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01-04-2015 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

Last year at this time news reports covered a Russian research ship with 74 scientists and tourists on board that got stuck in the ice of Antarctica. They were hoping to learn about conditions caused by global warming. On Christmas Eve, however, the ship became lodged in the ice floes. A Chinese icebreaker came to the rescue—that is, until it also got stuck. After 8 days, the passengers were transported to safety by helicopter. But it wasn’t until January 8 that the ships were finally freed.

A hundred years ago, however, it was a different story. In January, 1915, Ernest Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, got stuck in the ice—and there were no ice-breakers, no helicopters, no one to rescue them. They could only sit and wait, hoping the weather would change and the ice would eventually release the ship. But that didn’t happen. After nine months, the ice had squeezed the ship so much that it started to crack. The crew moved supplies to a camp on the ice and a month later in November, the ice pushed the broken ship beneath the ice. Shackleton and his men were stuck on the ice for a total of 15 months before finally being able to get off in lifeboats.

So the next time you’re stuck in the snow or slide into a ditch and you’re sitting there spinning your wheels, just remember Ernest Shackleton. Fifteen months?! Man! I start to complain before 15 minutes is up.

Once I went out in a blizzard (I think to get milk for the kids), and before I could get back, the road had filled in. I got hung up in the ever-deepening snow about a block from home. I had to walk home and get a shovel. I would shovel two paths in front of the car, drive a few feet, then do the process all over again. Driving that last block took over an hour.

Have you ever felt stuck? Unable to get anywhere? Spinning your wheels (with lots of effort and energy)—but without seeing any real results?

Maybe you’ve made New Years’ resolutions over and over again, year after year, but you’re still where you started. If you lost weight, you’ve gained it back. If you cleaned out the clutter, the mess is back. You’re stuck, spinning your wheels.

Or maybe you’ve felt stuck in a dead-end job. You hate going to work; the boss acts like a jerk; the other workers are always trash talking. You barely make it weekend to weekend, living for vacations. You’d love to quit, but you can’t. There are bills to be paid. You’re stuck, spinning your wheels.

Or maybe you’re caught in the web of a destructive relationship. It was over long ago, but you’re still trapped, still stuck.

Or maybe you’ve gotten into a financial hole. You’re buried by credit cards and payments that keep you from ever catching up—let alone get ahead. You’re stuck, spinning your wheels.

Or maybe you’re dealing with some family or personal crisis, and you’re weighed down with all sorts of emotional baggage. Constantly worrying. Struggling with anxiety. Unable to sleep. You’re stuck, spinning your wheels.

Getting stuck is common human experience. Most people find themselves stuck one time or another.

It’s not just habits or mistakes we make. Sometimes we can get stuck in life because we’re not sure where to go. Or how to go. Or what to do. We wait to hear from God, but all we hear is silence.

Being stuck has happened to God’s people frequently throughout history. The Bible gives us a number of examples.

Between the OT and the NT were what people call 400 years of “silence.” Nobody, it seems, heard from God. No prophets had a word from the Lord. Nothing much seemed to be happening. God’s people were conquered and oppressed by the Romans. They were stuck.

Later, the disciples were stuck—between the cross and the Resurrection. They didn’t know what to do. Jesus was dead, and they didn’t know where to turn. They were so afraid, they hid behind locked doors. They were moping around, their dreams all dashed, their hopes destroyed. They were stuck.

Long before that, the prophet Elijah, spiritually exhausted, ran for his life and hid in a cave when Queen Jezebel put a price on his head. Despite earlier victories, he was so discouraged that he said, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4) He complained, “I’m the only one who’s trying to serve you, God.” (He wasn’t, but that’s how he felt.) He was stuck.

Sometimes it was the entire nation of Israel that became stuck: When they were taken as captives to Babylon as prisoners of war. When they were slaves in the land of Egypt (talk about a dead-end job!). They were stuck.

Moses tried to make something happen, but he only messed things up. He wanted to use his authority as the Prince of Egypt to set the people free. Instead he ended up killing a guy and running from the law—a fugitive from justice hiding out for years, herding a flock of sheep. He was stuck.

