Tuesday, May 31, 2011
“ The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her. “ ~ Sarai, Genesis 16:2
Most of us are familiar with God’s promise to Abram of innumerable offspring - and we know how Sarah tried to “help” the process along. In fact, I felt so familiar with this story that when I was reading it recently, I was tempted to skim through it just because I ‘knew’ the story already. But, because I felt that prideful ‘been there, read that’ moment, I purposefully slowed down to read it again. And God faithfully revealed a fresh new detail that I’d never noticed previously.
God had decided long ago that Sarai wasn’t going to have children. I feel certain she prayed for children. But somewhere in her journey, she settled with the reality that God had closed her womb and that possibility. I kind of found it curious that she hadn’t tried to build a family earlier through her maidservants – but instead it seems she had just resigned to the state of being childless. When Abram shares God’s revelation with her, she doesn’t seem to lament this change of plans – but shifts into “planning” mode following her belief in his encounter. She simply states what she’d seen all along – that if God’s plan was for Abram to have children, it wasn’t going to be through her. How did she know that? Because that’s how it had always been. The Lord had already closed her womb.
“The Lord has kept me from having children.”
Here’s what I want us to catch. Sarai’s mistake wasn’t solely a lack of faith in God’s ability to keep His word or make His plan happen. Her ‘faith mistake’ was interpreting God’s future plan for her by her past with Him.
Pretty reasonable assumption, don’t you think?
In fact, I’d go so far as to say for most of us, God is only as big as we’ve experienced Him personally at that moment. I mean, we read the stories and know in ‘theory’ that God can do a whole lot, but often we assume that power is for everyone else… for another time and place, and a story better than ours is at the moment.
Think about your own life. Is there anything that you’re eager for God’s involvement in, but you find yourself limiting the possible outcomes to only the realities you’ve experienced so far with Him? Maybe you’ve returned home from the field to a church that you feel will never change. Maybe you start down a path towards a new mission field, only to have God put on the brakes. Maybe your marriage, which seemed so full of life at the beginning, feels increasingly dead as time goes by.
The call to let God work in our lives free from the assumptions of His work in the past is a tough one. Joseph is a fascinating example. When Pharaoh’s dream needs interpreting, and Joseph is called up out of his cell, we assume he reveled in the fact that he was finally vindicated. But I wonder if Joseph was really all that excited? I’m sure being out of prison was a relief, but when Pharaoh says he will give Joseph one of the highest positions in all of Egypt, does Joseph struggle with a little flashback? I mean, in Joseph’s life, interpreting dreams and being raised to positions of power were always followed by dark valleys of injustice and loneliness. Was he tempted to just ask for freedom and walk away from the leadership?
The more life God gives us, the more tempted we are to think we’ve seen Him work as much as He’s going to work. It’s easy to be a ‘fan’ of God and still bind ourselves and our faith up to only what we’ve experienced firsthand. I encourage you to anchor yourself to the truth that God doesn’t say that He can only do what we ask or imagine. He doesn’t even say He can do a little more that we can ask or imagine. He says he can do exceedingly, abundantly more than we ask or imagine. That’s a big invitation to imagine beyond what you’ve experienced so far. Keep seeking!
-Heather Pitney Thornton
Friday, May 27, 2011
I don't know about you, but I'm a pretty reserved guy. Well, I say that, but I know how to be crazy too. But when it comes to sharing my feelings, I typically keep them in. The thinking goes, "I know I'm dealing with x, y AND z, but I know that they MUST be dealing with a, b and c [notice that all of a sudden I can read the other person's mind], so they don't need me dumping on them." So I find a place to squash x, y and z in, and try to forget it, and don't ever deal with how I'm feeling, whether it's frustration over a hurt (real or perceived), anger, sadness, etc.
