Set Your Past On Fire

This is the rough draft of part 3 of Pastor Steve’s message from the series, '“The Last Arrow” from February 17th, 2019. You can also watch the message here. We hope you find this helpful as you pursue your next steps in Christ.

“Here is a question I want to start with today.  Have you ever had a moment in life that totally disrupted the trajectory of your life?  Maybe it was a really good thing or maybe it was a tragic moment? But when those disruptive moments happen, it changes things.    I remember one of those disruptive moments when I was a kid. My dad got a promotion. That meant we were leaving the town that I grew up in and moving to a new town;  Indianapolis. Small town to big town. That meant a new house. New friends. A new way of doing life. A new bedroom and backyard. A new school. You get the drift. For the most part, I remember it being a good thing.  

But less than a year into our new place and dad at his new job, our house caught on fire.  We were at church and came home to smoke billowing out of our house. When it was all done, there was little fire damage but tons of smoke damage.  That meant we needed to live somewhere else while the house was being refurbished. So, our family of seven ended up living in a two-room hotel for months.  It was cool to start but it got old quick. Then there was the disco at the hotel. Yeah! Which that meant, loud music every weekend.

So, for months we listened to groovy music at the disco.  We were sleeping at the hotel. Living at the hotel. Eating at the hotel. Going back and forth from hotel to school.  Finally we got back into our home. Now life would get back to normal. But then my father found at that the company that promoted him and moved us, was downsizing. They laid off all of the employees they moved to Indy and had no next steps for them.  

That was a disruptive moment in our lives.  You could call it a turning point. Now, those turning points come to all of us.  What was your moment? Maybe it was a move or a new job. Maybe it was the loss of a marriage or the loss of a child.  Maybe it was when you overcame a disease. Maybe it’s when you dedicated your child or when you took the step of baptism.  When we have those moments in life, here is one thing it does for sure. It forces you to look back to your past or move forward in the future.  When that happens, we tend to go one of two ways. We revert back to our past or we launch forward in our future.

Today we jump into week #2 of our series called, “The Last Arrow.”  This series is challenging us to live with purpose. To save nothing for the next life.  To live a “life to the fullest” as Jesus said. Today we will focus our conversation in on this thought.  Living a life with no regrets means setting our past on fire.  

Let’s connect the dots from last week.  Last week we met a guy by the name of Elisha, a prophet of God.  He lived in Judah. Judah’s king, Jehoash, was an evil guy. He ran from God and led the country away from God.  One day, as he was heading into war and afraid of defeat, he calls in Elisha in desperation. He essentially says, “Hey Elisha, what can we do to win?”  Elisha gives Jehoash some instructions to follow. Oddly enough those instructions involved some arrows. Elisha’s instructions to Jehoash were to take his arrows and strike them in the ground.  Jehoash does what Elisha says but stops. He gives up, and in doing so, he misses out on a complete victory over his enemies. Why? There was a direct correlation between the instructions and his quitting.  What we learned last week is that too often in life, we give up to early. Sometimes one step of faith more is all we needed. One more day of being faithful. And because we give up, often we don’t experience all that God has for us.  

This week, we visit Elisha again, but before Elisha was the man, he was preceded by another guy by the name of Elijah.  Elijah has this incredible and miraculous experience with God. And at that moment, God tells Elijah to go and pick his successor.   Guess who? The man with the arrows; Elisha. Here is how that hand off went.

So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him.  1 Kings 19:19

The cloak part, that’s important.  That was Elijah’s way to say, “Elisha, you are next line.  It’s our turn to lead.”

Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”  1 Kings 19:20

Elisha knew this was a game changer.  He knew what the cloak meant. So he basically said, ‘Hey Elisha, just give me a little bit of time to settle what is important.  I’m in Elijah. Whatever God wants, I’m totally in.”

“Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”  1 Kings 19:20

Seems like an odd off-kilter response from Elijah?  I don’t fully understand it. But it is what it is.  Elijah puts the cloak on him and walks away. Now, they both knew what it meant, it was a turning point for the both of them.  But guess what? Elijah connected no dots for Elisha. Elijah did everything of what we are told NOT to do in leadership circles.  If you are leading a business or a nonprofit, what are you told to do? When hiring someone or have them volunteer with you-you give them a title/role.  You give them some goals and objectives. You give them a job description. At minimum, you sit down and talk them through what is to function in that role.  Elijah did NONE of that. He put the cloak on him and walked away! But look at how Elisha responds.

So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate.  1 Kings 19:21

Now, the first thing we see is that Elisha obeyed.  He followed. He took a step of faith even though he did not have all of the details of this mission.  I believe that’s a great example for us. Often God calls us to follow him in faith and our role is what?  To step out regardless if we have all of the details.

