Living a life of Purpose Part 1

What am I doing here?  What’s the purpose of my life?  These are common questions we all face at sometime in our lives.  Those of us who are a little more contemplative may face these at a younger age but at some point we all are faced with these questions.

The reason we face these questions is because a life with no purpose doesn’t seem like much of a life at all.  An apple tree that doesn’t create apples can’t really be called an apple tree.  Same for the orange tree.  As human beings, we have a desire to matter, to make a difference or at least to have some greater purpose than just living to die.

So in order for us to life a life of purpose, I think we need to understand 3 important truths.  First, what is the purpose of our life?  Second, how do we live out that purpose?  And finally third, what is the result when we live out that purpose?  Today, we will look at the first part.

Much has been written, discussed and debated about the purpose of life for all of mankind’s existence.  Various philosophies and religions have tried to point to a way of living.  Others have tried to argue that we are just meant to live for our own personal self-fulfillment.  While still others see no purpose because, being created by random chance and years of evolution, we are simply a cosmic accident left to live, reproduce and die.

Probably the most popular view of the purpose of life these days, (thanks to the advent of postmodernism), is the idea that there isn’t one singular purpose but rather each person has in themselves the ability to discover an infinite amount of purposes.

While each of these views of the purpose of life have varying degrees of popularity throughout the world, they all neglect to answer the root of the question.  You see our purpose is explicitly tied to our creation.  Just as an apple tree finds it’s purpose in growing apples because it was created to do so, humans can only find their purpose based on why they were created.

While many don’t like the idea that humans were created, when faced with the facts, we are left to see that God did create us.  We are not just random chance combined over millions of years.  Each one of us was created, (for those struggling with this idea, please see some of the former blog posts in regards to God’s truth of creation).  So if God created us, what purpose did He create us for?

One of my favorite quotes about our purpose comes from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:  “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  The Bible also repeats this idea in verses like Philippians 4:4, (Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”), Psalm 144:15, (“Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!”), and 1 Corinthians 6:20, (“for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”) to name a few.

You see, our purpose is to be connected to God.  Sin has created a rift between our connection to God and has stolen our true purpose from us, instead trying to sell us novelty purposes of self-fulfillment and random chance.  Jesus tells us in John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he is it that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  Just as a branch from an apple tree that has broken off is useless, so we too, when not connected with our Lord and Savior life a live that is useless and purposeless.

We bring glory to God when we bear fruit, (John 15:8), and thus live out the purpose for which God created us for.  Next time we will look more at what it means to bear fruit, but for this week my hope and challenge for us all is that we would understand our true purpose in life.  It isn’t to get as much comfort and pleasure as possible.  It isn’t to live a smooth life.  It isn’t to chase health, wealth and happiness.  Each of these counterfeit purposes will only delay the realization that we aren’t living the life we were created to live.

Instead, may we all understand that our purpose is to know God, depend on Him, glorify Him and enjoy Him.  Only when we chase these true life desires can we live a life of purpose.  May we all desire to live out our purpose by staying connected to Jesus and desiring an ever growing and deepening dependence upon Him!

Exclusively Jesus

 

Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6).  Notice Jesus didn’t say He is “a way, a truth and a life.”  Jesus clearly shows He is the only way.  The ONLY way.  But this rubs many people the wrong way.  I constantly hear complaints against the exclusivity claims of Jesus.

 

Postmodernists, (AKA all of you under the age of 35 out there), think Jesus’ claim is not in keeping with modern times.  That there must be many different ways because we are all so different and truth, (for the post modernist), is found is each person’s own interpretation.  Thus, there must be many different ways.  Or others feel this exclusive claim by Jesus is unfair.  Why is Jesus the only way?  What about all the people that don’t know Him?  Then there are those with a Buddhist or Hindu bent who complain that Jesus’ claim is narrow minded.

 

There is a famous story from the Indian subcontinent about three blind men which is used to illustrate this point.  One day they happen upon an elephant, but being as they are blind they can’t see it.  So one blind man feels the trunk of the elephant and says it must be a tree and the trunk a branch.  The second feels the leg of the elephant and says it must be a pillar of a building or house.  The third feels the tail and says it must be a rope.  Many Eastern religions use this story to illustrate the point that to some extent they are all right as there are many different parts of an elephant.

 

The problem is, the blind men are all wrong.  The elephant is not a tree branch, a pillar or a rope.  The elephant is an elephant!  Because the men are blind and can’t see the elephant doesn’t mean their interpretation is correct.  It just means in their blindness they did the best they could to try and figure out what it was.  The truth is, we are the blind men feeling around for truth trying to figure out what it is.  We may have some part of it grasped but can’t possibly understand the whole part because we are blind.  But then Jesus comes along.  He isn’t blinded by sin like we are.  He sees the elephant as it actually is in it’s complete form.  And this is why Jesus’ making His exclusive claim in John 14:6 is such good news.  Let’s consider 3 reasons why Jesus being the exclusive way, truth and life is such good news.

