The Ring Master

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If you work in education, you know the name Sir Ken Robinson. His TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity has been watched almost 43 million times. At the end of that talk he tells a story about Gillian Lynee, the choreographer for Cats and Phantom of the Opera. When she was a girl in the 1930s, her school was concerned that she might have a learning disorder because she couldn’t sit still. Well, today Ken Robinson says we would probably diagnose her with ADHD, but ADHD wasn’t an available option back then, and so they went to see a specialist. The specialist listened to Gillian’s mother detail her eight-year old’s issues for about 20 minutes, and then said, “Can we talk in private?”

They walk out of the room, but he turns on the radio before they do. He says to Gillian’s mother, “Just stand and watch her.” Well, the minute they left the room Gillian got on her feet, and started moving to the music. They watched her dance for a few minutes, and that’s when the doctor said, “Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick, she’s a dancer. Take her to dance school.” That’s what Gillian’s mother did, and Gillian says, “I can’t tell you how wonderful it was. We walked in this room, it was full of people like me. People who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.”

She learned ballet, and tap, and jazz, and modern, and contemporary. After her dancing career at the Royal Ballet where she became a soloist, she started the Gillian Lynne dance company. She met Andrew Loid Webber, and she choreographed. Some of the most successful musical theater productions in history, and has made tens of millions of dollars doing it. Then Sir Ken Robinson wonders aloud at the end of this talk, if Gillian was an eight-year-old today, would we just put her on medication and tell her to calm down?

Here’s what I know this weekend, I know that there are lots of people at all eight of our campuses that feel misunderstood. Your entire life people have pointed out what’s wrong with you. You’re too much of this, or not enough of that. You’ve been misread, misheard, mislabeled, and misjudged. There’s so much that I want to say to you this weekend. I want you to know that there never has been and never will be anyone like you. That’s not a testament to you, that’s a testament to the God who created you. I want you to know that it’s never too late to be who you might have been.

I want you to know that you’re the apple of God’s eye. Here’s what I know for sure, you don’t see the world as it is. You see the world as you are. If you live off of complements, you’ll die by criticisms. At the end of the day, what really matters is how God sees you. You know what? He thinks enough of you to have sent his son to die for you, translation, you mean the cross to Christ. This weekend we continue our series, Image. Huge thanks to Pastor Joel and Pastor Josh for kicking us off. I want to let you know that next weekend Dr. Dick Foth will be in the house, so you don’t want to miss that.

This weekend, I want to share a message titled The Ring Master, and if you have a bible I want you to turn to 2 Timothy chapter one. I’m going to ask all of our campuses to stand as I read God’s word. 2 Timothy one, starting in verse two. Paul writes, “To Timothy, my dear son.” Not biological son, spiritual son. Just a question right here, do you have a spiritual father, do you have a spiritual mother? Someone who’s been there and done that who you have given permission to speak into your life? Paul is Timothy’s spiritual father, he says, “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the father in Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God whom I serve as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience. As night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.”

Not a message on prayer this weekend, but let me ask, who’s on your prayer list? What specifically are you praying for them? At the end of last year, Laura and I did our retreat, and one of the things that we do is we talk about how do we want to pray for our three children this coming year? Now, if you said, “Pastor Mark, like, um, you know, ho- how consistent, and how specific are you?” You know what, I’ll be honest, probably not as consistent and specific as I could be. I fall short on that front. Here’s what I know for sure, when you love someone, you pray for them.

I pray for my kids a lot. You know what prayer does? It turns you into a prophet in that person’s life. You tell me who you’re praying for, and I’ll tell you who you love. Paul loves Timothy, loves him enough to pray for him constantly. Verse four. “Recalling your tears along to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I’m reminded of your sincere faith which first lived in your grandmother Louis, and in your mother Unis, and I am persuaded now lives in you also. For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” It’s a verse to us, but it’s a defining moment to Timothy.

Verse seven, “For the spirit of God gave ah, the spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” You can be seated. There are so many different directions we could go this weekend, but I want to go back to grad school. That’s where I first heard about the Johari window, Johari is a combination of the first two names of the guys who came up with it. Joe and Harry. It’s a fascinating matrix, true story, on human personality. It consists of four quadrants, and we’re going to put it up on the screen so that you can see it.

