending the day locked in the closet. So I just sort of laughed and left him there in the closet and went to work. Eight o'clock came, 8:30 came, Jerry came in, Sam came in, they're like Kevin is locked in the closet. What? Yeah he's locked in the closet, so we're out there just giggling our brains out, and Kevin is like let me out, let me out, let me out, so finally I don't know it was nine, 9:30, ten o'clock, we just decided to take the chair out of the door and it was completely unlocked. And we're like Kevin you're spending the day in the closet and he's like let me out, let me out.
We're about to pee in our pants laughing because now the door is unlocked and Kevin never tried it he just cried and cried let me out, let me out. We're looking at our clock, it might have been 11 am or so, I had a marriage counseling appointment so we just left Kevin in the unlocked closet. I went to do my marriage, true story, true story, I went to do my marriage counseling appointment, it was a mess, the lady is crying, the wife is upset, I hear something in my ceiling. Pastor Kevin, never tried to open the door. Instead he scaled the shelves, got up into the ceiling was crawling across my ceiling tile when I saw a tile open up like this, looking up, and Kevin Penry eyes are looking down at me. And I looked up and said, when I'm finished with this marriage counseling appointment I will help you get down, back in your locked closet. The whole time, I don't know how long he's in the closet, never once reached out and tried this. That my friends is an ochuroma, that is a prisoner locked by deception. That is someone who is believing a lie, and is not living their life in a way that they could.
Silly illustration, but let me tell you right now, many of you that's exactly what you are. Satan has got you convinced that you can't, you won't, and you never will. And he's got you so convinced that you don't have the faith to reach out and grab what could be yours. Why? Because you are believing a lie, it is a stronghold of the evil one and the good news is that you have divine power, divine power, divine power to demolish strongholds. How do we do this? The text goes on, it says we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, how do we do this? We take captive, everybody say we take captive. We take captive every thought and we make it obedient to Christ. I love the way the New Living translation illustrates this verse. The writers say this, that we capture the rebellious thoughts and we teach them to obey Christ. I like that.
If you've got a rebellious thought, what do you do? Capture it, shut up rebellious thought, you're going to obey Christ. If you've got a critical thought, what do you do? You capture it, sit down critical thought, I'm going to teach you to obey Christ. You've got a negative thought, something says you can't you never will, you capture it. You capture that rebellious thought, you say shut up and sit down, I'm going to teach you the word of God. And you take captive every thought and you make it obedient to Christ. Here's where I need you to work with me. I'm going to give you two questions to ask yourself. The first one is this, what negative thoughts are dominating your thinking? What negative thoughts are dominating your thinking?
I'm going to give you some ideas, and I want you to write down two or three that are very, very real for you. You can do it now, you can do it later, you can do it with your life groups. Here's some ideas, you might think, I can't get it all done. I'm not a good enough mom, she brought homemade cookies and I brought store bought cookies #isuck, whatever it is. I'm always going to battle with such and such. I'm very inconsistent, I'm on again off again with God. I'm undisciplined, I'm never going to get ahead. I'm always going to struggle with my weight. I'm just not good with people. I'm just an average student. I'm never going to get into graduate school. I'm not enough. Whatever it is, think about quite honestly when your dialogue tips to the negative side, what is it that you're consistently telling yourself again and again because your life is moving in the direction of your strongest thoughts, start there. Then I want you to ask yourself, what spiritual truth will demolish your strongholds? What spiritual truth will demolish those unhelpful, ungodly thoughts?
And this if you're maybe to new to church, if you're a new follower of Jesus you may need some help with this, and this is one of the reasons why life groups are so important. Because we get together with other believers and we talk around God's word, and you may say here's what I struggle with and someone else may say well here's actually what's true about your situation, and here's some thoughts you might say will help me. Here's one, I have everything I need to do everything God calls me to do. Here's one, Christ in me is more than enough. This might be yours, worry is not my master, my faith is in God and God alone. I'm not easily offended, I am full of the unconditional unstoppable, unquenchable love of God. My God is with me, you will never leave me, he will never forsake me.
And here is my discipline I call words to live by. What I want you to encourage you to do, is seek God first everyday. What do we do? We seek God first of the day. We worship God first of the week. We fast first of the year and we return first of our increase back to God through the local church we put God first. If you put God first every single day, and you spend time with him and you pray for just a few minutes, if you feed on his word, and then you speak aloud what he says is true, that discipline, words to live by can completely change your thinking. What I'm going to do is I'm going to give you some suggested statements, then at the end I'm going to give you my statements, and these are the words I live by. And almost every single day, I spend time with God and I speak these words aloud, they change my thinking and that change of thinking is completely changing my life.