So I've been forced to realize lately how much I do that, and how dangerous it can be. I work with a great guy at a great church, with wonderful staff both in and out of 'ministry.' We've got lots of financial support for our ministry, maybe even too much, and we've got parents all over who actually WANT to step in and help out, maybe even too much. Just kidding. But over the last year and a half, between some changes in his life, and some changes at home, and then just my "natural" way of handling my emotions, there's been an unhealthy build-up of bad feelings, just on my own end, that weren't getting dealt with. And that meant that there were days in the office where I'd just be angry/frustrated/sad, for no good reason, except that those feelings I thought I had packed away for good were coming out and manifesting themselves.
Like I said, I was forced to recognize this about myself and was even charged by some of my shepherds to do something about it. As I was sitting telling them how I was feeling (only because I was forced to), my eyes started creating a salty discharge -- Seinfeld reference for everyone who didn't recognize it -- and I found that those repressed feelings were making more of an impact on me than I realized. And when I talked to the other youth minister, there was such a weight that lifted. Yeah, I'm sure I'll still get frustrated, but I've committed to him that I'll always be honest about how I'm feeling.
So, you might be thinking, "I'm glad this is Donovan's getting this off his chest, but what does this have to do with me?" Well, I think we sometimes do this when we get off the field, or when we leave Lubbock, or when we're dealing with life. We think that because we've had ALL this Bible training and mission experience, and we're SO mature, then we should be able to handle our feelings better than so-and-so. Or we think that the person in front of us is dealing with all kinds of junk (and they probably are, in reality), so we shouldn't dump on them and give them more to worry about. But there's two dangers. One, for you, is that you don't get to process your true feelings, and they start to weigh you down. Two, the other person doesn't really know what you're feeling, so they can't deal with you on a real level.
So my encouragement is to share how you're feeling. Talk about your experiences on the field. It may not feel like it, but you'll find people who want to hear your story. Yeah, there will be folks who are too busy, or too consumed with their own stuff, to be able to give you all their attention right now, but don't let that stop you. And be sure to share your feelings in love. Don't get ugly about it. Remember that the way they are seeing things is going to be completely different from the way you see it, and you need to be compassionate and understanding to them just the way you want them to be to you. And don't forget that you have a whole community of 25+ years of folks who have been through similar experiences, a lot of them a click away on Facebook, who would love to share your burden.
Have you experienced the freeing & healing that comes from sharing your hidden feelings?
- Donovan Fox
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
I’ve got two crazy stories to tell. One will be brief, since you probably already know it because it’s in the Bible. The other one happened to me about a year ago.
In Acts 16 Paul implements a mission strategy to reach people that he’s already had success in: go to a religious place and talk about Jesus. In this case he goes to a group of praying women, and then Lydia and her household are baptized after Paul teaches them. Pretty cool, the strategy worked.
If it worked before, it would probably work again, right? So Paul goes to another place of prayer to try and convert some people, but a wrench gets thrown in the mission strategy. A crazy fortune-teller girl starts pestering Paul, and the text even says Paul gets pretty aggravated by it. After all, he’s trying to do God’s work and this annoying girl just won’t go away. He has a couple of options: do something about it, or continue on with his previous strategy. But, Paul decides to go for it and do something. Eventually he casts out her spirit of divination, which leads to even crazier events.
The whole town gets pretty mad, and Paul and others get thrown into prison. Again, Paul could easily just get annoyed again by another plan foiled. But, instead he sings to God, and an earthquake comes and frees all the prisoners. You know the rest. Paul converts the jailer and his entire household.
The interesting thing is that Paul set out with a plan for God, and that plan was cut short by some pretty bothersome circumstances (an annoying girl and a prison sentence). But, Paul had something special: a willing heart. He was willing to be sidetracked and allow God to do something crazy, and in the end his story of success here was probably much bigger than it would have been had he just gone to another place of prayer.
Something similar happened to me. About a year ago Alisha and I were visiting some friends in Austin (Chris and Rachel Bennett). I had been preaching most Sundays in Hart lately, so I was looking forward to one Sunday where I could just listen instead of preach.
