February 2, 2012 – Aaron Bird
The people you surround yourself with most are the ones who naturally have the most significant impact on your life. So, think about it: who are your closest friends? Who do you call when you have a few extra hours on your hands? Who do you go to looking for advice? Who do you spend weekends with? Who immediately comes to mind when you think about sharing your life with someone? Those people, especially the five people with whom you are closest, those are the people whose words, actions, and beliefs have the largest influence on your character. The question that remains then, is two parts:
1. Who/what do you really want to be like…
- Giving or taking; patient or demanding; loving or spiteful; edifying or destructive; strong or timid; compassionate or arrogant; conversant or domineering; honest or needy; trustworthy or deceitful; Godly or worldly?
- Do you want to be evidence of the saving grace and perfect love of Christ?
- Are you friends helping or distracting you from what God has called His children to be? Are they encouraging or pulling you away from righteousness?
- God has called us each to a process of sanctification – of making us ever more holy. God has called us to walk with Him in an effort of becoming ever more Christ-like.
And don’t think, even for a moment, that just because you and your friends are all Christians that you are exempt from reevaluating the impact of your friendships. Chew on this hard-hitting truth for a moment:
“If it weren’t for Christians, I’d be a Christian.” – Mahatma Ghandi
We are all flawed, and we all fall short of what God has called us to be, but we should never use that as an excuse to behave in such a way that makes others question our beliefs or, worse yet, question the perfect love and truth that is found in Jesus Christ.
Now, what that does not mean is that you have to drop your friends because they are human. Every single person you meet on this earth is going to have flaws, some more glaring than others, and we can’t start going around pointing fingers at our brothers and sisters, exploiting and condemning their mistakes, while we too are just as flawed and just as apt to sin. What it does mean is that, if God was not one of the names that came to mind when you considered your ‘Top 5 People I Spend the Most Time With,’ He most definitely should be.
We are meant for community. We are meant to share our life with the people around us – to form friendships, share joys and sorrows, to love and grow together – and the sense of belonging that comes from that kind of openness is wonderful, but that in and of itself is not truly transformative. Hanging out with God – having community with Him, sharing your life with Him, allowing Him to love and challenge you – that kind of relationship is what we were, above all else, intended for. Spending time with the God of the universe, gives you a beautiful spirit, and a truly beautiful life.
Still unsure? Just take a look at the life of Daniel. He was a teenage slave in Jerusalem while it was occupied by the Babylonians. But, despite his lowly status, people recognized that he was different; they saw his beautiful, Godly spirit. In fact, people were so aware of his unique spirit that King Darius actually agreed to make Daniel the governor over all of Babylon! Of course, in a world corrupted by sin, not everyone was happy for Daniel; jealously drove some men to find anything they could to discredit him in the eyes of the world, and yet they found nothing! Finally, they realized the only thing they could use against him was his faith in the Lord, so they concocted a scheme to make Daniel’s worship of the one true God illegal. King Darius legitimized the law, and had no other choice but to condemn Daniel to death in the lion’s den when he was found in violation of it. When morning came and Daniel was still alive, thanks to the intervention of the Lord, King Darius was so moved that he enacted another law – this time, however, he commanded all of Babylon to worship Daniel’s God, because it was obvious to him that Yahweh was the one, true God! Daniel’s spirit was so saturated by God that other people couldn’t help but stand back, take notice, and recognize the greatness of the King of Kings.
When you commit your life to Christ, you commit to living out His perfect gift of salvation – in practice, that means you’ve committed to living differently, both in word and in action, than people who don’t know the Lord. By placing your faith in Jesus, you join Him both in His death and resurrection, meaning you too have died to sin and been raised to life: you have accepted His identity as your own. But with this gift, comes a certain responsibility; you have been called to be an embassador of Christ while here on the earth, and that thought should never be far from your mind. Seek to glorify God in all that you do, and while, in this life, you won’t ever give Him the honor He deserves, you can and should be attempting to live up to His call. And that means, at least in part, spending time with God.
Surrender your life to Him; when you do, He’ll do beautiful things with it, things you can’t even dream of. And if hanging out with God seems less exciting or less enticing than hanging out with other people, then maybe you need to reevaluate the way you’re hanging out with Him… If prayer is boring, it’s probably that you’re forgetting to listen; prayer is a conversation, and a conversation has two speakers. Next time you pray, instead of trying to change God’s mind or convince Him to act in a certain way, let Him change your heart. If the bible is uninteresting, well then, quite frankly, it’s probably because you’re not reading it right. There is no book more important, no story more significant, no text more life changing than the holy bible sitting on your night stand/book shelf right now. So, once again, I’ll ask you two questions: who do you hang out with most often, and who do you want to start hanging out with more?
““I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.
“For He is the living God and He endures forever; His kingdom will not be destroyed, His dominion will never end. He rescues and He saves; He performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”
So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrusthe Persian.” – Daniel 6:26-28
When God made Eve, He did so because it was simply not good for man to be alone. We were made for community; the need to form friendships and create bonds with other people is ingrained into our very souls – our spirit literally longs for that relationship, and that longing is truly a God-given desire because sharing our lives was what we were made to do. But, just like so many other God-given desires, sin oftentimes corrupts that longing, and we fail to seek out the kind of friendships God wants for us. Instead of spending time with God and people who constantly point us back towards Him, we often look for people the world tells us are ‘cool.’ And, maybe at first, that won’t change your behavior, but if you’re not intentional about who you’re becoming, you may find that you start to believe that the things of this world are ‘cooler’ than the things of Heaven. Again, I am not trying to say that you shouldn’t hang out with people who believe or behave differently than you. In fact, I believe Jesus has called us to do just the opposite; He has commissioned His children to spread the gospel to the world, savory and unsavory, goody-two-shoes and rebellious people alike! What I’m saying is that you need to consider how your friendships are impacting your walk with Christ.
Are you a part of a strong community of Christ-followers? Are your friends people who will challenge and encourage you to be more like Jesus every single day? Do you seek out time with God, knowing that your relationship with Him is really the only important thing you could pursue? Do your closest friends reflect the kind of person you dream of becoming? If not, then, as harsh as it may seem, you might need to make new friends. Notice how I didn’t say to ditch the old ones, though! As much as you need to be edified and encouraged, so does everyone else, Christian or not, pursuing a Christ-like lifestyle or not. So, even if you discover that your relationship focus needs to shift, try to not completely extricate yourself from current friendships. Instead, let your newly renewed (or maybe newly found) pursuit of God shine through every conversation, every coffee date, every discussion section, and every social event. Be like Daniel; make people stand up and take notice. Give them reason to praise your God!
January 27, 2012 – Aaron Bird
Rewind: Fear can be a powerful motivator. When channeled properly, it can drive us to work harder, think faster, and push farther than you ever would have thought possible. More often than not, however, we let our fear motivate us to stand stock still. It makes our knees knock, our skin crawl, and our feet feel like they’re trapped in blocks of concrete. Our fear – be it of change, of failure, of rejection, of heights, of spiders, of clowns, or of squirrels – manifests itself in the form of self-constructed cages that prevent us from moving forward. Worse yet is when we let that fear drag us back from freedom to slavery.
After spending nearly four hundred years as slaves to the Egyptians and suffering abuse, oppression, and disgrace, fear was a concept with which the Israelites were terribly familiar. So, when Pharaoh finally gave in and let the people go, the exodus was anything but orderly. Even as families gathered hastily, and belongings were frantically packed up, the Israelites were holding their breath, waiting for Pharaoh to change his mind as he had done so many times before. But, you can bet, that when they approached the city limits and saw no guards waiting to stop them, the Israelites took off running! They left Egypt just as fast as they could with plans to never return.
Moses led God’s people out of Egypt, into the desert, and towards the Promised Land, but the journey would be neither boring nor direct; God certainly did not select the “shortest time” option on His divine GPS (it took FORTY YEARS to get to their destination!!). The detours began two or three weeks after their deliverance: God spoke to Moses and told him to turn around and lead the people back towards Egypt. Still riding on the spiritual high that follows the kind of miraculous works they witnessed in Egypt, and reassured by the visible presence of God in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, Moses and the Israelites faithfully followed the Lord.
God continued to speak to Moses, directing him to lead the Israelites to the east and then to the west, zigging and zagging His people through the desert. You see, God was very much aware of the power of fear, and chose His path accordingly, saying, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt” (Ex. 13:17). He understood that, despite His promise, despite His very presence, His people were likely to surrender to fear and turn away from His goodness, preferring the comfort of familiar oppression back in Egypt to the unknown treasures of His glory in the Promised Land. Thus, in all of His divine wisdom, God chose to prolong their journey, consequentially building their trust in His provision. The Israelites didn’t know it, but He was preparing them for the coming chaos.
The Israelites had just reached thehore of the Red Sea and were awaiting further instructions from the Lord when they first heard that Pharaoh had changed his mind. After the loss of every first born son in the entire nation, Pharaoh’s heart was harder than ever, and once his son’s funeral was over, he wasted no time assembling an army of charioteers to bring the “lost” slaves back.
Can you imagine the fear, the absolutely paralyzing terror, that must have taken hold of each and every Israelite when they heard that Pharaoh and his army were on their way? They had only just left Egypt! God had promised deliverance! They had trusted Him; they had trusted Moses! And for what? To die in the desert? They demanded of Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Ex. 14:11-12). Their terror was so all-encompassing that they mistook God’s provision for faulty planning, and slavery for protection. They let themselves be so overwhelmed by doubt and fear that they completely forgot who was leading them, even though He was right in front of them the whole time.
What fears do you have? What is it that limits you? What makes you hesitate to trust? What compels you to keep the lights on while you sleep? What stops you from enjoying the fullness of the life you’ve been promised? What makes you squeeze your eyes shut, hold your breath, and lock your knees? Whatever it is – big or small, rational or irrational, kept secret or worn on your sleeve for the world to see – in the midst of chaos, there’s only one thing you need to remember: Who is it that’s really leading you?
No matter what life throws at you; no matter if it makes you want to laugh or cry; no matter if your first instinct is to run hide, dance, or jump for joy (that’s right, we’ve left the realm of fear and moved into a much more universal truth), the main thing is to keep the Main Thing the main thing.
The Lord has promised to bring deliverance for His people, and He has yet to stand us up. When the Egyptians were closing in on the Israelites (who had their backs to the sea), God threw up a wall between His people and their enemies, and parted the sea, providing an escape route. Moreover, when the Egyptians attempted to follow the Israelites across the sea floor, God crushed them, decimating the greatest army the world had yet to see! God promises to provide, to rescue, and to lead His people, always. He is the hero of the text, and the realization of every good thing.
God always shows up, and He is never terrified. He will never be bested. So next time you’re afraid, take a breath and remember the main thing is to keep the Main Thing the main thing. With God leading you, what’s the worst that could happen? Death? Last I checked, He’d already taken care of that.
Pause: His love never fails; He is greater than anything you could ever dream up. Our God is mighty to save, and if our God is with us, then who could ever stop us? What could ever stand against us and pose a real threat? You can rest safely in your Father’s arms, knowing He will never forsake you.
“I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.” Psalm 18:1-3
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strongholdof my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.” Psalm 27:1-3
Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever. He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD. His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes. Psalm 112:6-8
Push Play: There is no reason to be afraid: God’s got your back. He’s been repairing broken hearts, finding lost treasures, and rescuing warrior princesses and knights-in-shining-armor alike for longer than any of us can imagine. He conquered death on the cross, and is still freely giving that salvation away to all of us. Lucifer’s got nothing on Him. When you know the Lord, there is absolutely no reason to fear, ever. Pain is fleeting, loss is temporary, and death is not the end. God is one trust-fall partner you can place your faith in one hundred percent. And yet, we fear. We still don’t trust…
There is no reason to be afraid, but, when you are afraid, embrace the fear. Fear is only a problem when it stops us from trusting in the Lord (like it does in this video). The issue isn’t the fear itself, it’s when we allow it to paralyze us or push us back towards something that we know is wrong. Fear is only powerful when you leave it unaddressed and deny that it exists; that’s when it festers and grows, forming chains around your ankles and walls around your heart. Instead, make efforts to recognize fear for what it is – a lie, a farce, a temptation to deny who God really is – own it, and submit it to the Lord.
He is waiting for you to call on His name; to open your eyes and see that He’s right there in front of you as a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, leading you through the desert, building your character and reinforcing your faith. He will take your fear and turn it into strength. He will provide. He will show up; He’s already shown up. Embrace the fear; claim its power as your own, and keep your eyes on the Main Thing. He will catch you every single time.
Rewind: By 444 B.C. the city of Jerusalem had been in ruins for about one hundred years, serving as a constant reminder of the injustice done to the Israelites at the hands of the Babylonians. King Artaxerxes of Persia, the son of Esther’s husband King Xerses, was ruler over the Israelites. A Jewish man named Nehemiah held the dangerous yet honorable position of being royal cupbearer. Although his job was to put his own life in danger on a daily basis for the sake of the king, by testing his wine for poison, it’s fair to assume that a servant as trusted as Nehemiah would have led a pretty comfortable life. But, as is so common in the lives of believers, God soon placed a call on Nehemiah’s heart that demanded both attention and action.
Now, the Jews had been back home in Jerusalem for almost one hundred years, but the city was far from being rebuilt. In fact, aside from the restoration of the Temple in 516 B.C., few other construction projects had been completed, due in large part to the frequent raids on Jerusalem by neighboring war lords. The city was in dire need of protection, but the once strong walls, meant to keep out invaders, still lay scattered in heaps of rubble on the outskirts of town. When Nehemiah’s brother, Hanani, came for a visit and relayed this sad news, Nehemiah’s heart broke, and his soul became restless. He wept, fasted, and prayed for his fellow Jews. Soon enough, however, he came to recognize the longing in his heart for what it really was: a call to action from the Lord.
Traditionally, royal cupbearers (and most other royal servants) were expected to maintain a happy disposition in the presence of the king, so, when Nehemiah, visibly wracked with anxiety, presented Arataxerses with his daily wine, the king expressed his concern, or, at the very least, his curiosity. Nervously, Nehemiah explained the situation in Jerusalem, and, at the king’s prompting, asked for a leave of absence, during which he would go to Jerusalem and lend a hand in rebuilding the city. To Nehemiah’s great surprise and pleasure, the king granted his request.
Once he arrived in Jerusalem, Nehemiah met with other Jews, and quickly decided that the one thing he most needed to do was to rebuild the city walls. Thus, he assembled a large, talented, and very motivated team of men, and they started building, one brick at a time. The process was long, it was difficult, and it certainly stirred up a lot of discontent. In particular, the worst of all the war lords, Sanballot, made numerous attempts to prevent Nehemiah from completing his task.
Sanballot invited Nehemiah to dinner, threatened to kill him, and started very dangerous rumors concerning his loyalty to king Arataxerses. But, no matter the request or the complaint, Nehemiah’s answer was always the same, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (Ne. 6:3).
In the face of grave danger, Nehemiah maintained his composure, continued his work, and never once faltered in his reverence for the Lord. Even when the only safe place for him to hide was behind the closed doors of the Temple, a place laymen like himself were forbidden from going according to Jewish law, Nehemiah remained faithful. He remained on the wall. He understood that his great work was actually God’s great work, and refused to let anything deter him. He knew that building that wall was the one thing he absolutely had to do: “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.”
