A Passion Revealed

Aaron is, for the most part, a pretty even-keeled individual.

He goes through life gladly sticking to his routines.

He’s not about drama or a lot of emotion. Just hard work and a consistent smile.

But one thing Aaron is passionate about is serving at our church’s Vacation Bible School.

He’s done it for the last five years or so.

Aaron thinks about VBS all year long.

Last year he got a promotion. He joined the song leading team, which mainly focuses on teaching the kids the hand motions to the VBS music.

Here’s Aaron just a few days ago as he was going out the door, dressing the part for the Maker Fun Factory VBS:

Image may contain: one or more people and people standing

But on the second day of VBS, Aaron sprained his ankle.

Badly enough that the doctor told him he had to stay home and keep off it for at least a week.

I’ve never seen Aaron more disappointed. Even though he’s 24 years old, he wept.

Not because of the pain. But because he would be missing out on his passion.

In fact, two days after the fact, he’s still in the doldrums.

Usually I can cheer Aaron up, but this time I’m coming up empty.

I knew Aaron loved doing VBS. I just didn’t know how passionate he was about it.

It makes me wonder. Do I have a passion like Aaron does? Something that would bring me to tears?

Bob Buford said this about passion:

Passion is the fuel of life. It is the great source of energy and drive. It’s what makes us explore new vistas, develop new relationships and seek solutions to perplexing problems.

In Erik Rees’ book on finding our passion and purpose in life, he asks a few questions that help us connect with our deepest passions in life:

  1. What drives you?
  2. What do you care about?
  3. What needs can you meet?
  4. What cause can you help conquer?
  5. What dream will you fulfill?

For many of us, life is just a series of days and nights where we bump along, spending our God-given energy with very little focus or passion.

Is that the best use of our life?

Or are we to pursue life with purpose and passion?

Are we to have endeavors that, when interrupted, postponed or canceled, brings us to tears?

 

Today is the Start of VBS!

At 6 pm the church gym will fill up with kids ready for a week of music, crafts, food, games and more.

What a privilege it is to have so many guests with us this week.

But I think this week is just as important for all the adults who serve as it is for the kids.

Because of VBS, we who make up the VBS team find ourselves in a situation where we get to model Jesus as well as speak of Jesus.

As I pray for the VBS staff, I pray for patience and wisdom, coupled with endurance and courage.

May we all be unified around a common goal of helping kids find Jesus.

 

God Meets Real Life: Making Good and Godly Decisions

Well, these notes are from the last gathering of the GOD MEETS REAL LIFE group. We wrapped things up this past Sunday.

The final topic we tossed on the table was the issue of trying to make better decisions. Here we go!

Life is a series of decisions.

And the Christian life brings a whole new perspective of how we make decisions.

Some things are made evident by scripture. Other decisions must be made “between the lines.”

Here are nine helpful (hopefully) tips to help steer ourselves toward better decisions.

  1. Go to the Word!

Psalm 119:105 says “Your word is a lamp unto my feet.” Meaning God’s Word provides illumination while we attempt to reach our destination.

Human advice is fallible. But God’s word is trustworthy.

Among other topics, the bible talks about relationships, parenting, marriage, finances, and vocation. Some study Bibles actually classify topics or have pre-thought out questions to help get us to the most helpful scriptures.

  1. Pray for wisdom and insight

James 1:5-7 prompts the believer to ask God for wisdom. How often do we take Him up on His offer?

To land on good decisions, we must tune ourselves into the Spirit’s prompting and direction.

Prayer is key for anyone making a decision, especially decisions that are big or complex.

  1. Check in with trusted counselors

Proverbs 24:6 says:

For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory. (ESV)

Think about this: what makes a person a useful counselor? There are plenty of people who are willing to give us advice, but what makes a person trustworthy?

  1. Be aware of what’s going on around you

Sometimes we can be way to mystical in our spirituality, but other times I wonder if we aren’t giving God room enough to work in a unique way.

Sometimes we can take note of how God is working in a certain situation.

Sometimes God initiates a sign.

Sometimes we may ask God for one.

I must say that when it comes to trying to make a decision, leaning only on finding a sign will likely limit us.

  1. Pay attention to the opening and closing of doors.

Revelation 3:7-8 describes Jesus as the one who opens and closes doors.

Too often when a door closes we try to kick it back open.

But in many cases, a closed door can lead us to a new door that is much better for us.

Navigating open and closed doors demands patience and discernment.

  1. Do your research

Luke 14:28 says:

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? (ESV)

For some people doing the research is writing out all the pros and cons.

For others it comes down to pouring over information in books or on the internet.

One person who didn’t do a lot of research was the Old Testament character Lot.

Lot decided to move his family to Sodom. From afar the area looked great. But as we all know, Lot’s decision to leave in Sodom had major consequences.

  1. Be timing sensitive

Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us “there is a time for everything.”

God has a plan, but he also has a timing.

Sometimes we rush ahead, other times we move too slow.

Psalm 32:8-9 says:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
    which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    or it will not stay near you. (ESV)

For the horse, the bit and bridle slows him down.