That Saturday night Chris was joking about me being a preacher, and made some joke about if I was somehow called on to preach last minute would I do it. We talked about it for a bit, and I told him I could probably do it because I preach every Sunday, so I have a lot to pick from. But, of course, in what universe would I randomly be asked to preach at a visiting church? And why would I even want to? “That’s so prideful to think about. I don’t even want to,” I thought. “This will be nice to just listen for once.”
The next morning I sat in Chris’s Bible class, and happened to flip through some of my sermons wondering what I would preach if I happened to be asked to preach last minute. It was like I couldn't shake the thought. But I laughed out loud, put my sermons away, and inwardly chastised myself for being so ridiculous. “Pay attention,” I thought. “You’re being prideful.”
That Church happened to have a guest speaker that morning. But when Church was starting, I asked one of the elders about it, and he got frantic when he realized the man wasn’t there yet. It was like a beehive getting stirred as they ran around trying to figure out where this guy was. I thought, “There’s no way this guy won’t be here. He’s got to call or something.”
Alisha (being a good wife) told Chris to volunteer me to speak, but I was kind of frozen because it was like my thoughts were coming true. “I don’t even want to preach today, what on Earth is going on?” I thought. Eventually, right after the Lord’s Supper, one of the elders approached me and told me, “Looks like you’re up.” So I went to the back and tried to find something recent enough I remembered well, and when I found one Chris came back to pray with me. When we were done I told him I had to look over my lesson, because I had preached it a month earlier. Right then one of the elders came back and wanted to pray with me. And when he finished the prayer, they were introducing me. It’s then I prayed, “God, this is weird. I haven’t even looked over this. Looks like you’re up, too.”
I got up there, and did the best I could. I preached a sermon I had done recently called, “8 Modern Lies About Christianity” as a part of a series on Colossians. Among the lies were things like, “Being right is more important than living right,” “Christianity is primarily about what happens on Sunday,” and "Christianity is primarily a political religion." Based on people’s faces I wasn’t sure if it was going well or not. I thought maybe I was making people angry.
Well, I preached as best I could and stepped down, not sure what to think (and still dazed that I even preached to begin with). But I’m not exaggerating when I say that I think every last person in that Church came to tell me that sermon dealt with exactly where they were and that they needed it so badly. It was the strangest thing. I was in shock.
On top of that, they paid us for speaking, which happened to be around the exact amount we needed that month because of some unexpected expenses. I don’t know what happened from it all, but I do know God was in it. Here I was expecting to lay down my preacher hat for a weekend and just go somewhere, when God threw one of the coolest opportunities I’ve ever had right in my lap. I could have said no. I could have let someone else do it. But because I was willing (though inadequate, scared, and incredibly nervous) God used me to do something special.
I think that’s how God works. He doesn’t need talented people. He needs people to raise up their hands and say, “I don’t know what it will look like, but here I am for Your purposes, God. Please use me.” And, He will.
Note: The guest speaker had a flat tire and had left his cell phone at home.
-Joshua Tucker, AIM '04
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Tuesdays we have a small group gathering to share what is going on in our lives and to strengthen each other. Tonight we talked about humility. My friend Leland asked us all what our definition or understanding of humility would be.
There were a lot of good points made:
humility is seeing yourself as God sees you;
humility is having an open state of honesty about oneself; and
humility is recognizing that everything we are and have has been given to us.
Jesus is the best example of humility. And we never see him putting himself down, or thinking little of himself, which is something we can sometimes mistake for humility. Instead, we see him constantly acknowledging the Father and walking with confidence in the path that God set before him. That is true humility - dependence on the Lord, putting our focus on him instead of ourselves, on his will instead of ours.
So this is my encouragement to you, that you are able to be completely humble and not dragged down by focusing on yourself, either on how you are inadequate in yourself or how you are strong in yourself. May the Lord be your light, the power in your life and the one who makes you holy!