Category Archives: Meaning of Life

When You Least Expect It

You know how worthless you feel when you are really sick?  A prominent leader lay on his sickbed in that condition.  He was so afflicted, word got out he might die.  Various people came to visit, even though they weren’t real friends.  They said nice sounding things but when they left they bad mouthed him in public.  Even one of his best friends, someone who he regularly had over for lunch turned on him.  Can you imagine how low he must have felt, how worthless?  In his despair, he wrote down his complaints in a kind of poem.  The man was King David and the poem is now known as Psalm 41.

My enemies say of me in malice,
“When will he die and his name perish?”
When one of them comes to see me,
he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander;
then he goes out and spreads it around.
All my enemies whisper together against me;
they imagine the worst for me, saying,
“A vile disease has afflicted him;
he will never get up from the place where he lies.”
Even my close friend,
someone I trusted,
one who shared my bread,
has turned against me.  (Psalms 41:5-9)

Fast forward 1000 years or so.  Jesus is about to be crucified.  He spends a private farewell with his closest friends, washing their feet and sharing a final meal.  And, as He passes out the bread, He tells them one of them will betray Him.  He quotes a line from that sick man’s poem:

“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’  (John 13:18-19)

Words, scrawled by a man too sick to get out of bed, became Scripture and were fulfilled in the life of God’s Son!  Whodathunkit?  Next time you are feeling too sick, too discouraged, too insignificant, too misunderstood, too abandoned, too unskilled or too weak to be used by God, remember that man’s sickbed poem.  Don’t write yourself off.  God uses people for His purposes even (and perhaps especially) in their weakest moments.   He can use you, too.

When you least expect it.

Full Advantage

If you live in my town, you have been given the right to use the library.  Far more than simply being allowed to check out books, you can take full advantage of a whole bunch of pretty cool extra services.  For example, recently, on a long trip through Texas, I connected to the library with my cell phone and was soon listening to an audio book as the hours and miles flew by.  Everyone who lives here has been given all those wonderful opportunities.  Not everyone uses them.

Peter wrote about a similar situation for those who follow Jesus:

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, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.  (2 Peter 1:3-4)

If you sign up for a library card, you are given free access to a long list of amazing opportunities.  But they are worthless unless you use them.  When you enter into a relationship of trust with Jesus, which Peter refers to as “the knowledge of Him,” you are given free access to everything necessary for the fullest and most satisfying good life.  Amazingly, you are promised the ability to partake of the very nature of God!  Those gifts and promises are yours.  But they lie dormant and of little value unless you put them to use.  So then, how do we do that?

Peter explains:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  (2 Peter 1:5-7)

You don’t earn the gifts and promises by doing these things; you already have been given them. But, by doing these things, you gradually learn to use what you have been given more fully.  Peter’s words might sound a bit stuffy.  Here’s my paraphrase:

Because you have these great promises, as you come to Jesus by faith, make a practice of getting in step with His good way of living (virtue).  Intentionally get to know Him better (knowledge).  Let the influence of His Spirit control you from the inside out, particularly when you are tempted to mess up (self-control).  Keep at it – practice makes a real difference (steadfastness).  Adjust your thinking and attitude in life to really appreciate and enjoy your interaction with God (“godliness” is a word whose component parts means enjoyable worship!)  Let the joy of enjoying fellowship with God spill over into genuine love for others (brotherly affection).

Living like that, Peter says, helps us take full advantage of all we have been given in Jesus.

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (2 Peter 1:8)

Now What?

On the day after Resurrection Day, it might be good to reflect on how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus actually changes the way we live.  Do they make a difference or do we simply put the plastic eggs back in the closet and go back to the humdrum of life?  If you are still reading, no doubt you vote for them making a difference.  But what sort of a difference?  Read through what Peter wrote – slowly and thoughtfully – and you’ll have a pretty good answer:

Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.  (1 Peter 1:17-21)

Real Freedom

He refused to participate in a corrupt act, was sued by his partner, and lost everything – his business, his home, his wife and millions of dollars.  He was forced into bankruptcy.  He eventually found another job, at a fraction of his former salary, but then proceeded to make payments to his creditors, despite no longer being legally required to do so.  Why?  He was free.  Free to do what was right without fear or coercion.  His freedom came from Jesus.

Jesus was free.  He was not hemmed in by social expectations.  He didn’t follow the rules imposed by the religious authorities.  He was not afraid of their punishments and not afraid to be considered eccentric.  He socialized with outcasts, ate and drank as he chose.  Jesus was free.  He was free of the world’s coercion, free to listen to God and get in step with His instructions.  He said,

“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19b)

 The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. (John 14:10b)

Jesus was free to dance in perfect time with His Father.  Free to break the restrictive rules of social expectations and ignore the threats of the powerful.  He was free to go to the Cross without fear.

For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.  No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”  (John 10:17-18)

Everything or Nothing

If at first you don’t succeed, wingsuit flying is not for you.  Watching videos of those guys flips my stomach.  Especially the takeoff.  They climb to the peak of a high cliff, teeter on the edge, count to three and dive, headfirst, nearly straight down.  I suppose it’s to build up enough speed.  There’s no halfway in a wingsuit jump.  No easing into it.  It’s everything or nothing.

