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?