For the mule the bridle is used to pull him along.

God says don’t be like these beasts of burden, but rather listen to God’s good counsel to discover His perfect timing.

  1. A moving car is easier to steer than a parked one

Proverbs 16:9 offers:

The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps. (ESV)

It’s good to make plans.

They give us directions, keep us from being diverted, and help us reach our destination.

The key is to be open to God’s adjustments along the way.

  1. Once the decision is made, hang in there until you are completely convinced otherwise.

Luke 9:62 has Jesus telling us:

“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (ESV)

The Israelites in the desert began to question. They stopped looking forward and began focusing backward.

Simply put, we must learn to close the back door of your mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

God Meets Real Life: Random Thoughts on Forgiveness (Part 2)

Here are the last set of thoughts that came out of my recent GOD MEETS REAL LIFE class as we focused on the topic of forgiveness.

Thoughts 1-4 can be found in the previous post.

5. To move forward with forgiveness we have to unplug our mental DVR

What happens inside us when we replay an emotional injury? We pick at the scab of our wound. We might say that we keep it infected and filled with pain.

This is understandable if we’ve been hurt. To keep ourselves from future pain we remind ourselves of past pain.

But a healthy forgiveness path has us deciding not to reply the injury over and over again.

Henry Ward Beecher wrote:

“I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive. Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note – torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one.” 

When we try to delete a file from our computer, we are usually asked if we really want to delete it. The screen will announce something like, “Are you sure you want to delete this file?”

In forgiveness, we must commit ourselves to clicking yes to old files of hurts. Otherwise, we will never be free.

6. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse their behavior. Forgiveness prevents their behavior from destroying your heart.

Forgiving doesn’t mean approving of what someone has done.

Most of us have heard the analogy that refusing to forgive someone is like drinking poison hoping the offending person will die. Of course, we can see what’s wrong with this approach. We end up rotting on the inside.

Bottom line, forgiveness, though difficult is ultimately good for our health.

7. Forgiveness does not change your past, but it does enlarge your future.

What’s been done has been done.

But what lies ahead is still negotiable.

When I choose not to forgive, I can limit opportunities that God has planned for my future.

Also, choosing not to forgive means that my relationships aren’t in order.

8. Embrace the idea of ending your career as a prison torturer and becoming a releaser of prisoners.

That’s what God does, doesn’t he?

And he does it for people who don’t really deserve it!

Romans 5:8 tells that Christ died for our sins while we were still sinners.

 

 

 

God Meets Real Life: Random Thoughts on Forgiveness (Part 1)

Forgiveness is a tough topic. Often times God must erode our resistance and stubbornness to get us to the place of being willing to forgive.

Here are a few somewhat random thoughts about forgiveness that might serve such a purpose. Perhaps they might chip away at our own opposition to embracing forgiveness:

  1. We must base our forgiveness on what God has done for us, rather than what a person has done to us.

Ephesians 4:32 says this:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (ESV)

Jesus told the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) to drive home the point that we have been forgiven a huge debt by God. A debt we could never repay. And such forgiveness ought to make us more forgiving toward others.

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” – CS Lewis

  1. We must allow God to heal our wounds

Make no mistake, our wounds are real!

And it’s understandable why we might be hesitant to forgive a person who’s hurt us.

But if we don’t seek to find healing for our hurts, we will likely become a hurtful person.

In other words, we sometimes use our unwillingness to forgive as a means to hurt someone else.

But their is a danger if we refuse to heal from our hurts described in Hebrews 12:15:

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; (ESV)

Wounds left untended tend to get “infected,” and only make matters worse for all.

  1. We need to seek understanding and dare to feel compassion for the person who wounded us.

When someone hurts us, it’s amazing how quick we can turn them into a two-dimensional character.

We view them as either bad or good.

But human beings are complex, and our behavior us has a reason.

Here’s an expression that often helps understand a possible reason someone has emotionally wounded us: HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE

Sometimes people don’t know why they hurt people, because they aren’t aware of their own wounds.

Jesus on the cross made this insightful statement: “Father forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.”

And the same is often true when people hurt us. They really aren’t aware that they have been so painful to us.

“Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.” – Henry Ward Beecher

  1. When we forgive, we decide to pay the debt.

In Jesus parable of the unforgiving servant, the king made the decision to forgive a lifetime worth of debt, and it cost him financially.

The servant on the other hand, decided to choke the one who owed him money. He was unwilling to absorb the price of the debt.

Every time we forgive, we pick up someone else’s tab. We say, “It’s okay, I’ve got this one.”

Think about it: what types of things does forgiveness cost us?

 

God Meets Real Life: Daring to Forgive

For many, forgiveness is a huge challenge.

In my years teaching and talking about forgiveness, I’ve learned people have a myriad of reasons why the don’t feel like forgiving.

Sometimes they can’t forgive God. Or other people. Or themselves.

I’ve discovered that people usually don’t embrace forgiveness in a single sermon, but over time (by God’s grace) the Word of God and the Spirit of God are able to erode the many doubts and fears people have about forgiving.

Perhaps the most instructive (and challenging) teaching on forgiveness comes from Matthew 18:21-35.

