Sunday, January 27, 2019

What Is the One Thing You Need to Know to Open Yourself to Abundance?

I’m embarrassed.   I really am.   I should know this by now.   Yet I miss it.   I forget how things happen, how big things happen, how huge things happen.    Take this video I found online.    I gotta admire the guy.   He hiked a decent way to get these shots.  And still, he’s only got 980 views.   But I’m sure glad JohnTubeSeven made the effort.   So, without further ado, here is Howards Creek near beautiful Lake Itasca in Minnesota. 

Wow, that’s pretty amazing isn’t?  Does that not blow you away?   What an awesome creek!   I'm being a little sarcastic here.    But why did JohnTubeSeven hike through the woods to post a video of that creek.  It’s because from that creek comes this….

Does anyone know what that is?   Can you guess?  It’s the Mighty Mississippi, the greatest river on the continent, one of the biggest in the world.  Do you get what these videos point to?  They point to the truth that God is giving you in these words that you are about to hear.  And when you grasp that truth, it will change the way you see yourself.  It will change the way you look at the people around you.  It will change how you look at everything?   How can that be?   Here God shows the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

Do you ever get discouraged by challenges you face, by news you hear?  Heck, do you sometimes simply get discouraged by life, what’s moving forward, what’s not?   When that happens, what do you do?   You remember what God shows you here.   God will bring change.  God does bring abundance and joy out of scarcity and sadness.   But what God brings always starts small.  But it doesn’t stay that way.  It grows and it grows into something so beautiful, so powerful, so life-giving that not even death can defeat it.    

Look at this vision that God gives the prophet Ezekiel.   God tells him that a small stream, sheesh, calling it a small stream is being charitable.  You could better translate as a drip.   Imagine the most unimpressive flow of water you can think of.  That’s what this water looked like that Ezekiel saw dripping from the temple’s foundations.    But forget the water.  That’s not the craziest part of the vision.    God is giving a vision of a temple that just got destroyed.  It doesn’t even exist anymore except as a pile of rubble.

And already Ezekiel is writing this from exile.  The Babylonian army tore him and thousands of others from their home, sending them a thousand miles away to Babylon.   And now, in response to an attempted rebellion, the Babylonians have burned that home down, the city of Jerusalem, including the temple at its heart.

Yet, in the middle of this, the worst news imaginable, God gives this vision, this vision of change and abundance.  And if God envisioned all that abundance and change in the middle of the worst disaster in Israel’s history, do you get what that tells you?  God’s not really worried.  God’s not defeated.   God doesn’t simply see possibility in the mess.  God sees a future, a stunning, absolutely abundant future.  So, if you’re facing disappointment or loss, know this.  God does not intend that to be the last word in your life.  No, God is already seeing a vision that brings joy from your ashes, that brings abundance into your most barren of places.   But you can miss that, if you don’t see how God’s abundance comes.   God’s abundance always starts small.  But it doesn’t stay that way.

Think about it.  You started out small, as a little one celled embryo, but you didn’t stay that way.  Take an acorn. When you put that small seed in the ground does it stay that way?  No, it grows into a huge tree.  But that acorn doesn’t hold that one tree, it holds millions.  Think about it.  What will that oak tree produce?  More acorns.   From that one acorn you can fill an entire continent with trees. Now, that is some abundance. 

In your life, don’t discount the small things, the small steps forward.  That’s how God begins.  Too often folks get discouraged because they are looking for some dramatically big move from God.  Meanwhile, they are stepping over the acorns, the seeds of abundance that God is laying in their path.   God’s abundance always starts small.   But it doesn’t stay that way.    

This drip from the temple doesn’t stay a drip.  As Ezekiel walks down the hill about a quarter mile or so, the drip become a stream, one that reaches his ankles.  Then Ezekiel keeps walking.  The water reaches his knees.   And then, he walks further.   And now this stream has become a river, a huge river.  

