THRIVE

I used to think I had a lot of stuff. My wife would probably agree. When we got engaged and I moved from California to Michigan, I had to pack up all of the stuff I had at the time, which didn’t seem like a lot until I had to put it in boxes to have it shipped back across the country. She allowed me to bring some of the stuff with me, but much of it she gently encouraged me to get rid of.  

Most of it really wasn’t all that important, especially looking back. Most of it was things like silverware and plates and cups and bowls that don’t go together.  There were some t-shirts - mostly from various mission trips I’d been on and hadn’t worn since, and old shoes. And probably a couple of suits. I think I might remember a few DVD’s and a guitar. I left all the fun stuff with my at-the-time roommate - like the couch I found on Craigslist for $25, and the TV and entertainment center.  Oh, and I had to leave behind my bed. 

Jason aten is an author and creative director writing about stewardship and thrive

Interestingly, it turns out that most of the stuff I thought I had, wasn’t even mine. It turns out that most of the stuff I thought I had, belonged to someone else. I might have been the one packing it in boxes, and stressing about whether or not it was going to make it back to Michigan, and whether there would be room for it all when we got married and had to learn to share our little condo, but it wasn’t mine. I definitely thought it was mine, and I absolutely acted like it was mine. I was proud of my stuff.  Especially the t-shirts.  Even the ones I never wore.  

But none of it was mine. 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because I’ve never had more stuff in my life than I do right now. One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about it is because the way we look at our “stuff” has a lot to do with how we treat it, and what we do with it - which is probably way more important than most of us think.

There’s a story in the Bible that really helps me put this into context.  I like it because it’s straightforward and simple, and I’m very much a straightforward and simple guy. It’s in Matthew chapter 21, and it starts with a wealthy land owner who decides to plant a vineyard. It says he “put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower,” (v33). Basically, he did everything necessary for the vineyard that he planted, to be fruitful and productive.

this is a quote jason aten used from matthew 21:33.

Before he planted the vineyard, he was just a guy with a piece of land, a piece of land that he could have done anything he wanted with. Of all the things he could do with a piece of land, he chose to plant a vineyard, and he did everything necessary for it to thrive.

It actually reminds me of another story in a garden.  In Genesis 2:8 it says that “the Lord God planted a garden in the east, in Eden… The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground.”   See, like the landowner, God could have done whatever He wanted.  It was His earth, and He chose to plant a garden, and it was His garden. 

Thrive3a.png

In fact, it’s all His.  

Psalm 95: 4-5 says “In His hands are the depths of the earth, the mountain peaks belong to him, the sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.”  It’s all His. All of it. Even us. 

“Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 100:3

Thrive4a.png

This is important because it’s easy to misunderstand our relationship to “our stuff.” The reality is it’s all His.  All of it. Your home, your iPhone, your laptop, your twitter account, your shoes, your money, your time, your gifts and abilities, your family, your influence, and even those t-shirts I never wore. All of it belongs to Him. 

It’s not mine, it’s not yours - despite what you might think and despite what the world tells you 24 hours of every day. This changes everything. 

Here’s why.

Look back at the parable in Matthew 21. The land owner goes away, only to return later to “collect His fruit.” You see he entrusted it to some tenants, who had a job to do while he was gone, but there was always an expectation that he was coming back.

In the meantime, they had a job to do.

There’s another story close by, over in Matthew 25, called the parable of the Talents, or the Bags of Gold. I’m not going to go through the whole thing, but the bottom line is this: a wealthy guy leaves on a journey and entrusts his property/money to his servants. After a while he comes back to see how they did and take account. Two of the servants had done their job and multiplied the owners money, and received a “well done good and faithful servant.”

One of them didn’t. Jesus’ description of this guy doesn’t spare anyone’s feelings.  He calls him a “wicked and lazy servant.”

Ouch.

Thrive5a.png

Here’s the thing. You have a job to do called stewardship. That’s a word churches use a lot when they talk about money and giving and tithing and building buildings. But it actually the word has very little do with giving. In fact, stewardship simply means to manage something that belongs to someone else.

