January 23, 2011

The Journey Begins (Really)

So tomorrow, Lord willing, Lisa and I will begin a journey (again) that will probably be at the same time one of the most joyful and challenging we have ever faced.One of the things that’s supposed to happen when couples near the end of the journey of pregnancy is that they are to have a bag packed and ready to go should the woman go into labor unexpectedly.You can read in books or find online lists of all the things that should be placed in that bag.If you don’t have the bag packed, fate conspires against you, the wife goes into labor suddenly, and you’re forced to rush off to the hospital in your underwear without a change of clothes.So the bag’s pretty important.But, the bag doesn’t make the baby come any sooner.I think our bag has been packed for two or three weeks now and Josiah has been content to wait us out.The hospital bag may be an important part of preparing for the journey, but just because it’s packed doesn’t mean the journey has begun.Being packed for a journey is meaningless until you get on the road.Once you’re packed, you have to start moving.

Thinking about all of this, we have been talking for the last three weeks about how to make sure we are packed for the journey of becoming the me we want to be. We have been undertaking this preparatory process with the aid of John Ortberg’s book, The Me I Want to Be.Once again, this is a great, great book and I would highly recommend everyone here picking it up to read devotionally (you know, during those disposable seconds you are spending with God…).Seriously, though, it is a worthwhile tool and he goes way more into all of this stuff than we are in this format.Well as we have sorted through the things in our lives we need to make sure to take with us on this journey, a few have stood out.Three weeks ago we dealt with the fact that in order to have any hope of success on our journey we first need a map.We need to know the right roads to take and the kind of transportation with which God has equipped us for our travels.Dropping the metaphors, we need to get into the flow of the Spirit around us in order to move anywhere, and we have to know the ways God has specifically shaped us for this journey.More to the point, someone who is a visual learner is going to have to take a very different path than someone who is an auditory learner.Moving on from there, we spent the next couple of weeks talking about more specific things we need to include in our travel case.We need to make sure and bring a renewed mind so that our engine is sound.We need to redeem our time so that our roads are clear.And, we need to deepen our relationships so that we have the support we need along the way.Making sure we have all of these things packed in our bag is an important part of the journeying process and achieving each one is a journey in and of itself.Yet as with the purple bag sitting in our living room ready to toss in the car as we leave the house at oh-dark-thirty tomorrow morning, being packed by itself won’t get us there.Once we’re packed, we have to start moving.This morning then, I want to do two things for you.First, I want to offer you one more tool to be sure to include in your pack.Once that is done, I want to wrap everything up for you and encourage you to get moving.Then we will close the service out by celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

As I just reminded you, one of the things we already have in our bag is that we must be in the flow of the Spirit in order for us to have any fuel in our tank for the journey of becoming the me we want to be.Well, if the Spirit is flowing through us then we will necessarily be filled with the Spirit.Now, the whole idea of being filled with the Spirit of God is a very much spiritual sounding thing to us.I mean, we understand that all believers are supposed to be filled with the Spirit, but if we’re honest, we reserve the designation of “Spirit-filled” for a select few we deem most holy.It’s a state saved in our minds for priests, apostles, pastors, and a few saintly seniors who’ve been journeying long enough to have gotten it.And yet, do you know who the first person in the Bible to be described as filled with the Spirit of God was?It was a man named Bezalel.Do any of my Bible scholars remember who Bezalel was and what he did?He was a craftsman.He was the person God told Moses to put in charge of designing all the different accoutrements of the Tabernacle.In Exodus 31—you can find that with me if you have your Bibles handy—after He had finished giving Moses the law and describing all the different aspects of the Tabernacle in great detail one of the last things God told Moses before sending Him back down the mountain to deal with the people who were already rebelling is found in Exodus 31:1-5.“The Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.”

