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Lessons From God

(This past Sunday, I spoke at CrossRoads of Arlington Church on the topic of “Lessons From God.”  I received a number of positive comments, so I thought I’d post the message.  Below is the written version.  Or you can listen to it here.  Or watch it here.)

Lesson From God On The Bike
Introduction

This week and next, Joe and I are going to take turns speaking on the topic of “Lessons From God.”

So, if you’re a guest with us today, this is not a typical message.

Our prayer is that by sharing our stories of what we have learned God may move and speak in your life.  What we want to do is share with you some of the lessons that we have learned as followers of Christ- those things that have had the greatest impact on us and have shaped us as Christians and as pastors at this church.

This week’s message is specifically entitled, “Lesson From God On the Bike”, because I spend a lot of time on my bike and that is the place where, generally un-interrupted I can think, listen, and talk to God, with my hands on the handlebars and eyes open, of course.  And next week Joe’s message will be “Lessons From God In the Hot Tub,” because he thinks, listens, and talks to God in his hot tub at night.

Since today’s message is “Lessons From God  On The Bike,” that gives me a particular excuse to bring in one of my bikes.  (Yes, I did say bikes, plural, and yes, that means Joe will have a hot tub up here next week.)  Now, I’m just an average cyclist who enjoys riding 5-6 times a week, usually by myself, sometimes with others.  I have spent a lot of hours on this bike, a lot of time thinking, listening, trying to figure out life as a follower of Christ.

As you can see, this bike is no longer functional, which is a nice of way of saying it’s junk.  Worthless.  On August 11th, 2009, almost one year ago, a truck hit me from behind, caused me some injuries, and rendered this bike totally worthless.  The handlebars are missing a portion which is where his truck’s sideview mirror connected with the bike, the wheels are bent, the gears are bent, the levers are bent, the frame has been compromised, and the brakes and cables were so mangled that I’ve already trashed them.

But thanks to the diligence of an attorney, I now have a new, nicer, and more expensive bike.

As I go on this morning, I’m going to intersperse lessons I’ve learned while riding a bike along with my story along with a couple of passages of Scripture.

1.  I am not the same as you, nor are you the same as me.  Each person is unique.

I’ve been riding for about 8 years now.  Periodically, I’ll participate in a benefit ride, which is where you pay 25 bucks or so, get a t-shirt, and ride with a bunch of other crazy cyclists.  The first few times, I would position myself near the front of the start line, where all the good cyclists were.  At the start, I would take off with the other good (fast) cyclists, pedaling as hard as I could to keep up.  But, I found that after forty-five minutes I was completely and utterly spent.  No stamina, no energy, no nothing, gasping for breath.  The problem was that I still had 3 hours to go.  That was not enjoyable.

After awhile, I began to realize I’m not the same as those guys.  They’re usually younger, sometimes, they weigh less, and they’re faster.  We’re just different.  So, I started pacing myself, riding within my abilities, and found that I was back to enjoying riding a bike.  And sometimes, I even catch these guys at the end, which is even better.

1st lesson:  I’m not the same as you, nor are you the same as me.  Each person is unique.

In the very beginning of the Bible, the writer of Genesis tells us, 1:31, God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

I did not grow up attending church.At age 15, a friend invited me to his youth group, and soon after, I became a Christian.

In those early years of being a Christian, I struggled.  Yes, I could verbally tell you that Jesus Christ had come to redeem me, but by my life and by my actions, I lived like Jesus Christ had come to exchange me.  In those early years, I tried to be a Christian like someone else would be a Christian.  This was a dangerous trap to fall in because it would either lead to frustration when I couldn’t be like that person, or pride when I could.

Let me give you some examples to explain what I mean:

1)If the pastor said that he woke up at 5 am for a quiet time and read Oswald Chambers devotional book My Utmost For His Highest, I bought the same book, and set my alarm for the same time.  The frustration was not getting up at 5 am, it was reading that book.  It bored me to tears.

So, I thought, mistakenly, something must be wrong with me.

2)I played in a basketball league at work on Thursday nights.  The pastor lead a group of people who went downtown on Thursday nights to serve and care for the homeless.  I felt conflicted because I felt like I should be doing what they were doing, living like them, instead of playing in a work basketball league where I was the only christian on the team.

I thought I had to serve and witness like those guys rather than where God had placed me.