 

First, Jesus’ exclusive claim is good news because we don’t have to guess.  We are all born blind because of sin, (Romans 3:23).  We do our best in trying to discover truth, (the elephant), but we are still unable to get it.  So we are left guessing, hoping that our interpretation is good or close enough that when the end comes we will be rewarded.

 

But this is a scary way to live your life, never sure of your future or what is true.  If truth is always changing or up to each person’s own interpretation, then what if I am wrong?  What if my whole life I am thinking it’s a tree but it’s really an elephant?  Praise be to God that I don’t have to guess.  I don’t have to try and feel my way around to figure out truth.  Instead, I can trust that Jesus knows truth because He is truth and we can thus depend upon Him.

 

Second, because Jesus’ exclusive claim is backed up with power.  For Jesus to make this remarkable claim in John 14:6 and do nothing else would make Him no better than a crazy person.  Anyone can say that they are the only way, truth and life, but Jesus actually is because His life backed it up with amazing power.  Jesus had the power to miraculously heal, (Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 2:9-12, Luke 17:12-16), and to cast out demons, (Matthew 8:28-34, Luke 11:14, Mark 9:25).  But not only that, Jesus most clearly and wonderfully displayed His power in His death and resurrection, (Matthew 27-28).  Jesus came back from the dead of His own power.  This amazing power has not been seen elsewhere and thus backs up Jesus’ claim that He alone is the way, the truth and the life.

 

Finally, because Jesus’ exclusivity claim isn’t based on us but rather on Him.  Jesus doesn’t give us a map to follow and tells us to go out and try and find the way to God.  He doesn’t say His teachings are the way, the truth and the life.  No Jesus provides the way, truth and life through Himself.

 

This is amazing news because in our weaknesses and failings we can’t possibly find the way.  We may try and we may work hard, but life can just beat us down sometimes.  There are temptations everywhere.  There are paths that seem much easier to follow which is probably way so many walk down those wrong roads, (Matthew 7:13-14).  Jesus doesn’t expect us to figure these things out on our own but instead provides for us each step of the way.  Thus, my salvation, my life purpose and my security are completely found in Him.  And this will never change regardless of the weaknesses I continually display.

 

Praise be to God that Jesus is exclusive.  Let us all rejoice in the fact that our God is not just one of many different gods to choose from or is simply one philosophical path among others, but that the God we worship is “the way, the truth and the life.”  Thank you Jesus for being beautifully exclusive yet willing to invite and welcome a sinner such as I to follow you!

 

 

Why Christians Keep Going

Praise-in-Storm

I don’t know about you all, but the last few weeks have been a series of ups and downs.  The issue is that the downs have far outweighed the ups lately.  It seems that once one thing has been dealt with, ten more pop up.  Life does this to us all at times, doesn’t it?  It just keeps beating us down until we just feel like we can’t go on.  But as Christians, we know we must keep going.  We know we can’t just give up or fold under all the stress.

 

My favorite Biblical example of this is Job.  God in His sovereignty actually has me reading through Job right now as I have all these issues coming at me.  When I see the problems I am facing compared to Job’s, I realize that really my issues are quite small.  Job had all his wealth taken from him, (Job 1).  Job had all his children killed in on day, (Job 1).  Job had his health taken from him as well, (Job 2).  Job even had people around him giving him bad advise.  Job 2:9 says “Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die””  Soon after this Job’s friends come and tell him how all the bad stuff that has happened to him is because of his sin.  Talk about salt in the wound!

 

Now thankfully my wife has offered encouragement through my storms and no friends have come to tell me my recent problems are from my sins.  But when life is falling apart we can feel like we just want to give up.  Satan loves to tempt us in our storms that God must not be there or love us if He would allow us to go through such issues.  This of course is a bold faced lie but one that many have fallen for over the years.  That being a Christian means that each day will be smooth is far from reality.  So why, in the midst of all of this, do Christians keep going?  Why don’t we just heed the words of Job’s wife or just go and live a life that pursues comfort and pleasure?

 

First, Christians keep going because we know there is a purpose.  We know that God is good.  We know that he loves us, so why does He allow us to suffer through storms in our lives?  Because He has a glorious purpose for them.  Maybe He is trying to teach us to depend upon Him more.  Let’s be honest, when things are going great we don’t really feel the need to depend upon God.  But when life is tough, we cry our for His help.  Isn’t His allowing us to suffer earthly trials in order to grow our dependance upon Him a supremely glorious and good purpose for us?  2 Corinthians 1:9 says “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

 

Or maybe God just wants us to see a sin stronghold in our life.  When things are going smoothly I rarely am able to spot sin issues in my life.  But when trials come, I more keenly feel the areas in my life that are not completely surrendered to God.  Hebrews 12:4-6 says “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

 

God loves us enough to allow us to go through trials because He has a greater purpose in mind. This is what Romans 8:28 really means:  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

 

Second, Christians keep going because our prize is not here on earth.  Philippians 3:20 says “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ”  We are creatures prone to only focus on right now.  We forget where our ultimate home is.  Remembering heaven is our home can keep us moving, albeit slowly, step-by-step towards God through all the trials that are coming at us.  If we understand that the prize of God in heaven is far greater than any trial we are currently facing we too can face trials with the idea that our greater treasure is in heaven, (Matthew 13:44-46).