We talked last week about how we use the 86,400 seconds we have each day.As we have talked through the various areas of preparation for the journey of becoming the me we want to be we have covered most of the categories to which we dedicate our seconds save one: work.People look at work in a lot of different ways.For some, work is simply a job to earn a paycheck to create funds to do the things we’d rather be doing.For others, work is the time and energy drainer that keeps them from being able to spend the kind and amount of time they want to with their families.Still for other saintly souls, the workplace is primarily a mission field.They go to work every day praying for God to send some poor, lost soul across their path in order to share the Gospel with them.Which of these is the best understanding of our work?Well, Biblically speaking, none of them are commended to us.Indeed, the first person described in the Bible as being filled with the Spirit is a person about whom all we know is the work he was called to do.We don’t know if he ever shared the Law with another person.We don’t know what his family was like and how much time he spent with them.We don’t know the things he thought about or the friends who helped keep him on the right track following God.We don’t even know how faithful a man he was.He may have been in the crowd worshiping the golden calf as described in the next chapter.All that we know about him is that God called, equipped, and filled him with His Spirit to work.

My friends, the last thing we need to make sure we have packed before our real journey begins is letting God flow in our work.What if instead of any of the three approaches I just mentioned, we looked at our places of work as opportunities to bring God the highest glory of which we are capable by using the gifts He has given us to their fullest potential and being the very best at what we do?Yes, we should be witnesses, but if we are loudmouthed missionaries and incompetent workers, what kind of a message is that sending?I’ll tell you.It sends the message that God doesn’t care about the kind of work we do or the jobs we have.The reality, though, is that He cares deeply about those things.And if we are in the flow of the Spirit with renewed minds and deep relationships, part of redeeming our time means making sure we use the portion of our 86,400 seconds that primarily go towards our workday to their fullest potential, just like we do when we are not at work.

Often we think that work is a primarily secular environment in which we pursue the secular mandate of earning a living so that we can participate commercially in the secular venture of buying and selling.It would be much better if we could work in more sacred areas like church work or parachurch ministry or some other charitable non-profit.This idea is garbage.Think for a minute about some of the professions of Biblical heroes.How many of them had modern-culturally defined “sacred” jobs?Almost none.Abraham and Isaac were real estate developers.Jacob was a rancher.Joseph and Esther and Daniel all worked in government.David was in animal husbandry, military, and statecraft.Paul was a tent-maker.Lydia was a successful businesswoman in the clothing and dye industry.These were the professions, the vocations (which comes from the Latin word for calling), to which God had called each of them and each of them served Him well in these areas.And just like each one of these faithful individuals, we can serve God well by working hard in the areas to which He has called us.Part of the me He has created us to be is wrapped up in the vocation He has in mind for us.The work you do is part of who God has created you to be—the me we you want be.

God can flow in the work we do just like He can flow in the time we are pursuing more “sacred” ends.Remember something here: there is no such thing as something being sacred or secular as far as God is concerned.There is only honoring or dishonoring of God.And the work someone in, say, my profession does is no more or less honoring of God than the person who works at running wires for the telephone company or the person who builds houses and develops land or the person who delivers food all over the city or the person who works in a local hospital or medical office.Ortberg hits the nail on the head here: “All skill is God-given, and we are invited to live in conscious interaction with the Spirit as we work, so that he can develop the skills he gives us.” (222) And when we open ourselves to the flow of the Spirit in order that God might flow through our work, then like Bezalel, we enter the realm in which our work has the potential to be of lasting, kingdom value.When people think about worship in ancient Israel, most minds go immediately to the Temple.Once the Temple was built by Solomon the Tabernacle went away and was not really mentioned again in Israelite history.So one might say that his work didn’t last. And perhaps it didn’t.Yet here we are some 3,000 years later talking about it.This is not because his work was particularly grand—while we assume it was beautiful no one knows exactly what it looked like.This is because he let God flow in his work and did it to the best of his ability.If we are going to become the me we want to be, we must do the same thing.