3) A pastor said that the men needed to lead the way by meeting at the church to pray at 5 am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I was there.  With about 4 other men.  That led to some feelings of pride because I am here praying and where is everyone else.

Where are all the other good Christian men, like me?

4) If my pastor had said he prayed in his hot tub, I would’ve been trying to figure out a way to get a hot tub.

I’m not the same as you, nor are you the same as me.  Each person is unique.  What does this mean?

One, you can learn from others.  I learn a lot from other people.  Someone once mentioned in passing that they read one chapter of the bible a day and wrote down whatever observations they had.  I tried that.  It actually works for me.  Another said read the bible through in a year.  I lasted about three weeks.  Learn from others, find what works for you.

Two, practice and express yourself as a follower of Jesus Christ with the gifts, with the strengths, with the interests, and with the abilities that God has given you in the place God has put you.

Stop trying to live someone else’s faith.

Some people are going to be more into worship, some more into prayer, some more into doing and serving, some more into intellectual things, some into teaching, some into caring and so on.  Follow God with what He has given you.

This is what I appreciate about this church.  We are a broad umbrella of Christians that welcomes people who may express their faith differently- some are more in prayer, some into worship, some into serving, some into giving, and many other things.  Some express their faith more conservatively, some express their faith more charismatically.

2.  Left to my own devices, I will get lost.

Back to my bike.  One beautiful Sunday afternoon, I got home and realized that I had some time to go for a bike ride.  Before I left, I thought, maybe I should grab my GPS, but then I dismissed that thought.  As I rode, I decided to veer from my planned route and go down a road that I may or may not have been down before.  It looked familiar.  Somewhat.  Soon, I ran into my first problem.  I was completely lost, and I absolutely had to be back at a certain time because Angela needed to leave.  Solution.  Pedal harder and faster in the same direction.  This created a second problem.  Prior to coming home, I had enjoyed a delightful lunch at Mijos.  I could feel that things, like chips and green salsa and tacos, had not been given sufficient time to digest.  I wasn’t feeling so good.  What should I do?  Turn around, stop and call Angela, or just keep going?  You know I kept going.

2nd lesson from the bike:  Left to my own devices, I will get lost.

At age 18, I was absolutely convinced that God had called me to be a minister.  I enrolled at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene to prepare for the ministry.  In my early twenties, I was the pastor of a church and didn’t know what to do.  I was young, inexperienced, and dealing with people’s serious problems that weren’t getting any better.  The church wasn’t doing well, and I didn’t think I had anyone to turn to.  So, I tried harder, and the harder I tried the more frustrated, angry, burnt out and fed up I became.

One day, I just quit, and silently vowed never to work at another church again.

That wasn’t how the story was supposed to go.  Now, I was really lost.

What was I going to do?  Where could I work with an education that had prepared me to be a minister?

How did I reconcile the conviction of being called to be a minister with this determination never to work in a church again?  I didn’t know.  Had no idea.

So I just put my head down, strengthened my resolve, and went harder and faster in the direction I was already headed.  Eventually, I’d figure something out.

In those moments, plural, because I have had to repeatedly learn this lesson, at some point, God has spoken to me or done something or spoken through someone that completely shattered my hard-headedness.

Absolutely shattered it.

Did God immediately resolve the problem?  Not always.

Did God open a magic escape door so I could get out?  Not always.

But his voice, His presence was a reminder to me of Hope.  There was another way.  The way of Christ.

Stop trying to do it on your own.

A few years had passed since I had resigned from that church, and we were regularly attending another church, and one Sunday I got tricked into doing the announcements.  My goal at that time was to be in church under the radar.  To do nothing.  So, at the end of the service, I trudged up there, forced a smile on my face, gave the announcements with whatever enthusiasm I could muster, and when I had finished, this voice spoke into my heart, a voice that I have learned is God alone, a voice that I have only heard a handful of times in my life, and this voice said, “You belong up here.”

It was a reminder that calling.

On the one hand, it completely freaked me out, and on the other hand, I knew that I was no longer lost.

But it would still take me many more years.

Left to my own devices, I will get lost.  But I am not so lost that God can’t find me.  In fact, I doubt he has ever abandoned me.  I just have this tendency to close my eyes and ears.

