Eric sat on his couch and considered the assignments so far. He kept hearing the voice of his pastor saying something about God being in control. Deep down, he wondered why he was putting himself through all of this. If God was in control than all he had to do was sit back and do nothing and he would be out on the mission field at just the right time. He took a bite of a handful of chips. The bag was sitting on his belly as he played the lessons through his head. When Eric put his hand in the bag again, he noticed that he had nothing but crumbs on the tip of his fingers. He found this deeply distressing. Sighing he stood up, shook the titbits of the chips off his belly and walked to the kitchen to get another bag. Unfortunately, that empty bag represented the last of the snacks in the house.
for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. Psalm 107:9
A seemingly random thought came on Eric. It is the will of God that I have good things to eat. If God is in control, why do I not have any snacks in this house? He prayed that he would open the cabinet over the fridge and there would be another bag of chips. He remembered hearing that when he prayed that he should be very specific in his prayers.
“Jesus, I know you love me. I would love to have some BBQ potato chips. You know the kind I like the best. Please provide these for me. I step out in faith and open the cupboard let them be sitting there waiting for me.” Eric smiled, shook some more crumbs from the crannies of his sweater and moved to the front of the fridge. Taking a deep breath and filled with belief and expectation, he reached his hand up and opened the cabinet door. He noticed that he had closed his eyes. Slowly he opened one eye and realized that he could only see the front of the shelf. With a bit of frustration, Eric went and found the kitchen chair so he could see the whole cupboard. Climbing up was tough and Eric felt that it was a bit wobblily. Abruptly, he remembered that he really didn’t like heights and became nervous. But he desired some chips and he had prayed for them so certainly they would be there, provided to him by the Jesus that his mother had taught him to trust. The same Jesus that was ridiculed by his father. Eric looked in and the cupboard was completely empty except for some dust.
Eric carefully made his way down from the chair. What was that Joseph had said about a parked car? Eric shook off that thought and wondered if God existed. His whole faith was being shaken by a bag of chips. How could he ever consider being a missionary like those that he had met in church if this minor thing was going to distract him and cause his faith to plummet?
If you faint in the day of trouble, your strength is small! -Proverbs 24:10
Tears began to form in Eric’s eyes. He felt like his whole life was a lie. If God cannot even produce a simple thing like chips how can he heal broken bones and lives? Looking over to the coffee table he noticed the Bible sitting there. On the cover in embossed lettering was his name. A smile crossed his face as he remembered receiving that at his high school graduation. At that point in his life he knew what he was going to be, and he had dreamed of carrying that very Bible in the jungles of South America or across the plains of Africa or even into the temples in Asia. That was almost two years ago, and that Bible had not traveled more than twenty miles from where it now sat.
For nearly two years, Eric had not really gone anywhere either. Whose fault was that? The only honest answer that he could come up with was himself. A story from the Bible began to play out in his head.
There was Jesus teaching for three days in the wilderness. It was then that he realized that some of the crowd was hungry. He asked his followers what it would take to feed them. Some doing the math figured out that the cost was more than was in the change purse. One of those followers brought a small boy who shared a few fish and some bread. Jesus realized that was enough to feed the entire crowd and asked the boy for his lunch. The boy hardly seemed to hesitate. He had been listening to the teacher and trusted him completely. With a big smile, the boy handed the whole basket to Jesus.
Jesus than did some organization of the crowd and praised His Father in Heaven and handed out the fish and the bread to the followers who in turn handed pieces out to the crowd. Each moment the food extended further and further into the crowd. Soon everyone had enough to eat and Jesus directed his followers to collect the leftovers. Doing so they had several baskets left over. It was then that the followers realized that the crowd was over 5000 people and yet this small lunch had been enough to feed them all and have more left over besides.
They were all amazed at what they had just seen. Whispers in the crowd also seemed to indicate that the people were realizing what just took place. They talked of making him king. The apostles liked that idea and thought about what that would mean for their future. That is why they were then surprised that the next directive from the teacher was to get in the boats and go to the other side of the lake while Jesus dismissed the crowd.
As Eric played out the story, he felt some hunger pains and wondered why Jesus would not do the same thing in his own life. But then he noticed that the whole story showed selflessness. The boy gave up his lunch. The followers handed out the food without taking care of their own hunger. Jesus gave up the kingdom that was being offered Him. Selflessness was at the root of the miracle.
Walking around the living room, Eric pondered all that he had heard over the past three weeks and what he was experiencing right at that moment. The living room was his track. He had no food in the house because he had failed to go to the store. While it was tempting to simply blame his roommates or even God, he was being selfish. It was time to do something with his life. It was time to take his future seriously. He had to reconsider his position on the role of God. He was also sure that there were other personal beliefs that were holding him back.
