Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Yes: the one about surrender.

Last week in youth group I gave maybe my most heartfelt, raw, and vulnerable message ever and was overwhelmed by the response. I'm moving across the country in four weeks, leaving this group I love, to go minister somewhere else. I don’t think the lessons God has has been teaching me in this time of change are just for me, but they’re meant to be shared. If you missed it last Wednesday night, here’s my heart.

So on Sunday we talked about Elijah, and what it means to hear and follow the gentle whispers of God. This is the story of my life lately! Moving to Michigan started as just a whisper, lost in the noise of life, but the more I sought God, the more I knew what my decision would be. God gave me the answer in one word: surrender.

There’s a couple problems with that. 1) I’m a control freak. Surrendering means giving up control, and letting someone else do something. And 2) I like to win. When you surrender in battle or in a game, you let the other team take the victory. Your name is wiped away as you admit defeat. And I’m not a fan of that.

Michigan and the decision to move there became an area I had to surrender. And certainly YOU have something to surrender, too.

I think one of the hardest things about surrender is that you’re not just saying goodbye to the past, to memories made and history with a place or people. In addition to all that (which is difficult in itself), you’re surrendering a future. It’s like a break-up. You’re not just sad that it’s over, you’re also mourning the future you’ll never have with that person. All the plans and dreams...changed with one decision. Goodbye everyday present life, and goodbye future.

When we say we surrender, we say we have no fear of the future. Or because we’re human and fear comes all too natural, maybe what we’re saying is that in our fear, we trust. Trust God and his perfect plan for us.

When we surrender, we say yes to God. There are three ways we do this:
  1. Obey and say yes. 
  2. Go to work. 
  3. Decide everyday.  
Take Abraham, for example. Classic “obey and say yes” story time and again. His story starts with a choice to make, a decision between packing up his family and all their possessions and heading to an unknown land OR staying right where he was. With an unforeseeable future in sight, all he had to go on was God’s promise to bless him.

One of my favorite verses the last four months is Hebrews 11:8. “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (NIV). EVEN THOUGH he did not know where he was going!! That part blows me away. Faith. Surrender. You’re never still with God. You’re always in constant motion, moving toward him or away. Abraham literally moved toward God.

Fast forward a bunch of years, and Isaac is born. Isaac, Abe and Sarah’s long-awaited promised child. He’s the first descendent in the fulfillment of the promise and to say they were joyful is an understatement. But then God tells Abraham that He’s going to take Isaac from them. And not like kidnapped-in-the-middle-of-the-night take, but a you’re-going-to-take-a-knife-to-your-son take. Crazy symbolism right here with the Son of God, but that’s another message.

I can’t even imagine waiting, longing for something for YEARS, just to have it taken from me a day or week after I get it. And this is an actual human person, Abe’s own flesh and blood.

But God’s plans and his promises are bigger than his people. He remains faithful even when we are faithless. I don’t think that God gave Abraham this test of sacrificing his son to trip him up and question his faith, but to deepen his obedience and develop his character. God didn’t necessarily want Isaac to die, but he wanted Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (his most important treasure) in his heart so that it would be evident that Abraham loved God more than he loved his son. Loving your son isn’t a bad thing. Loving people is actually a very good thing. But loving anything more that you love God is not okay.

It’s hard to let go of what we deeply love. Yet when we do what God asks, he gives us far more than we could dream. The spiritual blessings outweigh the sacrifice.

For me, this church is what I love. This youth group is what I love. But God’s asking me to let it go. Why? Because it’s more important that I love Him.

I find so much joy and love in being your youth pastor...but too often I also find my identify in it...and that’s not ok! My identity needs to be found in Christ alone.

When I told a friend I was leaving, her response to me was: “one of my first thoughts is what is Legacy without Sarah?” I quickly told her that one of my first thoughts was “who am I without Legacy?” But woah...so scary if I don’t know the answer to that! Because all of a sudden my identity is found in serving Christ, but not in Christ himself. Serving Christ is great, it’s what we’re called to do, but it’s not where we find identity. I want my identity so wrapped up in Christ that He is all I need.

I go back to that passage in Hebrews. “Abraham...obeyed and went...even though he did not know where he was going.” I want the same to be said of me. Sarah obeyed and went even though she did not know where she was going.

Step number two of surrender is go to work. My girl Ruth is the perfect example here. She’s recently widowed, which is pretty much the worst life can throw at her. She’s set up to be taken advantage of, ignored, and poor. She can get out of it, go back to her home and family and remarry and start her own family...