So, what about you? What is the one thing that you just have to do this year? Maybe it’s a habit you need to make, or maybe it’s one you need to break. It could be a relationship you know you have to end, or it could be one you know you should start. Maybe it’s something as intangible as having the joy of the Lord in your heart each and every day. Maybe it’s finally turning away from the sin that has haunted you for all this time…
Whatever it is, your one thing won’t require extensive discernment. It won’t allude your attempts at identification, and it won’t hide in the shadows of your busy mind. Your one thing is something you feel deep in your bones. It might even be something you’ve felt deep in your bones for quite some time now. All you have to do is engage with that one thing long enough for it to convict you; just long enough for you to see that God’s DNA is all over it, and all over you.
Forming or breaking a habit, starting or ending a relationship, moderating or eliminating a negative tendency, seeking God’s face in a new way or running from temptation with more vigor than ever before…
This is your semester. This is your year. Don’t waste it only worrying about all of the earthly things you should be doing. Do what it is that you know you absolutely have to do. Recognize your one thing for what it truly is: a call God has placed on your heart to do a truly great work. So, get on your wall and stay there; don’t let anyone or anything bring you down.
– January 19, 2012, Aaron Bird
Pause: The story of Nehemiah summariazed above is taken from Nehemiah chapters 1-6, and it’s definitely a good place to start when meditating on your one thing… Here are a few other passages you may find helpful; in all things, seek to place the Lord first.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Cor. 10:13
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. James 2:15-18
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. Colossians 2:6-8
Push Play: Nehemiah’s call was strong, steady, and undeniable. Even under threat of death, he stood firm. As terrifying as building that wall must have been for him at points, especially when Sanballot was threatening to kill him, it also must have been such a source of comfort for Nehemiah. He was so certain of his task, so convicted by the Lord’s prompting to return to Jerusalem and rebuild that wall, that he put everything else on hold, and boldly proclaimed that he was “doing a great work.” The man certainly was not lacking in confidence.
Oh, how I envy that certainty of purpose from time to time. Forming an honest answer to the question What is one great thing that you want to do? is overwhelming. It’s a question weighted down by implications, expectations, and the promise of time consuming deliberations. For most of us, a question like that can be temporarily paralyzing, because the future, in all of its immeasurable vastness, is where people and ideas get lost. For some, the intangible entity that is ‘the future’ has too much uncertainty to wade through comfortably, while for other sit serves as a safe space in which to deposit all of the desires they’re just too busy to attend to at the moment; either way, thinking about or planning for the future tends to trip people up.
But I think one of the key aspects of Nehemiah’s story, and one of the reasons why it is extremely relevant to our lives here in the 21st century, is that his conviction was for the present, not for the future. He wasn’t caught up in the planning; he was swept away by the doing. He wasn’t deceived into waiting for the perfect moment; he was inspired to act here and now. We could learn a lot from a guy like Nehemiah.
It’s time to stop being intimidated. It’s time to stop putting off the things you know you shouldn’t. It’s time to stop being distracted or discouraged by other commitments and obligations, because when they stand in the way of God’s call, those otherwise healthy commitments become idols, and that gets very dangerous very fast. It’s time to do what you have to do; what your soul longs to do; what you’re being called to do. Find your one thing, and then, brick by brick, step by step, victory by small victory, start building your wall.
October 17, 2011 – Aaron Bird
Rewind: Identity. This word has been giving people headaches for centuries. It’s what defines you; it’s who you are. It’s what some people spend their whole lives looking for. According to the Oxford Dictionary identity is the very definition of intuitive: it’s the fact of being who or what a person or thing is, which pretty much says that your identity is you. Yet, we walk around, hanging our heads, full of passion and pain, desperately asking everyone and everything around us for direction. We ask them to do what proves too difficult for us to do on our own; we ask them to define us, to tell us what is at our core. We ask “Where do I fit in? Where am I not wanted? How valuable am I? How insignificant? What purpose do I serve? Where do I fall short? Who am I?” Their answers, however, trap us in a dangerous cycle; they always leave us unsatisfied, which is why we keep asking. Mankind is going through a major identity crisis. It won’t end until we stop asking everything and everyone, and start asking The One.
You want to know who you are?
You are God’s child.
If you’re looking for your identity, that’s it right there, in all of its mysterious, awe-inspiring grandeur: you are God’s child.
There are a couple of things at the center of our identity crisis…
The process of elimination: Even when we feel like we don’t know exactly who we are, we can almost always say something about who we’re not. I am not as smart as him; I am not as pretty as her; I am not as successful as her; I am not as kind as him, etc. There’s a much more scientific, intellectual name for this, but at its core, it’s a process of elimination, similar to the test-taking technique we’re all so familiar with (well, it’s not A or C…). The flaw here, is that it’s completely destructive. Whether it’s intentional or not, you are putting yourself in direct competition with those around you in an attempt to prove you deserve to exist and have value. But, how can you prove that you have value if your your evidence rests completely on all of the things you are not – all of the things you are “missing?”
Belief that actions are your identity: The world around us is constantly saying that what you do is inherently who you are. If you teach, you’re a teacher; if you preach, you’re a preacher; if if you write, you’re a writer; if you farm, you’re a farmer; if you run, you’re a runner; if you succeed, you’re a success. But, the problem here is that what you do is inherently who you are, even when those things are not positive… If you cheat, you’re a cheater; if you lose, you’re a loser; if you quit, you’re a quitter; if you fail, you’re a failure. So, then, if you win the spelling bee, but fail an exam, who are you: a winner or a failure? Or do they cancel out, meaning you are nothing at all?
Take a look at what Paul has to say about our identity crisis:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29
You see, the truth is, you don’t have to impress anybody. You already have an identity: you are God’s child. And since you are incapable of impressing God, any efforts spent trying to assert your claim to this identity, to prove you are somehow worthy of it, are in vain. You can’t prove anything, which is why God made it so you don’t have to. You belong to God, and you can either embrace that truth, or run from it.
We struggle with this concept because we are constantly looking inward and outward, and never upward. But, the more you get yourself out of the way – the more you let Him have you – the more truly yourself you become. Once your life belongs to Christ, you are completely clothed in this new identity. You have nothing left to prove, because in Christ you have value; you have significance. When you are sure of God – who He is and what He has promised – you are sure of yourself. Our value comes from being loved by the Lord, and our identity is firmly rooted in who God is. Since God never changes, His love never changes, which means that our value never changes. Your importance on this earth never depreciates. You are God’s child.
That is the Gospel. He never changes, so who you are never changes. Again, you can embrace it, or you can run from it, but that doesn’t change it. Do you know who you are?
Pause: Even if it makes you feel silly, read these things out loud. Make them a part of your prayer life today. Write them down. Repeat them to yourself as your falling asleep. Internalize this truth: I am God’s child. We all need a paradigm shift. We all need to see ourselves as God sees us.
I may be angry; I may be happy. I may be big; I may be little. I may be dark skinned; I may be light skinned. I may eat desert first; I may not eat much at all. I may be gorgeous; I may need a little makeup. I am God’s child.
I may love politics; I may hate politics. I may be introverted; I may love people. I may have a job; I may be unemployed. I may like a cold of cup of lemonade; I may like a nice glass of wine. I may marinate and sauté; I may overuse my microwave. I may get straight A’s; I may not remember the last time I got an A. I am God’s child.
I may be single; I may be married. I may like rap; I may only listen to Stephen-Curtis Chapman. I may make lots of money; I may barely make ends meet. I may like dogs; I may like cats. I may have children; I may not have children. I may like pricy lattes; I may only drink tap water. I may have a police record; I may live in fear of taking risks. I am God’s child.
I may have a plan for my life; I may be clueless. I may be successful; I may be struggling. I may be popular; I may always sit by myself. I may believe in global warming; I may think it’s a hoax. I may kiss on the first date; I may wait till marriage. I may like soap operas; I may not own a TV. I may appreciate real books; I may own a kindle. I am God’s child.
I have value. I have worth. I have significance. I am accepted. I am known. I am loved. I have nothing to prove. I am God’s child.
Push Play: Brokenness stems from a grand misunderstanding of ourselves and of the world around us. Lifetimes are wasted in search of abstract answers to concrete questions; we deny simple, clear-cut truths in search of something big enough to fill the void in our souls. We’ve removed certainty from everyday life, preferring the comfort of confusion – no one’s wrong; everyone just has a slightly different, possibly valid, interpretation. In so doing we have made living much harder than it needs to be. We have convinced ourselves that our identities are complicated and intangible and vague and indefinable.
The problem isn’t that our identities are hidden or intrinsically complicated; they’re not even all that abstract. The problem is that we are trying to recreate something that already exists. Ironically, we end up denying our true selves in a vain attempt to find our true selves.
We haven’t always had an identity crisis. The modern concept of individual identity is a relatively new idea – most scholars agree that term and the idea it embodies is probably only a few centuries old. In our efforts to understand the world, to embrace reason, to question and critique and doubt, either to find truth or simply for argument’s sake, we have confused ourselves. We are constantly mistaking lies for truth. “The unity of the self was not a problem so long as the traditional Christian conception of the soul held sway…”* but when we decided God wasn’t necessarily God, when we decided the Gospel was just a nice story, when we relegated Christianity to nothing more than a placeholder – a satisfactory explanation only until the ‘real’ truth can be found… that’s when we lost sight of our identity.
It’s okay to question, and it’s even okay to doubt, but let those questions drive you closer to God, not farther. Don’t believe the lie that man-kind has progressed past the need for God. We will never not need God, and we will never be ourselves without God. If you feel lost, this is what you’re missing.
Your identity is mysterious, but it’s not a mystery. Your identity is beyond comprehension, but it’s not out of reach. Your identity was bought at a high price, but it was freely given to you. Your identity will not be found in this world; it resides above. Your identity is who you are. And who you are, is a child of God.
*Gleason, Philip. “Identifying Identity: A Semantic History.” The Journal of American History. 911 (1983): 910-931. http://www.jstor.org.proxy2.library.illinois.edu/stable/1901196
October 10, 2011 – Aaron Bird
Sorry for the temporary hiatus last week… we had a somewhat unconventional service (an interactive discussion about some of the fundamentals of Christianity) that didn’t really lend itself to a written format. This week, too, was a little different, so you won’t find the same “Rewind. Pause. Push Play.” segments, instead you’ll just get my take of Bird’s message. This week was about being convicted, being called to action. This week was about sacrificing for the good of our brothers and sisters around the world who are dying each and every day. This week was about drinking Water so we can give water…
Nobody likes infomercials. They’re long, they’re overdramatic, and they’re always trying to get you to do something… usually that something is “Call right now to place your order and receive our special bonus prize!” To make matters worse, the product they’re selling is typically unnecessary, overpriced, and poorly made. Nobody likes infomercials because they attempt to trick you, and sometimes guilt you, out of your hard earned cash.
You know what people like even less than infomercials about the latest and greatest quadruple-use kitchen appliance? Christian infomercials. You know the ones I’m talking about – there’s the guy or gal dressed in a simple pair of shorts and old t-shirt holding the most adorable child ever standing in the middle of a dirty, dusty street asking you to please do for the least of these. Now, it’s not that we, as viewers, don’t support the mission of the charities behind these advertisements, nor do we aim to scoff at those among us who choose to pick up the phone and donate the much needed funds to drum up food, medicine, and clean water for our brothers and sisters in need. Quite to the contrary, we’re all for someone else answering the call to make a sacrifice on the behalf of a stranger, and we’re definitely all for Christians, in general, stepping up to change the world. Yep, we’re all completely, one-hundred percent on board with sitting in our living rooms and praying for Christians to become the active hands and feet of Christ all over our broken world. And yet, whenever those commercials come on, most of us promptly change the channel. You see, the problem isn’t that we’re against the vision behind these Christian infomercials, it’s quite simply that we don’t like feeling convicted.
The trick there, of course, is that if are seeking to live our life apart from conviction by avoiding it at every possible turn, then we can’t really call ourselves Christ followers, can we? After all, everything Christ does convicts.
So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria. John 4: 3-4
Looking at a map, this journey makes sense; of course Jesus would go through Samaria to get from Judea to Galilee – it’s a straight shot. But, culturally speaking, this was a radical concept. No Jew chose to go through Samaria; instead, if you wanted to go north from Judea, you first went east, crossed the Jordan river, then traveled north, then crossed the river again and went west until you reached your destination. The Samaritans were half-breeds, social outcasts, a constant reminder of a violent, shameful past (when the Asyrians invaded, they killed many of the Israelite men, but kept and copulated with the women, creating a new cultural mix of people, with whom the Jews did not associate).
The significance of Jesus’ choice to go through Samaria has less to do with correcting nonsensical travel habits and more to do with irradicating hateful, divisive social prejudice. That, in and of itself, ought to be convicting. There are plenty of people we avoid on a daily basis because they seem “less-than” the kind of people we think we should be hanging out with. Who are the people in your life that you avoid? Do you do so because being with them leaves you feeling just a bit dirty? Do you think that’s what Jesus wants you to do? Where or who is your Samaria?
Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” John 4: 6-7
Once again, to our twenty-first century minds, this doesn’t necessarily strike us as odd, but, again, this was a big deal. It was high noon when Jesus and the Samaritan woman were at the well together… no one drew water at high noon! They’re in the middle of Samaria, which is a hot, dry country, and noon is the absolute hottest part of the day; typcially, women would only make the trip to and from the well in the early morning or the evening hours, when the sun was less harsh. Also, they would generally go in groups to pass the time and strengthen community. The only reason, then, that this woman would be at the well at noon would be if she were a social outcast, either forced out or too ashamed to join with the other women.
Also, Jesus is a Jewish man talking to a shamed Samaritan woman (three strikes against her, by the way), and He’s asking her for a drink! Jesus, a Jewish man and the one, true God, is asking this poor, wretched woman for a drink. Jesus doesn’t hesitate or avoid; He doesn’t avert His eyes or maintain a holier-than-thou attitude (despite His having every right to do so). No, instead, He acknowledges her presence and strikes up a conversation. He validates her existence.
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you Living Water.” … The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” John 4: 10, 15
The Samaritan woman probably would have benefited from reading through a written transcription of this conversation, especially if it included the tell-tale capitalizations. Here you have yet another example of Jesus’ wondrous rhetorical skill – His incredible ability to manipulate words and stories so that they take on ground-shattering significance. When Jesus makes mention of this Living Water (which He later explains would forever eliminate her thirst), He is no longer speaking of water (H2O); He’s speaking about Himself. She, of course, doesn’t understand – how could she; this is a pretty radical concept. All she’s thinking about is the hours she spends each day walking to and from the well just so she can draw water; how tired she is when she reaches home again; and how she has to do it all over again the next day. When she asks Him for “this water” she still thinks He’s talking about liquid water – that He’s got some sort of magic, self-replenishing water that will get rid of her lonely, shameful journeys to the well.
We know, of course, that the water Jesus is speaking of is not liquid, but grace, and the life it brings isn’t corporeal, it’s spiritual. Jesus is the Living Water, and those who come to know and trust in Him will never thirst again – they will be eternally satisfied.