But what is even more interesting to me is this.  In order for Elisha to move forward in what God had for him, he had to settle some things in his past.  He goes home and reconnects with his family. We don’t know what is said, but we know he settles his past relationally.  Then, he settles his past when it comes to his purpose. He’s moving future with a new calling, so he takes care of his current calling.  Being a farmer. He takes all of the tools of his trade and breaks them up, burns them and then gives them away. There is nothing he leaves behind.  

Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.  1 Kings 19:21

Once he dealt with his past, he was able to pursue the future.  That takes us to a key point in how we live our lives. If you are going to experience God’s future for you, then you can’t live in your past.  Some of us have a hard time moving forward in what God has for us because we live too much in the past.  Let’s laugh together.

If you have never seen Napoleon Dynamite, it is one of the dumbest and funniest movies ever.  In this movie, there is a guy by the name of Uncle Rico. Uncle Rico is known for what? Living in his past.  He spends the movie wishing he could go back and redo his glory days of football in high school. Take a look at Uncle Rico.  

Now as funny as that is, let’s be honest.  Isn’t that what some us struggle with? Our pasts.  And our pasts have so dominated us that it impacts our futures.  Maybe for you there are things that have happened to you. Others have hurt you.  Let you down. Taken advantage of you. Or maybe it's not what has happened to us, but its a series of things we have done.  We blew up that marriage out of selfishness. We quit that job too early. We compromised back in college and those decisions still linger in our minds.  No matter how those things occurred, it’s hard to move forward because we are too busy looking backward.

Get this.  In the OT, God does these amazing things in front of his people. The people of Israel.  He shows up in dramatic ways. After 400 years of slavery, they are free. God performed miracle after miracle after miracle.  As they leave their slavery, they beginning to second guess God’s future for them. Hear me on this. It’s a future of freedom.  They freak out when the Pharaoh that lets them go pursues them. They complain when the journey gets hard. They gripe about the man who set them free when they don’t have enough variety to eat.  Listen.

The whole company of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron there in the wilderness. The Israelites said, “Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!”  Exodus 16:3-4 (MSG)

Let me put that in some modern day terms.  “Hey Moses, this is hard. Way too hard. I mean it was hard back in slavery, but at least we had something to better to eat.”  On multiple occasions in their journey of freedom and God’s future for them, they wanted to go back. They wished for the good old, Uncle Rico, HS football days.  But here is what happened. They couldn’t experience all that God had for them because they were stuck in the past.

“If slavery remains an option, we will find ourselves abdicating our freedom.  We just don’t usually call it slavery. We call it safety. We call it security.  We call it responsibility.” Erwin McManus

What are some things in your life that you go back to because it’s safe, secure or responsible?  Let’s name some of today. It’s the boyfriend ladies. You know he’s not good for you. You know you need time to work on you and get your priorities straight but you keep going back. Why?  Because it’s more security to be with him than to be alone on my own. Maybe it’s the job you have but you hate. You’ve always hated it and you complain about it constantly. You know you should switch jobs or careers.  Or maybe, even start you own from the ground up. But what keeps you at your job? The nice, safe, paycheck. Why? It pays the bills. If I start something new, there is no guarantee. Your right. But by staying safe in our job you are guaranteed to be a miserable person.  

You’ve heard the adage, ‘Better is the enemy that you do know that the enemy you don’t know.  We say that to justify keeping our enemies close. We do the same thing with our pasts. Here is how I say it.  

“Why do we live in our pasts?  Because better is the past that I know than the future which I don’t know.”

Can I let you into my life for a moment?  I would say that some of the biggest moments in my life have been put on hold because of fear.  I wanted safety or security or responsibility or all three. We have an incredible family that I am proud of that God put together through adoption  But early on, I held back from it for safety purposes. How can I child that I didn’t create love me? Care for me? Call me dad? I was so wrong.

What about moving to the mission field?  Think of the risks we were taking with our finances and our future.  I even had people encourage us not to go. You know why? It wasn’t a responsible decision to move my kids to a foreign country. Even if the purpose was God lead to serve other people.  Not responsible. They were wrong.

Even in the early days of planting this church, it was much easier to stay in the past.  I mean, why would I do that? I could get a job on staff at a church, easy. I’d done it before.  I had the experience of leading. I could do that and get a guaranteed paycheck and benefits package.  What do you call that? Security. And what if no one wants to launch with us. And what if crashes. And what if no one gives.  What if no one comes? Or not enough come? What if it closes after a year or two years? I’m glad I didn’t live in the past.

What is the thing in your past that you go back to?  You have to name it? Identify it. Why? Because if you constantly live in your past, there is no way you can experience what God has in your future.   So, name it. Then let’s do what Elisha did. Let’s burn it up. Number two: If you are going to experience God’s future for you, then you have to burn up some things up in your past.   Remember what Elisha did?

