Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Receive the Gift of Limits

When I was growing up, my parents often told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be.  At one point in my childhood I dreamed of being like Michael Jordan and so I was outside shooting baskets nearly every day…you know practicing my dunks with my tongue hanging out and all.  However, in spite of my best efforts at practicing regularly, I was a benchwarmer most of my basketball career.  I learned over time that I was never going to be Michael Jordan.

It’s good to know what my limitations are.  It’s good to be satisfied with who God has made me to be.  It’s good to be myself and not try to be someone else.  And I have to admit that in the world of being a pastor, that’s hard.  It’s hard sometimes to be content with the fact that I may not be as good of a preacher as someone else.  It’s hard sometimes to be content with the fact that I’m not going to be able to help everyone who asks me for help.  And yet, God has called me to be me, not anyone else.  And my friends, that’s true for you too!

Limits are good.  Let’s turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and take a look at why living within our limits is exactly what God intended for us!  Let’s begin with verse 12, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.”  As believers, we are the body of Christ.  Jesus is the Head.  We are the other parts.  As believers, we function just like a body does.  We’ve been given different gifts so that together we function for the good of the whole body.

Now, let’s jump to verse 18, “But in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’  And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’”  We need each other.  We are uniquely gifted to carry out our specific roles and no more!  I have my limits.  You have yours.  And yet together we make up for those limits.  We complete each other.  Do you see how that works?

So how can I be content with my limitations and simply find joy in being who God has made me to be?  We can learn from Jesus.  Jesus knows everything about limits, because as the 2nd person of the triune God, Jesus was unlimited in every way.  He’s eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, and so on.  Yet, when Jesus became man, He emptied himself of His power.  As Paul was inspired to write in Philippians chapter 2, “(He) made himself nothing…” (Philippians 2:7a).  In other words, Jesus limited Himself.  That would be the reason why Jesus got tired, why He had to eat, why He needed something to drink, why He took time for Himself to get some rest and so on.  Jesus understands what living within limits is all about.

In fact, for all we know, Jesus didn’t perform a single miracle until He was roughly 30 years old.  Why didn’t He perform miracles before then?  He lived within His limits.  Just think about how popular Jesus could have been had he shown off his power when he was in high school.  He could have been the hit of his school doing all sorts of cool magic tricks!  But he didn’t.  Why?  Because he focused on carrying out his Father’s will to be our perfect Savior.  He always lived within his limits.

When we live within our limits there is more joy and less frustration.  There is more satisfaction and less stress.  There is more contentment and less envy.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  So how are we doing at receiving the gift of limits?  Take a look at these statements from the inventory of spiritual and emotional maturity which all of us were supposed to take a couple of weeks ago.

Here’s the first one: “I’ve never been accused of trying to do it all or of biting off more than I could chew (Matthew 4:1-11).”  Now I don’t know about you, but that statement has never been said about me…yeah…right.  Actually, routinely I’m guilty of biting off more than I can chew.  Can you relate?  Do you say yes to too many things?  So tell me, how did you score on that particular question?  I scored a 1.  That statement is not very true of me.  Unfortunately, I regularly bite off more than I can chew.  You don’t know this about me, but underneath my shirt, I have a big S emblazoned on my chest.  Why, you say?  Because I’m superman!  Well, at least sometimes I think I am.  And when I begin to think that I’m superman, that’s when I’m destined to burn myself out and then invariably, I will let others down too.  You see, there’s only one who has a big S on His chest and it’s not me.  It’s Jesus, only His big S stands for Savior.  He’s THE Savior, not me.  He’s my Savior even for all the times that I’m too busy trying to be everyone else’s savior.  He’s your Savior too!  You and I can live in the joy of forgiveness every day!

How about the second statement in that section: “I am regularly able to say ‘No’ to requests and opportunities rather than risk overextending myself. (Mark 6:30-32).  Mark 6:30-32 says this: “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’”  Wow!  Do you think that maybe Jesus ticked some people off when He did that?  Probably!  But why did He leave the people and encourage his disciples to go and get some rest?  Because in order to be effective in caring for others, we need to care for ourselves!

Now that doesn’t mean that we abdicate our responsibility to care for other people.  I can’t care for myself at the expense of caring for others.  I have to learn to care for myself while I am caring for others.  So tell me, how did you score on this statement?  I scored a 2.  I’m getting better.  Truthfully, this is the reason why Jamie and I had to say “no” to coaching track this year even though we love the kids and love coaching!

Look at the 3rd statement: “I recognize the different situations where my unique, God-given personality can be either a help or hindrance in responding appropriately (Psalm 139; Romans 12:3, 1 Peter 4:10).”  Most of you know that I’m a very relational person.  I love talking to people.  I know that’s a complete novelty to you, right?  But the fact is that sometimes I get really frustrated when I’ve got too many task-oriented things to do.  Sometimes, I need to learn to delegate more of the task-oriented things to those who are more task-oriented.  In so doing, we function like the body which Christ intended us to be and we experience greater joy in what we are doing.  That’s a win, isn’t it?

Look at the 4th statement: “It’s easy for me to distinguish the difference between when to help carry someone else’s burden (Gal. 6:2) and when to let it go so they can carry their own burden (Gal. 6:5).”  If you’re a parent, this is a tough one.  Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out whether or not we should help our children or let them battle the situation on their own.  It takes discernment and prayer and sometimes talking with a trusted family member or friend to help us figure it out.  For others of us, maybe it’s people who come to us while we are at work and they want to talk about all of their issues.  And pretty soon we find ourselves completely consumed by their issues.  It’s good to listen to people and pray for and with people.  But again, remember, we are not their savior, only Jesus is.