God actually explained it like this, back in that first garden. Genesis 2:15 says that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

Thrive6a.png

Work it and take care of it. That’s our job. That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s the thing that is expected of us as we manage the “stuff” in our lives. The NASB describes it as “cultivate and keep it,” which I like because it sort of paints a picture of the two things required of our job here.  Cultivate means to make something grow, or be productive. Keep it means to protect from harm, sickness or loss. Together, they mean to make something thrive.

Thrive7a.png

Think about every area of your life. Your time, your abilities, your money, your stuff, and your family. Your job is to cultivate them, and protect them. It’s your most important job - more important than anything else you’ll ever do. I don’t know about you, but for me, the struggle is thinking it’s mine to do as I wish. But to God, it’s literally why man was placed in the garden in the first place.  And it’s so important that God is going to hold each of us to account.

We are accountable. 

Remember the servants with the bags of gold? There is an account to be given - literally. 2 Corinthians 6:9-10 tell us that “we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ… to give account.” God cares deeply about what you do with what he’s given you. He cares deeply about the way you spend your money, how you use your time, how you honor him with your gifts, and how you are raising your family.

"Be sure you know the condition of your flocks” Proverbs 27:23

Thrive9.png

Most of us never think about our family as a function of stewardship, but I think it might be the most important area of all. After all, if you can’t be trusted to cultivate and protect the people God has placed in your home, why would He ever trust you in any other area of life? You were entrusted with His greatest treasure - people. Someday, you will be called to account for what you did to cultivate and take care of your family. Let that sink in for a minute.

If you’re a father like me, you are accountable for your wife and your children.  Are they thriving? Are they healthy and growing - emotionally, physically and spiritually? Do they know Jesus? Here’s a tip - if you walk with Jesus, you’ll always lead your family in the right direction.

Thrive10a.png

By the way, you are accountable for your influence beyond just you family. You are accountable for the interactions you have with just about everyone in your life. God has given you gifts, abilities, and opportunities, and He is expecting a return on that investment in you. Every time any of us has an opportunity to serve or be a blessing, we are accountable for what we do with it. Are we helping the people around us thrive and grow?

I still have a lot of stuff in my life, but none of it’s mine. It’s in my house, or my pocket, or in my garage, or on my laptop, but it’s not mine. I’m just taking care of it, and trying to be faithful and productive with it for a greater purpose. It’s actually quite liberating to know that I’m simply responsible taking care of and protecting the things God has put in my life, and knowing that He’s already provided everything I need. I don’t have to worry about what I don’t have, only what I’m accountable for.

What does it look like in your life to cultivate and take care of the things that God has entrusted to you?

Comment

WHAT THE CHURCH GETS WRONG ABOUT FAITH

I guess it makes sense that the church spends a lot of time talking about faith. Faith, it turns out, its a pretty important part of what it means to be a follower of Christ, and it also happens to be one of the most misunderstood parts. I’ve been a part of the church for a long time, and I’ve heard a lot of sermons preached about faith. Unfortunately a lot of them go something along the lines of "if you simply have enough faith, God is going to do/give/provide/show you the thing you are believing for."  

That sounds great, except, sometimes He doesn't.

jason aten is an author writing about what the church gets wrong about faith

Sometimes we pray for people to be healed and they aren’t.  Sometimes we pray for a friend to overcome an addiction, and they don’t.  Sometimes we pray for God to move in one direction, and He doesn’t.  In fact, sometimes He moves in the opposite.

So my question is, why? Is it because of a lack of faith? Does God actually withhold the things He wants to do for us because we simply don't "believe enough?"  That doesn't seem likely to me based on who I know God to be.  

Don't get me wrong, I believe it's certainly true that most of us have far less actual faith than we'd like to imagine.  But I don't think that's the issue here. I think there's something else going on that has far more to do with the character of God and the nature of our relationship with Him - and specifically the nature of His promises.

One of the biggest problems is that I think that often we are believing for God to keep promises He never made to us.  And I think the church is part of the problem.  I think the church does a poor job helping people to understand that faith isn't trusting that God will do the thing we want Him to do.  Faith is trusting Him to do the thing He promised He would do.  