Well, at last we are all packed and ready for our journey.Yet there is one important detail missing here.Movement!Again, all of our packing is a waste of time if we never set out on our journey.Once we are packed, we have to start moving.Who in here has seen the movie “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York”?If you haven’t seen that one, but have seen the first, you’ve seen the second, but set in New York instead of a suburban Chicago neighborhood.In Home Alone 2, the character equivalent to the scary shovel guy in the first movie is a homeless woman who feeds and befriends pigeons in Central Park.Near the end of the movie the main character, Kevin, has become her friend and discovered that she is a pretty remarkable woman.Upon asking her why she remains in her sad situation when she has the means to get out of it, she responds that she’s afraid to get started and of failing out of the gate.Kevin tells her a story about a friend of his who got a new pair of rollerblades from his parents.He was really excited but didn’t want to mess them up so he never wore them.By the time he finally decided that he was going to try and wear them his feet had grown and the blades were too small.He was packed and ready to go, but he never left and by the time he garnered up the courage to step out it was too late.You see, we can be equipped with all of these different tools—deep self-understanding, a renewed mind, fully redeemed time, soul-deep friendships, and God-honoring work—and still not go anywhere.We can have all these tools and yet never put them to work.We can be among those who have great knowledge of the things of God and yet also be among those to whom Jesus will say in the end, “Away from Me, I never knew you.”We can have all the strategies in place to live the life we were created to live and yet never actually live it.Regardless of how ready we might feel, until we start the journey, it’s all for naught.Once we are packed, we have to start moving.

This past Christmas we were blessed to have my parents come out and stay the week with us as most of you know.What you may not know is that their journey here was a bit more eventful than it usually is.They have taken to driving out here when they come because of the ease and freedom of not being chained to a flight schedule.Well, this trip as they were nearing the end of the first leg of the journey just outside of Charleston, WV, about ten minutes out from their hotel the tire pressure light lit up on the dashboard.They decided to press their luck (it was about ten degrees and snowing lightly) and push on to the hotel which happened to be the only one with covered parking in the area.They pulled in, hopped out of the car, and listened as the tire hissed flat in about two minutes.You see, one of the reasons some of us hesitate or are simply fearful to start moving is because we know things like this are potentially ahead of us.Who in here as experienced a journey in which something went wrong?The simple reality is that if we get on the road and take up a journey we put ourselves in a place rife with potential for things going wrong.We might take wrong turns and get lost.We might run into some personal trouble like a flat tire.We might have our journeys upended by someone else like John Peters’ journey home was a couple of weeks ago.All these are perfectly sane reasons for staying home.Why would anyone willingly put themselves in a place of such risk?I’ll tell you why: because if we don’t take up the journey we’ll never get anywhere.Once we are packed, we have to start moving.

When I was little I loved going swimming, but I was always a little afraid of the water. Before I really gained confidence in my swimming ability I wore floaties religiously and stayed away from the deep end.One day I was staying at a friend’s house and his mom took us to the neighborhood pool to swim.For some reason, I decided that I wanted to jump off the diving board.The other kids were doing it and they looked like they were having a blast.So I blew up my floaties, slipped them on over my skinny arms, and headed for the board.But when I got there, the reality of my nearly final decision began to weigh on me.What if I hit something on the way down and drowned?What if I did a really dumb jump and looked bad?What if sharks suddenly materialized in the pool and ate me when I hit the water?Anything could happen and most of what my mind was picturing wasn’t good.All of these thoughts were swirling around my head as I was standing on the end of the diving board staring rather nervously in the water.My friend’s mom was mortified that she was now responsible for the nervous kid on the board.My friend was already coming up with justifications of why I couldn’t come over anymore.The lifeguard was sitting on the edge of her seat hoping she wasn’t going to have to jump in a save my life.To be fully packed and not moving looks ridiculous and makes us a burden on those around us.Once we are packed, we have to start moving.

