This summer our Wednesday night discipleship training class is focused on The Journey of Faith. Here’s a recap of what we talked about last night.
Summer. A time for pool parties, cookouts, camp, and…road trips. I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid my family went on a bunch of road trips during the summer. One of my earliest road trip memories was after my first grade year. We drove from Tennessee to Niagara Falls, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and back. I also remember a few years later taking a long trip out west to Yellowstone, the Rockies, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, and back.
I believe one of the best metaphors for faith is a journey. John Bunyan’s classic allegorical masterpiece, The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), captures the heart of this idea. Baptism is not a destination. Making a decision to follow Christ is not the end. It’s only the beginning to a whole new journey, with twists, turns, and challenges along the way.
So you’ve got to be prepared. That means packing.
I will admit that most people have probably not given as much thought to their Everyday Carry (EDC) as I have. You may not think about the things you grab to take with you as you walk out the door every morning. But I sure do. I do the “Three Pocket Pat” just about every time I leave the house to make sure I have my keys, wallet, pocket knife, cell phone, and chapstick. I also make sure I’ve got a watch on my wrist and sunglasses at the ready. Without any of these items I feel incomplete.
I’ve written more about my EDC a few weeks ago. Check it out here if you’re interested.
According to Wikipedia,
Everyday carry (EDC) or every day carry refers to items that are carried on a consistent basis to assist in dealing with normal everyday needs of modern society, including possible emergency situations.
Your EDC tends to be just the essentials that you know you will be using daily to fit a certain need.
Baggage, on the other hand, is not something you tote around with you day in and day out. Imagine how ridiculous it would be if you showed up to the first day of school pulling a fully loaded Samsonite suitcase behind you. Picture yourself showing up to your first day at a new job with a full size duffle bag loaded with a week’s work of clothing, toiletries, books, four pairs of shoes, a couple towels, and who knows what else.
But that’s exactly what we end up doing most of the time. You see, “baggage” has two meanings:
1. personal belongings packed in suitcases for traveling; luggage.
synonyms: luggage, suitcases, cases, bags “leave your baggage with the inspectors”
2. past experiences or long-held ideas regarded as burdens and impediments.
“the emotional baggage I’m hauling around”
Many of us end up confusing baggage for everyday carry. Baggage has to do with the past — traumatic or stressful events in the past that you haven’t yet healed from — or with the future — worrying over all the what-ifs of life. Everyday carry is focused on the present — what you need right now, this day, just the essentials.
Just as baggage has a double meaning, I think EDC should, too. Our metaphorical EDC should include those characteristics and virtues that actually improve our life and come in handy on a daily basis.
So I have two questions for you: 1) What baggage are you lugging around everyday? 2) What EDC should you be grabbing before you leave your house?
I think the Bible can help us identify the answers to these questions.
BAGGAGE TO DUMP
Baggage makes our life worse, sometimes without our realizing it. Baggage slows us down. It keeps us anchored in the past or worried about the future. It drags us down, it keeps us from living life to the fullest.
Check out what Paul has to say to the churches in Galatia and Colossae:
When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 | NLT)
So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. (Colossians 3:5-9 | NLT)
Even Jesus’ brother James has some warnings about the baggage we carry:
If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. (James 3:13-16 | NLT)
It’s like Paul and James are writing in direct response to our experiences in high school – jealousy, bitterness, envy, anger, greed, selfishness, divisions, impurity. Sounds like a typical Tuesday in the lunchroom. But do you notice what all these sinful attitudes and desires have in common? They are all inward focused. It’s all about ME. And that’s what baggage does – it demands that we focus on ourselves, blinding us to the needs of others. Baggage causes us to become so entrenched within ourselves that it may never occur to us that life could be different.
We have to stop hauling these things around with us all day every day. They aren’t helping. They’re only holding us back.