Faith is believing that God always keeps His promises.  It’s taking Him at His word.

Kind of like Mary and Martha expecting Jesus to show up and heal their brother Lazarus.  After all, when they sent word to Jesus that their brother was sick, He promises that “this sickness will not end in death.” (John 11:4).  But that's not what He does.  He doesn’t heal Lazarus. He doesn’t do the thing they are expecting Him to do. In fact, Lazarus dies. 

Later, when Jesus does show up they give Him a hard time. "Jesus, if only you had been here, our brother wouldn't have died.”

Did you catch that? “Jesus, if only you had…” There’s a sense of almost indignation that Jesus hadn’t done what they expected him to do.  He hadn’t healed their brother and the sisters were upset. They had asked Jesus to do something, and they expected that He was not only able, but that He would come through and deliver.  I’ve had a lot of “Jesus, if only you had…” moments in my life.  Maybe you can relate.  

“Jesus, if only you had healed my sister...” 

"Jesus, if only you had gotten me out of trouble..."

“Jesus, if only you had come through on this job I prayed for...”

"Jesus, if only you had made my wife understand…"

But that wasn't the promise Jesus made. He promised that the sickness would not END in death. The sisters only understood that as a promise on this side of death. They only understood it to mean that Jesus would do one thing, heal their brother. But Jesus’ promise is much better. If they had truly understood, they would have realized that Lazarus’ death meant only one thing - it’s not over yet. This isn't the end. That’s what Jesus told them.

There’s something else about the promise. It comes in verse 5 and reads: “It is for God’s glory, that God’s Son may be glorified.” Did you catch that? The sickness, and the promise has a purpose.  The thing you’re going through has a purpose.  The thing that you’re praying about but God doesn’t seem to answer, despite your faith, has a purpose.  Take Him at His word.  Every one of God’s promises accomplishes His purpose, and His ultimate purpose is His glory.  

Later Jesus says to the sisters “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40)  God is always working according to His purpose. He is always about accomplishing His plan, which the Bible tells us is to bring about His glory.  There’s no doubt, we’ve been getting in the way of that since the garden of Eden, but that doesn’t stop God from working to accomplish exactly what He set out to accomplish in each and every one of us.

Paul writes that “in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, and are called according to His purpose.”  (Romans 8:28) The trouble is, we often want to be the one to define “good.”  We have our own idea of what is good for us, according to our plans and our agenda.  So we imagine that God’s promises align with our purposes.  Yet, the truth is that God is always working for our good, despite our misunderstanding of what that means.  We can always trust that no matter what, He is organizing and ordering our steps to lead us towards the best possible outcome - our good. 

If only the church spent more time talking about faith as trusting in what God was doing - what He said He would do, instead of faith as trusting that God will do what we want Him to do. I know, it preaches well to stand in front of a congregation of people, each with a list of things that they need from God. I get it.  Superstar pastors have preached it well, and churches have been built on this concept of faith.  So have a lot of disappointed and disillusioned Christians, who are wondering “Jesus if only you had…”

So church, stop encouraging people to believe in promises that God never made, and instead help people grow in faith - the steadfast belief that God always keeps His word.  He always keeps His promises, His promises always accomplish His purpose, and His purpose in your life is good.  

ABOUT FEAR

What are you afraid of?  I mean REALLY afraid of?  What keeps you up at night with fear?  If we are honest, we’re all afraid of something.  Some of us are afraid of spiders, or the dark.  Some of us are afraid of heights, or flying, or snakes.  If we’re still being honest, most of us are afraid of death.  Still, even if you are afraid of all these things, it’s unlikely they are keeping you up at night.  If they did, you wouldn’t be able to function.

driven by fear.png

Some fear is healthy, keeping us safe, sort of like an internal guardrail. It works as a sort of warning bell that danger is near.  On the other hand, many of the things we are afraid of border on the irrational.  

