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.
I just wanted to let everyone know that from here on out, the weekly Rewind. Pause. Push Play. Axiom recap blog posts will be up by Wednesday night, not Tuesday. As it turns out, Tuesday nights are proving a little academically hectic for me this semester. My apologies!
Check back in later tonight for the recap of this week’s service!
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.