The woman said, “I know that Messiah [called Christ] is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am He.” John 4:25-26
She’s not disagreeing with what Jesus is saying, she just doesn’t understand. She’s confused and probably feeling a bit convicted (because Jesus did just finish calling her out on her five husbands), but she’s not willing to act yet. Instead, she simply repeats what she already knows to be true: The Messiah is coming and He will explain everything when He gets here. He’ll tell me what to do and how to live and where to find this magic water. He’ll make it so I don’t have to live under this shame any longer. Jesus listens patiently, but when she’s finished speaking, He wastes no time in setting her straight: I am that Messiah, and I have explained it to you. I am the Living Water; I can make it so you are never lacking again.
Are you lacking? Do you have the Living Water?
We have a water crisis on our hands. For most of us here in America, living in the twenty-first century means having indoor plumbing, satisfactory sanitation systems, and clean water at your finger tips, but to many of our brothers and sisters in other countries, ‘the twenty-first century’ has little baring on the modernization of their culture. In countries like Rwanda, women walk, on average, three miles a day to get water for themselves and their families, and the water they get isn’t even clean. That means two months of these women’s lives each year are spent transporting water. This substance is supposed to be life sustaining, but, instead, it often brings sickness and death. So, why go to all this work? Well, it’s obvious really; because you need it. Without water, people die.
Over 884 million people do not have access to clean drinking water, and 5,000 children die each day due to water related diseases, many of which are completely preventable. The question, then, is this: Would you dink this water? If not, why should they?
So, why do we have a water crisis? Because we have a Water crisis. Everyone is thristy for something, and everyone spends painful hours toiling away trying to find the thing they believe will relieve their thirst. But if we only had Living Water, we would never thirst again.
Read that again slowly: If we only had Living Water, we would never thirst again.
What I mean to say is that if we have Jesus in our lives, we are never lacking. He always provides. Our cup is always full. Even when we don’t see it that way. He provides for all of our needs, physical and spiritual (like it says in Matthew 6, if He takes care of the wild flowers and the birds, how can we not trust that He will take care of us all the more?). And, as if that idea isn’t radical enough, I believe that if we have more Jesus in our lives – if we welcome Him in and allow Him to reign over all our thoughts and actions – we can irradicate physical thirst too.
Each year, 2.2 million people die as a result of contaminated drinking water; that’s 20 jumbo jets full of people that effectively crash. Each day. If those were literal jumbo jets, people would be up in arms across the world; there would be committees and civil action groups working to prevent the tragedy from continuing; there would be groups of people claiming a conspiracy. There would be an overwhelming sense of conviction. We would want to act.
We need to act. Real people are dying. This is not a joke or an exaggeration; this is reality.
We have a water crisis because we have a Water crisis. Followers of Christ are changing the channel, averting their eyes, avoiding Samaria, and refusing to acknowledge a world of people strugglilng to survive. We need to start watching those Christian infomercials and embracing that feeling so similar to guilt and calling it by its true name. We need to be convicted. We need to follow Jesus’ example and walk to the well in Samaria, sit down beside it and meet people there. We need to drink Water to give water.
At the well is where the world changes; it’s where sanctification, justification, and transformation happen. Life happens at the well, but it’s messy, which is why we’d rather sit on our couch or in our pew and say a silent prayer rather than taking action.
You will never be held accountable for the number of bible verses you committed to memory or the number of worship songs you sung. But you will be held accountable for what you did, or didn’t do, at the well. You are here for such a time as this – there are no more excuses. Take action. Drink Water to give water.
Join the 10 Days Campaign. Across the nation, college students are giving up all drinks other than water for the next 10 days (Oct. 10 – 19th) and donating all of the money they would have spent to Living Water International, which will take the proceeds and build wells in Rwanda, providing thousands of people with clean, safe drinking water. Be a part of the change.
September 26, 2011 – Aaron Bird
Rewind: God’s will for you is not that hard to figure out. It’s not hidden or cloaked in mystery. There is no maze, no one, right path for you to take to get God’s best for you. Despite what you may have been told, God doesn’t try to trick you or rely on your correct interpretation of His promptings… when He speaks, He SPEAKS, and when He acts, He ACTS. Stop making your life more complicated than it has to be.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence… 2 Peter 1:3
God has given you everything you need.
His plan for you is written down. It’s been around for thousands of years, and millions of people have already read and lived it. He has placed His plan for you on your heart, and He has made it evident in the world around you: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. Romans 1:19-20. He even went so far as to nail His will on a cross for the whole world to see.
His will is for you to be with Him.
Stop stressing out about what God’s will is and live your life in pursuit of Jesus.
That being said, God has called His children to live differently than everyone else…
And I [Christ] am no longer in the world, but they [God’s people, those who keep His word] are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as We are one… They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. John 17:11, 16
No one likes that word ‘rules.’ Secretly, or maybe not so secretly, we’re all rebels at heart, and we view rules as the strings that hold us back and keep us from being completely free. But that’s a lie. His rules don’t limit your freedom, they remove your chains.
God loves you. And because He loves you, He wants you to be with Him. And because He wants you to be with Him, he wants to protect you from the things that could hurt you – the things of this world that could keep you from being with Him. He wants to set up a hedge of protection around your life. That’s what his rules are: a hedge of protection.
It’s the same logic that drives a loving dog owner to fence in his backyard. You want your dog to be free to roam around, investigate, and explore, to experience joy, challenge and growth, but, at the same time, you want to make sure that they’re safe, so you put up a fence to ensure that they’re exploration doesn’t end up killing them. The difference here is that a dog owner wouldn’t set up a fence and then leave the gate open… God not only loves us enough to give us freedom within his hedge of protection, but He loves us enough to give us the choice to leave.
If the dog/fence analogy isn’t working for you, think about it as living within the circle. Circles have no beginning and no end, and they are often used as a symbol of perfection and infinite love (think, wedding rings). Within the circle God has established for His people, we are each a piece of divine art; works-in-progress, no doubt, but art nonetheless. Inside the circle we are being sculpted and perfected; we’re becoming who we were meant to be. Inside, we’re made beautiful. Outside, we’re less than what our maker intended.
Sometimes, despite the inherent perfection within the circle, our sinful, impatient hearts tempt us to leave. We decide that we’re tired of letting God continue to sculpt our raw materials into something that looks more and more like Him. We tell ourselves we’re bored of living by the rules; we want to be our own master and live how we think is best. But the truth is, we leave the circle not because we’re bored, but because we can’t handle just how much God loves us.
Love, true love, the kind of agape love God has for us, is not interchangeable for kindness; it doesn’t mean constantly holding your hand or making every decision for you, and it certainly doesn’t mean telling your you’re great when you’re not. Love is exacting; it’s precise. Love points out where you’re falling sort, and encourages you to seek out Something to make you better. It boils down to what C.S. Lewis called the “intolerable compliment:” God loves you just the way you are, but He absolutely refuses to leave you that way.
God’s love is intense and unrelenting, and it pushes you to be more than what you are. It pushes you to be more like Him.
We get stuck in self-constructed mazes when we start to fixate on what we get worked up about because, often, it’s not what God gets worked up about, and we don’t understand why God isn’t getting worked up enough about what we’re worked up about to give us a direct answer about what we should do about what we’re worked up about. (See how that kind of logic can drive you crazy?) The thing is, God’s worked up about you: about who you are and who you’re becoming. His focus is extremely internal and that doesn’t always mesh with our external concerns.
When you’re living within the circle, respecting the hedge of protection God has established around your life, you always know where God is, even when you can’t see Him, and that gives you the freedom to roam, to decide, and to investigate without risk of endangering your soul. When you’re in the circle, you’re walking with Jesus, and life is good. Even when life is hard, it’s good.
Pause: God knows you and cares for you and has taken the time to explain how you can live a life of righteousness – one that is pleasing in His sight. With God, life is good. No matter what.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23
Push Play: “The thing is, God’s worked up about you: about who you are and who you’re becoming.” That truth should be incredibly humbling, and probably a little bit terrifying. The fact that God’s worked up about you is a big deal, and I can’t help but think that if the God of the universe is worked up about little, insignificant me, shouldn’t I be equally worked up about Him? God doesn’t need me, He doesn’t need any of us, but He wants us. He wants us so much He died for us. How can we even begin to understand that?
Yes, God is accessible and relatable and He wants you to approach Him, but we need to remember that He is also LORD. He’s powerful and holy, and while we are incapable of giving Him the kind of praise, reverence, and respect that He deserves, we still ought to try. He loves us. We should honor Him.
September 19, 2011 – Aaron Bird
So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them… so make yourself an ark of cypress; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it…” Genesis 6:13-15
When the LORD saw that he [Moses] had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses! … I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob… I have come down to rescue them [the Israelites] from the hand of the Egyptians… so, now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring My people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” Exodus 3:4, 6, 8, 10
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid… This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-10, 12
As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow Me,” He told him, and Matthew got up and followed Him. Matthew 9:9
The bible makes it very clear: when God wants to get your attention, especially when He’s calling you to take action, He is anything but subtle. He uses storms and giant fish, world-consuming floods, burning bushes that speak, plagues of frogs and locusts, and angels singing His praises. And Jesus. So, then, why is it that even though the bible gives us every reason to believe that God is loud, we say “it’s God’s will,” when our only justification is a gut feeling or an inspired hunch? (*This is when the crowd shouts, “we just know; we can feel it.”)
The idea that these “little hunches and promptings I feel deep down in my heart/stomach/toes/nose/etc are God’s way of revealing His will to me,” is just as biblically sound as the whole “He has one, unique, detailed blueprint for my whole life” idea. In other words, it’s just not supported by scripture. Try as you might, you’re not gonna find an example of a Godly man/woman/child who relied on their intuition, no matter how finely tuned it may have been, to discern God’s will for their life. And when you think about it, the reasons why are kind of obvious…
Gut feelings give you all the power in the relationship… God made us and has been dealing with us for a LOOONNGG time; He’s well aware that we’re clueless and stubborn and generally unobservant. Do you really think that He would rely on your correct interpretation of a gut feeling every time He wants to communicate with you? *BTW: we’re not talking about feelings of peace, comfort, or conviction here; think major-life-choices and calls to action.*
On that same note: inspired hunches effectively eliminate the need for accountability… Who’s going to call you out or caution you about acting on a calling from the Lord? If it’s God’s will, it’s God’ will, and who am I to tell you differently, right? See below for the inherent problem here.
Relying on subtle promptings and signs tends to get you what you want… When we start interpreting feelings and looking for signs, we can find whatever we want to find. It’s like looking at one of these cool optical illusions, as soon as you think you know what you’re supposed to see, it’s hard to see anything else. Popular methods may include bible roulette, clearing your mind and attributing the next thought to God, or saying that if the next car you see is red you’ll go with option A, if it’s blue, option B, and if it’s another color, you get to play again.
OK, so now that we’ve established that our gut feelings aren’t always as legitimate as we’d like them to be, how do we, as Christians who want to follow God and listen to Him in all we do, go about making decisions? Well, first off, there’s an inherent flaw in our question. We need to stop thinking that “when faced with two or more good, moral alternatives, I must be careful to choose the ‘right’ one, because, of course, there’s always a ‘right’ one,” and embrace the validity of equal options. When you’re presented with choices, assuming they don’t go against God’s moral will (which He has outlined pretty clearly in the bible), it’s an occasion to celebrate! God loves you; He wants the best for you, and because He loves you so much, He’s given you the freedom to make decisions! It’s not a punishment, it’s a blessing! With that in mind, maybe we don’t even need to ask that question (Lord, which should I choose?!?!) in the first place.
When you’ve decided to follow God, He gives you His best for your life, always. So, stop wandering around in circles, driving yourself nuts, and stressing out over whether or not God wants you to major in Biology or History, see you drive the blue car or the red car, or take a job in Texas or Maine. The Lord wrote you a letter explaining how to live your life in a righteous way (it’s 66 books long and probably sitting on a shelf or maybe hiding under your bed), so read it again and again, and seek to live your life in pursuit of Jesus.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t pray about the choices you make or the goals you set – God wants to be in relationship with you, and He wants you to recognize His sovereignty over all that you do – nor am I saying that, despite your prayers, God will remain silent. God does answer prayers – He has proven that time again – and through Christ, we can each have a personal relationship with Him, where we can be in constant conversation with each other. Like I said in the very beginning, God is loud, and when He wants to speak, He’ll speak. All I’m saying is that, the times when you pray and you don’t get an answer, maybe you’re asking the wrong question. And, when you’re so caught up in looking for a sign that you call your gut feelings God’s will, maybe the ‘right’ answer you’re looking for doesn’t really exist.
Maybe, just maybe, God answered your question and gave you that sign a long time ago, and now He’s pointing to the Gospel, to His Son on the cross and His resurrection from the grave asking, “Could this be any more clear?”
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2
As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified… 1 Thessalonians 4:1-3
For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. 1 Peter 2:15-17
Push Play: It’s easier said than done. Knowing on an intellectual level that God doesn’t have one, unique, detailed blueprint for my entire life and that there isn’t necessarily a ‘right’ answer to every question is easy enough. It makes sense that, because I have given my life to Christ, God takes my decisions and uses them for His glory; after all, we still have free will even after we’ve declared Christ as our Lord. Therefore, I am capable of deciding for myself, and God has promised that He will be there for me and that He will use my life, including my mistakes, for His purposes.
Knowing this on an emotional level, however, is a little trickier. Humans are relational beings – we live in community, and we don’t tend to do well in isolation – and emotions are a big part of relationships. So, being told that I can’t always trust my emotions in my relationship with Christ is a little scary. But, again, it makes sense; emotions are extremely subjective. If I could completely rely on my emotions to accurately portray my relationship with Jesus, then that would mean the times that I feel far from God, as if I were walking in the desert, are times when Jesus has actually left my side, and I know that it is not true. Jesus is with us always, whether we want Him there or not, and whether we feel Him there or not; we are never alone.
Putting these truths into play in my life, however true and logical they may be, is ridiculously difficult sometimes. Trusting in God is hard (if you disagree, you probably haven’t really tried it). It can actually be a lot easier to get stressed out and worked up over what God’s will for you is in this or that situation than to trust that no matter your choice, God’s gonna be there, or at the very least, it feels safer. But, God’s will for us isn’t to stay safe or comfortable; it’s to follow Him, to trust Him, and to love Him, no matter the consequences. Trusting in God means we don’t have to do as much work – He means what He says, and you can’t miss what He says because He wrote it all down for you. Ironic, isn’t it, that it’s so hard to do something so easy?
September 12, 2011 – Aaron Bird
Rewind: Maps are practical. They not only tell us where we are right now, but also where we’ve been, and, best of all, how to get where we’re going next. They provide an easy to follow, step-by-step solution to a lot of logistical problems. Maps are also comforting; no one likes feeling lost. When you don’t know where you are or where you’re going, you feel powerless and vulnerable, and a tangible guide can help to combat that all-too-common road trip side effect.
When you get down to it, maps aren’t much more than a few lines, dots, and color splotches on an awkwardly large and hard-to-handle piece of paper, but they tend to make us feel like we’re in control…
Road closed? You can handle it. Wrong turn? You know how to get back. Going somewhere you’ve never been before? No worries, just unfold another section and keep tracing the road with your finger.
Maps are handy-dandy, little (or big) drawings that serve to eliminate a bit more of this world’s overwhelming mystery; everything seems so much smaller and easier to understand when it’s been condensed onto a two dimensional piece of paper (that’s probably why humans have been making maps for over 14,000 years!).