So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate.  1 Kings 19:21

It’s not an accident that Elisha set his past on fire.  Literally. He knew that if he did that, then he would have no excuses to go back.  When it got hard? When the pressure mounted. When Elijah was not clear with what Elisha needed to do.  When the day required more faith than he ever had. He burned up the tools of his trade, farming, so that he would not leave his future of being a prophet, to return to his past as farmer.  You with me?

He burned up his past.  Now, let me clarify a couple of things before we move forward.  Here is what that does not mean. It does not mean we burn our bridges.  That’s not Christ honoring at all Scripture tells us, always to love others.  To live in unity. To value others in the same way God values us. We don’t burn bridges and we don’t burn people.  We always have to appreciate what is in our past but learn to live in the present and strive forward in the future. So, what I say burn up, I’m not saying there is no scorched earth policy as a Jesus follower.  

I am saying that we need to burn up any contingency plan to go backward.  But here is what is interesting. We are taught in life, that it’s always good to have a contingency plan.  That’s being responsible. That’s being a good leader. Well, this is not working, let’s do this. For instance, let’s say you are driving and get a flat. What is your contingency plan?  It’s called a spare. It’s called, AAA. In budgeting, we have contingency plans right. We save 10% of our income and put it into some form of savings. Why? Just in case the transmission goes.  In case you need to . That’s wise. Parents, they have to always have a contingency plan because they have these little things called children. And children are unpredictable when they are little.  So, you always carry with you some form of contingency plan. You have a pacifier when they are young or a binkie. As they get older you have snacks. Loads and loads of snacks. Then as they get older, and you travel in the minivan, you have movies or coloring books or iPads.  They called that wise parenting right?

And I’m not arguing against wisdom. What I am saying is that if our contingency plan is to go back, that is not wise.  If part of our plan B is to settle in some area of life that lies in the past rather than grabbing onto the future that God has for us, then we will have regrets.  Elijah burned up the past. He burned up any form of a contingency plan that would cause him to live in the past rather than step forward into the future.

Remember I told you that we ended up on the mission field?  Well, as God led as that was, that was hard. At that time, I was pastoring a church in Michigan.  We had made some great inroads in the community. The church was growing. The church was reaching lost people.  I loved what we were doing. But in the middle of that, we had a clear sense that God was leading us to the mission field.  That was hard. God, you want us to give us something we know for something we don't’ know? You want us to give us something that is good and growing for something that we don’t know if we can grow?  But it got to a point where we absolutely knew God was wanting us to take this step of faith. That meant I had to tell my leadership team. That meant I had to tell people that I led to Christ. People I baptized.  People that we really enjoyed doing life with.

But it was surreal for a bit.  I knew that once I shared what God was doing in us, I couldn't take it back.  I couldn’t say, ‘sorry, I was off.” I couldn’t say, ‘well the mission field didn’t work out, would you take me back.”  We were all in. In essence, our contingency plan would be gone. We would have to embrace the future fully.

Maybe the thing that is holding some of us back in our lives is we have way too many contingency plans that we’ve created.   And today is the day to burn them up like Elisha did. So, let me ask this a couple of ways. What is on your burn list?  What do you need to burn up from your past so that you can fully walk forward for what God has for you tomorrow?  For some of us, it’s failure. You failed a job. A marriage. At school. The promotion. So, you kind of revert to that thinking in life even when a new opportunity presents itself.  You go back to that failure. It’s become your contingency plan. You know why you are going to burn it up today? Because your failure is are part of you but they don’t define you. You know and believe this about God.    

“For I know the plans I have for you says God.  Plans to prosper you and not harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.”  It’s time to set your past on fire.” Jeremiah 29:11

Maybe you need to burn up some self image issues.  No matter what you do, there is this insecurity from your past that pursues you.  It’s a lack of self esteem. There is a voice in your head that tells you that you are not good enough.  You never will be. So, why bother? So, when someone tries to build you up. When you get a new job that will challenge you.  When someone asks you to step into leadership, you resist. I’m not good enough. Again, maybe it’s shaped you, but it will not define you.  It’s time for a bonfire. It’s time to stand on this.

“For we are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

Don’t you love that reminder from God’s Word. Even in you carry around shame. Even if you heap the guilt on yourself. Even if you feel you are not qualified, God has a plan for you. God has good works that he wants to do in and through you.

When our home caught on fire. When we lost part of our stuff and essentially part of our pasts, we had a choice. We could look backwards and live in the past or we could look forward to the future of what God had for us. As difficult as it was, I’m glad my parents looked forward. Will you do the same thing today?

Let’s pray!