My friends, what comes next for us is what had to come next for me. We must face the challenge of the first step and jump all the way in with both feet. There is no upper age limit on the need to do this, nor is there a lower. Mary, the mother of Jesus, took on the greatest challenge of her life when she was a teenager. Abraham and Sarah were in their 90s when they started their family. Another Bible hero, Caleb, did it when he was eighty-five. You see, once the Tabernacle was completed under the skillful guidance of Bezalel, the people of Israel’s journey to the Promised Land went pretty smoothly. Two years after they left Egypt they were perched on the border of the land, ready to move in and take up residence. Before taking the plunge, though, they sent in twelve spies to check things out. When this group returned, all but two gave glaringly negative reports. The two exceptions were Joshua, who would lead the people after Moses’ death, and Caleb. These two men were the only ones from that generation still alive when Joshua led the people in conquering the Promised Land forty years later. Specifically, when it finally came time for Caleb to choose the land he and his family would inherit he was eighty-five. He had lived a long time and was one of the few faithful, bright spots among the people. If anyone could claim they had arrived and sit back to rest it was Caleb. He could have asked for a lush, fertile plain, free from the likelihood of enemy presence. And yet he knew his journey was not done. There was still one more to take. Listen to his words to Joshua in Joshua 14.

“Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal.And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, ‘You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me.I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart.But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God.And Moses swore on the day, saying, “Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.”And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness.And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old.I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming.So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on the day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities.It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.’”

Caleb was eighty-five and he was asking to be given this land that was not only hilly and thus hard to farm and settle, not only unconquered by the Israelite armies, but populated by the Anakim who were fearsome the ancestors of the giant Goliath (interestingly, David was from the same region and family as Caleb). And yet he knew that this was a challenge that would bring out the best in him. It was suited to his strengths. It was not limited to extent of his meager ability to handle it but put him squarely in the realm of what God had to do. Incidentally, the idea that God won’t give us challenges that are beyond our ability to cope is ludicrous and ignores reality. He does it all the time. He will never give us challenges that are beyond Hisability to cope.We need to ask God for the kinds of challenges and opportunities that will absolutely maximize the gifts and talents and strengths and abilities and passions He has given us to His glory.We need to seek out experiences that will let us pull out and use every single one of the tools in our pack so that we are constantly being shaped by the Spirit into the me we want to be.

Now that we are loaded and ready to go, we have to get on the road.Once we are packed, we have to starting moving.As Ortberg aptly summarizes: “…don’t ask for comfort.Don’t ask for ease.Don’t ask for manageability.Ask to be given a burden for a challenge bigger than yourself—one that can make a difference in the world, one that will require the best you have to give it, and then leave some space for God besides.Ask for a task that will keep you learning and growing and uncomfortable and hungry.” (247)By the way, after my parent’s tire went flat, they put their tools to work.In the morning they called AAA.The nearest tow man was across the street changing another tire and got to their car nearly before they could get down to it from their room.The man changed their tire and sent them to the repair shop four miles up the road where they got two new tires and on the road again with only a two-hour delay.Maybe that wasn’t an earthshaking burden, but it was a potential snag handled with grace.They were packed and weren’t held up by the hang-up.Indeed, once we are packed, we have to get moving.

My friends, I want to close our time together this morning by celebrating the Lord’s Supper. It was at this moment in history when Jesus started moving in a way that has borne the fruit on which we dine now. In this meal He committed Himself to the path of a broken body and spilled blood which would win us life on the cross. In remembering this incredible act of faith and courage this morning, we commit ourselves to the same Spirit. As we prepare to eat and drink this morning, take a few moments and reflect on the ways God has and is developing the five tools for becoming the me you want to be in your life. If you are willing, ask Him for the opportunity to get moving, to put all your tools to work in becoming who he created you to be from the beginning. Ask Him for the chance to get moving. Then, as the deacons serve you in a few moments, eat and drink when your hearts are prepared, remembering the sacrifice for our Lord on our behalf, and committing yourselves to follow in His footsteps of action. Do not, my friends, be content with whatever plateau you may have reached in your journeys to become the me you want to be. Yearn and stretch and reach forward each successive day, exploring the spacious boundaries of God’s design for you to their fullest extent to His kingdom glory and your kingdom joy. Once you are packed, you have to get moving. Deacons come forward as I pray.