This message was shared with the good people at University Christian Church in Muncie, Indiana. Steve, the Senior Minister at University, has been a good friend of mine since our family moved to Muncie four years ago. I was glad to be able to help him out while he was serving in Mexico on a missions trip.
You can listen to the message by clicking here. If you’d rather read it, the manuscript is available after the jump.
(Brief introduction): Although we’re both native Hoosiers, Christy and I met in undergrad at Milligan College in upper East Tennessee. In August, 1998, I married my best friend, and we’ve been on an amazing journey ever since! We have three children: Aiden (August, 2000), Alyson (April, 2002), and Mihret (October, 2007, adopted from Ethiopia in September, 2009). Our three children cannot be any more different! Aiden is the outgoing boy who loves Star Wars and wii, but can play almost any sport with ease. Alyson is our creative one, who can draw pictures that are already far beyond my own artistic ability. She also loves horses, and is planning on buying one instead of a car when she turns 16 (we’ll have to see about that one). Mihret is the most determined, happy, goofy little girl I’ve ever met. Because of her medical needs and developmental delays, it can be easy to look at her and “write her off.” Time and time again, however, she has proven therapists and medical experts wrong in their assessment. Through all three of our children, God has illustrated the power of His unending love and what it means to be adopted into His family.
We are in a time of transition right now. In fact, we’re in the middle of a big move. Christy starts a new job in Greenwood, Indiana, tomorrow morning and we’re relocating down there at the end of this week. So the last few weeks have been pretty hectic, trying to pack up the house while keeping life as stable and relatively normal as possible for the three kids. It’s definitely been an adventure. And along the way, I’ve discovered something and I’d like to share it with you this morning.
If you have your Bible with you – and I hope you do – please turn with me to the 11th chapter of the book of Genesis. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. Genesis 11 is found on page (???) in those pew Bibles. We’ll also have the Scripture up on the screen for you to follow along if that’s easier for you.
Our journey this morning begins with a man named Terah. Now, Terah was a man from the city of Ur, which was a large and wealthy city in what in what is now modern-day Iraq. Ur was a city of great influence in the region. It might have even been the largest city in the world at that time. It was dominated by a giant ziggurat – or step pyramid – that was dedicated to the moon god, Nannar, which was the center of life in the city. The ziggurat was surrounded by a market, a school, and a library. Ur was a bustling metropolis, the New York City or Los Angeles of its day. Living there meant security. Living there meant wealth. Living there meant influence. If you were going to be a successful man of the world, Ur was where you wanted to be. And Terah and his family, including his three sons, were there in the middle of it all.#
But then something changed. Here’s the account of what happened, beginning in Genesis 11:27.
Read Genesis 11:27-31a.
There’s a little bit more to this story that isn’t included here. If you can, keep your place here in Genesis 11 and turn with me to Acts 7 (it’s found on page ??? in those pew Bibles). Here, Stephen, who was speaking under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, shares a little bit more about the circumstances surrounding the move of Terah and his family from Ur.
It was because of his son’s invitation to follow God’s guidance.
Read Acts 7:2-4a (stop at ‘Chaldeans’).
When Abraham was called to go, Terah joined him on the journey of faith. And as it says here in verse 31 of Genesis 11, their goal was the land of Canaan – the Promised Land.
But something happened along the way.
Read Genesis 11:31b-32
Terah set out on the journey with Abram. We can assume that he was just as dedicated to following God’s direction, wherever He led them. After all, it took significant dedication and faithfulness to pick up and leave the center of civilization to go to a place where…well…he had no idea where. He just knew he was going somewhere “over there.”
But something happened along the way. Something kept him from going any further. While we don’t know what it was, we can conclude that it was something so life-altering that it even forced Abram, Sarai, and Lot to stay with him. Do you see that verb in verse 32 that the New International Version translates as “settled”? It’s really a much stronger word in the Hebrew. It means “to sit down.” When they got to Harran, he decided he wasn’t going to continue this journey. He was going to put down his roots in this town. He was not budging. And so Terah, who started out the journey so full of promise and hope and determination…didn’t die in the Promised Land. He died in Harran.
If we aren’t careful, we can wind up in the same place as Terah. We start this journey of following Jesus full of hope and promise and determination to shine the light of His love and mercy and peace into a world that desperately needs to know Him. But somewhere along the way, we can get careless. We can start picking up things during our journey that begin to weigh us down and eventually lead us to decide to sit down and put down roots and not budge when God is inviting us to continue to move in His direction. These extra things begin to take up room in our hearts and our minds and our souls. And if we’re not careful, they can take over our lives, giving the Holy Spirit very little room to move in us and work through us and change us.