 

Finally, Christians keep going because of the examples found throughout the Bible and with the help of the Holy Spirit.  The Bible tells us another name for the Holy Spirit is the “Comforter” or “Helper” (John 14:26).  When we are facing trials is when the Holy Spirit comes to comfort and help us.  He doesn’t necessarily just take the trial away but rather allows us to go through them with enough strength and grace to keep moving towards God.

 

God also provides us with many Biblical examples of brothers and sisters of old who suffered but kept going despite their storms.  Besides Job we also see the trials and storms of Paul, (2 Corinthians 11:23-33), the early Church, (Acts 7-8), and the Israelites (2 Chronicles 36:17-21) just to name a few.  Not only these examples, but we also have the ultimate example of Jesus.  Much of our suffering is a result of some sin or foolishness, (some suffering is not as we saw in Job’s life), but all of Jesus’ suffering was not a result of anything He had done wrong but actually because of all that we have done wrong, (1 Peter 2:22-24).

 

If today you are in the midst of trials, I just want to encourage you to keep going.  Understand that God is good and has a glorious purpose for allowing you to go through what you are going through right now.  Stop asking God “why me?” and instead ask him “what are you trying to show me?”  Remember that our citizenship is in heaven and we keep going because we are marching each day towards God in Paradise.  And finally, let the Holy Spirit comfort you as He always does and allow the examples throughout the Bible to encourage you through your storms.  Let us all keep going towards Christ that we may say with Paul “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”  (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Trying to Appease God Part I: Striking a Bargain with God

As we look into the topic of how we try to appease God or to get what we want from Him, we must turn to the topic of prayer. Prayer is spending time conversing with God, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us that is essential to the Christian life.

Yet many approach prayer in the same way we approach negotiating with others. They approach God with eloquent arguments and speeches and, like a good bargainer, try to get God to do what they want while making the fewest concessions possible.

Some samples of this type of prayer are as such:

-God, if you would just help me to become rich, then I will give money to the church

-God if you would just get me out of this problem, then I will never gossip again

-God if you give me a beautiful wife/husband, then I’ll stop lusting after other women/men

-God if you just prove to me that you are real, then I’ll believe in you

 

The problem with this type of prayer is that it is typically taking something and making an idol out of that thing. It is trying to use prayer not as a means to draw near to God, but as a means to get the thing you really want. Alternatively, this prayer can be used as an excuse not to surrender to God, especially for those who only promise to follow God after He gives a sign or blessing. The bible is full of people who make such prayers, and many of them do not follow through with their promises even when God gives them what they want.

At the same time the bible includes many examples of people who make prayers that involve some type of exchange with God, but that God listens and a great results follows. We will look at the difference between these two to see what it shows us about prayer.

Luke 9:57-62 includes examples of people who said they would follow Jesus under certain conditions. Yet Christ demanded that all of them provide an unconditional surrender. He stated that those who would only follow Him under certain conditions were not worthy of following Him. Similarly He repeatedly said that those who demanded a sign in order to follow Him were wicked, and that they would not receive any sign besides His death and resurrection (a sign given to all the world).

The old testament is also full of examples of the people of Israel praying that if God would rescue them or provide for them, that they would follow Him. Yet even when God chose to listen to them, they repeatedly rejected Him. The problem is that when we approach God with conditions, or merely try to gain something from Him, that type of prayer is not pleasing to God. It is really a wicked and idolatrous prayer. Because if we truly desired God and worshiped Him above all other things, then we would not approach Him conditionally. We would offer ourselves before Him and then ask according to His mercy.

What about when Hannah says she will dedicate her son to God if He will allow Her to have a son (1 Samuel 1)? It seems like this prayer, along with some other examples in the bible, are precisely give and take in nature. It looks like Hannah struck a bargain with God there.

There is a reason why these prayers are different. The first is that all these people recognize who God is, and believe in His power and submit to Him.

The second is that they come before God in weakness and humility, not making demands but asking that God do something that would enable them to follow Him and glorify Him. God knows the hearts of those who pray to Him. God opposes the proud but lifts up the humble.

The third is that they act in faith. Notice how Hannah is filled with peace and is no longer sad after she prays. She is not yet pregnant but her attitude changes and she rises to worship the Lord the next day. The fact that she keeps trusting in God even before she becomes pregnant shows that her trust and confidence in life is in the Lord.