But she doesn’t. She sticks with her mother-in-law, claiming her God and her people. She gives up security, children, a future...in order to care of Naomi.

So she goes to work. She doesn’t just sit there and be a widow. In Ruth 2:2 we read that she goes out into the fields and picks up the leftover grain. She takes initiative. She’s not afraid of admitting a need and then working hard to supply it.

If you’re waiting for God to provide, consider this: He may be waiting for you to take the first step to demonstrate just how important your need is. 

Ruth demonstrates consistent character in how she follows God, and it pays off. In fact, in her story, God is working in ways she didn’t even know. Spoiler alert: she gets the prince and lives happily ever after. When she stepped foot in the field that day, she didn’t know that the owner of that field would one day be her husband. But he was...and that would have never happened without that first decision to stay with Naomi...and then go to work.

When I worked as a camp youth director in college I had no idea God was preparing me to work with with youth as an adult. The first time I stepped foot in Legacy (eight years ago!!) I had no idea I would walk through those doors approximately 2,147 more times. When Wes needed someone to teach a lesson to a group of Middle Schoolers on a Wednesday night I had no idea that a year later it would be my full-time job for the next five and a half years. I also had no idea those same middle schoolers would grow up to be RA’s and camp counselors, spiritual leaders to their own groups of kids.

It makes me wonder what I will look back on in another eight years, what’s happening in my life now that is just preparation for the future.

I don’t think God works through coincidences. God works through divine appointments we don’t even know yet. In August, soon after I was offered my new position, I went to the beach and re-read through the last three years of my journals. I began to see how God has been weaving this story, preparing me to go. I wrote:

“I’m beginning to view my life more as missional and less as ‘mine’. It means moving to Michigan is not committing to a lifetime, it’s committing to ‘now’ and when God calls again, I’ll go.

I look back at Emily Wireman’s word to me a year ago this month, about how God knows the deepest desires of my heart and he wants to give them to me. I thought that was about adoption - but what if the deepest desire of my heart is the Grounds? It can’t really be a surprise...to anyone.

I just read the poem I wrote at the Grounds on 8/14/13: He takes me hand // reminds me of promises tried and true // things He’s done and things yet to do.

‘Things yet to do’...maybe that’s our theme for next summer.

I wrote... ‘I love it here. I never want it to end. I don’t want to leave. I feel alive and free. I’m away from distraction, filled with satisfaction, joy unending overflows. It floods my soul.’

September 2013 I wrote - God, give me community. Show me a group where I can be known. Where I’m love an accepted for Sarah. Not just the youth pastor or teacher or daughter.

Wow...talk about the Grounds, talk about the deepest desires of my heart. I didn’t even know it.

In January I prayed that 2014 would bring more that I could ask or imagine. ‘Not that I have answers, but that I see God through the questions.’ Wow...definitely no clear answers today, but so many questions I see God through!

In February (2014) I wrote that ‘there’s no foreseeable reason, but I just can’t shake the feeling like my time at Legacy is drawing to a close.’

In March (2014) I prayed ‘God, I need a renewed passion and vision for this place or I need to go.’

In April (2014) I prayed ‘How do I know when it’s time? When will I know it’s time to say goodbye and start over?’

In May (2014): ‘How I miss the Grounds. I long for simpler days and time where life didn’t always seem like such a struggle.’

In July (2014), at the Grounds, I wrote: ‘If I could freeze time I would’ and ‘Retreat, refresh, relax, remember // celebrate days past // dream of what’s to come // reflecting on all you’ve done // gives me hope of all you’ve yet to do.’” **

Guys, I just can’t even. Two summers in a row I wrote of “things yet to do” IN THE VERY PLACE I AM NOW MOVING and I had NO idea. That last one was two weeks before the job was offered to me. The position wasn’t even open when I wrote that! But like Ruth, even though I couldn’t see the end, every day I went to work. One day, one step, and it’s led me here.

And then there’s point number three: decide every day. 

In Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus calls Peter and Andrew to follow Him. It says they left their nets AT ONCE. Shortly after, he calls James and John, who IMMEDIATELY followed. These guys already knew who Jesus was. They knew what he stood for. So they gave no excuses about why it wasn’t a good time, they just went. They left their dad (and according to Mark, their hired men) and followed. They didn’t know where they were going, but they knew who they were following.