But this river does something that no river has ever done.  Do you see what it is?   Does anyone know what happens to the Mighty Mississippi when it empties into the Gulf of Mexico?  How does it change?   It goes from fresh to salty.   But does that happen here?  No.  this river from the temple changes the salty to fresh.  And it doesn’t change some minor league body of salt water like the Gulf of Mexico.  This river changes the saltiest body of water in existence, one so salty hardly anything lives in it.  That’s why it’s called the Dead Sea.   But this river changes that.   In this river, even the Dead Sea becomes full of life.  

And that change points you to the deeper story of this vision.  God is not giving a vision of some specific future for some specific place in one ancient city. God is giving you a vision of how God brings the future to you, to everyone, even to this entire world.  

After all, do you know the one thing that the city of Jerusalem never had, that it still doesn’t have.  It doesn’t have a river.  It doesn’t even have a lake or any body of water.  In fact, pretty much every great world city but Jerusalem exists on or near a body of water.  Yet in this vision, God sees just that.  Why is that?  It’s because God isn’t talking about some city in Israel.  God is talking about a change, an abundance, a future that exists right now and right here for everyone, a future, an abundance God intends for the whole world. 

But here’s the problem.  Too many people stay stuck looking at the ruins of some destroyed temple.  They can’t see beyond the failure or loss.   Or maybe they see the beginnings of new life, some drips of water flowing from the ruins.  But they think, what sort of new life comes from that, something that small, that unimpressive.   They don’t realize.   That’s how all new life begins, all change comes, all abundance flows.   But you’ve got to be willing to follow the flow no matter how small or how unimpressive it looks.   

Next week, we’ll join in the Souper Bowl of Caring.  If this year stays consistent with other years, folks will raise millions and millions of dollars in one day to feed hungry people.   But do you think it started that way?

It began with a prayer from a guy named Brad Smith. He just prayed these words.   "Lord, even as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those who are without a bowl of soup to eat"   But from that small prayer came an idea.  And so, the church where he was working decided to do a fundraiser for the hungry the following year on Super Bowl Sunday.  And don’t think this was some mega-church with thousands of members.  No, where this began, Spring ValleyPresbyterian in Columbia South Carolina wasn’t a mega church then.  It’s not a mega church now.  That’s why they decided to get 21 other churches to join them.   And together those 22 churches in 1990 raised a whopping 5700.00, not even $300.00 per church, not all that impressive.  But from that small drip of a beginning, they kept following the flow.   And each year, the flow got a little stronger, the water got a little deeper.   Seven years in, they broke the one-million-dollar mark.  And now almost 30 years in, the Souper Bowl of Caring has raised close to a 150 million dollars.   But what if they had looked at that $5,700.00 and said, “Oh well.  That was nice, but it’s not really all that much.”   Nothing would have happened.  But no, they said.  “We’ve going to follow this flow and see where God takes it.” And look, where God has.

Whether it be in this church or in your life, don’t be discouraged by small beginnings.  That how God always begins.   Keep following the flow. See where God takes it.   Heck, don’t just follow the flow, get in it. Ezekiel didn’t only look at the water.  He got in it.  He got his feet wet.

And if you doubt what God can do, then you don’t really see from where this water flows.  It doesn’t simply flow from the temple.  It flows from the altar.  It flows from the place where blood flowed from animals whose death showed what it costs to make right what is wrong in this world.  But those animals only pointed to the cost that in Jesus, God himself would pay to make right, all that is wrong in you, in me, in this entire world.  And when Jesus died, it did not look impressive, an obscure man dying as a common criminal in an insignificant part of a vast empire.  But from that small beginning, from that cross, from that empty tomb, God began a flow of life that grows deeper and wider by the day.  That flow is changing the world even now, in ways more amazing than you even realize.  As awful as things are in the world, do you know the world has fewer wars now than ever before in human history?   Do you know a smaller portion of the world lives in deep poverty than ever has before in human history? 

Things are changing.  But more than that, God’s flow has the power to change you, to change me, to change this church.  And at times, that flow can seem small, but don’t ever doubt the power of what God can do, of the abundance God can bring.   So follow in the flow, get in the flow, get your feet wet.  Let God do in you, let God do in us, let God do in this world what only God can do, which is more than any of us could ever ask or dream or imagine.            