We trust in our maps: we turn where they say, stop where they say, and hope we end up in the location they say we will. And when our maps turn out to be wrong, as they often do, we find it hard to believe, and we take it as a personal affront, grumbling about the extra minutes, or even hours, it can take to get back on course. That’s why so many of us love our GPS: it’s a talking map that figures everything out for you! Even when you make a mistake, the machine assures you that it’s “recalculating,” and you know you’ll soon be on your way again. While it’s true that we sometimes trust too much in our maps, for the most part, they make life easier.
What if I told you God’s plan for your life is just as straight forward as a map?
So many of us go through life repeating Jeremiah 29:11 without ever really understanding what exactly it means…
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The ‘typical’ interpretation/misunderstanding: God has one unique, detailed blueprint for your entire life, and your job is to completely discern that plan – His will for you – and follow it to a tee. This interpretation says that there is one divine, individual will – one path, one set of directions – that you must follow in order to get God’s best for you, and in order to stay on that path, you need to wait for God to tell you what to do. If you’re walking along this one path, however, and you mess up – you stumble or twist your ankle or close your eyes and wander into the woods on the side of the road and get stuck – your life doesn’t stop, but you are no longer walking along God’s path for you; you’re following a different, less good, path…
Did you notice that I said this was a misunderstanding?
The truth is, God does have a plan for your life, and it is definitely a good one. But it’s not that hard to figure out. You see, God’s will for your life is spelled out in the bible – you can think of it as His divine map, written just for you. His desire is for you to believe in Him, to trust in Him, and to dedicate your life to Him – be willing to listen and obey. At first, this may sound like the same thing as the misunderstanding explained above, just said a little nicer, but take a minute to think about it; hopefully you’ll begin to see the difference…
Listening and obeying God doesn’t mean sitting still and waiting for Him to tell you exactly what to do with every minute of your life, because unless you’re one of the few people who have been blessed with the gift of hearing God’s voice audibly, that would be akin to wandering aimlessly through a maze with no map; when all you’ve got is your gut to lead you to the end, chances are you’re going to make a lot of wrong turns. No, listening and obeying, aka discerning God’s will for you life, is a lot more straight forward than all that. Read the bible – it’s all right there. (Sometimes it really is that simple.)
For you to love God, for you to trust in His sovereignty over your life, and for you to abide by the calling He has placed on each of us (Eph. 5:1-20) – that’s His will for you. God set out what may seem like ‘rules’ as a way of protecting you, of making your life easier. Things get real complicated when you stop following God and start following yourself. But following God doesn’t mean giving up your agency or relying on the Creator of the Universe to choose something as mundane as your outfit in the morning. It means praying sincerely and often; it means reading the bible and storing it in your heart; it means plugging into a Christ-loving community and fellowshipping with your brothers and sisters; and it means sharing the Good News with everyone you meet. God desires for you to trust in Him, to rely on Him to save you, and believe that when you have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are on God’s path, and you’ll stay there, even when you mess up.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
Did you hear that? Stop freaking out over whether or not you’ve properly discerned God’s one, divine will for your life – it’s not on you to make yourself understand – know what you believe, let it permeate your entire life, and trust that God is always in control – He will keep your path straight.
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,”Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him. Matthew 4:18-22
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace… You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you… And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you. Romans 8:5-6, 9, 11
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-40
It means sacrificing – to follow Jesus you have to give up the things your flesh desires and trust that the promise God is offering is far more valuable.
It means humbling yourself and asking for forgiveness when you mess up. And you will mess up. All the time.
It means submitting to the authority of the Lord – trusting that He is far smarter, far wiser, far more just, far more caring, and far more capable than you could ever hope to be.
It means living out your faith – Christ doesn’t call us to sit silently in the shadows and watch life go by, He calls us to be a city on a hill:
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
Following Jesus means changing your entire life; He’s not an accessory you can put on or take off when it’s convenient, nor is He a crutch you can use to justify your sin:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Romans 6:1-2
None of those things are easy to do; they are all in direct conflict with our selfish hearts which desire to put ourselves first – declaring ourselves king over all we do. But, I can promise you, that if you genuinely dedicate your life to Christ, and sincerely pursue the Lord, all of the struggle, all of the sacrifice, and all of the change will be eternally worthwhile.
August 29, 2011 – Aaron Bird
Rewind: What do you want? What do you wish you had? You probably don’t need more than a few seconds to come up with a whole list of things that you want: maybe it’s a car or a new computer or some cash. Maybe you’re more of a big-picture person and you really want world peace or the end of world hunger. Or maybe after a week of classes all you want is to pass your organic chemistry final this semester… But, what if, rather than another limited human being, God were the one asking you that question? Would your answer be any different? Would you be like Solomon and ask for wisdom?
… the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon answered, “…give Your servant a discerning heart to govern Your people and to distinguish between right and wrong…” The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this… [and said to him,] “I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart…” 1 Kings 3:4-6, 9-10, 12
In our culture, wisdom has become yet another watered-down term more likely to pop up in a conversation about the qualifications for Jeopardy contestants than in one about life goals. The problem with that is, quite simply, that wisdom and knowledge are not the same thing. Knowledge is information based; it’s quantifiable and, when you’re in college, it’s what earns you a degree. But, knowledge, despite what you may have been told, is not what prepares you for a life of success and happiness. Wisdom, on the other hand, is a way of living, of walking in grace and righteousness. Wisdom is relational knowledge that comes from a growing understanding of the Lord. Wisdom is like a tree:
Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she [wisdom] is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed… My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you… Proverbs 3: 13-18, 21-22.
In Hebrew, the word for wisdom, and therefore the word that embodies wisdom as a way of life, is YADA, and, as the book of Proverbs tells us, YADA is a big deal! So big, in fact, that it is compared with the Tree of Life. That tree is the reason why God sent cherubim and a flaming sword to guard the Garden of Eden, and it’s the same tree that John saw in his vision of Heaven baring twelve crops of fruit and covered in leaves of healing (Gen. 3:24, Rev. 22:1-2). The Tree of Life is precious and rare and God has seen fit to protect it and save it for His children; thus, the book of Proverbs is saying that in the same way that the Tree of Life provides an everlasting life with the Lord in Heaven, so too does wisdom offer us a way of walking closely with God during our life here on earth. Seeking YADA, a way of life with the Lord, is our purpose – it’s what this life is all about – and it effectively trumps all other endeavors.
Here’s a little YADA, courtesy of Aaron, to get you started:
Think ‘ripple effect’ before acting: Newton said it (every action has an equal and opposite reaction), Ashton Kutcher acted in it (The Butterfly Effect), John Donne penned it (“No man is an island entire of itself”), and your daily life affirms it: everything you do will eventually end up effecting someone or something else, so take a moment and consider the consequences, good and bad, before choosing anything.
Be smart about what you exchange your life for: Is what you did today, or what you’ll do tomorrow, worth exchanging a day of your life for, because that’s what you’re doing. Don’t waste valuable time on unworthy causes. Don’t be afraid to quit or change your mind. Make conscious decisions about what battles you’re willing to wage; don’t fight just because you can.
The grass may be greener over there, but it’s also covered in poop: (Ya know, because poop is fertilizer…) But, seriously, don’t spend your life wishing for what you don’t have. If you need it, God will provide it. If you don’t need it, then you really don’t need to spend time wishing you had it. When the world says everything you’re not is better than what you are, it’s generally a lie.
Unlearn things so you can continue to learn: When you start thinking you know everything, remind yourself that you don’t. God created a complex and mystifying world, and He’s the only one who has the luxury of spending even one day not learning.
Connect with more than a volleyball: Your name is probably not Tom Hanks, and you’re probably not stranded on a desert island, so Wilson (the volleyball) should probably not be your only friend. The only thing God ever deemed “not good” was man being alone, so go connect.
Be humble: If you’re thinking, “Check! Got that one covered,” then, I’m sorry, but you don’t. Everyone loves a humble person, they make other people feel good, and they often meet with success. Wise people are humble people (James 3:13).
‘I love you’ is the most profound thing you can say to someone: Love is so much more than what our mainstream culture says it is. It is something so much deeper, so much more meaningful, so much harder, and so much more complicated than what we are taught to believe. Love is a verb and a commitment, not just an emotion. Love changes everything.
Do something with Jesus Christ: The Gospel consists of the first four books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John); it’s the Good News – the story of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. After reading about Christ, you have to decide: either He was crazy, He was a liar, or He is Lord. The one thing you cannot decide is that He was “just a good teacher;” if you come to that conclusion, you missed something. Go back and read it again; pay attention to the claims He makes: He wasn’t pretending or exaggerating to make a point; He meant what He said, and you need to take Him seriously. He said He was sent by God the Father (Luke 4:16-21); He said He had the power to forgive sins (Mark 2:5, Luke 7:47-48); He said He would be beaten and killed, and on the third day, come back to life – He said He would conquer death itself (Matthew 16:21 and 20:18-19, Mark 8:31, Luke 18:31). So, what are you going to do with those statements? Some people bowed down and worshiped – those people were healed and forgiven – and some people chose to walk away in disbelief and hatred. What about you? Remember, Jesus predates “Christianity”, and God existed before time itself, so you should make your decision based on the Word of God, not on the things you’ve heard about “Christians” or “religion.” Read about Jesus for yourself, and then decide how you are going to react to the Son of Man: are you His disciple or are you a scoffer; are you for Him or against Him, because there is no in between.
YADA, it’s a way of life; it’s wisdom, not knowledge; it’s walking with the Lord; it’s like a tree; it’s precious; it’s a refuge; it’s what you should be looking for. Go find it.
Pause: If you’re interested in leading a Christ-like life, meaning one that is satisfying, righteous, holy, happy, challenging, and fulfilling, you should probably check out some of the pieces of YADA written by Solomon in the book of Proverbs. A few verses a day can bring about some pretty big revelations, and really change the way you live.
“Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor.” Proverbs 4: 6-9
“Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her maids, and she calls from the highest point of the city. ‘Let all who are simple come in here!’ she says to those who lack judgment. ‘Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding.” Proverbs 9:1-6
“Humility and the fear of the LORD bring wealth and honor and life.” Proverbs 22: 4
Push Play: So, you know how a square can be a rectangle (because a rectangle is a shape with four sides and four right angles), but a rectangle cannot be a square (because a square is a shape with four sides and four right angles, but all of its sides must be the same size)? Well, wisdom and knowledge have a similar relationship. Knowledge can be wisdom, but wisdom cannot be (just) knowledge…
Knowledge can be wisdom: it’s wise to be well-informed (“Wise men store up knowledge” Prov. 10:14). Human beings need doctors and engineers and writers and teachers and managers and leaders, and it’s very important that those people each know the information they need to perform well. In the same way, it’s wise to inform yourself about an issue before you choose your position, and to research your classes and professors when deciding what to register for each semester. Education is by no means a wasted endeavor; knowledge often plays a critical role in gaining wisdom. But…
Wisdom cannot be (just) knowledge: wisdom is something much bigger than just information. Wisdom is YADA; it’s a way of life. Wisdom may include knowledge, but it is not the equivalent of knowledge. Wisdom is a focused application of knowledge that serves to bring you into closer communion with the Lord. You may be the smartest person in the world, but if you don’t know Jesus – if you’re not living for Him and walking with Him and beleving in what He has said – then you’re not wise, you’re just really smart.
The comparison isn’t perfect, and I’m not even totally confident that I got the order right (maybe it should read “wisdom can be knowledge but knowledge can’t be wisdom”?), but I’m pretty sure you get what I’m saying. Educating yourself and earning your degree does not in and of itself make you a wise man or woman of God. Loving the Lord, reading, believing, and trying your best to follow His Word, spreading the Gospel, loving your neighbors, respecting your parents, worshiping Jesus – those things are what come together and begin the process of walking in wisdom.
August 22, 2011 – Aaron Bird
Welcome to the University of Illinois! If this is your first week on campus, I hope you’re finding your way around, enjoying the dorm food, befriending your room and hall mates, not paying full price for your books, learning the bus routes, loving your classes, and having a fantastic Welcome Week! If this isn’t your first year here, I hope you’re reconnecting with friends, nearly done moving in/unpacking, getting as much sleep as possible, and ready to start another great school year! For those of you who may not know, Axiom is no longer on Thursdays this semester; we have officially switched our worship service to MONDAY nights at 8pm in Mumford Hall, room 103. As such, last night was our first Axiom Service of the school year, and believe me, it was amazing – a truly great way to kick off the semester.
Just in case your reading this for the first time, let me tell you how this whole blog thing works… If you miss an Axiom service, or if you really loved the message, or if you didn’t quite understand the message, or if you want to share the message with your friends and family, you should check in right here Tuesday evenings (hopefully)! Here you’ll find my (Taylor’s) recap of Monday’s message, some verses to dwell on for the rest of the week, and a few thoughts on how to take what you learn on Monday nights and put it into action. That being said, here we go!
Rewind: What are you doing here? I know that’s a broad question, but it’s an important one. What are you doing here at the University of Illinois? You’ve probably been, or will soon begin, studying and taking exams and writing papers and completing labs. Hopefully you’re also enjoying the freedom and social atmosphere that comes with living on campus. Maybe you’re here because it was expected that you attend college, and U of I seemed just as good as anywhere. I suppose it’s even possible that you’re here because you don’t know what else to do right now, and college is, in a way, a way to buy yourself four more years to figure your life out.
Those kinds of answers are all well and good, but they don’t really touch on the question I was trying to ask, so let me rephrase it: what is your purpose here? Is it possible that, rather than being the reason, studying and test-taking and graduating are all side-effects of you being here? Don’t get me wrong, those things are really important and should definitely be a focus in your life, but could it also be that something much, much bigger is happening? Have you ever thought that you might be an Esther of the 21st century?
Alright, before you tell me I’m crazy because either you’re a dude (which would make it physiologically impossible to be ‘Esther’) or because you’re not living in ancient Persia, let me explain; you and Esther may actually have more in common than you think. For example, the Persians, who ruled over the Israelites during Esther’s time, LOVED to party (King Xerses once through a six-month-long party, followed by another week long party), and, here at the University of Illinois, whether or not it’s your scene, we also LOVE to party (the Princeton Review ranks us as the #11 Party School in the nation). Another thing you and Esther may share is being outside of the social norm; Esther was a Jewish woman living in Persia (not a Jewish nation, by the way), and long felt that she must keep her faith a secret to be accepted. Similarly, we are Christians living in an increasingly non-Christian environment, and you may at times feel that living out your faith separates you from many of your peers. Finally, Esther, like you, found herself in a place of great significance. Now, unlike Esther, you are probably not the queen of a country, but you are at one of the top schools in the nation, and simply by attending a university you are placing yourself within the group of people from which most world leaders arise!
Now that you realize just how much you share with Esther, and are thoroughly invested in her story, you should take a moment to read the Book of Esther (if you haven’t already)… Aaron went through the whole book on Monday night, and if I had the time, or if I really thought you had the attention span, I’d summarize the whole thing for you again, but, since neither of those things are true, you’ll have to click on this link here, and read it yourself… go ahead and do it now; it’s really not that long…
Wow! Did you catch all of those coincidences? First, out of all the girls who were paraded in front of King Xerses, he chose Esther, a Jewish woman, to be his wife and his queen. Second, Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, just happens to overhear the inebrieated guards plotting the King’s assassination and is credited with saving the King’s life. Then, on just the right night, the King can’t sleep, and his servant just so happens to pick the history book that has Mordecai’s act of loyalty written in it. Next, Esther is allowed into the King’s chamber even though she had not been summoned, for which the typical punishment was death. Oh, and then, just before the evil Haman can carry out his act of genocide against the Jews or the murder of poor Mordecai, the King decides to honor Mordecai, forcing Haman to take part in the celebration. Later, Esther is able to expose Haman and save the Jews all without losing the Kings favor. AND, in the end, Haman is hung on the gallows he had intended for Mordecai; talk about a twist ending!
