Here we are in our final 3 days of study together. I honestly cannot believe it.
As we have moved forward in our understanding of the concept of unopened packages, we have begun to accept that seasons change, and as life on earth keeps moving forward, new disappointments and unexpected things will keep happening.
But that’s exactly why we are here together. We want to run free, unchained from paranoia about what might hit us next. We were created for so much more than that.
We’ve established that we all have unopened boxes, and these next three days, we’re going to deal with them directly. It’s taken intentional time and effort to dig out and address our packages, especially those from once-hidden places. As we studied and reviewed the lives of Sarah, Rahab, Naomi and Ruth, we analyzed these women from afar—and in the process, examined our own lives from up close.
We have acknowledged our past, dissected our dreams for the future, and come to this place—ready to act.
Before we begin, will you take a few minutes to reflect on what we’ve learned these past few weeks?
What has God been showing you personally? What do you think He is calling you to act on?
Today, I want to introduce the concept of controlled burning.
This past summer, Brian, Ansley and I had the opportunity to spend a week in Colorado with my mom and one of my brothers, so we bought a couple of flights and got ourselves out west. On one of our hikes, I noticed a roped-off section of the mountain looked charred. There was a sign explaining that the Forest Service recently conducted a controlled burn in the area as a part of the maintenance of the state park. This fire was purposeful and necessary; in my writer/over-analytical mind, I couldn’t stop thinking about possible parallels to the Christian life. The Forest Service government website has an article on controlled burning that absolutely shocked me with its numerous spiritual implications.
A controlled burn; focused and intentional, is quite different than a wildfire. The article explains the forests’ need for controlled fire: “The historic suppression of fire has resulted in a lack of periodic, natural fire in our forest. The absence of these low intensity fires has increased the risk of large fire events and has negatively impacted the health of our forests.”
Even in nature, the absence of minor conflict can lead to major destruction. When I start a new exercise program, I’m going to get sore first before seeing results. If we give up an unhealthy substance abuse habit, we’re going to have withdrawals. When we ask God to come in and rid us of sin and selfishness, it’s going to hurt. But if I never exercise, abuse my body with harmful chemicals, and neglect to correct my sinful nature—I’m walking myself into a death trap, with no one to fault but me.
When we ask God to come help us deal with our packages—I think he’s going to tell us to burn them.
We need recurring, low-intensity flames to keep us clean in front of God, because without them, we are opening up our lives to ravaging wildfires. The article goes on to define wildfires like this: “Wildfires pose serious threats to public health and safety, as well as to air quality. Because the fires are uncontrolled, they pose significant threats to the safety of the firefighters and general public and destroy property. The intense or extended periods of smoke associated with uncontrolled fires can also cause serious health problems and significantly decrease visibility.”
Our boxes, left alone and stacked high in the closet, are making us ineffective, sad, and blind to the needs of others. But when we are willing to set fire to them for the purpose of healing and new growth, we have entered what scientists call the ‘burn window,’ where an ecosystem is ready for controlled burning. All the elements must align: air temperature, wind speed, and humidity, must be right before Forest Services will facilitate the burn.
Isn’t that the same for us? We need to be in the right place to enable our own burn. We’ve got to get a few things lined up before we can set fire to the old boxes we’ve held dear for so long.
My man A.W. Tozer writes “God wants to deliver us from the easy going, smooth and silky, fat and comfortable Christianity so fashionable today. I hope we are willing to let the truth get ahold of us, even at the cost of rejection or embarrassment. The faith of the heavenly overcomes the cost of everything and gained them everything. What of our faith?”
What of our faith? Are we going to settle for ‘fashionable Christianity’? Or are we going to let the faith of heaven overcome the fear of a controlled burn?
Well friends, you’re still here, and you’re still reading this, so you’ve already allowed yourself to be challenged and pushed out of your comfort zone, so why don’t we just keep doing that…
The good news is that we’ve already worked on the first step: acknowledge the unopened packages. As we’ve worked on our list, we’ve had to get uncomfortable and address the things we’ve held too tightly, and say: “Yes, I see this as something drawing me away from freedom in Christ.”
The second thing: Understand your triggers and move toward them, they need to be addressed.
Move toward them? I know, it seems totally opposite. But, if we ignore our triggers, we cannot fully experience healing.
Triggers, to me, are something or someone that when possible, I avoid. Typically, if I see that person, hear that song, or go to that place, it would be nearly impossible to not to transport myself right back to a time and place of hurt. Triggers invite us to sit in our sorrow and count our scars; to long after another package we didn’t get to open, or revisit another dream that didn’t come true.
Unhealthy triggers create moments of decision. Instead of deciding to engage in the heartache again, I want us to choose to pray about the why.
So take a minute and make a second list: What are your triggers? Let’s label them and call them out for what they are.
Why do these people, places, or things have power over you?
Why does it take you back to a place of hurt and heartache?
I don’t think that old place or person needs to become healthy or fun again. Maybe we just need to go back to that place, song, cemetery, or church; one time, get on our knees and pray, and allow the Holy Spirit to move within us to reclaim that trigger. I believe that God can give us freedom from our triggers. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says this: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
When we let God take every thought captive, we allow His divine power demolish the strongholds our triggers have acquired.
Read Romans 5:1-5
What does Paul say we can boast about in verse 2?
Then in verse 3, what does he say we can find glory in?
What I want to argue here, is that Paul is making the case that trials and conflict are not always a sign of God’s wrath, or our failure. Adversity and heartache can prove our character, teach us who we really are in Christ, and create hope in us that has everlasting staying-power.
Remember that competitions are not won day-of. They are won on the practice field, in the gym or classroom, at the dinner table, in our quiet times, and in our silent prayers. Battles are won in the quiet, not on a stage.
Addressing our triggers is like that concept in school that took extra practice, and extra help from our teacher—but when we can look at an old hurt, and not be slayed by it any longer, it is a confidence that cannot be replaced. 1 Corinthians 15:58 reminds us to “…always abound in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.”
Losing our grip on our packages is hard, but good and necessary. The Forest Service article argues: "…it is important to realize that not all fire is bad. In fact, many of our ecosystems are dependent on fire."
God created the universe and all things in it—He also created our ecosystems. I think we’ve been created to need controlled fire, too.
Controlled burns are refining; wildfires are destructive.
Christ means to refine us; Satan means to destroy us.
In every situation, with every unopened package—I believe that God means to teach us, guide us and show us His glory. But with Satan, every box is an opportunity to shake us loose, break us down, and leave us defeated and ineffective.
God says: “I had to burn that, to give you this.”
Satan says: “Look at how miserable you are. Look at all of these precious dreams, stacked up and left here. Your God must not care very much about you.”
But when we practice the Hebrew verb ‘sarah’ and persevere through our disappointment and/or grief, the controlled burn can help us. Because plastic, plastered smiles are still fake no matter how real we wish they were—plastic doesn’t hold up in a fire, and neither does our sin. We all want things. We all need things. Sarah wanted babies, Rahab needed escape, Naomi— her joy back, and Ruth wanted a life with a new future. None of these things could have happened until the burn window was open and they let the Lord move.
- Today’s homework: work on your triggers.
- Identify and acknowledge them.
- And then: how can you move toward them for the sake of Christ’s healing and power?
- What might God be calling you to do about the triggers on your list?
- Be praying for your ‘burn window.’ Day 17 will be about entering into the burn window, and then stepping through it.
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