3.  I need other people.

Back to the bike:  As I mentioned at the beginning, on August 11, 2009, I was hit by a truck.  I would love to give you every gory detail, but I don’t remember a thing.  What I know about the accident has been pieced together from others.  I know that a couple of people stopped.  I know that someone called 911.  I know that someone called Angela.  How they did I don’t know.

3rd lesson from the bike:  I need other people.

The morning after the accident, Angela came into the room and asked, What are we going to do about dinner?”  You have to understand that I do the grocery shopping and the cooking in our house.  She’s asking this question, looking at me, while I’m laying in bed with my left leg propped up on a stack of pillows and my right arm is covered in gauze from my shoulder to my wrist.  She’d watched me attempt to hobble around the house the previous night.  In her mind, I’m obviously in no state to cook a meal.  She tells me, people have been calling, asking if they can bring a meal.  My initial response was “no.”  I don’t need other people.  I can do this on my own.  I can figure this out on my own.  I can grit my way through this.  But there was no way that I could.  I relented, and for about a week, we ate really well.  Lasagnas and casseroles and desserts- cookies, cakes, cobblers, pies.  I gained 7 pounds in 7 days.

In my most difficult moment, I was again reminded that I need other people.

I’d had this experience re-confirming to me that I had a calling to be a minister, but I couldn’t get over my experiences of working for a church.  I couldn’t bridge that gap.

I figured that I could resolve this by doing lots of stuff at church, but not being on staff.  That way, if something happened, I could always bail out.

I liken it to a person whose parents were divorced or who has been through a painful divorce themselves, and vows that they will never marry so they don’t have to experience that pain.

I figured that I’d solved the problem with my workaround solution, and I tried to convince myself that there was no issue.  Besides, I had a good job with an investment firm, liked the people I worked with, beautiful family, nice bike, nice salary, all was good.

But I wasn’t fulfilled, and I had this growing emptiness.  I never reached out to another person for help.  I came close, but I would fight that feeling.

One day, I woke up and this emptiness was gone.  I can’t tell you what I did, because I didn’t do anything.  It was just gone.

And after a couple of days, I had this sense that I’d better talk to someone because whatever had caused the emptiness, I didn’t want to come back.

I met with someone, we talked, and then they pointed me in a direction that would prove to be critical for me.  The person didn’t give me any answers, they just listened, and pointed me in a way.

I need other people.

But I can’t be just a taker, I must also be a giver.  I have a responsibility to other people.  That is a responsibility I have whether or not I’m on staff or not.  I have a need for other people to keep my going on the path of Christ, and I have a responsibility to help people find the way of Christ and then stay on that path successfully.

We need one another.  And if I am honest with myself, whatever I have achieved or accomplished, I have only done so because of other people.

4.  The question always seems to be, “What about you?”

Back to the bike:  When I’m riding by myself, I listen for God, I seek answers, I talk to God, and sometimes, I gotta vent.  One particular day, I was riding and venting to God about a particular situation- it wasn’t right, it was unfair, the other person was wrong, this needed to be taken care of, how could this person not see the error of their ways, and what was God going to do about it.

God remained silent until I rounded the corner and headed to our house.  Here was God’s retort, “What about you?”  “What about you?  What is your role in this problem?  How have you contributed to this situation?”

Lesson number four, no matter how I try to avoid it, the question seems to come back as, “what about you?”

I had gone to see someone and they had pointed me in a direction- a direction that I thought was ludicrous.  They suggested that I might want to revisit that situation when I had resigned from a church and vowed never to work in a church again.  I saw no point in revisiting that scenario because I had done nothing wrong.  I was right.  They were wrong.  What could there be to revisit?

The question always comes back to “what about you?”  What was your role in the situation?

Had I been right?  Perhaps.  Did I do anything wrong?  No, I tried my hardest to the best of my abilities to make the situation work.

Did I react appropriately?  Did I deal with the situation in the best way?  Not at all.  I became angry at nearly everyone involved.  I blamed them.  Then, knowing that it was not good to be angry, I pushed that anger way down deep and stuffed it.  After awhile, I took that ball of anger and pushed it at God for everything that had happened.  It was their fault.  It was his fault.

The question always seems to come back to me as “What about you?”

Recognizing that anger, releasing that anger, was the most freeing moment of my life.