Does it make you at all uncomfortable to write all of those things off as coincidence? Well, what if, rather than coincidence, we give credit for these events to the One who truly deserves it? What if we call them miracles instead of coincidences? We should be praising the Lord for protecting His people rather than breathing a sigh of relief at another lucky break for the Jews! If we do that, then what Mordecai said in 4:12-14 was true: Esther had indeed been placed on the throne for such a time as this.
What if you are here at the University of Illinois in August of 2011 for such a time as this? Would that change the way you think or the way you live? What if I told you that God has a plan for your life (because He does), and that you don’t have to wait for graduation before it kicks in (because you shouldn’t)? Don’t let your expectations limit your ability to serve the Lord by carrying out His divine purposes. So, what are you waiting for? Life begins right now; go figure out why you’re here.
Pause: The start of the school year can seem really hectic and out of control at times, especially during Welcome Week- everything’s new and slightly intimidating – but, you can trust that God has everything completely under control! If you feel yourself getting stressed this week, take some to time to read and pray about these verses.
“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had His eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose He is working out in everything and everyone.” Ephesians 1:11-12 MSG
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21 NIV
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
“And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 NIV
“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’” Isaiah 46:10 NIV
Push Play: How many times have you seen Dead Poets Society? You know the movie I’m talking about, right; you’ve probably watched it in high school English. It’s the one where Robin Williams stands on a desk and tells his students to “Carpe Diem, seize the day!” about a thousand times? Well, I’ve probably seen it 10 times, all while sitting in a classroom, and even though I’m being a tad sarcastic here, I love that movie. I know I’ve already made some pretty strange comparisons in this post, but the story of Esther really does make me think of that movie. Remember the hard-hitting pep talk Mordie gave Esther in chapter 4: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (4:13-14) He basically tells her not to squander her God-given opportunity to do something good for the Lord’s Kingdom; he’s telling her to seize the day!
I think that’s why the Book of Esther made it into the bible even though it never once makes a direct reference to God. Esther is God’s version of Dead Poets Society (stay with me here)! The story tells us that even though God may not always be obviously present to our limited human eyes, hearts, and minds, we can take comfort in His promise to always be there, and to always be good, and to always be in control. So, again, I’m going to ask you, why are you here? And, is it possible that you could be like Esther?
Don’t miss a God-given chance to change the world. He has brought you to this place at this time, and He does in fact have a divine purpose in mind. Sure, He can accomplish His purposes without you, but if He has chosen you (which He has) for such a time as this, do you really want to say no?
Can you believe it? The year’s over! It doesn’t seem possible. Wasn’t it just September, like, two months ago? And that blizzard in February, yeah, that was last week, right? Wrong. It’s May, and the 2010-2011 school year is done. Well, almost. Some of you still have finals. But, for all intents and purposes, freshmen, you’re now sophomores; sophomores, you’re now juniors; juniors, you’re now seniors (yikes! – that’s me!!); and seniors, you’re no longer college students. I don’t know about you, but I just may need a moment to process that…
Normally, this is where I would provide I recap of the Thursday night worship service, but this last Thursday was different, so this post is a little different – think of it as more of a letter from me to you.
Being as it was the last Axiom service of the year, many of our seniors were given the opportunity to share about what Axiom has meant to them over the last few years, and where they are headed after they leave beautiful yet oh-so-rainy Chambana in a few days. If you’re interested in what these wonderful individuals had to say, you can check out their Senior Spotlights here on the blog! (Even if you were there on Thursday night, you may still want to look through the entries because not everyone who’s leaving spoke; I think we’re saying goodbye to thirteen people altogether this semester, most of whom are graduating, some of whom have already graduated, and at least one of whom is transferring elsewhere.)
Rewind: (May 5, 2011) In addition to being sentimental about Axiom, and expressing a combination of anxiety and excitement about their futures, many of the seniors who shared on Thursday night also took the time to pose a challenge to those of us who will be returning next year. Here are a few of the overall trends…
- Get Plugged In: No matter who you are, or how long you’ve been involved in Axiom, or even how long you’ve been following Jesus, you have God-given talents, and you should be using them! Take the time to figure out what you’re passionate about, and then start talking to people – see if there’s a way (and there probably is) for you to use that talent to bring glory to God’s kingdom here on earth. Whether you love serving, playing music, baking cookies, making websites, organizing social events, writing, or just talking to people, there are ways to make that skill count… check out our website or email us and we’ll make sure you find somewhere to get plugged in to our ministry.
- Invest Deeply: Four years may sound like a long time, but take five seconds to talk to any senior on campus, and chances are they’ll tell you IT’S NOT. Some of the only regrets seniors talked about centered on the things they didn’t get a chance to do – the movie nights, and the service events, and the worship services they missed because something else got in the way. That’s not to say that school isn’t important, it really is, but don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself. And the trick to being able to enjoy yourself and still get your work done, is to choose what it is that you want to do, and then invest deeply in it. Don’t stretch yourself too thin; being involved in ten different things may be more stress than it’s worth. Being deeply invested in just a few things is probably a better choice… and, if you’re gonna pick something to be deeply invested in, you can’t make a better choice than Axiom.
- Keep on Lovin’: Axiom puts a premium on loving people, and the results are tangible. Never let that go. This world is broken and so many people are out there desperately looking for something to fill the holes in their hearts… 40,000 of them are right outside our door. Whether you’re serving, worshiping, studying, sitting in a lecture, walking on Green Street, or walking into a corporate office for the first time, do it with love.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14
Love people because God loves them. Love people because God loves you. Love people because it’s what Jesus said to do. Just keep on lovin’ people because it makes a difference.
- Live for the Lord: Pursue what you love in everything you do, and above all else, love the Lord. Stay in community and chase after Jesus with everything you’ve got. After all, nothing else matters.
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:17
Pause: The end of the school year brings inevitably brings about change, and change, even when it’s exciting, can be intimidating. Take the time to meditate on God’s divine wisdom and vision for your life, and let Him know that you want what He wants – you want Him to be sovereign over your life.
“Look to the LORD and His strength; seek His face always.” 1 Chronicles 16:11
“Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him…” Psalm 37:4-7
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” James 1:5-6
Push Play: I’m not graduating yet; I still have a whole year left in this place. I have another year of classes, writing papers, taking exams, all-night study sessions, seemingly pointless discussion sections, and walking miles in three feet of snow/a torrential downpour. I have another year of Axiom services, Steak’n’Shake outings, impromptu movie nights, bible studies, Water on Greens, Much Love!s, top quality announcement videos, Battle of the Sexes, and being in community with all of you. I have a whole year left, and already I’m getting sentimental. Underclassmen, live it up: God has blessed you immensely by putting you on this campus for a little while; don’t waste your time here. Freshmen, welcome!: You should come hang out with us this fall, because we love you already!
If I’m being honest though, what I’m feeling is more than just sentimentality, I think that’s to be expected at the end of yet another wonderful year. The truth is that I have an entire year left with Axiom and the U of I, but I’m already emotional about leaving! That’s right folks, I actually cried at Axiom last Thursday (and I have it on good authority that I was not the only non-senior in need of a tissue).
You have been warned: next year, I’m gonna be a mess.
Much love, and happy summer!
April 28, 2011
Rewind: “Bible verses are high-powered doses of truth that mainline God’s wisdom into our reasoning. They convert the soul, teach the simple, rejoice the heart, and enlighten the eyes (Ps. 19:7-9). They teach, reprove, correct, and instruct, making us profitable in every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). They fill our minds with the kind of realities that produce prosperity and success in every good work (Josh. 1:8, Ps. 1:1-3)… They are our comfort in affliction (Ps. 119:50), our songs for the journey (Ps. 119:54), and our most valuable asset (Ps. 119:72); for when we read and study God’s Word, we’re cultivating a relationship with Him who made us, who loved us, who gave Himself for us on Calvary, and who rose again that we might inherit eternal life. As we study His Word, we’re listening to Him, conversing with Him face-to-face, as it were, as man speaks to his friend.” (from Robert Morgan’s 100 Bible Verses Everyone Should Know by Heart, p 25).
Justin Neally, a senior graduating this may with his degree in sport management, shared with us on Thursday night about how important it is to truly grab hold of the power of God’s Word. For Justin, this concept took root in his life as the result of a friend’s challenge to memorize the entirety of 1 Peter 5:5-11. As graduation drew nearer and nearer, he was plagued by a myriad off questions: where am I going to live; what am I going to do; where is God leading me; am I making the right decisions?, and he struggled to find God’s peace, but through the continuous study, meditation, and repetition of this passage, Justin was constantly reminded of God’s power, fidelity, and grace…
“Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.” 1 Peter 5:5-6
How often do you think about humility? Do you consider yourself a humble person? Did you just think to yourself, “yeah, actually, I am a pretty humble person,” or something similar to that? God’s Word talks a lot about having a spirit of humility, one that inspires you to unconditionally serve others, and, of course, to approach the Lord with reverence and awe. Justin said, in fact, that reverence, or a healthy fear of the Lord and all that He is, is one of three key characteristics of a humble person. In addition, humility says that you look upon Christ’s sacrifice as one that demands your own life, every single breath of it, in return; after all, once you accept Christ as your King, that life is no longer yours anyway. Finally, a spirit of humility includes accepting your place and being, if you’ll excuse the cliché, the best you that you can be. In other words, you take the gifts God has given you, and use them for His glory as the best engineer, teacher, pastor, or librarian possible, because, through it all, you are serving as an image-bearer of God. Above all else, seek to let Christ’s light shine through all that you do, because all else passes away, but Jesus will remain forever.
Anxiety is dangerous. Not only is it detrimental for your physical health, but it is also spiritually damaging because it serves to separate you from God. Here, Peter is quite clear; we are to take our anxieties – our worries and fears – and place them at the feet of our Savior and King. He alone is capable of rendering them powerless over you. You have been called to live for a higher purpose. So, what is it that’s pulling you away from Christ? Have you humbled yourself at His throne and given Him control over your life? Will you choose to do so now? Christ did not come down to earth, live among us, die at our hands, and rise on the third day so that we could walk in chains, slaves to the problems of this world. No, He died so that you and I can live in freedom. His arms are spread wide; will you put your worries in His hands?
“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” 1 Peter 5:8-9
Satan is anything but stupid; in fact, he is ingeniously clever. He uses our anxieties – ya know, the ones we were just talking about, the ones that are so hard to surrender to the Lord – to effectively pull us further and further away from God, because separation from the Light is his goal. But, regardless of Satan’s efforts, we are called to stand firm in the peace and knowledge of our faith, and rely on God’s promises of fidelity to His children. You can rest assured that when you are actively and genuinely seeking God, He will seek to affirm you, because you are running towards Him. Not even Satan is capable of taking away the hope and love of our Lord.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a long while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10-11
There is power in God’s Word. Without that Word to guide and reassure us, we’re all lost. His Word is an everlasting affirmation of His presence among us. But, that Word is not passive; it demands that we make a choice. His Word requires that we humble ourselves before the holiness of God, that we surrender our worries to Jesus, and that we stand firm in our faith in the face of darkness. When you grab hold of the power of the Word, nothing can take that away from you.
“They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:33-35
“Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught at the voice of the Enemy, at the stares of the wicked, for they bring down suffering upon me and revile me in their anger… but I call to God and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and He hears my voice. He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.” Psalm 55: 1-3, 16-18
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of Me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Mark 13:13
Push Play: You know those commercials for the Sleep Number beds or the Sertapedic mattresses? You know how they all say, “you’ll notice the difference in quality right away,” and “once you try it, you’ll never go back”? Well, if you ask me, scripture memorization is kind of like that. Your brain is a mine field of negative thoughts, worries, and temptations, and you’re walking around right now, dealing with problems, sorting through all kinds of questions, and (probably) surrounded by darkness, tiptoeing over those mines. Oftentimes, you end up stepping just a little too hard, or just a little further to the left than you intended, and BOOM!, there goes the mine… It’s unfortunate, but you’ve always lived in this world, and your mind has always been filled with mines, so you don’t really know to expect anything else. Scripture, though, plays the role of a bomb-sniffing dog in your brain. When you start storing God’s truth and wisdom away in your heart, you build up a defense against temptation and anxiety. And, trust me, as soon as you try it, you will notice the difference in quality right away, and you’ll never go back to the way things were before.
*Also, if you’re new to scripture memorization and looking for a place to start, try: Genesis 1:1, John 1:1, John 1:14, and John 3:16. They are short, sweet, and full of beautiful truth. (You can also check out Robert Morgan’s book, mentioned above.)
April 21, 2011
Rewind: Christmas is a big deal, and it should be. Christmas is a celebration of the day Jesus Christ was born; the day our Savior God put on skin and entered the world to live among us, and it gets a whole season full of recognition and tradition. Almost everyone has a favorite Christmas memory, many of which have to do with caroling, cookie/tree decorating, gift giving, or the jolly old man in a bright red suit who slips down your chimney with a bag full of presents. Christmas is the celebration of the beginning of our story of salvation and redemption, and it deserves all the hubbub it gets. But, Christmas is not the climax of the story; it is not the turning point, it is not the true game changer, and it’s not the most important part.
Christmas, and the whole month leading up to it, is a magical time – there is a palpable change in the way the world operates: people, Christians and non-Christians alike, seem to be more generous and forgiving, all that cheery music has you in a good mood all the time, and the food is delicious! But what about Easter? Is it just another holiday; something you make an effort to get home for? Do you have a favorite Easter memory, one that you can recall at the drop of a hat? As a culture, we don’t have many Easter traditions, or at least not compared to Christmas traditions; there are the bunnies and the eggs and lamb and ham and the wicker baskets filled with shiny plastic grass and candy, but the Easter season itself is kind of understated. Why is that? Why do we allow ourselves so often to celebrate Easter Sunday as the end to a forty day fast, rather than the beginning of what it means to be alive? How do we not realize that Easter is the game changer in our story?
That’s the message Ben had for us on Thursday night: Easter changes EVERYTHING. Jesus’ birth is the beginning, and His ministry is the rising action, but His death, burial, and resurrection are the climax, the turning point, the message, the game changer. If you rid the bible of Christmas, you lose a few chapters from the gospels, but if you get rid of Easter, you get rid of the entire New Testament. You erase the entire foundation for our faith. Without Easter, without Jesus’ triumph over sin, His victory over death, and His return to Heaven, would Jesus Christ even be worth following?
“After the Sabbath [that’s Saturday, by the way], at dawn on the first day of the week [Sunday], Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
“There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from Heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightening, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
“The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”” Matthew 28:1-10
Take a moment to imagine what that would have been like: It’s Sunday morning. Thursday, you sat at the dinner table with Jesus as He broke the bread and offered the wine, and said that one of the people at that table would betray Him. Early Friday morning, Jesus, after spending the night in prayer, was arrested in the garden, and handed over to the Roman guards by none other than Judas. That same day, He was put through a mockery of a trial and crucified while the very people He came to save cheered. Friday night, He was buried in the tomb, a tomb which was guarded night and day, and His followers scattered. Saturday, Christ’s body remained within the guarded tomb, and all those who had not yet fled abandoned ship too, because Christ was dead.