Finally, Hannah actually followed through on her promise, and chose to honor God with the blessing that He gave her.

So what can we learn from these examples?

-We cannot bargain with God, He simply cannot be bought (we will look more into this in the next post). But God is merciful and may listen to those who ask for His help in humility and faith

-We must believe that God is able to do what we ask.

-We must set our hopes on God, whether or not we receive the thing we ask for. (If we look at 2 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul in faith and humility pleaded with God to remove a specific suffering in his life. But God responded by saying that His grace was sufficient for Paul, for God’s power is made perfect in weakness.)

 

Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:5-15 that true prayer is about first honoring and hallowing God’s name. It is about first adoring Him. All the prayer that follows (both our petitions and confessions) are done for the sake of His glory, kingdom and power. Prayer is not about negotiating with God but about praising Him and laying requests before Him to ultimately align our wills with His will. That is why we always pray “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

The final thing to remember is that God is worthy of our worship and obedience at all times. So we should not hold our obedience captive until He delivers on what we want. We need to obey and trust that He hears everyone of our petitions and responds out of His love and grace (even when we do not receive what we ask for).

Perhaps you have noticed that your prayers lately have not been focused on honoring God and drawing near to Him, but that you have tried repeatedly to negotiate with Him to get something that you want. If so, take time to recognize His holiness and worthiness. Meditate on the fact that He loves you and promises to care for those who submit to Him. When you come before Him in humility and adoration, make your petitions before Him and believe that He will do what is best, because He loves you and He is strong. There are many examples in the bible of How humble and righteous prayers made in faith had powerful results.

 

 

Life when Death is all around

graveyard1No matter how your life is going this week you can’t escape the fact that death is all around us.  Maybe this week has been great.  It seems like everything is going right.  This doesn’t change the fact that death is still around us.  It could just be something as simple as each day that passes is one day closer to death.  Or it could be that one phone call can change everything next week.  The truth is that when things are going good death is still there but we tend to block it out because the things right in front of us look so good.

 

But not every week is a good one.  Maybe this has been a week of suffering or even the death of a loved one.  In these moments we actually can feel the fleetingness of life.  We realize that life is hear for but a short time.  Psalm 39:5 puts it like this:  “Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!”

 

The idea of death being nearby is not a very cheerful idea.  But reality tells us it is.  So what are we to do?  Are we to just march slowly each day closer to our ultimate end?  Are we to live it up and make each day about as getting as much pleasure as we can before we are gone?  Is it about trying to leave a lasting legacy that goes on even after our death?

 

In the face of the truth that death is all around us, I hope to encourage you all this week with this truth:  “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  (John 11:25-26).  That although death is a scary thing and is so ever  present, Jesus tells us that He has conquered death.  Consider three reasons why this is such good news for us.

 

First, that because Jesus is the resurrection and the life death no longer holds as much power.  1 Corinthians 15:55-57 says “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Death is a scary thing and I don’t want to take away from the pain that loved ones face when someone dies.  But we can also take heart that through Christ, death no longer has the sting of sin because Christ has overcome.

 

This is tough.  This isn’t something we want to go to with a  grieving friend and just tell them, “Oh don’t worry, death has lost it’s sting.”  That is insensitive to what our grieving friends are going through, (read Job).  Rather, this truth allows us first to be encouraged as we face death around us but it also helps us to go to a grieving friend that knows although Christ has conquered death, it still hurts those left behind.  This enables us to “weep with those who weep.”  (Romans 12:15b).  So even though death is nearby, let’s remember that Christ has conquered death and it’s power.

 

Second, that because Jesus is the resurrection and the life we can live each day with boldness rather than fearing or looking ahead to our eventual demise.  Have you ever met those people who just always seem to be down?  They are always looking forward to the eventual day and dreading each seemingly meaningless day until then.  Maybe you are that person.  Talk about a wasted life!

 

None of us know how long we’ve got on this earth with death being so nearby.  Trusting that Jesus is the resurrection and the life should encourage and enable us to live each day selflessly to glorify and honor Him.  Why do you think that last thing Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 was “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Jesus wants us to get going and make our life worth something.  May Jesus being the resurrection and the life encourage and challenge you to stop wasting each day in that slow march towards death but rather utilize each day as a chance to share His Gospel with others.

 

Third, that because Jesus is the resurrection and the life not only can I focus on living each day well, but I can do things that are completely crazy for the name of Christ.  Read the Bible and see what amazing examples of faith boldness they give us.  Hebrews 11 is a great place to see how these people did things none of us could ever imagine.  They understood that Jesus was greater than death and thus used their lives to be poured out in service to Him.

