The Chain Breaker

By: Brenda Wetzel

chainIn grieving the recent loss of my dad, I’ve been reminded of the many wonderful characteristics he has blessed me with, but of also the shortcomings we share. I credit him with my deep faith and heart for God, adventurous, independent spirit, persistence and resourcefulness. But there are also some less attractive traits, one of which I will call “Right.” For me this includes the need to be right and the need to do it right (perfectionism). Both of these are toxic to relationships. Ask Al.

If you’ve read The Hobbit, you know that Gollum has a ring that has so much power over him he calls it “my precious.” Well, Right is “my precious” and its power over me is straight from Satan. He uses all the usual scare tactics and lies to have me believe I need and must have “my precious.” He whoops with glee and does his happy dance every time I succumb to it. And it has me in chains.

The only Chain Breaker I know is God. He is the only force strong enough to break the chain of “my precious.” To relinquish something so precious requires that I relabel it. Instead of considering it precious, I need to recognize what it is. Poisonous. But merely giving it up leaves its power intact. Not good enough. Just like the ring, it needs to be destroyed. And God has promised to do it.

God knows my struggle and reminds me that my part is to keep my eyes fixed on him and resist the devil. I trust his promise. The devil will flee from me. Some days I remember my part and others not so much. But through it all, he wipes away every tear and assures me that while the battle rages on, I can believe that the victory has already been won.

To borrow the lyrics of a favorite song, my Victory has a name. Jesus.

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Pie for Dinner is Wonderful, but…

By: Deron Vaupel, Ministry Administrator

pieExcuses can feel like wonderful things. Any parent can tell you of the countless times that they heard an excuse from their child to make a punch ok, provide excellent justification for a job partially done, disprove decades of research on the nutritional benefits of cookies, and generally absolve responsibility for mischief…at least in the mind of the offender. For anyone on the receiving end, though, it’s more often a source of frustration or comic relief.

As I’ve thought through my own (vast) experiences with excuses, it’s pretty easy to see that they are an incredibly powerful tool of self-delusion, usually just trying to appease some aspect of my perceived emotional/physical/spiritual well-being at the expense of my actual emotional/physical/spiritual well-being.

-‘I don’t need to worry about praying at dinner…I read my Bible this morning.’
-‘I hugged my kid this morning…he knows I love him.’
-‘Sure, I can finish that pie…I ran 4 miles today.’

If I’m truly serious about anything in life, what reason do I have to not make every effort possible to show that I’m serious about it? Pie is wonderful, but isn’t a healthy body better? My kids are great, but how often do I let them know that I think they’re great? Following Jesus is an amazing opportunity, so why delay any opportunity to improve that relationship?

As we continue through this series about giving things up,  we’re challenged to give up our excuses for commitment, to recognize how our excuses pile up to hinder our growth in every area of life. If we’re honest with ourselves, we probably make many small excuses each week that can eventually have a huge impact on our relationships with God, others, and ourselves.

In the coming weeks, I invite you to ask me about my excuses and how I’m moving toward commitment. I also invite you to identify one specific area where you’re ready to give up your excuses in order to be more committed. As we share honestly with one another, the self-delusional power of excuses breaks down and we have a greater ability to grow.

My Time on Death Road

By: Amber Harder, Communications Specialist

Back in 2004, there was only one way to get from La Paz, Bolivia to Caranavi, Bolivia. One tiny road called El Camino del Muerte – which translated means “The Road of Death.” This one-lane road held two-way traffic, and it snaked through the mountains descending 8,700 feet in altitude. It was estimated that between 200-300 people died on this road each year, which isn’t surprising because there are at times cliffs of up to 2,000ft with no guardrails.

In 2004, it just so happened that I needed to get from La Paz to Caranavi, so I needed to travel Death Road.

I remember the morning clearly. My music ministry group and I arrived with all our gear at the designated spot to catch a bus down Death Road. I remember the fear I felt when I stepped onto that bus. I was about to travel down what was later to be named the Most Dangerous Road IN THE WORLD. Sometimes the bus drivers were known to have a drink or two before they got behind the wheel for this trek to help ease their nerves. I was 22 and wanted to live for many, many more years. I wasn’t sure this was a good choice.

The bus started and we began our journey. At first the road was like any typical highway, but then it got smaller and narrower, and soon we were on a one-lane gravel road. I was struck with a deep fear. I found myself oscillating between holding my breath, praying that the driver was a good one, and then going on to envision our bus careening off the edge.

Somewhere during that first hour I realized I had to let go. I had to release my fear and rest in the truth that God had already numbered my days. He knew if Death Road would be my end, or if I had decades to go beyond that day. When I started to let go of my fear, I began to look around with eyes of wonder.

The dry, cold, high-altitude of La Paz gave way to jungle. There was green everywhere and new plants and trees that I had never seen before. The mountains rose sharply on our right, the carved-out walls that nearly touched our bus dripping with small waterfalls or covered in cascading vines.