And then came Sunday. The women went to the tomb expecting to anoint the body, but instead were greeted by an angel of the Lord. And don’t think for a second that this was a casual greeting; the angel’s presence was ushered in by an earthquake, and his appearance was so frightening that the guards were like dead men! Have you ever been so terrified that you couldn’t even move? Well, that’s what happened to the guards. And then this angel, who, by the way, is perched atop the stone that used to block the entrance to the now empty tomb, tells the Marys, “Do not be afraid,” everything’s all good. In fact, it’s more than good, it’s “just as He said.” The Marys listen to the angel with a mixture of fear and joy – how strange must that have been? – but they believe what they are told and take off to find the disciples. Just then, Jesus Christ the risen Lord appears to them on the road. Maybe He was standing in the middle of the street blocking their path, or maybe he was just chillin’ against a tree, but either way, they see Him and fall to the ground. They see Him and the only thing they can do is worship at His feet, because that’s what you do when you come face to face with God. That’s what you do when you realize that the tomb is empty, and Jesus Christ, the one and only Savior of the world, is alive. Just as He said.
Easter, then, is a celebration of the greatest day in history; it’s the day of our victory! And, what do you do when you’ve won, when you’ve conquered something significant, when you’ve put your power and glory on display for the world to see, and when you want other people to stand back and take notice? You put the flags out.
Easter is a celebration of the fact that Jesus Christ is who He says He is, that He did what He came to do, and that He is alive. Easter breathes life into that which was dead and lost. It means that you and I are no longer slaves to this world, nor do we have the responsibility and pressure of being kings and queens. Easter proves that Jesus Christ, the God of the universe, recognizes our desperate need to be rescued, understands the temptations we face, and has the power to remove all that separates us from Him. Easter is a celebration of the day God spread His arms wide and showed us just how much He loves us – way too much to leave us as we are.
It’s time to put out the flags. It’s time to act like we know who the winner is. It’s time to start living as if we too have been raised from the dead. Each of us is capable of living out a story of redemption, whether we realize it or not. It doesn’t matter whether you have one page, one chapter, or an entire anthology filled with sentences you’d care to erase, Jesus came, He lived, He died, He was buried, and He rose for you. Your past is what makes a Jesus-filled present make sense.
Maybe you’re confused and hurting; maybe you’ve been to church before and it wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences; maybe you’re tired of trying to be perfect; maybe you’re desperately searching for Christ and don’t even know it. Maybe you’re still not sure about this Jesus guy, but I promise, He’s sure about you, and He’s been sure about you since time began. He died your death so that you don’t have to, and all He asks in return is that you trust Him with your life… it seems like a pretty good deal seeing as how He gave up His for you.
Do not be afraid. He isn’t here. He is risen, just as He said.
It’s time to celebrate. Jesus Christ lives.
Thursday: Last Supper, Luke 22:7-23.
Late Thursday night through Friday morning: Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mark 14:32-42
Friday: Jesus arrested, John 18:1-11. Jesus’ trial, Matthew 26:57-68, 27: 11-31. Jesus’ Crucifixion and burial, Matthew 27:32-61.
Saturday: Even the Pharisees were afraid that Jesus was who He said He was, so they guarded the tomb, Matthew 27:62-66.
Sunday: Jesus’ Resurrection (Matthew’s version is quoted above), John 20:1-10
Push Play: Live every day like you know that Jesus Christ has already won. Put the flags out. Never stop celebrating the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Never forget that Easter changed everything; it’s the turning point in your story. Jesus Christ lives, and He is raising the dead in you and me.
Twenty-four by Switchfoot - Live differently, every hour of every day, because of what Jesus has done for you. Don’t cop out when He’s raising the dead in you…
Fire Fall Down by Jesus Culture - I’ll never be the same, because I know that You’re alive. You came to fix my broken life. And I’ll sing to glorify You’re holy name, Jesus Christ.
Happy Easter and much love,
April 14, 2011
Rewind: Thursday night, Gary took the time to tell us the story of Naaman, who was healed of his leprosy by God in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:1-7). Rather than just reading the verses aloud, Gary chose to paint us a beautiful word picture, transforming the story from something far removed from reality, to an action packed adventure story that continues to play out in each of our lives day after day…
Naaman was a brave and valiant military commander who had led Aram (Syria), his country, to victory over the Assyrians many times. He was a man blessed with many talents and favored by men. There was just one problem: Naaman had leprosy, and leprosy is nothing to joke about. It’s a disease that causes disfiguration, legions and nerve damage; moreover, at the time in which Naaman lived, there was no cure, and it was thought to be highly contagious and passed from person to person through touch. The fact that Naaman, a respected and valued soldier of the king of Aram, had leprosy was no small matter.
Now, Aram and Israel were not buddies at this point, and bands from Aram had previous raided Israel, bringing back at least one young girl as prisoner. This girl was given to Naaman’s wife as a servant, and when the girl heard of Naaman’s affliction, she told her mistress of a great prophet in Samaria who could surely heal Naaman’s leprosy. Of course, Naaman’s wife, eager to rid her husband of this physically and socially crippling disease, told Naaman of the prophet. Naaman could have chosen to ignore his wife, after all, her information was coming from a servant girl, and, more importantly, the servant girl was speaking of a cure to an incurable skin disease! This prophet with the power to heal leprosy must have sounded like quite the fairy tale. Nevertheless, Naaman went to his master, the king of Aram (told you Naaman was an important guy – he answered directly to the king!) and asked for permission to travel to Samaria (in Israel) to see this great prophet. The king not only gave his blessing, but even agreed to send a letter of introduction on, Naaman’s behalf, to the king of Israel.
Thus, Naaman set out for Samaria, bringing with him gifts of gold and silver, and a letter from his king stating his purpose: “Naaman is coming to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” However, when Naaman arrived in Israel and gave the king the letter, the king of Israel tore his robes in distress and cried out, “Who do you think I am? I don’t have the power to do the impossible!” You see, the king of Israel thought that the king of Aram was trying to pick a fight – that he was intentionally asking for something impossible (to heal Naaman of his leprosy) so that Aram would have an excuse to attack Israel.
Thankfully, Elisha, the great prophet of Samaria whom the servant girl had spoken of, heard of the king’s distress, and decided to intervene. Elisha asked for the king to send Naaman to his house so that he would know there was indeed a prophet of the Lord in Israel. So, Naaman left the king’s court and headed to Elisha’s house, but rather than meeting with Elisha, Naaman was only permitted to speak to one of his messengers. Elisha’s messenger told him, “Go and dip yourself in the Jordan River seven times and you will be washed clean, you will no longer suffer from leprosy.” But Naaman was not pleased; in fact, he was the opposite of pleased: he was furious!
As he walked away from the messenger, Naaman yelled to his men, “Who is this guy, Elisha? Why did he not come out and wave his hands over my head, and call out to His God on my behalf? Why in the world would I submerse myself in the dirty Jordan river even once, let alone SEVEN times? Have I come all the way to Samaria only to be taken for a fool? After all, if washing in a river is all it takes to get rid of this horrible disease, couldn’t I at least do it somewhere cleaner and closer to home?” With that, Naaman mounted his horse and took off back towards Aram, fuming over the words of the prophet.
After a little time had passed, however, his servants approached him humbly and asked, “Sir, if Elisha had asked you to do something great – something truly magnificent and challenging – so that you could be healed, wouldn’t you have done it? How much more should you be willing to do something as simple as washing yourself in a river? It may not be pretty, but if it works, it works.” Naaman considered the words of his servants and decided they were wise; he turned around and quickly rode back toward the Jordan.
When he got to the river bank, he dismounted and slowly walked to the edge of the water. Behind him, the encouraging words of his servants were drowned out by the skeptical murmurs and quiet laughter of his men. Naaman let the water wash over his toes and took a deep breath; he asked himself one more time, “Is it worth it? Will this really work?” Then he entered the river.
He dipped himself under the water, stood back up and examined his hands – they looked exactly the same, still disease ridden, still infected. He dipped himself in a second time, and then a third and a fourth, every time checking to see if progress had been made. Finally, he dipped himself a sixth time. Still, no signs of healing were visible. It was at this point, one can imagine, that he must have truly been questioning the power and even the very existence of God. He could have very easily decided that it was all just a big joke; he could have chosen to leave the water; he could have decided not to trust in the Lord; he could have remained diseased. But, instead, Naaman chose to stay in the water; he stuck it out, and trusted in God. He dipped himself in the river a seventh and final time, and when he emerged, his flesh was like new. There were no more signs of nasty, painful, socially isolating skin legions; it was as if he had never had leprosy at all. The God of Israel had healed him completely.
We’ve all been where Naaman was – we’ve all stood on the edge of the river, questioning our sanity, questioning whether or not the God of the universe is who He says He is. We’ve all probably dipped ourselves in the water six times, chosen to trust God for a while, only to hesitate before taking that final plunge. Maybe some of you are there now, either on the shore looking out into that mess of murky, swirling water, wondering why on earth God would ask you to submerse yourself in that; or maybe you’ve been submersed for some time now and are struggling with whether or not to get out before you’ve finished what God has called you to do. No one ever said that following God was going to be simple, but He has promised us that it is the very definition of “worth it.” So, go ahead, stay in the water, God was serious when He said that by submersing yourself, you will be restored.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
“Yet You are enthroned as the Holy One; You are the one Israel praises. In You our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and You delivered them. To You they cried out and were saved; in You they trusted and were not put to shame.” Psalm 22:3-5
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
Push Play: So, what’s the take away part of this story? Well, what immediately strikes you is that God healed Naaman, right? God preformed a miracle. He cleansed a sinful, human, man of a disease that was unable to be cured by man. He washed away the dirt and left Naaman as clean as “a young boy” – as innocent and unblemished as a child (2 Kings 5: 7). I think the parallels between washing away Naaman’s leprosy and God’s ability to cleanse us of our sins through the blood of Christ Jesus are pretty obvious, and the truth lying just under the surface of this story is incredibly humbling. But, to me, I think the most striking aspect of this story is in the numeric symbolism. Bare with me here: I am a words person and a literature lover, so anytime symbolism is involved, I get a little excited, but hopefully you’ll be able to see the significance here too.
The number seven is a big deal in the bible. Seven is a whole number, a complete number, a perfect number. How many days did it take for God to create the world; how many times does Jesus say to forgive our neighbors; how often did the Israelites celebrate the year of jubilee? That’s right, seven. Thus, when Elisha tells Naaman to submerse himself in the Jordan, in a very dirty, oftentimes violent, river, seven times, there is a much deeper significance than the healing of one man. God is telling us to trust Him, to submerse ourselves in what He has called us to do, seven times, i.e. until it is completed. And just when is that, you may ask? Well, basically, God’s work will be finished when Christ returns to claim this world as His own. So, then, when Gary talked about imaging Naaman hesitating after the sixth time, six doesn’t necessarily refer to the number six, as in the unit that follows five and precedes seven, but to any moment in our lives when we hesitate to trust God. When Gary says, “stay in the water,” he’s not telling you to follow what God says seven times (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, done). He’s saying, stick with it till the end; trust in the Lord with all your heart until His work for you is completed; stay in the water until you have been made whole. And folks, because we’re human, you’re not whole until you’re in Heaven, standing at the foot of the Lord, singing praises forevermore. Following the Lord’s instructions seven times, means following Him your whole life.
In my opinion, that’s why the story of Naaman made it into the bible, and that’s why it still has as much impact today (in a world where treating and curing leprosy is totally possible and doesn’t entail taking a trip to the Jordan River). God still reigns, and He is still calling us to trust Him seven times.
April 7, 2011
Rewind: Cheerios, penne, bracelets, thimbles, lifesavers, rubber bands, milk rings, and pretzels, Shirt sleeves, gardens, calamari, CDs, Swiss cheese, rings, baseball caps, English muffins, water bottles, and cups. Fruit loops, coffee mug handles, onion rings, bunt cakes, notebooks, donuts, baseball gloves, mittens, and bagels. Can you see the connection here?
Each one has at least one hole – at least one opening through something. Holes are everywhere.
Sometimes you can see through the hole clear to the other side (like in a donut), and sometimes you can look in and see the bottom (like with a cup or a water bottle); sometimes there’s one big hole (as is the case in a bunt cake), and sometimes there are a bunch of little holes (thimble, anyone?). Most of the holes listed above are harmless, and some may even be useful (like the nooks and crannies of an English muffin), but what about those of a more threatening variety? What about the hole in the side of the Titanic, or that nasty pothole in the middle of your street, or the embarrassing hole in the butt of your favorite jeans?
Last night Aaron talked about how each and every one of us is riddled with holes. These holes are the source of that ache, that indescribable longing, in our hearts for something more. They are often the reason why we turn to things other than God for satisfaction; they’re the source of the little voice deep within us that says, “I know I won’t hurt anymore – there’s no way I’ll still feel empty – if I just…” But that ellipsis is hardly ever what it should be; it’s hardly ever “turn to God.”
Holes are the source of our wandering. They are reason why we find ourselves constantly turning in the wrong direction and walking away from what we know to be Truth. The tricky part is that they’re also the reason why we tend to veer ever so slightly to the right or left of that Truth. That’s right, the holes in our hearts, and more to the point, our constant efforts to fill them up again, don’t always manifest themselves in ugly addictions or menacing lies. Sometimes the ramifications are as minuscule as the difference between pursuing God with our mind instead of our heart.
After all, Aaron argues, that’s probably what happened to the Pharisees. These men were religious leaders of their day; they were devout followers of the Lord and truly believed they were leading the Jews in a way pleasing to God. These men did not start out from a place of wickedness; most likely, in the beginning, their hearts were in the right place. You see, Aaron explained, the first five books of the bible (also known as the Jewish Torah), contained 613 different laws that God’s chosen people were expected to abide by, and Israel kept messing up. The Pharisees saw Israel’s tendency to stumble, to wander, to turn away, to fill their holes with something other than God. In an attempt to redirect Israel’s efforts, the Pharisees began to issue new, more strenuous laws. These manmade laws, however well intentioned, served to build up an ever thickening wall between God and His people, and, ironically, they represent the Pharisee’s attempts to fill up their own holes deep within their own hearts: “if we could only follow the rules better; if we are just a bit more perfect, if we can create something apart from God that points people back to God, we won’t be empty anymore.” Their intentions were to live more Godly lives, but their methods spoke of a legalistic business arrangement, not a sacrificial, personal relationship. Aaron thinks it’s very possible that Jesus picked on the Pharisees as much as He did because they were so close.
The truth about our holes is that they leave us feeling meaningless, as if we’re lacking in value or substance, which is why we spend our lives frantically looking for something, anything, through which we can define ourselves and measure our worth. In Acts 4:12, however, Peter speaks directly into our holes, giving us the only solution to that emptiness we all feel from time to time. He says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” The name he’s talking about, of course, is Jesus Christ.
When he says that Christ brings salvation, he means that Christ saves us from something and for something else. Christ came to save us from our sin, from our wandering, and from our perpetual, indescribable emptiness, and He came to save us for something beautiful, humbling, colorful, awe-inspiring, and completely indescribable in its own right.
