Environment & Initiative: Action Words
Topic: A Call to Action Scripture: Psalm 119:129–119:136, Ephesians 5:8–5:17
How intentional are you when it comes to your daily routine? I'm not asking if you have a routine. We all have a routine, even if our routine is constantly finding ourselves being pulled in a dozen different directions on what feels like a day-to-day basis. No, what I'm asking is how intentional are you with your routine? Do you consistently wake up at the same time? Do you have disciplines or habits that you cultivate every day? Are there things you are certain not to miss or forget? Routines can say a lot about a person, and more to the point, they play a significant role in the impact of their life.
Ed Catmull, former president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and one of the co-founders of Pixar - shared that he begins every day with a time of meditation. In his work, Ed had to make numerous creative and organizational decisions. Decisions that he knew could impact not only the projects the studio produced but the countless children and adults who would watch them. Ed realized that his own internal voice would frequently only offer anxiety, doubt, and second-guessing. So, every day, he is intentional to foster a time and space where he can silence that voice so that he is able to focus, reflect upon, and respond genuinely to any situation that comes his way.
Tim Peake is an astronaut who spent 186 days aboard the International Space Station. For him, his routine was more than just a life-hack or calendar app on his phone; it was his lifeline. He shared, "Habits and routine are so key to keeping everything under control in a confined and isolated situation. That structure it gives you is vital; it's key to feel that in situations that feel out of control." That routine involved intense intentionality that influenced and guided everything he did, from his sleep schedule to how he prepared his meals to the time he made for conversation and recreation with others.
Penny Lucas-White is the head coach of the women's volleyball team at Alabama State University, and she offers a powerful word on routine, intentionality, and initiative. With her players, her friends, and her family, Coach Lucas-White emphasizes intentional growth. The focus, the drive, and the effort required and made to continue to grow as a healthy person in whatever context or story you might be a part of. She says, "Fostering an intentional growth mindset creates a culture where the emphasis is on the process, not the outcome. Intentionality is all about the importance of having a specific purpose and then taking meaningful steps to fulfill it." For Penny Lucas-White, intentionality and initiative regarding her routines are how she, and others, can grow into the healthiest and most helpful version of herself and themselves.
I am so excited about the series we are starting this morning. Called "Environment & Initiative," this will be a 3-part series with messages offered by me, our Director of Student & Young Adult Ministry – Juliette Kuhn, and our Director of Children's Ministry – Ann Lamkey. Our focus is on the changing, inspiring, and even mysterious ways we as human beings grow as followers of Jesus. Specifically, how is our faith uniquely influenced, shaped, and fostered during and throughout our time as children, teenagers, and adults? Our premise is - as we grow, the grounding principle and reality that is most powerfully influential in the growth of our faith and our identity as disciples of Christ grows from Environment to Initiative. Ann is going to help us understand how the faith of children is nurtured, specifically, how it is the environment that is crafted for children that can most meaningfully lay the foundation and prepare the soil for a life of loving and serving Jesus. This morning, I'm going to address all of the adults. For us, our initiative is the name of the game. Our environment can still play a role, but the growth and nurturing of our faith and our lives as followers of Jesus is in our hands. And next week, Juliette will talk about teenagers who find themselves caught in between both of these guiding realities of Environment & Initiative.
Today, we're going to focus on the principles and practices that contribute to adults growing as followers of Jesus. It's less about the environments and structures that are built around us and much more about the initiative that we choose to practice or neglect. That initiative can be understood with a very simple grammatical term - action Words. The growth and vibrancy of adult discipleship, I believe, is centered around and fostered through Action Words. More specifically, Action Words with a continuous nature to them, which means activities, or practices that are not completed at a given time or benchmark but instead continue to be a regular routine for that person.