IMPROVE YOUR EDC
So what do we need to grab with us instead? What should we be doing our “pocket check” for in the mornings before we leave the house? Pay attention to what Paul and James say right after the sections above:
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Galatians 5:22-23 | NLT)
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15 | NLT)
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. (James 3:17 | NLT)
Before you leave for the day, make sure to unpack your anger, pride, and jealousy. Instead, make sure you bring along your love, mercy, and forgiveness. These are the essentials that will come in handy each and every day as you deal with the people and situations in your life. Humility, gentleness, thankfulness, sincerity – these are the tools we need to get us through the day in a way that honors God.
On our family vacations we were always given this instruction: Pack Light. There was only so much room in our van for luggage. We were to bring only what we needed – just the essentials for the trip. We just couldn’t fit a bunch of excess supplies, clothing, or toys in the already crowded vehicle.
When we embark on our journey of faith, it’s important that we pack light so as not to be weighed down by a bunch of excess items we don’t need. In fact this was literally the case when Jesus sent his disciples out on their first mission without him. Check it out:
Then Jesus went from village to village, teaching the people. And he called his twelve disciples together and began sending them out two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits. He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money. He allowed them to wear sandals but not to take a change of clothes.
“Wherever you go,” he said, “stay in the same house until you leave town. But if any place refuses to welcome you or listen to you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.”
So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God. And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil. (Mark 6:6-13 | NLT)
He sent his disciples out on pairs to prepare the surrounding towns to hear the Good News about Jesus. (Side note – discipleship was NEVER intended to be a solo journey. They were sent in groups of two. Following Jesus is something we do in community, not individually. It’s our own rugged individualism that leads to many of the problems discussed earlier – pride, jealousy, greed, etc. Don’t go it alone!)
But he also told them to pack light. In fact they were only to take what they had on their person – their EDC, if you will. This would allow them to travel more quickly and efficiently. But it would also force them to rely on the kindness of strangers for support along the way. When we rid ourselves of excess baggage and focus on improving our EDC, then stronger relationships and community will be the necessary result.
CUTTING THE EXCESS
Still unconvinced? Let’s imagine this scenario. It’s the day of the big track meet. You are up for the 400 meter race. The whole team is relying on you. If you win this, your team wins the meet. You approach the starting blocks, but confusion sweeps through the crowds as they watch your approach. You look down and realize that you’re wearing snow boots, jeans, a heavy parka, big gloves, and a scarf. Even though you are favored to win, the other runners are in their track shoes and lightweight shorts and top. You have just put yourself at a severe disadvantage.
This is another ridiculous scenario. It sounds like the kind of anxious nightmare you would have the night before the big race. But this is the reality we find ourselves living in much of the time. We continue to be weighed down and held back from being our best selves because of all the junk in our lives that we just won’t let go of. Listen to these words from Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:1-2 | NLT)
Strip off the excess. Focus on the finish line. And run your heart out. This is the journey of faith.
WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK?
You may realize that you have baggage in your life that is holding you back from being the man or woman God created you to be. You may be ready to make some changes, but you don’t know where to start. Let me offer some questions to ask yourself. But you must be completely honest with yourself in your answers.
1. Am I my own worst critic?
My seven year old has begun saying things like “I’m such an idiot” or “I’m so stupid” when he realizes he made some kind of a mistake. When I tell him not to talk that way, he says “But I’m saying it to myself, not anyone else. I didn’t call someone else an idiot.” So I had a talk with him the other day. If I heard another kid calling him those names, I would get really upset. If he had a friend call him stupid, that would really hurt his feelings. So if we don’t want other people talking to us that way, we shouldn’t talk to ourselves that way either.
Many of us are plagued by an inner critic that always points out our flaws and mistakes. That little voice tells us we’re not good enough, pretty enough, funny enough, strong enough, athletic enough. It tells us that if people really knew who we were on the inside, they wouldn’t like us or want to be our friend anymore. It tells us we have to be better, we have to keep people at a distance, we have to keep up the performance, otherwise we could be rejected and hurt.