Sunday, January 20, 2019

What is the One Shift in You That Changes Everything

I have met my match.  When it comes to Seinfeld, Rob Mercurio blows me away.  Who is Rob Mercurio?   His child goes to our Learning Centers.  He sits on our oversight board there.  Well, this week that board met.  I mentioned our Souper Bowl coming up.  Rob asked.  Do you remember that Seinfeld episode with the Soup Nazi?   Sure, I replied.   In fact, I’m showing a Seinfeld clip this Sunday.  He said, which one, I’ve seen them all.  So, I tested him.  I said the Even Steven one.    He simply nodded.   Oh yeah, that one, he said. Then he quoted exactly, exactly, a scene from that very episode.   Rob Mercurio knows his Seinfeld. 

Now you may not know Seinfeld like that.  Heck, you may not even like the show or know it at all.   But this episode has a certain bizarre wisdom to it.  The only problem is it doesn’t go far enough.  Here see it for yourself.

Do you see Seinfeld’s attitude towards life?  For him, everything comes back to even.  So, he doesn’t worry.  He knows.  For him, it will all even out.   It makes for a funny show.  But is it true?  Does everything even out.  No, of course not.   In a deeper, more real way, it’s even better than that.   How can it be better than that?  In these words, God shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.    

In life you can get caught up in all sorts of worries and anxieties, stresses and insecurities.  Life captures you like that.   But does it need to be that way?  Of course not.  You can become free.  In these words, God shows you the way out, a way that leads to greater abundance, to a life lived in the overflow, a life way beyond even. How does that overflow happen?  God tells you.  It happens when you stop to trust in what you already have.

As the prophet Isaiah shares these words, his people were obsessively focusing on what they didn’t have.   The superpowers of the day had put a target on Israel’s back.  Why?  Israel occupied a strategic piece of land, and they wanted it.   So, in a desperate bit to survive, Israel made an alliance with one of the superpowers, Egypt.  

But Isaiah tells the people of Israel. Stop freaking out.  Stop rushing around trying to save yourselves from invasion.   None of all that anxious action will save you.  Only in returning and rest can you be saved.  Only quiet trust will give you what you need.  But then comes the tragic twist in the lines that follow.  Israel didn’t take this advice.   Their alliance, their swift horse just got overtaken by swifter horses.  And the very destruction they feared came their way. 

And, lots of us are making the same mistake Israel did.  We don’t live caught between superpowers   But we do live caught between all sorts of things, and it is killing us.  

A few weeks ago, an article in Buzzfeed took the internet by storm.   The writer, Anne Peterson, talked how her generation of Millennials had learned to live life as if it was all about doing things faster and better.  One author she quoted put it this way.   “Efficiency is our existential purpose, and we are a generation of finely-honed tools, crafted from embryos to be lean, mean production machines.”  In other words, really swift horses.

But what has happened to them?  The writer puts it this way. “The end result isn’t just fatigue, but enveloping burnout that follows us to home and back.”  Now people prescribe self-care. Give yourself a face mask! Go to yoga! Use your meditation app! But here’s the kicker.   All this self-care, it’s not care at all.  It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry, one that wants to get you back to doing stuff so you’ll come and buy more self-care.  Self-care like that. isn’t a solution; it’s exhausting.  But still folks do it, along with everything else.

After all, they think.  Isn’t that what being an adult means.  For them, adulthood isn’t a way you are, it’s a bunch of stuff you do.  “To adult” is to complete your to-do list — but everything goes on the list, and the list never ends.  And so people keep going, getting more burned out every day.   As the writer puts it…. “the only way for us to survive, day to day, is to normalize (it all) the events, the threats, the barrage of information, the costs, the expectations of us. Burnout, it’s not a place to visit and come back from; No, it’s our permanent residence.