 

What about you?  Are you playing it safe?  Do you have a five year plan of how you want your life to be?  Are you afraid to take big risks because you aren’t sure Christ will come through for you?  This is a faith issue.  If we truly believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, wouldn’t more of us do bold things for the name of Christ?  Wouldn’t we be able to live so selflessly because we know Christ has already given us more than we could ever give Him or anyone else?  If your faith isn’t strong enough to do these things, then this should be your daily prayer:  “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

 

My hope and challenge to us all this week is to move forward boldly each day knowing that Christ is the resurrection and the life.  Death is nearby which means we don’t have time to just sit about mourning this fact.  Rather, let’s get busy serving Him in ways that can only be described as supernatural.  Let’s face death knowing that Christ has conquered.  But let’s also learn to grieve with those who are hurting knowing that the string of death is gone, but the emotional pain remains.  Let us truly trust that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

 

 

Trying to appease God: Introduction

We live in a world where many people praise resourcefulness, street smarts and finding ways to do what seems impossible. Every culture has it’s ideas and expressions about how to find a way to get things done. We learn about the advantages of being diplomatic and about how to make good compromises with others. There are indeed some advantages to being able to motivate and move people as well as knowing how to balance conflicting desires and interests in large groups (though we must fight the temptation to use and manipulate people as this is not a loving way to treat others). But one problem that arises from this is that we incorrectly apply this idea to God. We look at people all over the world and learn how to appease them and convince them to do things we want, and then we look at God and act the same way towards Him. This shows up in many ways:

  • Let’s make a deal prayers: We tell God “if you will just do this for me, then I will do this, or I will stop doing that.” We may promise to give more time and money, or read our bible more, we may promise to stop committing some type of sin but God simply cannot be bought in this way.
  • Trying to get God in our debt: This is where rather than just making a promise to do something for God if He does something for us, instead we do things for Him first. But with the expectation of getting something in return. These deeds do not honor God, they are selfish and no deed that we do can outdo what God has already done for us.
  • Trying to get God to leave us alone: Where we try to do enough good to just avoid negative consequences of sin, or God’s wrath. We try to be just good enough so that we can still basically pursue whatever lifestyle we want.
  • Running from God: Like the previous one, running from God is about trying to simply live life the way you want to. Except for this one, people try to run away from God and from His church in order to free themselves of a guilty conscience or from the rebukes and correction from the Church.

 

All these attitudes are wrong and sinful, as they do not honor God, and in fact they reflect idolatry in our lives. The above attitudes treat God as a means to get something else. If you pray: “God I will go to church if you give me a successful career,” then you can be sure that the career is your idol. If you go to church and pray earnestly so that you can become rich, then wealth is your idol. If you date someone that you know you shouldn’t but justify it by making them come to church with you, you can know that that relationship is your idol. If you leave the church because you can’t accept brothers and sisters lovingly but sternly talking to you about your sins and appealing to you to change, then your freedom or the sins you do not wish to stop may be your idol.

Jesus says in Luke 9:23-24 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life more my sake will save it.”

True worship of God is not about kind of following Him, or sometimes doing good things for Him so that He’ll be nice to you. It’s about recognizing that the God of the universe is worthy of worship and that He alone can satisfy you. Because Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, it is only by making Him both Lord and savior of our lives that we can know God. This is why Paul is able to say in Phillipians 4:8 that all things are rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. It is why Psalm 37:4-5 tells us to delight ourselves in Him and that only then can our hearts receive what it truly desires, and that we must submit all we do to Him and only then will we have true success. We must be humble before God and remember that He is all powerful, but listens to us because He is also loving.

Knowing God is not a means to get things we want, but it is about learning to desire Him and desire to honor and glorify Him. This is the true purpose for which we have been made. So over the next few weeks we will take a look at the 4 ways that we try to appease or handle God in our lives and how our hearts need to change in order to submit to Him. Reflect on yourself this week and see if you notice any of these behaviors in you. Check your heart for idols and confess them to God, pray that you would really desire Him and take time to worship for who He is. He is faithful, and even when we are in our sins He extends His grace to us and desires to transform us.

 

Why I need a Good Shepherd

Reading John 10 we see Jesus addressing those listening and us today as “sheep” and Himself as our “Good Shepherd” (John 10:11). Modern ears probably don’t appreciate this analogy just like those at that time didn’t. Why? Because we don’t want to be addressed as sheep! Sheep are stupid and extremely dependent creatures. We humans like to believe that we are intelligent and have no need to depend on anyone or anything. So Jesus calling us sheep was definitely making a statement.

But was he wrong in addressing us in such a way? Honestly no not at all. The truth is we share more commonalities with sheep than we’d like to admit. And because of these commonalities, we are in desperate need of a Good shepherd. If the idea that you are similar to sheep and need a shepherd to guide you makes you a little upset, consider the following ideas and see that this is not only true but is a glorious blessing as well.

First, we aren’t as smart as we think we are. I know we have more scientific knowledge and technological advancements than the past, but with all these advancements, there is still stupidity. And I am not talking about those exceptionally stupid people that end up on funny videos online, but I am talking about each and every one of us.

