choices: part 1

Upon receiving a career opportunity they couldn’t refuse, Ron and his wife Linda moved their family half way across the country. It was going to be a fresh start for Ron, who had always struggled to climb the corporate ladder. It was also a fresh start for Linda, who had very few friends and was looking forward to beginning new friendships with other women.

After taking the first couple of weeks to settle in, Ron and Linda contacted four local churches and scheduled times to meet with each pastor. They wanted to connect with a church as soon as possible, and had some very specific questions they wanted to ask each pastor before beginning to attend on a regular basis.

Most of their questions were pretty common for the pastors they met. Questions such as, “What does your church teach about Jesus?” And, “What ministry goals do you have for our children?” But one question they asked caught some of the pastors by surprise.

“If you could get your congregation to commit to one specific thing, what would it be?”

The first pastor they met with responded by saying, “If everybody here would boldly share the gospel with everybody they knew, that’s the one thing I would want them to commit to.”

Ron and Linda really appreciated his answer, as they’d never really been challenged to ‘boldly’ share the gospel with others.

The next two pastors both had similar answers. “If we could get every person in our congregation to commit to serving in some way, it would be a true blessing to the others on staff.

But the last pastor they met, Mike, had an answer that caught them a little by surprise.

Linda asked him, “If you could get your congregation to commit to one specific thing, what would it be?”

Mike simply smiled and said, “Grow.”

“Grow,” they asked?

“Yes, grow. Some churches ask people to create relationships, or join a Bible Study, or serve, or something like that. But here, we take a more holistic approach. We want people to grow in their relationship with Jesus. That means that those who are prone to gossip will be kept accountable in how they talk about others, and those who struggle with things such as pornography will allow others to keep them accountable to how they see their relationship with their spouse.” He continued for a few more minutes, and as he spoke he talked about specific ‘sins’ many people wrestle with, and as Ron and Linda listened, they realized they struggled in some of these areas themselves. Finally, he closed by saying, “The gospel is all about repentance, and repentance means truly relying on God. Ridding yourself of self-centeredness, and ensuring Jesus truly is Lord over every aspect of your life.”

Ron and Linda thanked Mike for his time, and as they drove home they discussed the various options they had. Neither of them said it out loud, but they had no desire to attend the church in which Mike was currently a pastor. Both felt uneasy about the challenges he talked about and what a “real life relationship” with Jesus Christ looked like. In the end, they chose to attend one of the churches that was looking for people to serve. They felt that was a goal they could easily attain. Linda would be able to quickly connect with some of the other ladies, and Ron would be able to begin serving on a regular basis.

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Each of us has a lot in common with Ron and Linda. We like to be in control. We want to decide what it is we’re going to do. We want to decide how we’re going to do it. We want to decide how our time will be spent. We want to decide who we’ll spend time with. In short, we want to be God. We want to be in control of every aspect of our lives.

But there’s something else we all have in common with Ron and Linda. We all have hurts. We all have habits. We all have hang-ups of some kind. None of the other Pastors Ron and Linda met with discussed this, but Mike clearly communicated that within his congregation their was an expectation to give up control and to rid the sins that cause hurts, habits and hang-ups.

Funny thing is, this is a problem that has been ongoing since the beginning of time.

I recently began a new Bible reading plan – reading through the Bible in 40 weeks. (Really, it only takes about 15-20 minutes a day 5 days a week. It’s not nearly as hard as people think it is!) And as I was reading through Genesis I came upon one of my favorite stories in the Bible – the life of Jacob.

You see, there are four patriarchs in the book of Genesis. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. You’ve probably heard stories of Abraham and what a great guy he was – so great he was even willing to sacrifice his son. You’ve probably heard of Joseph as well. He was wrongfully imprisoned for years before becoming the 2nd greatest ruler in all of Egypt. But Jacob doesn’t get talked about much. His story isn’t as insightful.

Or is it?

Read the life story of Jacob carefully (Genesis 25:19 – Genesis 33) and you’ll see a common theme throughout his life. This theme can be summarized in just two words…

If…Then.

Jacob tried to control God and others using these two words.

If you do ______ for me, then I’ll _____ for you. Or something like that.

Control.

Manipulate.

Deceive.

That’s all he was trying to do.

It starts in Genesis 25.

29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field exhausted. 30 He said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, because I’m exhausted.” That is why he was also named Edom.

31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” (Gen. 25:29-31)

Here, Jacob essentially says, “If you sell me your birthright, then I’ll give you some stew.”

But this is just a part of Jacob’s deceitfulness. He soon steals his father’s blessing as well, and angers his brother Esau. In fact, Esau becomes so enraged he plots to kill Jacob. So what does Jacob do? He high-tails it out of town.

Soon Jacob finds himself alone in the desert. He has no food. No water. No possessions. No family. No friends. Nothing. And God appears to Him in a dream. God promises to protect him and be with him and watch over him. How does Jacob respond? He responds like a man with a desire to be in control. The “if…then” mentality of Jacob continues.

20 Then Jacob made a vow: “If God will be with me and watch over me on this journey, if He provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God. (Gen 28:20-21)

Now take a minute to think: How much do you like to be in control? Are you like Ron and Linda? Are you like Jacob? Do you take opportunities to manipulate others to get your way? “If you do ______ for me, then I’ll _____ for you.”

Remember, we all do this to some degree.

But we each have an opportunity to make a choice. We can choose differently. We can choose to allow Jesus to be Lord. We can choose to actually grow, and not live our lives trying to hide our hurts. Concealing our habits. Masking our hang-ups. We can choose to give up control.

Are you willing to make that choice?

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Choosing to give up control is one step each of us can take to recover from our control problem. As you consider making this decision, consider the following questions:

  1. What people or situations do you have the power to control?
  2. What people or situations do you like to try to control?
  3. What decisions do you make on a daily basis to control your image? Others? Your problems? Your pain?
  4. How have your decisions impacted your relationships with God and others?
  5. What hurts do you have? Habits? Hang-ups?
  6. Are you willing to give up control?
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