That conclusion, that’s what captured the internet.  It captured it, because millennials weren’t the only ones feeling it. Almost everyone was feeling it at some level.   After all, American adults report being 39% more anxious than just a year ago.  And let me tell you last year, American were already pretty anxious and now it’s worse.  What is this anxiety if not what it feels like to live under that sort of driven doing.   This epidemic doesn’t just affect a generation.  It is affecting almost everyone.  And if you keep it, it will devastate you, me, everyone.

That’s why Israel doesn’t just need to hear these words God gives Isaiah.  Everyone needs to hear these words.  You need to hear these words.  “In returning and rest you shall be saved: in quietness and trust shall be your strength.”

But to quote that Buzzfeed writer again, “This isn’t a task to complete or a line on a to-do list, or even a New Year’s resolution. It’s a way of thinking about your life, and what joy and meaning we can derive not just from optimizing life but living it.”

So how do you live like that? You stop and trust what you already have.   Why are so many people so frenzied, so anxious, so driven?   Sure, you can talk about financial pressures; the craziness of our economy. But it goes deeper than that.  Lots of people with lots of money can’t stop either.  In the end, fear drives it.  Fear of not measuring up.   Fear of missing out.   Fear of failure.   Your fear that if you stop, everything will collapse, that you won’t survive. 

And that fear, that is what you need to turn away from.  That is the returning that God is talking about.   God is talking about returning to what is real, to this God who you can rest in, who you can trust in. 

Imagine you’re on a plane, getting ready to take off.  And you look out the window.  And you see this guy trying to move the plane.  He’s pushing at the engine.  He’s pulling at the wheels.  That’s nuts, isn’t it? After all, it’s not your job to get the plane off the ground.  It’s the plane’s job to get you off the ground.   Do you get the point?

That’s what Israel forgot, whose job it was to get them off the ground.  But when Israel forgot, when Israel turned to the swift horses, did God turn away? 

Almost right after these words you heard from Isaiah, the prophet gives this message from God.  Isaiah says,

Therefore, the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.  He goes on.

Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you….the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Then you will defile your silver-covered idols and your gold-plated images. You will scatter them like filthy rags; you will say to them, “Away with you!”

And these words of comfort go on.  Don’t you see what God is saying?  God is telling them.  This is the way of trust.  This is the way that fills you up instead of running you down.    And I’m not interested in just bringing you to even.  God says.  I’m interested in giving you more, more than you could have ever dreamed. 

But to get what God yearns to give, you’ve got to stop and trust long enough to get it.  To paraphrase a wise priest.   Think of life as a big wagon wheel with many spokes.  In the middle is the hub.  And we are running around the rim trying to reach everybody.  But God says, “Start in the hub; live in the hub.  Then you will be connected with all the spokes, and you won’t have to run so fast.  “In returning and rest you shall be saved: in quietness and trust shall be your strength.”

During the Civil Rights movement, on the nights before the big marches, everyone went to a big prayer service.  They weren’t doing it to tick it off a to do list.  They were doing it because they needed a power greater than themselves.  They needed a strength greater than any of them had.   They were doing it to get filled up, to let Jesus lift them off the ground.  And the next day, as they marched, they lived in that overflow.  They flew forward under his power.   And when they did that, they got more than even.  They got justice and change. 
Don’t you get it?  In Jesus, God has defeated death for you.  So, do you think that you face anything in your life that Jesus can’t handle?    Do you think any problem exists that overwhelms God?    Only when you rest in that, when you trust that, will you discover the abundance that God yearns to give.   And yes, you will work, you will do things.   After all, after those Civil Rights prayer services, they did something.   But you will be living out of the overflow.   You will be working out of the hub.  

But you don’t get the overflow by some technique.  Nothing you do gets you to the hub.   It’s not your job to get the plane off the ground.  So, what do you need to do?  You need to let go and let God do what only God can do in you.  And as you do, Jesus will save you from yourself.  Jesus will fill you until you overflow.  For, “In returning and rest you shall be saved: in quietness and trust shall be your strength.”  