It has been said that holes are the only human things made in Heaven. Never forget that our Savior had His own holes: one in each wrist, and one through His ankles. His holes are our Good News, they are our Gospel, and they are evidence of our place in God’s heart. Never forget that His holes make us whole.
Pause: Take a moment to seriously think about the holes in your heart, and how you’ve gone about seeking to fill them. Are you running towards God, or away from Him? Are you following the road that leads straight to your Father, or are you pointed ever-so-slightly to the right?
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11
A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth. Proverbs 17:24
And God placed all things under His [Christ’s] feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way. Ephesians 1: 22-23
Push Play: Don’t get discouraged. Letting God fill your holes up with His truth, letting Him make you whole again, isn’t something that you decide to do once. Nor is it something that you decide to do ten times. It’s something you absolutely have to decide each and every single day of your life. And, you’re human, so you will mess this up; it’s not easy, and absolutely no one on this earth comes by it naturally. Furthermore, depending on the hole, it may not immediately feel like God is working there, but I promise you, and more importantly, He has promised you, that He is working. But, and here’s some more hard hitting truth, you don’t get to sit there complacently and watch Him work; you have to continuously invite Him into your life through prayer, scripture, and loving behaviors.
We’re all wounded. We all have a past. If you filled us up with water (metaphorically speaking) we would all leak. No one is exempt from pain, and those who profess to be are liars. But no one is too far for Christ to reach. No hole is too deep for Christ to fill.
March 31, 2011
Rewind. Prayer is one of the first things we learn to do as Christians. It’s how we started this whole new life – asking God to forgive us our sins and take control. It’s what we do after Bible studies, before dinner, to kick off Axiom.
But if God knows our every thought, our every need, why do we pray? Psalm 139:2 says, “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.” And we know God is all-powerful; He doesn’t NEED us to make anything happen. So why does He ask us to ask Him?
The biggest reason, Aaron said, is the “dignity of causality.” God allow us to take part in His process of making things happen. He thinks highly of us and gives us the honor of playing a part in the unfolding of His purposes.
For example, Jesus told the disciples to react to the need for Christians to spread the gospel with prayer. “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few,” Jesus said. “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” God is the Lord of the harvest. The field is His. The workers are His.
But God still asks us to pray for this – in part to include us in that work. And also in order to change our own hearts.
- Water Walk success
- To be noticed
Once we’ve asked God for something, we tend to do two things that undermine the power of prayer.
One, we wonder, “Wouldn’t God have done this anyway if it was a good thing?” To which the answer comes back from C.S. Lewis: That applies to everything. Wouldn’t God have accomplished every good thing anyway, without us, if He wanted to? That doesn’t give us a reason to not work to do good.
The second response is a “heads I win, tails you lose” objection. We pray for what we want, and if it doesn’t happen – well, prayer just doesn’t work then. (This is how I debunked Santa: Five straight years of asking for a pony and not even getting a horseshoe meant something was up.) And if it does work, then we wonder, is there a natural explanation for why this happened? Maybe you would have gotten the A anyway. Maybe your grandparent was already going to get better. Maybe you would have gotten the job no matter what. But if we knew we “made” it happen through prayer, we would be corrupted. It would require less faith. We would feel we had done whatever it was that had been accomplished – rather than God.
There are many reasons God has for not answering our prayers the way we would like. We can’t see the consequences of our actions. We don’t have a complete understanding of what is good. But God still calls us to, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18)
Prayer isn’t all about having our requests answered. Just like Mother Theresa said, sometimes we come before the Lord and ask for – nothing. We say nothing. We merely kneel before our God and our profoundly changed.
Aaron called us to remember that the true nature of prayer is when we finally experience divine life with God. We can meet with God whenever. We trust, even when our requests go unanswered, that it’s not because God didn’t hear us or isn’t big enough to do what we asked – it’s because He chose not to answer us in love, in wisdom, and with a view of the bigger picture we are incapable of seeing in this moment.
Wwe tend to ask, “Why isn’t God the way I want Him to be?” But when we come to Him in prayer, Aaron said, our hearts reply with another question: “Why am I not behaving the way God wants me to behave?”
Let’s come before the Lord, realize His goodness, and strive to align our hearts with His purposes. We need the strength He supplies to do so. In order for our hearts to be changed, we need to return to our knees.
Aaron ended with this: “You need God far more than anything you can ever get from Him.”
Do we live like that’s true?
Do we pray like that’s true?
What would our lives look like if we sought God more passionately than we seek the stuff He gives us?
March 10, 2011
Rewind: You’ve just finished yet another inspiring and intellectual Lifegroup (bible study), and you’re feeling renewed, encouraged, and ready to take what you’ve learned and apply it to your life! But, before you all head home to recommence homework or studying (or procrastinating), your leader asks for prayer requests. You sit patiently, listening to Sam, Megan, and Tom talk about their weeks – maybe even writing their requests down, and after everyone’s gotten a chance to talk, you start to pray… And that’s when you realize that no one else in your group prays like you! Sam is pretty formal about it, almost like he’s following an outline, and Megan is really passionate –her words almost seem like poetry. Meanwhile, Tom is uber casual, using words like uber to talk about how awesome God is, and you’re somewhere in between those three – you strive for balance in everything you do.
So why is it that you each pray in different ways? Last night, Aaron attempted to answer some of these questions by exploring a few different styles of prayer, and explaining that the way you pray says a lot about how you view providence, or the way that God works in our world.
For example, some people pray, God, we know that whatever happens happens, and neither You nor Ican do much to change it right now, but please, Lord, give us guidance to deal with our struggles, and remind us that eventually, Your goodness will triumph. This kind of prayer seems to say that God takes a more hands-off approach when it comes to your life. It praises God for his goodness and his omniscience, but it also resigns Him to the role of a quiet, wise, comforting observer who will someday rescue His people, but is not currently an active participant…
Others may pray, God, we know that sin separates us from You and that sometimes what happens to us and what you want are not the same thing; sometimes evil wins the battles here on earth, but You will win the war. We come to You now because we know that You’ve told us to pray. Even though there is no guarantee, You said you would stand up for us, and we know You are fully capable of acting if You choose. This kind of prayer recognizes God’s sovereignty and goodness, but also acknowledges our sinfulness and how that separates us from Him, both of which are good and true. But, if you notice, it also seems to challenge, rather than ask, Him to do what He has said He would do and implies that, sometimes, God is incapable…
Still others pray something along the lines of, Lord, we know You have predetermined everything that will happen here, and that You are thus totally and utterly in control. We humbly approach You with our petitions because we want to share our lives with You. Even if we don’t understand Your plan right now, we know that You intended this to happen, and since You are good, that means this too must be good in some way, and that it plays a role in bringing You all glory and honor. This prayer recognizes and praises God for his omniscience, omnipotence, and righteousness. However, it also seems to minimize our role in God’s plan, saying that prayer is important because it creates a relationship with God, but it doesn’t really change anything…
The main thing Aaron said last night is that the way you pray is directly influenced by how you view God. Is He someone who sits back and watches? Do His good efforts get thwarted by our sinful ways? Is He a personal, loving God, who has a predetermined, unchanging plan for the world? Is it possible that the way you view God, that which you know to be true about who He is and what He does, and the way you pray to Him don’t line up right now?
Aaron challenged each of us to take some time over the next week or so to look through scripture and reaffirm, or perhaps change, our view of providence, because the more we explore God’s word, the more we find ourselves immersed in all that God is and all that God does. Prayer is, above all, a form of communion with our Lord and Savior, and it has been designed to satisfy that longing for fulfillment and connection that resides in each of our hearts.
“And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God. … Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that You alone, O LORD, are God.”” 2 Kings 19:15-16, 19
“Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”… He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done.”” Matthew 26:39, 42
“…they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “You made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of Your servant, our father David… Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed. They did what Your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable Your servants to speak Your word with great boldness. Stretch out Your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”” Acts 4:24-35, 27-30
Push Play: Prayer can be intimidating, especially in a group setting. I know that the first time I was asked to pray, out loud, for our Lifegoup my freshman year, I was terrified. Praying had always been something that I did in the quiet of my own heart, and I’m relatively certain that, other than saying grace before meals with my family, I had never once prayed aloud before coming to college. I remember stumbling and stuttering through my first spoken prayer feeling more concerned with what my group members were thinking than what God was thinking. I also remember that I was painfully aware of how other people prayed from that point on; I was constantly trying to figure out the “right” way to pray.
It took a long time, and a lot of practice (which my friends and family were more than happy to provide), for me to get to a point where I was comfortable praying in front of people, but it took even longer for me to realize why it was that I had been so uncomfortable before. The fact is that God desires to hear from us and to walk closely with us, and that the more we seek His wisdom and understanding through scripture, the more confident we become in that relationship, and thus, the more confident we are in our prayer life.
Now, that isn’t to say that everyone should pray the same way; I think that our differences speak to the magnificent diversity and creativity of our God. Nor do I mean to say that you have to be comfortable praying out loud to somehow prove your confidence in God’s providence; I realize that some people may never volunteer to pray for a group, and that’s perfectly fine with me. Rather, I just want to encourage you to take Aaron’s challenge to heart and compare God’s word with your prayer life. And, if in the process you find the two don’t match up the way they should, don’t be afraid to try something new, even if it is outside of your comfort zone, because, a lot of times, that’s where God is.
February 24, 2011
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thes. 5:11
“I can live for two months on a good compliment.” – Mark Twain
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Prov. 17:22
“One word or a pleasing smile is often enough to raise up a saddened and wounded soul.” – Therese of Lisieux
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Eph. 4:29
Encourage everyone every day…
Over the last few weeks we’ve been exploring love. We’ve been given pictures of love through stories, we’ve examined the different types of love used in the bible and what they each mean, and we’ve talked about how loving people and having a spirit of generosity go hand-in-hand, but how do we go about loving others all the time, especially when their needs may not be so obvious? Last night, Aaron said the answer is pretty simple: encourage everyone every day.
As followers of Christ, we are called to build each other up, to inspire others, and encourage those around us. What Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 is not a suggestion or even a strong recommendation; it’s a command. We are to constantly encourage. Just like everyone has an IQ – intelligence quotient – Aaron believes that we all also have an EQ – an encouragement quotient – that constantly needs to be refilled one way or another. Of course, when you’re in need of encouragement, the first place to turn is the Bible, God’s love letter to you, but there’s no reason why we can’t all be seeking to help meet each other’s encouragement quotas at the same time.
While the idea of encouraging everyone every day may seem simple, making it happen is a little more difficult; encouragement is truly an art form – it’s a skill, just like playing an instrument, that you have to practice in order to perfect. That being said, Aaron laid out three action steps for each of us to partake in last night during the worship service, each of which was meant to show us how easy, necessary, and rewarding it can be to build some one up.
- Take a moment and think about the last time someone encouraged you… Now think about the last time you encouraged someone else…
Maybe you were able to think of both of those moments very quickly, but maybe not. Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve felt encouraged, and maybe it’s been even longer since you took the time to encourage someone else. No matter how long it took you to remember, and no matter how long ago the encouragement exchanges actually happened, keep in mind that Hebrews 3:13 says, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today…” In other words, Hebrews tells us that we need to encourage people now, right now, because tomorrow may not actually get here. Don’t let the moment pass you by; if someone is in need of a pick me up, or you notice that someone is doing a great job, tell them! Don’t wait for a “better” time; just like John Mayer says (over and over and over again), “Say whatcha need to say.” Go give someone a hug and say, “much love!”
- Start going out of your way to encourage people; make it a priority. Have you encouraged someone today? Maybe you should…
We are all so quick to criticize. No, really, we are. Next time you’re walking down the street, try to listen to your internal monologue; you may be surprised by what you hear. Not only are we quick to judge in our heads, but we’re often too quick to speak those words of condemnation or disapproval aloud. As kids, we were all taught that cute little nursery rhyme, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That, my friends, is a lie. Words do have an effect: they can either be medicine or poison. Therefore, be careful of what you say, even when you’re trying to be encouraging. Try not to tell someone that they’re the most Christ-like person you’ve ever met, or that no one else is as smart as them – that’s called evaluation, and all it does is put unnecessary pressure on the person you’re trying to encourage. Instead, focus on appreciating their efforts; say that they are a hard worker, or that they have really been putting their God-given talents to good use. No one wants to be judged, not even if it’s affirming. Take the time to leave an encouraging note for a family member, roommate, or friend.
- Establish relationships with people. Form a community that seeks to encourage everyone. Through that connection, you will pull closer to Christ.
In other words, there is a purpose behind constantly encouraging others. Paul says that his purpose for writing to encourage Christians in Colosse was “that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (Col. 2:2). By taking the time to encourage one another (to love one another), you form connections to people, and those connections tether you all to Christ, from whom all love originates. Start making encouraging connections!
Encourage everyone every day.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging… The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Psalm 46:1-3, 7
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7
“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 4-5
Push Play: Before you can love someone else, you have to learn to love yourself. That’s a phrase that we’ve all heard a million times from friends, family members, mentors, teachers, etc. What they mean is that you have to learn to accept and be happy with who you are before you can fully accept and be happy with someone else. However, just like the “Sticks and Stones” mantra is a lie, so too is this beloved word of “wisdom.” It should really be: before you can love someone else, even before you can love yourself, you have to first love God. God loves you more than you could ever imagine, and until you start to understand that, love is always going to seem like a foreign concept – something that is just out of your reach. The thing is, loving God isn’t a stationary or a solitary thing. Loving God is a lifestyle, because when you believe in Him, and you accept Jesus as your savior, everything changes, including the way you live. Including the way you go about loving other people. Loving God requires showing love to other people, because when you love someone you listen to them, and God has told us repeatedly to love one another. Moreover, loving God isn’t something you ever perfect here on Earth, thus you can learn to love God by loving on other people. That’s right, it’s a circle. Love God -> Love People -> Love God -> Love People -> Love God…
February 17, 2011
Rewind: Last night, Mary told us that there are over 3,000 verses in Scripture that speak to generous living in one form or another. Some, like Proverbs 11: 24-25, encourage us to give abundantly: “Some people give much but get back even more. Others don’t give what they should and end up poor. Whoever gives to others will get richer…” (NCV) While others, like Proverbs 18:1, tell us selfishness is isolating and foolish: “Unfriendly people are selfish and hate all good sense” (NCV). It’s quite obvious from all this that God wants us to live generously, but how do you do that? You let God’s love pour out of you and into those around you. It’s like Mary said, “Love and generosity; you simply can’t have one without the other.”
As humans, we are consumed with selfish ends: what is it going to do for me? How do I benefit? What do I gain? Me, me, me! Think about it, we operate on this level pretty much from the moment we’re born. As soon as you’ve mastered the all important, “Mama” and “Dada,” the next words out of your mouth are “me,” “mine,” “I do it,” and “no!” When you get a little older, you learn about this strange concept – sharing – which is a bummer, because, after all, those are your toys. By the time you get to college, you’re really good at thinking about life in terms of “me,” so it seems only natural that you spend the whole four years focusing on my dreams, my goals, my talents, and my needs. Selfishness doesn’t end there, though; oh no, it only gets worse after graduation. Then it’s all about my job, my money, my car, my house, my money, my huge wedding, my future, and, oh yeah, my money. It’s just like Mary said last night: if we don’t pay attention, we turn into selfish beasts really, really fast.