Humbling right? I know personally I don’t want to admit this truth because I think of myself as a pretty smart person. But when I stop and think, I realize how little I actually know. Not just what I don’t know about God, the cosmos, our earth, history but even more so how much I don’t really know about myself. Proverbs 26:11 says “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” And I know we all can think of someone else this verse applies to, but honestly it applies to us all! How many mistakes have you foolishly repeated? How many times have you told yourself “never again” only to find yourself saying “never again” a short time later?

Proverbs 29:20 says “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Do you sometimes say the wrong thing? Speak too quickly? Honestly, reading Proverbs helps us put into perspective just how sheep-like we really are. While we are the crown jewel of God’s creation, we have arrogantly exalted ourselves because of our knowledge, (“This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up” in 1 Corinthians 8:1), and forgotten how little we really know. We truly are sheep when we consider everything and how little we actually know.

Second, while a degree of independence is good, the type of independence put forth in modern times is unhealthy at best and sinful at worst. Unhealthy in that it causes Christians to foolishly think they can survive on their own without the Church, (can’t love Jesus and hate the Church, sorry), which only leads to very malnourished and nominal Christians. Sinful in that the type of independence we see today desires to convince us that we have no need for Jesus our Good Shepherd or for others. This leads us into idolatry, selfishness, pride and a slew of other sins.

We all need to grow up which is why a degree of independence will always be needed, (to live with your parents your whole life is an unhealthy dependence rather than the healthy dependence God’s desires for our lives), but we also were created to be dependent. First we were created to depend on God. God is our creator, (Genesis 1:27), our sustainer, (Matthew 5:45), and ultimately our salvation, (John 14:6). To attempt to live independent of God is to throw away your true purpose and the joy that is found in depending on our savior.

We were also created to depend on others. Hebrews 10:24-25 says “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” While people are often difficult to be around, (which is why many of us retreat to our own lonely kingdoms), it is through these difficulties that we mature as Christians. Sheep must depend on their Good Shepherd and each other in order to survive. Honestly, we are no different.

Third, because Jesus is our Shepherd we are much more blessed being a sheep than if we were anything else. I love Psalm 84:10: “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” To get to dwell with God even in poverty is better than riches without Him. If being a sheep means I get the Good Shepherd, then I am absolutely blessed to be a sheep! To be a sheep and get God is better than to be anything else without Him.

We are all in desperate need for a Good Shepherd whether we want to admit it or not. But thanks be to God that He has provided us with a Good Shepherd in His Son Jesus Christ. Christians, let’s stop trying to prove ourselves to the world. We don’t need to show them how smart we are or how independent and cool we can be. Rather, let’s realize we aren’t as smart as we think we are and we don’t need to be as independent as the world tells us to be. Rather, let us enjoy and rest in the fact that we have a Good Shepherd who has promised that He will “never leave us or forsake us” (Hebrews 13:5). Oh the joy of being a sheep when Jesus is our Good Shepherd!

Observing the Sabbath

Even as I write this, I am convicted that I have to grow in how I observe the sabbath. I began to observe the sabbath a few years ago while I was still a student. I did all my school work on Saturday so that I would have no work that I needed to do on Sunday. Immediately I felt the blessing of going to church freely with no anxiety caused by work that needed to be completed that evening. I also began to observe some times of prayer in the afternoon when I came back home. Finally I did things that I enjoyed doing, thanking God for a time to rest and enjoy some of my hobbies. I think this was a good model, because observing the sabbath has a few components to it. Here are my recommendations on how to observe the sabbath:

1. Rest from work – Again, this doesn’t mean that we should have absolutely zero strain in the day, to do that you would have to stay in bed, but it does mean that I work harder on the days before (much like the Israelites collecting double the manna bread on the 6th day while in the desert) so that I can free myself of work responsibilities on Sundays. Sometimes unexpected needs rise up, or people ask me for help in certain tasks and I generally am willing to help them and deal with responsibilities that can’t wait. I learned to entrust God with tasks that I left unfinished and often found that in fact things that seemed pressing could wait for the next day.

2. Worship and remembrance – The sabbath is a day of worshiping God and remembering who He is. One thing that I want to grow in is taking intentional time to remember the things God has done in the bible and in my life. To thank Him and to remind myself that He is the one working in me. It may be good to write down things you are thankful to God for or ways that you recognize God as worthy of worship.

3. Loving God and loving others – Jesus makes it clear that all commandments rest on this, the sabbath should be a time that we foster our love for God and I believe it should include time in fellowship with others. You should find ways to fellowship on those days. And if you see someone in need, take some time to help them. That being said, I personally avoid making large service project or party plans on the sabbath. I do not find big activities restful, and if I were to regularly plan big projects on sabbath days I would not be resting on those days.