5.  God, and God alone, is more than enough.

Back to the bike, one day, after it had stopped raining, I decided to go for a bike ride.  I was having a great time.  It was cool and overcast.  I came to a 90 degree turn and within milliseconds I found myself separated from the bike, sliding across the pavement.  Laying there, I had a new perspective, you should try to avoid taking sharp corners at high speeds on wet roads.

Over the last 25 years of being a Christian, I’ve developed a different perspective of God that has had enormous impact for my life:  God, and God alone, is more than enough.

After I dealt with my past situation, after I released my anger, I could now say that not only was I called to be a minster, but I actually wanted to work in a church again.  That was a huge step for me.  When Joe and I spoke, he said, we would love for that to take place at CrossRoads, but it might take 2 years.

And I was fine with that.  Because when God is enough, 2 years, 2 weeks, forever, that didn’t matter.

I had dealt with the issues of the past, and I had been made whole again.

Once more, I knew that God was enough.

Now, laying figuratively on the ground of life, my perspective had changed.  He alone was enough.  He had freed me from the inner prison, made me whole again, so if it took 2 years or 2 months, which is how long it took, that was fine with me.

The issue was no longer what I did or where I was, the issue was who I was.

Who I was, who I am, is a follower of Jesus Christ.

Where I go or what I do is up to him.

This came home for me when I read the story of Hagar in Genesis 16.  Hagar is an Egyptian, who was a servant to Abraham and Sarah.  Abraham, at Sarah’s request, since Sarah can’t get pregnant, sleeps with Hagar who becomes pregnant, which is what Sarah wanted.  Sarah reacts with anger and begins to mistreat Hagar.

Hagar has done nothing wrong, but rather than continue to be mistreated, she flees into the desert.

She flees into the desert.

In the middle of the desert, an angel of the Lord finds her.

When I read this story, I anticipate the angel saying, “you are right.  You have done no wrong, you have suffered an injustice, God will make it right.”

But, this angel tells her to return to Sarah as well as gives her some bad news about her future son.

Hagar’s response is “You are the God who sees me,” and “I have now seen the one who sees me.”

God, and God alone, is more than enough.

She then returns to Sarah.

God, and God alone, is enough.

He is enough that I can endure whatever.  He is bigger, larger, and more than anything I can imagine.

Conclusion

So I have this bike.  At one time, it cost a lot of money, and now because of an accident, it’s worthless.  Junk.

Sometimes, we see ourselves like this, like a thing.  Everything started off well- life- the marriage, the job, and then stuff happened.  Accidents.  Wrecks.

The reality is that people break:  emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  And when that happens, sometimes, we look at ourselves and think:  I’m junk.  I’m worthless.  I can’t be repaired.

A story from the book of Exodus.

Moses was abandoned his mother.  She had good reasons for doing so, to save his life, but that doesn’t cover up the fact that he was abandoned.

An accident occurred to him.

Later in life, Moses murders a man, and people know about it.  He goes on the run.

He has caused an accident.

He’s living in the desert.

And he might feel like junk, and he might feel worthless.

And then God intervenes.

God never brings up the accidents in Moses’ life.

God never brings up the fact that Moses was abandoned by his mother nor does God bring up the fact that Moses is a murderer.

Never says “it spite of your failings, I’m going to use you.”

He just says, “Moses, Moses, come here.”

You may feel like a broken down bike that’s headed for the trash heap.

You may feel like you’re alone in the desert, running from the accidents of life.

But, there is God’s grace.

Jesus Christ frees you, He releases you, He makes you whole again.

That is the lesson that I have learned.

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Categories: Speaking
  1. Yvonne
    August 9, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Chris –
    Just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy your blogs. They always make me laugh, and I get a big kick out of hearing about the things going on in your life from your perspecetive, since I often get A’s perspective in our women’s group.

    I loved your message from Sunday, and am really glad you went ahead and posted it here. It was good to review it again. One of your points that really hit home with me was,

    “Stop trying to live someone else’s faith.

    Some people are going to be more into worship, some more into prayer, some more into doing and serving, some more into intellectual things, some into teaching, some into caring and so on. Follow God with what He has given you.”

    I feel like I have always accepted the idea that we are each uniquely created by God, but somehow that never really translated into the fact that HOW we live as Christians and WHAT we do as Christians can also be different and unique. So this point really resonanted.

    All in all, a great message, and I felt like it was something everyone in the congregation (even the youth!) could relate to.

    Thanks for all you do,
    Yvonne

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