But they had to decide every day. We see Peter struggling with this more than once. At one point they are fishing, it’s not going well, and Jesus makes a suggestion. Peter doubts him, but it works! (Duh, it’s Jesus). So then Peter says this: “Oh Lord, please leave me - I’m too much of a sinner to be around you” (Luke 5:8). But Jesus replies “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” (v. 10). Did you catch what just happened there? Jesus calls Peter again. It’s an every day calling, an every day decision.

In the first chapter of the book of John, we see Jesus hanging out with his disciples, and as they’re following Him he turns around and asks “What do you want?” Again...duh, He’s Jesus. He knows what they want. I think is real question is “why are are you following me?” When we make that every day decision to follow, we need to be sure we’re following for the right reasons.

To follow Christ for our own purposes is asking Christ to follow us. It’s asking Him to join with us to advance and support our cause, not His. Let’s examine our motives for a minute...are we seeking His glory or ours? 

So this Peter I mentioned earlier...technically his name is still Simon. But in John 1:42 Jesus looks at Him and says, “Your name is Simon, but you will be called Peter.” Peter, which means rock. This guy who constantly doubts, who has to decide every day, is a rock? Well no, not at this point.

But Jesus gave him a name he would grow into, something to aim for.

As a youth pastor at Legacy, I’m working my dream job. When I started I didn’t know it. And now I’m going to take a job I will love, but right now it’s not my favorite.

But God’s giving me a new name and I have a choice about what it will be.

My name can be FEAR. Because I’m scared. The future is unknown and I don’t know where I am going.

Or my name can be SURRENDER. Because I trust in the God who holds to future. 

As far as I know, none of you are facing decisions to move to Michigan anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas of your life that God’s asking you to surrender. What is it you have a tight grip on? What won’t you let go of? What are you scared of?

Trusting God means pushing past that fear. We hear so often “Trust in the Lord...and he will make your paths straight.”

When did we confuse straight for smooth? Straight means God will get us from point A to point B...but it doesn’t mean anything about the condition of the road in between! The verse doesn’t say smooth, but it does give us assurance of who is directing those paths. 

In October, when I was two weeks out from having to announce a public decision I had already made in my heart, I wrote this in my journal (through many, MANY tears on my very favorite beach in the world):

When you say yes to God, you leave a job you adore - and are adored at. You did it before, and you ended up there, and you know if God did it once He will do it again.

When you say yes to God, you say no to the raise, and graciously live on the much smaller budget.

When you say yes to God, you pack up your three bedroom home and move back in with your parents until the right housing option, unknown to you now, opens up.

When you say yes to God, you close the office door to you “second home” for a final time. It’s the place where your best friends work, where you’ve been pranked, surprised,  showered with gifts, and even spent the night a couple times...and you open your new door to an office in a building where you work by yourself.

When you say yes to God, you relish nights like this, dusk on Anna Maria Island, because you know all to soon they will be gone and the sun will set at 4:30.

When you say yes to God, you say good morning to yourself, and not that darling 14-month-old face down the hall.

When you say yes to God, you throw away your calendar and say yes to the plans He has for your life. It’s a daily calendar...and you can’t turn the pages. It’s knowledge of one day at a time, and what comes will come.

When you say yes to God, you say goodbye to the 11-23 year olds - hundreds of them now - that you spent EIGHT years pouring into and hello to a whole new flock who don’t even know your name.

When you say yes to God, you say “see you later” to little faces who call you Auntie Sarah, belonging to kids you knew in the womb, not knowing when “later” will be.

When you say yes to God, you stop flirting with all the nice guys coming your way because you know all too soon you’ll be gone and the distance isn’t fair.

When you say yes to God, you adios:
  • comfort
  • safety
  • sense of purpose
  • celebrity
  • family
  • routine

And you trade them in for faith. Faith that God is who He says He is and will do all He has said He will do. Faith that God will do immeasurably more than you can ask or imagine. Faith that the God who told you to jump will be the God there when You land. Faith that at the end of it all, God will look at you and say, ‘well done, good and faithful servant.’

July 2014 in Michigan...an attempt to freeze time.

**Please don’t read that journal entry and think “Wow, Sarah really hates Legacy.” This is a combination of things I’ve written over the years, but I promise there is SO MUCH LOVE for Legacy in those same books :)

P.S. There’s a pretty substantial list of songs God’s used to speak to me in the last couple months. Check out my playlist here: surrender

P.P.S. You can read my original announcement to my congregation here.

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