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Why Leaving Something Behind Could Be the Best Thing You Could Ever Do

I had finished a solid work out.   It was hot tea time.  (What can I say? I like hot tea after I work out.)  So, I went to my car to grab my tea from the cupholder.  But it wasn’t there.  My hot cup had disappeared.  Then I realized. It hadn’t disappeared.  I had never put it there.  Where was my tea?  It was sitting right where I’d left it; on the kitchen counter at home.   I hate when I leave things behind.  

Still as bad as that is, it’s not the worst.  The worst is someone seeing my left behind ways.   Just this week, I waved happily to a neighbor walking his dog as I headed to a meeting.  Then three hundred yards down the road, I realized.  I had left something behind.  That meant.  I had to go back and get it.  I had to go right past that neighbor, who had moments before seen me drive away.    But I did it.  I got out.   I joked about how frustrating it is to forget something. My neighbor smiled back.  Sheesh, how embarrassing.  I yearn for a week, just a week, when each time I walk out the door, I haven’t left anything behind.   Do you know what I’m talking about?  Have you ever had your own left behind challenges?      

Still in life, leaving stuff behind isn’t always so bad.   Leaving stuff behind can be the best thing you could ever do.    In fact, leaving it behind frees you.  It frees you to move forward like nothing else can.   How does that work?  In this story, God shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.

Who doesn’t want a life with some stability?   I like days where everything goes right, where everything stays in its place.  Yet in this story where that doesn’t happen at all, God tells you something crucially important.   Sometimes in life, you need disruption. You need to burn the plow.  And if you don’t, you will miss the very life, God called you to have.
After all, that’s what Elisha does here.   The great prophet, Elijah, doesn’t say a word. But when he lays his cloak on Elisha’s shoulders, he makes it clear.  I want you.   And it’s great that Elisha goes.   But why burn the plow?   Why kill the oxen?   Those oxen couldn’t be cheap.   And couldn’t his parents or even a neighbor have used the plow?   Why did Elisha have to do that?

He did it for the same reason, a guy named Hernando Cortez sunk his ships.   Cortez had a somewhat unusual job, not exactly a commendable one.   He was a conquistador, a conqueror.  Ever since joining the Spanish in their conquering ways, he had heard about a treasure, a treasure no one had been able to touch in almost 200 years.  He decided.  He wanted that treasure.  So, he recruited one by one soldiers, sailors who were willing to take on this task, to do what no one had ever been able to do.  But once they sailed from Cuba, a lot of these soldiers and sailors got cold feet.   They got nervous.  They realized they could die.   By the time, they landed on the Yucatan peninsula, the home of the treasure, of the awesome Aztec empire that guarded it, those 600 soldiers and 100 or so sailors had some serious second thoughts.    So, what did Cortez do?   He sunk the ships.   When those ships sunk, those soldiers’ and sailors’ cold feet got a lot hotter.  With those ships gone, they had no way to go but forward.  And so forward they went.  And within two years, they conquered an empire that had not fallen for 600 years.  

For the same reason, Elisha decided.  If he was going to move into this future God had called him to, he had to leave his past behind.  And he knew of those oxen and that plow were still there, he would be tempted to go back, to take up what he’d left behind.   So, he decided he wasn’t simply going to leave that plow, he was going to burn it.

But here’s the key difference between Cortez and Elisha.   Cortez sunk the ships for himself, for money, for treasure.  And while the Aztecs had their own evil ways, Cortez’s boldness didn’t make things any better.  It probably made them worse.  

But Elisha burns his plow for something quite different.  He uses it to create a fire, so he can cook the oxen and feed the people.   He didn’t just burn his past to move into his future.  He used his past as a fuel, so to speak.  He used it as a resource to bless those around him. 

And in your life, God is telling you, you don’t just burn the plow, to burn the plow.   You need to burn it for a larger purpose.   And when you do, you don’t simply leave the plow behind either.  No, you use that plow.  You use your past as a fuel for your future, a fuel that blesses others.

