Friday, June 3, 2011

Soulprint Week #2 - Life Symbols or remembering God in our past

Below is the message I shared last week at Good Shepherd.  It is the second in  a series based on the book, Soul Print by Mark Batterson.  The first message is contained in an earlier post if you are interested.  
Remembering where we have been  - and how God was present and active in the moments of our past is an important element of beginning to move forward toward who God has called us to be.  Hope you hear God speaking to you here.

1 Samuel 17: 41 – 54 (NIV)
41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”   45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.   50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.   51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.     When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. 52 Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath[f] and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. 53 When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp.
Today we continue our series based on the book ‘Soulprint’, working towards understanding who God has uniquely made us to be who we are and searching for the unique call and destiny that God has placed on our lives.
Last week, as we began the series, we focused on two things.  First, on the importance of not trying to be anything that we are not – and simply living into who and what we are.  This idea was reinforced for me this week on Monday as I came across two quotes from very different sources that dealt with being who you are:
The first is from Oscar Wilde, and he simply advises: ‘Be yourself, everyone else is taken.’
The second is a Jewish proverb I was told, which goes: ‘If I am like someone else, who will be like me?
The point of these quotes and of our time last week was the simple, but important reminder that we are who we are for a reason.  We are who we are on purpose, for a purpose.  The second point from last week was that in order to be ourselves, even in difficult we need confidence.  But this confidence isn’t in ourselves and doesn’t come from ourselves, but rather we need to have a Holy Confidence in a God that is Holy, that loves us and that has planned nothing but the best for us.
Moving forward in that Holy confidence, we move forward by looking back.  Looking back at where we have been in our lives can help us see the way that God has always been working in, around and through all of our lives.
We all keep things from our past – you saw a few of the things I have kept a few minutes ago during the children’s message – but we don’t always end up keeping things that really have any meaning.  And rarely do we keep physical reminders of the spiritual lessons we have learned along the way – or to mark those particular times where God has interceded powerfully in our lives.
In the Old Testament these physical reminders were sometimes called ‘Ebenezers’ – in Soulprint they are called ‘Life symbols’.  David, took a life symbol from his battle with Goliath.  Making what must have been an extraordinary effort, after making sure Goliath was dead, David took the time and effort to remove each piece of the giants armor from him.  If you do the conversions and add them all up Goliath’s armor and weapons the total is 125 pounds and 15 ounces.  David likely didn’t way much more than that. 
Why?  Because we quickly forget, not just the little things that God has done and is doing for us – but even the earth shaking, giant felling things that God does can sometimes be, if not forgotten, at least moved to the back of our thoughts. 
We have forgotten the practice of alter making that the Jews travelling in the desert knew so well.  Leaving an Ebenezer to make the place of God’s intersection with our lives and remind all about God’s faithfulness.   In claiming Life symbols, surrounding ourselves with physical reminders of God’s work in our lives we can remember God’s faithfulness and renew our own Holy Confidence in a God for whom nothing is impossible
The word remember is found and repeated over 250 times in the Bible, because God knows the importance of remembering the right things.  In our lives we most often lose faith in God because we forget God’s ‘faith-fullness’.   In the business of life and with our narrow and often short-sighted vision we miss or forget just how present God has been.  We forget how faithful God has been in caring for us, in providing for us in reaching out to us.
One of the most critical things we must do as we look back at our past is not simply focus on the obvious – what happened – but look deeper, through the lens of God’s plan and call on our lives and think about the why.  This is especially true of the failures, difficulties or pain that lies in your past. 
Batterson says in Soulprint that: ‘why is more important that what.  It’s not our experiences that make us or break us.  It’s our interpretation of and explanation for those experiences that ultimately determines who we become.  Your explanations are more important than your experiences.’
With this in mind it is critically important to remember that ‘the ultimate objective of every circumstance is to cultivate the character of Christ in us.
As Christians we claim Christ not just as our savior and our Lord, but also as our model for how to live life and to interpret life.  Christ understood so clearly the ‘why’ of the suffering that he endured. 
Because of that understanding Jesus saw beauty, power and purpose in the persecution and suffering he bore.  That is why some of the best things come out of the worst circumstances – because they help us identify with the sufferings of Christ.
David lived through difficult experiences before his triumph over Goliath.  He wasn’t deemed worthy of a place on the battlefield (a place of honor) with his brothers.  But before that, when Samuel was lining up the sons of Jesse to anoint the next king, Jesse – David’s own father – didn’t even bother to mention David, let alone bring him before Samuel to be considered.
David faced a choice that each of us face –regardless of the nature and depth of the difficulties we face.  The struggles and trials we face (divorce, cancer, heartbreak, disappointment or loss – whatever they might be) don’t have to define us.  They don’t have to define us, if we let God use them to refine us.
That is the choice we are faced with in looking at the difficulties and struggles in our lives: define or refine.  And if we trust in God enough to let them refine us, then God will use even those negative experiences in our lives to help redefine us.
Corrie ten Boom, the heroic and famed survivor of Nazi concentration camps during WWII spent many years of her life speaking to people around the world, sharing her experiences and her insights,
When she spoke to people, it was often with her head down.   This was not because she was shy or because she was reading her notes, but rather she was usually working on a piece of needlepoint.
At the end of her story, the story of atrocities experienced at the hands of the Nazis, she would show the audience the needlepoint she had been working on.  First, she would hold up the backside, which would just be a mishmash of threads and colors with no recognizable pattern. 
Then she would say: ‘That’s how we see our lives.  Sometimes it makes no sense’.  
But then she would turn over the needlepoint to show the finished side.  And she would say: ‘This is how God views your life, and someday we will have the privilege of seeing it from His point of view.’
She would often end with this poem:
My life is but a weaving between my God and me, I do not choose the colors, He works so steadily, Oft times He weaves in sorrow, and I in foolish pride, Forget He sees the upper, and I the underside.
Not till the loom is silent, and the shuttles cease to fly will God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why.  The dark threads are as needful in the Weaver’s skillful hand, as the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.
Our soulprints are like the needlepoint,  identity is the underside and destiny is the upper side.
Lifesymbols can be for us the connecting threads between these two sides.   They are the colors that mark defining moments.  They are the frames that help us explain our experiences. 
They are the ‘shuttles’ that refine and define us.  And if we will simply put ourselves on the loom, God will weave a masterpiece in us. 

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