So I'm going to give you some suggestions. In fact at the end of our time, your campus pastor will give you a place where you can go and literally look at topics and lots and lots of suggestions that you can adapt to make your own, and you can come up with a list of five, six, seven, eight, nine, 12, whatever statements. Words to live by that you declare over and over again. Maybe you're worried all the time. Your statement might be this, because of Christ I am not anxious about anything. I cast my cares on God because he cares for me. I have the peace of God dwelling in my heart and ruling my mind, day in and day out. You declare that statement by faith. Maybe you don't know God's will for your life. What does he want me to do? So every day you say this, my life belongs to God. Daily I seek him and daily he directs my step. I know his voice and he leads me to his perfect will.
Maybe you lack confidence, so every single day you're going to say this, my confidence is in Christ and Christ alone. Because his Spirit lives within me I can do everything he calls me to do. Maybe you're inconsistent in your time with God, and you're going to say this. It may not feel true at first, but you keep saying, you keep saying it until it does become true to you. And you say this, I love the living and dwelling presence of my good God. Praying is as important to me as breathing. God's word nourishes my soul. I depend on his presence every moment of every day. This may seem silly at first. But you say it over and over again and what happens, you're consistently speaking what is true and God is renewing your mind. He's changing the way you think.
I give you another kind of silly illustration but I studied French in the eighth grade all the way through the 12th grade in high school and so I was probably better at speaking French than anybody in my class, even though I wasn't great. A french foreign exchange student came in, and I tried to converse with her, you know Bonjour. And when she would speak in French, I would hear her speak in French, I would translate it to English in my mind, I would think in English in my mind, I would then translate it to French and then I would try to speak in French. It was incredibly awkward. Somewhere in the conversation something switched in my brain. When she spoke in French, when the switch hit, I heard her in French, I thought in French, and I spoke in French whenever the switch flipped, something changed on the inside.
Here's what will happen with you. You may think I'm not good enough, I don't have what it takes, I can't get through the day. Christ has given me everything I need, with him I can do all things, the more you say it, the more you'll renew your mind. One day there will be a switch that takes place and that's exactly what happened in my life last year. Nothing changed about the intensity of my schedule. In fact it was probably more intense than ever, but what changed was the way I think and when my thinking changed more consistent with God's truth, it completely transformed the way I loved and did ministry. And so what I want to do, is i want to share mine with you, and this is a little bit vulnerable for me, but I want to tell you what I struggled with, and then you'll see why I wrote these statements that are my words to live by. You can see, here's my struggle, and here's the solution from God's truth for me.
So in a moment of vulnerability, here's what I was struggling with. I struggle with putting God first. Because there are so many urgent, urgent, urgent, urgent, urgent, urgent things, I really struggle with choosing the important, over the urgent. And it's an ongoing battle for me. I love Amy, I love my kids, but I'm telling you right now, I always feel like a failure at home, and I always feel like a failure at the church because no matter what I do, I would tell myself I can't seem to do enough at the church and I can't be the husband and dad I want to be at home, and so I tell myself that I'm not good enough, I can't get it all done, and that was a real struggle for me. I'll be transparent, I love teaching but the reality is I know how distracted people are, I know how easy it is to miss church and so the idea of consistently delivering a message that engages the heart and is spiritually accurate to transform the soul week after week, month after month, year after year, to the same group of people, it can be a little bit overwhelming to me.
So how do I keep it up and that's a real thing. And then doing that, and leading the church, just preaching that every week would be a lot, just leading a complicated multi-state organization with hundreds of employees and such, the bible app, all the moving parts, doing both of those can be overwhelming. So those are my issues, and you could tell where my negative thought would go. So every day, almost every day, if you skip a day, I've skipped some, pick it back up. This is what I declare, these are my words to live by and this has been what God has been using to change the way I think. This is what I say to myself. Jesus is first in my life. I exist to serve and glorify Him. I love my wife and will lay down my life to serve her. My children will love God and serve Him with their whole hearts. I will nurture, equip, train and empower them to do more for His kingdom than they can imagine. I love people and believe the best about others. I am disciplined. Christ in me is stronger than the wrong desires in me. I am growing closer to Jesus every day.