For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” 2 Thessalonians 3:10
Julie waited at the bus stop. As often happened the boredom of the wait drove her to fidget and then to start to dance around. Even though she was in her twenties she loved to watch her skirt spin out when she spun. Often she would laugh out loud as she danced to the music that was only in her head. She never worried what other people thought. “To each their own,” she would tell herself. Today, with headphones plugged into her ears she would sing along with songs that she had downloaded and cared little what anybody else had to say. She was considering dropping out of the class with Joseph. Joseph wanted her to live with a plan. That wasn’t life. She felt like a free spirit and wanted to suck the marrow out of life. Julie dully believed that creating a plan would drive all of the joy of living right out of her.
She had decided to join the class when her guidance counselor at the small college she attended recommended it. It sounded like fun. She also thought it might help her to decide what major she should declare. This was soon to be her third year there and had changed majors over ten times and still was not sure if she had made the right call. It was during a ranting of indecision that the counselor pointed her to Joseph.
But the whole idea of being constrained to a single plan and one set list of rules irritated her. “Who is he to decide morals for everyone else?” Julie thought of Sam and his focused ways and decided that she liked the carefree way of life of Eric more. “Everyone should decide on right and wrong themselves,” she spoke out loud. After the words came out, she looked around and was pleased to realize that she was still alone at the bus stop, so she spun again and smiled.
The bus was packed tighter than bark on a tree and Julie was forced to stand until an elderly man offered her, his seat. She thought that was nice and decided to take him up on it. After all she had been wearing these heels all day and wanted to sit for a spell. As the elderly man stood up a young man took the opportunity and jumped into the seat before Julie could get there. “Hey,” was all she could get out in protest. “I wanted the seat. Good things happen to those that recognize opportunity and seize it.” Julie was seething as she grabbed onto the standing rail and continued the journey.
She still had not gotten over the anger when she was suddenly thrown forward when the bus came to a screeching halt. From the floor of the bus she noticed all the trash under the seat. As Julie wiped the little bit of blood from her lip that she had bit. She heard the bus driver yelling at a driver that had run a stop sign. The elderly man reached down and helped her to her feet. He seemed familiar but she could not place where she would have met this man before. He handed her a handkerchief to wipe the blood off her lip. She noticed that she had some blood on her dress as well. She wept quietly because she really loved this dress but now it was dirty and was that, yes it was, a tear. This dress would never really be the same.
“The dress is ruined,” Julie muttered to herself multiple times. “Why did that jerk not follow the rules?” It was then that she caught herself. Everyone and everywhere has rules. She remembered in her home growing up that they had a rule about not wearing shoes in the house. They did that so that they would not wake up her dad who worked a night shift. It never seemed like a burden; it was a rule of love for her dad. She began to consider what the world would be like if there were no rules and she shivered.
When she stepped off the bus the driver asked her if she was ok. She nodded and kept walking. All she wanted to do now was get back to her apartment, kick off her shoes and take a nap before work.
Dixie’s diner was a throwback to a diner from the 1950s with a jukebox that played music from the era. All the waitresses wore poodle skirts. The menu had nothing on it but burgers, fries and milkshakes. The only thing that was not from the 1950s were the prices. But people were willing to pay the price to be taken back in time even if it was only for the moment. This evening the place was hopping, and Julie moved quickly to make sure that everyone received great service. She loved working there and it showed. With a smile she danced around customers and served them all with a smile. Each table would be amazed when she would take their orders without writing things down but would deliver them exactly as ordered anyway. It was hectic too because two of her coworkers had not bothered to show up for work. She wondered where they were. “People are just not responsible these days,” she thought.
At home that day she began rehearsing what she would say to Joseph when she quit the class. She wanted to make sure that he understood that his close-minded ways were not ok. Everyone should be free to live lives their own way. Who needed structure and a plan for their life? What was the fun in that? In fact, she realized that she felt judged and hurt by him and wanted to hurt him back just a bit.
As Julie felt an rage welling up in her, she decided that she needed to turn her brain off for a while and turned on the television. When the TV came on, the first face she saw was the elderly man from the bus. He was the newscaster. She must have seen his face in commercials because she never watched the news. Because of his face she decided to watch the broadcast.
The news was filled with stories of people doing their own thing. Some were robbing stores, stealing cars, hurting people and even a Politician that had been caught in an affair. Julie pondered all of this along with the events of the day. “If everyone does their own thing and are only thinking of themselves there will be times that they will hurt others. Maybe that is why there are rules for driving.” She thought how crazy it had been when she had been traveling in other countries where it seemed they had no driving laws. That had been truly scary. Maybe that was true in other areas. “Maybe, rules are not so bad.” The thought made her twist her hair and chew on her fingernails. Maybe structure is ok.
