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Environments Matter

Environments Matter

Environments matter. They have an effect on us. Just think about a child’s learning environment for school. Is there a difference between walking into a bright, spacious classroom and being face to face with their teacher and classmates versus sitting at home and trying to learn over Zoom?

Think about the environment you work in, whether at home or in the office. For me, the less clutter surrounding me, the more creative and joyful I feel in my work. 

Think about why Napa Valley has become one of the greatest wine regions in the world. It’s not primarily because there are great people who live and work there, though there are great people. It’s not even because of the amount of wealth there. It’s also not because it’s so close to San Francisco, though we benefit from its proximity to the city we call home. 

Napa Valley has become one of the greatest wine regions in the world because of its environment. It has what is called a Mediterranean climate, which only 2% of the world has. The warm days, cool evenings, and dry summers make it the ideal environment for growing world-class grapes to produce world-class wine.

Environments matter. Knowing we’re in the middle of a series on transformation, I started reflecting on what has led to my own transformation. As I thought about the things that have made the most difference, I just started realizing how significant environments are when it comes to who you and I will become.

environment – the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates

The environments we place ourselves in are going to form the person we become. 

Before spending the rest of my time encouraging us to choose our environments wisely, I want to start with this disclaimer: We do not get to choose all of our environments. We did not choose the family environment we were born into. Not all of us get to choose our work environment or even our home environment, unless we live alone. Our children do not get to choose everything about their school environment. As citizens of San Francisco, we obviously don’t get to choose everything about our city environment. 

That being said, today I want to talk about the significant choices we do get to make when it comes to our environments. Here’s my leading question for us today:

Are your current environments helping you become the person you intend to be?

Using a few different scriptures today, I want to give you four imperatives for how you think about the environments you choose to live in.

Psalm 1:1-3 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.

Here’s the first imperative I want to give you today:

There are some environments we need to remove ourselves from.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers. Notice the progression: Walk. Stand. Sit. Passing by to pausing to just taking a seat right in the middle of this kind of environment. 

This person is blessed, in part, because they have removed themselves from an environment that is opposed to God and His ways.

What environments do you need to remove yourself from?

Think about people. Who brings out the worst in you?

Think about places. Where do you go physically or even digitally that takes you away from God and His intention for your life?

Think about situations or activities. What are you doing that causes you to get further from God, instead of drawing close to Him?

For those of us who want to become who God intends for us to be, there are some environments we should all stay away from. There are others where we will differ. There are some environments you will be okay in, but I need to stay away from. There are other environments that won’t have a negative effect on me, like they will on you. Some of these are based on our personalities, weaknesses, or our history.

We must consistently place ourselves in an environment of God’s presence.

So not only should we remove ourselves from the wrong environments; we need to also place ourselves in the right environments – beginning with the presence of God. Back to Psalm 1. This person removes themselves from the sinful environments, but they also have chosen to place themselves in an environment of God’s presence. They delight in God’s word or His voice. They meditate on it day and night. They are putting themselves in an environment of God.

This tree would not look this healthy and strong if it was planted in the dessert. It would be the same tree, but in the wrong environment. And it would miss becoming all it was intended to become. The same is true with us.

John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Scripture. Quiet. Prayer. Solitude. Worship. Abide.

Psalm 92:12-13 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God.

So remove yourself from some environments.

Plant or place yourself in the environment of God’s presence. Here’s the third imperative:

We must consistently place ourselves in an environment of God’s people.

This is why the church matters so much.

Hebrews 3:12-13 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

The transformation of us becoming more like Jesus can only happen in a heart that is turned towards God. But this happens best when we consistently are in an environment with others who can keep our hearts from turning away from God. Be in an environment where you are encouraged to keep living your life for God.

I see the positive and the negative of this all the time. When people choose isolation and stay away from Jesus-centered community, they fall into things they later regret. Yet when people choose to engage frequently in this community with others, they tend to thrive more.

While Epic is not a perfect church, let me tell you something that is true. With God’s help over these past 12 years, we have created a healthy environment where people flourish. People who fully immerse themselves in the life of this community are healthier spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and relationally.

Proverbs 13:20 Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Here’s the last thing I want to say about consistently placing ourselves in an environment of God’s people: While I’m so thankful for the digital environments we’ve created here at Epic, there’s still nothing quite like being immersed in the physical environments here. So as much as you’re able to, try to be physically present with others here.

Here’s the last point I want to make today about environments.

Create the kinds of environments that will help others to grow and flourish.

You can create life-giving environments in your relationships.

You can do this for your family.

You can do this for your group or team here at Epic.

I have sought to do this for our staff team and for our entire church.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

While this is specifically about a family, I want you to think broader than this. What is it they are being told to do? Here’s what I think. They are being told to create the kind of environment that is conducive to transformation for God’s people.

The greatest commandment is to love God with everything we have. They’re to be on your hearts. Impress them on those you have influence over. Talk about them when you’re sitting at home or in the office or over dinner. Talk about them as you walk throughout the office or throughout the city. Talk about them as the last thing before you go to bed and the first thing when you wake up. Create symbols that remind you of what matters most and what you’re wanting to make your life all about.

The environment you place yourself in most will become the environment you create for others.

Ever wonder how people became so angry and outraged on social media? It started by them spending way too many hours scrolling.

Curious how people got to the place where their mindset is so toxic? They were spending way too much time with toxic people.

Thankfully this works in the positive too. You know what makes me more generous? Being around generous people. You know what makes me love God more? Being around men and women who love God. 

What environments do you need to remove yourself from?

How will you consistently place yourself in an environment of God’s presence?

What commitment will you make to live your life in an environment of God’s people?

What life-giving environments will you create for others, so they can grow and flourish?

Faith response: I think we all have some things we need to reconsider today. Your future is tied to environments that will surround you. And the invitation for some of you today is this one: Place your faith in Jesus. The life of Jesus is the greatest environment you can place yourself in.

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