As I mentioned earlier, my family and I are in the middle of a big move. We’ve been in the process of packing up all of our things as we prepare to relocate to Greenwood. One thing I’ve discovered while trying to fit everything into boxes: we’ve managed to accumulate a lot of junk over the years. It’s inevitable, really. But if we’re not careful, that junk can wind up overtaking our lives. So, we’ve been in a pretty serious purge mode over the last few weeks, getting rid of as many nonessential things as we can.
We need to do the same thing in our spiritual lives. Jesus has invited us on a journey with Him. He has invited us to follow Him to the place where He will show us. It’s an amazing journey of becoming more and more like Him as we draw closer and closer to Him. It’s a journey of holiness. It’s a journey to a life that is full of hope and joy and peace and abundance. But if we are going to go where He says go and do what He says do and become what He says become, then we’ve got to purge ourselves of some of the junk we can pick up along the way.
This is a very real, very powerful piece of junk that we can pick up along the way. We can become so consumed with fear – fear of the known, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of loneliness, fear of pain, fear of illness and death – you name it, it’s likely that we can be afraid of it. And this fear can take over our lives, paralyzing us and keeping us from following Jesus on our journey of faith.
That’s what happened to Peter, wasn’t it? He had spent the better part of three years talking about how he’d do anything for Jesus and how he wouldn’t allow anyone to kill him. He believed he’d fight anyone to the death in order to protect his friend and Messiah. But when the rubber hit the road and he was within shouting distance of the mockery of a trial they put Jesus through, and all Peter had to do was shout his innocence and the whole proceeding would be over…Peter failed. Fear paralyzed him. Instead of being bold, Peter just cowered in the corner, paralyzed by fear and denying that he ever even knew the man. He caved in. He hid. He huddled around a charcoal fire and trembled in fear, trying to be as anonymous as possible. When it was popular to be with Jesus, Peter was bold and confident. But when everyone left and Jesus became the most unpopular person in the nation, Peter’s fear paralyzed him. And he was frozen with his fear.
Similar things can happen to us, can’t they? We’re going along, following Jesus the best that we know how…not really expecting to get a response from anyone. And then, one day, someone asks us a question that opens the door to a spiritual conversation. We have a decision to make. Do we step out in boldness and confidence, or allow fear to take over?
A preacher friend of mine in Indianapolis tells this story about such an encounter:
I used to be completely paralyzed when it came to talking to people about Jesus in everyday conversations. One time in my early 20s, a lady giving me a haircut asked me what I did for a living. I was so afraid to tell her that I was a pastor, I lied… I made up some story about ‘helping troubled teens.’ Of course, when she asked questions I fabricated more detail. Like Peter, I had just denied the Lord…and I was a pastor and a hypocrite. I never felt more shame and guilt than I did that day.
What a powerful stronghold the enemy had built up in my life! It was the fear of what others would think of me. Consequently, my subconscious definition of success was ‘What do I have to do to get you guys to like me?’ I couldn’t imagine myself ever talking to someone in the ‘real’ world about Jesus, because if I did, ‘What if you don’t like me? What if you think I’m weird? What if you laugh at me?’ I feared withdrawal and rejection.#
I gotta tell ya, I remember this story every time I sit down to get my hair cut. Inevitably, the conversation eventually gets around to “What do you do for a living?” And I have a decision to make: Do I try to somehow avoid the question because I’m sitting in a chair and can’t run away if the discussion gets too heated? After all, there’s going to be scissors involved. Or do I merely tell the truth and go from there? Thanks to my friend’s story, I’ve found myself less likely to be paralyzed by the fear that tries to creep up inside of me and am ready to share the story of my faith in those situations.
In his letter to his protégé, Paul encouraged Timothy with these words in 2 Timothy 2:7 – and they’re an encouragement to us, too:
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (NLT)
Stop carrying that junk around. Stop allowing fear to paralyze you and continue the journey in boldness and confidence.
Much like fear, worry can keep us from moving, too. And living with worry is much like using this fishing pole. We take our requests and our concerns and bring them to the Father’s presence. But then, we just reel them back in. When we do that, we’re telling God that He can take care of it for a while, but we’re really the ones who should be in control. It’s really a trust issue, isn’t it?
But Jesus tells us “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not so or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than the birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” (Luke 12:22-26, NIV)
When we began our adoption journey, I began to hear all kinds of stories about how God provides in those situations. I half-heartedly wrote them off by saying to myself, “Yeah, yeah. I know God provides. And that’s what you’re supposedto say in this situation.” It’s kind of like the expected, Sunday School response. You know – like “Elijah” or “Moses” are usually the go-to answers for any Old Testament question. And “Jesus” and “Paul” are the go-to answers for New Testament questions. When people would talk about how they were going to cover the expense of international adoption, the pat, go-to answer seems to be “God will provide.” Which is great. But I don’t know if I believed it. In fact, I know I didn’t. I was pretty worried about how all of these financial issues were going to work out.
