Can God Really Use Me?

How to stop your past from derailing your future

(Okay, sing with me) Glory days… oh they pass you by, glory days…

Tightly cuffed jeans… hairspray… Members-Only jackets… Converse All-Stars… What memories flood your mind when you think of high school?  Maybe an awkward high school yearbook photo that may, or may not, show off your meticulously groomed mullet? (Clears throat).

Maybe you grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and rocked a beehive (how glorious) or a ducktail you combed with 10W-40…

What about your family? Maybe images of trips in a station wagon to the Grand Canyon… or that Thanksgiving where grandpa nearly burned the house down while deep-frying a turkey…

These are the pictures that fill your photo albums.  These are the images on display when your friends come to visit. They are always good for a laugh.  These are the fun and nostalgic pictures that leave you shaking your head at how different life used to be.

But there are other pictures, too.

These are the pictures you don’t share.  Pictures of hurt and shame.  Pictures of the mistakes and regrets you still carry years later.  When you talk about your past, the pictures you share are carefully curated.  You may even hide those hurtful pictures from yourself because they are too hard to look at.

Or maybe you think these mistakes are so awful that God has already disqualified you to lead, serve, or make a difference.  Or maybe you think other people will disqualify you if they find out about those pictures.

If you have ever felt this way (or are feeling it now) ask yourself this: Do you think this is what God wants for you? Do you think God wants you to be a slave of your past so it continually prevents you from moving forward?

Let’s take a look at one of the clearest examples from the Bible that demonstrates how God deals with our past: The story of Paul (the man formerly known as Saul).

Saul the Pharisee

We are first introduced to Saul in Acts 7:58, when Stephen (an apostle) is dragged out of the city of Jerusalem to be stoned to death for declaring that Jesus is God.  The crowd “laid there coats at the feet” of Saul – indicating he was a man of importance.  Then when Stephen is killed, Acts 8:1 simply says, “And Saul approved of their killing him.”

Saul was a rising star as a persecutor of Jesus-followers.  He was an expert in the Law.  Think of him as a hot-shot lawyer who believed all these Jesus-followers were distorting God’s commands.  He was ruthless, smart, and persistent.

Paul, reflecting on his past in Galatians 1:13-14 puts it this way: “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.  I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”

Saul meets Jesus

Saul, on his way to arrest Christians in Damascus, is literally knocked off his horse and blinded by light.  He then hears Jesus say, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  (You can read the whole story in Acts 9).

Saul has a change of heart (and name).

At some point Saul starts going by Paul, probably (at least in part) to disassociate himself from his former identity.  He also starts using his super-lawyer skills for Jesus.  “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.  At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God… {he} grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 9:19ff)

Paul is confronted with his bad pictures

“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was really a disciple” (Acts 9:26).  Yes, just when Paul is starting to lead this new life (and experience great ministry success) he is confronted with the mistakes and regrets of his past.

What if Paul let his past stop him from moving forward?  Well, we wouldn’t have two-thirds of the New Testament, for starters.  He was the instrument God used to bring the Gospel to the non-Jewish world, so there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be talking about this right now.

Can God use even me?

Listen, no offense, but I don’t think your mistakes are worse than Paul’s.  He persecuted and killed followers of Jesus.  Can God use you?  Absolutely.  In fact, it’s often the bad pictures God wants to use in order to help and encourage others.

When you’re tempted to shrink back because of your past, just remember:

#1 Your past has shaped you, but it doesn’t have to define you.

#2 God wants to use who you are – just the version of you that is for Him.

 #3 Like Paul, God wants to get a new picture in your head.

Yes, you have a past.  And so does everyone else.  But God wants you to see what He sees.  Redeemed, glorious, gifted – you.  This is the picture that he wants in your photo album.  This is the image on display for the world to see.  This is the image that will leave you shaking your head at how different life used to be.

Want to hear more?  Check out my sermon on this topic here.

 

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3 Reasons Why You Might Be Discontent

and how to finally find peace

You’re just not feeling it.  It seems like no matter what you do, you can only capture it for a moment… and then it’s gone. Sometimes you think you can go on vacation and capture it… but it never seems to last.  Sometimes you try and buy it… but it still eludes you.  What am I talking about?

Peace.

If you’re like me, you thought that once you figured out how to manage your schedule better or achieve greater work/life balance or get that promotion or spend more time with your kids that you would finally be at peace.

But it didn’t happen.

You may even consider yourself to be happy most of the time, but there’s that gnawing suspicion that there’s something missing deep in your soul… a discontent that plays like background music in your everyday life.

Why is it there?  Why does it keep playing despite the success and love and accomplishment you’ve experienced?

Here are 3 reasons why you might be struggling to find peace:

#1 If you depend on external behaviors you won’t find inner peace.

That’s because external behaviors only have temporary effects.  Vacations are great to feel peaceful, but they don’t address the real issue–what’s happening on the inside.

In an oxford.com article, “The Psychology of Shopping,” Naomi Canton writes that during an economic downturn (when people are feeling lost or discontent) there is: “an increase in the sale of fast food, alcohol and confectionary, too. They all thrive. In spring 2009 Americans were using these products to pick up their mood. They couldn’t afford a fancy restaurant, but they could afford McDonald’s or a Cadbury’s chocolate.”  

But the mood never lasts, does it?  External behaviors, at best, produce temporary peace. They are like self-medications that don’t address the root of the problem.

What if I told you there is a better way?  What if I told you that you could experience a deep, abiding, inner peace no matter what is going on externally your life?