4. Rest by doing activities you enjoy – I believe the sabbath is a time that it is appropriate to play. Historically some Christians condemned playing sports on the sabbath because of the physical strain, but I believe that as long as you provide time to recover from it, sports or other activities of play can be good things to enjoy both on your own and with others. That being said, I have found that when I only play on my sabbath and do not intentionally observe the spiritual side of it, I often end the day restless. Play and physical rest are not substitutes to the spiritual rest we need in God. Nor is it honoring to Him if we do not take time to remember and worship Him on the sabbath.

I will include a final note about when to observe the sabbath. Some people insist that Sunday is the sabbath while others that Saturday is the sabbath day, and others that you can just pick any day and make it a day of rest. The Jewish culture specifically observed the sabbath from Friday night to Saturday night. The Christians gradually began to adopt the habit of observing Sunday as the sabbath as it was the day that Jesus resurrected from the dead. This trend was confirmed in the 4th century by an official council. I am inclined to think that while it is best for the Christian community to observe a unified sabbath (some churches hold their primary service on Saturdays, Sundays or even other days of the week), it is also acceptable to observe alternate days as a sabbath rest (many pastors do this because Sunday is a full days work for them). I think that when considering which day to Sabbath on, you should consider a day that you don’t need to work on, that you will have a chance to encounter other Christians, and that you can set aside more time than usual in worship and prayer. Finally it should be a day that you can physically rest on.
I encourage you to take time to pray and consider the question of how you should be observing the sabbath. I am also examining myself and seeing how I can better worship the Lord through the sabbath. I used to think it was an impractical part of the law, but I have come to see that the Lord truly made the sabbath for man. We need to practice the discipline or resting in God, and the sabbath is a reminder of His grace and love towards us.

Come In and Rest

Recently we studied John 10:9 where Jesus said “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” As we have looked at some of Jesus’ other “I Am” statements in John, (such as “I am the bread of life” and “I am the light of the world”), I’ll have to be honest, this is the one that always seems to make me stop and think a bit.

It’s not so much that Jesus says He is the door, (which can be difficult to fully understand apart from a true understanding that Jesus provides the way to heaven), but rather that He says “ and will go in and out and find pasture.” In order to better understand what is going on here, I want to look at 3 aspects of what Jesus said: the term “go in”, “out” and finally “find pasture”.

First, what does Jesus mean by going in? Out of the three aspects today, this one is probably the most self-explanatory. Jesus being the door means that He provides a way in, (as all doors must provide a way in), to God’s Kingdom. He states this same truth another of other places such as John 14:6 and this truth is also stated about Him in Acts 4:12 and John 3:36. That for us to enter God’s Kingdom, we must find the door and the door to God’s Kingdom is through Jesus and Him alone.

Notice what Jesus then says in John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus here is contrasting Himself as the door with those who may claim to be the door but really are not. Or people who claim there is no door in order to keep people from entering the true door to God’s Kingdom. Rather, Jesus provides the way for us to find God’s Kingdom and that by doing so we “may have life and have it abundantly.”

Second, how about what does Jesus mean when He says that we may also go out through this door? Does this mean that once we have entered the Kingdom of God we can also leave? If so, why would we want to? Based on this particular verse as well as reading the rest of John 10 and other references through out the Bible, it wouldn’t really make sense for the “going out” to mean leaving the Kingdom of God.

Instead, I think it is helpful for us to consider a sheep pen and exactly the purposes for the sheep to “go in” and for them to “go out”. When sheep are brought into the pen, (the going in described above), they are typically brought in for protection. Shepard’s don’t leave sheep in the pen all day everyday, but rather bring them in for their own protection during the night or when other dangers are nearby, (predators, weather, etc…). So Jesus does provide us into God’s Kingdom and when we enter we are eternally protected from any and all accusations and nothing will be able to separate us from God’s Kingdom once we have gone through the door, (Acts 8:38-39).

But sheep also must go out from their pen into the world to roam about, feed and find pasture, (which we will talk about next). So when Jesus says that we can “go out” He doesn’t mean that we exit the Kingdom of God but rather that we are free to go out and live our lives in this world without fear. We can go to those around us and share the Gospel, give of our resources for the work of God and live out our faith as a witness to those around us. We are able to live this “going out” because we know we are secure because we have already gone through the door and are eternally safe in Jesus’ arms but also because we know as we go we have a loving Shepard who will guide, protect and watch over us (John 10:11).

Finally, this brings us to what does Jesus mean that we will find pasture? For a sheep to find pasture is their ultimate place of rest. Pasture is a safe place where sheep can feed and live out their main life objectives, (for sheep those main life objectives aren’t real complicated). Pasture is a place of comfort. A place of security. For the Christian, this means we can find comfort in our lives knowing that Jesus has provided the way for us to enter God’s Kingdom. Now I am not talking about the type of comfort of health and wealth proclaimed through the heretical prosperity Gospel, (which is really no Gospel at all) throughout the world. Rather, I am talking about the type of comfort Paul had experienced through his life of trails and tribulations, ups and downs.