Much later, Moses got unstuck, and God used him to miraculously bring his people out of Egypt. They became unstuck. God gave them the Ten Commandments at Horeb, the mountain of God, and then he said (to use the old KJV: “Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount: Turn you, and take your journey, and go…”

Or, as Eugene Peterson paraphrased it in the Message: “You’ve stayed long enough at this mountain. On your way now. Get moving… Look, I’ve given you this land. Now go in and take it.” (Deut 1:6-8)

God wanted them to take the Promised Land, but they messed up. They missed their opportunity. So instead of going forward and possessing the land, instead of enjoying the blessings God had waiting for them, they ended up wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.

And let me tell you: a 40-year camping trip is no picnic! They ate the same old food—manna— morning, noon, and night. They grumbled and complained. They longed for “the good old days” when they were slaves back in Egypt(!). They rebelled against God and against Moses.

They were stuck—for 40 years, they were stuck!

During all that time, they were “wandering,” but they never got anywhere. That period of history is known as “The Wilderness Wandering.” We would say they were spinning their wheels.

Moses recalled those years later: “For many years we wandered around in the area of Mount Seir. Then at last the Lord said, ‘You have stayed here long enough.’” (Deut 2:1-3, LB).

Or as The Message paraphrases it: “You’ve been going around in circles in these hills long enough.”

Have you ever felt that way? Going around in circles? Spinning your wheels? Stuck, unable to get anywhere? Feeling like it’s been long enough? If so, then you’ve felt the same way as the disciples, or Elijah, or Moses, or the Israelites.

I know I can identify with them. At times I’ve felt trapped by the circumstances of life. Like I’d been dealt a bad hand. On New Year’s day, after watching the Minnesota Golden Gophers lose in the Citrus Bowl, my brother and I played Rook against our two brothers-in-law. And all afternoon, I kept getting dealt these really lousy hands. I just couldn’t do much with the hand I’d been dealt.

Maybe you’ve felt like that in life—like you just couldn’t catch a break. Like you just can’t get anywhere. Like you’re stuck. Stuck emotionally. Stuck spiritually.

So what can we do about it? We’re starting a new year—so is there anything we can do (besides the same old resolutions) that will really make a difference?

What can we do to get some traction? To stop spinning our wheels? To get moving again?

  1. Why it’s a problem to be stuck:
  2. What you can do to get unstuck:
  • You’re not where you should be.
    God made you to live in the Promised Land! He didn’t make you for the wilderness!
  • You live with frustration. You feel a “holy discontent.”
    > Like spiritual dryness—you’re thirsty for something more from God. You’re hungry for God.
    > You weren’t designed to live with frustration. God didn’t intend that you should keep going around in circles. God wants you to live fulfilled. (John 10:10)
  • You can’t find traction. You want to get moving, but you just spin your wheels.
    > All your efforts get you nowhere. People who are stuck burn up a lot of energy—but have nothing to show for it in the end.
    • First what NOT to do: Do NOT just spin your wheels faster.
      > Don’t just step on the gas. You may just make the situation worse. Friction can melt the snow and turn it to ice.
      > Human effort alone cannot solve the problem. Trying harder without God won’t cut it.
      > Paul asked the Galatians a question fitting for anyone trying to get somewhere on their Christian journey: “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Gal 3:3 [NIV84]; other versions: “by your own power” [NCV]; “by your own strength” [NIRV]; literally, “by the flesh” [NASB])
    • Second, what TO DO: Look to God for help. When you come to the end of yourself, that may be exactly where God wants you to be: hungry, thirsty, tired, desperate.
      Years ago I ran out of gas on I-35. I was only 16 or 17, but I’ve never forgotten it. I just forgot to check my fuel gauge. So there I sat somewhere between Sandstone and Moose Lake very late on a very cold, winter night. There was virtually no traffic, and I thought, “Well, it’s only a couple miles back to Sandstone. Maybe I should just go across the median and hitch a ride back into town.” Great idea, right? Wrong. Too late, I realized that the snow was chest-deep. It was perhaps 150 across to the other side, but I couldn’t walk it. I had to swim through the snow. Finally, I reached the other side. I climbed out of the ditch, exhausted, wet, covered with snow, and immediately I saw a car coming south. I waved my hands, hoping the driver would take pity on me and stop. Well, he did stop. And amazingly, he was a State Trooper in his squad car. We didn’t even have to go back to town. He just took the first overpass, returned to the car, pulled out a little hose and pumped a gallon of gas from his car into mine. When I tried to pay him for the gas (at that time, it was only about 30¢), he said, “Don’t worry about it. Just your tax dollars at work.”
      > When we’re stuck and come to the end of ourselves, that’s when we realize we need a higher power—a supernatural power to get us going again. We need to look to God for help.
    • Dig deep. Sometimes you’ll need to shovel the snow out of the way. There are obstacles and temptations to remove before you can get traction and get going.
      > You’ll need to grab your shovel and dig deep! Even when you look to God for help, there are decisions you will need to make.
      > If I’m trying to diet, my choices begin in the grocery store. I can’t grab snacks and chips in the store and think I’m going to limit my intake once I get it all home.
      > To get unstuck, you’ll need to make some smart decisions. Get your shovel and get rid of the stuff that keeps tripping you up.
      > Say someone is stuck with an online addiction. There are smart choices—like moving the computer to where others are in the room; like getting some monitoring software; like joining an accountability group. Which leads to the next point…