Because of Christ, my family is closer, my body is stronger, my faith is deeper, my leadership is sharper. I am anointed, empowered, equipped, and called to reach people far from God. I am creative, innovative, driven, focused, and blessed beyond measure because the Holy Spirit dwells within me. I develop leaders. That's not something I do, it's who I am. My words, thoughts and imaginations are under the power of Christ. I take all thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ. I wake up with purpose, direction and meaning every day of my life. Pain is my friend. I rejoice in suffering because Christ suffered for me. I bring my best and then some. It's what I bring after I bring my best that makes all the difference. The world will be different and better because I served Jesus today. Day in, day out, day in, day out, declare it, declare it, declare it, declare it, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, until I believe it.
Until I believe it, until I believe it, I'm the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. I am called to make a difference in this world. I have the mind of Christ. I have the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwelling inside of me that makes me powerful for the kingdom of God. And all of those thoughts brought together in my mind, made for the most effective, productive and God honoring year I've had leading this church. And that's why with every bit, of excitement, passion, and spiritual enthusiasm I have, I would love to invite you to join me in going before God and letting Him change us into new people by changing the way we think. Not locked into a closet by a lie, but set free by the truth. You'll know the truth and the truth will set you free. When you declare it over and over and over again, you might just get to the place where you believe it. Satan is the father of lies, Jesus is the author of truth. And when you know the truth, the truth will set you free. That's why these are words to live by.
Father today I ask that at all of our churches, you would inspire some people who are serious about living for you to seek you honestly, openly, transparently to get with our life groups and sit around a table and open up your word and say here's where I'm weak, here's where I'm vulnerable, here's where I've been talking myself down and God here's the truth, your truth that will help set us free. God empower us to hear from you, to declare your truth in a way that would change our minds and conform it to the image of Christ that we would please you God in all that we do.
All of our churches today, my ask is simple. We don't just hear the word we do the word at all of our churches. If you say, game on man I'm ready for this year to be more God honoring than ever before, I have been negative in my inner dialogue and I want that to change. That's unacceptable to me, it's not pleasing to God, I want my thoughts to honor God I want my mind controlled by the Spirit I am bringing my best, God give me words to live by I will declare them, I will faithfully pursue you God until you change the way I think and I'll continue to seek you as you renew my mind. All of our churches say, I'm in, I want to do this, I want my mind to be renewed, I know what my discipline is for this year, I'm going to seek God this way. If you're ready to join me, will you lift up your hands right now. All of our churches, all of our churches, tons and tons of people saying, I'll take this step of faith.
Now God I know that it's easy to start and many don't finish we know that Jesus is the author and the finisher of our faith, so Father I pray that you would take our good intentions and convert them into obedient actions. God may we confess before our family members, our life groups, our spiritual communities, our need for you. God we ask that you would help others to craft and strengthen some statements God that would renew our minds that we could glorify you in all that we do. Father this may feel a little bit silly at times. We may even feel like we're lying to ourselves but we'll keep confessing the truth until the truth changes the way we think and ultimately the way we live. God renew our minds may our minds be controlled by your spirit that leads to life and peace.
As you keep praying today in all of our different churches there's some of you as you're going to confess every single day, there's one confession to make before you, make any other confession and that is, I need Jesus. The amazing thing is, if you're really, really honest, you think about your life, many of you would say I've done things that are wrong, I've done things that I know I feel very guilty for. How in the world do I reconcile this with God. Well the amazing thing is, God is so good that he did something for us that we could never ever earn and we don't deserve. He sent us son Jesus who is perfect and without sin Jesus gave his life so that we could know the goodness of God and scripture says this very simply that anyone who confesses with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes in their heart that God raised him from the dead, that person would be saved. All of our churches, there are those of you that recognize you're distant from God in your heart, you're one confession away from surrendering to him calling on him Jesus I need you. I believe you are the son of God, when you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart, your sins will be forgiven, you will be brand new.
In all of our churches you recognize your deep need for forgiveness, you recognize your need for God's grace, you're not here by accident, not only is this a new year but it's time for a new you, forgiven by Jesus all of our churches, you say yes today. I surrender my life to him, lift your hands up high right now. All of our churches call on him today. Church online, you click right below me and all of our churches, would you join your voices together. Nobody prays alone, pray heavenly father. Forgive me of my sins, make me brand new. Change my heart, fill me with your spirit, so I can faithfully follow you, and serve you every day. My life is not my own. I surrender it to you. Give me new life in this new year to serve you with all my heart in Jesus name I pray, all of our churches would you worship loud, worship big, welcome those born into God's family today.