My Story - Week 1: "I Decided to Start"

It's a brand new year!  Time for a fresh start, new beginnings.  This year we'll get it together.  This year we're going to get into shape, eat better, work smarter, be more organized, do more meaningful things.  

This year we're going to go to church more, be more generous, go deeper into our faith, volunteer more time, do more to make the world a better place and maybe even share with someone else what God is doing in our lives.  

This year is going to be the year that we take the tiger by the tail and finally tame it.  This year we're going to finally listen to Dave Ramsey and start getting out of debt.  

This year we're going to start that yoga class, spin class, zumba class, P-90X, Crossfit, crosstrain, cross your fingers you don't die doing that class, class.  This will be the year that we can say that we are better off than we were the year before.  

This year, my brothers and sisters... This year the Cubs just might win the World Series.  

And this year is the year that many of us will make the decision to write a brand new story... 

Everyone has a story to tell.  I've learned over the years that most of us never really tell our story to the fullest, though.  We sell ourselves short, thinking that our story isn't that remarkable, or meaningful, which couldn't be further from the truth.  

There's something about this time of year that reminds us of our own story, and how it's grown and changed over time.  The onset of a new year gives us hope that we can start writing a new chapter to the ongoing story of our lives.  If we embrace this moment, it gives us the chance to look back and see where we've been without longing to return, or staying where we are.  

The story of my life has been one of incredible twists and turns, drama, suspense and more than my share of narrow misses.  When I look back on the story of my life, I can clearly see the hand of God on the pen, so to speak.  I can also see how the decisions that we make can have an enormous impact not only ourselves, but everyone around us. 

When I was fourteen years old my parents almost made the biggest mistake of their lives.  My dad had been searching for a teaching position in private Christians schools, but was having no luck at all in my home state of Colorado, where we lived at the time.  

He was offered a job by one of his best friends, who happened to be headmaster of a school in Altamonte Springs.  My parents went to Florida, visited the school and my dad accepted the position.  They even got an apartment near the school where we were going to live until we bought a house. 

Right about the same time, my dad got a phone call from the pastor of the church we were attending.  His friend in Winter Garden Florida was the pastor of a church with a school and they were searching for a teacher.  He recommended my dad, and they wanted to talk to him.  To make a long story short, my dad visited the school, and then decided to take that position instead.  

It made no sense.  He visited by himself without the benefit of my mother's wisdom (typically a big mistake for most men), he turned down a job working for a dear friend, he knew nothing about the church or the school... and yet he accepted it.  

Roughly four months later, I found myself standing on Walker Field in Winter Garden, dressed in my football pads and waiting for a football jamboree to begin.  A beautiful cheerleader walked up to me and stuck out her hand for me to shake it.  "Hi," she said to me, "I'm Merideth."  

When my dad made the decision to take one position over another he had no idea what would happen.  He had no idea that the girl I met that day, on a field I never should have been on at all would one day become my wife of now twenty five years and mother to my three boys.  And he had no idea that one day his grandson would be stepping on to that same football field to play for his high school team while his parents cheered him from the sidelines. 

I share that one chapter from the story of my life because I know that you have stories like that, too.  We all know deep down inside that our decisions are important--sometimes the difference between truly living as opposed to just existing. 

Throughout this sermon series we are going to come back again and again to this one main idea:  THE DECISIONS YOU MAKE TODAY DETERMINE THE STORIES YOU TELL TOMORROW.  

Over the course of the next few weeks we are going to dig deeper into this truth--that the decisions you make today determine the stories you tell tomorrow.  We're going to learn what can happen when we decide to start, to stop, to stay and to go.  

Today we are going to begin our series by asking a simple question:  What do we need to do to START?  What do we need to do to start life-altering disciplines and habits.  Because sometimes all it takes is small disciplines to lead to big life changes.  There is a word for the kinds of habits that lay the foundation for great things in your life:  keystone.  

Keystone habits are the kinds of habits that enable you to build something that will last.  Without good keystone habits, we tend to falter in our building process, and sometimes even abandon it altogether.  For example, I am working to develop the keystone habit of reading before I go to bed, rather than watching TV.  

If I read before I go to bed, after about an hour or so I feel my eyelids droop and I drift off to sleep at a decent hour.  Because I got a good night's rest, I can get up in the morning at 5 AM.  Because I got up early, I can do my personal devotions, get some work done and have my head straight before I drive off for work.  Because my head is straight when I drive off for work, I gather all of my belongings and I tend to drive more carefully and arrive to work safely and ready to do some straight up pastoring. 