Same thing with Jesus.  Everything or nothing.  People ease up close to Jesus, spend time talking and singing about Jesus and read books about Jesus but none of that matters.  About many who called Him Lord, Jesus said, “I never knew you.”  There’s no halfway; you gotta jump.  Headfirst.  Jesus said it like this:

34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  (Mark 8:34-35)

Deny himself” does not necessarily mean giving everything to the poor (although it might mean that in some circumstances).  It means letting go of fear and the overwhelming urge to keep yourself safe.  For a wingsuit jumper, it would be ignoring the part of your brain that is screaming, “Are you out of your mind????”   For the would-be disciple, it is abandoning all half-way measures, all plans B in case it doesn’t work out.  If you try to save your life you’ll never find it in Him.  It’s everything or nothing.

Take up his cross” does not mean to commit suicide.  It means to let go of all the things you used to think defined life.  Money, fame, popularity, success, luxury, good looks,  fun – all these things are pursued by people who think they will provide a satisfying, full life.  The would-be disciple doesn’t necessarily become penniless or unpopular.  He lets go of the idea that those are important.  He recognizes that full life, satisfying life can only be found in the company of Jesus.

Follow Me” means to pay attention, learn and imitate the attitudes and actions of Jesus.  Not the bland, passive Jesus of paintings and Sunday School books but the robust, free-spirited, radical, passionate Jesus.  To follow Jesus is to let go of your own plans and let Him take you on a real adventure.

Perhaps these imperfect descriptions of Jesus’ cryptic challenge sound repressive and personally suffocating.  My experience has been just the opposite.  Instead of letting the fickle, competitive world set the agenda for how to live, I’ve discovered the One Who created me can set me free to be all He made me to be.

But you can’t get there tentatively or halfway.  You gotta jump.  Everything or nothing.

Life and Light

 

Remember how they began “Raiders of the Lost Ark”?  The huge ball?  Bam!  Hold on to your seats, folks, this isn’t “The Sound of Music.”  John opened his book about Jesus like that.  Bam!  He said, “Jesus is God and always has been, even back at the beginning of everything.”  Before you can recover from that, he says, “Jesus created everything that exists.”  And then, having loosened us up with those wild declarations, this:

In him was life,..  (John 1:4a)

Maybe you are thinking, “Well, duh, I’m alive, too and just about everybody else I know.”  But John didn’t say Jesus was alive but that He had life in Him.  A different kind of life, but one we all were designed to have.  So, what kind of life and light is John talking about?

Jesus said:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.   (John 6:6a)

In Him was Spiritual Life, the life of God’s Spirit.  God warned Adam, In the Garden of Eden, not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  He said, “…for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  (Genesis 2:17b)  But when Adam and Eve ate from that tree, their bodies and minds (or souls) did not die.  What died was their intimate connection with God, the connection that is made possible through His Spirit.  Without that Spirit, mankind was spiritually dead, disconnected from God and living in darkness.

But when Jesus came, He had the Spirit; “…in Him was life…”  Which would be of no importance to us, except for what John wrote next:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  (John 1:4)

Jesus came with the Spirit, to bring us life and light.  Without the Spirit of God, we live in darkness, a kind of spiritual blindness.

The light shines in the darkness  (John 1:5a)

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  (John 1:9)

Something is missing from our human existence and experience.  We sense that lack, that emptiness.  What’s missing is God’s Spirit, from Whom comes true, full life and light.  Jesus came to give us this Spirit.  But, how can we get it; how can we receive this life and light?

More on that next time.

 

As Good as His Word

When I watch basketball, mostly what I see are the shots and whether or not they go in.  The rest is a blur.  Players obviously are aware of more, but they too, in the midst of the hustle and bang, can’t really know what’s happening as a whole.  Coaches really “see” the game.  From their vantage point they can see things the players cannot.  From years of training and experience, they understand things about the flow of the game that are invisible to the casual spectator.  Beyond that, they know each of the players’ strengths, weaknesses and habits.  Coaches see what’s going on with  whole different level of understanding.

Jesus “sees” all of reality much more completely and accurately than any of us.  He sees all that is happening and knows all that has happened through the lenses of God the Father.  He understands the big picture as it flows from Creation to Perfection.  He knows all the “players,” our strengths and weaknesses and what has been happening in each of our lives.  How He understands reality therefore, is very different from us folks who can only see for a short time through a very limited knothole in the fence.  The way someone “sees” shapes his mindset and understanding of  reality.  This mindset or frame of reference is what Greek philosophers called one’s “logos.”   Our logos shapes how we understand everything.  You can see why logos gave rise to the word logic.   There is no good English word for logos.  It is most frequently translated as “word.”  Pretty clumsy, that.  “Word” does not come close to the full meaning of logos.  

That’s why this familiar verse is frequently misunderstood:

In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

Instead of thinking, “word,” a combination of letters, think, “mindset” or “understanding of reality.”  And not just any old mindset, but THE mindset, God’s mind  God’s way of understanding reality as it really is.  Jesus, this says, embodies God’s true Logos.  In the beginning, before Creation, Jesus was The Logos.  That is to say, He existed with God in the beginning because He was God in the beginning.

When a coach calls a time out, it’s usually to give the players his perspective on what is happening in the game and instructions on how to adapt.  His logos gives them valuable insight as they head back out to the frantic action of the game.  In Jesus, God has called us to the sidelines.  He says, In all the hubbub of life, you’ve gotten a distorted idea.  I want you to really know what’s happening.  Here is My Son, Who has been with Me since the beginning.  Listen to Him; He knows; He has the right logos.  So much so, He is the Logos.

I give you My Word.