“There and Back Again – Begindings”

At Gateway Church in Austin, we concluded our series called “There and Back Again.” I spoke at South Campus and Rick Shurtz, our teaching pastor and grow pastor shared the following insights at the McNeil campus:

The Hobbit was originally called There and Back Again, a story that chronicles the epic adventure of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who preferred looking at maps than leaving his house.

Many of us in recent months, have taken some extremely bold steps on the adventure of following Jesus, so you don’t need to be told again to go and do it. What we do need, though, is some honest dialogue about what this adventure of following Christ is TRULY like.

For the past 2 decades, the homicide rate in the United States had dropped, but from 2001 to 2011 the Wall Street Journal reported that the number of people treated for gunshot wounds has grown by nearly half. So although we’ve seen a drop in homicides in the past 20 years, over the past 10 years, we’ve seen a near 50% increase in gun shot wounds.

During this same period of time, there has been significant advancement in the treatment of gunshot wounds. So, the WSJ reports, and I quote, ‘more people in the U.S. are getting shot, but doctors have gotten better at patching them up.’ That to say, those of us living in the US, we have a greater chance of getting shot then we did 10 – 20 years ago, but a lesser chance of dying from the wound.

So, are things better, or are things worse?

Why is it that the condition of humanity is seemingly on the decrease?

Christ made a legitimate correlation between anger and homicide:

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Matthew 5:21-22, NIV

In other words, murder is just one outward symptom of an inward disposition of anger.

So what can we do?

Become people known by love and people who create loving community.

Let’s do an assessment. How do we stack up to the biblical description of love?

1 Corinthians 13

13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Now try this. Take the word LOVE out of those verses, insert your own name, and see how it reads.

Ask yourself the following questions:
‘Am I a patient person?’
‘Do others experience me as patient?’
‘Am I a kind person?’
‘Do others experience me as kind?’

Too often we are not who we want to be because we have gotten busy pursuing other things that distract us. They could even be good things that we have let become our gods.

We find ourselves pursuing things (good and bad) like a carrot on a stick. We see something we want in life, so we walk toward it. As we walk, rather than getting what we want, it seems to be harder to get. It evades, so we pick up the pace. We trot. Which only makes things worse, right? We’re working harder to get it, but it’s not happening. It’s just racing away from us, so we go from trot to run. We think that if we could just get that carrot, then all would be well in our worlds. We’d be fine.

Your carrot may not be climbing the corporate ladder.
Your carrot might be something like having an ideal family.
Maybe you’re single.
Maybe you’re single again, having been married previously.
Maybe you’re married, but the marriage is struggling.
Maybe you’re married, the marriage isn’t struggling, but there are no kids.
Whatever the situation and circumstances, family can be and often is, something we chase.
Maybe not consciously, but in the practice of our lives, we think to ourselves:
‘When I get this family thing figured out, then I can be content, then I can think of others, then I won’t be so self-absorbed.’

There’s this destination on the path, a place we seem to think exists just around the corner, where everything will be all worked out, and we can finally be who we want to be, but we get around the corner, and the destination isn’t there.

How do we break out of this?

We have to figure out how to live with these carrots without living for these carrots.

There are three things worth living for, three things worth living by – faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of all these is LOVE.

We experience PEACE, and JOY, and CONTENTMENT, not by getting our bag of carrots, but by entrusting our bag of carrots to God.

Habakkuk expressed his trust with one of the powerful declarations of Scripture…
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my savior. – Habakkuk 3:17-18

Habbakuk is not saying: ‘I’m trusting you to give me my wants.’ He’s saying, ‘I’m trusting you even if you don’t give me my wants.’

When I entrust my carrots to God. My desires are in your hands, God. My wishes and wants are in your hands. I will work toward them, but I will not obsess over them. I will not let them control me. I will be free from them. When we do that, we are then liberated and freed to turn to the people around us and love us with an authentic kind of love. No longer do we rush past them in pursuit of our carrots. Now we are free to be with them, free to enjoy them, free to no longer be envious of them, but free to be content in their presence absent the weight of unmet desires.

When I enjoy a carrot for what it is, I can then enjoy it for what it is, rather than hate it for what it’s not. I don’t enjoy a carrot when I’m expecting it to be something more.

When I let my wife be what she CAN be, I love her for what she IS rather than being disappointed by what she’s not.

When I let my kids be what they CAN be, I love them for what they are, rather than being disappointed by what they are not capable of being.

Neither my wife or my kids are capable of delivering ultimate satisfaction in my life.

When we entrust our carrots to God, we are actually liberated from them so we can love those around us. That’s faith. It’s entrusting all things to God. What happens when God becomes our greatest HOPE?

‘…in God’s presence there is fullness of joy.’ Psalm 16:11

Are you seeking faith, love, and hope? These are not abstract ideas. They are represented in the person of Jesus whose birth we celebrate!

In The Hobbit, Bilbo doesn’t just go an epic adventure. He is compelled to help those who do have a home find one because he loves the home he has.”

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