Look at the 5th statement: “I have a good sense of my emotional, relational, physical, and spiritual capacities, intentionally pulling back to rest and fill my “gas” tank again (Mark 1:21-39).”  I love this section of Scripture in Mark chapter 1.  Let’s take a look starting with verse 33, “The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases...”  Now skip to verse 35, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”  Jesus gives us yet another great example, doesn’t he?  I seriously can’t even imagine the pressure Jesus must have had to heal everyone and make everyone’s problems go away.  But notice what Jesus did?  He went off by himself and prayed.  He spent time with his heavenly daddy every day before he would go off to work.  He filled his “gas tank” so that He could fill others up.

Back in college, I routinely drove my car until the gas tank was empty.  Once, when I was at the bottom of the big hill in New Ulm, MN, my car died, because I had failed to pay attention to just how far below E it actually was.  It was a long walk to the gas station.  My friends, it pays to pay attention to our emotional and spiritual gas tank.  Let’s follow Jesus’ example and stop in for a fill up every day.

Let’s look at the 6th and final statement: “Those close to me would say that I am good at balancing family, rest, work, and play in a biblical way (Exodus 20:8).”  This statement is a good one to discuss with those who are close to you.  Ask them how you’re doing.  If there are some things that you can improve on, then know that first of all: you’re forgiven because of Jesus’ death and resurrection and then secondly: make use of the assignment that is an attachment with this blog.  Read through it.  Talk about it with others.  Pray about it and then begin to work on those areas that need improvement.  God will richly bless you in the process!

Limits are good.  I know that I only have some gifts.  And because of that, there are certain things I should never be.  Trust me, you would never want me to be the one in the operating room as your surgeon.  I don’t have steady enough hands and I would get confused as to which part of you I’m supposed to be working on…that wouldn't end well for you.  Just saying!  It’s good to know what our limitations are.  It’s good to be satisfied with who God has made us to be.  My friends, receive the gift of limits.  God made you just the way He wants you to be.

-Pastor Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor

*For additional personal reflection, please download the "Receive The Gift of Limits" handout.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Inside Out - Break the Power of the Past

I inherited great characteristics from both of my parents. My dad is a hard worker, do anything for you, nice kind of guy (just like his father before him). My mom is a hard worker with an easy going, entertaining personality. She loves to have people laugh (just like her mother before her).Unfortunately, these characteristics also have a dark side. The dark side from my dad is spending too much time on projects and saying yes to helping everyone else and missing out on time with my family. I always want to be nice and it’s hard to confront someone stuck in a sin or disagree with something when you are trying to be the nice guy. The dark side from my mom is that sometimes the desire for smiles and happiness blows past facing and dealing with some harsh realities that need to be worked through.
I had a good childhood, went to great schools, attended church, was nice and helpful to anyone who needed it but these surface niceties didn’t take away the things below the surface of my iceberg. Even the good character traits handed down to us by our parents are tainted and corrupted with sin. I love my parents and have the greatest respect for them but they, like me, are sinners in need of a Savior. They passed that need onto me.
What I just shared with you is the way I am exploring the past to identify and deal with the broken ways I respond to life. A handy tool to help you do the same is called a genogram.  A genogram is a way of drawing a family tree that looks at info about family members and their relationships over two to three generations. It is through a genogram that we can identify sinful traits and be in a better position as we strive for thankful living.

To get a handle on what this looks you can breeze through Genesis 12-50 and take a look at one familiar family tree of the Old Testament to identify sinful traits that are passed down for at least four generations.

The Bible considers Abraham the father of faith. God promised he would be made into a great nation and that through his offspring the whole world would be blessed. Yet there are some things about Abraham that you would not want to emulate. He had a couple moments where he was afraid and thought it easier to lie to get what he wanted. One time he was traveling through Egypt and he said to his wife, Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Gen. 12:12-13) As Abraham continued to travel throughout the land he continued in his deceptive way instead of trusting the Lord. He had his wife lie for him when they traveled so that he would be treated well by the kings of the land.

Abraham’s lies did not just impact his wife but also that next generation. Abraham’s son Isaac did the same thing.   When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.” (Gen. 26:7) The lies of the family continue to intensify in Isaac’s marriage especially when it came to which child would receive the birthright. Their son Jacob increased the level of sin and manipulation by lying consistently to almost everyone with whom he was in a relationship. By the fourth generation, it reaches the point where ten sons fake the death of the father’s favorite son and sell him into slavery and live out the lie for years.   This genogram models how Abraham’s sins were copied and intensified through the next generations. This genogram illustrates how Joseph and his brothers became the way they did. They had faith in the true God passed down to them – great! They also had a generational sin of lying passed down to them too.

If this is what someone as great as Abraham’s genogram looked like just imagine what you will find in your genogram. You can create something similar for your own benefit. Understand how your parents and grandparents have influenced you – positively and negatively. Not as a way to pass the blame of your current circumstances but to better understand what maybe has to change with you. Consider doing a Genogram for yourself. Here is an example of how to go about this based on the book Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero.  (One page has Abraham’s example of a genogram on top and the other page has questions to help put some thoughtful characteristics to each generation.)

Any family traits you had promised yourself you would never live out that are finding their way into your life?

-Pastor Eric Hansen, Discipleship Pastor