On the other hand, if I watch TV before I go to bed, I stay up too late.  If I stay up too late, I can't wake up at 5 AM and don't have enough time to devote and get work done, which result in me not having my head straight before I walk out the door. Because my head isn't straight when I walk out the door, I forget my phone and wallet and drive off to work, I drive more carelessly and run into a ditch on the side of the road. Because I have no phone or wallet, I am forced to seek help from a farmhouse not far from the ditch--a farmhouse occupied by homicidal rednecks wearing ski masks and waving chainsaws.  By the time I do arrive at work, dirty, disheveled with my clothes all torn from near misses with a chain saw, I am totally not ready to do any pastoring at all. 

Keystone habits are important. Small disciplines can lay the foundation for great things.  I was being silly, but sometimes our keystone habits can truly be the difference between success or failure, life and death.  

Many of you may remember the Biblical character Daniel from the Old Testament.  You know, Daniel and the Lion's Den?  That guy.  Well, Daniel had some keystone habits in his life that enabled him to stay faithful and unwavering even when everything around him was falling apart.  

In Daniel chapter 6:4-5 and verse 10 we hear the story of how Daniel stuck to his keystone habits even when he was being threatened not to do so.  The book of Daniel was written and popularized during a time of great persecution in Jewish history around 167 BC.  

During this time, the Syro-Grecian king Anitochus Epiphanes made it illegal to practice the Jewish faith, desecrated the temple and put to death anyone who defied him.  The ancient stories of Daniel became quite popular among the Hebrew people during this time of persecution as they struggled to maintain their identity and keep the keystone practices of their faith.  

Daniel was a captive in ancient Babylon some four hundred years before the time of Anitiochus and the persecution of the Jews.  Daniel was one of the many young people who were exiled in the first wave of Jewish exiles to Babylon.  The Babylonians believed the best way to strengthen their empire was to take the best and brightest people from the nations they defeated and then turn them into Babylonians.  

Daniel managed to maintain his faith, his Jewishness, and his keystone habits.  Because of this, he was honored, succeeded, and managed to find himself put in charge of a bunch of wise men who weren't too happy to be taking orders from an exile.  We pick up the story as this unhappy crew sought to take him down. 
At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. 5 Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”
What these guys come up with is a law that states you couldn't pray to anyone else except the Babylonian king for 30 days--a solid month of dong nothing but worshipping the king.  Of course, the guy signed that law.  He was full of himself anyway, and this sounded awesome. 

So what did Daniel do?  Did he abandon his identity? His keystone habits?  No! We read in verse 10:  
Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
Daniel's keystone habit was prayer.  It had always been there.  It was the keystone habit that had led him through incredible hardship and he wasn't about to stop.  He was unwavering even in the face of trials, because he knew that to do otherwise would simply be a betrayal of himself, and the God he served.  

And because of his unwavering adherence to this keystone habit of prayer Daniel was delivered from his enemies in an incredible way.  Remember when I referenced the story of Daniel in the lion's den?  Well, this is that story.  Daniel's decision determined the story that he told, and in turn determined the greater story that has been told about Daniel ever since. 

What story do you think God wants you to tell?  A year from now?  Ten years from now?  The decisions you make today determine the story you tell tomorrow.  

What will your story be?  

We achieved financial freedom, even though we once were hopelessly in debt. 
I finally discovered the right priorities in life, even though I used to be obsessed with appearances. 
We have a strong marriage that can withstand anything, because we know what it's like to almost lose it all. 
I am in better shape than I have been in years, despite the fact that I used to weigh more than I should.  

It all starts with keystone habits.  So what do you need to start?

Are you out of shape?  Start moving--figure it out.  Join a gym with all the money you used to spend on ordering pizza, and then actually go work out, or hire a trainer to make you work out. 

Are you a workaholic?  Start some balance--take the big things in your life like your marriage, your kids, your friends--and put them first on the list.  Then let everything else fall into place around them.  You definitely need to work--and work hard at the work you've been given, but don't work so much that you lose yourself in it. 

Don't know the Bible all that well?  Start going to a Bible study--or a small group.  If you are shy and don't want to study with others, then start one on your own.  Ask your pastor for recommendations on how to do that.  I bet he'd be happy to help you out!  

Having Relationship problems?  Start counseling.  There's not shame in finding help when you need someone outside of the issue to talk to about the issue.  Couples having problems--go together.  Make it a priority to work as hard on your marriage as you do on everything else in your life.  Start a date night.  Hire babysitters and then go out.  Romance each other once in a while.  

Make this your "start" mantra:  I will do today what I can do to enable me to do tomorrow what I can't do today. Say that with me.  I will do today wnat I can do to enable me to do tomorrow what I can't do today.  

It's time to start.  Start with a keystone habit.  The kind of thing that will help you build a foundation.  

Because the decisions you make today determine the story you tell tomorrow.   


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