What would you take with you?
If you had to evacuate your home, what would you take with you? I imagine those were the hard choices people had to make this past couple of weeks if you were living in Houston. Knowing how bad the storms were going to be and the likelihood of flooding, what would you take? What is most important to you? When I was a kid, I had a little red box with my most important things inside. None of them were terribly expensive, but they were things that meant a lot to me. Eventually, I graduated to a shoebox, and today I have a small black lockbox. The things inside of it are still not terribly expensive, especially to anyone who would hope to find money or treasure inside. I do keep our passports in it and a few hard to replace documents, but overall inside are things that are deeply meaningful just to me – a little red Tonka car my parents got me when I was younger, the tiny plush Eeyore that Cassie bought for me when she told me we were going to have a baby, Emma’s first tooth, my anniversary name tag from when I worked at Disneyland, and other things like that. When I was about Emma’s age, I used to have evacuation plans in my head in case our house ever caught fire and I was trapped in my room. My plan was to throw the box outside, jump out the window, and run around to the front of the house. I miss the days when jumping out the window and climbing the fence were things I took for granted. Sigh.
When our house caught fire, I had to face that crisis first hand.
What to take? When you only have moments to think about it, what is most important to you? It’s a strange coincidence, but I’ve had this conversation with four different people over the last few months, only one of which happened after the flooding in Houston (and that was at our Bible Study last week). People forget we lost nearly everything in the fire. Thankfully, most of our photos and the kids’ memory books were all stored in the garage and didn’t take any damage, but all of our clothes, our TV, our computers, our beds – all of it was lost. Emma had it the worst. For some reason the ash, soot, and asbestos concentrated in her room so she lost everything. She had a collection of Minnie Mouse plush from all over the world that we collected for her on our travels – gone. All of her LEGOs were proudly on display in the kitchen – gone. All of her precious books – gone. In a matter of minutes, the fire, soot, and asbestos had taken away almost all of our stuff. I did get the lockbox out and a watch Cassie bought me for my birthday, though after I made sure Emma and the dogs were safe. And after Emma was alright I asked her which three stuffed animals were her favorites and went back into the house to get them out and whatever else I could carry before the smoke became too overwhelming. But I’ll tell you, in those moments, it didn’t matter. Emma was safe, our dogs were safe, and if that’s all that made it, that would be enough.
Still in those moments, you realize what’s really important.
And it wasn’t all the stuff I had spent years collecting or saving. It wasn’t our nice TV or the super soft leather sofas. It wasn’t our fancy blender we got when we were married. It wasn’t the STUFF. It was my family. They were safe and in the end, that’s what really mattered to me. In moments of crisis, your life becomes much clearer and every day since I’ve fought to make sure it stays that way. Because it’s easy to forget and you get caught up in stuff that seems SUPER important but in the long run doesn’t REALLY matter. But at the time you’d die on those battlefields of the unimportant if you don’t remember to keep that long-term perspective. In every aspect of our lives we need to take a step back and clarify what’s truly important, what ultimately matters to us, and then love and appreciate those things. And let the rest go. Any tough decisions you make in life – moving, job, calling, family – should be governed by this principle. Clear the fluff.
Except we don’t often do it.
If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, would you go to Romans 12:1-8? Romans is in the New Testament past the first four Gospels and the book of Acts. How often do we take a step back to really cut down to what is essential and appreciate what we’ve got? In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul writes about this as it relates to faith. He is explaining about the grace of God to them and wants to encourage them to live as a people who owe everything to God. Paul knows how easy it is to follow along with what everyone else thinks and how hard it is to embrace something different so he urges them in this passage to clear all the fluff.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Before we get where we’re going, we have to know where we are.
And that’s what Paul is encouraging us to do. He wants us to know ourselves so we can figure out how best to serve God. He warns us not to lose focus and keep in mind that we are seeking to do God’s will not our own (v2), and then he tells us to evaluate ourselves without pride or arrogance or boasting, but with what he called “sober judgment” (v3) and figure out what gifts we bring to the table. Every gift is important no matter what it is. Paul rattles off a bunch here – prophesying, serving, teaching, and more – but that list is by no means exhaustive. Some people have a gift for patience or administration or knitting. I knew a 90-year old woman who knitted baby blankets for mothers who couldn’t afford their own. She would use her time while in the nursing home to make these precious gifts and then would donate these piles of blankets to the local hospital. It was amazing. Every gift is important. You just have to figure out the right way to use it. What are the gifts YOU bring to the table?
This is a principle that applies to our lives in every way we use it.
Whether in your personal life, in your career, in whatever organization you are a part of including our church, we have to know who we are and what we bring to the table before we can move forward. You wouldn’t think about renovating a home or a church before taking stock of what we have and what we need. Why would we think it would be different when we are trying to make plans for our future? It was because Jesus was so self-aware, so sure of who he was, that he was able to make the difficult choices he needed to so his destiny could be fulfilled. We find him in John, chapter 8 speaking to a group of people and he says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” But the Pharisees who are watching Jesus speak say to him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” But Jesus simply replies, ““Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going.” I know where I came from and where I am going. Because Jesus had this focus in his life and this level of self-awareness so many of us lack, he was able to persevere in the most extreme circumstances, knowing what he needed to do.
Times of crisis give us moments of clarity into who we are and what’s truly important.
When our home caught fire, for the people in the Houston area whose homes were devastated by floods, for the people in Denham Springs, LA who we helped out last year when those areas were flooded, for the families in Sierra Leone who had life-ending mudslides just a few weeks ago, and for every family who has had to go through the pain and loss of a fire or flood or other life-changing event, it can be an opportune moment to really consider what’s important in your life and where do we go next. I want to challenge you not to wait for the next disaster or crisis in your life to figure that out. I want to challenge you to go below the surface and truly dig deep to know who you are, what is truly important to you, and to use that as the foundation for a better future.