When we tell the story of their lives, we mention three different things: What’s been done for us, what’s been done to us, and what we decided to do. “What’s been done for us” is another way of talking about the things others have done that prepared us or helped us through life.
- I was born and raised as a Weber, surrounded by godly family. I have one sibling by birth and one by adoption. My parents loved me.
- I was born Mennonite. I learned the Bible and good theology; my pastors and Sunday School teachers and youth leaders taught me about God and for the most part showed me Christ.
- I was born and raised in Alabama, moved to Oregon, then to Ohio where I naturally became a Buckeye. These were important experiences in molding my life.
- My parents sent me to Christian schools all my life. I made godly friends; my teachers taught me taught me truth and modeled both justice and grace as they put up with a lot from me.
- Doctors sowed up my cut-off toes (and both bad knees and a foot and soon a shoulder)
- TC Christian and this church have put up with me while giving me time to mature as a teacher, a preacher, a pastor, a coach, and person.
- My wife said “yes” and then has said “I forgive you” a lot of times.
- My friends put up with my idiosyncracies and faults.
- Jesus Christ gave his life so that I could live.
So “What’s been done for us” is a list of things that have helped us to thrive. “What’s been done to us” is another way of saying things that happened that made life hard.
- I was mocked as a kid because I was overweight.
- So many of my peers rejected when we lived in Oregon, or would be nice when I was at their house then join in with the mockers at school.
- I felt so alone in high school. I spent plenty of nights crying myself to sleep.
- As an adult in Ohio I went through such a profound time of depression I missed a month or two of work because of exhaustion and other physical symptoms. My wife called her mom and said, “Pray for Anthony. He’s falling apart.”
- I have adult-onset ADD.
- Our church in Ohio became so volatile that it pushed me out of the Mennonite circle and even out of Ohio.
- My dad was at one point over 300 lbs. I have genetics that tend in that direction.
- I have had neighbors who scream and curse at each other while I’m outside playing with my boys
- My Dad died from pancreatic cancer.
If “What’s been done for us” chronicles the things that helped us thrive, then “What’s been done to us” chronicles the things we have to survive. These are the things sometimes simply challenge us and other times threaten to break us. This is what some have called the “dark threads” in the tapestry of our lives. I love the scene in the Lord of the Rings where Frodo is talking to Gandalf in the mines of Moriah. Frodo says that he wishes the ring had never come to him, and that the unfolding events weren't happening. Gandalf responds, " So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
We all have rings that we wish had never come to us. We all wish we did not have to see such times. But…it’s not ours to decide. Our choice involves what we do with the time (or the situations) that are given to us. And that’s the third part of the story: “What We Do.”
- I didn't ask for my temper, but kicked a mower and cut off a couple toes.
- I played basketball above all other sports.
- I didn't plan to meet Sheila, but I chose to marry Sheila.
- I committed my life to Christ.
- I went to college and got degrees.
- I moved to TC, and have worked at TC Christian and this church.
- I was blessed with some great jobs, but I chose to work myself into the ground and fall apart.
Sometimes, this list of “What’s Been Done For Us and To Us” and “What We Do”all jumble together. My Mennonite heritage was both a gift and a burden. My ADD is on some days a gift for me and on other days a burden to me. My wife and I will both tell you that on some days we each feel like the other was a gift, and on other days we each feel like the other was a burden. In all these areas, I still made decisions about what kind of person to be.
As our lives unfold these things will continue. The things done for us and to us are going to happen. Some of those things will amaze us and some of those things will dismay us. That’s life. We can’t get around it. Part of what we mean when we talk about “trust” and “faith” in our life with Christ is that we believe that God is sovereign and faithful in the midst of any circumstance.
I think that’s what we mean when we say things like, “Let go and let God.” Huge chunks of our life story are written for us. We won’t always like certain chapters, and we will love others. But we know that the Author and Finisher of our Faith (Hebrews 12:2) has it under control. We can always find his words, his voice, his presence in the text, and we know that no matter what we think of the story, He is going to write the final, eternal chapter, and all that happened before then will fade away.
Meanwhile, how can we write our part in our story in a way that honors God? Andy Stanley wrote in Principles of the Path (and I paraphrase slightly) that we can never accomplish the will of God by violating the principles of God, breaking the specific commands of God, or ignoring the wisdom of God. So let’s look at how we can live in the will of God by using these three tools He has given us.
- General Principles: Will I violate or affirm a general principle found in God’s Word?
- Specific Commands: Will I break or keep a specific command found in God’s Word?
- Practical Wisdom: What will I harvest if I plant this?
Should I go to college or get a job?
General Principle: Lots of verses tell us to steward our time and money. Specific Command: You probably aren’t going to find one. Practical Wisdom: Is found in the counsel of others and an inventory of our skills and goals.
I’m earning money. What can I do with it that writes Godly wisdom into my story?
General Principle: Don’t love money (Hebrews 13:5; Proverbs 19:17). Specific Command: Be generous and ready to share (1 Timothy 6:17-19; 1 John 3:17). Practical Wisdom: I don’t want to be controlled by money (Ecclesiastes 5:10;Matthew 6:24).
Someone has sinned against me. I have been wronged! What should I do?
General Principle: Love one another as Christ loved us (John 13:34). Specific Command: Forgive repentant sinners (Matthew 6:14-15). Practical Wisdom: Do for others what you want done for you (Matthew 7:12)
My kids are just bad / My parents are failures. How should I respond with wisdom?
General Principle: Honor all people (1 Peter 2:17). Specific Command: Honor your parents/love your wife/respect your husband/don’t provoke kids (Ephesians 6; Colossians 3). Practical Wisdom: Homes with mutual honor flourish (Ephesians 6:1-3)
Our stories will continue to be written. What’s done to us and for us is out of our control. What God enables us to do is not. God’s principles, God’s commands, and God’s wisdom can help us to tell a story that builds us up, blesses those around us, and ultimately points toward a Savior who has lived the greatest story of all.
I am deeply indebted to Andy Stanley's The Principles of the Path for the main ideas in this series (and some of specific language, such as "Direction, not intention, determines as our destination"). I highly encourage you to buy and consume this excellent book!