In this passage we find a parable of Jesus, taught after Peter asked a question about how many times a person should be forgiven.

In the story, a man owed a king a ton of money. As in, so much money he could never repay the king. The impending threat for being unable to pay a debt was prison.  the man was brought before the king, and out of desperation he pleaded with the king to have patience so that he could pay back the debt.

But then at verse 27, something interesting happens:

And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

What grace! What mercy! What compassion!

Imagine what a burden was lifted of the man’s shoulders.

That’s what makes the next section of the story so shocking:

But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.

A hundred denarii was just pocket change. Yet the man who had just been forgiven didn’t care. He wanted his money and he wanted it now!

As the story ends, the king hears about the man’s unwillingness to forgive and rethinks his decision to forgive the debt. Instead he sends him off to prison.

Of course, the reaction Jesus was looking for was this: “What’s wrong with that guy! How could he just be forgiven an huge debt and then shake down a man who owed him a few bucks?!?”

But beyond our initial reaction of disgust toward the man, Jesus wants us for to employ his short story as a tool for self-evaluation.

As followers of Jesus, we have been forgiven a debt we couldn’t pay. As Romans tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.”

So, if we have received and are enjoying God’s gracious, merciful and compassionate forgiveness, how are we doing at forgiving others for offenses that pale in comparison to our offenses toward God?

Obviously, Jesus point is this: we ought to be people who are quick to forgive, because we have received much for forgiveness from God.

And here’s the question I believe Jesus wants us to ask ourselves: “Who am I choking?” Who are we demanding to pay up?

Now, unlike the king, I sincerely hope that no one here has a dungeon.

But, what many of us do is place people in what might be called the dungeon of the soul.

When we refuse to forgive, we choose to keep people locked up.

Close your eyes and think about who you might have chained up to the walls of your mental dungeon? And ask yourself: why do I keep those people chained up?

To let people go, I believe we have to deal with a series of questions:

  • Am I willing to let go of my past hurts?
  • Am I willing to release those who have hurt me?
  • Or do I want to keep them imprisoned a little longer?

Here’s the bottom line: forgiveness is meant to me a mark of the Christian. When Peter asked his question about forgiving others, he thought he was being generous.

But Jesus makes it clear that his followers will be known for their gracious mercy and compassion.

 

 

God Meets Real Life: Buried by Burdens

I’ve often heard stories of backpackers who are also practical jokers. As the stories go, throughout the course of the backpacking trip, the pranksters will gradually add rocks to the backpack of an unsuspecting victim. As a result, the backpack gets heavier and heavier, meaning the unwary hiker gets more and more tired. By the end of the trip, the hiker feels like they have the weight of the world hanging around their shoulders.

This presents a picture of how a lot people feel when it comes to life. For a variety of reasons, we can feel extra amounts of weight pressing down on our spirit. Simply put, sometimes our life is marked by seasons of heavy burdens.

Sometimes we have burdens that come from others. Sometimes our burdens come from ourselves.

One person once referred to burdens as the “luggage of life.” Essentially, burdens are problems that we can’t seem to shake or figure out.

Some of us collect excess burdens because we are professional worriers.

Some of us collect excess burdens because we take on too much responsibility

Some of us take on too many burdens because we suffer from guilt or shame

Truth be told, life will always present us with burdens. But, we have to be careful not to try and manage so much weight that we become overly discouraged or frustrated.

Thinking about the idea the burdens are the luggage of life, it’s interesting how some people choose to travel light, deciding not to check any baggage that might slow them down. What an interesting concept to apply to our spiritual life!

Other people have a tendency to overpack. Why? Because we worry that we won’t have everything we need. So we essentially just throw everything into our luggage. The only problem with this is we now must lug everything around.

Let’s take some time to think about the various types of baggage we might be accumulating:

We pick up burdensome baggage for a variety of reasons. Here are three areas to consider:

Baggage from the Past: Regrets

This might be called living life by way of the rear view mirror.

When this happens, our conversations often revolve around old hurts and mistakes.

We become the people of “if only

Baggage of the Future: Worry

Future baggage has us stressing out over that which hasn’t yet happened.

This is classic “overpacking.” As if today doesn’t have enough for us to be concerned about. we start looking to the future and worry about things to come.

In the worst cases, we worry about things that we have no control over or nor clue that they will even occur.

Whereas the burdens of the past cause us to say “if only,” the burdens of the future have us saying, “What if?”

“What if I catch a disease?”

“What if someone robs my house?”

“What if I get hurt?”

“What if I lose my job?”

On and on it goes until we work ourselves into a severe case of agoraphobia.

Finally, there’s the Baggage of the Present: Stress

This the stuff happening in our life right now.

Examples of everyday stress: marriage, kids, bills, health, work, relationships,

Make a note: the present is the only time we can manage our burdens.

But if we don’t manage the load, we can often become overloaded with stress!

In the next few posts, I’ll address some scriptures that speak to how we handle our past, present and future burdens.

But to close, just a reminder to offer some perspective:

We can learn from the past

We can look to the future

But we can only live in the present.