Do you know the significance of the number 143?   It may not mean anything to you.  But it meant something very important to Fred Rogers, you know Mr. Rogers of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.     For most of his life, that’s what Fred Rogers’ weighed 143 pounds.  For decades he disciplined himself to never weigh a pound more or a pound less than 143.  For Mr. Rogers that number 143 stood for three simple words, I love you.  Why?  Well the one was the one letter that stood for I.  The 4 was the four letters of love.  And the three was the three letters of you.  I love you.  That’s a clever thing.   But can you imagine working so hard to keep your weight at that number that it literally never changed for decades, decades?    

Why was keeping that number so important?  It likely had to do with the fact that as a child, Mr. Rogers had a different name.  Back then he was Fat Freddy, an overweight child, and not a very healthy one either.   A lot of his childhood he spent sick in bed.   But in that bed, he developed an imagination.  And as a picked-on child, he developed empathy for kids, for their vulnerability and their pain.  And he discovered a powerful will that he used to get his weight under control.    

Fred Rogers thought he would use that empathy and willpower as a pastor in a Presbyterian church somewhere.  But during his final year of seminary, he decided to burn that plow.  He left the seminary to host a children’s show at the public TV station in Pittsburgh.   Go figure.  But that pain of his childhood, that willpower he developed to conquer his weight issues, it all became fuel for the fire.   He didn’t deny the pain of his past.  He used that pain to bless others, in his case, millions of others, children who found a friend in Mr. Rogers.        

When Fred Rogers burned that plow, when he used it as fuel for his future, he opened the very door that God had prepared him for.   But it only happened when he was willing to burn the plow.

Life has many ways to burn plows.  Sometimes, it can be a career change.  Sometimes, it can be simply facing a fear or a truth you don’t want to see, but one that holds you back, that limits you, one that you have to burn to move forward.    

Brandon Marshall played football.  In fact, he still plays football.  In his heyday, he played the position of wide receiver better than almost anyone in the world.  Because of that, the Dolphins gave him the biggest wide receiver contract in history, 50 million dollars for five years.  But Marshall had a problem.  He had a mental illness.  It limited his life in painful ways.  It threatened to destroy his marriage.  

But how could a macho football player be mentally ill, be that mentally weak, at least as he saw it?  But in the end, Brandon Marshall burned his plow.  Here is how he described what happened.  “My emotions had been controlling me, and I was trapped — not by anything external, but by things that were inside me. But I couldn’t be the one to help myself. I needed to seek help.”  So, Brandon Marshall, wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins, went to a mental hospital, and got the help he needed.   And when he left his past behind, God opened a future far bigger than football.  He began to share his story, to give people the courage to seek help, and to break the stigma around mental health.   As Marshall puts it:” … football is my platform, not my purpose. I believe my purpose is to serve as an example for people who are suffering from mental illness — to show them that it’s O.K. to seek help.”   Brandon burned his plow, and used it as fuel for his future, a future where he is blessing others and opening the door of healing for them.

I know that story well, because I heard Brandon tell it with his wife, Michi, at a church service years ago.    And as much as his story moved me, his wife’s words stuck with me more.  Michi talked about how his illness had almost destroyed their marriage.  And one of the interviewers commented.  I guess when he got help, you had to create a new chapter for your marriage.  And Michi said.  No, we created a whole new book.   In other words, she was saying.  We needed to burn the plow.

I remember those words because I was at a point where my resentment and anger were destroying my own marriage.   Her words inspired me that day to burn that plow, to leave my anger behind and write a whole new book. 

In life, everyone has a plow that needs to burn.  It could be a life change like Elisha’s.  It could be a fear or wound that holds you back, a regret that weighs you down, a resentment that binds you.  The list could go on.    Whatever it is, you know, if you’re honest, it needs to burn.  It needs to burn so you move forward into the future God has for you.  

And when you’re scared of what that might mean, remember how God burned the plow for you.  In Jesus, God left it all behind, the power, the security, even life itself.   On that cross, God burned the plow like no has or ever will.  And he did that not for his future, but for yours.  He went there to burn away the burden of your past, to free you for a future that only he could give.   And why did Jesus do that?  Well, you could say it was because of 143. 