Until we received unexpected news two summers ago. We received an email from our adoption agency informing us that we had been approved by the Ethiopian courts to adopt Mihret. This was a surprise to us, because we didn’t know we actually had a court date. And this meant we would be bring our daughter home with us much sooner than we’d initially thought. At the same time, the fees and travel expenses we knew were eventually coming were needed much, much sooner than we’d planned.
And we didn’t have the money.
When we came to this realization, we were crushed. How were we ever going to be able to make this work? I must confess, I began to panic just a bit. I didn’t have any answers.
A few days later, we received a letter from an organization called ShowHope, which helps provide financial assistance for adopting families. The letter informed us that we had received an adoption grant from them. And it covered the rest of the fees and the plane tickets. The date on that letter? The same date we found out we had passed court in Ethiopia!
I am convinced that God moved a mountain that day. And He began doing it before we even knew it was in our way.
Whenever I get worried about finances or how we’re going to be able to get through whatever mini crisis that arises, I remember this story. I remember how God has brought us to this point and He isn’t going to abandon us.
You want to follow Jesus wherever He leads? Cast all of your cares on Him. Stop reeling it back in. Stop worrying.
Paul commands us in Ephesians 4:31 to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”
If we’re not careful, things can start to snowball, ultimately spiraling your life out of control. If you harbor bitterness, it hardens your heart. And bitterness leads to rage and anger. Rage and anger leads to fighting and slander along with every form of malice. These are all signs of hate. We need to get rid of these things in our lives because we’re supposed to be a people who are ruled by love. And it all starts with getting rid of bitterness.
When we encounter loss and pain and difficulties, it can lead to feelings of bitterness. It’s part of the human experience. But we cannot allow that bitterness to take root. We cannot allow our bitterness to harden our hearts. Because bitterness can lead to many undesirable results. A bitter heart is selfish, only thinking of yourself. A bitter heart is antisocial and is inconsiderate of others. A bitter heart complains incessantly and also motivates gossip. And although it leads you to become withdrawn from society, a hardened heart full of bitterness fragments other people’s lives. It’s like an explosion that shares its misery with those around you. It even grieves the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives is a sign of our redemption. And if we allow selfish bitterness to rule our lives and harden our hearts, how are we allowing the Holy Spirit to rule and work in our lives? How are we shining the light of God’s love if we’re walking around, acting like we’ve lost our last friend and were baptized in vinegar?
We’ve got to rid ourselves of all bitterness, or it’s going to encourage us to stay rooted in Harran when God wants us to go to Canaan.
There are issues in all of our pasts that we are not proud of. All of us have made sinful choices and destructive decisions that have had their consequences. The Bible reminds us that all of us have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. But yet while we were still sinners – while we were in the Enemy’s camp – Jesus Christ died for you and for me. I don’t care where you’ve been or what you’ve done – Jesus Christ came to free you from being trapped in your past.
On the cross, He took our sins upon Himself. On the cross, He took on our punishment. On the cross, He put our sins to death. On the cross, He broke the chains that kept us bound to the past and set us free to follow Him wherever He may lead.
That’s what Jesus Christ did for you. That’s what Jesus Christ did for me. He gave up everything so that we could come back to Him.
Have you done that? Have you chosen to follow Him and give Him everything that you have and everything that you are? Have you chosen to allow Him to break the chains that have trapped you – the pictures that haunt you from your past of destructive decisions? The only way to be free from your past is to choose to follow Him. Keep your eyes focused on Him and don’t turn back. You cannot find freedom on your own. Freedom from your past can only be found through the power of God, as displayed when the perfect Lamb was slain on the hill of Calvary.
Are you trapped? Are you still caught in your past of sin and destruction. You cannot get out on your own. The Son, however, can set you free. And when the Son sets you free, you are free indeed – free to love, free to dance, free to share, free to give, free to live life the way God intended for it to be lived from the very beginning of time.
Are you looking for that freedom? Join Jesus on His journey. Follow Him. Stop lugging around this junk that’s in your life and start living a life full of hope and promise and abundance – the kind of life we were made to have.
The story of Terah doesn’t end with his death. His son responded. In verse 4 of Genesis 12, it says this: “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.”
God is inviting you to do the same. Follow Him. Go wherever He leads. Do whatever He has invited you to do. Become who He wants you to become. And when the story of faith continues to be told and retold throughout the generations, your story will be the same as Abram’s:
You went, just as the Lord had told you.