The four quadrants I think are really four windows on human personality, or four dimensions of who you are. What I want to do this weekend is juxtapose that Johari window, and look through it into this verse of scripture. So, the first window is the arena quadrant. It consists of those things that you know about you, and others know about you. It’s your public persona. It’s the title on your business card, it’s your Facebook feed, it’s your Instagram account. It’s what everybody knows and everybody sees, but it really is just the tip of the iceberg, and I’m pretty sure according to the law of physics 91.7% of an iceberg is underwater.

Only 8.3% is visible, and I think that’s true of the arena quadrant. It might be the most visible part of you, but it’s really only 8.3% of who you are. That’s all the time we’re going to spend in the first quadrant this weekend, we’re going to spend a little bit more time in the other three. The second quadrant is the façade quadrant. It consists of those things you know about you, but others don’t know about you. It’s your alter ego, your [Alfonso 00:10:11] if you will. This is who you are when no one is looking, this is who you want others to think you are. It’s the curtain that hides the wizard of Oz.

This is where I want to pull back the curtain just a little bit, make three observations. First, this is where we hide. When I was in kindergarten, I had a crush on a little girl in my Sunday school class. You can aw right there if you want. Somehow my parents found out about it, must’ve been obvious enough, and they said something about it in the main sanctuary in front of other people. Totally innocent on their part, but I can still remember the feeling of beyond embarrassment, almost shame. So acute, that when we got home that day, I made a sign, and I put it on my door and it said, “I’m never coming out.”

I never did. Oh, I came out for dinner, I got hungry, I came out physically, never came out emotionally. Listen, wonderful parents, that’s on me. I think there was this part of me that if I somehow let onto the fact that I might like a girl, listen, my parents figured out, I got married, they figured it out. I think there was this fear that somehow, I would be laughed at, or made fun of, and I put up a façade. You know what? It hurt me, because those were conversations I never had. Those were feelings that I never put out there, those were questions I never asked.

Because I had to keep that façade in place. All of us hide things behind the façade. The deep disappointment that you’ve never reconciled, but it’s why you can’t fully trust God. The acute anxiety you feel every time you get into certain situations, and it paralyzes you emotionally, or relationally. Then there are the secret sins that you’ve never had the courage to confess, and the secret dreams that you’ve never had the courage to verbalize. Listen, if you live in that second quadrant, and I’m convinced a lot of people live right there.

What you end up with is shallow conversations, and superficial relationships. I’m telling you right now, that is not the abundant life that Jesus offered us. The solution, I guess Paul’s prescription, he said confess your sins one to another. But, I thought I could just confess my sin to God? You can, and he’ll forgive it, he’ll even forget it. Let me tell you why confession to another person is so powerful. First of all, it lets you get it off your chest, okay? That’s important. You know what confession does? When I confess my sin to someone else, it lets them know that they aren’t the only ones struggling with the thing that they’re trying to keep secret too.

I’m not the only one struggling with lust, with pride, or greed, or bitterness, or anger. Now we can help each other. Now we can get real with each other. Now we can challenge each other. Now we can hold each other. Now we can have a real relationship that’s grounded in Christ. The enemy wants you to keep your secret a secret. It’s an ancient isolation tactic. God wants you to get it out in the open. If you confess your sin, he is faithful and just to forgive you your sin, and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.

You know what? One of the greatest things in the world is having nothing to prove. Why? Because it was proved at the cross. You don’t have to prove yourself, Jesus did that, he proved how much you’re worth, how much he loves you. When you can rest your identity in that, changes everything. Now secondly, I think this is where we fake it to make it. This is where we put on that thin veiled smile after the fight we had on the way to church. I know someone did this weekend. I don’t have time to talk at length, but there’s a great book if you’re new to DC I might recommend it. Titled Washington, by Meg Greenfield.

Meg was a long-time Washington Post reporter. She says in her book; high school is a pre-eminently nervous place. That’s an understatement, right? She likens Washington to high school. She says high school is the time when people first contrive to have an image. It’s an attempt to fabricate a whole second persona for public consumption. Life inside the image requires continuous care, feeding, and above all, protection. That’s the worst of it, it’s like never being able to get undressed. We are most of us much of the time in disguise. We present ourselves as we think we are meant to be.

In Washington, this is greatly in excess of the ordinary hypocrisies that exist everywhere else. But, we can fight it. A. W. Tozer in his book the The Pursuit of God, calls it the burden of pretense. He says there’s hardly a man or woman who dares to be just what he or she is without doctoring up the impression. He goes on to say the rest God offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief. Some of you need so much relief. You are trying so hard. To do for yourself what only God can do for you. The blessed relief which comes, when we accept ourselves for what we are, and cease to pretend.