But if I peered out my window and looked straight down on my left…well, I couldn’t see the road under us. All I could see was thousands of feet down. Just writing about it now, 14 years later, my feet still sweat with fear! I had to give over my fear again and again and again on that bus ride.

It was all worth it. The glory of God’s creation I saw in those mountains remains unmatched to this day. And the people we met when we arrived in Caranavi still take up space in my heart. God was waiting to show me amazing things. I only had to open up my hands (hands that were so tightly gripping my fears!) and use those hands to hold onto God’s.

      

If you’d like to see a few images of Death Road, check out this National Geographic video, or if you’re feeling particularly brave, here’s a link to two cyclists using their GoPro as they bike down Death Road.

 

Who Is the One Hurting?

By: Darcy Mears, Children’s Ministry Coordinator

Forgiveness gives us warm fuzzies, it is a happy and welcoming word. Forgiving someone a small transgression is easy enough. Letting ourselves off the hook for human foibles is doable. We bump into each other in the hallway and say ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘excuse me’ and we do truly mean it.  How quickly do we ask for forgiveness for the ugly and hurtful actions in our life? How often do we offer forgiveness to others when we are hurting inside? How often do we relive moments in our past that bring anger and tears to our eyes?

The sincere act of forgiveness can be difficult to achieve and can be even more tough to accept from others. Righteousness over how poorly we have been treated is hard to dismiss. The fact is, sometimes the past gives us a reason to explain our resentment and an excuse to hold the familiar feelings close. The other fact is, we are only hurting ourselves and our relationship with God. That other person has long since moved on from those atrocious actions and words. We are left to deal with our own hearts and heal ourselves. It begins with forgiveness. We must forgive others and ourselves to wholly move on with healing.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7

We had a horrible experience with a sick parent in our family. He was far away and his wife was in charge of his care. Over the course of one and a half years, we went through many moments of fear, anger, grief, and resentment. It felt like we were living in a nightmare. We couldn’t change what was happening and Grandpa was slowing fading away; only his wife could see him on a daily basis as all other family and friends live here, like us. I was rightfully upset at the events that had transpired and could not forgive those who were making decisions. I was also feeling very guilty for how my anger seethed inside. I felt blackness in my heart for other human beings. When the call came that the end was here and he was left alone on life support, rage reared its ugly head and camped in my soul.

Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. …Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses.

Until I accepted my feelings and the realization we all live with evil in our lives, I was not able to forgive myself. Until I forgave myself, I was not able to forgive others. Until I forgave others, I was not able to leave the past behind. Realizing I could forgive, and it didn’t mean I was saying it was by any means okay, was liberating; releasing my own feelings of resentment was a turning point. It required a tremendous amount of prayer and effort. Time does help heal wounds and soften the edges. Learning to embrace that God would make it right when it fit into His plan was a final moment of release for me. Forgiveness, regardless of the past, became a reality.

On Giving Things Up

By: Alex Blackwell, Student Ministry Pastor

Alli and I started a diet 19 days ago that lasts for 30 days. It’s hard. But I’m a fan. I’m not a proponent of dieting for everyone – some people eat healthy all the time. I am, however, a proponent of every single person finding something in their lives to give up – even if just for a season every once in a while. Each person should give up something different that is relevant to themselves. It should be something that is felt. It could be something that maybe even hurts a little – like this diet I’m doing. It should not, however, be something that is unwise (don’t give up water, please). So what is it for you? Not convinced that you should give something up? Here’s why I’ve found it to be life-altering:

Self-control. How can I expect to have self-control over anything in my life if I don’t have self-control over one thing in my life? Occasional dieting has forced me to think about what I put into my body and what I can’t anymore. All the gross things that are good for me that I eat and the wonderful things that are bad for me that I take a break from eating are all instances of self-control. And what I have noticed is that when I diet I open up a space in my life where I have self-control, and then that self-control bleeds into other areas of my life. We live in an indulgent society. The process of wanting something and not having it is first of all unheard of, but also incredibly rewarding.

Reminders. Every time I feel hunger or a longing for ice cream, it reminds me of… whatever I want it to remind me of. I choose for it to remind me to pray. You can assign any reminder you want to those feelings, but they’re some of the best reminders in life.

Freedom. It’s only when I started dieting that I realized that not only did I lack self-control over my eating habits, but I was controlled by them. Giving into our every desire leaves us at the mercy of whatever we desire. That’s a dangerous place to be.

Hopefully you’re convinced that there is a necessity for interrupting regular rhythms and giving stuff up every once in a while. They don’t even have to be bad things (let’s be honest, ice cream is heavenly). They just have to be things that are felt, but wise to give up, and only for a season, to regain self-control, become a reminder, and free us from our desires.