"But don't begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?
– Luke 14:28
Julie looked at her bookshelf and read through the titles. Most of the books dealt with things of the occult or were romance novels. She then noticed a Bible. “How did that get there?” She pulled it from the shelf and dusted it off a bit. Carelessly she flipped through the pages. She stopped in the Gospel of Luke 9:51 where it says, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Jesus had a destination in mind. He knew what was going to happen in Jerusalem, but he went there on purpose. He had a plan. Her thoughts took her in multiple random places at once. She had heard that verse many times before but suddenly she realized that He went to Jerusalem to die. From the teaching she had picked up from Vacation Bible School she knew that He had done that to pay for her sins. In fact, it was the vacation Bible School where she had gotten this Bible. She remembered praying a prayer. How old was she then? Maybe eight. Her parents had dismissed the whole thing when she told them about what happened. They said it was just emotion and to not worry too much about it. Julie’s parents never let her near that church again. But now she wondered about what they had taught her. Couldn’t these people be right? If there was a plan for the life of Jesus could there not be a plan for her life. She fell asleep considering that.
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
Sarah threw back the last of her third energy drink. She had only two more meetings to go and she could get to work on this worksheet that Joseph had given her. All day she had been thinking through what she would write. Her imagination took her on the road to supervise other hotels in the same chain. She stopped walking for a moment. The thought of being a regional manager was exciting. But why stop there. She was very good at what she did in this hotel. Shouldn’t she consider being the CEO of the whole company? If she gave it, her all she could be in a position like that in maybe ten or fifteen years at the most. She would have to talk her husband into moving, but with the big pay raise that would be easy to do. He was in construction and of course he could do that anywhere. The story flooded her soul with great joy. In her imagination he happily gave up the house that he had inherited from his mother. She sat down hurriedly in the board room to prepare for the marketing meeting and reflected on her new faith. How would that impact her dream? This business could be cutthroat. If she followed the way of this Jesus, an obvious pacifist, how could she ever get to the top? Would she have to choose between career and God? But what she had felt at church that night was so real. All the hurt of never being good enough had melted away when she prayed at the altar. That man with the mustache prayed with her and gave her a Bible. He encouraged her to read the Gospel of John over and over. She had done as she was told, and it filled her with a great hunger to know more. Daily she was watching Bible teaching videos on the internet. Last month she had signed up for online Bible classes. In addition to becoming a hotel CEO she thought she could also be a pastor of a mega church. She could have it all. Or could she?
"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Matthew 6:24
While most of the marketing for the company came from the national office each hotel had its own budget to build business up locally. Sarah had done better than any of the other hotels in the chain because she had the best team. They came up with great ideas consistently. Sarah typically loved this meeting more than most because there would be lots of laughs and always gave great results. Today, though, she had too much to do to deal with some of the unfocused banter that typically was a part of the process. She wanted to fill the hotel for the next several months so that she could get promoted. Sarah knew that if she could just have a booked hotel through the summer that in the fall the regional manager position would be hers.
Joining the team for this meeting was a man from the corporate office that Sarah had met only once. He was fit and wore very expensive suits. She had noticed that he had arrived in a brand-new Mercedes. Oh, she wanted that car. Sarah worked hard throughout the meeting to stay focused knowing that this man would carry stories about her to the corporate office.
After the meeting he invited Sarah out to dinner. She smiled and accepted the invitation. “I have one more meeting and I will need to make a couple of calls first. Say 6:00?” “Great I will pick you up. I have reservations at that new French restaurant just out of town.” Sarah tried to hide the fact that she was impressed. She would never get her burger and fries husband to ever eat at such a fancy place. “That will work, see you then.”
Her last meeting was a routine meeting with the maintenance director to check the status of several projects that were in motion. Sarah called her husband to let him know that she was going to be working late. That did not surprise him. She was surprised though when he said he would be going to the Bible study with the guys from the church. They had both become Christians about the same time, but he had not really done much since that time. She shrugged and felt less guilty about not telling the whole truth. It looked like her long-term plan was going to happen faster than she thought.