And so, when you get scared of burning whatever your plow might be, remember that he loves you so much that he burned the ultimate plow for you.   Remember 143, how that one number defines his relationship to you.  And let that love, his love, lead you into the future that he created you to have, that he died for you to have.  And as you let him love you, he will give you the courage to burn what needs to be burned, and in his love, he will make it a fuel to bless you and others in more wondrous ways than you could ever imagine or dream.  

Sunday, January 6, 2019

What is the One Thing That Will Change your Life Most In this New Year? This Could Be It.

I really don’t recommend it.  But it has its benefits, especially when it turns out not to be true.  

As many of you know, about a month ago, I received a test result that indicated a fatal disease, no known cure, typically takes three to five years to kill you.    When news like that hits you, you see life differently then you did before.  Thankfully further tests show that I have many more years to live.  The news of my demise was much exaggerated.    

Still, contemplating that possibility did something.   It woke me up.  What do I mean?  Well, when the news hit me, do you know what really wrecked me?   That I might leave my son without a dad, that wrecked me.   I felt for my wife, members of my family, friends but it didn’t wreck me.   And it didn’t bother me so much how it would affect me.   At the time, I thought, how noble.   Look at me.  I’m not even thinking that much about myself.  Now, of course, I was thinking about myself.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been so impressed with my nobility. 

That’s when I woke up.  I woke up to the same painful truth that faced the king in this story, except my story has hope for a happier ending.    But what I faced, what he faced, everyone faces.   In fact, letting this truth live in you has the power to change everything.   It has the power to open you to greater joy, to greater life, to wake you up to what your life can be.   How does that happen?   Here, God shows the way.   Click the link below and hear what God has to say.

In this strange story, God tells you something profoundly important.  God is saying.  You cannot stop when you still have arrows in your hand.   Now how does that change everything?  Let’s look at the story. 

As the story begins, you’ve gotta know some things.  Before this story, this prophet, Elisha hasn’t shown up in history for about 50 years.  In the early days, after taking over from his mentor, Elijah, he did awesome stuff.  Elisha raised people from the dead, appointed kings, incredible things.  But then new kings arose, and he became yesterday’s news, until this story. 

Somehow King Joash hears that the old man is dying. So, he visits him.  We don’t know why.  Maybe he’s feeling sentimental, wants to honor this has-been of the past.  He does do a nice job at that.   Joash calls him father, like father of the nation.  Maybe he’s remembering how Elisha put his grandfather, Jehu on the throne.  He even remembers the words Elisha said when he saw his mentor, Elijah gets taken up into heaven.    

But how does Elijah react?  He doesn’t even say thank you.   Instead he orders the King around. He tells him. Grab a bow and some arrows.  The king might have thought at 90 years old, Elisha had retired from the prophet gig.  But he’s still going strong.  

Elisha tells him to fire an arrow out the window towards Aram or Syria, Israel’s enemy (wow, the more things change, the more they stay the same).  He even puts his hands on the king’s hand, as he gets ready to fire.  Then he lays out the word from God.  God is going to give you victory over Syria.  He even tells Joash the town where it’s going to happen.  But Elijah isn’t finished.  He tells the king to take the rest of the arrows, and start striking the ground with them.   And the king does that for a bit. Then he stops.   And Elisha gets angry.   He tells Joash.  That does it!  God would have given you complete victory if you had struck five or six times, but three, no way!   And with that the king goes, and Elisha dies. 

What is going on here?  Why is God so arbitrary?  It’s not like God told Joash how many times.   Couldn’t God have given the king a heads up?  

But here’s the key question?  Why did the king stop?   Maybe he felt ridiculous.  Maybe he thought the whole thing was stupid.   Who strikes arrows on the floor anyway?  But the point is, God had just given him momentous news, victory over his nation’s greatest enemy.   And the king kind of goes mmmh. Whatever.   Instead of banging those arrows into splinters on the ground, he goes through the motions a bit and quits.  And Elisha sees the painful truth the king doesn’t see.   Joash is perfectly fine with stopping with arrows still in his hands. 