The façade quadrant is where we hide, it’s where we fake it to make it. I think this is where we judge, or misjudge, or prejudge others. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said if we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. In other words, everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about. Behind that façade, there is a war that is taking place in people’s souls. There’s a situation at work that you couldn’t leave at work this week. You brought it home for the weekend, and then you brought it to church.

I’m glad you did. Because you know what? This is the place where you bring those things, and you leave them at the altar. In fact, let me just have a little fun, I think we have two options. An alter ego, A-L-T-E-R, where we pretend to be who we’re not. Or an altar ego. A-L-T-A-R. Where we determine that we are who God says we are, and we leave our ego at the altar. There’s a former cabinet member used to attend this church, and many morning I would go into his office for a devotional. I remember the little sign he had on his desk. I think he said that President Hoover had it on his desk maybe.

It said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” You know why we don’t accomplish more? Because we need all the credit, right? If our name is not on the bill. Right? I mean come on, we could get a lot further if we learned to check our ego at the door. Here’s the challenge this weekend, wouldn’t it be wonderful if whatever we need to leave at the altar, if we would just leave it right there, and instead of that alter ego with an E, we just have an altar ego with an A. We put ourselves in God’s hands.

A third window is the blind spot quadrant, and this is where we’re going to have a little bit of fun. It consists of those things others know about you, but you don’t know about you. Okay? This is the parsley on your front teeth right before you walk into a meeting. This is when the barn door is left wide open right before you walk on stage. Is there someone who loves you enough to point out the parsley, to tell you to zip it up? This is where we need friends were full of grace and full truth. Grace means I’m going to love you no matter what, truth means I’m going to be honest with you no matter what.

This is where we need prophets who speak into our lives, who see the potential in us, but also who call us on the carpet, who care enough to confront the things that we see in our lives. Have you given permission to someone to speak into your life so that those blind spots can be revealed? This is where I want to go right back to our text this weekend. Let me try to type Timothy. I think for starters, Timothy is probably more of a feeler than a thinker. In fact, last time Paul saw him, it says that Timothy cried, he cried when he parted ways with Paul.

A man hug is one thing. Crying is next level. I think Timothy is a feeler, how many feelers do we have in the house, let me see those hands. I love it. How many thinkers do we have in the house? I’m tempted to have you turn each other and just tell the person next to you what you think or how you feel. Just to see. But we won’t. All right. I also think that Timothy might be an introvert. Can’t prove it, nothing wrong with it, I’ve shifted more from the extrovert to the introvert over the years to be honest with you. Paul says something interesting in his letter to the Corinthians, he says when Timothy comes don’t intimidate him.

What? Like, either this guy is emotionally fragile, or lacking in confidence. But, evidently, he is easily intimidated. I wonder if that’s why Paul says right here that God is not giving you the spirit of timidity. You see what’s happening? He sees something he begins to speak into, he’s already said fan into flame the gift of God. Now he goes one level down and says, “That’s not who you are.” The word timidity comes from the Greek word DALIA, it’s the only occurrence of this word in the new testament. It means cowardice. It’s the inability to face danger without showing fear.

Its lack of grit. It’s a failure of nerve. Josephus used the word to describe the 10 spies who went into the promised land and brought back the negative or fearful report. It’s the etymological opposite of a martyr. In other words, this is the person who instead of holding to their faith denies their faith to save their life. On that note, let me tell you how Timothy died. Spoiler alert. According to church tradition, Timothy died at 80 years of age trying to stop a pagan parade by preaching the gospel. That’s not timid. At all.

I mean, they dragged him through the streets, and stoned him to death. I can’t prove this, but I think he was done playing the coward. He was done cowering. He was finally living up to the prophetic word that Paul spoke into his life. He was determined to do exactly what his spiritual father had done to fight the good fight of faith. Paul wasn’t one to back down, and Timothy picked up where Paul left off. The final act of his life is the exact opposite of the spirit of timidity that was in his life. What if Paul had never pointed it out?

What if Paul had never confronted it, never challenged it? Listen, I don’t know, but I’m not sure that Timothy would have lived up to his full God-given potential, and neither will you, and neither will I. Unless we’ve got people that are speaking into that third quadrant. I shared a short story in Chase the Lion about a missionary named Sarah. See, when Sarah was in high school she wanted to be a missionary, but she had a huge problem with shyness. Then there is this moment of revelation where she said I realized that shyness was not my personality. My shyness was actually fear.