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Mark 8:36
Sam was tired but full of excitement. He loved the project of planning for his future. The problem was how to put it into words that did not put him to sleep. Sam always sat in the same place in the library when he had work like this to do. The uncomfortable chair and stale smell of old books usually kept his mind from wandering. But tonight, he kept thinking about all of the people he saw today with strange colored hair, piercings and other things that he just knew made it difficult for them to find work. He could not figure out why they would not simply clean up, get a haircut and go out to find meaningful work. For a few moments he felt himself getting irritated. Scratching his head, he noticed a carving in the table. “Where did that come from?” He had sat at this table nearly every evening since he was old enough to come to the library alone. Then he noticed that the carving was of some faded initials. There was also a date that indicated that the carving had been there since long before he was born. Delicately he ran his fingers over the faded carving and thought about the flawed table. “Why did I never notice that before?” He realized that despite the flaw the table functioned as a table. Looking at the initials again he smiled as he realized that the initials would have been the same as his parents before they were married.
Sam went to write his ultimate dream and then stopped. Most of his dreams seemed so grandiose and impossible. He thought of all his flaws. Doctors had told his parents not to expect too much from him because of some complications during his birth. They had initially raised him with little expectations. This had led him to be lazy and he gave little effort to school or even games. Nothing seemed to matter to young Sam. Then one day a teacher told him that he could be anything that he wanted to be, he just had to work at it. That started him on the road to where he was today. He had succeeded in school despite his flaws, just like this table. Remembering his earlier anger, he thought of those with tattoos and different looks and decided that maybe they too could be successful.
Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.
Sam started writing his ultimate dream and then quickly worked through the rest of the worksheet. He felt inspired suddenly and wanted to work to help others succeed in life. Deep down, he still doubted that he could help. Almost out loud though he wondered, “What if …”
Joseph prepared some small snacks for his class. He wondered about their dreams and hopes. Conversations had given him some indications. The stories were always his favorite part of these classes. As he deliberately arranged the crackers and the slices of cheese on the platter, Joseph thought of the stories of the past. So many lives, so many hopes. He knew that God was creative but some of these stories, visions really, were mind blowing. Dreams of being an explorer for one. A professor had been in his first class. That one came from a high school dropout. It took a decade, but she had pulled it off. That one guy wanted to be a celebrity chef. He wasn’t there yet, but he was working in a fancy restaurant downtown. So many dreams. What would happen to this class?
This week they were all there except Sarah. Joseph felt concern but shook it off. “We will go ahead and start. This week you will do most of the talking. I want to hear your dreams.”
Joseph looked at each of the faces as they either sipped tea or munched on a cracker not wanting to make noise. “While you will be mostly reading your ultimate vision for your life story, I want you to feel free to ad lib. Tell the story with emotion. If you did not do so add elements that include all five senses in your story. That will make it more real. Who would like to go first?”
They all looked at each other. Slowly, Sam put his cup down and opened his notebook and read. Everybody in the room listened without judgement and seemed to enjoy the story. Each person took their turn telling that ultimate vision of the story.
“Now that you have this vision in place. What are the things in your life that might make that dream seem unlikely to take place?”
Eric cleared his throat and with his eyes closed spoke quietly. He seemed to be holding back a whimper as he said, “The girl in my vision won’t have anything to do with me.” “What makes you say that,” asked Joseph. “She likes guys who are confident and good looking. You know beefcake guys who lift weights. I mean look at me.” Everyone in the room looked away. “She wants to marry someone who can provide for her, be smart, funny and will put her first.” “You are funny,” Julie threw out there.
The room was quiet. “Do you know that, that is her list? Even if it is, you can be all those things if it is important to you,” Joseph began. “I read a story about a man who knew for many decades that he should eat better and exercise more. One day he survived a heart attack, and then he realized that he must eat right and exercise. Do you know what happened?” Pausing to take a bite of cracker, Joseph continued, “He ate right and exercised. He had to turn his should into a must. Suddenly he found that he had the time and the energy to make that happen. He no longer had an excuse that sounded reasonable.” Eric looked a little embarrassed as he used his sleeve to wipe away a tear.
“Eric, you are not alone. We all have false beliefs that hold us back. We have many negative thoughts that hold us back.”
Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. -Proverbs 4:23
“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. Deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. -Mark 7:20-22
Joseph listened as they each shared personal weaknesses and concerns. Even Sam shared a bit about his judgmental attitude might be something that would keep him from fulfilling his dream. “Your homework this week is to do a complete inventory of your life. When people talk about not having the resources to get to their dreams, they often mean money. But in truth, understand, it is really a lack of resourcefulness that holds people back. When you think of resources think of skills, relationships or really anything that might help propel you toward your dream.
The class engaged in some small talk and then left.
Project 1: List out all the limiting beliefs that you might have.
Project 2: List out all your personal weaknesses.
Project 3: List out all your personal strengths.
Project 4: List out all your resources and potential resources.
Project 5: Read your Ultimate vision to a group of trusted friends and ask them to help you to refine it.