In other words, Joash isn’t the guy who leaves it all out on the field.   He just leaves some of it out there.  And Elijah knows.  You can’t win battles that way.  More than that, if you want all that God has for you, you can’t live life that way.   God will give you the victory, but you’ve got have the staying power to stick around to get it.   And Joash doesn’t.  

That’s the painful truth that woke me up.   When I got the news of my possible demise, sure, I should want to fight for my life for my son, for others.   But I should want to fight it for me, until my last arrow was gone.  And I realized. I had more of Joash’s attitude towards life than I wanted to admit.   I was too willing to quit before the last arrow shattered on the ground.

Again and again in scripture, God uses the ones who don’t give up, who don’t quit, no matter what they face, no matter what setbacks come their way, they don’t stop. 

One of the books we got our son for Christmas tells the tale of a little girl, Rosie Revere, who wants to be an engineer.   But when she fails one time too many, she decides to give up, until her namesake, her great, great Aunt Rose tells her that same truth.  As the book poetically puts it, Life might haves its failures but this was not it, the only true failure can come if you quit. 

But that’s what Joash does, he quits.  He quits over something as simple as striking arrows on the ground.   He wanted victory, sure.  He just didn’t want it enough. 

In life, you can’t stop before you’re finished, before your last arrow.  Yet, that can be so easy to do.   Others may not even realize that’s what you’ve done.  But inside, if you’re honest, you know.  You’ve stopped striking your arrows.  The man, whose book inspired this sermon Erwin McManus has a quote that won’t leave me alone.  I put it in your bulletin.  Avoiding death is not the same as pursuing life.   Yet, you can live a life that does just that, a life that avoids failure and risk, a life so much less than what God yearns for you to have. 

At the church where I serve we could do that.  We could look at the setbacks we’ve faced, the empty places in the pews, and get scared.   We could think, let’s hold onto our arrows.  Let’s not risk them, certainly not strike them on the ground. But here’s the point, God has given that church an amazing array of arrows, a thriving Learning Center, an incredible campus, money in the bank.  But those aren’t the greatest arrows.  God has given that church people with gifts, experiences, passions to offer.   And as a church, God hasn’t called us here to avoid death.  God has called us to pursue life, to share with this community the life, the love that only God gives.   And God doesn't want us to quit, because God doesn't want to quit.

So matter what you’re facing in your life, if God has called you to it, don’t quit.  Keep striking your arrows.  It may seem futile, even foolish, but you never know what God is doing.   And you won’t know if you quit, if you give up, if you decide to avoid death rather than pursue life. And don’t think if you’re older, you get a pass.  Elijah was 90, and still doing the prophet thing.   Heck, Moses was 80 when he led the Exodus out of Egypt.  Abraham was 75 when God called him to take his first step of faith.   When God means your last arrow, God means your last arrow, not until your last breath!

At the end of Christmas, we celebrate the wise men, who journeyed to see Jesus.   We celebrate them at the end of Christmas, because that’s when they came.   It took them close to two years to get to Bethlehem.   Do you think that they had days where they thought about turning back, that the whole trip was one big mistake?  Sure.  But they didn’t stop.    Who knows?  Maybe a hundred wise men saw that star, discerned what it meant, but they quit.  These three didn’t.  And so, they saw the God that all the others missed.

You can’t ever stop pursuing life, living out the call God has given you, not until your last arrow is gone.   In fact, you and I wouldn’t be here, if Jesus hadn’t done that us.   When he went to that cross, at any moment, he could have said, enough.  He could have walked away, ended the suffering.  He could have avoided death.  But instead he pursued life for you, for me.   He didn’t quit until the last arrow was gone.   And because he did, you have life abundant and everlasting and without measure.  And if Jesus didn't quit on you then, he will never quit on you.
Know that Jesus is there with you, to walk with you, to stand with you, to even fight with you against the darkness of this world and your own life, until your last arrow shatters on the ground, and even there he won't quit on you, for God's love doesn't even quit when you die, it only opens you to the next adventure.   So in this New Year, don't avoid death, pursue life, and know that  God goes with you all the way.