If we want to look to Scripture to try and understand more about growing in our faith and learning more about how practicing Action Words can help us grow closer to and become more like Jesus, the apostle Paul is a great teacher to turn to. After Paul began following Jesus himself, he dedicated the rest of his life to helping other people, adults mainly, discover, fall in love with, and devote their lives to Jesus. Virtually every recorded word of Paul's that we have is focused on the same goal: Help people grow in their faith and their walk with Christ. He addressed complex theological questions as well as near mundane protocol and lifestyle decisions. Paul talked about sin, death, grace, and new life. He talked about the church, the government, the afterlife, and the human heart. And when it came to encouraging others, again mostly adults, on how to grow in their faith and be more committed and faithful disciples of Jesus, Paul shared many Action Words. As I mentioned, there are lots of places in Paul's teaching that we could turn to, but this morning I want us to look at the words he offered to a group of Christ-followers in the city of Ephesus. We're in Ephesians 5:8-17.
This section of Paul's teaching is often highlighted in Bibles with a bold title that says something like: Instructions for Christian Living. It is one of the many times where Paul specifically addressed how people can live a life that reflects the Savior's grace, truth, and love that has saved them and given them a new story. In these words to the Christ-followers in Ephesus, Paul does make mention of the environment, darkness, and light. Still, he spends a whole lot more time and emphasis talking about the initiative Christ-followers need to take, and, you guessed it, Paul uses a lot of Action Words.
Live as, find out, have nothing to do with, expose, wake up, be careful, make the most, do not be foolish, understand. These are all Action Words that Paul offers as the means by which his audience, primarily adults, can grow in their faith and more personally and powerfully offer the presence and love of Jesus to the world around them. And all of these are continuous Action Words. They indicate a perpetual and intentional practice as opposed to a one-time accomplishment. The work of following Jesus is less about singular achievements and so much more about the full experience of the journey. A journey that all of us are invited to take by the same Savior that offered up His own life so that we might have true, everlasting life.
Paul shows us how we can grow as disciples and followers of Jesus as adults. Sure, these same principles can be applied in some way to kids and teenagers. But I want to emphasize something so critical to all of the adults who are listening, myself included. Our identity as children of God is constant regardless of our effort or action. But the vibrancy and impact of our faith on this world as followers of Jesus is dependent upon our choices, habits, and actions. We cannot lose God's grace, but we can fail in offering it to others. I believe that is why Paul spoke of discipleship as this continuous action that began at one point is happening right now and has the potential to continue well into the future.
So, adults, we have work to do. Whether that is a shock to you or whether you have been engaging in this discipline for so long, it's second nature; the quality and richness, and impact of our faith in Jesus involves our motivation, initiative, and action. Paul shows us this. Our lives as Christ-followers is determined and known by how we live, by what we focus our time on, by what it is we advocate for and what it is we fight against, by what we choose not to do, and by how intentionally we seek to learn about our God. Our intimacy and resemblance to Christ is a joint work of the commission, what we do individually and together, and omission, what we abstain from doing.
The question then is this: What Action Words are active and practiced in your life and faith right now? Are there Action Words that are dormant or absent all together that you need to engage? Are there actions, decisions, or habits that are a part of your story that you need to put an end to? I'm guessing that all of us can answer "Yes" to those last two questions. That's one of the reasons why we need each other. We need friends who are also following Christ who can encourage us, inspire us, and even call us out. We need small groups that provide spaces for deep relationships. But it's not just other adults that can help us.
Kids. Teens. I've got a request for you as well. And parents, grandparents, leaders… don't get upset with me for this. Kids, teens, one of the most powerful and meaningful ways you can help us as adults strive for a deeper faith in Jesus is by asking us what our faith means to us, what we are doing to grow in our faith, and even by calling us out when we mess up. It doesn't matter if you're in elementary school, middle school, or high school…you can be used by God to help the adults in your life grow in their faith. Adults, we'll have a chance to learn how God can use us to help kids and students grow in the next two weeks. But it all starts with us taking the initiative, with us practicing and living a story of faith that is marked by and known for Action Words.
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