If that’s you, then there is something you can do. Give that inner voice a name. Call it out when it’s dragging you down, and silence it. “Not right now, Martha.” “Be quiet Stacey.” “Stop being so rude, Barry.” By naming that inner critic, you are creating distance between it and you. By acknowledging it and calling it out, you are taking back the control over your inner thoughts.
Treat yourself the way you want others to treat you.
2. What baggage have I inherited?
I remember going to the airport when I was younger. I would stand in line with my family at the check-in counter. We would all hoist our suitcases onto the scale beside the desk while the staff member asked us questions. One of the questions was “Did anyone else pack your bags or have control of your luggage?” I remember thinking, I’m old enough to pack my own bags, thank you very much! They asked that question just in case someone tried to sneak something into my luggage without my knowledge.
Isn’t that the way it goes, though? We have baggage we’re carrying around that has been passed down for generations. Our parents and grandparents may have gone through some stressful or traumatic events that cause them to develop negative attitudes or destructive behaviors. And those get passed right along to us without our knowledge or consent. We may inherit our dad’s hot temper or our mom’s passivity. We may shut down completely when things get hard – just like our grandfather. Studies have shown that in extreme cases, traumatic events experienced by parents and grandparents can leave a lasting imprint on future generations at a genetic level.
Realize it’s not all your fault. Some of this junk was passed down to you. Try to identify those things and deal with them as a family.
3. Are my defense mechanisms actually working?
As children we develop patterns of behavior in response to stress or trauma. But we often carry those defense mechanisms into our teenage and adult years where they become less appropriate. You may become passive aggressive. You may turn everything into a joke. You may build up emotional walls to keep people from getting too close. You may run away from a problem when the going gets tough. You may lash out at your friends and family for no apparent reason. You may project your own problems onto others.
How’s that working for ya? Is it making your life better or worse? Are your relationships closer and more open? Are you seeing the results you hope to accomplish? Often our defense mechanisms end up producing the exact opposite results from what we wanted. Do some self-reflection to discover patterns of behavior when you’re in conflict or stress. Replay those scenarios and ask yourself what you could have done differently. Set aside your anger and fear and selfishness. Try carrying with you gentleness and humility and self-control instead.
4. What kind of person do I want to be?
You probably don’t want to become that bitter old woman who never let herself get close to anyone. You probably don’t want to be known as that man who can’t control his temper. You probably don’t want to be labeled as a “problem child.” You most likely have an ideal image in your mind of the kind of person you want to be. Put some of it in writing. Set goals for yourself and develop a plan of action.
Sometimes you even have to “fake it until you make it.” Will pretending to be more compassionate actually make you more compassionate? Will pretending to be open and friendly make you become more open and friendly? Studies say…probably. We tend to think that behavior follows attitudes and values. But sometimes it’s just the opposite. Sometimes we can change our inward values and attitudes by changing our outward behaviors and actions.
Jesus didn’t ever wait for someone to become perfect before following him. Jesus called imperfect, flawed people to follow him. And it was through their time with him, looking to him as an example, that they became the kind of people they were created to be. It’s all part of the journey.
5. Do I really need this? Is this making my life better?
The point of EDC is functionality. If you aren’t going to use something on a daily basis, there is no point in carrying it with you every day. EDC is all about the essentials. So is our journey of faith.
We need to do a better job of asking ourselves “Do I really need _____________ in my life?” That could be an attitude, a relationship, a commitment you’ve already made. It could even be physical objects and possessions.
And the follow-up question is just as important. “Is _____________ making my life better?” Is pride improving you life? Is greed making you a better human being? When was the last time you felt better about yourself after scrolling through Instagram or Snapchat? When was the last time Twitter made your day better? How much better is your life since you’ve been holding onto that grudge?
HIT THE ROAD
Now that you’ve asked yourself the tough questions, now that you’ve cut the excess and grabbed just the essentials, it’s time to hit the road.
But where are we going? When will we be there? Are we there yet?