Onc Sarah called it what it was, the bondage of shyness was broken in her life, she faced that fear, she confessed that excuse, and she now serves as a missionary in South Africa. Here’s a question this weekend, what excuse do you need to confess? No need to just confess your sin, now next level, you need to confess your excuse. You need to confess the thing that’s actually keeping you from what it is that God has called you to do. Here’s where I want to love you enough to rebuke you just a little. Is that okay? Don’t use your personality as an excuse. When you do that, in other words, when you blame your actions and reactions on a personality trait, I’m a feeler, I’m a thinker.

I’m an introvert, I’m an extrovert, you no longer have a personality, your personality now has you. Perhaps it’s even become an idol in your life. That’s a personality crutch, and it is backwards. You know what Jeremiah said when God called him to be a prophet to the nations? He said, “Oh sovereign Lord, I can’t speak for you, I’m too young.” There it is, too much of this, or not enough of that. Jeremiah contradicted himself. How? Well, if God is sovereign, then you can’t be too young, or too old, or too inexperienced, or too uneducated, or too anything.

Why? Because he’s sovereign! Which means there’s nothing that he cannot do in you and through you, and he uses weak things to shame the strong, and he uses foolish things to shame the wise. He takes things that are not, and he uses them and turns them into something that then he gets the glory. Listen, you are not too anything. That’s why God cuts him off and says, “Do not say I’m too young.” I love it. God interrupts. If God interrupts you, you better shut up. Right? Because it’s time to listen to what God has to say.

No, no, no, you’re not too … I get that that’s what Jeremiah saw when he looked in the mirror, but he wasn’t looking right. Because he wasn’t seeing himself through God’s eyes. God says you are a prophet to the nations. What excuse do you need to confess? Abraham was too old. Moses was too criminal, David was too small, Jacob too deceitful. Peter was too, and Paul said James was too analytical, John was too emotional. You tell me your excuse, and I’ll pinpoint the place where God wants to do a redemptive work in your life, and put his grace, and his glory on display. Paul knows it.

He calls Timothy out. This year, stumbled across the enneagram. I’ve done every personality assessment in the book. Strengths Finder, Myers-Briggs, DiSC. Love it, again, don’t use it as a crutch. I think getting to know yourself is huge. The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile is one of the top three books I read last year. I actually endorse the book, don’t get any royalties, but great book. Nine personality types, but really it some of the preliminaries that to me are so good. The enneagram, the Strengths Finder is about identifying your strengths.

The Enneagram, what I love about it is that is about identifying the deadly sin you are most susceptible to. You think wow, well that sounds kind of dark. But, how also are you going to overcome it? Ian Cron says each personality’s deadly sin is like an addictive involuntary repeated behavior that we can only be free of when we recognize how often we give it the keys to drive our personality. You need to take the keys back. You need to take some responsibility. Might not be your fault, but it is your choice. There is a healthy and a holy manifestation of our personality, and there is an unhealthy, and unholy manifestation of our personality, and there is a fine line between those two things.

Sometimes you need a Paul in your life to help you navigate that fine line, and to call you out when you cross it. Fourth window. Fourth window is the unknown quadrant. We have only a few minutes, so here goes. It consists of those things you don’t know about you, and others don’t know about you. This is where you so desperately need a relationship with the God who created you, who has plans and purposes, who has prepared good works in advance. You are his workmanship. We talk about finding ourselves, well then you better seek God. Why? Because God knows you better than you know you.

To ignore God is to ignore yourself. I think all of us have undisclosed issues, unhealed hurts, unresolved relationships, unidentified lies from the enemy that we’ve bought into. We have defense mechanisms, conditioned reflexes, coping strategies we aren’t even aware of. Thomas Merton said that the goal of self-understanding is to identify the self-defeating dimensions of our personality. Please dial in right here. If you been in an intimate relationship with someone you trust, parent, a teacher, a coach, a pastor, a spouse and that person has violated your trust in some form or fashion, if it doesn’t heal correctly, it forms scar tissue.

That scar tissue can make it tougher to trust the next time. What happens is you get close to someone, but you start sabotaging with self-defeating behaviors that you might not even be aware of. Why? Because you are afraid of it happening again. That is where we need God. I can’t heal it, but he can. If you could get one glimpse of how God sees you, it would change everything. Instead of buying into the enemy’s lies, you’ve got to buy into the truth of who God says you are. You can’t just believe it, I think you have to declare it.