 

  • Get some help. Sometimes you just need a push—maybe a few friends can help you get going again. Or maybe you’ll need a tow truck.
    > God puts people in our lives to help us get through the mess. We don’t have to travel alone. We have a fellowship of believers to help us along on our spiritual journey.
    > Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And if someone asks you for help, be sure that you deal with the situation with sensitivity, compassion and understanding.
    you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens [give each other a helpful push], and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:1-2)

 

  • Have some grit. Sometimes all it takes to get some traction is to throw a few handfuls of sand under your tires. Common, ordinary sand—nothing fancy, nothing expensive. It works whether you drive a Lexus or a jalopy. Anybody can carry some sand in their trunk.
    > To me, this means simply being prepared. In life, there are going to be some rough roads.
    > It’s inevitable: You’re going to travel through some storms; you’re going to encounter snow, icy roads, deep drifts, and when it all melts—mud.
    > So don’t be surprised if one day you find yourself struggling to keep moving. When that happens, grab a few handfuls of grit.
    > “What kind of grit?” you ask? That’s the commitment and the determination that you make for what’s ahead. It’s saying, I don’t expect life to be easy, but with God’s I am determined to make the best of it.
    > After Ernest Shackleton got his men off the Antarctica ice, they still had to row their 20-foot lifeboats for five days through icy seas for 346 miles. They landed on a deserted island and made some improvements to one of the boats before Shackleton and four others set out for a 15-day, 720-mile trip through even worse weather, encountering hurricane-force winds before landing. They were no longer stuck on the ice—but that didn’t make things any easier.
    > In life—in following the Lord—we need to have grit to keep going, to moving in the right direction. Getting unstuck is good. Reaching our destination is even better.
    > And that’s why we need a strong commitment. We need unshakeable resolve and determination. We need grit.

God’s plan for you is to keep moving—to not get stuck, to stay out of the ditch, to not spin your wheels.  God didn’t make you to wander in the wilderness or to keep circling the mountain over and over.

God’s plan is that you will grow spiritually, that you will develop and mature in following Jesus, that you will become better—more like Christ, transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory
(2 Cor 3:18).

All our lives we are on this “journey” toward being transformed. Paul says, “My friends, I don’t feel that I have already arrived. But I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead.” (Phil 3:13 [CEV]) and he adds, “I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” (Phil 3:14, MSG)

Life is a journey—and God wants us to set our sights on the destination he has planned for us: He made us for the Promised Land, not the wilderness.

He wants us to reach that goal so we can enjoy the fullness of his blessings—and take possession of the promises he’s given.