Close your eyes and think back to just two month ago. It was December, and it was cold, and for us students, it was time for finals, but it was also Christmas time… There is just something about the Christmas season that makes people, Christians and non-believers alike, want to give, to help, and to love one another better. But what happens to that feeling the rest of the year? It’s like the spirit of giving gets taken down and packed away with the ornaments and twinkly lights! Jesus didn’t call us to love each other one month out of the year; He commanded us to love always. Remember how Jesus responded to the Sadducees? “The most important command is this… Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second command is this: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. There are no commands more important than these.”
Is that how you’re living? Do you love your neighbors as much as you love yourself? Truth be told, that’s hard to do, because we love ourselves a lot. But just like Mary explained last night, learning to live generously – living a life that is brimming over with love – is as simple as reexamining what you place value on (people, success, honesty, money, possessions), and what your heart looks like when you give (cheerful, willing, and honest, or begrudging and deceitful). Keep in mind that giving isn’t always something tangible like money or goods; you can also give of your time and your spirit in the form of patience, kindness, grace, and forgiveness. If you’re looking for an example of loving generosity, just look to Jesus; there was certainly no room for selfishness on the cross.
“Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” Deuteronomy 15:10
“Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” Luke 6:38
“But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mark 12:42-44
Push Play: It’s really easy to not give. It’s really easy to close your eyes or turn away from a need and convince yourself that you don’t understand or that it’s not your problem anyway. In the same way, it’s really easy to give a little bit because you feel like you have to. How many times have you given to a cause, any cause, just because the people you’re with have pulled out their wallets? Giving of your spirit is even more tricky, because, let’s be honest here, if you don’t want to, you probably won’t. After a long day, it’s hard to muster the strength to treat people with patience and grace, but that is what we are told to do. The truth is, Jesus calls us to give abundantly and willingly. In other words, we are to give more than what we think we are capable of – be it monetarily or spiritually – and do it with a smile in our hearts. Yeah, what Christ calls us to do is not always easy, but it is always rewarding.
February 10, 2011
Rewind: Do you want to change the world? Maybe you just want to change your world – your family life, what you’re used to, your friendships, or your expectations. No matter what it is you’re looking to do, big or small, the truth is that you simply can’t do it without love. I’m sure you’ve all heard it a million times before: Love is patient, love is kind… but have you ever paid close attention to what Paul says just a little bit earlier in his letter to the Corinthians? 1 Corinthians 13:1 says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Did you get that? Even if you do something great, something truly amazing, if you do it without love, it’s just noise – it doesn’t really mean anything. Whether you want to be an architect, an engineer, a professor, an athlete, a mom, a dad, a rock star, or a friend, if you don’t know what it means to love, how it looks to love, or how it feels to love, well, then, it just won’t matter that much.
Alright, so you have to have love, but what does that even mean? How do you go about defining love? Last week, you may remember, Aaron used stories to paint pictures of what love looks like and how love feels, but what about what love means? That’s a tricky question to answer because love is just so big. But, in an effort to establish a more concrete definition, last night Aaron looked to 1 John chapter 4 where in the space of 21 verses, John uses the word love 28 times.
As you may or may not know, there are four different Greek words for love, each with their own meaning and Biblical application. You’ve got storge (stor-gay), meaning a natural affection for someone; similar to the immediate, effortless bond between parent and child. Then there’s philia, meaning brotherly love, or friendship. There’s also eros, meaning a passionate, romantic, or sensual love. And then there’s agape – this is the word that John uses all 28 times in chapter 4. Agape is a God-sourced love; it is a self-sacrificing, self-surrendering, and unconditional type of love. It’s the kind of love that we need most, but don’t always want. It’s the kind of love that moved God to send His only Son to die on our behalf.
Especially with Valentine’s Day looming near, the word love gets thrown around quite a lot, but its meaning isn’t usually connected with agape. The love that most of us are familiar with says, “If you are intrinsically lovable, I can love you,” but what if you’re not lovable right now? What if you cut someone off, or step on their toe, or say the wrong thing? What then? It’s not always easy to love people, and it’s even harder to love people well, but agape says, “no matter what, I will love you.”
So how do you go about showing agape to people? Well, Aaron says it’s as simple, and as complex, as validating someone’s existence. Notice people; learn their names; actively listen to their stories; take an interest; say something kind; share a smile. When you validate someone’s existence, you are recognizing that they are there, that they matter, and you are letting them know you care that they’re there. Jesus did this all the time. He went to the outcasts – the widows, the tax collectors, the sick, the broken – and He spoke to them; He cared for them. He validated their existence. Every time you fail to validate a person’s existence, and this is something we all fail at a lot of the time, you become less than the person God has called you to be. The flip side, of course, is that the more you truly love someone else, the more love you feel in your own life. When you pour out God’s love, you make room for God to continue pouring more and more love in, which of course leads you to pour more love out, which makes room for God to pour more in, which leads…
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:8-11
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing… Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 2-3, 6-8, 13
Push Play: Go out and agape. I’m not sure that there’s a whole lot more I can say on this topic, because unfortunately, there’s only so much you can learn about love from books and talks. It would be really great if we could fully understand love as God intends it while sitting still, because then it would be easy, but as one of my favorite songs, “The Road to Jericho Is Lined With Starving People” by This Providence, puts it, “If lovin’ were easy, it wouldn’t be love.” So, whether it’s striking up a conversation with your waitress, as Aaron suggested yesterday, or smiling at the homeless man on the corner, or treating someone who tries your patience with grace and kindness, go do something. Start practicing agape right now.
February 3, 2011
Rewind: Love; it’s a word that has become watered down and overused, especially in the English language. It’s weird to think that most of us use the same four letter word to describe how we feel about pizza, chocolate, our favorite sweater, an interesting class, a movie star, our best friend, our pets, the snow, our parents, and our God. With all of those things wrapped up into our conception of love, it’s sometimes hard to understand what it really means to believe that God loves us. Try as you might – and I’ve tried a lot, because I really like words – words just don’t seem to cut it when it comes to describing love. But that doesn’t mean that God’s love has to remain a mystery.
Last night, Aaron took a page out of Christ’s play book (Matt. 22:1, for instance), and taught in word-pictures, stories. So, what is God’s love like? “Well,” Aaron said, “it’s kinda like…”
There was a guy named Randy who really had to use the bathroom. He dashed into the first men’s room he found, and went about his business. As he was washing his hands, however, he heard a voice call out, “Help!” It was coming from the handicapped stall. Now, Randy stopped to think for a moment: this guy hasn’t seen my face or even what I’m wearing; really, I could turn around and walk out of the restroom, and no one would know. But Randy didn’t walk out. Instead, he crawled under the locked door of the handicapped stall and helped the man who was stranded between his wheelchair and the toilet. It wasn’t pretty or fun; it didn’t smell pleasant, and they were both embarrassed, but Randy helped the man up, and cleaned him, the floor, the wheel chair, and the toilet. He then waited until the man was done, and helped him back into his wheel chair and out of the restroom. Randy and that man will probably never see each other again. God’s love is kinda like that. “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” Matt. 20:28
There was an airplane that took off just like a million other airplanes, and flew along its path just like a million other airplanes, and, for all intents and purposes, seemed to be like a million other airplanes, until it stopped being like those other airplanes. At some point during the flight, the plane hit intense turbulence and started going down. As you may be able to imagine, people panicked. They cried and screamed and fumbled frantically with seatbelts and the masks hanging from the ceiling. Amidst the chaos, one man, wearing a black outfit with a white collar, sat quietly observing the scene. He saw two small children, ages 5 and 7, crying while their parents freaked out nearby. The priest got up out of his chair, walked over to the kids, and started telling jokes. He comforted them, wiped away their tears, and made them laugh. Picture that for a second. This plane is falling out of the sky, the passengers are all going nuts, everyone is consumed with fear and worry, and there, in the middle of all of that, is a man and two small children, laughing and smiling. God’s love is kinda like that. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:7
One in two families go through a divorce now-a-days. A man came home one day to find his wife in the act of cheating on him. After the inevitable argument and a little time, the two decided to go to counseling together. For a while, things seemed to be getting better; they were back to laughing together and holding hands. The man was hopeful that they could move on. But then his wife cheated again. In fact, she cheated at least four more times. It got to the point where this man would go to where he knew she would be, just so he could bring her home again. Eventually, his wife moved out, but the man never stopped pursuing her. His friends questioned him repeatedly. Don’t you know what’s going on? Can’t you see that she has an infidelity problem and it isn’t going to get any better? What are you doing? Why don’t you just let her go? In response, all the man could say was, “I love my wife; I will always love her.” He said he had a promise to stand by her and care for her no matter what, and if she were to come back tomorrow, he would welcome her home with open arms. God’s love is kinda like that.
In fact, God’s love is so much like that last example that there’s a whole book in the bible depicting that same principle of undying love. Hosea was a prophet told, by God, to marry Gomer, a prostitute, and no matter how many times she ran back to her other lovers, Hosea found her and brought her home. Hosea’s relentless pursuit of Gomer’s heart mirrors the Lord’s relentless pursuit of His people who continuously turn away from His love. Just as the man’s friends questioned his actions, one can imagine that the angels sometimes question God. What are You doing? Don’t You know there is darkness in the Church? Can’t You see that Your people will only keep breaking Your heart? Why can’t You just let them go? He won’t let us go because He has made us a promise. He will fight for us, and care for us, and listen to us, and love us forever. He says, “I love the Church, and I will always love her; I will stand by her forever.” Yeah, God’s love is like that.
Pause: There are a few scripture passages scattered throughout the message above that I would strongly encourage you to look up and meditate on, but also read through these excerpts from The Message translation of Hosea. They speak to the heartbreak God experiences each time we turn away, and the unending love He has for us despite our perpetual infidelity problem.
“When Israel was only a child, I loved him. I called out, “My son!” – called him out of Egypt. But when others called him, eh ran off and left me. He worshiped the popular sex gods, he played at religion with toy gods. Still, I stuck with him. I led Ephraim. I rescued him from human bondage, but he never acknowledged my help…” Hosea 11:1-3
“My people are hell-bent on leaving me. They pray to god Baal for help He doesn’t lift a finger to help them. But how can I give up on you, Ephraim? How can I turn you loose, Israel?… I can’t bear to even think such thoughts. My insides churn in protest. And so I’m not going to act on my anger. I’m not going to destroy Ephraim. And why? Because I am God and not a human. I’m The Holy One and I’m here – in your very midst.” Hosea 11:7-9
“I will heal their waywardness. I will love them lavishly. My anger is played out. I will make a fresh start with Israel. He’ll burst into bloom like a crocus in the spring… Ephraim is finished with gods that are no-gods. From now on I’m the one who answers and satisfies him. I am like a luxuriant fruit tree. Everything you need is to be found in me.” Hosea 14:4-5, 8
Push Play: If you haven’t guessed already, the book of Hosea is one of my favorite books of the bible. If you haven’t read it, go read it right now, please. It’s only 14 chapters, and it goes by pretty quick. In my opinion, you simply can’t find a better love story. God’s love for us is real and true and far more moving than anything else in the world. When we are filled to the brim with God’s love, it’s only natural that we turn around and pour that love out into the world. True love is an action, after all. That’s why Aaron gave us examples, that’s why Jesus told parables, that’s why Hosea was made to chase after Gomer, and that’s why Axiom does things like Water on Green and Cocoa on the Quad. This week, let love motivate you to choose to serve others and act with grace and mercy even when it’s tough, because God loves you like that all the time.
January 27, 2011
Rewind: We all dig holes. As humans, it’s something that we are extraordinarily good at. We dig and dig and dig, and then promptly fall into our holes, only to look up from the bottom and wonder how in the world we ended up there. Then, as guest speaker Michael Langley put it on Thursday night, we pray that “Hail Mary play” of prayers – that’s a football term for those of you not in the know, feel free to look it up – that God would step in and save us from complete devastation. And He does. But, if we’re not careful, we walk around for a little while only to find ourselves a new spot, and start digging all over again.
Some holes seem small; more like dips or divots in our paths than real pits. They are annoying and troublesome, no doubt, but unassuming. They appear to threaten us, at worst, with a sprained ankle. Other holes are huge; resembling the deepest of caves; completely devoid of light, and lacking any visible means of escape. No matter their size, we all have them, and we all get used to having them. We realize that we’re all sinners – hole diggers – and that we can’t avoid messing up from time to time. Holes are just a fact of life on Earth, right? The problem is that, sometimes, we end up thinking we’re somehow smart enough to avoid the holes on our own, or even smart enough to explore them. We’re proud; we think we know best. But even the smallest holes grow bigger the more we stumble upon them.
Eventually, we get stuck in the holes we’ve made. Sometimes we’re so far down that we start to believe it’s home: we put up draperies, add a few house plants and a couch. We try to make ourselves comfortable down there; we choose to settle. But we don’t belong in holes. God has called us to a much higher place – He has called us to be holy. The holes we dig are simply proof that holiness is a foreign concept to us; it’s not something that happens naturally or intuitively. It’s a choice: do you accept the life-changing love and saving grace of Jesus Christ, or do you choose to continue living in the hole?
Remember, being holy does not mean the same as being good. To be holy actually means to be set apart. Living a holy life, then, means living a life that looks different because it glorifies God; as Paul wrote, it means offering up our bodies as a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom. 12:1). As Michael said last night, the truth of the matter is that being good has nothing to do with our relationship with Jesus Christ. After all, God already made the first move: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Holiness, or the pursuit of holiness, is not about perfection – if we were capable of perfection, we wouldn’t need Christ – it’s about responding to God’s love; it’s about progress. When we make the decision to take God up on His amazing promise of redemption and grace through Jesus and get out of whatever hole we’re in, we take another step closer to holiness.
Michael explained it like this: pain is redemptive, and God is a gentleman. He’s not going to force you to do anything. He’ll let you keep digging your hole – stay in your pain – until you ask Him to pull you out, to redeem you and start making you holy.
But being holy isn’t even about what you have been set free from; just take a look at Galatians 5:1 – “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Being holy is about what you have been set free to do; it’s about getting in the game. So, just do it. Start living for Christ.
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:1-4
“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified…For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7-8
“Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” 2 Corinthians 7:1
Push Play: This sermon reminded me a lot of the book Holes by Louis Sachar (you may have seen the more recent and equally delightful movie by the same name starring Shia Labeouf). Basically, in the story, juvenile delinquents get sent to a work camp out in the desert where they are made to dig holes five feet wide by five feet deep every day. The theory behind making the boys dig literal holes, then, was to teach them not to dig figurative holes – to stop messing up and live better lives. Even though it was supposed to bring about something good, when the boys had finished digging their hole for the day, they were not any more inclined to live differently. They were just as hot, tired, sore, and discouraged as before, but now they were also five feet underground.
No matter what we think we’re doing, nothing good comes from digging holes. Think about it, whenever we actually dig a literal hole, the goal is to fill it back up again, right? You dig a hole in the yard to plant a tree; you dig a hole in a pot to plant a flower; you dig a hole in the ground to make a well, etc. A hole really only becomes useful when it has been filled. Let Jesus fill your holes. He died to save you – to pull you out of your hole. And if you’re sitting there thinking you have no holes, I encourage you to pray about it. Ask God to search your heart and point out the places in your life that need to filled up with Jesus. No matter who dug it or how you fell in it, God can get you out of it.