I can remember playing in our basement with our 3 older children, who were 6, 4 & 3 at the time.  We are a “wrestle on the floor” kind of family, and even in our finished basement, when you get down on the floor, it’s even money that you might encounter a friend of the 6 to 8 legged variety.  

We used to call them pill bugs, or “roly polys” when I was younger.  My daughters call them “daddy kill it!”  

Now roly polys are maybe the least scary bug on the planet other than maybe fireflies, which are cool basically because they are fun to chase at night.  The number of people who have been attacked by, or killed by a rolly poly is exactly the same as the number of people who have been to Mars.  Zero.  More people are harmed each year opening Diet Coke cans.  Seriously, that's true.

Of course, none of that matters to my daughters, who are mortally afraid every time there is a roly poly sighting in our home.  The fear is paralyzing.  It keeps them from enjoying life in any meaningful way because all they can think about is the tiny little 6-legge ball over in the corner. 

Fear does that.  Fear takes over and everything else shuts down.  Instead of looking at reality, all we see is danger - whether it’s real or not.  All we see is the worst-case scenario, and our emotions respond as if that worst-case scenario is reality, not just some degree of possibility.  We begin to act out of fear, making choices to avoid danger at all cost, whether the danger is actually real or not.

I lived most of a decade in fear.  Every single day, my heart and mind were gripped by fear.  I woke up in the morning afraid.  By mid-afternoon the stress and fear had given me a migraine.  At night I would lie in the darkness while my spirit trailed inside me.  Most nights I would have to listen to music or Netflix just to distract my mind long enough to fall asleep. 

I wasn’t afraid of snakes, or heights, or even death.  Okay, I am afraid of heights - like really afraid of heights.  But heights are not what kept me up at night.

When I would lie in the darkness of our bedroom, the thoughts that would overwhelm me were much deeper fears.  I was afraid I wasn’t good enough - for my family, for my wife, for my friends, for my clients.  I was afraid that people would find out that the successful, put-together, confident image I worked so hard to craft was just that - an image.  

I was afraid that if anyone knew how broken I was, if they knew how much of a failure I was - that they would give up on me.  I was afraid of losing my business, my marriage, my family, my status, my reputation, and my life as I knew it.  

Life was spinning quickly out of control, and I was honestly afraid that my wife and my children would end up hating me if they knew that I was fraud - a fake copy of what I thought the world said I was supposed to be.

Fear drove me to live according to the darkest parts of my soul, the parts inhabited by shame and pride, instead of according to faith. Fear does that.  It drives you places you never meant to go and motivates you to do things you never meant to do.  And then it leaves you there.  All alone in your fear.

I was afraid of the unknown. I was afraid of being alone, and not being in control. And those fears drove me to almost destroy my family and my life. Don't misunderstand me - it wasn't fear's fault.  It was mine.  Fear was the motivation, but all of the action was mine.  I acted on my fear, instead of my faith. 

The Bible says a lot about fear, or rather it says a lot about what we should not fear.  In fact, it tells us to “fear not,” or “do not be afraid,” a little over 100 times.  I think this is because God knows something about fear that we don't.  I think it's because God knows that fear paralyzes us, and robs of of participating in His plan for our lives.  It causes us to make decisions that move us further into doubt and anxiety and further away from faith.

I also think that the Bible says a lot about fear because God has given us an alternative. I think it's because God gives us the antidote to fear.  Love. His love.  He invites us to walk not in fear, but in His love.  His perfect love.

"There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear.” 1 John 4:18

You see, the reason perfect love drives out fear is because the love of God through Jesus Christ drives away all shame, judgement and condemnation. It's already been wiped away. You've been set free from the bondage they have held on your life. So you can stop letting it drive you places you never meant to go.  You can stop letting it control who you are and what you do. It doesn't mean that you won't face some things, but you are loved by a God who will never leave you nor forsake you. (DEUT 31:8).  He will never leave you alone. 

Jesus calls us to trust in Him. Completely. He invites us to take Him at His word - which is what faith means by the way. When we do, there's no room left for fear to drive us because though we don't know all of the unknown, we know that the God who is leading us loves us perfectly.  

So, what are you afraid of?

 

Comment