It would be a game-changer, right?

#2 Your discontent could be a spiritual symptom

Lost people are not content.  Now, before you get offended, let me explain.  I’m not using “lost” as a pejorative term, I’m just using it to describe anyone who cannot answer the two big questions in life: Who am I? Why am I here?  (Which can apply to anyone, at any time, including followers of Jesus).

It’s like the Bourne Identity (2002).  Jason Bourne wakes up on a boat in the middle of the ocean, not sure who he is or why he’s there. He is confused, angry, and discontent… because he’s lost.  (Okay, he’s full of bullet-holes too, but just work with me here).

But, there is a remedy

In Jesus’ day, the concept of peace was based on the Jewish notion of Shalom.  While we might think of Shalom as a synonym for peace, it actually means much more.  It’s about wholeness… wellness… contentment and satisfaction with every area of life.  They understood it as something quasi-physical, something that God rests upon you.

Jesus is often called, The Prince of Peace.  The Prince of Shalom.  And here’s what he says about the peace he offers: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

I do not give to you as the world gives.  In other words, my peace, is not found in external behaviors, but inner rest–the remedy to a troubled heart.

When you put your faith in Jesus, God brings peace to your innermost being.  And the reason is simple: you experience a restored relationship with God instead of a broken relationship with God.  This, in my experience, is the difference between peace and discontent.  It’s something that God does to me on the inside.

But…

#3 Maybe you still haven’t decided to take the antidote

Knowing about faith in Jesus, or hearing about faith in Jesus for many church Sundays is not the same as having faith.  It is when we trust Jesus with our everyday lives that we experience peace.  And this peace will replace that background music of discontent.  So, no matter what is going on in your life–even if it’s hard or confusing or painful–your soul will still feel peace.

What if you could have peace no matter what was going on externally? How would that change your life?

Let’s decide to quit living like Jason Bourne.  It may be fun to watch, but it’s an exhausting way to live.

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Pointing out the Arugula

The fear and risk of speaking up

Have you ever been out to lunch with a friend and they get a little piece of arugula or something in their teeth… and you didn’t tell them?  Or maybe you’re shopping with your sister and she asks if the pants she’s trying on are too tight… and even though they clearly are, you lie?

Or maybe it’s something much more serious.

Maybe someone you love is about to make a terrible mistake… and you don’t say a word.  You want to, of course.  You always want to.  But when the moment comes, fear paralyzes you and the moment passes in silence.

Why do we have such a hard time speaking up?

Well, if you’re anything like me, it’s fear.  Fear of damaging a relationship by speaking. Oddly enough, when I don’t speak up, it usually causes more damage in the end–the friend with the arugula or the pants or the mistake invariably asks me: Why didn’t you say something?

In many surveys that ask Americans what they fear the most, the #1 is not death…  It’s public speaking.  Yup, you read that right.  In a Forbes.com article from Aug. 2015, contributor Nick Morgan adds, “Jerry Seinfeld even made a joke out of it, noting that if fear of public speaking was number one, and death was lower down the list, it meant that people would rather die than give the eulogy at the funeral.”

We are afraid to speak up – especially when it comes to our faith.

If we won’t point out arugula, we definitely we won’t point out Jesus.

After all, we know full well that we don’t talk about religion or politics with people we love because we don’t want to argue. We want to love each other and be nice… but if ‘nice’ is just a veneer, how is that love?

I wonder… how many of the people I truly love will get to the end of their lives and discover the joy and freedom and blessing of a relationship with Jesus Christ–and that they have missed out for all those years?  I’m afraid they’ll ask me: Why didn’t you say something?

The Gospel is good news!

The term gospel, refers to what Jesus accomplished on the cross.  But it’s a word that was taken from Roman culture in the time of Jesus.  It referred to the good news of a military or political or personal victory.  It was a declaration and a proclamation: victory has been secured.  The gospel is the good news that Jesus has secured victory over sin and death.

It’s news… it requires words.

God wants you to speak with actual words – that He will give you.

In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit fills the apostles (e.g. all on Pentecost, Peter and John before the Sanhedrin, Stephen before the Sanhedrin) for the purpose of public speaking.  This is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise: “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” (Luke 12:11).

Sometimes it feels like a teleprompter.  Words that are clearly coming from somewhere else that I’m speaking at just the right moment.  Other times it feels like an intuition–a feeling that I need to say something even at the risk of offending someone. But I have to get over my own insecurity and fear and trust in order to speak.

Jesus says, don’t worry, God will teach you the words to say. God wants you to share the good news of Jesus.  He wants you to risk it.  If you don’t risk it, He can’t give you the words.

He are 3 things to remember when speaking up:

#1 Don’t be a jerk

Ummm… yeah.  Just don’t be.  There are too many Christians who use their words (or worse, God’s Word) as a blunt instrument.  It’s not about debate, it’s about truly loving someone.  It’s not about getting your Christian agenda across, it’s about loving someone enough to share the greatest news in history because it will transform their life.

#2 Love is the door to truth

You have to love someone for them to hear the truth.  Ephesians 4:15 reminds us that we are called to speak the truth in love.  Again, it’s about your agenda–it’s about God’s desire to share His love with them.

#3 Be willing to risk discomfort, inconvenience, and fear

Love points out the arugula.  Most of the time, if done right, people will thank you for it.

Let’s speak up and let the Holy Spirit speak into the lives of the people we love.

Question: What has helped you speak the good news into people’s lives effectively? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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