Paul says in Philippians 4:11-13 “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Our pasture is that we can enjoy the many good blessings that God has given us in this life and be satisfied with them regardless of our circumstances. But that we also get to look forward to the next life where the blessings of God will flow forth and we get to experience God and His Kingdom in person.

My invitation for all of you this week is to come in and rest. Life is so hectic, chaotic and frankly, short. There are so many things we can be worried and anxious about. So many things demand our purpose and mission. So many distractions of false comfort and fleeting pleasure. And there is Jesus. The door to God’s Kingdom who alone provides us good things, (no matter what our circumstances are!), in this life and the next. So if you are burdened this week, will you listen to Jesus’ words and let yourself enter God’s Kingdom. Come in and rest in Jesus.

Why Encouragement can be Hard

This week as I was doing a study, I came across this question: Are you an encourager? It took me a minute to realize that I am not as encouraging as I should or have been called to be. This then led to the next logical question: Well, why not? And this is what I hope to share with you all this week. If like me you feel like you are lacking as an encourager, maybe these points may help as you try to grow in this area of your life.

The first reason I think I find it hard to encourage others is because I have a high standard. This means I expect myself and others to perform at a certain level. Thus, if people are below that level I feel the need to coach, (criticize), in order to help them get up to the level of my expectation. If they are at my level expectation, I feel no need to encourage because they are just meeting what I expect them to. If they exceed my level of expectation, then in that moment I may encourage, but because my standards are usually so high this rarely happens.

Maybe you are like me and feel like you have high expectations and thus find it hard to encourage those not meeting those standards. Jesus spoke about people like you and I in Matthew 7:2 where He said “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Those same high standards we are holding others to, God will be holding us to. Wouldn’t we rather get grace, mercy and encouragement from our Heavenly Father rather than criticism? If you want to become a better encourager, learn to lower your expectations, (in fact, getting rid of expectations for others is best but difficult). We are not called to be the judge, God alone is. When we have expectations we typically criticize because when those expectations aren’t met our typical response is anger or frustration. Rather, if we are able to remove our expectations on others, we can also remove the anger and frustration which frees us up to encourage instead of criticize.

Second, I think we find it hard to encourage others because we have in us a fleshly desire for our exaltation. This plays itself out most often in two ways in my life. First, I can get caught up praising my works while simultaneously putting others down to feed this fleshly desire. So because I desire to be exalted, it leaves little room for me to encourage others, (unless the encouragement really is just a backhanded way of gloating).

This falls into the danger Paul describes in Galatians 1:10: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” I can get so caught up trying to please man, (look good to others, be exalted, etc..), that instead of rightly encouraging others I tear down or exalt myself. Notice Paul says this type of attitude prevents of from being able to be a “servant of Christ.”

Instead, we must not be so concerned with the fleeting praise of man but instead desire that God gets the glory as He alone deserves it. If we are truly seeking the glory of God and not our own, we will find it easier to encourage others because we are no longer jockeying for that praise of man.

I feel this desire for self-exaltation though, also plays itself out when I meet people who have similar strengths or weaknesses. Honestly, it is easy for me to encourage another persons strength if it is my weakness. So I will consistently encourage those who are artistic or people oriented because I don’t feel gifted in those ways. But, when it is something I feel, (or desire to be or be known as), gifted in, I find it much harder to encourage.

This clearly is a pride issue. To be unable to recognize those who have similar and greater strengths than us is to allow pride to reign in our lives. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 23:12 “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” When we try to exalt ourselves or the abilities, talents or gifts God has given us, Jesus says we will be humbled. Not we will become humble, but we will be humbled.

What does it look like to be humbled? Maybe you think you are quite a cook but when you let your friend try your dish they throw up because of how bad it tastes. Maybe you think you are quite the speaker until you give a speech and everyone falls asleep. Maybe you think you are a great basketball player until someone greater than you shows up and makes you look average at best. This is being humbled.

Jesus promises that as long as we try to exalt ourselves, God will allow us to be put in situations where whatever that thing is we are are exalting comes crashing back to earth. You will always find people better than you, even at those things you think you are really good at. Instead of exalting yourself only to have God humble you, (and trust me, usually this isn’t fun), why not humble yourself that God Himself, (not man), may exalt you? If you want to become a better encourager, learn to encourage and congratulate those who have the same gifts as you.

The battle to be a better encourager is one that will be fought against our pride and desire for praise, two of the toughest sin roots to battle. But encouragement is the way to battle these roots. So my hope and prayer for myself and those of you like me is that we would daily make decisions to encourage others instead of tearing them down. That we would not let expectations or desire for praise keep us from experiencing the fullness of joy of being a Christ Follower. I hope we can all become as humble as John the Baptist who, upon seeing many of His disciples leave him to follow Jesus said, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:29-30).