Have a little fun right here, little weighty this weekend, isn’t it? That’s good, God has is where he wants us. Steve Foster is the pitching coach for the Florida Marlins. I connected with him this past year, former major league pitcher. He was a no name when he was brought up to the major leagues by the Cincinnati Reds. Their first game that he was brought up for was against Montréal Expos, the team was already there. Steve had never been out of the country, and so he got on a plane, flew to Canada, and he’s going through customs, and the customs agent says, “Mr. Foster, why are you here?”

Steve said, “I’m here to play the Montréal Expos.” The customs agent isn’t totally buying it because he’s all by himself, like where’s the rest of the team? He says, “Mr. Foster, what do you have to declare?” He says, “Pardon me?” Customs agent says, “What do you have to declare?” Steve says, “I’m proud to be an American.” He was handcuffed, and led to his first major league game, and Lou Piniella was the manager. That’s awesome, right? What do you have to declare? I got something to declare this weekend. You are not the mistakes you’ve made, you are not the labels that people put on you.

You are, in fact, who God says you are. You are a child of God, you are the apple of God’s eye, you are sought after, you are more than a conqueror, you are the righteousness of Christ. You are a new creation, and you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. I’m convinced that our identity issues are a fundamental misunderstanding, or underestimating of who God is. Your guilt issues are an underestimation of God’s grace. Your control issues are a misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty. Your anger issues are a misappropriation of God’s mercy. Jealousy issues are and misuse of God’s generosity, and trust issues are an underrating of God’s goodness.

The solution to those identity issues is finding our full identity in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let me close with this. I have a friend Carlos Whittaker wrote a wonderful book, Moment Maker. Tells a story about a defining moment in his life at the beginning of the book. Happened in a preschool classroom in the basement of a church building in Decatur Georgia. Carlos says I was a shy kid, a Panamanian Mexican with an Afro parted down the side like Gary Coleman. In a land of bright blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and thick southern accents. He didn’t fit.

He knew it, and that’s how he felt. The defining moment happened on the day that parts were handed out for the 13th Annual Presbyterian Church Preschool Circus. The year before he had been a lion. His roar came out like a meow, and the crowd erupted in laughter. He was scarred with shame. Here he was again, and Mrs. Stevens started assigning parts, Mary Addison dancing bear, and Bud the Clown, Jay Clements, Muscle man. Whittaker is right at the end of the alphabet. I love this. Mrs. Stevens took off her glasses, and smiled a smile that Carlos remembers to this day, and says, “Carlos, you’re going to be this year’s ringmaster.”

Carlos says that moment, wrapped up in that one sentence actually changed everything. It changed the trajectory of my very future. She thought I could be the ringmaster. It’s why Carlos says it in the eighth grade he didn’t run for treasurer. He checked the box that said president, and won. It’s why years later he walked onto a stage in a stadium filled with 40,000 people and lead them in worship like a ringmaster. It’s why that many of the conferences that I’ve spoken at, Carlos is the master, master of ceremonies. He is a ring-master.

A preschool teacher saw something in him, didn’t just assign a role in the 13th Annual Presbyterian Church Preschool Circus, she gave him a new image, a new identity, the new way of looking at himself in the mirror. Now, I know this may not sound very exegetical, but I think this is precisely what’s happening in second Timothy chapter two verse one. Carlos was a shy Panamanian Mexican with an Afro, Timothy is a half breed. He’s half Jew. He’s half Greek. Doesn’t fit over here, doesn’t really fit over there.

Now, I don’t think he had the Afro. Not sure he was the lion in the preschool play, and not sure the roar came out like a meow, but some point, he crawled into his shell, and I’m not sure he would ever come out without an apostle Paul to speak into his life. God is not giving you a spirit of timidity. The rest is history. With a hyphen, of course. God writes his story through Timothy’s life. Timothy becomes, what? The ringmaster in Ephesus. He’s the Bishop. He brings the gospel to that entire city.

One day, tries stopping a parade in the process. God wants to write his story through you. You have to give him complete editorial control. I want you to know he’s the author and perfecter of our faith. You give him editorial control, he’s going to write something through your life that you cannot even imagine. It starts with getting a glimpse of how God sees us, and then surrendering our life to his Lordship, and I want to invite you to do that this weekend.

Let’s pray.

Father, I pray that not a person walk out this weekend without laying at the altar, the part of them, the piece of them that they need to.

They know what it is, and you know. You’re going to meet them right there. Lord, for those who have never made the decision to surrender their life to your Lordship, I pray that they would have the courage to do it right here, right now. In Jesus name, Amen.